Two Interesting Articles About The U.S.

MaClean’s recently published an article that discussed the factors that make the U.S. great. The author concluded the piece saying the country’s greatness is a myth and that the reality is average based on factors such as income, education, infrastructure, etc.

From the article:

The belief in American greatness isn’t limited to the right; it permeates all of American society.

But what is greatness? Is it defined by a bunch of Olympic medals, or a fat GDP or a clutch of Nobel prizes? In absolute terms, there’s no question that the U.S. far surpasses the rest of the world in all of those categories.

But the U.S. also has, by far, the largest population of the world’s most advanced countries, and a running tally of its achievements doesn’t give us a clear picture of how it is doing compared to other nations. Take Nobel laureates, a measure of a country’s intellectual output: The U.S. leads the world with 375 (its closest competitor is the U.K. at 129). But on a more realistic per capita basis, it ranks 16th. Similarly with Olympic medals: at the 2016 Rio games, the U.S. medal haul was 121. The U.K. came second with 67. In per capita terms, however, it ranked 16th, one spot behind Canada; as for GDP, America’s was a staggering $19.39 trillion in 2017; in per capita terms (PPP-adjusted), it ranked seventh.

So if not brain power, athletic prowess and wealth, what is it that justifies Trump’s State of the Union claim that “there is nothing anywhere in the world that can compete with America”?

Is it military power? The U.S. clearly fields the most formidable military force in the world. According to World Bank data, it spent 3.15 per cent of GDP on its military in 2017. But is that a sign of greatness? That depends on how you define it. In Canada and most other liberal democracies, the trend since the end of the Cold War has been to shift spending away from the military to social programs, to, in other words, build fair and functioning societies linked together in a web of alliances that ensure mutual security. (The predominance of neo-liberal economic policies in places like the U.K. has been the Achilles’ heel of that shift, resulting in massive inequalities.)

Source: The myth of American greatness, Adnan R. Khan, MaClean’s

Bloomberg Contributor Noah Smith wrote a similar piece stating the U.S. is a rich country with symptoms of a developing, He performed the analysis using factors such as health care spending, life expectancy, etc.

Below is an excerpt from that article:

The other day I was late to dinner, but it wasn’t my fault. Traffic was backed up throughout the city of San Francisco, because chunks of concrete had started falling from the upper deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a particularly unusual occurrence — in 2016, the Bay Bridge was shut after concrete chunks began to fall from the walls of a tunnel. Nor are such issues limited to bridges — the $2.2 billion Transbay Transit Center was closed in late 2018 when cracks were discovered in the beams.

These little examples are the kind of incidents that one might expect to see in a developing country where things are built cheaply or badly. But California has ruinously high construction costs; Governor Gavin Newsom recently canceled most of the state’s high-speed rail plan after the price tag ballooned from $45 billion to $75 billion. And these problems aren’t limited to California; across the country, construction costs for both the public and private sectors have swelled as productivity has stagnated or fallen. It costs  much more to build each mile of train in the U.S. than in heavily unionized France. No one seems to be able to put their finger on the reason — instead, the U.S. simply seems riddled with corruption, inefficient bidding, high land-acquisition costs, overstaffing, regulatory barriers, poor maintenance, excessive reliance on consultants and other problems. These seemingly minor inefficiencies add up to a country that has forgotten how to build. Unsurprisingly, much of the country’s infrastructure remains in a state of disrepair.

All of this raises a disturbing question: Is it possible for a rich, industrialized country to fall back into the middle ranks? The United Nations classifies countries as developed, developing and a middle category called “in transition.” But it’s generally assumed that the economies in transition are on their way up, not down.

Source:U.S. Is a Rich Country With Symptoms of a Developing Nation, Noah Smith, Bloomberg

Both the above articles are worth a read.

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