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Uncle Sam was a rolling stone
March 12, 2014 11:15 AM   Subscribe


 
My, what an uplifting article that was...
posted by tgrundke at 11:16 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


That is a masterfully crafted headline.
posted by smackfu at 11:17 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


Only six? Must be doing better than I thought.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:21 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]


In New York City, the development of Second Avenue subway line was first delayed by the outbreak of World War II; it's still not finished.

I think that is rather unfair. That the line was stopped for WWII is not a poor reflection on a society, nor is it right to suggest that somehow it has sat around "delayed" all these years. Besides, hundreds of millions are being spent and it is being done now.
posted by Thing at 11:28 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Also: Smarties vs. Smarties.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:28 AM on March 12


Um, duh?
posted by Melismata at 11:31 AM on March 12


Yes, but SOCIALISMBENGHAZI!1!!!
posted by Thorzdad at 11:31 AM on March 12 [15 favorites]


Bizarrely, the one on that list that astounds me is the lack of paid paternal/maternal leave. I honestly don't understand why the US doesn't have it. I'm child-free, and plan on staying so, but there have been enough of my husband's co-workers who have had babies that when I found out what moms and dads do get in the way of compensation for nearly a year of the newborn's life, my jaw dropped. My sister back home in South Carolina would have jumped for joy if she could have afforded to take the time off to raise my two nieces after they were born.
posted by Kitteh at 11:33 AM on March 12 [10 favorites]


FT: How To Save The US

also from same, France and the UK
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:34 AM on March 12 [6 favorites]


Bizarrely, the one on that list that astounds me is the lack of paid paternal/maternal leave. I honestly don't understand why the US doesn't have it.

If you ask enough people this, I'm pretty sure you will eventually run into variants on "welfare mothers getting pregnant on purpose so they get paid not to work" and other such illogical ugliness. Unfortunately, that sort of thinking holds sway in the US. The eternal fear that some undeserving "other" will pocket a few crumbs that they aren't entitled to.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:36 AM on March 12 [32 favorites]


I agree with the six points in the article, but calling it third world is a clear exaggeration. More like a slow decline into mediocrity perhaps.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:40 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]


The Equality of Opportunity parameters seem sketchy to me. I'm neither surprised nor outraged that "children born in the poorest quintile have a less than 3 percent chance of reaching the top quintile." What I'd like to see is the chance that a child born in the poorest quintile can make it to the next-poorest. I'm not sure how to extract that from website data (and there are doubtless confounding factors, akin to everybody in the lower quintiles being on a backwards-moving treadmill that runs faster than they can). But "rags to riches" is a stupid metric. How 'bout we focus on "rags to modest self sufficiency." Once we get that, we can talk about riches.
posted by spacewrench at 11:41 AM on March 12 [15 favorites]


nor is it right to suggest that somehow it has sat around "delayed" all these years.

Actually, I suppose this is wrong. Though I'm not sure that the history of the Second Avenue Subway is a clear indictment of New York or US society.
posted by Thing at 11:42 AM on March 12


Actually, the US is way "ahead" of the rest of the goddamned world on a number of these categories so we're behind the "developing world" in certain standards.
  • More people incarcerated per capita than EVERYONE EXCEPT NORTH KOREA, which seems just shy of a prison state;
  • Twice as many firearm-related murders per capita than Iraq;
  • In many American counties, especially in the deep South, life expectancy is lower than in Algeria, Nicaragua or Bangladesh...
You get the idea.

I think the biggest problem is the huge span in income inequality, and it's a two-fold problem. People who can most easily change things look around them, and they see that their peers and generally the people they interact with are doing well for themselves. But there are people who are just scraping by. Make income inequality more visible and actually address it, then other things might just "fix" themselves. But that's just my wild idea.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:45 AM on March 12 [19 favorites]


If you ask enough people this, I'm pretty sure you will eventually run into variants on "welfare mothers getting pregnant on purpose so they get paid not to work" and other such illogical ugliness.

I had a coworker who lamented her inability to take more than 2 months with her newborn, but when I pointed out that she could get more maternity leave virtually anywhere in the world, she was horrified. "Businesses can't afford to keep running if they do that," she said indignantly. When I pointed out that evidently businesses in the rest of the world seemed to hold it together just fine in spite of maternity leave, she refused to believe it -- "there has to be some economic detriment," she insisted. "There's no way that's viable." And this was a liberal, college-educated single mom who had traveled the world. But the ideological notion that "social benefits" = "free stuff for cheaters to the detriment of society" dies hard, I guess.
posted by scody at 11:46 AM on March 12 [56 favorites]


"Businesses can't afford to keep running if they do that,"

What's particularly hilarious is that a lot of companies that operate in the US do, in fact, operate elsewhere where mat leave is guaranteed by law, and still turn a profit. Somehow. It's almost as though a lot of large companies have a lot of money and can afford it or something.
posted by Hoopo at 11:50 AM on March 12 [37 favorites]


Well, except that they pay those outsiders a fraction of what they pay Americans. (But yeah, you're right, funny how they always seem to be turning record profits.)
posted by Melismata at 11:53 AM on March 12


> "social benefits" = "free stuff for cheaters to the detriment of society" dies hard, I guess.

People like that will be content with living in a box under a bridge if they know the guy under the other bridge doesn't even have a box.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:54 AM on March 12 [40 favorites]


Yeah, it drives me nuts the extent to which my fellow Americans will fuck themselves over just to make sure that someone else doesn't get something they don't "deserve".

It's like hearing all the bitching in the comments of the local newspaper whenever some union negotiations are in the news. Rather than deciding that he's getting the shaft and should maybe start organizing, Joe Sixpack (not his real name) would prefer to rail against those overpaid bums in the union asking for so much when he gets so little. I suspect that given the choice between getting a raise to the same amount as someone in that union or seeing the union knocked down to his level, our hypothetical citizen would choose the latter.

For about the last 50 years, America only seems to be good at tearing things down, and has forgotten how to build things up.
posted by Ickster at 11:55 AM on March 12 [25 favorites]


I've always hated social mobility arguments. Who cares? So people can move up or down into or out of certain percentiles. Even if there is churn it still means that 99% of people are on the outside looking in. Social justice is for everyone always. Not for a rotating cast of temporary winners.
posted by srboisvert at 11:57 AM on March 12 [13 favorites]


Add to this the corrupt political system (but its only a little corrupt!), the broken electoral system (but people still get to vote!), and the hilariously bloated/wasteful/also-corrupt military budget (but what if we have to fight someone like us ever?!) and it all looks to my eyes like a-few-years-pre-collapse USSR.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:58 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


What I'd like to see is the chance that a child born in the poorest quintile can make it to the next-poorest. [...] But "rags to riches" is a stupid metric. How 'bout we focus on "rags to modest self sufficiency." Once we get that, we can talk about riches.

