Saturday, July 19, 2008


Richest Country in World only 12th in Human Development

This morning I heard an item on radio 4 on Brunei. Everyone knows this tiny country is fabulously rich; fewer will know its welfare provision is so generous, providing excellent free medical care to all its citizens. By contrast, the richest country in the world, does not shape up at all. The American Human Development Report has recently reported:

Americans live shorter lives than citizens of almost every other developed nation, according to a report from several US charities. The report found that the US ranked 42nd in the world for life expectancy despite spending more on health care per person than any other country. Overall, the American Human Development Report ranked the world's richest country 12th for human development.

Of course these figures are skewed by economic class, race and geography: people living in the north-east live much longer lives than people in poorer areas; Asian males live on average 14 years longer than African-American males.

"Some Americans are living anywhere from 30 to 50 years behind others when it comes to issues we all care about: health, education and standard of living. For example, the state human development index shows that people in last-ranked Mississippi are living 30 years behind those in first-ranked Connecticut"

Clearly one of the major aspects of this problem is the fact that 47m Americans are not covered by health insurance. The US infant mortality rate is equal to those of Croatia, Cuba and Poland. Further, 15% of US children live in families with incomes less than $1,500 a month(£750); 14% of people lack the literacy required to read newspapers or instruction manuals; and only 50% of children attend pre-school compared with 75% in Europe, Canada, Japan and Russia. The richest 20% of Americans earn $168,170p.a.; the poorest 20% make do with $11,352.

These figures, however, show it is not just 'capitalism' which is responsible for such 'winners' and 'losers'. If Western Europe, let alone Brunei can preside over systems which provide basic care for the majority of citizens, it must be aspects of the US experience which explain things. It is a political culture several degrees to the right and an irrational fear of anything vaguely liberal is the thin end of a communist wedge which go some of trhe way to clarifying these anomalies. It is to be hoped Obama, if elected, will be able to shift his country at least a few notches up the world's Human Development table.

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