Move Down, America – You’re In Finland’s Seat

Uncle Volodya sings, "Finland's hot because they're fly....you ain't because you're not: this is why...this is why...this is why they're hot"

Flag of the New World Leader

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.

Behold, the new World Leader!

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.

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16 Responses to Move Down, America – You’re In Finland’s Seat

  1. kovane says:

    You just hate America for South Park and How I Met Your Mother!!!🙂

    • marknesop says:

      Ha, ha! Happy Sunday, Kovane, since you’re a day ahead of me. I’ve never seen “How I Met Your Mother”; I honestly don’t watch a lot of TV, and sometimes it goes as much as a week without ever being turned on. I love South Park, though: my son’s a big fan as well, and both of us can do a pretty good Cartman impression.

      • kovane says:

        I suppose we’re comrades-in-arms here: I don’t even own a TV set. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching an occasional TV series, South Park being one of my favourite. By the way, what is Canadian attitudes toward America? As I understand, Canada gets teased very often in the American media.

        • marknesop says:

          In many ways, especially if you were in a large city like Toronto or Vancouver or Calgary, you’d hardly be able to tell us apart. To foreigners, Canadians and Americans sound the same when we speak, although we can spot an American accent, and vice-versa. A lot of our television programming, including major news sources, is American. There’s a great deal of cross-border foreign ownership, especially in the financial sector; we own quite a few American companies, and they own quite a few Canadian ones. Not long ago, the CEO of American Airlines was a Canadian while the CEO of Air Canada was an American, although I’m not sure if that’s still the situation. Needless to say, there’s a great deal of cooperation between our security and law-enforcement services.

          I think you’d find patriotism, while present, much more muted in Canada, and Canadians are much more politically cynical. Americans tend to be overtly patriotic – generally speaking – while we are not. Canada also tends, by my own observation, to go out of its way to show Americans how welcome they are in this country; hotels and other businesses even far from the border often fly the American flag alongside the Canadian and provincial flags. That’s to promote tourism and trade, of course, but generally the two countries carry on a very friendly relationship. We take great pains to point out that we are not Americans while they don’t really seem to feel the need to point out that they are not Canadians, but I don’t think it really hurts anyone’s feelings. There are a few Americans, of course, who are convinced there isn’t a non-American on the planet who wouldn’t sell his children into slavery for the chance to be an American, but they’re a very small minority.

          I can’t recall personally meeting an American I didn’t like, and they’re a very friendly, warm-hearted people whether abroad or at home. I think the American electorate is much more easily-influenced than the Canadian, but that goes along with our being more cynical.

          I wouldn’t say we get teased much in the American media. There are a few jokes like in South Park, and sometimes there’s a genuinely mean-spirited article (like the Graham Kates piece I referenced below, which made me want to kill him), but if I’m fair, we probably publish more anti-American articles than the other way round. After the Olympic men’s hockey where the Americans were so close to winning, I saw a lot of very kind “Congratulations, Canada” comments on sites like the Washington Post.

          LR is an extremist who in no way reflects the American public mainstream, and relations between our countries are generally cordial. We take pains to make it clear we’re different and don’t want to form a continental union, and they’re generally understanding and don’t push us.

          • kovane says:

            Thank you, Mark, for you interesting and elaborate response. I suppose if countries have close economic ties, their relations will be cordial – there are to many participants interested in that. The opposite is also true, the Russia–United States relations are an excellent example of this. When the total amount of trade between the countries is less than that of Thailand, it’s too easy to manipulate them.

            • marknesop says:

              It’s true countries with close economic ties, especially those that share a long common border, enjoy cordial relationships, but that’s as long as neither country feels exploited by the other. We’ve had our differences, and some have had to go to the World Court. Our trade agreement (NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement) has a clause which says if you agree to provide a service and begin to do so, you cannot stop or reduce it without agreement from the other partner. On the face of it, it seems simple and fair. In the case of natural gas, though, to use an example, we were used to getting it for next to nothing, because we were extracting something like 180% of our own needs. That was before California suffered around 5 years of continuous drought, and converted almost all its hydroelectric power generation plants to natural gas. Now we supply 90% of the U.S.’s NG imports, and 15% of their total consumption. However, now we pay the same or similar prices as California, and cannot shut off or reduce the flow without agreement.

              That’s not exploitation, not really, because we entered into the agreement of our own free will, and we certainly don’t complain about the money from the United States – $122 Billion in 2008.

              http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/washington/bilat_can/energy-energie.aspx?lang=eng

              But it means you have to be careful when you enter into that kind of agreement, because once you start it you can’t stop without agreement from the other party, even if you suffer domestic shortages yourself; in theory, until your supply is exhausted. That’s why we won’t sell bulk fresh water, although the subject has come up many times.

