Why don't we compare ourselves to other countries more?
Amen. I think this is one of the bad effects of American's ignorance of other countries: it robs us of the knowledge that in many ways, our society is doing a shitty job at a lot of different things. When the Soviet Union launched a satellite into space before we did, everyone was like OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. But the prospect of having a broadband connections ten times slower than those available in Japan produces a collective yawn. Wake up people! We're falling dangerously behind.
If you ask me, one of the most disturbing trends in American public discourse is the incredibly provincialism and solipsism of a lot of our policy debate. The idea that other countries are doing better than we are in various ways is totally off the radar. Instead, when foreign countries are mentioned at all you get stuff like this:
“We have fundamental philosophical differences. We’re in an era of unfunded liabilities,” said John Culberson , R-Texas. “This stimulus is really a Trojan horse. It’s part of a plan that would turn the United States into France.”
France! A country so impoverished that its citizens are fleeing in droves, washing up on our shores desperate to experience the good life as it’s lived in suburban Houston.
I was reminded of that by this post from Tim Lee pointing out that broadband internet access in the United States is a lot better and cheaper than it was nine years ago so he “can’t get too upset about the possibility that in 2018 Americans might be limping along with 2 gbps broadband connections while the average Japanese family has a 20 gbps connection.” I, for one, am pretty upset about that possibility. The United States isn’t a poor country dealing with some objective shortfall of national resources. And yet across a whole variety of dimensions—from broadband speed to train quality to the cleanliness of streets to life expectancy to the crime rate—we fall far short of standards that are reached elsewhere. What we do have, on the other hand, is the richest multi-millionaires in the world. And an awful lot of people’s first instinct is to try to explain these things away or explain why it would be impossible to bring some of these quality of life features to the United States.
It seems to me people would do better to get more upset.