Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We're Number 10!! We're Number 10!!

Somehow the fist-waving chant of “We’re Number 10” simply doesn’t make it. In the nation that originated 20th-century concept of “We’re-the-best-just-watch-us-go,” the calamitous drop from number one to something far less is a better pill to swallow, but there it is, it’s true, my beloved adopted country is no longer the place to be. It’s tenth. It is tenth after a slew of European countries and, yes, Canada. Even the hosers have hosed us. 

This revelation took into consideration life expectancy (Japan is first); perception that working hard will get you ahead (Cambodia); satisfaction with living standards (Denmark); higher education enrollment (South Korea), and a slew of other inputs.  Number one, if you’re interested, is Norway, closely followed by Sweden and Finland. Who would have thought there was really something in Finland to be happy about? Australia and New Zealand are next, followed by Switzerland and The Netherlands, two tiny European countries almost no one ever thinks about.

According to Newsweek, the problem is that the United States has been too successful in its pursuit of freedom and democracy for all. In politics, the elect are listening to the citizenry too well, and what does the citizenry want? Well, mostly it’s focused on the past or immediate present. It doesn’t want change. It figures we’ve done well by pursuing programs that have worked, so in the eyes of the great unwashed, there is no real reason to alter anything. That includes subsidies, government (federal, state and local) programs that cost too much and simply don’t work that well, and tax breaks. We have told our representatives that what we want is more of the same, and they’ve listened.

Right now, the US government spends about four dollars on the elderly for every one dollar it spends on youths under the age of 18. We are, in other words, far more focused on backing a dying horse than on training a promising colt. Fund reductions have weakened the furthering of education, scientific research, NASA, and infrastructure. We are doing this at the precise moment when countries like Germany, Korea and China are committing to the exact opposite by funding research into alternative energy sources and other future-oriented endeavors while even as they cut the subsidies that cost their respective countries the most and offer the least.

Our national lack of initiative has already cost us dearly. America is no longer a true mover and shaker—though we still think we are—but is becoming increasingly insular. Exports only account for 10% of our economy as compared to 50% in many European nations.  Such statistics inspire hidebound behaviors in the US and entrepreneurial ones overseas. Your television, cell phone, washer and dryer, your clothing and shoes, the flowers in your vase, even the prescriptions you take daily, all come from overseas. In fact,  you would be hard-pressed to find much anymore that is American-made in a European household.

Here’s another problem. We are not even optimistic about the future. In fact, on that scale, we’re 86th. That’s sad.

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