The Greatest Country in the World, Right?
Being the best is a marathon, not a sprint. Where are we in the race?
For the better part of the 20th century, the United States of America has been the ‘land of opportunity.’ Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Land of the free, home of the brave. I was born here, grew up here, and started businesses here. I am a proud and grateful product of the American Dream.
Pulitzer prize-winning author, James Truslow Adams coined the phrase The American Dream in his 1931 bestseller The Epic of America. His vision was, “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Adams wrote, “…a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
The spirit of this sentiment is enacted into legislation and becomes known as the G.I. Bill. In 1944, near the end of WWII, President Roosevelt signs the bill into law rewarding wartime veterans for their service. Benefits include tuition-free education, low-interest business loans, and low-cost mortgages. Entire neighborhoods spring up all at once giving us the birth of the cookie-cutter planned community along with the subsequent — and maybe not so planned — baby boom.
It’s like the entire country won the lottery.
A migration takes place from the cities to the suburbs necessitating owning an automobile. All those new homes need appliances, furniture, and other consumer goods. Returning service personnel find themselves coming home to a new land of opportunity. Jobs are plentiful. Wages are high and opportunity abounds. The post-war economic boom takes-off.
By the 1950s, James Truslow Adams’ worthy dream is co-opted by corporate America. An altruistic goal of achievement and prosperity is transformed into one of material possessions and consumerism. It’s like the entire country won the lottery.
The societal disease of ‘more’ becomes epidemic in the remaining part of the century. The American Dream gradually morphs into The Impossible Dream.
Today, the dream isn’t just the joy of owning a refrigerator and a new television, it’s also the bigger house and the nicer car — not to mention the second car. Where does the dream end and the fantasy begin? How can anyone live the American Dream when a ‘society of more’ keeps moving the goal posts?
According to the White House, America is the greatest country in the world. It doesn’t matter which administration is in office or the time period you search. The word from the boss is, “We’re the best!” And this seems to make sense. Who can remember a time when this wasn’t true? At least, that is the song we are bellowing even if all of America isn’t singing from the same hymnal.
As a country, we spend the most — whether we have it or not. We consume the most — whether we need it or not. And we boast the most — after all, it’s hard to be modest when you’re the best.
With all this practice and chest puffing it’s no wonder the United States leads the world. But is America really #1 or are we just believing the compliments we hear from the mirror?
Ask people what they want and the answer you’ll hear most is, “I just want to be happy.” The topic is important enough for the United Nations (UN) to research and publish an annual World Happiness Report. The 2019 analysis, performed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranks how people around the globe rate their overall satisfaction with life.
One would think if America is the greatest country in the world it would rank at the top — or, at least, near the top. No, it seems the Nordic countries kicked butt in this event sweeping the gold, silver, and bronze. 1. Finland, 2. Denmark, and 3. Norway. The US was an also-ran at 19.
Okay, well maybe happiness is over-rated. After all, you don’t get to be the greatest without a little sacrifice.
The 2019 Human Development Index (HDI), also produced by the UN, focuses on three main criteria: a long and healthy life, being educated and knowledgeable, and having a decent standard of living.
America obviously has a lock on the #1 spot, but are you curious who is on the podium with the USA? In the number three spot is Ireland. Number two is Switzerland. And… wait a minute, the number one spot goes to Norway.
What? USA comes in at number fifteen. How can this be?
Let freedom ring
This next report has the US written all over it: The Index of Economic Freedom. The very foundation the country was built upon is being measured here. For decades, the United States has ranked as one of the freest economies in the world.
The index is developed by The Heritage Foundation, along with partner The Wall Street Journal. The foundation defines an economically free society as one where individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please. Governments allow labor, capital, and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty.
This one is so easy there’s no way the USA doesn’t walk away with it.
The top five countries in the 2019 Index of Economic Freedom are: 1. Hong Kong, 2. Singapore, 3. New Zealand, 4. Switzerland, and 5. Australia. Way down on a list it should dominate is the United States at 12.
Sadly, there are similar results on how the USA stacks up in indexes from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), The Economist Intelligence Unit, and The World Bank.
25th - Best Democracy (electoral process, political culture, civil liberties)
16th - Where To Be Born (best opportunities, health, safety, prosperity)
13th - Quality of Life (material well-being, political stability)
10th - Better Life (life satisfaction, well-being, work-life balance)
8th - Ease of Doing Business (starting, financing, regulation, compliance)
What going on here? The largest economy in the world founded on the bedrock of freedom, democracy, and the American way and she isn’t #1?
Oh, wait, the United States does lead the world in a few rankings.
We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.
These words come from the pen of award-winning screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, and are spoken by actor Jeff Daniels’ character in the HBO series, The Newsroom.
The sad fact is America isn’t #1. She hasn’t been number one for some time now. The thing is, nobody has been candid with the American people. The president is still telling citizens they live in the greatest country in the world while, at the same time, trying to make America great again.
Things aren’t like they used to be. Americans are still waving the red, white, and blue, albeit with a little less enthusiasm and waning patience. The American Dream isn’t dead. It’s just old, a little tired, and falling behind.