On American Society

People are so funny. We rant and rave about how things should be different. Then, when they change, we’re even less happy than before.

Occasionally I’ll hear some person or other comment on how they never watch the news anymore, because it’s always negative and depressing. To me, that seems like sticking your head in the sand. Just don’t look at it and poof! It’s gone.

I always want to ask those people exactly when it was that the news used to be all sunshine and baby’s breath. During Vietnam? World War II? Personally, I’m a news junkie. I always have the television on, and it’s usually tuned to a news channel. CNN, Headline News, CNBC, MSNBC, you name it. Mind you, I rarely sit in front of the TV and watch it. But my house is small enough that I can always hear it.

Yesterday I happened to catch something on ABC which was interesting enough to make me stop what I was doing, go into the living room, and sit down to watch it without even trying to fool myself into thinking I would only watch “for a second”. The show was called Is America #1? The Success and Failure of Societies (you can read the full transcript of the program) I only caught the last half of it, but basically it came to the conclusion that the United States really is the best place to live. That we have more freedom, wealth, opportunity, resources, and diversity than any other country in the world. It was downright surreal to see a show which took issue with the standard nightly news mantra about how the rich were getting richer while the poor and middle classes were rapidly being crushed into oblivion under the heel of Bill Gates.

After doing a bit of research, I realized that I’m apparently the last remaining person on earth who has never heard of John Stossel, the guy who wrote the story. He’s received 19 Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, among others.

The thing I really loved about the program was that it took the idea of poverty and put it into a worldwide perspective. How do the people we consider poor compare with those in other societies? Stossel and company went to the South Bronx, the poorest Congressional district in the United States, and everyone they interviewed living below the poverty line said they:

  • live in an air conditioned building
  • own a color television
  • own a microwave oven
  • own a VCR
  • receive cable television service
  • own a modern, frost-free refrigerator
  • receive at least some government financial assistance

This isn’t to say that there aren’t homeless, mentally ill, outcast, and other highly needy people out there. Every February I see them en mass when I’m in San Francisco, huddled in the doorways of Union Square’s most affluent stores. But it was amazing to see some of the things I’ve been saying all along broadcast on a major news network, principally that socialism doesn’t work. I’ve been to Russia, China, France, Germany, Italy, England, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Mexico–I’ve seen it first-hand.

Watching Stossel interview Hashin Halim, a political leader in Calcutta, was theatre of the absurd at its best. Calcutta is infamous as one of the world’s poorest, most destitute cities. Halim claimed that Calcutta was only poor because of immigration, and that his city was an example of socialism’s superiority from which America should learn. He actually said it was “a hundred times better”. Unbelievable. How is it that the thing which has made America so strong has reduced Calcutta to it’s current state?

In the end, which society really is best? How do you even measure something like that? Is it completely subjective? Aren’t all countries best in their own way? Perhaps. But Stossel interviewed someone who said the most objective way to determine how well a country was working was to look at how many people wanted to go there. And by that standard, America is king of the hill.


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