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We're No. 24! We're No. 24!

letsgetitdone's picture

We keep hearing bad news about where the US stands on various social and economic indicators. The US's ranking in math capability is 27th in the world. Our health care system is ranked 37th. Our 2011 life expectancy is 51st in the world. Our estimated 2012 infant mortality rate is 49th in the world. So we're pretty far down in a number of international statistical comparisons of performance. Some here point to better performance on economic indicators. For example, GDP per capita is often cited as an area where the US performs much better. But even here the latest CIA world handbook estimate shows the US ranked 19th on this measure at $48,400.

It gets even worse if you take a look at the recent Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2011. Dylan Matthews, writing on Ezra Klein's Wonkblog, did that on July 18th in a blog entitled “Are Canadians Richer Than Americans?” Matthews says yes, based on the Credit Suisse data on 2011 Median Wealth per Adult, and he goes on to also point out that:

”So not only does Canada beat the United States on median net worth. Just about every developed country save Sweden and Denmark does. The UK, Japan, Italy (!) and Australia more than double the U.S. Median.”

This important conclusion of Matthews gets a bit lost in the post's central focus on a US/Canada comparison and his attempt to answer his lede question. A few days later, wigwam posted at MyFDL blogging on the Matthews piece, and presenting a table wigwam developed from the graphic used in the Matthews piece.

Wigwam's numbers are approximate because he developed his table, from Matthews's graphic, but his emphasis on the context of where the US stands relative to other nations is much greater than in Matthews's post, and he also ties it into other issues such as foreign aid to Israel, the 99% vs. the 1%, and rising poverty in the United States. Wigwam's money lines are:

“This is a chart that I’m going to show when Mitt Romney fans talk about “what makes American exceptional.” It vividly documents how badly America’s 99% are being screwed by its 1%. We’re a wealthy nation only when you count the trillions controlled by the 1% but not so wealthy when you look at the net worth of the median household.”

So, that's what got me looking at the Credit Suisse Report. When I did, I found that Matthews had truncated the Credit Suisse data, and that in doing so he had missed some important aspects of US economic performance compared to other nations when viewed from the perspective of a “middle” US economic position. Wigwam, as well, in basing his post on Matthews's, also reflects the same problems.

Specifically, Matthews and wigwam both included only 19 nations in their analyses, and ranked the US 17th out of 19th. In addition, in approximating the numbers in his table he departed a good bit from the actual median wealth per adult numbers in a number of cases. Here's a chart that includes the first 36 ranks in the Credit Suisse data.

2011 Median Wealth per Adult

I've included more than Rank, Nation, and 2011 Median Wealth per Adult in the chart. There's also, Credit Suisse's data on 2011 Mean Wealth per Adult and values I've computed giving the ratio of the mean to the median. I've included the last measure because I think the ratio is revealing as a measure of inequality in each of the nations. The Credit Suisse Databook does give the GINI index which is a better measure of inequality than the ratio I've used here, from a strict social science point of view; but I don't think it's as intuitive as the ratio of the mean to the median.

Looking at the results, you can see that the United States isn't 17th on Median Wealth per Adult, it's 24th. Now Luxembourg, Belgium, Iceland, Singapore, Austria, Qatar, and Kuwait, are all also ahead of the US in median Wealth. The “median person” is more than three times as wealthy in Luxembourg, more than two-and-a-half times as wealthy in Belgium, and more than twice as wealthy in Iceland and Singapore than in the US. Among nations that were included in the original WaPo and MyFDL comparisons, the “median Australian” is nearly 4.5 times as wealthy as the “median American; the “median Italian” is three times as wealthy. Japan and the UK have medians in the neighborhood of 2.5 times the US median, while Switzerland and Ireland have medians in the range of double the US number.

In short, the comparison with 36 nations included, shows that the US stands even worse, relatively speaking, than in the 19 nation comparison. The numbers show that many nations with recent and current severe banking/financial problems still have median wealth numbers that greatly exceed ours.

These include: Italy, Belgium, Iceland, Ireland, and Spain. The first four show more than double the median wealth of US adults and the last has a 40% greater median wealth figure. The US Fed is being called upon to use US nominal financial resources “created out of thin air” to bail out the financial systems of these nations, and will probably continue to provide such backing to "save the financial system." The irony of our doing that when we refuse to use vigorous fiscal policy to help our own middle and working class people to remain employed, get new jobs, and work for a living wage, is another of those outrages to our democracy we experience every day.

