Are you sick and tired of living in a second class nation? A country that comes out in the middle of the pack in whatever survey they conduct: life expectancy, education, infant mortality, etc. We’re always far down the list, just above Rwanda. Can you remember when we actually were the greatest nation on earth? Okay, you have to go back to the 1950s when most of the developed world was in rubble and ruin following a really big war. We earned our number one ranking the old fashioned way, by bombing the hell out of everyone else. We were number one in everything. We can be again, but we need a different approach. This war thing isn’t working anymore.
Before we move on, I should mention that the US actually leads the world in a couple of categories. We are the hands down leader in Gross Domestic Product, GDP (The monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country). Our GDP of 16 trillion dollars is almost twice the country in second place, China.
We’re also number one in percentage of the population incarcerated. Although we are only about 5 percent of the world's population we lock up 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Hooray! We’re Number 1! We’re Number 1!
We also lead the world, by far, in military spending. We spend over 600 billion, that’s billion with a B, dollars on military stuff every year. Wow! That’s 37% of the world’s total. We spend more than twice the amount of China and Russia combined, and they run a distant second and third place. See we are number one. We’re Number 1! We’re Number 1!
Just try to imagine the kind of country we could be if we spent some of that 600 billion on infrastructure, education, science, healthcare, medical research, or on anything but pointless wars and acting as the planet’s police force.
While you’re doing that, let’s take a look some of the countries that actually lead the world in more commendable categories. How about Denmark? They were found to be the happiest people on earth. Happy is good.
I’ve been to Denmark a number of times and like all Western European countries it has its own variation of European charm. The thing I remember most is the scooters at Copenhagen airport. Scooters, you say. Yes, they have free scooters to get you up and down those long concourses. They’re adult versions of the two wheeled devices we scooted on as kids. Remember how you put your weight on the scooter with one foot and used the other for paddling, or is it scooting? You see businessmen in their suits and briefcases scooting along like intercity kids in the park.
The second image that comes to mind is strolling through the most popular city park in the world, Tivoli Gardens. It’s like a low-budget Disneyland with gourmet food and cold beer. But the most unusual and totally bizarre aspect of this charming little country is that Denmark was the first country on earth to legalize pornography, and its everywhere. Everywhere. I think I still have a replica one dollar bill with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski’s image on it. I’ll let you imagine the pose.
So how can a little country with scooters, one helluva a city park, and stacks of dirty books be the happiest country on earth? To start with they have a “modern welfare system,” based on the idea that all citizens are guarantied certain fundamental rights in case they encounter social problems such as unemployment, sickness or some other dependency. Healthcare and education are free and equally available to everyone and the government works with the employers to provide retirement. Sounds good, huh? It’s socialism with scooters, dirty pictures and really happy people.
I’m embarrassed to report that the US came in 17th in the recent happiness rankings, just below number 16, Mexico. Mexico, I’m not kidding, Mexico. Maybe we ought to sneak across the border. We’d be a little happier.
Another place we might look at is Switzerland. I’m no expert on Switzerland, but I did live there for a few years. The first thing that hits you about Switzerland is that the whole country looks just like it does in their scenic postcards and calendar photos. The place is clean, organized, maintained, and manicured. You won’t see one dented car, a rundown house, a lawn that needs mowing, and old sofa on a front porch, or any litter along their streets or highways. In addition to being neat freaks, they have the highest standard of living on the planet. How is that so, you ask. Well, they have the highest GDP per capita, lowest government debt, lowest tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, lowest unemployment rate, lowest inflation rate, and highest life expectancy. That’s how.
How can that be, you ask? Aren’t they’re just a bunch of cheese-eating yodelers in funny leather shorts. Yeah, they’re all of that, plus they have a very, very efficient government. A government so efficient in maintaining a low debt to GDP ratio that its citizens pay less tax and receive services superior to those of other countries. Paying less tax gives the Swiss higher disposable incomes, and more freedom and flexibility with the use of their money. Having the highest life expectancy comes as no great surprise. Their government subsidizes the lower classes’ health insurance (sounds a lot like Obamacare, huh?), ensuring health care equality within the country.
