Is America actually the wealthiest nation on earth?

American society has several enormous inefficiencies in it.

The Medical system - due to an unholy mix of 19th century capitalism and onerous government regulations, medical costs spiral out of control and yet provide minimal benefit. America has the most expensive medical care on the planet, consuming 18 cents out of every dollar produced, and the population as a whole does not live any longer. Also, ironically, despite the willingness as a society for the best medical care at any cost, virtually no money is spent on anti-aging or cryonics or any kind of research that might actually making meaningful headway against death. (saving someone from cancer to die of alzheimers 10 years later isn’t much progress)

The Legal System - America has more lawyers than the rest of the planet combined. Also, at least from the court cases I have read about, cases take years to decades to come to a final verdict. I can’t really say if the error rate is lower than countries with more autocratic legal systems. However, what I can say is that the number of lawyers (and their high cost) indicates a more insidious problem : lady justice is in no way blind. A fair legal system would give the same outcome whether one party to the case shows up and argues their own case, or pays a $500/hour lawyer. A fair legal system would also make swift decisions, because the cost of not making a decision is often high. (for instance, a civil plaintiff should not have to wait 5 years for a final judgement if they are entitled to compensation. A criminal defendant should not have to wait in jail 1-2 years before they have even a chance of being acquitted)

**The Education System **- Due to another unholy mix of capitalism combined with government action (in this case, the government has an open checkbook for student loans), Americans have to pay exorbitant rates for an education. The additional money is not leading to a particularly large increase in quality : I’ve attended both public state schools and private $45k/ year schools. In all cases, I never saw anything approaching the “value” of the incredible sums this was costing. A single person lectures for a few hours a few times a week, and you get xeroxed copies of pieces of paper to make some marks on. Usually the paper is graded automatically by computer. It does take place in an air conditioned room, and there are sometimes various expensive gadgets that are virtually never used.

The Suburbs - these are residential dwellings that each exist on their own plot of land. Generally, the dwellings contain far more interior space than the residents actually use. For instance, they often contain rooms that cost far more money to build, air condition, and maintain than renting the rooms would cost. Larger suburban houses contain extra bedrooms and bathrooms for guests, “dining rooms” used only for formal dinners, and so on. I suspect it would be cheaper to actually just rent a hotel room or dining room on the 1 day out of a year these rooms are actually needed.
Also, each dwelling must have it’s own small park worth of landscape that has to be trimmed weekly.

Transportation : The transportation system depends on individually driven vehicles that require vast quantities of land just to park them. All the cities are designed to be exclusively traversible by

**Food **- There’s poisons in the food supply. The most recent studies show that the obesity epidemic is not caused by “laziness or lack of exercise”, the only variable that explains it is that the food commonly available causes the obesity. This is an example of efficient capitalism going bad : foods that contain the obesity causing agents have a market advantage in the U.S., and they have spread to dominate the industry. The food tastes better, so individual consumers prefer it, as it has a greater market value at the point of sale.

It’s probably the high fructose corn syrup and the trans fats, but it is possible that other agents are involved. The evidence is mainly circumstantial : you have comparable societies of people with similar genetics having radically different problems with obesity.

The Military - a professional crew of window breakers who cost more money than most of the rest of the world combined. It is true that armed forces are needed to protect any country (analogous to security guards protecting a bank)

The thing is, GDP is calculated by total value of all “goods and services” produced. That $500 an hour attorney you **have **to hire, or you will lose in court because of the corrupt justice system? Added to GDP. That 3000 square foot house you have to purchase or the wife will leave you? Part of GDP. That SUV you have to buy, or you will be at risk for being crushed on the highways? Ditto. That hospital who charges $4000 for an MRI that takes 20 minutes to perform? You get the idea.

Are Americans really “richer” in a country where things cost disproportionately more than their high median salaries?

How are you proposing to define “wealthiest nation”?
If it’s GDP adjusted for purchasing power, then Qatar, maybe?

On the other hand, a woman in Qatar cannot easily buy her way out of a system based on a sucky religion.

When you’re wealthy, you can tolerate inefficiency.

I’m not sure any existing synthetic metric adjusts for this problem. I suppose adjusting for “purchasing power” works.

I daresay Russia is the wealthiest simply by virtue of the resources contained within its borders. Beyond that, things get arbitrary.

One of my castles has 76 rooms and chambers within, and yes, it can get a bit lonely with just me and the dog rattling about in it *, but I would dispute it is ‘inefficient’’ unless you believe there is a Great Accountant sitting up in the Sky tutting whilst calculating ‘fairness’. Empty rooms are not ‘meant’ to be filled with people; they are meant to fulfil a function when needed. If the Great Ballroom is only thrown open one night of the year, it has more than justified it’s existence.

  • And a load of cats.

The word “wealth” has a very specific meaning. It’s the cash value of things that people and businesses own (including cash). GDP isn’t a measurement of wealth. When the military blows up bombs, they’re destroying wealth, but when they build bombs, they’re creating wealth.

I don’t know whether the USA is the wealthiest, but it’s reasonably likely due to the valuation of American businesses.

Fair enough, GDP is the derivative of wealth. In any case, my point is that if all these expensive things that cost a huge amount of wealth are needed to survive in America, and each of these things is very inefficient for what it provides, then from an individual human perspective America isn’t really all that…wealthy?