Far better still would be ditching the emphasis on mobility entirely, and working to ensure that even the bottom quintile has access to all the necessaries of a stable and decent life, health care and shelter and food and education and so on. Get everyone out of rags, make sure we all share the riches. The mobility myth is a durable part of American economic ideology, but it doesn't have to be.
posted by RogerB at 12:04 PM on March 12 [18 favorites]


God, I hate that people still use the terminology "third world". This kind of geopolitical thinking has been defunct for 20 years, if not longer. To pretend that there's some sort of predictable geopolitical grouping that each of these trends falls neatly into is naive.

Consider imprisonment rate. Yes, the rate of imprisonment in the US is absurd and tragic; one of the most critical issues facing our society. The reason we must address it, however, is not because it makes the US similar to a "third world" nation. If you look at global trends in imprisonment rate, the US is a true outlier, along with NK and Russia (I'm discounting the tiny island nations). Most OECD countries have imprisonment rates in the range of 75-100 per 100,000, in contrast to the United States' ~700 (!!!!). But the truly poor nations, those that we called "third world" in the 70s but are now probably most properly referred to as "least developed", have the lowest imprisonment rates. The prototypical "third world" nation (the leader of the unaligned movement, where the term "third world" originally came from) is India, which has an imprisonment rate of 30 per 100,000.

I've always hated social mobility arguments. Who cares?

Societies with high social mobility tend to be more stable.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:05 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


I guess a better title would be "six ways the United States is unlike other OECD countries". But that isn't very link-baity.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:07 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


Kitteh: "Bizarrely, the one on that list that astounds me is the lack of paid paternal/maternal leave. I honestly don't understand why the US doesn't have it."

Luckily, we have it here in California.
posted by wcfields at 12:08 PM on March 12


....it all looks to my eyes like a-few-years-pre-collapse USSR.

OK. How so? I'm not denying that the US has problems, but they are soooooo different than the problems that the USSR had, I don't see how this is possibly a useful comparison.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:10 PM on March 12


America is a great country, and it does many things well. But it has vast blind spots...Our ideas of meritocracy and upward mobility blind us to the realities of class and inequality

Does it ever. You'd almost think there was an entire media system devoted to exploiting it.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:11 PM on March 12 [15 favorites]


Luckily, we have it here in California.

You have six weeks of paid partial leave for some qualified workers. Compared to other developed countries that's a sick joke.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:12 PM on March 12 [18 favorites]


To clear some things up about parental leave - at least as it is in Canada: Businesses can afford it because they're not actually required to pay you anything while you're not working. Businesses are required to give you a certain amount of leave (about a year) and government employment insurance pays the parents about 55% of their salary with a very low maximum rate.
posted by beau jackson at 12:12 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


Societies with high social mobility tend to be more stable.

That rather depends on the direction of travel, surely?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:13 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


And in places like Norway, they can afford it because the whole country makes a shitload of money selling oil.
posted by Melismata at 12:14 PM on March 12


I'm neither surprised nor outraged that "children born in the poorest quintile have a less than 3 percent chance of reaching the top quintile."

The top quintile is a household income of $102,000. That is solidly middle class to me. That those born in the bottom quintile only have a 3% chance of getting this is a shame.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:15 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


God, I hate that people still use the terminology "third world". This kind of geopolitical thinking has been defunct for 20 years, if not longer. To pretend that there's some sort of predictable geopolitical grouping that each of these trends falls neatly into is naive.

These are measurable, quantifiable criteria that are applied fairly and evenly across geopolitical boundaries. One way to respond to the numbers is deny they are correct. Another way is to question if the measuring stick is useful. Another way is to deal with the numbers in an honest fashion and figure out what changes to make to resolve the problems they uncover.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:17 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


Worst thing about this is that the UK and to a lesser extent my own country does seem determined to follow the US into the abyss.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:20 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


And in places like Norway, they can afford it because the whole country makes a shitload of money selling oil.

If you care enough about something as a society, you prioritise it. I lived in Norway and Denmark for a total of almost 8 years. Their parental leaves are good, and it's because society believes that solid families make for a good society, and that bonding with your child is an important part of that. They aren't saying that the only good family is a M+F headed one, far from it, lots of my friends have blended families with partners other than their original one. It's not just the oil fund, it's that the government is relatively conservative with money and they allocate funds to parental leave.

Sheldon Adelson, for instance, spent more to influence the 2012 election than the residents of 12 states combined.

Too many rich people trying to protect their assets, rather than working to lift up their fellow man.
posted by arcticseal at 12:23 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


Most OECD countries have imprisonment rates in the range of 75-100 per 100,000, in contrast to the United States' ~700 (!!!!). But the truly poor nations, those that we called "third world" in the 70s but are now probably most properly referred to as "least developed", have the lowest imprisonment rates.

American Exceptionalism, hard at work!
posted by Panjandrum at 12:25 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


And in places like Norway, they can afford it because the whole country makes a shitload of money selling oil.

Yeah, it's not like the US has any natural resources. It's too bad all of our stuff automatically belongs to corporations. It would be nice to pretend that the people living here -- not to mention the native cultures who are still waiting on justice oh four centuries later -- would have some input on where our national resources go.

It's odd how some basic democratic values are labeled as unAmerican, isn't it?
posted by deanklear at 12:28 PM on March 12 [33 favorites]


Yes, America can't afford social benefits since it's only the richest country in the world, and in most cases fixing those 6 issues would REDUCE costs.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:31 PM on March 12 [14 favorites]


America has no underserved... Just undeserved. Innit?
posted by lordaych at 12:33 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


> Worst thing about this is that the UK and to a lesser extent my own country does seem determined to follow the US into the abyss.

I clicked on your profile expecting you to be Canadian.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:33 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


You know what's the common point between all of these? They all affect minorities more than they affect whites.

Somewhat related, and could be construed as an explanation: the war on the poor
posted by Riton at 12:38 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


in many American counties, especially in the deep South, life expectancy is lower than in Algeria, Nicaragua or Bangladesh.

This may seem nitpicky, but it's meaningless to make this comparison. If you pick outliers from a large data set and compare them to the average from a different large data set, you can show literally anything you want.

This is not to be taken as a defense of the US health care system, which is for shit.
posted by echo target at 12:40 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Yeah, here in Quebec this is what we have:

Maternal leave: 32 weeks of parental leave that can be shared with father, 70% up to $834.61/week for 25 weeks, then 55% up to $655.76/week for 25 weeks.

Paternal leave: 5 weeks paid leave at a rate of up to 70% of their income or 3 weeks paid leave at a rate of 75% of their income.

Combined, new parents get to be with their kid for more than a few weeks. Compared to anything back home in the States, that's pretty damn good.
posted by Kitteh at 12:40 PM on March 12


I clicked on your profile expecting you to be Canadian.

