Saturday, February 19, 2011

America Compared

Charles Blow has an excellent chart up today comparing America to other advanced economies on a number of measures on the New York Times today.  I'd like to see per capita GDP, 10 year average growth rate, workforce participation, government spending as % of GDP, and dependency ratio (with separate entries for over 65 and under 18) added to it to capture what I feel are the most relevant variables, but it's still good.  I'd also like to see this done for 1960, 1970, and 1980 as well.  In those decades I believe America would score much higher.  The chart basically points out that on a number of measures we've fallen behind our peers (Canada and Australia serve as the best examples of where we should be at).  Obviously we're still tops on per capita GDP (barring micro states, which aren't good for comparison to territorial states), but other measures look bad and will likely translate into lower GDP growth in the future.

If I get really, really bored I may try to do this sometime, the work doesn't sound that hard (though some of the measures, such as Gallop Global Wellbeing probably aren't available).  One of the main themes I've been taking up is that we have been going from top dog and losing our relative spot since the 1980s.  This comparative historical data would be necessary to illustrate the point.  Without knowing when things started to go wrong, we can't identify with any certainty what changed here (or didn't change here but changed elsewhere) that has been causing our relative decline.  I've obviously got some ideas, but haven't yet gotten around to compiling hard historical data to prove the point.


  1. Interesting, but I would still rather see trends in US data than comparisons with other countries. At the end of the day, I don't mind if Iceland imprisons fewer people than we do or if Singapore is even worse on income inequality, but the internal trends have a lot of implications.

  2. The comparisons are sometimes helpful, because it adds context. I can't imagine 700,000/ per million persons in my head, but if I've read and traveled a bit I can sort of try to imagine. It would be better to compare our prison population numbers to the USSR's in 1950, though.

    The Scandinavians have twice our per capita GDP (About $45K vs. $90K). They pretty much are better than the US in all these categories. I don't know in what sense these countries could be considered "microstates" instead of "territorial." They used to be colonial empires, like Great Britain. They are just more successful territorial empires (the diverse people that lived in those areas have long since been fully integrated into a highly functioning nation state).

    The 70's is when the US started to go downhill, but I think the really strong post-war growth may have faltered even by the late 60s. You should start at 1945. No one ever goes back that far because there was a major recession when the war ended and probably have better things to do, but it would be interesting to see what was going on in the US versus other nations using these measurements, if you could it.

  3. Doug,

    The point of the international comparisons is to see where policies diverged. It could be that a number started changing simply because of a worldwide trend no one had control over. By including other states we can get an idea of whether the effect was due to our policy or an intervention elsewhere impacted whatever the trend is.

  4. By microstates I meant Singapore, Andorra, Liechtenstein, or Luxembourg, not the Scandinavian countries. I think there's a divergence when a state is only urban or only rural or that can be dominated by a single industry.

    This does partially apply to Norway, which is something of a petro-state (it does have a higher per capita GDP, which does contradict my distinction, I should have added something about natural resources which explains this difference), though an extremely well managed one that will do well once the oil is gone. Sweden and Denmark make better comparisons, but their current per capita GDP is lower than ours, though I can't speak historically and it's not lower by very much. I personally think they're getting things just about right on the whole, or at least doing a better job of it than anyone else.