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 3)
3 Pages1 2 3 
on Apr 18, 2007
The US has some significant issues with race and culture that need to be dealt with constructively. And until we do, trying to argue that if we just followed the policies of lilly white Holland or whatever would solve all our cultural issues is foolish and unhelpful.

Well, since you mention my country.... We do have in fact our own racial problems, not with African Americans, but with the second generation immigrants, especially from Morocco, and yes they are quite severe and similar to the crimes of the African Americans (mostly violence and theft related). There is even the 'racist' label involved when discussing the problem.
So it might actual be helpful to look at our policies and learn from it, just as it will be helpful for us to look at your approach.

Note that I don't say you should just act as us and all your troubles will disappear, since yes, our countries differ and what works here doesn't necessarily work there. And secondly, I can't really say we solved our problems yet.

But in general, what is wrong with critically looking at the approaches of other countries looking for new angles to your own problems?
on Apr 18, 2007
Very doubtful. Sort of like assimilating the metric system? You saw how well that went over in the US.

and ONLY in the US is the Metric system not assimilated. I think that if you exclude the US, it worked damn well for the world to have a commont metric system..

so be it? 2 currencies, 1 will be the US's and the other will be worldwide?
on Apr 18, 2007
2 currencies, 1 will be the US's and the other will be worldwide?

Or just use the dollar.

We are borg - you will be assimilated.  
3 Pages1 2 3