I am so, so very scared about the next federal election.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:41 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


fffm, I'm currently more worried about the provincial one going on!

/end of derail
posted by Kitteh at 12:42 PM on March 12


OK. How so? I'm not denying that the US has problems, but they are soooooo different than the problems that the USSR had, I don't see how this is possibly a useful comparison.

I didn't make the original correlation, but I'll defend it. The similarity is the brazen indifference to the truth. We may not be told that grain production is up 100% this year while we wait in bread lines, but we are told bold lies about the unemployment rate and the consumer price index is the most manipulated economic figure you can find. Our society has a hundred ways of affirming that everything is okay while at the same time the common experience is that our standard of living is in decline.
posted by dgran at 12:47 PM on March 12 [14 favorites]


In New York City, the development of Second Avenue subway line was first delayed by the outbreak of World War II; it's still not finished.

Three guesses where the author of this piece lives or travels on a regular basis.

The answer to the "problem" he's pointing out is this: The Second Avenue subway line hasn't been completed because New York City hasn't been entirely solvent during the last 80 years, and the project gains and loses popularity depending on (among other things) how the economy is doing. Also, not every voter is convinced that it's worth spending billions of dollars on -- especially since the section currently being constructed will serve one of the city's wealthiest areas. Quite a few folks living in the outer boroughs -- who also vote -- have to take a bus to a train (they're living in what used to be known as "two fare zones" before the Metrocard era,) and probably would prefer to see their tax dollars go towards a subway station in their neighborhood instead of adding a second line onto Manhattan's Upper East Side.

NYC's subway system is the second largest in the world in terms of distance covered and the fifth largest in terms of passengers carried.
posted by zarq at 12:56 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


The eternal fear that some undeserving "other" will pocket a few crumbs that they aren't entitled to.

A really odd sentiment considering how much the undeserving at the other end of the spectrum take. Then again, there's the whole "temporarily embarrassed millionaires" mindset going on with most people.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 12:56 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


The most telling criticism of America is that it is so craven to vested interests, and by extension, money.

Elections are about money. Prisons are about money. Healthcare is about money. America is slowly whittling away at the spine of its society to keep an even smaller number of people wealthy.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:06 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


I want to know why these points can be made, and how precisely it got this way. What are the root causes? General hubris that built up post WWI/WWII? Total energy zeal combined with a lack of consciousness about limits (it's a crying shame The Oil Drum is no longer posted to)? Both? Both plus cultural mixes as a result of the aforementioned?

I know the United States can be better. I know other countries with similar resources have done better on these points. But knowing a few things about those other countries explains why it is so much easier for them to achieve better stats on the same points, and it often comes at the expense or sacrifice of those traits which some of us find essential in modern civilization.

Europe, for example, while it has a stellar health care system, has a youth unemployment rate that makes the US' look manageable (The Guardian, as of 11/14/2013 put it Europe 22.6% vs US ~16%), this while the US is (slowly) improving healthcare nationwide. And as far as diversity is concerned (just diversity, ignoring interplay), the US is not the best, but certainly holding its own compared to a fair chunk of the developed world.

I can't really comment on criminal justice and guns. But the US education system is continuously evolving, and to understand how it's improving really requires getting out there, and seeing how the schools are working and working with their communities, and also observing how generic science investigation work goes here. OECD measurements and racial segregation aside, I've certainly witnessed how white students graduating from well funded school districts can perform so-so in University/College (and in the job market), and a fair number of my African-American/Non-European American classmates have fared quite well in this economy (as they did in College/University).

As far as infrastructure is concerned: sustainability is going to be a huge focus going forward as energy prices, while on a bit of a break, should resume their climb relatively soon. And I have faith that, despite a few notable and terrible examples of failure, communities throughout the US are putting their infrastructure in triage mode: tending to critical/dangerous areas, while monitoring the deterioration of other at-risk areas.

TL;DR - While yes, the US has its problems, we're strong relative to other countries on many points, some of which are difficult to get proper statistics on. I love TRS, but drive by US critical points like this probably do a lot more harm than good as they focus on a statistic to fix rather than a problem root cause, and additionally encourage national brain drain when the US really could keep its brightest and best to form a more globally acceptable society and culture.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 1:23 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


General hubris that built up post WWI/WWII?

IMHO, this. That was a crapload of wealth we got there. We're loath to give it up, and we're having a big extinction burst.
posted by Melismata at 1:28 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


not every voter is convinced that it's worth spending billions of dollars on

The Lexington Avenue line has twice as many riders as the entire Washington Metro. It's well past time to supplement it.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:33 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


scody: "Businesses can't afford to keep running if they do that," she said indignantly

It's not just increased benefits, but also minimum wage that is working elsewhere in the world. The Magical World Where McDonald's Pays $15 an Hour? It's Australia (The Atlantic article, Aug. 5, 2013)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:34 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Ickster: Rather than deciding that he's getting the shaft and should maybe start organizing, Joe Sixpack (not his real name) would prefer to rail against those overpaid bums in the union asking for so much when he gets so little.

Screw you, richy-rich union member! Let's race to the bottom!

This belief that "everyone should be able to do it on their own" while blindly ignoring the support systems already in place, or the fact that your personal "home run" success came only because you started on 3rd base is so endemic, and it's so sad.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:36 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


But if we allow people to take maternal/paternal leave, then we can't all have Cadillacs.
posted by octothorpe at 1:44 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


I know the United States can be better. I know other countries with similar resources have done better on these points. But knowing a few things about those other countries explains why it is so much easier for them to achieve better stats on the same points, and it often comes at the expense or sacrifice of those traits which some of us find essential in modern civilization.

This is completely not true. In almost every industrialized society, close to 90% of the population lives on less than 5% of the land. So distribution is not a problem. Canada has worse weather and worse distribution, and is still doing better on pretty much everything.

Germany has less natural resources, less land mass for collecting energy, and yet has achieved close to 50% renewable generation for the country as a whole. Denmark exceeded their total consumption with wind, albeit very briefly, and without the technology to distribute it efficiently. Germany also has low unemployment, and they are also the number two exporter on the planet, behind China. And if there's something Germany doesn't have that you consider essential for modern civilization, let's hear it.

One reason we're doing poorly is because our entire legal system has been stunted and mutated to serve the interests of big business, and our congress is entirely corrupt and doesn't give a damn about anything but their own re-election. Another is because we spend 10x more than other countries per capita on our military. We do this because spending a trillion a year on the ability to project business interests is seen as a "good investment," while returning social security savings to people who have paid in and providing food / health care / education to regular American citizens is seen as a "bad investment." Please stop and consider what kind of corrupt, greedy, nasty, and unethical assholes agree with that kind of logic, and now remember that's who runs the country, despite the best intentions of people who we pretend to elect to pretend to run it.

