Many Americans, especially conservatives, contend that America is superior to other democracies, providing U.S. citizens with better lives. But a disturbing new book, The Measure of a Nation, by Howard Steven Friedman, deflates that notion.
A U.N. statistician and health economist who also teaches at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, Friedman compares America to 13 other advanced industrial nations: Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Some depressing conclusions:
"Back in 1987," Friedman writes, "the United States ranked seventh in the entire world for life expectancy .... Today, it doesn't make the top 20."
America ranked 12th in the world's infant mortality rates in 1960, then slipped to 23rd by 1990 and 38th by 2008. African-American infants die at a rate more than double the U.S. average.
Despite poor health results, America spends more than twice as much per-capita on medical care than the other 13 countries. Prescriptions cost about 50 percent more in America -- and this nation has the highest rate of uninsured citizens among the surveyed countries.
Ominously, U.S. students perform much more poorly on tests measuring knowledge and skill levels.
Today, American teachers make salaries close to U.S. average wages. Back in 1970, U.S. teachers were paid 175 percent of the national norm. As a result, American teachers today are much more likely to seek new jobs after working in schools for a few years.
America's minimum-wage earners make one-third of the U.S. average wage -- less than their peers in most other industrialized countries.
Friedman also says Americans are twice as likely to be murdered than people in any of the other 13 countries, and four times as likely to be imprisoned.
However, the United States has more than double the number of billionaires per million inhabitants than its closest competitors, Canada and Germany.
A different scholar, author Arthur Goldwag, recently wrote that nearly all Americans "are deeply invested in their illusions about their country's present and future prospects."But The Measure of a Nation splashes a bit of cold water on that rosy view.