What Makes America the Greatest Country in the World?
With record numbers of people leaving the United States, I wanted to write an article in defense of my country of birth. I spent hours researching the benefits of retaining my U.S. passport, and tried to come up with examples of where we lead the world in some important economic or beneficial category. Well, I came up with nothing…other than it is time to launch the lifeboat!
Since I spent all this time in hopes of authoring a defense, the least I can do is tell you what I found. Here goes:
The Expatriation Phenomenon
First, we need to define abandoning ship, more formally referred to as expatriation. Some sources refer to an expatriate (in abbreviated form, Expat) as someone, who moves away from his or her home country, either temporarily or permanently, to live and/or work in a foreign nation. This is the more common usage and includes approximately 5.2 million Americans.
The lawyerly definition of Expat is someone who gives up citizenship in their home country, effectively severing all ties with that country. As the United States is the only industrialized country to tax its citizens on income earned while living and working abroad, even when taxed by their countries of residence, it makes sense that the U.S. leads the world in people giving up their citizenship…in fact, legal expatriation is almost unheard of in other nations (Ok, so I found one area where the U.S. leads the world).
According to the WSJ, 1,800 U.S. citizens gave up their passports in 2011, a six fold increase from 2008. While 1,800 is a relatively small number, it is the increase which is eye-catching. When you consider the number of applications in the pipeline, and balance that against the very steep obstacles the U.S. IRS has put in place to prevent flight (such as an enormous exit tax), the growth of expatriation is staggering.
So, why are so many people shredding their U.S. passports? Let’s look at a few factors you and I might use to decide where to live.
Quality of Life
Based on television shows and hype, I would expect the U.S. to lead the world in quality of life, but this is far from true. America is 13th in the quality of life index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. This survey quantifies healthiness, family life, community life, material wellbeing, political stability and security, climate and geography, job security, political freedom, and gender equality. It is the generally accepted standard for measuring quality of life around the world.
However, as someone who writes and works in the international arena, I do not believe this index is highly correlated to expatriation. I do not believe average citizens are moving from the U.S. to countries with higher quality of life scores for a simple reason: the higher a country ranks in the index, the higher the cost of living.
Countries with higher costs of living and a higher “quality of life” include: Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Singapore, etc. But, in my experience, average Americans move to countries with lower costs of living, where their dollar, savings, and retirement, go farther. For example, countries such as Panama, Chile, Costa Rica, Philippines, Thailand, and Nicaragua, are all ranked significantly lower than the United States, but someone bringing dollars in to these economies can create an exceptional life for themselves on a budget.
While the quality of life index might accurately measure the experiences of a large population, it has little to do with an individual’s life choice.
At Least We’re Healthy
We all know that healthcare in the United States leads the world in cost. I won’t even bother to document this fact, as it has been beaten to death in the Obamanation healthcare debates. This must equate to high rankings in areas such as life expectancy and infant mortality…right? Sorry, wrong again. The United States ranks 49th in life expectancy and an outrageous 178th in infant mortality.
The United States currently ranks 49th in the world in overall life expectancy, according to a study published in the academic journal Health Affairs, slipping dramatically during the last decade. This study was published in 2010, and compares to 1999, where the U.S. ranked 24th in the same category.
The report found the prime culprit of the plunge to be America’s deteriorating health care system, marred by ever-rising costs and growing numbers of uninsured and under-insured individuals.
Noting that the United States spends over twice as much per capita on health care than other industrialized nations, the report states: “The observation that Americans are spending relatively more on health care but living relatively shorter, less healthy lives has led some critics to allege that the U.S. health care system is ‘uniquely inefficient.’”
The most shocking statistic I uncovered was the infant mortality rate. How can the U.S. rank 139th in this most basic health statistic? I did not believe my eyes, and thought it was internet junk science, until I saw this fact reported in a number of respected publications.
Infant mortality is extremely high in States such as Mississippi and Alabama, at about 10 deaths per 1,000, and lowest in States like Washington and Massachusetts, at about 5 deaths per 1,000. There is a strong racial component as well, with black woman about 2 ½ times more likely to lose their babies compared to white women.
Preventing infant mortality is not just about prenatal care. There are four key periods in the lives of women and their children, each vital in determining whether an infant lives or dies: before pregnancy, during pregnancy, at birth and during the first year of life…and the United States is very far behind in all of these areas.
Educating Our Kids
For many young Americans, the number one factor in deciding where to put down roots is the quality of education. If you want your child to succeed in life, give them the best start possible, at the best school.
With all the money spent on education, one might expect the U.S. to rank #1 in the world…and you would be severely disappointed. In fact, the United States ranks a dismal 25th in education. Adding insult to injury, we manage to achieve inauspicious ranking while spending more on education than the total GDPs of many countries that outperform us. For example, the 2012 education budget of the State of California is $108 billion dollars, which exceeds the GDPs of 5 of the countries which offer superior quality of education.
Ok, you want to see the countries that outclass us, so here they are. Statistics come from The Program for International Student Assessment, which is released every three years and tests 15-year-old students in reading, math and sciences. Basically, America earned an Average grade, tying the OECD average rating.
