Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Do they really do it better? Really?
Published on April 7, 2007 By Draginol In International

Every so often some journalist somewhere feels the need to do one of those "Why the United States should be more like <country X>" articles. This year it was US News & World Report. Entitled, "What the US can learn from the rest of the world" the article implies we're in decline or, at best falling behind with the rest of the world. 

In my experience, most countries with democratically elected governments that have reasonably free markets end up with the environment that its citizens want. I would no more tell a Canadian what's best for them than I would tell a Frenchman.  One assumes that they have their reasons for the choices they've made. 

So with that in mind, I'm going to take apart Susan Headden's interesting but useless article "How they do it better".  It's interesting in that we should always be aware of what other countries are up to. Humans tend to be myopic. Articles like this tend to be a refreshing look at what humans elsewhere are trying.  But is there really much to learn from the examples Ms. Headden gives? Let's find out.

We have the biggest GDP, the finest universities, the highest ownership of color TVs, and the greatest number of Nobel Prize winners.

So how come the Danes are the happiest people in the world? Living in the dark, no less.

Define happiness. I assume she refers to the Leicester study on the subject. Denmark, incidentally has the second highest suicide rate in Europe -- far above the United States.  If Denmark is such a happy place, why are so many people trying to leave by any means necessary?

 Schoolchildren in New Zealand are cleaning our clocks in math and science. Teachers are better paid and more respected in Japan.

Ok. This is interesting. The US always scores low on these tests.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that our incredibly unionized public schools have no competition whereas I believe New Zealand parents can send their children to any school they choose (like much of Europe). I agree we do have something to learn from that.  And yet when school vouchers come up, US News, Newsweek and Time seem to be either silent or hostile on the idea in editorial.  Teachers are paid very well here but then again, the best teachers are paid about the same as poor teachers. Whenever you demand a system that caters to the lowest common denominator, you get what you ask for.

Our highways are choked with traffic, but we can't manage to build a train that goes more than 150 mph.

Why would we build a 150mph train? Our population density isn't anywhere near what it would take to justify such a train.  That is why our highways are choked with traffic. Because it's not practical to build a high speed train system thousands of miles apart.  Moreover, most Americans live in suburbs which is a stark contrast to Europeans and the Japanese who are very urbanized.  How exactly would the average American use a 150mph train? Where would these train stations be?  Like I said, it's about population density.  I'd love to be able to commute by train. But I wouldn't bet that most American middle class citizens would be willing to give up their 100x100 lot and their 2,500 square foot house and relocate to a densely populated urban area to justify it.

Our eating habits? Please. Just compare our average portion with a meal in Japan, and you'll understand why our adult obesity rate is 32 percent, compared with only 3.6 percent for the Japanese. The French, likewise, are slim and well fed-and they offer world-class dinner conversation to boot. Their secret: They don't want to know what you did yesterday; they want to engage you in a lively discussion of ideas.

Right...Yes, those slobbenly Americans and their knuckle dragging ways.  The gun-toting, pickup driving, McDonalds eating suburbanite isn't nearly as charming, sophisticated, and "lively" as those Europeans -- or at least the Europeans that Ms. Headden visits anyway.  I don't even know where to begin. How about this -- the typical French or Japanese household now has, at best, 3 people in it. Adult male. Adult female. And one child. Maybe. And I suspect that they do indeed, on average, come home and discuss interesting things more often than the typical American household with an adult male. Adult female and 2 to 3 children in it all jammed to the max going to soccer and dance and whatever else.  And I'm sure the obesity rate has nothing to do with the fact that our restaurants give huge portions, fast food is everywhere, and food is cheap here.

But our shortcomings are bigger than dining and discourse. Remarkably, the United States is nowhere to be found on the Economist's global index of lowest infant mortality. At the other end, our average life expectancy, at 77.9, puts us 40th in the world- after Costa Rica and Cuba.

Could it be that the United States, with a huge population of illegal immigration and very large ethnic minority population that tends to be at a significantly lower standard of living than say the average person living in Brussels might affect infant mortality and life expectancy? Tell me Ms. Headden, do you know anyone personally who has had a child die as an infant? I know I haven't. Infant mortality rates in modern countries are like the Olympics -- they're getting so close to perfect that even one in a 100,000 can affect the statistics.  So the inner city child that dies of fetal alcohol syndrome or the illegal immigrant who skips pre-natal care and tries to have the baby at home and has a complication can really affect those statistics.  The same is true of life expectancy where we have significant chunks of the population that have very low life expectancy.  But in the United States, it's not politically correct to point out that the life expectancy of African Americans is 70 years (while whites live nearly 80).  Since they're 12% of the population, the affect on our average is significant.  So what exactly can be really learned from say Belgium or France or Japan on that issue?