  2. Misha says:

    The out of sight, out of mind approach best explains the kind of commentary you authoritatively debunk Mark.

    Statistics and political studies (I don’t prefer the popularly used political science) are a great double.

    On your last point relating to Finland’s last winter Olympic ice hockey performance, as a Canadian and “Kremlin stooge,” you might be interested in these pieces, if not already read:

    http://www.russiablog.org/2007/12/missives_about_russian_ice_hoc.php

    At the top of the above linked piece, note the stats (from 2007) on the number of players in each of the major ice hockey playing countries. The US should be at the top on a regular basis.

    Some other more recent articles on the subject:

    http://www.russiablog.org/2010/02/stakes_are_high_for_the_russian_hockey_vancouver_2010_olympics.php

    I’m not responsible for the description below the second photo. (I was informed that it was picked up and posted by a Russian media source, which appears to have possibly been in error.)

    Concerning Russia’s winter Olympic performance in Vancouver:

    http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/143931

    The result shouldn’t have been unexpected, with the future perhaps not being so glum as some suggest. The hosting of an Olympics serves to boost the Olympic spirit of the host nation. This has been known to happen and undoubtedly explains a main reason for Russia wanting to host the next winter Olympics in Sochi.

    Russia’s current ice hockey team is good at the goalie position, while being suspect at defencemen. Their top five centers and wingers are tops in the world. After that, Russia gets a bit mediocre at these forward positions.

    • marknesop says:

      Good Morning, Mike – you’re exactly right, you can always find a website somewhere that supports your point of view. LR’s error in this particular case was not checking the rankings to ensure the USA was on top. In fact, it is 9th on the Legatum Prosperity Index, under mostly Scandinavian countries, Australia and Canada. Oh, and the Netherlands as well. Finland, as you can see, made number one.

      She could always save face by arguing that her comparison was restricted to the United States and Russia, and that there’s no comparison between the two. My argument would be that she specifically cited it as proof that the United States is a world leader. It proves nothing of the sort, since it rates Finland considerably higher, and that’s not the purpose of the application, which is to identify problem areas for improvement. The sliding values are mostly arbitrary, based on factors that are not even present in all countries (which is likely one of the problem areas), so a direct comparison is often not realistic. Although she’s never let reality stop her.

      Russia has lots of areas that need improvement, some desperately. But it comes in for a ridiculously disproportionate amount of criticism from some sources who blithely ignore countries where things are much worse, like North Korea. People in Russia who don’t like Putin feel perfectly free to say so. North Koreans walk around like zombies, chanting about the Dear Leader – now that’s a dictatorship. But NorthKoreaPhobia is non-existent as far as I can make out, probably because the problems in North Korea don’t require exaggeration.

      I’m not a follower of sports, except hockey, and that only when it’s international, Team Canada against another nation. Here’s an example, though, of the kind of article that makes other nations hate Americans.

      http://trueslant.com/grahamkates/2010/02/22/a-canadian-and-a-russian-walk-into-a-bar/

      When I read this, I immediately fired up a post entitled, “Why Do They Hate Us?” I reread it, and – wisely, I think – dumped it in the trash without publishing it, reasoning that a lot of my readers are Americans, and most would not support Kate’s ignorant chest-thumping. But it’s exactly that sort of attitude; that, “go ahead and try, because it makes our inevitable victory even sweeter” that is the polar opposite of sportsmanship.

      As we all now know, Canada won a third more gold medals than the USA (who, to be fair, did come in on top overall with a lot of second and third-place finishes), and beat them in ice hockey for both genders. Again in the interests of fairness, the men’s game could have gone either way, and was a heart-stopper right up to the end. In fact, some people in airport terminals refused to board their planes during the overtime period.

      http://open.salon.com/blog/catherine_forsythe/2010/03/10/aviation_history_for_air_canada_hockey_fans_refuse_to_board

      The USA pours more money into its Olympic teams than anyone else, although it’s still less than they’d like, but it’s not entirely correct to suggest that’s what makes them win or should be a reason for astonishment when they don’t. America has a large population to choose from, and fields a lot of outstanding athletes who are simply better than anyone else. But it’s true Canada tries harder against America than any other nation, and I bet they think about assrockets like Graham Kates while they’re doing it.

      I thought the Russian team were real sports when they lost to Canada, and my respect for them was undiminished. In my house, Beat The Americans is the goal. If Canada is knocked out early, we cheer for Russia.

  3. Misha says:

    More accurately put, the US should be a frequent contender for the top spot among ice hockey playing nations.

  4. Misha says:

    Thanks for the detailed follow-up Mark.

