New Perspectives

January 21, 2005
by Michael Ventura (from

No concept lies more firmly embedded in our national character than the notion that the USA is "No. 1," "the greatest." Our broadcast media are, in essence, continuous advertisements for the brand name "America Is No. 1." Any office seeker saying otherwise would be committing political suicide. In fact, anyone saying otherwise will be labeled "un-American." We're an "empire," ain't we? Sure we are. An empire without a manufacturing base. An empire that must borrow $2 billion a day from its competitors in order to function. Yet the delusion is ineradicable. We're No. 1. Well ... this is the country you really live in:

The United States is 49th in the world in literacy ( The New York Times , Dec. 12, 2004).

The United States ranked 28th out of 40 countries in mathematical literacy ( NYT , Dec. 12, 2004).

One-third of our science teachers and one-half of our math teachers did not major in those subjects. (Quoted on The West Wing , but you can trust it their researchers are legendary.)

Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the Earth. Seventeen percent believe the Earth revolves around the sun once a day ( The Week , Jan. 7, 2005).

"The International Adult Literacy Survey ... found that Americans with less than nine years of education 'score worse than virtually all of the other countries'" (Jeremy Rifkin's superbly documented book The European Dream

: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream , p.78).

Our workers are so ignorant, and lack so many basic skills, that American businesses spend $30 billion a year on remedial training ( NYT , Dec. 12, 2004). No wonder they relocate elsewhere!

"The European Union leads the U.S. in ... the number of science and engineering graduates; public research and development (R&D) expenditures; and new capital raised" ( The European Dream , p.70).

"Europe surpassed the United States in the mid-1990s as the largest producer of scientific literature" ( The European Dream , p.70).

Nevertheless, Congress cut funds to the National Science Foundation. The agency will issue 1,000 fewer research grants this year ( NYT , Dec. 21, 2004).

Foreign applications to U.S. grad schools declined 28% last year. Foreign student enrollment on all levels fell for the first time in three decades, but increased greatly in Europe and China. Last year Chinese grad-school graduates in the U.S. dropped 56%, Indians 51%, South Koreans 28% ( NYT , Dec. 21, 2004). We're not the place to be anymore.

The World Health Organization "ranked the countries of the world in terms of overall health performance, and the U.S. [was] ... 37th." In the fairness of health care, we're 54th. "The irony is that the United States spends more per capita for health care than any other nation in the world" ( The European Dream , pp.79-80). Pay more, get lots, lots less.

"The U.S. and South Africa are the only two developed countries in the world that do not provide health care for all their citizens" ( The European Dream , p.80). Excuse me, but since when is South Africa a "developed" country? Anyway, that's the company we're keeping.

Lack of health insurance coverage causes 18,000 unnecessary American deaths a year. (That's six times the number of people killed on 9/11.) ( NYT , Jan. 12, 2005.)

"U.S. childhood poverty now ranks 22nd, or second to last, among the developed nations. Only Mexico scores lower" ( The European Dream , p.81). Been to Mexico lately? Does it look "developed" to you? Yet it's the only "developed" country to score lower in childhood poverty.

Twelve million American families more than 10% of all U.S. households "continue to struggle, and not always successfully, to feed themselves." Families that "had members who actually went hungry at some point last year" numbered 3.9 million ( NYT , Nov. 22, 2004).

The United States is 41st in the world in infant mortality. Cuba scores higher ( NYT , Jan. 12, 2005).

Women are 70% more likely to die in childbirth in America than in Europe ( NYT , Jan. 12, 2005).

The leading cause of death of pregnant women in this country is murder (CNN, Dec. 14, 2004).

"Of the 20 most developed countries in the world, the U.S. was dead last in the growth rate of total compensation to its work-force in the 1980s. ... In the 1990s, the U.S. average compensation growth rate grew only slightly, at an annual rate of about 0.1%" ( The European Dream , p.39). Yet Americans work longer hours per year than any other industrialized country, and get less vacation time.

"Sixty-one of the 140 biggest companies on the Global Fortune 500 rankings are European, while only 50 are U.S. companies" ( The European Dream , p.66). "In a recent survey of the world's 50 best companies, conducted by Global Finance , all but one was European" ( The European Dream , p.69).