The mean-to-median ratio numbers are also interesting to say the least. Nations with a ratio under 2.00 include Australia, Luxembourg, Italy, Japan, Ireland, Spain, Malta, Slovenia, Brunei, and the Bahamas. A majority of nations have ratios between 2.00 and 3.00. Nations over 3.00 include: Switzerland (5.35), France (3.25), Norway (4.07), Israel (3.25), Germany (3.49), the US (4.71), Sweden (6.56), China (4.88), and Denmark (9.30). So, the US is among the most unequal nations in the world on this measure. Among the nations that exceed it in inequality, the numbers for Sweden and Denmark may be statistical artifacts. The World Bank Gini number for Denmark is 24.9 and for Sweden is right behind at 25 with Norway coming in at 26, while the Gini is 41 for both the US and China, and 34 for Switzerland. This suggests that there may be something about the way welfare state transfer payments are accounted for that doesn't get into the Credit Suisse Median Wealth per Adult statistics. Wigwam suggests:

“One of the anomalies in this data is that personal retirement plans (e.g., IRAs) usually count toward “net worth,” while general retirement plans (e.g., a public employee’s defined-benefit plan and/or Social Security) don’t. I’m told that Sweden and Denmark have excellent plans that take care of the elderly. Not only don’t those plans count toward their citizens’ “net worth,” but the excellent quality of those plans encourage their citizens not to save. If you had super-excellent government coverage to care for you in your elder years, would you set aside as much as the typical American? My point is that the median American is really at the bottom of this graph.”

Finally, I think the Credit Suisse Report gives the best picture yet of the failure of the US political/economic system to progress as rapidly as the systems in other modern nations. The jingoistic beating of our chests, insisting that the US is "the richest nation in the world", with an unequaled political/economic system, just doesn't square with reality. It may make a great many Americans feel good. But it's not true and it doesn't help us to face and adapt to our circumstances. In the end "all life is problem solving;" and you can't keep on living well if you won't recognize and then solve your problems.

Our system hasn't produced the advantages for most Americans that other systems have produced for the citizens of their nations. How long will we continue to deny this in the face of mountains of cross-national data, and instead insist that our way is best? It may be best for 1% of us, but for the overwhelming majority, it is close to the worst among advanced modern industrial nations. Other nations produce better health for their citizens, healthier children and seniors, better education for their citizens, better work lives, less stress, more happiness, low cost universities. You name it; they've got it!

What we've got, instead, is an ideology about the free market that works for very few of us and makes the rest us less free, less wealthy, less secure, and less happy, as time goes on. Our economic system isn't delivering for us. Our political system isn't delivering for us either, it's corrupt through and through, and our leaders won't prosecute the rampant control fraud in the financial sector. And, finally, all we get from our representatives is excuses and rationalizations about why we can't adapt to the changes, we, ourselves, had a great part in bringing to the world.

So, what can we do about it? I'm afraid this post isn't about that. But, I think what we have to do is to create a new web-based Information Technology platform we can use to create a meta-layer of political activity that will take control of the major parties and either make our representatives accountable to the 99%, or replace them with new people who will be responsive to them. I've written about this a number of times previously. See here, here, and here, for example; and yes, it can't be done in time for the 2012 election. Sorry about that, but what we have to do can't be done in three months, and we should have started doing it three years ago if we wanted to be ready now.

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Submitted by lambert on

In some ways this is the "replace the media" concept. But more, so much more!

Adding, I agree with DCB that 2012 is basically baked in. 2016 is the interesting year. This sort of project might make it interesting.

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Submitted by letsgetitdone on

But we should be setting goals for 2014 and 2016, and those ought to give us a focus. We all like to spend time writing about and sharing the daily outrages; but it can't end there. We have to decide what to do about them. I think we need to start a "clean house for the 99% movement," whose objectives should be to get rid of our elected representatives en masse. We all know they don't serve us. So, for awhile we just need to send the message that those who don't serve us won't survive in public office.

towards this end let's expand the Corrente 12 word platform to 22 words:

1. Medicare for All!

2. End the Wars!

3. Tax the Rich!

4. A Jobs Guarantee!

5. Save the climate!

6. Outlaw Corporate Political Speech!

7. Mint the Coin!

And then anybody who votes against any of these gets kicked out, regardless of party. No exceptions! No Mercy!