    Eugene has a simultaneously sophisticated and frank way about himself than some others.

    America has its ?! types for sure. On the other hand, Canada has Don Cherry, with that country having a greater per capita share of anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist extremists.

    Recall the Salt Lake City fiasco at the 2002 winter Olympics, which involved NBC’s coverage, showing a bias for the lead Canadian figue skating pair, who were portrayed as defending “North America.”

    http://www.russiablog.org/2006/02/second_week_olympic_notes.php

    From what I saw, Canadian media at large wasn’t so objective on this matter as well. Ditto the coverage of Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution, for reasons partly related to the anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist element in Canada.

    On this particular SLC winter Olympic issue, I hope I’m not pushing things with you.
    🙂

    Having said all this, I see where regionalism serves for fallback rooting. In a World Cup final, many Euro football (soccer) fans are prone to favoring the Euro team playing a squad from another continent. Despite some historic animosity, former Yugo soccer fans are known for rooting for other former Yugo republics, in matches where their team isn’t playing. During the 2006 World Cup, Ukraine was a fallback team for many Russian soccer fans.

    Truth be told, the US didn’t have such a bad Olympic training system before Reagan became president. American collegiate scholarships have accorded top American athletes quality housing and training.

    Unlike some other Americans, USA Hockey at large seems to be a generally good bunch. Among other major sports, ice hockey players have a reputation for being more down to earth. As an American ice hockey fan, I envy the better coverage of the sport in Canada.

    On your last point and contrary to what I recall what someone on your links list wrote, Russian ice hockey teams have previously shown respect for teams that have beaten them.

  5. marknesop says:

    Hi, Mike; you touched a sore spot there – Don Cherry should be packaged up and sent air express to a country that still practices cannibalism. I never liked him, or any of his gimmicks (like the deliberately loud suits), and he just seems to get more desperately offensive as he gets older.

    It’s funny, I never thought much about what the reaction would be in Russia to the Canadian figure-skating duo’s medal. I do remember a few nasty comments that Canadians were “whiners”, which I thought was absurd at the time because I hadn’t heard a lot of pressure in our media about it being unfair in the first place. I thought the Russian pair skated a superb program, and I had a good feeling that we were being sporting about it because a second medal was awarded, rather than de-medaling the Russian pair. It’s really interesting, the depth of this issue that I just didn’t see. I didn’t hear a word about “mob involvement”, for example, and it never entered my head that our athletes might have garnered broad North American support because of the tune they used as background. Frankly, unless somebody showed me surveys, I’d say that part was nonsense.

    But I also didn’t think of the Russophobia angle, or that Canadian athletes might get support not because they were good, but because they weren’t Russians. That’s disturbing, although I’ve seen it before. In the World Hockey Juniors in 2005, the American team begged the Canadian team to destroy the Russians (they did) because of alleged “taunting” on the part of the Russian athletes during their game. That was the year my wife arrived in Canada, and I gave her a lot of good-natured ribbing over Canada’s victory.

    In any case, I can understand Russian despair and cynicism surrounding sports events – even when they win, they lose. The “aboriginal costume” foolishness at this year’s Vancouver Olympics, directed at the Russian skating pair, was a squirming embarrassment. I never heard such a lot of manufactured-outrage bullshit, and thought at the time that it put Canada in a very bad light. As I recall, I said so in writing in comments on the Olympic website (National Post). It might have been only imagination, but I thought I even noticed an air of stung pride in their final performance, as if they knew they were fated to lose no matter how well they did. That said, they did wear the same costumes during the European Championships

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/21/russian-ice-skaters-abori_n_431512.html

    and got a lot of stick from the Australians – they must have known the issue would be controversial. Still, it was apparent the costumes were not intended to offend anyone.

    The links you previously sent were extremely interesting as well; I wish I’d read them before I replied last time. I had no idea this country had more hockey players than the U.S., or that U.S. presence in hockey on a major scale was so recent. When I think about it, in all events except international (Team Canada/Team USA) ones, there’s no use being upset over who wins, because the winning team usually has about a 50/50 mix of Canadians/Americans no matter who is the victor.

    I never trusted any Vancouver Canuck player again after the Minnesota Wild came back from two whole games down to hand them their asses in the Western Conference Semifinals, back in 02/03. But Marion Gaborik became a household name. I never realized what a little guy he is until I saw him off the ice, because on it he’s a giant.

    Yes, you’re right – the Russians are often good sports when beaten, as long as people don’t rush to rub their noses in their loss – that’s never conducive to good sportsmanship. That’s when commentators bother to even interview the Russians; often, it’s enough for western audiences just to know they lost.

    • Misha says:

      Thanks again for a detailed follow-up Mark.

