Ranking the U.S.A. - 4/14/14 | WYPR

Ranking the U.S.A. - 4/14/14

Apr 14, 2014

It’s pretty easy to make the claim that America is number one.  After all, the U.S. controls the world’s most powerful military and is home to its largest economy.  In the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote, "Sure, technically Norwegians may be wealthier per capita and the Japanese may live longer, but the world watches the NBA, melts at Katy Perry, uses iPhones to post on Facebook, trembles at our aircraft carriers and blames the CIA for everything.  We’re number 1." 

But according to at least one significant measure, the Social Progress Index, America is far from number one.  This ranking of livability across 132 nations places the U.S. at 16th.  The reason – our economic and military strengths often don’t translate into well-being for the average citizen.  In the Social Progress Index, America excels in terms of access to advanced education but ranks 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, a surprising 34th in access to water and 31st in terms of personal safety.

The Social Progress Index ranks New Zealand first followed by Switzerland, Iceland and the Netherlands.  All of these nations are poorer than America per capita, but manage to translate less output per person into higher levels of average well-being.