Saturday, December 07, 2019

Are We Still the "Land of the Free"?

America. Land of the free and the home of the brave. We've heard that refrain since we were children. There is no doubt that America is the home of the brave. We have one of the strongest militaries in the world, if not the strongest. We're not the largest, at least not in terms of manpower. That honor belongs to the China. We don't have the largest armor or mechanized military either. That goes to the Russians.

However, we do the best trained, best equipped, and most technologically advanced military in the world. We have the most powerful naval and air capability of any country, and while we don't have the most ground troops, if you were to include all those citizens who've decided to exercise their Second Amendment rights, I would argue that we are the best defended country in the world bar none! But what about "land of the free"? Just how "free" are we really?

Here we are, in the first quarter of the 21st Century, and as Americans we find ourselves being challenged on multiple fronts when it comes to our freedoms. We have those who are aggressively trying to curtail our right to own and use guns, be it for hunting, sport, or self defense. There are those who would restrict our right to free speech and freedom of expression as being inflammatory.

Thanks in large part to the events following 9/11 and the passage of the so-called "Patriot Act", our freedom of movement has been restricted as has our right to individual privacy. What's worse is that not only does the government monitor every electronic keystroke or word spoken, even corporations routinely spy on us. Of course too, corporations are now regarded as "people" with not just the same rights as flesh and blood human beings, but actually greater rights, especially when it comes to "free speech" which has been equated with money, and their "right" to donate nearly unlimited amounts of money to parties and candidates while we remain all but muted.

The result is that corporations can literally buy and control parties, candidates, and the entire electoral process, which is exactly what has happened. America is, as everyone should know by now, an Oligarchy; a neo fascist partnership between government and Big Business. We are left with the illusion of choice along with corporate controlled media---the modern equivalent to the Ancient Roman "bread and circuses"---to distract us.

The Oligarchy is not limited to America. It is nearly global in its scope (as one would expect of multinational corporations). How do we stack up against other countries when it comes to the various measurements of freedom? Where are in terms of education, income or healthcare? Can we still claim the title of "land of the free"? The first thing we need to understand is that America is not the largest "democracy", at least in terms of population. That distinction belongs to India, whose government is based on the British model (as are all other democracies in the world). The United States has a population of about 327.2 million people while India's population is roughly 1.337 billion (as an aside, Mexico, which is also a democracy, has a population of 129.2 million, making it one of the largest democracies in the world as well). Not what you expected I bet.

So, how do we stack in terms of overall freedom? Well, according to the World Population Review edition for 2019, the freest nation in the world is New Zealand. The "Kiwis" scored the highest across the board, which looked at personal, economic, and "Human Freedom" which includes incarceration, poverty, crime, etc. Next up were the Swiss, followed by Hong Kong, Australia and Canada. Denmark and the Netherlands were tied in sixth place, Ireland and the UK were tied in eighth place. Taiwan was tied with Norway in the tenth spot. In fact, we didn't even make it into the top 15. The U.S. came in 18th place, tied with the Swedes but ahead of the island nation of Malta.

To be fair, I looked at another report to get a better gage at where we stand. After all, how could the "land of free" be in 18th place? So I reviewed the Heritage Report of Economic Freedom for 2019. The U.S. did a little better, at least in part. We came in 12th place. The freest nations in terms of economics belonged to Asia with Hong Kong and Singapore taking the top two spots followed by New Zealand, Switzerland, and Australia. Ahead of us came the UK, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, and Iceland. A key component in today's global economy is technology, so how did we do?

The U.S. News and World Report listed the top ten nations in terms of technology based on R&D, patients, and innovation (all of which, of course, tie into education which we'll look at shortly). In tenth place was Sweden. Next came Switzerland with Russia in eighth place. The seventh spot went to Singapore then the UK. Germany was fifth, just behind the Chinese. South Korea took third place. The United States got the silver medal with second place. Who got first place in technology? That went, perhaps not unexpectedly, to Japan. How about education?

A nation's success is closely tied to its quality of education. Unfortunately, the United States wasn't just number one or even number two, but we didn't even make it into the top ten. According to the World Population Review for 2019, the U.S. is ranked over all 24th place, just behind France and ahead of Hungary. The top spot went to China, followed by Hong Kong and Finland. Other countries ahead of us included Australia, all of the Scandinavian nations (excluding Sweden), Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Slovakia, Estonia, and Poland. Among scores in reading, math, and science, we were near the bottom of the industrialized nations.

Issues such as poverty and nutrition are major factors affecting education, as are other issues such as crime and a stable home life. So, I turned my attention to those to see if they could affect our low rankings. According to a 2017 report by Quartz, America has the second highest poverty rate of any industrialized country, just behind Israel and ahead of countries like Spain, Greece (with its massive "migrant" problem), and Italy. The report went on to look at other factors like gender equality, obesity, renewable energy development, employment and infrastructure which I found interesting.

