Do we need to look at ourselves from Belgium?

Anonymous BE

Every time I go back to the U.S., I sense a nation in decline. It's a vague, but strong feeling. However, let's look at some facts:

1. Median income for the entire population has declined in past 10 years.

2. Median income for those without a college education (about 70% of the adult population) has declined for the past 30 years.

3. Birth rates among the white middle class are below replacement - similar to those in Europe. Nothing wrong per se with Blacks, Latinos, and the poor becoming a larger percentage of the population, except that an even larger percentage of the population will be poorer and less educated.

4. The percentage of the adult population with a university education is in decline in terms of generations - the "Baby Boomer" generation has more college graduates than the generation "X" that succeeded it. This is very negative trend for the country.

5. In a country with rapid demographic change in terms of ethnicity, there may be problems with one generation's taxes supporting an older generation's retirement, if there deep political and ethnic hostility between the dominant groups within each generation.

6. America has the highest Gini coefficient in the OECD, with the exception of Mexico, and it is getting higher. Countries with high Gini coefficients have a great deal of inequality by definition, but that inequality tends to create crime and a less-cohesive society - in short, a lower quality for everyone who cannot afford and/or does not prefer to live behind massive gates.

7. America has allowed many of its great cities to decline in a way that is unparalleled in advanced economies. The kind of decay, crime, poverty, racial segregation, gutting of manufacturing, and demographic decline seen in cities like Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Hartford, and so on is tragic. Why would a rich society - one with a GDP per capita in the top 10 highest in the world - allow this to happen unless there is some deep dysfunction? Go to Canada, Australia, Japan, Western Europe: you will never see cities with anything similar to the decline in many American cities. A couple that I know from Sydney, Australia, recently visited Los Angeles for the first time, and they were shocked at the level of poverty and dinginess of certain areas, and that they were not free to go to any part of the city in safety.

8. Contrary to the myth of the American dream, social mobility in the United States is actually much lower than in many advanced economies, as recent OECD studies have shown.

9. America is the only advanced economy where its citizens right to access health care is not guaranteed. Yes, this may change in 2014, but the system designed seems to still have some loopholes for companies and cracks for people to fall through. And, why is the state of health of Americans at the low end of advanced economies if America spends twice as much or more per capita compared to any other country?

10. The murder rate in the United States is about five times as high (per capita) as that of countries with similar incomes. Even more worrying: why is this not a cause for consternation in the society?

11. America has the largest prison population in the world, and it is very high in terms of per capita figures. What does this say about a society that it must lock up huge numbers of its citizens in order to function? What does it say about America if one out of nine Black men is in prison, jail, or on parole? Again, deep dysfunction that is not being addressed.

12. Tertiary education is often financially difficult to access in America, and for those not from wealth families, it means huge student loans that will mean wage slavery for most holders for the next 30 years of their lives.

13. Americans have no legal right to vacation time, sick leave, or maternity leave, unlike nearly every other country on earth (even poor ones). This makes for a family-unfriendly society, a less healthy society, and a stressed society. Only the rich and powerful would want such a society. America is no beacon of hope on this account, but rather, tragically retrograde.

And so on - these are just items that come to mind now as to why America is not such a great country in terms of quality of life, which is, in the final analysis, the only statistic that counts. Do you see evidence for a great turnaround on these negative characteristics? I don't, except perhaps for somewhat on health care. I can tell you that as long as the things above are ignored and silly cheerleading for laughable books about how great life will be 40 years into the future, I am not optimistic.

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