"Fourteen of the 20 largest commercial banks in the world today are European. ... In the chemical industry, the European company BASF is the world's leader, and three of the top six players are European. In engineering and construction, three of the top five companies are European. ... The two others are Japanese. Not a single American engineering and construction company is included among the world's top nine competitors. In food and consumer products, Nestlé and Unilever, two European giants, rank first and second, respectively, in the world. In the food and drugstore retail trade, two European companies ... are first and second, and European companies make up five of the top 10. Only four U.S. companies are on the list" ( The European Dream , p.68).

The United States has lost 1.3 million jobs to China in the last decade (CNN, Jan. 12, 2005).

U.S. employers eliminated 1 million jobs in 2004 ( The Week , Jan. 14, 2005).

Three million six hundred thousand Americans ran out of unemployment insurance last year; 1.8 million one in five unemployed workers are jobless for more than six months ( NYT , Jan. 9, 2005).

Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea hold 40% of our government debt. (That's why we talk nice to them.) "By helping keep mortgage rates from rising, China has come to play an enormous and little-noticed role in sustaining the American housing boom" ( NYT , Dec. 4, 2004). Read that twice. We owe our housing boom to China, because they want us to keep buying all that stuff they manufacture.

Sometime in the next 10 years Brazil will probably pass the U.S. as the world's largest agricultural producer. Brazil is now the world's largest exporter of chickens, orange juice, sugar, coffee, and tobacco. Last year, Brazil passed the U.S. as the world's largest beef producer. (Hear that, you poor deluded cowboys?) As a result, while we bear record trade deficits, Brazil boasts a $30 billion trade surplus ( NYT , Dec. 12, 2004).

As of last June, the U.S. imported more food than it exported ( NYT , Dec. 12, 2004).

Bush: 62,027,582 votes. Kerry: 59,026,003 votes. Number of eligible voters who didn't show up: 79,279,000 ( NYT , Dec. 26, 2004). That's more than a third. Way more. If more than a third of Iraqis don't show for their election, no country in the world will think that election legitimate.

One-third of all U.S. children are born out of wedlock. One-half of all U.S. children will live in a one-parent house (CNN, Dec. 10, 2004).

"Americans are now spending more money on gambling than on movies, videos, DVDs, music, and books combined" ( The European Dream , p.28).

"Nearly one out of four Americans [believe] that using violence to get what they want is acceptable" ( The European Dream , p.32).

Forty-three percent of Americans think torture is sometimes justified, according to a PEW Poll (Associated Press, Aug. 19, 2004).

"Nearly 900,000 children were abused or neglected in 2002, the last year for which such data are available" ( USA Today, Dec. 21, 2004).

"The International Association of Chiefs of Police said that cuts by the [Bush] administration in federal aid to local police agencies have left the nation more vulnerable than ever" ( USA Today, Nov. 17, 2004).

No. 1? In most important categories we're not even in the Top 10 anymore. Not even close.

The USA is "No. 1" in nothing but weaponry, consumer spending, debt, and delusion.


