Should the US aim to be number one in everything?
The United States is number one... or at least, that's what politicians love to claim. However, our lawmakers fail to mention what it is that makes American so exceptional.
According to Lawrence Wittner of the State University of New York, violence is one of the only reasons we find ourselves at the top of any charts. In 2014, the United States ranked 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 34th in water and sanitation, and 69th in ecosystem sustainability. But, we are number one in military spending, gun ownership, and weapons exports.
A recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says that the U.S. government accounts for 37 percent of world military expenditures. Our closest competitors are Russia and China, and together they only account for 16 percent of global military spending. The United States lags far behind other developed nations when it comes to child poverty and life expectancy, but our poor and our sick are better armed than any citizenry in the developed world. In 2013, we had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths per 400,000. In comparison, Britain only has 6 guns per 100 people, and only 1 gun-related fatality for every 400,000 people.
Is this what politicians mean when they talk about “American Exceptionalism?” Do we really want to be number one in death and destruction?
If we diverted just a fraction of our massive military spending to other programs, we could be exceptional in so many meaningful ways. Investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure would improve the lives of millions of Americans, and improve our ability to measure up with the rest of the developed world. We can't bomb or shoot our way to a better nation, but we can invest in our country to make it truly exceptional.