Thursday, July 26, 2012

American greatness? 'That dog won't hunt'

Saw this on Twitter about Mitt Romney's 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness:
England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth's land and a quarter of the earth's population.
The tweet motivated me to write the following send-up of the USA (apologies to Yankee pals). The focus is on HUGE as opposed to SMALL.

Title comes from when I first heard the expression: Ross Perot's quip in 1992 US Presidential campaign, "That dog won't hunt." (meaning fuggedaboudit)

United States is just another huge country. Not as big as Russia or Canada but still huge.

Does size matter? Hard to say when little Norway's doing fine:
So rosy are its books and so high its standard of living that it has been rated No. 1 on the UN's Human Development Index for nine of the first 11 years of this century.
US roads and houses are huge, which helps explain why, like much of the developed world, it's a huge energy consumer.
Americans, make up only 4% of the world's population, operate 33% of its automobiles and consume 25% of the world's global energy supply.
All of this will eventually have huge consequences.


Its restaurant food servings are huge, and its fast food outlets are hugely popular, helping to explain why its adults and children have the highest levels of obesity on earth.
USA is the world's single largest manufacturer. It makes some things that people in the rest of the world don't want to buy, e.g., huge gas guzzling cars. 

Other products sell well, e.g., USA is the world's largest exporter of arms (weapons of death and destruction) and dominates international arms markets.

US is also famous for its silicon valley and companies like Apple and Microsoft. But many of their jobs are done by cheap labour overseas.

USA is huge too when it comes to imprisoning its population, even more than in Stalin's gulags. Some states have huge prison populations:
USA has a long-standing gun culture. As a Canadian, it scares the hell out of me, and I suspect most citizens from developed countries around the world.
Nutballs in many countries have committed mass murder with firearms, but none quite so much as USA:
To think the NRA can control American elections by targetting pro-gun control politicians is puke-inducing.
US health care costs dwarf costs of other countries. But outcomes are not necessarily better:
The U.S. has the highest health spending per capita among peer countries, yet it fares poorly on life expectancy, infant mortality, and premature mortality.

Interesting OECD overview: Why is health care spending in USA so high? Example:
  • USA per capita spending (2009): $7598 | Canada: $4139
Multiple factors but having a single payer saves mega-bucks in administrative costs.


USA does not score well on international tests of maths and science. Although it has some of the world's finest universities and continues to lead in Nobel Prize winners, when it comes to K-12 and most universities, mediocrity reigns. US students consistently score poorly compared to other nations.

Frankly, when nearly 50% of Americans believe God created mankind in a single day ~ 10,000 years ago, science is dead in the USA. 

This finding scares the hell out of me:
US is also huge when it comes to religion. For example, most Americans (59%) report that religion plays a "very important" role in their lives, a proportion unique among developed nations.

US politicians constantly refer to God and religion. Frankly, this is unheard of in other western countries. USA is just like Islamic countries in this regard.

After WWI America wasn't keen on getting involved in another European war. Famously, FDR had to work indirectly to help Britain. 

From 1939 to 1941, Britain, Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia, and Europe (except for Italy & Spain) fought Hitler alone. Gives an ironic chuckle to watch US war films that create that impression that Yanks single handed won WWII.

If the USA hadn't been bombed by Japan in 1941, it likely would have let England and the rest of the world fall to Hitler. Just think, no more Jews, no more Roma, no more handicapped.

Once noted as the world's melting pot, post 9/11 the US is rather xenophobic. No more 
  • Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Today, Canada is more open to immigrants:
As noted on Fareed Zakaria's GPS, Canada is a nation with more foreign-born per capita than the US and Canada has 'got it right.'

The US sub-prime housing crisis almost brought the entire world economy down. Why? 

Many complex reasons but mainly because under their system Americans could buy homes they couldn't afford,  greedy bankers were delighted to oblige, and later sold worthless assets to foreign investors.
Yet just over 2 centuries ago the American Revolution was a prelude to the French Revolution and the rise of democracy in Europe. 

In 1835 the US was celebrated, warts and all, by Alexis de Tocqueville in his book, Democracy in America.

USA is hugely celebrated by its own citizens within its own shores, a shining city upon a hill.

On American TV you often here phrases like greatest country on earth, only in America, and most diverse

In reality, today's USA is not the greatest of anything unless you count incarceration, obesity, and religious rates. Oh yes, and greatest military power.

Even freest and most democratic country is subject to debate.
Note: Links to above report have changed:
I know many Americans and they are almost always universally kind and generous and smart. Maybe it's because they're mainly health care workers.

The same country that spawns the Tea Party and fundamentalist Christians, who I think of as right wing nut jobs, also counts among its citizens some of the most balanced and greatest thinkers the world has ever seen.

Nonetheless, the excerpt from Mitt's book seems to speak to an underlying arrogance. Maybe not, but I wonder. Hence this send-up.

It's worth remembering that to mention weaknesses is to care.  I used to tell students how feedback is an indispensable tool and how an appropriate response to criticism is, "Thanks for telling me that." 

In conclusion, as CNN's Wolf Blitzer often says, it's huge, huge! Seems America is never small, small. Too bad.

Just for fun: 
As always, comments are most welcome.