As for our treatment of the planet, we're down at No. 28 on the global index of environmental performance, a value based on six measurements of environmental health. Meanwhile, Denmark manages to get 20 percent of its energy from the wind. And in Singapore, tossing a candy wrapper on the sidewalk will set you back a thousand bucks.

Okay, I'm game. Let's be like Denmark, a tiny, urbanized peninsula country that gets 20% of its energy on wind.  Please, explain how you envision the United States building enough wind farms to get 20% of its energy from wind. Denmark, a country that is nearly all coastline (it's technically a peninsula but it's practically an island) has the luxury of having most of its inhabitants living on the coast and huge wind farms that literally surround the country. Would you suggest we abandon the rest of the United States and live in say Florida so that we can do the same? Even then, we'd be at a disadvantage.  How do you picture wind farms working in say Austin Texas? How much of our natural land area would you be willing to cut down or reserve for wind farms?  Remember ANWR? Liberals hate ANWR even though it involves only touching a couple hundred acres.  Would you support millions of acres being reserved for wind farms so that we too could be like Denmark? 

And as for Singapore, so the streets are clean. And if you do anything wrong, you can be caned or heavily fined. Are you seriously suggesting you'd support this in the United States?  Ever been to a major inner city in the United States? Full of litter. Let's fine them $1000 for doing it and see how that would fly.

On a grimmer index, America has more people in prison-2,135,900-than any other country in the world. And the highest rate of gun-related homicides of all industrialized nations. If we followed Europe's example of treating drug addicts rather than jailing them, would the numbers go down? It's a complex and controversial question. But Holland's experience shows that treatment of drug abuse is at least vastly cheaper than the alternative.

This gets back into that politically incorrect discussion. The elephant that is in the room. That is, if we even observe that there are statistically significant differences in prison populations and gun-related homicide rates based on ethnicity in the United States we can expect to be called racists.  We're not allowed to even talk about race here -- we're that gun shy.  Sure, the Japanese can publicly slur Koreans and the Germans will openly slur Turks.  But in the US, we aren't even allowed to quietly and meekly say "But..but...if you take Ethnic Europeans living in the United States and compare them with Europeans in Europe, the rates are basically identical.." So what really is to learn here? In Michigan, 12% of the population is African American. But 60% of the Michigan prison population is African American. In our nation's capital, it's 97%! I don't think looking at Holland is the solution.

In the following pages, we offer 30 lessons we can learn from other countries. The list is admittedly unscientific and decidedly incomplete. We're not even saying that all of these practices would work here; if Americans wanted free day care and government-funded maternity leave, after all, they'd have to pay Norway-size taxes. What follow are simply practices that intrigued us: the Germans retraining prostitutes to care for the elderly, the Brazilian buses that are so clean and efficient that even the rich people ride them, and the Japanese toilets that deodorize the room and put the seat down when you're done.
 

Perhaps for starters we American recognize that it isn't "free" and it's not "government funded". It's paid for by other Americans and we have a cultural attitude that people should take care of their own.  It's personal responsibility that has made the United States the success it is. The US isn't perfect by any means.  I have my own long laundry list of complaints.  In many ways, I think the United States sucks. It just happens to suck less than other countries.  I like living in a country in which the government doesn't limit my potential or my opportunities in order to support "fairness". I like living in a country that has nearly every type of environment in it.  I can be in a tropical paradise one day and on the frozen tundra the next without leaving the country (and it is this vastness and diversity that makes these statistical comparison to other country games so obnoxious).  But most of all, I like that in the United States we are still free to succeed or fail on our own terms.


Comments (Page 1)
on Apr 08, 2007

I Am Going to copy something from someone else and leave it at that.

 

AMERICA has problems, AMERICA is NOT the problem.

on Apr 08, 2007

Perhaps for starters we American recognize that it isn't "free" and it's not "government funded".

That should be the response to all people (including Hillary care) that cry for "free" services or that "the government" should do it.

on Apr 08, 2007
I frankly think it's a credit to America that we made No. 28 on an environmental list that includes countries that fine people for their candy bar wrappers. It's like ranking as the 28th best housekeeper on a list that starts with someone who covers all their furniture with plastic. You're still pretty darn clean and you aren't being all obsessive about it.

Denmark, incidentally has the second highest suicide rate in Europe -- far above the United States. If Denmark is such a happy place, why are so many people trying to leave by any means necessary?