      Don Cherry has been anti-foreignor as opposed to just anti-Russian. The former Toronto Maple Leaf owner Harold Ballard was another beaut. You might recall how he made it a point to have his team not formally represented at the 1987 Rendez Vous series in Quebec City, between the NHL all stars and the Soviet national team.

      Giving myself the benefit of doubt, I’ve a respectful difference on recollecting the initial ’02 result we’re discussing. My overall recollection from CBC was a “we wuz robbed” mindset over the initial scoring of what we’re discussing.

      In the US, there was considerable outrage at the original decision, with mass media referring to it as “the story that won’t go away,” as if that media wasn’t adding to the sensationalism. I also remember talk of “staying on top” of the supposed Russian mob fix that was never proven and in my opinion questionable.

      NBC treated the Canadian pair as representing North America. The bias was there. I sense that most Americans preferred the Canadains’ pop culture musical selection over the classical one chosen by the Russians.

      Like most folks who’ve yapped about that story, I’m no authority on figure skating scoring. My hunch is shared by American figure skating judge Roger Glenn and retired American figure skater Christopher Bowman, among others, who believe that the original call was close and that too much was made of it. The decision of awarding a second gold to Sale and Pelletier prompted some to believe that Slutskaya had a case for a gold in her event won by Hughes. Note that the Chinese pairs medalists didn’t participate in the awarding of the second gold to Sale and Pelletier.

      The opinion that the original scoring was kosher enough is of the view that the Russian pair had the more difficult program, despite the klutzy landing.

      Your point on the costumes reminds me of a certain selective sensitivity factor out there which partly relates to the hypothetically and rhetorically stated but not supported La Judeophobe site mentioned elsewhere.

      As a NY Ranger fan who has spent much of his life on Long Island, I remember the two Stanley Cup finals the Canucks were in (against the Islanders and Rangers).

      I like the Canucks blue, green and white team colors over the hideous yellow, black and red abomination they had for a good period in their history. The blue, white and green better reflects Vancouver’s location.

      Ice hockey’s success in the US is a tribute to the nature of the game and the NHL’s top players, who for much of history have been Canadians. Like I said, they’re a generally down to earth bunch, much unlike some of the brats out there in professional sports.

      • Misha says:

        Agree on Gaborik.

        He was nevertheless not enough to get the Rangers into the playoffs this past season.

        Blasted Flyers.

      • marknesop says:

        Hi, Mike! You may well be right, because as I said, I’m generally not much of a follower of sports. I see Don Cherry on TV often – against my will – because I have friends who ARE sports fans, and I agree he’s extremely dismissive of anyone who’s not Canadian (or American). Some would call him, then, a “patriotic Canadian” – if I remember right, his name was offered in a survey conducted by Reader’s Digest for “Most Trusted Canadian” – but I certainly don’t think so. There’s no reason you should let foreigners take over your country to the extent they’re making the rules, but if you live in a big country with a small population there’s generally no foundation for bigotry.

        I’m afraid I just don’t recall the Sale/Pelletier controversy in much detail. I suppose I must have watched it, but the last figure-skating performance that held me fascinated from beginning to end was Oksana Baiul at Lillehammer. I remember the Kerrigan/Harding feud well (I’ve seen Tonya Harding, close enough to touch, in a bar in Oregon), but because of the notoriety, not their performances. I don’t remember the tune Sale and Pelletier skated to, and I’m incredulous that it could become a wedge issue.

        In any case, there are countries that repeatedly rank near the top in various sports, for various reasons, and the Russians are top-notch skaters both singly and in pairs. I hate it when politics gets into the mix, and it’s worse when the media gets on to a prejudice they want to amplify and relentlessly stokes the fires of ignorance. Sport should be about who was the best at the sport without resorting to drugs or other trickery, and when they have won, everybody should cheer their athletic achievement without a lot of gossip about human rights in the country they came from, or who their president is supposed to be boffing behind the scenes. As far as incendiary discussions about whether their costumes might constitute an insult to indigenous peoples far away – well, you know what I think about that.

        My son and his wife are rabid Canuck fans, and I’ve learned to tread softly during visits following a Canuck loss.

        • Misha says:

          Oksana didn’t have quite have the career that some thought she might have Mark.

          Tara Lipinski was another. In her case, she became decimated with chronic injuries.

          Figure skating is a rough sport, when it comes to landing jumps on a hard surface.

          Charles Barkley’s behavior at the 1992 summer Olympics reminded me of Cherry.

          Ideally, sports should be a nice relief for the masses from every day rigors. Unfortunately, it often gets treated a bit more seriously and politically than it should.

          IMO, sports journalism tends to have more of a detailed and objective take than much of the political coverage. There’re exceptions as noted in this thread.

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