To understand how big a deal it is that the World Economic Forum is documenting the downward spiral of the once high-flying economy of the United States, we must first know what the WEF is. It is a collection of self-selected, conservative, libertarian leaning globalist business type One Percenters who are regularly denounced by anti-globalists and progressives. That ironically makes it all the more telling what they are saying about the US.
To better understand why it is a big deal that the WEF is documenting the spectacular decline of the once spectacular US economic machine remember that just a few years ago the WEF ranked the US as the most globally competitive nation on the planet. They had been doing so continuously since well back in the last century. That we placed number one year after reliable year was taken by many as sterling evidence that the US, the most libertarian capitalist nation there is, was indeed enjoying the fruits of going the furthest down the small government big wealth path of Adam Smith, Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan. That America was indeed the land of Exceptionalism, the Opportunity Society that gave its residents the best shot at elevating themselves out of poverty up to the middle class, and with some pluck and luck maybe even into the top percent. True, there were reasons to challenge the ranking. The criteria used by the WEF were somewhat slanted towards conservative thinking, in particular in not taking into account the implications of the wealth gap between the top few percent and the rest of national populations.
To further understand how and why it is a big deal that the WEF is documenting the spectacular decline of the American Way consider that a few years ago the US slipped from first place to second. Then to third. Fourth. Last year fifth. The WEF has just released its latest rankings (http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-competitiveness). The US is plunging like a stone in a deep pond to seventh.
And to fully understand how and why it is a big deal that the WEF is documenting the dizzying decline of the most laissez faire, let-the-rich-do-what-they-please-and-hope-some-of-it-trickles-down-to-the-rest democracy, chew over that even the right leaning criteria of the WEF have forced the organization to determine that a number of progressive, big government democracies as more economically competitive than the US. Specifically, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, and Germany. Britain is just behind the US and on its way to passing us.
Yes, Sweden, the land that President Eisenhower lambasted and slandered as the cradle to grave high tax welfare state so depressing that the unambitious and alcoholic Swedes were committing suicide enmass is beating out the American Way. And so are the pothead Dutch. And the Germans/ Well, OK that makes sense.
In other words, dear reader, it is the very kind of lefty, liberal, socialistic economies that the Republican right continues to love to denounce like a mindless ideological automaton as moribund "entitlement" societies that we Americans must strive to avoid mimicking -- perhaps you watched the Tampa convention where Reagan was worshipped and Randian Tea Partiers were fÃªted -- are kicking the economic ass of the United States. And it is not just lefty liberals who are saying this, it is the global economic elite who cannot avoid admitting the painfully plain truth.
But as useful as the WEF rankings are, they are technically limited because they are based on insufficiently broad criteria. In fact, there has been an appalling lack of effort to fully document and compare the overall socioeconomic conditions in the most successful nations in history, the 1st world countries, to see which of them is doing the best and why. A few years ago I took a big stab at the problem by publishing the first iteration of the Successful Societies Scale in the peer reviewed journal Evolutionary Psychology. Based on about two dozen major indicators of social and economic conditions in the most prosperous dozen and a half democracies, the initial version found that the US was at the bottom of the western pile of success, with the most progressive nations at the top. Currently I am working with colleagues with an expanded Successful Societies Scale to get an even more solid and objective result. It features 48 indicators, we threw just about every reasonably reliable measure of eufunction (optimal) and dysfunction into the mix. The analysis dwarfs anything that has gone before. Soon to be submitted to peer review, here are some highlights.
The results show that the US is in many ways number one. In outrageously high rates of homicide and incarceration, juvenile mortality that matches 2nd world levels, adult mortality with lifespans actually decreasing in the Bible Belt, absurdly excessive health expenditures, obesity, mental illness, gonorrhea and syphilis infections, abortions, teen out of wedlock pregnancy, gender inequality including mandated maternity leave, voter participation, marriage duration, exploiting resources, and in income disparity otherwise limited to 2nd world countries. America performs poorly in illicit use of drugs, divorce, leisure time, the education it once was a leader in, same for employment, personal and national debt, the manufacturing base and infrastructure. On the 0-10 scoring of the Successful Societies Scale the US scores a pathetic 3, lowest in the bunch. America is dangerously close to being a 2nd world country.