Maybe it's our government, maybe our economic system is fundamentally broken, but the bottom line is that we aren't losing because we are better. We are losing because we suck. Until we're ready to see that, good luck on the bit where we actually have to work to address our problems.
posted by deanklear at 1:46 PM on March 12 [29 favorites]


one more dead town's last parade: " The Lexington Avenue line has twice as many riders as the entire Washington Metro."

The IRT Broadway line carries over 1.7 million riders daily. The IRT Lexington Avenue line carries around 1.9 million riders daily. Each line carries more than twice the number of riders of the entire Washington Metro.

The biggest difference between the two is that the A, B, D and the C also run up CPW on the UWS. So there's already a line there taking some of the volume.

It's well past time to supplement it."

Oh, I agree. But folks vote with their wallets, and don't always approve of things that don't directly benefit them.
posted by zarq at 1:58 PM on March 12


how precisely it got this way. What are the root causes?

I think it's cultural - the loss of the idea that we're in it together, that helping society and each other helps us, that united we stand and divided (ie individualism) we fall.

When socialism (schools, firefighters, healthcare) is targeted, society is what the gun is actually pointing at.
posted by anonymisc at 2:07 PM on March 12 [9 favorites]


The a( during weekdays) and d make no stops between 59th and 125th.
posted by brujita at 2:14 PM on March 12


I wish I could say this was the first, or the tenth, time I've seen a conversation about the failure of socialism in America turn into an argument about subway stops.
posted by RogerB at 2:17 PM on March 12 [9 favorites]


one more dead town's last parade: "The Lexington Avenue line has twice as many riders as the entire Washington Metro. It's well past time to supplement it."

The Lexington Avenue Line (which comprises part of the 4/5/6) carries approximately the same number of daily riders as the Washington Metro, BART, MARTA, MBTA, and Amtrak. Combined.

It's very congested. The fact that the line can still operate at all is nothing short of incredible.
posted by schmod at 2:18 PM on March 12


JoeXIII007: "Europe, for example, while it has a stellar health care system, has a youth unemployment rate that makes the US' look manageable (The Guardian, as of 11/14/2013 put it Europe 22.6% vs US ~16%), "

How much of that is a result of the differential in youth incarceration rates? I did some googling around but it's tough because of a different definition of youth in these two spheres. Especially in the US where their is a continuing push to classify youth offenders as adults.
posted by Mitheral at 2:19 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


calling it third world is a clear exaggeration.

How so? I was shocked when I first came here - people in the USA suffering afflictions I assume were gone with the dark ages, banished from the modern world. Beggars everywhere. People physically deformed from untreated illness, insane people living and dying in the streets. Banana-republic income distribution.

You don't even need to look at the numbers - there is a lot that very viscerally feels third-world when you come to the USA.
posted by anonymisc at 2:20 PM on March 12 [30 favorites]


This is completely not true. In almost every industrialized society, close to 90% of the population lives on less than 5% of the land. So distribution is not a problem.

Fair point. I'd have to look into it a bit more to verify.

Canada has worse weather and worse distribution, and is still doing better on pretty much everything.

Compare these two population density maps: Canada, US, and get back to me on this. My gut feeling is getting vital resources to the majority of Canadians could be done on a handful of provincial highways, while for the US would mean taking 10s, if not hundreds of interstates.

I got nothing against Germany, and in fact would love to visit that country one of these days. They're solid on a lot of metrics and it's really hard to pinpoint what, off the top of my head, could bring them down a bit.

As far as the interplay between US business and the US legal system, I am betting the current scheme of things really got started in the 70s when we faced the Oil Crises, and the very platform on which our economy and society was built met its existential crisis. Jimmy Carter, I believe, had a televised speech lamenting on how US Americans lined their cars up for gas at gas stations trying to fuel up. He tried to get this country to realize the standard of living might be a bit too high and unsustainable. Consequentially he got succeeded by Reagan. The rest is history.

Maybe it's our government, maybe our economic system is fundamentally broken, but the bottom line is that we aren't losing because we are better. We are losing because we suck. Until we're ready to see that, good luck on the bit where we actually have to work to address our problems.

Parts of the US stink, yes. I agree, however, that people need to see what the problems are before they're addressed. But again, people won't see them until the problem root causes are exposed, and not buried under left/right leaning surface statistics. Let's work on that.

RE: Healthcare and unemployment comparisons - How much of that is a result of the differential in youth incarceration rates? I did some googling around but it's tough because of a different definition of youth in these two spheres. Especially in the US where their is a continuing push to classify youth offenders as adults.

That's a good point and a valid line of inquiry to pursue. I have nothing else to say other than that.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:23 PM on March 12


We ain't got no healthcare but we got elevators to bring our porsches up in our condos

Eat that Germany
posted by Riton at 2:28 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


The thing is that America is working for the people at the top of the pyramid.

I just read that one of the Pritzker billionaire family is listing their Gold Coast condo in Chicago for $10 Million and I actually wondered why they would even bother with the hassle. When you are worth 5+ Billion then a measly $10 Million is just one fifth of a percent of your wealth. With just a return of 7% you would make 350 million a year. Almost 30 million a month. Just ten days and they would make what the condo is worth. Doing nothing.

This is the scale that the wealthy live at.

We are financial ants in this world. Our concerns are not their concerns. Who cares about infrastructure when you take a private chopper to the airfield and get on a jet? Your kids are going to private school anyway and you have private security. You don't need health insurance because you have can have your own personal clinic set up at home. Any thing you need you can buy the very best of hundreds of times over. Your wealth is greater than the wealth that pharohs or medieval kings could even dream of. You own hundreds of thousands of people's entire working lives.
posted by srboisvert at 2:29 PM on March 12 [22 favorites]


folks vote with their wallets, and don't always approve of things that don't directly benefit them

Yes, this is called "the story of transit in Toronto since 1974." See also: Rob Ford.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:34 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Incarceration and Unemployment: U.S. and Europe, 2008

Incarceration, unemployment, total

E15 | 0.2% | 7.1% | 7.3%
USA | 1.5% | 5.8% | 7.3%


Source

Helpfully, prisoners are not counted as part of the Labor force in the United States, so they don't inconvenience us by impacting unemployment numbers.
posted by deanklear at 2:39 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


I saw this bumper sticker on a pick-up truck recently:

Why do I have to work so hard when you don't have to work at all?

I'm sure that pick-up truck owner is angry at the "lazy poors" and doesn't realize that his bumper sticker applies much more aptly to his relationship with the rich.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:45 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


Helpfully, prisoners are not counted as part of the Labor force in the United States, so they don't inconvenience us by impacting unemployment numbers.

