We get what we pay for.

“Switzerland had the highest rate of return for empty wallets and Denmark for wallets with money in them. European countries overall, including Russia, got high marks for honesty.

“China had the lowest rate of return for empty wallets and Peru for wallets with money. I am disappointed that the United States is so far down on the list.”

I don’t feel disappointed about the US ranking. Or at least I don’t feel surprised. On many measures, the US often ranks around the middle. We are a middling country. Yes, above average, but middling. We lead the pack among the mediocre countries.

You see this with measures of culture of trust, democracy, freedom of press, health outcomes, education quality, etc. We tend to be far above the worst countries and well below the best (although specific US states often rank near the bottom in international comparisons). This has been the state of the nation for many decades now. It’s not exactly a new trend, this slipping down the international rankings.

But when older Americans were younger, the US was often the top ranking country in the world on numerous measures. Hence, the disappointment some Americans experience in remembering the country that once was. Sadly, that country hasn’t existed for a while now. We took American ‘greatness’ for granted and lost our sense of aspiration. Without the Soviet Union to compete against, Americans became morally and physically flabby.

Consider height. Americans used to be the tallest population on the planet. Now we share a ranking of 32nd with Israel, Hungary, Poland, Greece, Italy, French Polynesia, Grenada, and Tonga. Height is one of those indicators of the general health of a society and correlates with such things as inequality (and, by the way, high inequality in turn correlates with worse outcomes even for the wealthy, compared to the wealthy in low inequality countries). Trust also falls as inequality rises.

Still, we Americans on average are taller than 82 other countries. So, not bad. But still a major drop compared to the past. We are a declining society in many ways, specifically relative to other countries that are advancing. It’s a sign of the times. It’s also unsurprising that the United States is declining as a global superpower as well. A government’s power is built on the health of the population and the success of the society.

Anyone who dismisses the public good is naive. This is why the most effective social democracies that massively invest the in the public good now lead the world in nearly every ranking. The United States has chosen the opposite path, shifting wealth to the top for short term gains for a minority of the population, not to mention wasting our resources on military adventurism and imperial expansionism. We get what we pay for.

A ranking of countries by civic honesty

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