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Australia is better than the United States

Americans have just been celebrating their Independence Day – July 4. An important theme in the annual parades is that the United States is Number 1.

Well, it seems in some international surveys the US is not always number 1 - and that it is often lower on the survey list than Australia.

“Foreign Policy in Focus” is published in Washington DC by the Institute for Policy Studies. This week’s edition shows that the US is, according to one survey, actually ranked 96th.

The conservative British magazine “The Economist” has just produced its Global Peace Index (GPI), ranking 121 countries. The GPI is weighted 60 per cent on internal measures of violence and 40 per cent on external measures of violent activities beyond its borders. Within each of those two broad categories there were other criteria.

The US ranks badly partly because of the violence at home. 25 per cent of all the world’s prisoners are housed in the US. The US has about 5 per cent of the world’s population – and 2.2 million of its people in prison. Many of them are there for violent crimes – which is a reflection on the easy availability of guns.

I was at a conference some time ago where it was reported that the US is also an important country for the number of shooting deaths (about 30,000 each year – 10 times the number inflicted by Osama bin Laden on 9/11). More Japanese get killed in the US than the number of Japanese killed in Japan. (The Japanese would like to visit the US but prefer to visit Australia because we are safer).

Getting back to the “The Economist’s” list, at the bottom of the list – at 121st place – is (naturally) Iraq. Australia is in 25th place. The top five are: Norway, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland and Japan.

“Foreign Policy in Focus” also examines some other international surveys. It notes that the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) – which combines such measures as life expectancy, literacy and per capita GDP – puts the US at number 8: “We’re behind Ireland and Australia”. For Americans it seems that to be ranked behind Australia in a list is particularly insulting!

In fact, Australia is consistently ranked in the UN Human Development Index among the top five each year, along with the Scandinavians and Canadians.

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) published by Yale University in the US compares measures such as air quality, water resources and energy sustainability. The US is at 28th position. “Again, those pesky Irish and Australians do better than us. But this time they’re joined by Slovakia and Malaysia”.

It seems to me that these surveys reveal four points. First, the Americans are living in a fool’s paradise if they do think that they really are number one all the time. Clearly they are not.

Second, the US is the world’s richest country – and yet all that wealth does not necessarily buy security, high literacy or a good environment.

Third, it is worth remembering just how blessed we are in Australia. So many of our media and the politicians focus on what is wrong with this country. But we are in fact much better off than most of the other countries – and certainly better off than the Americans.

Finally, to whom much is given, a great deal is expected. It is a pity that Australia’s foreign aid record is so poor. But on a percentage basis, again, it is better than the US’s – and much worse than the Scandinavians.

Keith Suter, Consultant for Social Policy
Broadcast 20 July 2007 on Radio 2GB's "Brian Wilshire Programme" at 9pm.

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