1. The U.S. is less than 5% of world population.
2. More than 95% of everyone who will be in the workforce in 2010 is working today.
3. Census Bureau divides the population into 197 ancestry groups, 380 languages.
4. The top 1% in the US have wealth equal to the bottom 95%.
5. Rate of child poverty in US is four times that of Western Europe--1/4 of all children in US live below poverty line.
6. The average American child will watch more than 8,000 murders and 100,000 other violent acts on television before she or he leaves elementary school. The typical teenager sees nearly 14,000 sexual encounters on television every year.
7. The US is the most heavily armed country in the world--110 million households own 230 million guns.
8. US national savings rate is about 4%--20% of Americans have nothing saved for retirement--half of all families in 1992 had net financial assets under $1000--debts exceed assets for 4 out of 10 families.
9. 1/4 of all households are one-person households.
10. 30% of all families are single parent.
11. 30% of new mothers are not married...white married women with children under 18 are only 22% of all women in US (2004)
12. Some people have 5 or 6 generation family reunions. For the first time in history, there is a 3 or 4-generation workforce. Some families have 2 generations retired.
13. The fastest growing groups in America--children in poverty, people over 65 (especially those over 85), prisoners, people who are "multi" or "other," people who used to work for Fortune 500 corporations.
14. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) may be the first generation not to replace itself.
15. US average age is highest in history--36.
16. The category "Hispanic" was created in 1980.
17. The same proportion of children--4%--were foreign-born in 1910 as in 1990.
18. From 1980-1990, Asian-American population grew 108%, Hispanic 53%, African American 13%, white 6%.
19. In about 1/3 of two-income couples, the woman makes more than the man.
20. Even if immigration ended completely, the proportion of the US that is non-Hispanic white would continue to decrease.
21. Household size record low 2.5 people
22. The after-tax income of the top 20% exceeds that of all other families combined-- largest gap of any developed country.
23. More than 1/3 of world population lives in India and China--India will soon outnumber China.
24. The world's 476 billionaires have a combined net worth of more than $1.4 trillion, greater than the combined incomes of the poorest half of world population.
25. 18% of Americans working full time earn less than poverty level income.
26. The fastest growing religion in the US is Islam--there are now more Moslems than Episcopalians.
27. US has highest teenage birth rate among developed countries.
28. US has highest adult illiteracy rate among developed countries.
29. US has highest drug use rate among developed countries.
30. US infant mortality rate is 18th among developed countries.
31. On average 18% of US speak a first language other than English.
32. White people are the minority in over 2000 cities and towns.
33. All 30 of the largest public school districts have majority minority enrollment.
34. Most people work at no more than 20% of their capacity.
35. At the current rate, it will be 2270 (the year) before women reach parity with men as senior managers.
36. Women work an average of 13% more hours than men in every country.
37. There are 53 countries in Africa, more than all countries in the world before WWII.
38. For the first 100 years the name "America" was used, it referred to what we call Latin America. People in South America and Central America are also "Americans."
39. The US has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years. Some places have been continuously occupied for 800 years. Some families have lived in New Mexico for 17 generations.
40. Russia has 11 time zones.
41. Less than 60% of babies born in US have two Anglo parents--by 2020, less than 50%.
42. The largest group of people who speak French are Africans.
43. Indonesia has 13,000 islands. Its motto is "unity in diversity."
44. The largest group of Japanese outside Japan are Brazilian.
45. White males are 31% of US, white people are less than 13% of world population, white male Americans are 1% of world population.
46. Less than half of California is Anglo. By 2050, half of US will be Anglo.
47. US trade across the Pacific is 3 times as large as with the European Union.
48. Gambling is the leading growth industry in the US.
49. Quebec voted 50.5%-49.5% not to secede from Canada.
50. Over 1/4 of the Medicare budget is spent on patients in their last year of life.
51. 9% of Americans have a passport.
52. 1992 election was the first in which voters from suburbs were a majority.
53. For the first time, married without children outnumber married with children.
54. For the first time, the average married couple has more parents than children.
55. Cancer patients with psycho-social support live longer.
56. 90% of all individuals make less than $75,000 a year.
57. Since 1979, more children (60,000) have died from gunfire in US than American solders killed during the Vietnam and Gulf wars and in US engagements in Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia combined.
58. 60% of mothers of children under 6, and 76% of mothers of children 6-17 are working.
59. There are 5000-6000 cultures, or peoples, in the world (speaking 5000-6000 languages). The US government, through OMB Statistical Directive #15, reduces them to 5 plus "Other."
