In yesterday's post -- We're Not #1 -- many commentators appeared to dispute the importance of statistics that do not put America in first place.
I say this because of the nit-picking aspect of the comments. I should have put up something that said we ARE #1 to see if those same comments were made.
Anyway, I want to address these comments in a new post, because I think that some people miss the point of the measures (life expectancy, healthcare, education, etc.)
First, income -- or gdp per capita -- is not on that list. Even if it was, the US would hold 9/12/10th place (three sets of 2009 data). Using the more appropriate PPP measure (adjusting for the cost of living), the US is in 4/6/8th place. Even so, money certainly isn't everything, and it's definitely NOT what we want. We want what money can BUY (goodies, health, happiness), not little piles of paper. Unfortunately, GDP per capita fails to consider the distribution of wealth. If the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, then it sucks to be poor -- like most of us who do not work on Wall Street. Income inequality -- measured by the Gini coefficient -- indicates that the US is about as unequal as China, where the rise of the super-rich and urban elites have left most of the poor folk behind to fend for themselves. This matters, because inequality affects social cohesion and a society that is not cooperative is one that gets into lots of disputes (Washington DC, tea party, Two Americas, blue and red, and so on...) To see the relation between GDP/capita and Gini over time, click here.
Second, institutions. One comment was "Iceland is near the top in lots of categories, has a very small GDP, a tiny homogeneous population, very little industry, and is almost bankrupt" -- so what's that mean? Does Iceland have an "unfair advantage" What about Maldives and Belize? They have the same population, but not nearly Iceland's success. Iceland has done a good job at delivering human development (education, health, happiness) and they should be lauded for it. Their bankruptcy, btw, was the result of over-powerful banks. We can identify with that, but I'd prefer to identify with good schools and long lives. Iceland's banks will be gone, but its educated people will still be there, living a good life.
Fourth, these rankings -- statistical quibbles aside -- give us something to strive towards. Why wouldn't we want to learn from others, to see if we can get more freedom of the press, longer life expectancy, and so on?
Bottom Line: It's not "my country, right or wrong," it's "what can I do for my country?"