Is the United States the greatest country in the world?
- Founded in 1776, America is a relatively young nation--less than 250 years old.
- “American exceptionalism” is the concept that the US is uniquely different from other nations in its pursuit of the purely American ideology: “Americanism,” which comprises of equality under the law, liberty, individualism (the American Dream), republicanism (power belongs to the people), representative democracy, and the country exercising only “benevolent power in the world.”
- The US receives more immigrants than any other country in the world; in 2018, the nation’s foreign-born population reached a record high of 44.8 million.
- The US is ranked as the most generous country in the world. In 2017, Americans donated $410 billion, about 2% of the overall GDP. Likewise, the US is understood as the most generous country when it comes to supplying foreign aid to promote international peace abroad, humanitarian crisis relief, economic growth for struggling nations, and security.
Nations, religions, and individuals share one characteristic in common: all carry records of benefit and harm to others. Evaluations of any human or human institution, such as a nation-state, must include a cost and benefit analysis. For many, the question is where the United States sits when one tallies up what the nation has cost the world at large and what benefits America has conferred.
The American system of government is based upon two pillars: a Constitutionally established government that uses balance to protect individual rights and to prevent tyranny, and the Bill of Rights, which establishes those prerogatives that the government is sworn to protect. This alone has built a nation that strives to protect individual rights while promoting the general welfare. The system has also evolved considerably since its creation to expand the blessings of liberty to all.
Our free market system has created opportunities like almost no other nation. Based in part on ideas from Adam Smith and David Hume, the US system based on freedom and opportunities created by national wealth promotes the kind of social mobility that allows those on the bottom to rise to the top.
Finally, the US has either joined or led the vanguard opposing murderous totalitarian systems, such as National Socialism, Communism, and Fascism. The death tallies of states embracing these systems may rise to over 100 million killed in the name of ideology. With a track record of both establishing and defending freedom around the world that dwarfs national mistakes and missteps, the US has the right to lay claim to national greatness.
It is impossible to say that any country is truly 'the greatest,' simply because that is a subjective term, and could be referring to many factors. However, there are points we can address by way of comparison to show that if there were a 'greatest country in the world,' it wouldn't be the USA. If a well-educated population shows greatness, Finland tops that list, with their education system praised as 'the best in the world.' In comparison, a 2018 study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation ranked the USA 27th in 'levels of education and health.'
Speaking of health, as the response to COVID-19 has shown, the US falls short there as well. This point is further borne out by the fact that US spending on healthcare is 'nearly twice as much as the average OECD country,' but among those countries, the US has the lowest life expectancies and highest rate of suicides. If wealth is the deciding factor, the USA still misses the mark. Luxembourg has the highest GDP, and according to the IMF, the US economic growth rate for 2019 was ranked '115th in the world out of 193 countries.'
Even US citizens exhibit declining satisfaction with their own country. Polls show that only 53% of Americans are 'satisfied' with the US position in the world, down from 71% in the early 2000s. In a study ranking cities by 'Subjective Well-Being,' the World Happiness Report shows not one US city in the top 15, the highest-placed being Washington at 18th. Relating to well-being, Switzerland wins out in both general quality of life and crime rates. The USA has a long way of beating those stacked comparisons before we can ever claim to be “the greatest.”