Graphic: Social Index blog. Costa Rica, Barbados top ranking in Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico.
The New York Times has expressed shock at the decline in Americans’ quality of life – a slide that has been documented for over a decade in areas like education and healthcare, but which they nevertheless hinted is Trump’s fault.

 

The US’ world-leading self-image is totally unjustified, the Times acknowledged on Thursday, contrasting Washington’s vaunted superpower status with its 28th-place ranking in this year’s Social Progress Index (SPI), set to be released today. The index purports to measure quality of life based on metrics like health, education, safety, freedom, and environmental stewardship.

The US has slipped nine places since the 2011 launch of the index, which boasts a proprietary scientific formula that incorporates 50 “metrics of well-being” and claims to be “inspired by Nobel-winning economists.” Its advisory board is chaired by a Harvard Business School professor, Michael Porter, who lamented to the Times that “It’s like we’re a developing country.”

We are no longer the country we like to think we are,” he moaned, urging readers to take the bad news as “a call to action.”

Of the regional countries bordering the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, Costa Rica ranks highest, and of the independent island nations Barbados has the lead, although some smaller independent island nations such as St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua were not rated.

The Netherlands ranks high, as do most European countries, but the Dutch Caribbean islands are not rated independently, as they are considered for political and administrative purposes to be part of that nation, nor are the British Overseas Territories such as Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Caymans.

The index highlighted some of the worst results of the unprecedented income inequality plaguing the US (though notably didn’t use that term), observing that while the country came out ahead of the rest of the world in “quality of universities,” it was ranked 91 in terms of “access to quality basic education.

Same with healthcare: at number one in medical technology, it dragged behind at 97 for “access to quality healthcare,” echoing the findings of a Lancet paper published last week that found the gap between cost and quality of American healthcare was gargantuan.

The publication also shamed the US for failure to share political power among all citizens – likely to be a particular sore spot for a country that boasts of bringing ‘democracy’ to the nations it invades – and criticized its high homicide rate, as well as its low rate of internet connectivity and sanitation in comparison to other “advanced countries.” Its #100 ranking for “discrimination against minorities” comes as an added poke in the eye in the Black Lives Matter era.

The Times seemed shocked that the US had apparently fallen behind “significantly poorer countries” like Estonia, Czech Republic, Greece, and Cyprus, marveling that American children are (according to the index, at least) educated on the same level as Uzbek and Mongolian kids.

Their parents, meanwhile, were said to be about as healthy as the average Chilean, Jordanian, or Albanian. And the rankings were calculated before Covid-19 further immiserated the nation, the outlet pointed out – hinting that a much greater decline was looming on the horizon.

The only other two nations to decline in the SPI’s rankings, Brazil and Hungary, would seem to have little in common with the US, other than that they’re also ruled by leaders with a marked aversion to globalism who’ve been condemned as heavy-handed autocrats in the press.

The index’s major supporters include Microsoft and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, while its “strategic partners” are management consultancy Deloitte and eBay billionaire Jeffrey Skoll’s Skoll Foundation.

While the news is grim, it’s not entirely earth-shattering for those who’ve been following the country’s economic (mis)fortunes.

Real wages for Americans have actually fallen steadily, if one takes inflation into account, for several decades, while the middle class has comprised less than half of the American population since 2015 – down from 61 percent in 1971.

Norway ranks first in the world on social progress with a score of 92.72, but the fastest progress over the past decade is among developing countries with The Gambia, Ethiopia, and Tunisia demonstrating notable improvement.