Could be cultural norms -- the "culture of life" thing. They're close to the Netherlands which has euthanasia. Maybe the U.S. and Denmark have an equal proportion of unhappy people, but the unhappiest Americans are religious and believe they're going to Hell if they kill themselves, while the Danes can act more rationally and end their suffering at will.

In my experience, most countries with democratically elected governments that have reasonably free markets end up with the environment that its citizens want. I would no more tell a Canadian what's best for them than I would tell a Frenchman. One assumes that they have their reasons for the choices they've made.


My conclusion is the same as yours, but my reasoning is different. I think most countries have not the environment they want, but the environment they're stuck with. Like everybody wants things to work right, but there are obstacles like a history of ethnic violence or an entrenched group of rich plantation owners or a provincial system that kept any power from existing outside the capital. So the real reason you don't want to try doing exactly what the French do is that they had a whole different set of obstacles to work around and it won't work that way for us.

That is, if we even observe that there are statistically significant differences in prison populations and gun-related homicide rates based on ethnicity in the United States we can expect to be called racists.


Well, that's because you're not just observing it, you're advancing the idea that those people are disproportionately in prison because their race makes them more likely to break the law. Like I could observe that 60% of Nazi Germany's prison population was Jewish and just be stating a fact. But if you said, "The Germans have way too many people in prison camps," and I said, "Well, have you noticed almost all of them are Jews?" then I'd be saying, "You're wrong to blame this prison camp situation on German social policy, it's clearly the fault of the Jews being predisposed to commit all those crimes."

Sorry for going to the Nazi well, but I was looking for an example of a country that had too many people in prison obviously because of its government and for no fault of their own. In America, we don't have a Hitler pulling the strings but democracy's blind spots can be pretty hard on groups that don't have much political influence. Mainly in the form of the war on drugs.
on Apr 08, 2007

Well, that's because you're not just observing it, you're advancing the idea that those people are disproportionately in prison because their race makes them more likely to break the law. Like I could observe that 60% of Nazi Germany's prison population was Jewish and just be stating a fact. But if you said, "The Germans have way too many people in prison camps," and I said, "Well, have you noticed almost all of them are Jews?" then I'd be saying, "You're wrong to blame this prison camp situation on German social policy, it's clearly the fault of the Jews being predisposed to commit all those crimes."

Sorry for going to the Nazi well, but I was looking for an example of a country that had too many people in prison obviously because of its government and for no fault of their own. In America, we don't have a Hitler pulling the strings but democracy's blind spots can be pretty hard on groups that don't have much political influence. Mainly in the form of the war on drugs.

Are you suggesting that there is a coordinated government progrom to round up African Americans and put them into prison? 

It's irrelevant either way.  If the reason African Americans make up the majority of the prison population is due to white racism, then we have nothing to learn from say Denmark on criminal justice because we have a totally different problem.  On the other hand, if the reason African Americans make up the majority of the prison population is due to African Americans commiting most of the crime, we still don't have anything to learn from say Denmark because they don't have a significant percentage of African Americans in which to make an apples and apples comparison.

on Apr 09, 2007
Are you suggesting that there is a coordinated government progrom to round up African Americans and put them into prison?


Nope. I said we have "no Hitler pulling the strings," but "democracy's blind spots" mean a program could come down exclusively on the backs of African-Americans anyway. Normally when a government program goes astray in a democracy, the people it affects raise a stink to get it changed. Like the AMT thing, or forced busing. But it all depends on the democratic process listening to everyone. If you have prosecutors, employers, and prison guard unions applying democratic pressure in favor of the war on drugs, and on the other side you have felons who can't vote and some volunteer litigators from the ACLU, you could go a long way toward rounding up all the African Americans without noticing that's what you were doing. Eventually you'd just have to step back and say, OK, every time I run this subroutine it returns an African American, I think there might be a bug somewhere because that's not the way the output was supposed to look.

If the reason African Americans make up the majority of the prison population is due to white racism, then we have nothing to learn from say Denmark on criminal justice because we have a totally different problem. On the other hand, if the reason African Americans make up the majority of the prison population is due to African Americans commiting most of the crime,


It's not white racism, I really believe that. I just think that if African Americans commit most of the crime, there are two possible explanations. One is they have a problem with committing crimes, and the other is that they don't get to be part of the group that decides what constitutes a crime.

on Apr 10, 2007

Like I could observe that 60% of Nazi Germany's prison population was Jewish and just be stating a fact. But if you said, "The Germans have way too many people in prison camps," and I said, "Well, have you noticed almost all of them are Jews?" then I'd be saying, "You're wrong to blame this prison camp situation on German social policy, it's clearly the fault of the Jews being predisposed to commit all those crimes."


