*According to Mark Twain there are lies, damn lies, and then statistics. Meaning statistics can skew facts to tell a completely different story.
With that in mind, and understanding that I did not authenticate the sources for these statistics, it is noteworthy that:
The United States receives more immigrants legally (and illegally) than any other country in the world.
The United States is the largest creditor nation in the world.
The United States spends the most money per capita (and overall) on military spending in the world.
The United States holds more patents than any other country.
Some areas where we are in the middle:
American 15 year olds rank 14th in the world in reading, 25th in science, and 17th in math.
The United States is 11th in the world in GDP per capita.
Despite such affluence, Americans rank 13th globally in quality of life and 49th globally in life expectancy in part because we have the 37th ranked health care system.
The United States ranks 5th in executions worldwide.
We are the 18th most obese country on earth.
We rank 3rd behind only China and India (countries that have over a billion people) in terms of mobile phone ownership.
The United States ranks first in gun ownership.
I admit that some of these stats may be outdated. But if the United States was 14th in reading two years ago, I imagine it would have made the news if we moved up to #1. I also admit that I have selectively chosen certain statistics that emphasize the less than remarkable place the United States holds in the international community. That’s because I recognize that this country is not perfect.
In fact my choices of statistics highlight the difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals generally see imperfections in a situation and believe there is room for improvement. Conservatives see imperfections and believe too much change has occurred and want to try to go back in time when things were better in their opinion.
I listed those statistics to show that our country does some things really well: make money, and invent stuff for example. But in other areas we are lacking: executions. Executions are done for capital offenses only and that suggests that there is a segment of our society who do not value their fellow human beings. If each country had the same number of executions we might say it is a problem with people in general. But there is some distinction between countries in this area, so there must be something specific about the United States that makes it rank so high.
The recent massacre in Newtown Connecticut illustrates another of these areas where our country as a whole has missed the mark. Our top ranking in gun ownership is not a problem in and of itself. But it does allow for other problems to escalate to fatalities. I don’t pretend to have a perfect solution. But there are those in our country that will not concede that there is even a problem to be solved; such a stance is akin to ignoring the fact that we are the 18th fattest country on the planet when thinking about American incidences of diabetes and coronary disease.
It’s one thing to think the United States has no room for improvement. But if you believe some of the rankings that can be found easily at your local library or online, you know that many things can and should change. There’s no shame in trying to better ourselves. In fact it just might be the quintessential American trait.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.