Nor , generally, does anyone in an institutional setting -- prisons, schools, nursing homes, the military (although that is a kind of employment). This skews a lot of social numbers in weird ways that takes a bit of time to figure out.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:51 PM on March 12


Compare these two population density maps: Canada, US, and get back to me on this. My gut feeling is getting vital resources to the majority of Canadians could be done on a handful of provincial highways, while for the US would mean taking 10s, if not hundreds of interstates.

Density is the only concern. I think from a purely problem-solving perspective, having more pathways to your target is going to result in more efficiency and not less, wouldn't it? I'm sure there' some spatial math equation that would solve that question. Still, the general ideas in the Canadian and German governments remain intact despite two very different landmasses.

The science appears to work no matter where people try to use it. Maybe we should give it a shot, that's all I'm saying.
posted by deanklear at 2:51 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


They had me until #6. The US still has an amazing road system, even by the standards of developed nations.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:55 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Well, in those maps I was looking at the distribution and the land distance that needed to be covered to reach a majority of the population. I mean, for a subset of the US population comparable to the entire Canadian population, we can probably be more efficient. But for the majority of the US population, there's a lot more land to cover and more fuel to burn in order to cover them all (not to mention the stop and go nature of it). It's why logistics is becoming a big deal out here.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:57 PM on March 12


And in places like Norway, they can afford it because the whole country makes a shitload of money selling oil.

This is silly; lots of countries without Saudi levels of resources (Australia, the UK, Germany, France, nz for starters) have generous maternity leave arrangements compared to the moribund US.
posted by smoke at 3:00 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


The US still has an amazing road system, even by the standards of developed nations.

Not this winter, where I live. It's growing giant potholes faster than they can patch them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:01 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


The US still has an amazing road system, even by the standards of developed nations.

Well, we certainly have a lot of roads, to be sure. You just can't drive on a lot of them without running the risk of breaking your suspension.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:05 PM on March 12


I should have known better. Yes, your roads suck, and also the drivers are crazy. And if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes! Said everyone ever about wherever they live.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:09 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


The US is the world's richest country. It is teh biggest economy. The US dollar is the world's reserve currency and oil deals are made in dollars. The US has the biggest, strongest and most advanced naval, air force and land forces in teh world and have projected their strength across the globe with so many bases even they don't know the total. The US invented and pwns the interwebs and all the technology taht supports it. They are leaders in research, in universities, in numbers of patents and all the other metrics used to rank countries, societies and nations. They may have some problems with inequality and gini coefficients, maternal and infant mortality rates and the percentage of children who live under the poverty level but those are really very minor details. This is the nation of the world's leading cities, with cultural domination in cinema halls, TV screens and ipods throughout the world. This is the American century. Long live the future!
posted by infini at 3:13 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I am not good at sarcasm. Your comment, it is supposed to be a joke?
posted by jessamyn at 3:19 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


Are you talking to me? Shall I provide citations for each statement from current news media and articles and research reports? Will that satisfice the moderation that I do not understand?
posted by infini at 3:21 PM on March 12


This is not me being a moderator, this is me not understanding your comment. You made a post about stuff that makes the US like a third world country, then you made that comment which is partly stuff that is just true and partly stuff that seems like it's supposed to be a parody of American opinion and I'm not sure how to parse it and so I asked.
posted by jessamyn at 3:22 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


Is there some sort of subtlety I'm missing to your comment, infini? Genuinely confused here.
posted by scrump at 3:26 PM on March 12


I linked to what would be an interesting article for the community to read and discuss. I believe that one keeps one's personal opinions unrelated to an FPP. One does not need to agree with every FPP that one makes, yes? I wrote what I've been reading in the news. Should we not take this to MetaTalk, Jessamyn?
posted by infini at 3:30 PM on March 12


scrump, we can discuss the cognitive dissonance between what I, as someone living outside of the United States, receive consistently as messaging in the news about the United States and what I am reading here. How do I parse that?
posted by infini at 3:33 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Should we not take this to MetaTalk, Jessamyn?

What? No. I just didn't understand your comment in the context of this thread and asked about it. Forget it.
posted by jessamyn at 3:45 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


Sincerely, the road infrastructure in the US is of a very high standard and is robust, despite an ongoing need for maintenance. Especially when compared to the 'third world' megalopolis where I'm from, whose road infrastructure is both fragile and utterly incapable of scaling to match current demand.

US roads are still way above the standards of developing countries. I echo others who think it should not be in this list.
posted by all the versus at 4:07 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I think infini was perfectly clear in his comment... this ONE article tells us everything America does wrong while the still-overwhelming media message is about how successful America is. Conclusion: America is "the world's richest country and the biggest economy" in part BECAUSE of our highest levels of incarceration, economic inequality, etc. We still have 14 of the 20 richest people in the world (and the only other nation with more than one is - isn't it supposed to be socialist?- France). It all depends on what you value. America is also one of the most religious nations in the world. Of course, so are Saudi Arabia and Dubai for their own religion. Did I say before that it all depends on what you value?

fixed two factual typos after one minute
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:25 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


all the versus: "US roads are still way above the standards of developing countries. I echo others who think it should not be in this list."

Really? Every time I'm back in the US, that's the first thing I notice. The roads are terrible, the state of road infrastructure is just dirty and crumbling, and it all seems very (to use the terminology of the article) "third world". I suppose it's not even just the roads, but the number of junker cars you see driving around on the roads, too, which give it all a decrepit, past-its-prime look. #1 to #5 are more easily invisible for an ex-pat like me, but #6 is clear as day. Depends on where you're at, no doubt, so your mileage may vary (I'm shameless!).
posted by barnacles at 4:48 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I guess a better title would be "six ways the United States is unlike other OECD countries". But that isn't very link-baity.

Yea jesus christ, i really hate the title. And this is really simple stuff that gets discussed constantly on even the crappiest websites when circlejerks about america being awful come up. Is it all true and not conspiracy theory stuff or anything? yea. Is it just an excuse to post that linkbait outragefilter title? yep.

I'm not hating on infini here for posting this. No, this is really crappy of rollingstone to stoop too.

Do no formerly respectable journalism outfits have any fucking honor anymore? Is everyone determined to roll in the mud of upworthy style outrage culture?
posted by emptythought at 4:51 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: outrage culture
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:55 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Is everyone determined to roll in the mud of upworthy style outrage culture?

it's as if great nations never go to hell
posted by pyramid termite at 5:12 PM on March 12


I like to think of us as outrage couture.
posted by mollweide at 5:12 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


On a purely impressionistic level, it's an interesting exercise visiting Japan and the U.S. in quick succession. You form an impression, and then listen to what other people say. I have many friends who do the film festival circuit traveling with their film from country to country, and so have occasion to compare impressions. I like to listen to such impressions, which I solicit without giving my own opinion first, so as not to prejudice.

