If you were wondering where you could go to find something to laugh at this weekend, I have a suggestion. Predictably, it’s at La Russophobe. The latest Russia-sucks-America-is-the-greatest rant is a masterpiece of cherry-picking fantasy and selective data elevation, used to draw a picture that makes America look like a great big paradise and Russia like a much smaller hell. As usual, when you systematically deconstruct it, it falls apart. Let’s do that, shall we?
Before we do, though, something about our objective. What it’s not is denial that the United States is a great country – maybe the greatest in the world, maybe not, depending on your perspective. Russians that I personally know are admirers, although they’re not particularly anxious to move there. It’s entirely possible that Naziism would have – if not triumphed altogether – controlled a big chunk of the globe had it not been for America’s entry into and leadership during World War II. Americans give more to charity than any other country, and are second in the world in terms of volunteering personal time for charitable causes. When bad things happen around the globe and the places where they happen can’t manage, the United States usually has help enroute while the rest of the world is still setting up a meeting to decide what should be done. America is a champion of civil rights throughout the world, and when America intervenes in the national affairs of another country “for their own good”, that is generally the actual intention. Therefore, the object is not to make the U.S. hang its head in shame, but to show how this author has glorified it beyond all recognition while using data manipulation to make Russia look much worse than it is.
First, GDP. Yes, the annual GDP of the United States is huge. However, the U.S. could currently work all year for nothing and still barely break even. The national debt must be considered an offset to GDP in exactly the same manner as your household income must be balanced against your mortgage, car payments, and so on. That’s unless you’re stinking rich – more about that later. Anyway, according to La Russophobe, the American economy (GDP) is $14 Trillion. No argument there, that agrees with official sources. Biggest in the world, yes, yes. But the national debt is also the biggest in the world, currently $13.2 Trillion and accumulating rapidly owing to interest and additional necessary spending. There’s still a lot of the old can-do in the USA, and the problem isn’t insoluble yet, but those touting America’s economy are in a very bad position to boast about it. Russia’s national debt? Lowest in the G20. The similarity with the USA is that both countries have a 6 and an 8 in the percentage figures of GDP for their national debt. For Russia, it’s 6.8%; for the U.S., 60.8%. Ouch. And that’s when the American debt was $8.68 Trillion (this chart is a little out of date), not the $13.2 Trillion it is now.
La Russophobe invites us to run the numbers ourselves. So let’s do that. According to her calculations, a growth rate of $2.4% will put $1000.00 in new wealth in every American’s pocket. You’ll probably want to put it in a high-interest savings account, so it can start catching up to the $43,147.47 that every American owes as his/her share of the national debt. I’ll leave it to you to decide who’s better off; the American with $1000.00 or the Russian with $410.00. Math isn’t always as simple as it seems, is it?
It’s hard to go a whole day without an inspirational word from Boris Nemtsov, and La Russophobe’s post does not disappoint. According to the Gospel of Nemtsov, “Russia is infamous for allowing rich people and the state to hoard wealth rather than passing it on to the general population.” That doesn’t happen in America, Nemtsov’s worshipful economic disciple tells us breathlessly; “…a huge amount of new wealth in America will be spread among the people who earned it…”.
Colour me skeptical. Let’s take a look. Hmmm…. not unless the distribution of wealth in America has changed radically since 2007. And it would appear not, because the reference was updated last month. This reference shows that the share of American wealth that goes to the top 1 percent of Americans went from 33.8% in 1983 to 34.6% in 2007. For those who aren’t good at math, that’s an increase that put quite a lot of “new wealth” in the pockets of Americans who probably had quite a pocketful already. Meanwhile, the share that went to the bottom 80% of Americans declined from 18.7% to 15%. Not only do a large number of Americans not even get “mere crumbs”, they seem unable to hold onto the crumbs they already had. If we look at Figure 4, we see that the bottom 99% of Americans reached their peak, as far as their share of the take-home, in about 1975, and it’s been declining steadily ever since. Just for the sake of curiosity, who was President in 1975? Oh, yes – Gerald Ford; either he was a pretty good guy, or he slept through all of his economics briefings.
If you’ve never seen the Legatum Prosperity Index before, it’s a kind of fun little application. Again borrowing from La Russophobe’s wisdom, it apparently shows America (when compared with Russia) as a “well-rounded world-leader, while Russia is shown as a misshapen, deformed, mutant.” However, what happens when you compare America with Finland? Holy Svartbrod!!! Look to your left – Finland (in blue) is even more well-rounded, blows the doors off the United States, and has seized the scepter of world leadership!!!
Finland beats the snot out of America in Health, Safety and Security, Governance and Education, is its equal in Personal Freedom, Social Capital and Economic Fundamentals, and only needs to brush up a little on its Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Democratic Institutions to have unquestioned dominance over the globe. I have a good line on Tarja Halonen T-shirts, if anyone’s interested.
Seriously, what have we learned? The Legatum Prosperity Index licks at identifying the world leader; to be fair, that’s probably not what it was designed to do. I’m sure Finland is a great place (I’ve never visited), but with a land mass under 340,000 square kilometers and a population of around 5 million, Finland just doesn’t have the industrial base, the financial wherewithal or the international institutions to rule the world.
Hell of a hockey team, though.