For the U.S., this was pretty much a mixed bag. In terms of obesity, which is partly a product of poor food choices, food availability, and nutritional education, we finally ranked number one...sort of. We were ranked as the most obese nation among industrialized nation with 36.4% of the country overweight, beating out New Zealand , Hungary, and Australia. Of course, obesity greatly affect your health and life expectancy. Again we were number one in terms of amount spent per person on healthcare at around $9,500 compared to Germany which spends about $6,200 per individual.

In terms of healthcare, the U.S. has the least number of available hospital beds (which, by extension, translates to access to overall care). While we had 2.9 beds available per 1000, France had 6.2 while Germany had 8.2. South Korea had 11.7 while Japan had 13.2. When it comes to life expediency, we are again at the bottom of the list of industrialized nation. The average life expediency for Americans was 78.8 years while for every other country on the list it was in 80's. In Israel, it was 82.2 years. In Italy it was 83.3 years, and in Japan, which tops the list, it was 83.7 years.

When we look at gender equality, the U.S. ranked last with the number of women serving on corporate boards of directors (including that of president and/or CEO) with an average of 16.2% On the other end was Iceland with 44%. Norway had 41% and France had 37%. Denmark, Germany, the UK and Belgium all had 27%.

In terms of energy, Americans have full access 24/7/364, despite an ageing, and in many cases, outdated electrical grid. However, what we don't have is access to renewable energy. Not only are we dead last, even Europe and Central Asia ranked higher than us (12% compared to 24.3%). The world, on average, gets 20.9% of its energy output from renewable sources. With respect to our infrastructure (roads and highways, bridges, sewers, etc), we again ranked last. On average, just 0.6% of our GDP was invested in repairing and/or updating our existing infrastructure. Australia, on the other hand, invested 1.9% of its GDP. Canada invested 1% of its GDP as did South Korea, Japan and France.

Another important factor to consider when looking at a nation's overall wellbeing is how affluent that country is. We've heard a lot about income inequality in the U.S., but just how bad is it really? According to the World Economic Forum, it's pretty bad. In fact, it's actually worse than we know. Despite America's overall prosperity, that wealth doesn't extend down to everyone. The WEF reported that of the top 30 industrialized nations, the U.S. ranked toward the bottom in income equality; 23rd to exact. It's wasn't just wages paid in which the U.S. lagged, but also in terms of its social safety net.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, CEOs, Presidents, and senior officers earn, on average, 271 times the salary of the average employee, not including perks (it's been as high as 299 times back in 2014. In 1978 it was "just" 30 times). The Middle Class, which was once the backbone of the nation, is now a mere shadow of its former self. In its place, we now have a poor/working poor/treading water divide and yet it still shoulders the bulk of the nation's taxes.

The WEF also reported that the U.S. performed worse of all 30 industrialized nation when it came to "inclusion development index" which includes age, health, gender, poverty, sustainability, and distribution of income. It also reported that the top 1% took home 26.3% more income as the entire remaining 99%. The Middle Class has seen a paltry 7% growth in income since 1995. In fact, the top 1% control over 40% of America's wealth while the richest 10% controls a whopping 70% of the nation's wealth.

An interesting side note is that the U.S. has among the lowest number of organized workers among industrialized nations, at just 10.6% of the total workforce. Only South Korea and Turkey ranked lower. The highest was Iceland with 91.8%. Canada and Ireland have 26.5% while the UK has 24.7%. Germany's union membership is 17.7% while Japan's is 17.4%. Quite obviously we need to do more to protect workers and small business owners. They have traditionally been the Middle Class of this country.

All in all, it certainly appears that we have some serious problems. With the recent rise in stifling free speech of some groups but not others by Far Left groups as well as the media (including social media platforms), attempts to restrict or prohibit gun ownership, monitor our movement, as well as the constant attacks on our privacy, we are in a bad place as a nation.

Discussions of "silent coups" and "character assassinations" (or even actual politically motivated murders), once the domain of the lunatic fridge just a few decades ago, is now commonplace. Distrust of the government, the political duopoly, and media are now seen as reasonable. The usurpation of our democratic republic by an Oligarchy is accepted as a fait accompli with a collective shrug. I seriously doubt our Founding Fathers would be proud of this nation if they could see it now. Not so much for how far we've fallen from what they had hoped for us as for our complacency; our apathy.

World Population Review: Education Ranking by Country 2019

World Population Review: Freest Counties 2019

Heritage Foundation: 2019 Index of Economic Freedom

Top Ten Countries for Technological Expertise

Forbes: Which Countries Have the Highest Levels of Labor Union Membership?

The richest 10% of households now represent 70% of all U.S. wealth

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