I think you missed his point.

He was making a point about certain groups committing more crimes than others. Whether such statistics are useful or not is another question (see below); but it has hardly anything to do with imprisoning certain groups for what they are.

Now, if statistics show that white America has about the same crime rates as Europe; what are the reasons for that?
on Apr 10, 2007
Andrew, I was thinking that the Jews were in prison for "committing more crimes than others," by Hitler's new and improved definition of "crimes." For example, it was illegal for Jews to rent apartments or own radios. I was thinking in a democracy, similar situations might arise. It might not be illegal to be a West Indian, but if it's illegal to have dirty bathrooms in a convenience store then they have a problem.
on Apr 10, 2007

Andrew, I was thinking that the Jews were in prison for "committing more crimes than others," by Hitler's new and improved definition of "crimes." For example, it was illegal for Jews to rent apartments or own radios. I was thinking in a democracy, similar situations might arise. It might not be illegal to be a West Indian, but if it's illegal to have dirty bathrooms in a convenience store then they have a problem.


I understood you were going for similar situations there.

But the situations are not similar. It is illegal for West Indians and anybody else to have dirty bathrooms in a convenience store, perhaps, hence you would expect to find more West Indians in prison for it if more West Indians than others own convenience stores. They can solve the problem by cleaning the bathrooms. The Jews in Germany had no such option.

on Apr 10, 2007

It's not white racism, I really believe that. I just think that if African Americans commit most of the crime, there are two possible explanations. One is they have a problem with committing crimes, and the other is that they don't get to be part of the group that decides what constitutes a crime.


Wow. That is the best excuse/argument for apartheid I have ever seen.

I disagree with you, btw.
on Apr 10, 2007
You confuse me. The least charitable way to read what you quoted is that I think people have an excuse for committing crimes if they don't feel represented in the government. But that would be an argument against apartheid. And the way I actually meant it is that when one group of people makes the laws for another group, things that are fine for the lawmaking group seem to be much worse crimes when committed by the second group. Such as Congress and accountants, or masters and slaves. I don't see that as much of an argument for apartheid either.
on Apr 10, 2007

You confuse me. The least charitable way to read what you quoted is that I think people have an excuse for committing crimes if they don't feel represented in the government.


If group A commits crimes because group A cannot define what a crime is, does that not imply that perhaps group A would make the things group A does legal if group A could?

And if such an assumption were true about blacks, would that not be an argument for keeping them away from power?

on Apr 10, 2007

I'd like to know what laws you think African Americans would get rid of. 

Noumenon, do you really think there are unusal laws in the United States that criminalize things that are much different than in Europe or Asia?

And I'll say it again: It's irrelevant because either way, it still demonstrates that that there's not much we can learn from Denmark or Belgium or whatever about criminal justice.  Like most of the US News and World Report article, it's largely a bunch of poorly researched, narcisistic drivel. (my jaw dropped when I read the part about how Europeans sit down and have lengthy conversations at dinner time which helps explain why Europeans aren't as fat as Americans -- I mean, did she really seriously think this?)

on Apr 11, 2007
Oh, I get what you were saying now, Andrew.

I'd like to know what laws you think African Americans would get rid of.

Noumenon, do you really think there are unusal laws in the United States that criminalize things that are much different than in Europe or Asia?


I think African-Americans would get rid of the laws that let SWAT teams invade your home with military hardware for nonviolent offenses (Radley Balko covers that weekly) and some things about parole violations and bankruptcy laws that aren't written with their situation in mind.

I would expect the U.S. to actually be out in front on not discriminating by race or poverty when making laws. The only really unusual policy that comes to mind is the war on drugs.

I do think I kind of misread or slurred you in my original comment. You were saying, "We have a prison problem compared to Europe because we have a large ethnically based underclass to deal with that they don't," not "Our prison problem is all the fault of these darn black people."
on Apr 11, 2007

and some things about parole violations and bankruptcy laws that aren't written with their situation in mind.

Anerica could do that, but they do not.  Why?  Change the bankruptcy laws, and then credit dries up.  The lenders would not lend - period.  And no law could force them to.  Change the parole laws - and people would move where they feel safe - leaving the lawless to fend for themselves.  Kind of like Escape from NY.

The laws are not arbitrary.  Their enforcement may be, but then that has to be addressed through other means than making the illegal legal.  You are not describing laws that need to be changed, only the selective enforcement of some of them, and then not everywhere. 

on Apr 11, 2007

and some things about parole violations and bankruptcy laws that aren't written with their situation in mind.


What exactly is that situation that a black criminal might be in but a white criminal is not?