« The Citizen's Dilemma | Main | What is Patriotism? »

American Exceptionalism: The Facts

Americans are proud of their country, so much so that oftentimes signs of concern or criticism are seen as unpatriotic and disrespectful. It can be difficult to have a knowledgeable and fact-based discussion of what needs to improve in the country, because admitting its flaws is seen as not honoring the country. But what are the facts? I’ve presented some below, with data gathered from the World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO), the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, and by NationMaster, an international statistical data website

We’re number 1!

The United States leads either the world or the developed world (36 OECD nations) in the following:

Charitable giving: We are either #1 or #2 (behind Myanmar), depending on the source. Americans are generous. Myanmar supports a large Buddhist monk population with private giving.

Military spending: We spend 4 times more than our nearest competitor, China. However, in terms of percent of GDP we are 4th, behind Saudi Arabia, Israel and Russia.

Healthcare spending: We are #1 in the OECD in healthcare spending per capita.

Education: Total spending per student, including college: we are #1 in OECD

Firearms related deaths: We are #1 in OECD

Incarceration rate: We have 666 persons/100,000 in prison, which is #1 in the OECD and 2.5 times greater than any other OECD country.


We’re not number 1

Healthcare: Although we spend more money on healthcare per capita than any other OECD country (twice the OECD average), our lifespan is 1 year less than the average OECD country and 3 years less than the average European member.  Our infant mortality is 37% greater than the OECD average. We rank 28th in number of physicians per 1000 people, 25th in number of medical school graduates and have 86% fewer hospital beds per 1000 people than the average OECD country. Our healthcare system has poor outcomes and is understaffed, the latter outcome as a result of physician organizations, such as the AMA,keeping medical school admissions at low numbers in order to increase salaries.

Education: The American population is well educated compared to other OECD countries. The U.S. has 6% more college graduates than the average OECD country. Although we spend more money per student than any other OECD country, only 70% of that spending is public money, compared to 84% in other OECD countries, which ranks us 15th among OECD countries. More than a quarter of spending on education comes from personal or family resources. Our outcomes are also poor: on PISA scores, which directly compare knowledge and skills among OECD member nation students, we score average in reading, but 23rd in science and 31st in mathematics.

Violent crime: The U.S. murder rate is triple the OECD average and we have five times more people in prisons than the average OECD country.

Americans are exceptionally generous, exceptionally militaristic, exceptionally well armed and deadly toward our fellow citizens, exceptionally likely to imprison our fellow citizens, and make exceptionally poor choices with regard to the design and efficiency of our education and healthcare systems. How often does our national conversation or our political debate focus on these facts? Very seldom. Instead, we debate whether we are too capitalistic or socialistic, whether criticism of the system is patriotic or not, and focus our legislative debates on cultural issues that have little chance of changing how our country actually functions.

When we function poorly compared to countries that are economically similar to ourselves, it may be time to examine what we are doing and what they are doing and see if we can modify our system to improve our outcomes.


Casey Dorman is editor of Lost Coast Review and author of "2020," a new political novel, to be found on Amazon.com 

Reader Comments (1)

comparisons between countries are difficult...for instance...many of what we hope are the beneficiaries of philanthropy in America are tax funded by other OECD countries so "giving" is not necessary. Similarly much of domestic philanthropy calculations may be nothing more than the transfer of funds to private foundations which may never be used for pilanthropic causes unless one counts tax avoidance by the wealthy as philanthropy.
BTW Supporting a large monk population may be different than you think. A classmate of mine from Myanamar once confided he had been a monk. For many there and in Thailand, serving as a monk is more related to an upper class right of passage than religion. He was studying for his doctorate in forestry at Berkeley with his ultimate desire to retun home for a high government post taking bribes in the illicit teak trade....he would have probably been good at it.

October 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>