Note: The list above was published in the WSJ. It is generally accepted that China “cheated” by testing only a small sample size of its best students, thus it is not included in the rankings above.
If we delve in to the numbers, it just gets more depressing. The United States is 7th in literacy, 27th in math, and 22nd in science. Taking in to account both medical and education factors, The United States is 25th among 43 developed countries for the best place to be a mother, according to Save the Children.
Maybe we should look at the question of where we educate our children more carefully. How about, which country, not community, has the best schools for my child?
The U.S. is the Greatest Country on Earth – NOT (Viva Borat)
In my quest to prove the dominance of my Nation, I looked at many different statistics and rankings. Here are a few of my findings.
According to the Doing Business rankings compiled by The World Bank, America ranks 13th in starting a business. As a small business owner myself, this is shocking. I always believed that economic freedom and capitalism meant that the U.S. led the world in small business. By god, it is the foundation of our economy and we must be the best! I do take some solace in the fact that the U.S. ranks 4th in the ease of doing business. For more information, see: http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings/
The U.S. ranks 47th in press freedom, according to Reporters without Boarders. So much for freedom of the press. Isn’t this covered in the Constitution or some such thing? Maybe I missed this class in law school.
America is ranked 10th in economic freedom, according to The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. Like starting a business, I expected my country to lead the world…or at least make the top 5. To quote Heritage: “The United States’ economic freedom score of 76.3 drops it to 10th place in the 2012 Index. Its score is 1.5 points lower than last year, reflecting deteriorating scores for government spending, freedom from corruption, and investment freedom. The U.S. is ranked 2nd out of three countries in the North America region…” For additional information, see: http://www.heritage.org/index/country/unitedstates
The U.S. is only the 11th happiest country in the world, according to Columbia University’s Earth Institute. I guess this is why Disney, The Happiest Place on Earth, has expanded in to Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo, and started an international cruise line.
There are 21 countries better than America in freedom from corruption, according to Heritage.org and the U.S. was ranked 24th in perceived honesty, according to Transparency.org.
Viva U.S. healthcare. America is ranked 89th in percentage of children who have been vaccinated according to the World Health Organization.
How well is our economy growing? The U.S. GDP growth rate is ranked 169th out of 216 countries, according to the CIA World Factbook. Our GDP per capita is only 12th in the world, behind Qatar and Liechtenstein.
Our unemployment rate is worse than 102 of the 200 countries listed in the CIA Factbook and we are 142nd out of 150 countries in infrastructure investment.
At lease the U.S. has the money to back up its promises. Well, our reserve of foreign exchange and gold is ranked 19th, right behind Indonesia.
Enough is Enough
Ok, enough bashing of the United States. There must be a few areas where we lead the world. First the good news: We are third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports.
Now for the ridiculous news, the United States leads the world in only three categories.
- Number of incarcerated citizens per capita,
- Number of adults who believe angels are real, and
- Defense spending.
I will leave the angels to the blogosphere, but let’s look at incarceration and defense spending.
According to a study by the King’s College London International Centre for Prison Studies, “The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 756 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St Kitts & Nevis (588), Cuba (531), U.S. Virgin Is. (512), British Virgin Is. (488), Palau (478), Belarus (468), Belize (455), Bahamas (422), Georgia (415), American Samoa (410), Grenada (408) and Anguilla (401).”
And some of our States have even higher per capita rates. For example, Texas prisons incarcerated more than 1,000 prisoners per every 100,000 residents. About one out of every 22 adult Texans is in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole compared to one out of 31 nationally.
Considering all of the hype the U.S. puts out on freedom and liberty, it seems inconsistent with the fact that we lead the world in prisons. For me, this demonstrates the great divide between reality (prisons filled to capacity) with hype and marketing (we are the most free and happy country on earth).
Now on to military spending. The global military expenditure states at over $1.7 trillion for 2012, with the U.S. taking up an astounding 2/5ths, or 41% of the world total. America is followed by China at 8.2% of world share, Russia at 4.1%, UK and France both at 3.6%.
Even more amazing: Military spending did not decrease during the recent economic crisis. In fact, it increased. The U.S. led the rise in military spending during the crisis, but was not alone. 65% of the countries for which data is available increased spending. Of the G20 countries, 16 saw an increase in military spending.
In light of the many shortcomings of the United States, how can we lead the world in military spending? I believe it brings in to clear focus the priorities of my country. How does a country that trumpets itself as a world leader of freedoms have the world’s largest per capital prison population? How does the wealthiest nation rank first in medical spending but 49th in life expectancy and place a staggering 178th in infant mortality?
In speaking with friends, clients, and at various conferences around the world, I believe that it is these injustices and inequities that are causing so many Americans to jump ship. Many belive there is nothing they can do to fix, or even patch the boat, so it is time to launch the liferaft. Some choose to retire abroad, some elect to live and work abroad, possibly hoping the boat will make shore and be repaired and refitted, and some have given up all hope and have decided to ditch their citizenship all together.
Try as I might, I can not devise a suitable defense of my coutry, and I am left with one simple question: Where is the best place for me to relocate and plant my new flag as a free citizen of the world?