It is remarkable how often the same set of descriptions recur over and over again. Take Tokyo/LA. The things I hear over and over again - and happen to jibe with my own impressions - is: "Visiting Tokyo is like visiting the future - visiting LA is like visiting the past"; "First world - third world"; "Efficiency woven into the fabric of society - Everything is much harder than it has to be"; "Modernity - Decay"; and so on.

I know this is quite superficial and subjective. Dog knows, Japan has its problems, but their investment in infrastructure, compared to the disinvestment over here results in stark contrasts. At the same time, there is a sense of complacency here in the U.S. - we know we are the best, even if that's based on memories from the 50's and 60's, and we feel no need to investigate anything outside of our own realm. It feels oddly insular, even though the mix of cultures here should give us a much better informational context than the rather more provincial Japan. But we're not curious. We know we are the best, and that's that.

I don't know what the solution here is. Have the population travel more? I don't know. I almost feel like we should copy Japan in one respect: back in the late 1800, early 1900, they sent out delegations of specialists just to learn what made the West tick and why it has managed to kick their asses, and bring back best practices and apply them at home. Maybe it's time for Americans to go across the globe and investigate what works in other countries and why. I think that would be very useful, because the ignorance at even the highest levels of power here is astonishing - ignorance about fundamental issues like health care and not about exotic places, but right next door, Canada. Here a U.S. Senator displays plenty of that ignorance [LATimes link, use privacy settings in browser, if needed]:

Watch an expert teach a smug U.S. senator about Canadian healthcare

Having said all that, I guess I'm a kind of a sucker for the American myth. I too subscribe to it, or at least parts of it. I can pretty much live anywhere in the world, but I choose to live here, Los Angeles, CA.. And I love it. I believe in the myth of dynamism - the can-do, the anything is possible (yes, I know all about social mobility stats), the feeling of unbounded possibilities (however illusory, and however unevenly available). But, qualifications, qualifications.

If I think about it more deeply, it really comes down to this: the U.S. (I'm talking about major metro areas, such as LA, NYC, Chicago etc.) is the only cosmopolitan country in the world. Yes, yes, I know all about the average American supposed ignorance of the world around, but this is not what I'm getting at. I can be myself - unjudged - here and nowhere else. I can be. I can write my own ticket, psychologically. When I'm in France, I'm never French, and can never be French, no matter how fluent in the language and culture I am. Here I can be American, even if I were to have a heavy accent (which I don't) - or even more precisely be myself. In France, I'm not VS, I'm a foreigner - maybe a beloved friend, who has an amazing history with France, but... I'm foreign. In LA, I'm a guy. Any guy. Sure, people are curious about my background, but it's not much different than if I was from Texas. Everyone here in LA has their story. They'll tell me about their Swedish ancestors, or whatever. I was in a store in LA picking out shades of paint. The guy behind the counter asked where we were from (he noticed that my wife and I were not speaking English between ourselves), we told him, and he volunteered that he was Peruvian and Mexican, and then we were onto the paints. No fuss. On some level, we're all just human here, with our different backgrounds, but here now. That's not how it feels in Germany. However gemütlich it is sitting in that coffee shop, you're German, or not German. In Sweden, you're Swedish, or not Swedish. Japan, heh.

But in LA, I'm human. Nobody gives a crap about anything else. I love that. You can belong here as much as you want to or not. It's completely up to you. Write your own ticket. You're not locked into a culture or in some kind of eternal tension with that culture as you are in every other country. This is unique in my experience - and I've lived in a number of countries, and visited more.

So, in that odd sense, I think America is the future. Where we can all just be.

And it makes me also optimistic about America. I feel this is still a young country. Yes, we've hit a rough patch. But if we can ever break out of the corporate ownership that seems to control the country, the underlying dynamism is still a winning feature. I look at Japan, and all that gleaming efficiency, but I feel that if America can break out of its present funk, it'll take off like a rocket and leave everyone else in the dust (except maybe China??).

So that's my senseless and groundless optimism + semi-jingoism for the day.
posted by VikingSword at 5:15 PM on March 12 [18 favorites]


Just as shocking as the number of poor people in jail is how few bankers are. That is how a real third-world justice system works.
posted by JackFlash at 5:40 PM on March 12


Just as shocking as the number of poor people in jail is how few bankers are. That is how a real third-world justice system works.

Developing nations tend to have very small fractions of their populations in jail because they are too poor to afford law enforcement and prison resources. The large US population in jail is a function of our (misspent) wealth, not our poverty.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:43 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


barnacles, I feel that the US road infrastructure, while certainly requiring maintenance and repairs, continues to rest on solid systemic foundations and sound methodology of planning, and does not (yet) require a complete, root and branch overhaul like the urban road system in some Indian cities, for example. It is this systemic aspect that I think makes a useful distinction rather than issues of disrepair, which exists everywhere if one looks hard enough.
posted by all the versus at 5:46 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


US roads are still way above the standards of developing countries. I echo others who think it should not be in this list.

If I read the article right, it was talking about infrastructure more generally - it mentions public transport, sewage, water...people in this thread have started talking about roads but the article wasn't (I definitely agree that US roads are good, at least in my experience).
posted by Pink Frost at 5:59 PM on March 12


the U.S. (I'm talking about major metro areas, such as LA, NYC, Chicago etc.) is the only cosmopolitan country in the world

But right next door, Canada.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:08 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


If I read the article right, it was talking about infrastructure more generally...

And US infrastructure in general is nothing like infrastructure in a developing country. Our sewer infrastructure is old because it was installed a long time ago; we were early adapters to modern sewer technology. Many developing countries still have open sewers in much of their urban landscape. Rural areas in the developing world often have no water transport infrastructure whatsoever: water needs to be carried by hand. (As for public transit, I don't know where the 45% availability number comes from, or how that compares to the developing world, but there are 797 cars per 1000 people in this country: our major means of transportation makes us look radically different than developing countries, which tend towards fewer than 50 cars per 1000 people).

One reason why infrastructure maintenance in the US represents such a huge potential cost is because our installed infrastructure is absolutely massive. Infrastructure costs in the developing world represent an initial installation.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:12 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Fair points, well made. I notice also that digging deeper in the article they link to a study claiming that US infrastructure is down in world rankings - but it's only down as far as 14th, with the countries ahead of you being the obvious Western European or Asian ones, often with a massive advantage in terms of their small size - it's no surprise that Hong Kong or Singapore have good infrastructure.
posted by Pink Frost at 6:20 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Is everyone determined to roll in the mud of upworthy style outrage culture?

Yes. Welcome to the future.

This Boot Stomped On A Human Face Forever. What Happened Next Will Destroy Your Faith In Humanity.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:58 PM on March 12 [14 favorites]


I saw this bumper sticker on a pick-up truck recently:

Why do I have to work so hard when you don't have to work at all?