The efficiency of their government, their low tax rate, their high disposal incomes, and having a government that takes care of its OWN people are the major factors in Switzerland’s high standard of living.
So, do you think if I moved back to Switzerland I’d live better, healthier, and longer, or if I lived in Denmark I’d be a helluva lot happier? How can that be? This is the greatest country on earth, or so we’ve been told, time and time again. Then why ain’t we? How come our teenagers come out 31st in math, 24th in science, and 21st in reading in global rankings? We’re number 21! Doesn’t sound good, does it? We’re number 21! We’re number 21!
First off, I failed to mention that Denmark has a population of about 5 and a half million people and Switzerland has a just little over 8 million. That compares with the US’s population of roughly 322 million. We’re third in the world, behind China and India, just a notch above Indonesia in population. How do you think those places rank on the happiness or prosperity scale? Does our size make us more like China and India than Denmark and Switzerland? I hope the hell not, but size does seem to matter (my wife has been telling me that for years). Little countries are healthier, richer, and more fun.
So, how do we become a little country so we can be happier, better off, and live longer? I’m not sure. But I do know that even the smallest change is damned near impossible in our too-big and too-diversified country. If we can’t all agree on the easy things like, healthcare for ALL our citizens, the right for all people to marry, a women’s right to decide, the value of education, the importance of fixing our crumbling bridges, or what to do with the twenty million or so Americans that aren’t “legal,” how in the hell are we ever going to make the kind of changes required to make this a better place to live. We can’t. So, should we just give up? No, no we can dream, can’t we?
If we could do something, we might look closely at the Swiss confederation model. They have twenty-six cantons (think states) that perform almost all of the functions of government for their nearly homogenous citizenry. How else could they run a country that speaks four official languages? In most cases their cantons are organized around a common language and other characteristics. Oh, I failed to mention the cantons have almost all of the funding and most of the power of government, so they don’t have to argue with other cantons about what they think is right for their citizens. They just do it. The cantons take care of their people while their federal government runs their military, their rail system, the post office, and handles foreign affairs. That’s it.
We should do something like this. You’ve all seen maps of the US drawn with cultural or common-demographics boundaries. Redefining our states along some sort of things-we-have-in-common boundaries would be a beginning. Secondly, dismantling Washington and moving all that money and power to our newly defined states would put on a path to become a much better place to live.
We might even scale back our 600 billion dollar a year defense budget and do something like Switzerland does. They vigorously defend their own little country and remain neutral while the rest of the world goes to hell in a handbasket (no one knows why we use “handbasket” in this trite expression). Not that many years ago their immediate neighbor to the north declared war on the world, the whole damn world, and yet they left Switzerland alone. Why, because invading Switzerland would be trying to steal a bone from the neighbors dog, hardly worth it. That’s the kind of national defense we should have. Oh yeah, they haven’t been in a war since 1815 nor are they the target of any modern-day terrorists. And so far their neutrality hasn’t pissed off any Islamic fundamentalists. Sounds pretty good, huh?
Oh, I almost forgot. When we redefine our new state boundaries we’ll spit California into logical demographically-similar chunks but we won’t even mess with Texas (as they’ve been warning us for years). We’ll simply give Texas back to Mexico, Six Flags, the Alamo, the Texas School Book Depository, Rick Perry, George W, and all the rest. Mexico can have ’em. And, we’ll even throw in those damn Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, Tony Romo, and that brash, gaudy AT&T stadium. It will be great place for soccer matches, bull fights and rodeos. But, But I’m not sure if Mexico should have the Houston Texans. Nah, we want to keep J.J. Watt. They can have George W. but not J.J.
No need to thank us, Mexico. De nada.
Author’s note - I just checked, and I can’t afford to move back to Switzerland on my humble US retirement income. So, its either here or Mexico. Mexico with Rick Perry? Nah, I’m staying here.