America is not the best at everything

Charles M. Blow has a look at some metrics for the International Monetary Fund’s “Advanced economy” countries. As Americans, we like to think that we’re the best at everything, but in many instances, that just isn’t the case. Sometimes we’re the worst.

[New York Times via @charlesmblow]


  • Italy doing better at democracy than France? You gotta be kidding me ;-)

    • Peter Bedson March 2, 2011 at 3:02 am

      Sure they are – they have had lots of governments, many ministers (lots of whom appear to have been showgirls), and a preseident who proves anyone can make it! What’s not to like there?

  • More amazing is that the US isn’t “best” at *anything.*

  • Wait… so maroon and red are bad, but orange is good? What about no color at all? Another shoddy presentation here by the Times. Sheesh.

    • agree… terrible colour scheme… sage might have been good for ‘best’

    • I wouldn’t say shoddy. It’s simply highlighting the best and worst. Gray is middle of the pack – neither best nor worse.

    • I had the same comment. It’s that yellow is an extension of the two “worst” colors in the scheme. If the color scheme was a true diverging scheme (thus good being blue or purple or green), it would be more congruent for what I would expect.

    • obviously white is the middle of the pack genius. Thats your yardstick for shoddy presentations? lol

  • Gerard St. Croix February 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    As for the democracy shtick, I bet the big brains at IMF deducted France’s score for banning expressions of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism in public. If that’s terribly undemocratic, I can live with it. France is a secular republic, will remain so, and anybody who doesn’t like it can take their sad posterior and move to Fort Hood, where that sort of thing is admired and worshiped by the clueless natives no matter how badly it turns out for them.

    • Yes, leave France if you enjoy radical freedoms like being able to wear a mask in public or you want a job.

  • I know that 3D is typically the bane of infovis, but the subtle use of shadow makes the “worst” boxes float visually on the page. Along with warm colors, it’s a nice way to add visual prominence, especially when it’s done for the purpose of conveying (rather than obscuring) information.

  • Australia #1- dont need stats to know that!

  • Was there anything in the study about immigration patterns, wants, and dislikes?

  • I’m curious how you measure democracy on a 1-10 scale.

  • But at least we have that cool grunt-chant: USA! USA! USA!

    I bet Canada doesn’t have that!

  • Fabrizio Bianchi February 23, 2011 at 12:27 am

    I don’t get it. Life expectancy in Iceland is 80.79 and is grey and in Italy it is orange while being lower (80.33)? I am Italian and I understand that is shameful to not have any kind of good data about my country, but Iceland doesn’t deserve to pay for us like this ;-)

  • Here’s a post by seeingcomplexity, here’s my comment:

    Great post!
    I saw the post in the NYT as well, and I had one additional thought, but not related to the visualization, but the story it tells. The story is about how bad the USA is doing compared to other developed countries. And even though the data is true, I am seriously interested in how these indicators were selected. It is a sad message for the USA if you see those numbers together, but there are quite some other indicators that could have been picked that will show a much more optimistic view of the USA.
    I am not saying that this is right or wrong, but the article doesn’t say anything about how these indicators were selected, why they were selected, and why others that show a more positive view of the USA were being ignored.
    So, it appears to be a randomly chosen context to emphasize the negative scores of the USA.
    Btw, Isreal also has 5 dark red squares, but is not placed at the bottom…

    • Israel also achieved two gold boxes for ‘best in class’ and only one pink box for borderline awful; the USA had two pink boxes and only achieved gray status in the remainder.

      I think it’s just as well they didn’t also include markers for being eco-aware (such as developing or funding green technologies, or discouraging industrial or domestic pollution), or for gun violence, or the representation of women in government and top industry leadership. The States would definitely come off looking even worse than at present.

  • Odd, Belgium, with 97 people in prison per 100,000 inhabitants is better than the Netherlands with 94?

  • Would be very interested in seeing how some of the stats are compiled, but this is not surprising. What I find surprising is the number of comments more concerned about the aesthetics of the presented information as opposed to the information itself.

    We are a country that has peaked and is at a point where we reinvent or fall behind. We have one of the costliest governments that constantly “spins” things to make us feel like we’re leading the world when we are in truth falling behind. Jobs are leaving the country and we aren’t positioning ourselves to compete in the global economy. The overall health of our population is poor even though we have the most advanced medicine of our time. Our citizens feel “entitled” to the point that we expect the government to take care of our problems and the rest of the world to defer to us in all things. We will be competing with China/Asia as the world’s economic center and we are in debt to our grandchildren’s eyeballs. Our political system is a meat grinder that continuously generates the same awful sausage, no matter how good the ingredients we put into it.

    Every country has its own problems, and I am PROUD to live here. I am an eagle scout, pay my taxes and vote. I volunteer in the community, serve on community & government boards and work hard to make my community a better place. But I don’t close my eyes to what is happening. We need to take off the rose colored glasses and acknowledge that we aren’t supreme. I have children that will be entering the public school system and I am worried. I see the deficit in our federal and state budgets and I am worried. I see the rapidly widening gulf between socioeconomic strata in our country and know that this is going to create more problems. All I can do is to try to make positive change in the small space around me and prepare for the future. As citizens, we all need to do the same. This can’t be a trickle down change – it needs to be thoughtfully embraced by each and everyone one of us if we want to make our country relevant in our children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes.

  • Golden Child July 20, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    America is pretty much dead last because we are being compared to mostly first world nations on this chart. America used to be a first world country before we decided to outsource millions of middle class living wage jobs and completely deindustrialize our manufacturing cities like Detroit. America has been in a steady decline towards third world status since at least the 70’s. Since then, we’ve had sharp recessions every decade accompanied by spikes in unemployment, stagnation to an all out decline in real wages not adjusted for inflation and explosions in violent crime and have seen once great cities degenerate to bombed out war-zones. A better comparison would be between America and places like Colombia and Liberia. Don’t laugh because DC is statistically safer than Iraq and DC also has a higher AIDS rate than most West African countries. America has some of the most violent, dangerous ghetto cities on the planet. Detroit and New Orleans also ranked in the top ten most dangerous cities in the world list as well. If the top ten most dangerous cities in the world list were actually ranked, Detroit would come in at number 3. These are just facts based on statistical analysis. Not to mention millions of poor people in America don’t have access to clean drinking water or sanitation because those things cost a pretty penny in devalued dollar America, the land of inequality. All of this sounds pretty third world to me.