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Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Bruce, DCB is DC blogger.And "baked in" in this context means that we can do little to influence the coming election in a direction that is good for people. Both Obama and Romney will mean successful attacks on what remains of the New Deal safety net.

The Monbiot piece is very good. But what, after all is totalitarian capitalism? I think it's our old enemy "Fascism" by another name. Why doesn't Monbiot give it its name?

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

Thanks for the clarification. I've read 'totalitarian capitalism' referencing China because of the communism 'heritage' and also read where 'totalitarian capitalism' is what the U.S. is 'evolving' to. And the fact it's becoming a world wide phenomenon may also play into Monbiot's usage.

Ever read "Escape from Freedom"

There was a man named Eric Hoffer who wrote a book titled "The True Believer"(sure am showing my age and those influences that condition my perspectives aren't I?) and one of the perspectives Hoffer proffered (couldn't resist) was that there are two types of 'freedom' that make up most peoples thoughts regarding 'freedom'. Namely ,there are those for who 'freedom' means -mostly- freedom from. And then there are those who for whom 'freedom' means-mostly- freedom to.

As I have aged the 'social pendulum' seems to have swung strongly in the direction of 'freedom from' for most people with 9/11 being an event manipulated to 'swinging the pendulum' more in that direction.

I suspect that it still has more to swing in the 'freedom from' direction before it swings back the other way. And that it will be the effects of anthropogenic climate change that will be the restoring force.

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Submitted by letsgetitdone on

and much more Fromm besides, and lots of other things including Christian Bay's The Structure of Freedom which I think is better theoretically than either of the others. In any case, I'm not sure about the pendulum swinging towards "freedom from." It may be swinging that way for the 1%; but it certainly is not for the 99% who find themselves under increasing constraints imposed by the 1% and the legal and political systems they have bought with their money. Bay says, there's: psychological freedom, a state where people behave in line with their real motivations; social freedom, where people have a relative absence of perceived external constraints; and potential freedom, where people have a relative absence of unperceived external constraints.

So, it seems to that most of us have been losing much of our psychological, social, and potential freedom because the very rich have vastly increased their capability to manipulate us over the past 40 years or so.

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

was a very different time in the education system. Civic responsibility was a emphasized aspect of 'social studies' and 'civics' in high school. And democracy -in terms of voting- was something done from kindergarten on. It led to the idea of having a responsibility for 'the way things were'.
" It may be swinging that way for the 1%; but it certainly is not for the 99% who find themselves under increasing constraints imposed by the 1% and the legal and political systems they have bought with their money." is a perspective that points the finger at the 1 per cent BUT I submit for discussion that it really -the finger- points to the abandonment of those teachings I encountered in 'growing up' by the majority of the population.
AND I think it can be traced back to the end of the 'hippie' era and greatly accelerated by the election of Nixon.
Pitt -as posted on NC- has a really good point: " A nation that cannot summon the will, or even the enlightened self-interest, to turn out more than 40% of its populace to vote in a midterm election is a nation that does not deserve to complain about anything. Elections in the House and Senate are among the most important events in America, and yet the vast majority of voters in this country can’t seem to be bothered. A nation that cannot summon the will or self-interest to turn out more than 60% of its populace during a presidential election is a nation that happily puts its own neck in the noose, and then pules like a spoiled child when the rope chafes and constricts.

Someone once said that decisions are made by those who show up, and when the people do not show up, that void is filled with low men who poison the process with money and greed, who make a living out of convincing Americans that voting is a waste of time, and who summon the infinite gall to blame the process when it fails due to their deliberate and overt disruption."

And he doesn't even begin to address the issues surrounding just how voting is manipulated in this country.

So,again, I'll proffer the idea that the pendulum still has room to swing before the populace abandons the 'freedom from' (which DOES reflect the outrageous DOD/DHS budget expenditures and is still reflected in tv ad buys) and 'riots in the streets'.