60. Less than 9% of the workforce work for all the Fortune 500 combined. Women- owned businesses employ more people than the Fortune 500.
61. 1 in 7 of the nation's residences is a mobile home.
62. 60% of women wear size 12 or larger.
63. 54% of Americans live in coastal counties; less than 2% live on farms.
64. 1 in 4 voters for president belong to AARP.
65. Since 1960, whites have dropped from 93% of total net immigration to 55%.
66. By 2030, number of deaths in US might exceed number of births every year.
67. 1 in 6 Americans covered by Americans with Disabilities Act (largest minority).
68. 20th century--from 50 countries in the world to 200.
69. To lift every American family out of poverty in 1989 would have cost $5,138 each, less than what the US spent in 43 days in 1991 on the Persian Gulf War.
70. The average American is a 33 year old white woman who lives in a mortgaged home that has 3 bedrooms and is heated by natural gas. She is a married mother with some German ancestry, graduated from high school and holds a clerical job. She moves to a new home more frequently than residents of any other developed country.
71. 2% of U.S. is Jewish.
72. Turnout in 1996 election was 49% of electorate, in 1994, 39%--both the lowest of all the G7 countries.
73. On any given day. 1.1 million people are behind bars, highest rate per capita of any country in the world; average number of incarcerated is more than total population of 9 states.
74. The Census Bureau's March 1997 report on the U.S. in 2050 says--Big increase in people over 65 (will be 1/5 of the country) and over 85 (from 4 million now to 18 million). Hispanics will outnumber all other "minorities" combined--and will be 1/4 of the total U.S. Whites will drop from 73% now to 52.8%. Blacks stay about the same--12% now, 13.6% in the 2050 projection. Asians more than double, from 3.5% to 8.2%.
75. About 1 in 3 babies is born to a woman over 30. Babies are being born to post- menopausal women. For the first time, women can expect to live more than 1/3 of their lives after menopause.
76. Of the world's 100 largest economies, 51 are transnational corporations. For example, Wal-Mart, the world's 12th-largest corporation, has sales revenues larger than the gross domestic product of 161 countries. The combined sales of the top 200 corporations come to $7.1 trillion, nearly twice the $3.9 trillion in economic activity generated by the poorest 80% of the world's population. Researchers conclude that these corporations "are creating a global economic apartheid, not a global village."
77. More than one-fifth of 25-year-old Americans live with their parents
78. The proportion of college students age 40 or older doubled from 1970 to 1993 when it was 1.6 million, 11% of total
79. Americans graduate from college more deeply in debt than college graduates of any other country
80. Michael Jordan earned more in 4 minutes of playing basketball than the average American worker earned in a year ($31,000)
81. Some 200 million people live outside their country of birth
82. More people became naturalized citizens in U.S. in 1997 than in any previous year
83. Since 1950, Americans have used more natural resources than everyone who ever lived before
84. Personal bankruptcies are at a record million a year. More Americans declared personal bankruptcy in 1996 than graduated from college
85. From 1969 to 1995, the number of cars in the U.S. grew 6 times faster than the human population--and twice as fast as the number of drivers. 18.7% of households have 3 or more vehicles, up from 4.6% in 1969.
86. By 2025, 50% of public school students in U.S. will be minority
87. 63% of households had no children in 2000
88. One in six women and one in eight men are incest survivors.
89. World automobile output was 36 milllion in 1996, bringing total to 496 million vehicles--109 million bicycles were produced in 1995
90. There will be 100,000 people over 100 in 2010--there are 4 million Americans who have Alzheimer's disease--estimate 16 million in 2050 (TV news, October 2004)
91. The biggest sector in international trade is weapons; the U.S. is the largest dealer.
92. Forests are being cut at the rate of 2 acres per second, the size of England each year.
93. 10,000 species of plants and animals become extinct each year. More species will disappear in your children's lifetime than in the last 65 million years.
94. An estimated total of 170 million human beings were killed by wars and group extermination in the 20th century.
95. Black and Latino Americans spending is over $600 billion a year
96. 480,000 Vietnam war veterans still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
97. Approximately one in four married couples reports physical violence at some point in their marriage. Every 15 seconds, a woman is beaten by her husband or lover. Each year, between one and two million children are physically abused in their homes. One in every 25 adults over the age 65 is physically abused by a family member.
98. Three-and-a-half million Americans are family members of people who have died by homicide.
99. At least 100,000 refugee torture victims live in the United States. At least 50,000 living Americans are Holocaust survivors.
100. Fewer than 1 in 5 college students are 18-22, living on campus, fulltime students.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.
The way out is the way through.

--from various sources. Please let me know any errors.