I'm sure that pick-up truck owner is angry at the "lazy poors" and doesn't realize that his bumper sticker applies much more aptly to his relationship with the rich.


I'd like one of those "Jesus is coming, and boy is He pissed" bumper stickers, but these days the quip would be taken the opposite of what it used to mean.
posted by Banish Misfortune at 7:55 PM on March 12


Yeah. Rolling Stone sucks for printing this! And we have the world's greatest iPods! And we are the richest because we have the most bazillionaires!

So all the rest of it--the hungry kids, the abandoned seniors, the crumbling infrastructure--that shit is trivial.
posted by Camofrog at 8:44 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


One has to consider that the United States is simultaneously a developed country and developing (or perhaps "deleveraging") country. There are two different countries and two different societies in the same nation state.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:45 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


the U.S. (I'm talking about major metro areas, such as LA, NYC, Chicago etc.) is the only cosmopolitan country in the world

Yeah there's Canada, but also Singapore, Australia, Britain, Brazil, South Africa, Israel...

No offense, but Americans can sometimes be pretty provincial in outlook.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:48 PM on March 12 [10 favorites]


The large US population in jail is a function of our (misspent) wealth, not our poverty.

A function of privatization, surely.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:50 PM on March 12


the only cosmopolitan country in the world

I found that comment quite interesting, but this is absurd.
posted by pompomtom at 8:52 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


Yeah there's Canada, but also Singapore, Australia, Britain, Brazil, South Africa, Israel...

Perhaps it's down to a sensation, or more subtle stuff. I lived in Britain for two years - but admittedly that was in the 90's and since I've only visited. I spent the majority of that time in London - the most cosmopolitan city there, I'd think. And yet, I would not have the same feeling there - it was very, very clear, that there is such a thing as being a native, or not. You could be English, of course, or Welsh, or Scottish or Irish. And all those were categories. And yes, there were categories like Asians born there. Maybe it's changed since, but at least when I was living there in the 90's, well, these distinctions were very, how should I put it... distinct. And noted. And then, what if you're not a Brit? Oh yeah, it was clear. I don't mean in any negative way - not at all. Just that it was clear. That's not the sensation here in LA, at all. Here, you really often cannot tell almost anything about someone based on their background... they are as American as the next guy. Not true in Britain - the Swede will be a Swede.

It's possible that I'm getting at something that not everyone perceives the same way. There is a certain leveling of distinctions here in America that is utterly unique, in my experience, although, I grant that perhaps Canada comes close. My experience of Canada is a bit limited in that while I've visited places like Toronto, it was only for the film festival a week at a time. My longest stay was six weeks in Montreal - but that was quite a long time ago, in the 80's.

South Africa - I've been to on multiple occasions, though always work-related (shooting commercials and the like), and yeah, that's not gonna fly at all. The distinction between being a native and not, is very sharp indeed.

Singapore, Israel, Brazil - same thing: natives and non-natives, very clear and perceived as such. You're an expat. You're not really an expat in Los Angeles - you're a native, immediately, and just as much in 20 years... no distinction. The situation in Israel is additionally complicated by the Jewish aspect of citizenship which is a strong dividing line in itself.

Again, it's possible that not everyone feels the same way. But to me, it's extremely clear. Heck, as a Swede, when I'm in Sweden, I'm a Swede with a question mark, because I've been away for so long. I have not shared the national journey of the last couple of decades - and you can feel it. They can feel it, not just you. That is never a question here in Los Angeles - maybe because there isn't the same feeling of strongly shared one culture, as there is in other places, so there is less to make you a stranger or not. Or maybe because a lot of people in Britain - in fact, most people - even in London, can say "my family has lived here for centuries". Not true of California - where there is no such majority that can make the "us, natives" claim. We've all come to Los Angeles, and even if we haven't, nobody can tell who has been here how long. I could leave for 20 years, come back and it would be like nothing happened. I have tested this both ways. I'd leave for 1-2 years, live in f.ex. Prague, and I'd come back to LA, and hit the ground running. Nobody can tell I've been away. The converse is not true. I went back to Prague after a few years absence, you can tell, and everyone can too. Same for Stockholm.

There's a level of anonymity and acceptance here that's unique. I come to a job situation, a production or whatever, and it's just about the now, people may ask where you're from, but it's not from a perspective of "us" and "you", it's from "me" and "you". We're individuals here, all swimming in the same river of humanity. That's not true in London, or Jerusalem, or Stockholm, or Singapore. There, you're swimming as a Swede, or expat, among the natives. And that's why I call it the most cosmopolitan country in the world - it's about a state of mind.
posted by VikingSword at 9:44 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


I understand what VS is saying. Anyone I meet here could be just as American as I am or somewhere in the process of trying eke out the American Dream. I don't think the US is the only place like that. I spent a few weeks in Canada in the 90s and had a very difficult time convincing myself that I was in a foreign country. I felt very foreign the times that I was in Mexico. Granted, I've never left North America, so I can't speak to other places.

I've often thought that I would be happier living in Europe, free from the tyranny of ignorance and corporate greed that grips my nation. Aside from the fact that it would be impossible to unroot myself and my family from our lives here, I have a small fear of living somewhere where I would forever be an outsider.

As much as I rail against the inequality and injustice here, I still love America. That's why I get so angry; because I know that we can do so much better.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:31 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


US roads are still way above the standards of developing countries. I echo others who think it should not be in this list.

What city do you live in? Hell, even the actual interstate system in washington is pretty fucked up. There's several spots on I5 between say, olympia and shoreline WA(i could find the exit numbers if you really want to know) where if you don't have a serious death grip on the steering wheel you'll hit the hump/crater and bounce way towards another lane. And other parts where you're just slamming all over the place.

That's to say nothing of actual city streets. Smaller towns tend to be fine, but there's a street right next to my apartment that's so full of potholes you can't drive more than 4-5mph without breaking a tie rod or something. The entire city is full of those. When i was contemplating getting a vespa, several friends fairly emphatically urged me not to for fear i'd wipe out on a moon crater.

I mean yea, roads are paved and aren't just gravel. But there's places in which gravel or dirt would be an improvement as far as not losing control or damaging your vehicle.

There's many US cities i've visited that have incredibly fucking awful streets. And i'm talking fairly major cities in CA, etc. I'm always shocked when i visit somewhere like portland and everything looks like the perfect utopian future and all the streets are smooth as glass.

It may or may not deserve a spot on the list, but everywhere i've been in canada the roads were A to A+. In the US, it seems to vary from like B+ to C- on average.
posted by emptythought at 10:51 PM on March 12


"Perhaps Canada comes close"... this made me laugh out loud. I get the sense here that America, once again, is the "end of history", that perfect liberal Enlightenment ideal.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:10 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Here I can be American, even if I were to have a heavy accent (which I don't) - or even more precisely be myself. In France, I'm not VS, I'm a foreigner - maybe a beloved friend, who has an amazing history with France, but... I'm foreign. In LA, I'm a guy. Any guy. Sure, people are curious about my background, but it's not much different than if I was from Texas.