The argument from the right has been that the American Way is the best way because it citizens enjoy exceptional levels of opportunity and growing wealth. It is becoming increasingly well know that the US has actually lost its once vaunted advantage in upward socioeconomic mobility and now is very nearly at the bottom in that regard. To test the business about economic growth we subtracted per capita annual income back in 1995 from the same in 2010 and checked out who did best, worst and in between. The variation was from flat line to a 160% increase. The income of American's grew a rather mediocre 70%, not only below the median, but behind that of 11 of the 19 countries sampled. Even home ownership is not particularly high in the states. The conservolibertarian claim that cowboy, wild west economics that let the free markets gallop whether the invisible hand guides them produces a classless society where all have a substantial shot at lifting themselves towards the top, is an enormous socioeconomic scam. The US has become one of the most class rigid western countries.
It is no secret why this is happening. Check out the likes of The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Stiglitz, Barlett and Steele's The Betrayal of the American Dream, and the classic albeit oddly named The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier by Wilkinson and Pickett. The dysfunctional American sociopolitical system is allowing the oligarchs to establish a plutonomy, in which the top percent is rigging the system by using a bloated financial sector to redistribute much of the wealth of the middle and lower class up the economic ladder. The mechanism for the upward transfer of monies is "rent seeking" that includes massive interest payments on enormous personal debt loads.
It is the so-called entitlement societies that have become the real world opportunity cultures. The nations that score the highest -- around 6 to over 7 -- on the Successful Societies Scale are, well let's see here; Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and Japan. Note that all the countries ranked higher than the US by the WEF are on this list. These exceptionally successful societies generally feature what the right hates -- universal health care that delivers long lives at low cost, high taxes to support extensive government including infrastructure development and maintenance and support for the manufacturing base, job security and/or unemployment protection, extensive unionization, well developed safety nets and education funding, legal and social regulation of business and especially finance, long vacations and mandated maternity leave, lots of cohabiting parents, severe legal limits on child punishment, extensive and explicit sex education, rehabilitative incarceration, strict gun laws and low gun ownership.
Nor do most Scandinavian countries suffer from exceptional levels of suicide (Danes are well below American levels, the Finns are high) and alcohol consumption. All the Nordic nations score high in life satisfaction and top Americans in long term happiness.
At the end of the last World War the US truly was an exceptional colossus. But rather than following the American Way, the western Euros, Canadians, Aussies and so on went down a more practical socialistic path and have made major gains, while America is foundering. When the most libertarian democracy is already behind and is losing ground vis---vis the more progressive competitors, then pushing to make the US even more libertarian is intellectual and logical madness. Becoming more progressive is pragmatic sanity.
It is no wonder that the rest of the world is moving away from looking to exceptionally libertarian America as the model exemplar of how to run a modern economy and society. To do so is obviously a bad idea for the middle and lower class majorities. Sweden and Germany provide better examples to shoot for. The question is, as per what is the matter with Kansas, is why such a large chunk of the American body politic is still buying into the myth of American Exceptionalism?
It comes down to massive misinformation. I got into the business of finding out what is really going down regarding modern societies because not enough was being done to answer the question. It is particularly vexing that the right has been going on, and on and on about how the American Way is the one and only best way, and that the rest of the west is being run into the socioeconomic ground by leftist fools. There is a host of right wing think tanks and scholars who could produce studies demonstrating the real world superiority of libertarian policies via a comprehensive data set if they could do so. I have repeatedly challenged the right to document their claims. But they cannot. The data is coming in and there is no objective doubt that progressive capitalist/socialist hybrid economies produce the best overall results. The refusal of the right to acknowledge this scientific truth is not surprising in that it is in accord with the rejection of many conservatives of biological evolution, the adverse climatic and oceanic effects of extracting fossil carbon from sediments, the medical safety of abortion and the risk of raped women of becoming pregnant, the efficacy of comprehensive sex education and condoms, and the President being an American born nonMuslim. Conservatism involves a high degree of delusional rejection of reality and science. Some of this is self-aggrandizement, as when many of wealth promote the libertarianism that enhances their fortunes, or those who wish to run pother people's lives promote myths about human reproduction. In other cases it is dysfunctional ideology promoted by elements of wealth to mislead the masses into working against their best interests, exemplified by Murdoch's FoxNews.
Fortunately the west has run a decades long experiment that leaves no doubt that for all its flaws, prudent collective progressivism outperforms hyperindividualistic libertarianism. It is the responsibility of those who are objective to know the facts and get them out there to the public.