Frank Fish: When the USA is No. 1, that isn’t always the best

FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, April 10, 2018, Observers watch from the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt as a U.S. F-18 fighter jet lands, in international waters off South China Sea. According to a report released Wednesday May 2, 2018, the Swedish arms watchdog Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said Global military spending rose to $1.739 trillion in 2017, a 1.1 percent increase on 2016, China continued its upward trend, and the United States’ military spending remained constant for the second consecutive year. (AP Photo/Jim Gomez, FILE)

The chant “USA! USA!” has been popular since our ice hockey team won the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics. “We’re No. 1” is often added.

We have been No. 1 industrially for the last 100 years — helped by escaping the devastation that Europe, Russia, China and Japan suffered in two world wars. In many areas we are still No. 1. But that’s not always a positive. For example:

  • GNP. We still lead China. But only because many things (especially services) cost much more here. A better comparison might be exports, where China leads by almost 30% and Germany is not far behind the U.S.

On spending we have four elephants in the room:

  • Military spending. Although protected to the east and west by several thousand miles of ocean, we spend three times as much as the second-place country (China) and more than the next 10 countries combined. We have 800 permanent overseas bases, when China and Russia have 10 combined. Is our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq doing us any good after 16 years and trillions of dollars spent?

  • Income taxes. We have by far the highest-paid top executives in the world. And the lowest top personal and corporate tax rates. A quarter of our biggest companies (including Amazon and Apple) pay no corporate taxes. Since he became president, Donald Trump’s hotels and golf courses have apparently gained more than $45 million from business executives, foreign governments, his election committee and the Republican National Committee. Have his taxes have kept pace? We will never know, as long as Republican congressmen allow him to hide his tax returns.

  • Health care costs. We spend twice as much per capita as European countries, though they cover all citizens, while 20% of Americans have no or insufficient coverage. Our doctors are paid roughly 50% more on average; the same drugs cost double here. The 20 highest-paid pharma executives are American — although four of the biggest 10 pharma companies are European. Again, our national budget is controlled by business.

  • National debt. At over 110% of GDP, our national debt keeps growing. Only Japan and Italy of major countries owe a bigger percentage.

Some other No. 1 items not to be proud of:

  • Elections. Our biggest spender wins 95% of the time. In Europe, limited campaign funding, including TV time, is usually government provided and strictly controlled. Our election campaigns run roughly two years longer and our candidates (or their private and corporate backers) can spend unlimited amounts. Payback is expected and delivered in Congress and the presidency. Democracy?

  • Gun deaths. We have the most gun deaths per capita in high-income countries, six times the Canadian rate, 15 times the German and 30 times the British and French. Never has an ambiguous and 230-year-old constitutional clause been so manipulated.

  • More than 2 million in jail. We are No. 1 worldwide in absolute numbers and percentage of population.

Not a pretty picture — and it’s getting worse. We claim to be a democracy, but Trump is running a dictatorship, just as Mitch McConnell does in the Senate. Trump gives the impression of success by being ever-present on TV and telling so many lies. His Fox News-loving and supposedly Christian base no longer questions his claims. Overseas, people are not so naive. Trump’s approval rating in France, Germany and Scandinavia is about 10%. Big drops from the 48% enjoyed by Obama — for good reason.

Frank Fish

Frank Fish, Park City, was born to a working-class family in England, studied mathematics in college, was a Fulbright Scholar and worked as an information systems consultant in the U.S., U.K., Italy and France before retiring.

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