That's mighty white of you.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:56 PM on March 12 [10 favorites]


There's several spots on I5 between say, olympia and shoreline WA

Ah that lovely stretch southbound between 320th & Fife. Pavement's so tore up it feels like a logging road if you travel faster than 45 mph. Fortunately, because it's also nearly perpetually backed up, you're lucky to move faster than 25. We could definitely use some serious infrastructure repairs - both on the highways and surface streets. Thankfully we don't have two separate boondoggle tunnel projects sucking down those improvement dollars!
posted by Pudhoho at 12:00 AM on March 13


friendly reminder that pointing out "our roads are great!" is not necessarily a strong rebuttal to accusations of poor infrastructure...though it does a great job of demonstrating the attitudes that led to the US' deeply misinvested infrastructure system in the first place.
posted by threeants at 12:25 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


VS, your comments are interesting and thought-provoking. I do wonder though whether your feeling of acceptance and cosmopolitan would be the same if instead of being an immigrant to the US from Sweden, you were an immigrant from Mexico. Or Pakistan. And you lived and worked in, I dunno, Arizona, or New Mexico.

Because that's one hell of a qualifier in your original post, where you effectively say that the US is the most cosmopolitan country in the world - but only in the major cities. In other words, it's the most cosmopolitan, accepting country except in the huge swathes of it that are not. That doesn't take away your experience, but I'm struggling with that definition. Really interesting posts though.
posted by reynir at 12:41 AM on March 13


Given that 70% or a tad more of the US population is urban, wide swathes might just mean land. I can see VikingSword's point and its a valid one. One of the fundamental reasons deep down inside that makes me miss my decade of living as an American resident (all flavours of urban - Pittsburgh, Chicago and San Francisco) is that intangible sense of something VS attempts to describe in the two long comments. As Tagore said, Where the mind is free...

And I hope, as someone said upthread, that the land of the free and the brave can find its way back to the core values that made it/make it what it was/is and not this crazy, paranoid cyberstalker the RestoftheWorld(tm) has to deal with it. Particularly if you're a frequently traveling brown person.

.
posted by infini at 2:47 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


VS: I have similar sentiments. It's a good reminder to separate the aristocratic parasites from the rest of the country. Like any other nation, we're good people with a shitty government and corrupted political class. Though I think we are too easy on ourselves for our ignorance and political apathy. We waste a lot of the freedoms we have, but I think that's changing with the newest generation growing up in the wake of the results of that attitude.
posted by deanklear at 2:55 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


50% of people in the Vancouver region speak English as a second language. Any similar ratios in the States?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:08 AM on March 13


Sure. Queens has roughly the same population as the Vancouver metropolitan area, and about 44% of people there speak English at home.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:31 AM on March 13


Maybe it's time for Americans to go across the globe and investigate what works in other countries and why.

Ming America - "Another likely reason for the Ming's decline was disrespect of science... America shows uncomfortable signs of treading this same path. Of course, there is the attempt by conservative groups to halt the teaching of evolution, climate science, and the Big Bang in public schools, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Americans are turning away en masse from science, technology, and mathematics fields."

America in decline - "Noah Smith's recent article examines the parallels between Ming China and 20th century America. He reminds us both were for quite some time the most powerful and advanced nation on the planet. This made them self-centred and caused them to ignore advances made elsewhere. Stagnation ensued."
posted by kliuless at 5:43 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Interesting that he chose the Ming and not the Qing. But choosing the Qing as an analogy might lead to some unpleasant conclusions for an author who writes for the Atlantic.
posted by wuwei at 5:59 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


The sad thing in terms of road infrastructure is that I actually miss it when I cross the border from Quebec into Vermont because holy shit, does Quebec have the worst fucking roads in Canada. But that's partially to due to corruption in the construction industry. They never do it right the first time because if you did it right the first time and rarely have to fix it, then people are out of steady job. The roads in Vermont are amazing. No potholes! Frost heave is taken care of!
posted by Kitteh at 6:09 AM on March 13


Americans are turning away en masse from science, technology, and mathematics fields.

Oddly enough you linked to an article about people flocking to coding classes here. Additionally, I don't think a turning away from 'certain' sciences, technologies, and math fields means a loss of respect for the craft. In fact, I, myself, am less passionate now about pursuing a statistics based information science field more or less because I respect its limits and am looking for something a bit more boundless. Software engineering is looking mighty good these days (ironically).

Outside of my interests, I see some great advancements and successes coming from the social sciences and especially psychology when it comes to tackling the sustainability issues of today.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:15 AM on March 13


You're not locked into a culture or in some kind of eternal tension with that culture as you are in every other country.

I don't want to derail the thread, but that's exactly how I feel as somebody born and raised in America and living in New York. I can't just be a guy, I'm always an Asian guy. Sometimes I forget and I pretend that I really do get to be invisibly American just like everybody else, until something inevitably hits to remind me: I can tell you look different. You're not really the same as us.

The funny thing is, my wife is Swedish, and she feels rather at home here in New York. Most people assume she is American. So as a recent immigrant she has been able to integrate into American culture better than somebody who was born here, namely myself. I once brought up living in Asia someday, and she said that in Asia she would always feel like a foreigner. To which I responded, I've felt like a foreigner my entire life!

I lived in Toronto for a few years, and actually felt it was much more "cosmopolitan" than NY. Unlike the US, where it feels like everyone has to be American, and you are a bad job-stealing foreigner if you do not assimilate to the majority culture, Canada feels like a place where various ethnic groups and nationalities just happen to live next to each other. You don't have to be Canadian.
posted by pravit at 4:40 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


You don't have to be Canadian.

That's kind of an odd statement to make. I think what you're running up against is how many Americans define 'American' as 'white.'

Most Canadians define 'Canadian' as "Someone who was born here or moved here," in my experience.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:16 PM on March 13


Add domination of media groups by oligagies and right wing political groups. For example newspaper self censorship after the 911 bombings. Criticism of George W Bush over the Afghan campaign or the weapons of mass destruction debacle in Iraq was unacceptable in the major metropolitan newspapers.
The muzzling of an open society is typical of a third world bannana republic; not the leader of the free world.
I'm wondering when the USA next descends into another Senator MacCarthy (1950s) era where opposition is bullied into submission ?
I remember Orson Welles describing the Hollywood film studios as dictatorships in his battle with the Hearst media group.
Maybe I'm confusing the Military/Industrial/Complex with Third World Dictatorships ?
posted by Narrative_Historian at 3:14 PM on March 14


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