Given the current global chaos, which unfortunately our country is in the midst of, one wonders whether our badly broken tax system, political paralysis, questionable justice and a dysfunctional education protocol aren't enough to shake Americans from their slumber into seeking solutions, not slogans, here's something that might spark some resolve and reasoning: The Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank whose admirable mission is to help people lead more prosperous lives, has issued its latest annual international prosperity report, based on everything from gross domestic product to how many people are working to, finally, how well-rested people are day to day.
Kicker: The United States ranked No. 11. Yes, you read it correctly!
The Legatum Institute bases its index on two main factors -- income and well-being. Yet the prosperity is not categorized solely in terms of monetary gain and health but also the beauty and joy of everyday life and hope for an even better future. I'm not surprised to see Norway tops the list. During my travels to the Scandinavian countries -- Denmark, Sweden and Finland -- I recall fondly how laid back life is; how less stressed the people are; and how much value society there places on friendship, truly intellectual conversations and, to their credit, genuine respect of differences of opinion in matters of religion, politics and ideology. That's quite a leap from where we are in the United States at present.
The case of Norway's topping the list for the seventh consecutive year highlights the importance of the freedoms that country offers its citizens; the quality of its health-care system; and the social bonds forged between its people. According to Nathan Gamester, director of the Prosperity Index at the Legatum Institute, Norway had its highest ranking in the social capital category (No. 2) with 94 percent of people saying they can rely on friends and family in times of need.
Many of us here in the US might be too preoccupied with incidental, even trivial issues to notice what's happened. Even so, most of us -- whatever our political stripe -- know the state of affairs in our country how immediate action and a clear strategy are required if we are to deal with the many social ills infecting our society and cultural and political outlook.
The report based its findings on eight categories: economy; entrepreneurship and opportunity; governance; education; health safety and security; personal freedom; and social capital.
Let's evaluate how our country measures up to these standards; shall we?
It pains me that our own nation ranks 115th in linguistic diversity, seventh in literacy, 27th in math and 22nd in science. With all the informational and educational resources we have, a student from Africa actually outperforms the typical American. One who walks approximately five miles to school and might not have the luxury of eating breakfast before class is excelling. Sadly enough, we in America lead in defense spending and the number of incarcerated citizens per capita. That might not seem a bad thing, but what about those elements contributing to the broader quality of life?
Is the American Dream is even achievable in light of this ranking? Some Americans -- at least many of us in the middle class -- might say no. What is the driving force behind this wholly unacceptable ranking? Is it the lack of discipline in our schools, the decline in vigorous parental engagement, a drop in morality? Or is it because our country ceases to stand up for what is right, including religious values and diversity, instead favoring lust for greed and materialistic possessions?
This is the conversation we ought to be having as Americans as another presidential election looms. Sadly, we are nowadays unable to even communicate with one another. We do not respect differences of opinion: If you do not think like I think, then I have nothing to do with you. If you do not believe as I believe, then you are the enemy. If you do not tell me what I want to hear, then you do not know what you are talking about. What have we become? We once cared about fellow citizens regardless of what his or her beliefs were. We acted on moral reasoning; we engaged each other respectfully. And we scarified when it mattered and was the right thing do. We did not identify ourselves only as Republican or Democrat; conservative or liberal; Catholic or Protestant; Christian or Muslim; Jew or Hindu; white or black; rich or poor; but rather as Americans. We aspired to creativity, scientific discoveries and the betterment of human race.
Instead of being the envy of the world, we have dropped to No. 11 in a reliable survey behind Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Finland and Ireland. It speaks volumes about how even our allies now view us. Wake up America! We are not the greatest country in the world anymore. Can't you see?
I wonder whether this latest ranking suggests that little or no incentive exists anymore for Americans to work as hard to reclaim our place and prestige in history. Is this new ranking the result of a defeatist attitude and a corrupt system in Washington? Or is it that many citizens have lost faith in America itself? Whatever the answer is, it is becoming evident that we, as a society, do not strive for excellence anymore. Rather, we are satisfied with average performance, mediocre minds and, frankly, a pathetic attitude.
Suggestions: Reform our tax code to ensure overall equity. Reform the justice/prison system to accomplish the same. And let's invest in education by allowing state and local governments to decide how to allocate funding to improve academic performance. Promote tolerance and diversity anywhere we can. After all, great ideas are born out of differences of opinion and diversity. Encourage academic institutions to invest in scientific research rather than investing millions of dollars in athletic departments. We give the utmost respect to football players rather than professors involved in preparing the next generation or leading in research benefiting our families and friends. Something is very wrong with this picture.
Yes, this is another survey conducted by foreigners, you might say. Yet, if this latest ranking is simply ignored the way we increasingly ignore so many other issues, I do not know what will put us on the right course. I hope policymakers in Washington and across the country heed such signs of decline. It is not enough to give flowery speeches or barnstorming rants; it is not enough to talk in the hypothetical; and it is not enough to pretend we do not have serious problems. So what's your excuse?