How America compares to other industrial countries based on a variety of basic indicators (income inequality, life expectancy, education) as well as some uncommon ones (prison population, level of democracy, and “wellbeing”). Conclusion: America is not #1! Can anyone think of indicators that WOULD make us look good in this crowd?

heat table of advanced countries performace on a variety of indicators

8 Responses to American Shame



February 21st, 2011 at 11:15 am

And it’s not like we’re not throwing money at the problems:

(per capita total government expenditures at all levels adjusted for PPP)

“Out of 175 countries, the US places 9th highest. This doesn’t quite fit the notion of limited government that the US was founded on. Removing military expenditures only moves the US’s rank down to 12th.”

We spend the most on education, and what do we get for it? That doesn’t make us look good!

We ARE #1 (or near the top) in economic freedom. That explains the income inequality. Why my income, derived completely from voluntary exchange, is any of your business, let alone there to support you, is a completely foreign concept to me. Yes, we need to provide for a military and justice system, but other than that, why do you or anyone have a rightful claim on the product of MY labor?


andrew lorien

February 21st, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Comparing this chart to the one Matt cites, it looks like there is very little relationship between these indicators and the level of government spending. can anyone find another indicator that explains this ranking? what do the US, Greece, and Norway have in common that differs from Australia, Croatia, and Norway? Can it just be the maths score?
As an Australian I feel pretty good [smug smiley]. And i have an indicator which might put us both at the top: something about artistic and sporting achievement (or even income?) per capita. some measure of the success of our entertainment industries, which must be an indicator of the freedom and happiness of our populations.



February 22nd, 2011 at 1:39 am

That one’s easy – you score well on economic freedom and personal rights (though Bush spoiled that a bit for you). The list of indicators presented in this infographic is just plain skewed towards favoring European-style social-democratic societies. Even if you only compare explicit government regulations present in these societies with the ones in US and Canada, you’ll get quite different results. If you include the implicit corporatization of continental European societies and the lack of possibilities for attaining personal economic freedom inherent to them, the difference might get pretty drastic. The fact that positive net emigration to US and Canada is present for many years already among young native-born people in continental Europe should speak volumes by itself.



February 22nd, 2011 at 3:48 am


Are you implying that in Europe it is not possible to become rich, or as you would call it “economic freedom”? Or do you mean it is not easy to become obscenely rich, billionaire style?

I suggest you take another good look at the income inequality stats and tell me if the greatness of a country is measured by how many rich people it has, or by level of wealth by the poorest of the country? Combine these fine figures with the Food insecurity stats, and there you can see how nice it is to be not one of the lucky few in the US…

Migration of young Europeans to the US have absolutely nothing to do with these figures.


Joe Hooker

February 22nd, 2011 at 10:41 am

One thing you could do to reduce income inequality is not to have massive numbers of poor immigrants, which drags the numbers down. Income “inequality” by itself doesn’t mean much — Cuba is much more “equal” because everyone’s poor. As a Vietnamese minister put it, “we are not without accomplishments. We have distributed poverty equally.”

But seriously folks, comparing a big country like the US to small racially and ethnically homogeneous European countries like Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland is misleading. You could put all those people in one large American city and not know they’re there. Big countries have big problems — compared with other big countries like China, Russia, Brazil, etc. we look pretty good.



February 23rd, 2011 at 1:14 am


I’m implying that attaining economic freedom – the ability to stop being an employee without drastic welfare consequences – is much harder in Western Europe than it is in US. Besides that, Western European societies tend to be more restrictive in terms of personal freedom, i.e., in Germany homeschooling is a criminal offense, in France CPA is pretty unconstrained, with agents being able to intervene arbitrarily in the life of almost any family with children etc.

If you’re talking about history books, they usually measure “greatness of the country” in terms of how much firepower it is able to wield. Even though I don’t care about greatness at all, I have to mention, that textbook measure does seem to be more logical and consistent then your idea of it being poor people’s welfare.

Migration of young Europeans to US has everything to do with them seeking less restrictive societies in which they have better chances of realizing themselves.



February 23rd, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Things that I know America is #1 in:
Weapons sold around the world
people in prison per capita
military bases on foreign soil
per capita personal giving to international issues
military spending


Gary Loftis

March 11th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

How about adjusting the outlays for the cost the U.S. shoulders to preserve the security of Europe, Japan, and Korea? What would their economies look like if they had to provide their own defense and they no longer had the US dollar circulating in their countries from the pockets of service men and women? Where are the Russian, Chinese, and Brazilian ships when a nation is crippled by a tsunami and where these wannabe world leaders’ troops when an earthquake throws a nation into chaos? Everybody wants to beat us up, but nobody wants to step up and do what we do. We aren’t perfect, but we are better than who is #2!

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