Monday, January 28, 2019

The Real State of the Union: How the US compare to similar countries

The 2018 Social Progress Index has been released. It compares countries on a wide range of indicators of society’s well-being, like child mortality, life expectancy, access to education, inclusion and environmental quality. This link will take you to a page comparing the US with 15 countries of similar GDP per capita. It’s not a pretty picture.

If you dig into the results, you’ll find some surprising deficiencies that we should work on. You’ve probably already heard about infant and maternal mortality, obesity, children’s test scores. But we’re also doing poorly on wastewater treatment*, early marriage and violence against minorities.

Here’s a short article summarizing the results which blames our pitiful performance on our spending priorities:

Does the U.S. government’s priority for military spending explain, at least partially, the discrepancy between the worldwide preeminence of the U.S. armed forces and the feeble global standing of major American domestic institutions?  Back in April 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower pointed to their connection.  Addressing the American Society of Newspaper editors, he declared:  “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”  A militarized world “is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” 

As a point of reference,
 In 2017 (the last year for which global figures are available), the U.S. government accounted for over a third of the world’s military expenditures―more than the next 7 highest-spending countries combined.

* I was curious about the low wastewater treatment rating. Based on their definition, we likely rate poorly due to the prevalence of septic systems. Here’s their indicator.

Wastewater treatment 

The percentage of collected, generated, or produced wastewater that is treated, normalized by the population connected to centralized wastewater treatment facilities. The Environmental Performance Index log-transforms the raw values of this indicator in order to scale results on a 0 to 100 scale.

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