Greatest Country on Earth

I watched the first episode of the new HBO show, The Newsroom, written by Aaron Sorkin. The very first scene—where the news anchor is sitting onstage at a university function—got me thinking.

This post is going to sound cynical, but it needs to be said. In case America isn’t egotistical enough, we’re the only country in the world that calls itself “the greatest country on earth.” Don’t get me wrong, I love this country, but I don’t think we’re the greatest country on the planet any more. I don’t know if I could tell you which country is, but we ain’t it.

When it comes to defense spending, America outspends the next 13 countries combined. America spent $711 billion in 2011, and China—the next country on that list—only spent $143 billion. America spends five times more on defense than the next country. When compared with top 15 countries in defense expenditures, the other 14 all combine to equal the amount America spends, and America is engaged in active alliances with 10 of the top fifteen defense spenders: Great Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Australia, Canada and Turkey. When all combined, America and her allies spend $1.076 trillion on defense. The other countries in the top 15 only spend $345 billion. Only 38% of Americans have confidence in the national government, and 73% of Americans believe there is corruption in national politics. Among NATO countries, the most US-friendly country (the United Kingdom) only has a 67% approval rating of the US Government. Among all of NATO (where each country is represented equally among each other), America enjoys only 40% approval.

When it comes to education, the United States outspends (at least) 119 countries when it comes to percentage of GDP spent on education (according to the CIA World Factbook). 43 nations outspend the US by percentage of their GDP. America ranks 27th in math, 33rd in reading and 22nd in science scores. Take a look at this infographic:

12 nation’s education spending (Graphic courtesy USC Rossier)

Now, to be fair, America is the world’s third most populated nation, but according to the International Human Development Indicators, America is ranked fourth in the the overall HDI: Education index. This index accounts for enrollment, expected years of schooling, average years of schooling, public expenditure on education and the adult literacy rate. We fall behind New Zealand, Norway, Australia and Ireland. According to Gallup polling, only 62% of Americans are satisfied with the education system. Let’s compare: 72% of New Zealanders, 69% of Australians, 86% of the Irish and 75% of Norwegians are satisfied with their education systems.

Only 79% of Americans have access to high-speed internet. In 25 countries, a higher percent of the population has access to the internet in the home.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the kicker. According to Gallup polling data, only 30% of Americans have voiced an opinion to their elected official. Oh, and that “American Dream,” the pick yourself up by your bootstraps thing? Gallup also asks “can people in this country get ahead by working hard?” America, as you might not expect, is not on top of this list. America is not even in the top 50. America isn’t in the top 60, 70 or 80 either. America is 83 in a list of 159 nations when it comes to “getting ahead by working hard.” Of the 27 nations in North, Central and South America, the United State of America is 19th.

So, America, you’re not the greatest country on earth any more.

But I’ll tell you one thing. The American population definitely has the potential. NASA has sent astronauts to the moon with computers far less capable than the majority of cell phones in this country. Other “new” nations have modeled their own national politics after America’s bicameral legislature. American ingenuity led to the invention of the light bulb, the personal computer, the iPhone, the assembly line, the internet and the artificial heart. America definitely has the potential to be the “greatest nation on earth,” it just takes the greatest population on earth to get there.

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