Last night I was reminded of a fairly common thread in American thinking that has always bothered me. I was watching a talking-head show and the topic was the refusal of parts of South America to sign up to Bush’s new free trade area. The pseudo-economist was inferring that it’s the fault of those other governments that their countries aren’t as well-off as the US due to their social systems and less-free-market system. (The free-market argument is a lie. Have you ever seen how much the US government subsidizes argiculture? Also, as a Canadian I’m well aware of all the protectionism going on against various products.)
My thoughts on this subject inevitably lead me to my knowledge that the US never ranks at the top on various surveys of quality of living. See UN Human Development Fund. This report takes into account education, literacy, life expectancy and poverty.
It’s interesting to see the US come in at #10. The countries in the top 10 are, and always have been, ones with heavier social systems, which makes sense. This never seems to resonate with hardcore “pure captitalist” folks, though. I think the reason why is that the talking heads discussing these topics are all “upper crust” people who have lots of money. It’s undeniable that the potential standard of living in the US is very high. But, these economists are not the average people. A good portion of the US population is not doing very well. About 20% of the population has zero access to healthcare. 25% of African-Americans live below the poverty line. Quality of education has dropped fairly dramatically as other countries become centres of engineering and sciences.
I also find it fascinating how some American economists talk so strongly about how every other economy is bad compared to the US based solely on the figure of growth. They will put up their nose when comparing 6% growth in the US vs. 3% growth in a country that has a heavier social system. They can’t understand why anyone would want to live in such a country. I’ll tell them why: the overall quality of living is often better for most people in one of those countries. From a purely monetary perspective, does it really matter to me if I’ll have $500k saved at retirement or $700k, given that my quality of life will be better for my full 90 years? Not really, because my health care will be covered, which is one of the biggest expenses after retirement. Overall I’d say you’d come out at least even. If you think about where the money is going, the extra $200k would have gone to taxes to pay for your health care. The argument for the US system is that public health care is less efficient so people are better off spending the money themselves. However, we should all know that’s not true because as a comparison Canada spends half per capita on health care of what the US does. (U.S. Media Favor Radical Health Reform– for Canada)
Why don’t these facts ever resonate with a lot of Americans? Do people still cling to the hope they will be the one in a million to climb out of poverty, so they don’t want to rock to boat? I guess I can understand this view but it sure gives the rich people a free ride. They get to keep riding the backs of the poor and nobody complains.