WWhat do you call a country where nearly one in ten adults has medical debts and a broken leg can lead you to bankruptcy? A country where a city of more than 160,000 inhabitants recently had no safe drinking water for weeks? A country where life expectancy has fallen for the second year in a row and poor people are selling their blood plasma to make ends meet? A country where the maternal mortality rate of black women in the capital is almost twice as high as for women in Syria?
You call it one of the richest countries in the world.
The US is the second richest country in the world (recently overtaken by China) if you look at the national balance sheets. It is the largest economy in the world in terms of GDP. And it is home to some of the richest people in the world. With all these measures of progress, the US is doing very well. With other measures, however, things are not so rosy. The UN recently downgraded the US to 41st, down from 32nd, in a global ranking based on its sustainable development goals. Like anything related to the UN, this index is jargony and complicated, but essentially it focuses on the quality of life of ordinary people rather than wealth creation. And on this measure, the US comes just behind Cuba and just above Bulgaria. The US is becoming “a ‘developing country’,” an MIT economist said last week based on this index.
If you’re reading this from across the Atlantic, it’s not much better. An analysis in last week’s Financial Times found that “according to current trends, the average Slovenian household will be better off than its British counterpart by 2024, and the average Polish family will improve before the end of the decade.” Actually, the analysis concludedIncome inequality in the US and UK is so huge that the two countries should be classified as poor countries with some very rich people. Most of them seem to be in government.