Say the following exists :

Tribe A : The tribespeople live in 3 room dwellings, adequate for their needs with enough spare room to not feel overcrowded.

Tribe B : The tribespeople have a much more productive economy. However, all of the extra resources go to giving everyone 100 room dwellings, only 3 of which are actually in use. (the rest are for storage). Tribe B people are not any happier or healthier than Tribe A.

Is Tribe be **actually **wealthier?

Yes. Because wealth is a different thing than happiness or health.

Perhaps the word you are looking for is prosperous.

Fair enough.

What I’m saying here is that those excessively expensive hospitals, all that extra metal someone is hauling when they drive an SUV, all those Armani suits the lawyers wear, all those suburban houses…it’s all “stuff” that is no more useful to making human beings healthier or happier than 97 rooms you don’t use in your home.

So, you wanted to vent and instead of making a pit thread, you posted a contrived, convoluted, confused argument in GD?

Well, you’re not the only one.

Clearly, the answer to this is ‘yes’.

Certainly. That’s what being the wealthiest nation allows us to do. We can spend insane amounts of money on things that the rest of the world can’t or don’t because, well, they aren’t as wealthy (or as insane :p).

Everyone countries health care costs are increasing. I don’t think anyone disputes that our system is not as efficient as it could be, but you are wrong that our medical system provides ‘minimal benefit’. We have a first class medical system, and if you are in the first class you get premier medical treatment second to none. The actual issue is that if you don’t have a good job that gives you good health care, you get less than the best care available, since health care in the US is tied to employment and your employer. Decoupling that is the difficult task, since people are used to it being this way and there is a lot of anxiety and unknowns from the average Americans perspective on how something like UHC or a single payer system would work in our society.

Down side of all of that rule of law stuff I guess. I don’t see this as so much a bug as a feature, and certainly it’s not something I think we can change. Like your first paragraph, this is actually yet another example of how rich our society really is that we can afford this sort of thing.

You keep going on about ‘unholy mix of capitalism’, but I’m not actually seeing much capitalism in the education system (or really in the medical system, though there more than here). We pay a lot for education, no doubt, and it’s debatable how much we get out of it. Part of this is that (since we are rich and all) we really have a bunch of school systems that are loosely regulated but also kind of do their own thing…so, like with the medical system you have a wide variance between the best systems and the worst, with most falling somewhere between the extremes.

This is a feature, not a bug.

Feature, not a bug, and yet another example of how rich our society is.

Same here.

The US spends more (and gets more) on our military because the US has global commitments that no other country has in the world today. Again, it’s a feature, not a bug. When we aren’t so rich anymore then this will change, as many of the other things on your list will surly change sometime in the future.

We don’t spend more than the rest of the world combined, btw…just more than (IIRC) the top 5 other countries combined. But as with anything, the devil is in the details, and we also have requirements greater than those 5 countries have and are expected to respond with credible forces on a global scale, which none of them are or can do (without our assistance).

I don’t really get the idea. All of the things you mention here, none of them come from thin air or the magical wave of a hand. You seem to be wanting to put all of these into some sort of deficits column wrt our GDP, but it doesn’t really work that way. A lot of the things on your list that you seemingly think lowers our GDP somehow don’t really work that way, or we leverage them in other ways (such as with our military).

None of them…not one…detracts from the plain fact that the US is the wealthiest nation on earth, unless you want to play with your definitions of what ‘wealthiest’ is.

Oh, if we are talking about median salaries then I suppose there are ‘richer’ nations. This is playing games with statistics, but sure…there are several countries out there where they have a higher average salary (even higher standards of living) than the US has. Most of those nations are small population and land/area nations, but some aren’t so small.

Wealth affords you choices. The lawyers don’t have to buy all those Armani suits, you don’t have to buy SUVs, you don’t need those suburban houses. But you have the choice to have them if you want them, so presumable you want them. Poorer people can also do without Armani suits, SUVs and suburban houses, and still be quite happy. But they don’t have the choice in the matter, and if they wanted those things they’re going to be unhappy have no way to do anything about it.

There are certainly problems with our legal system. And wealthy corporations often spare no expense raising frivolous defenses when sued by people they have injured. However, in most jurisdictions, lengthy delays are not a major problem (exceptions do exist). Criminal defendants are usually brought to trial in under 6 months (Washington state has a fairly strong 90 day speedy trial rule, the Feds have a more flexible approach but still require “speedy” trials). A large majority of criminal defendants end up pleading guilty to something, so they haven’t wasted time “waiting for a chance to be acquitted.”

In the civil justice system cases also move along at a reasonable pace (usually). I’m currently working on several cases that are the exception to that rule, but I can see from being in the middle of them that there are reasons for the unusual delays that do not reflect systematic flaws.

You didn’t address my other, far more serious point. If courts were actually fair (and not simply designed to give lip service to the idea of fairness), high dollar attorneys would not be valuable, as the verdict would remain the same.

Well, I feel like my venting is at least educated enough to be debated over. Virtually everything I have said is true from a factual standpoint.

Obviously, the people who made those purchases disagreed with you.

No one’s forcing you to drive something other than a Toyota Yaris. No one is forcing you to go to a nice hospital for medical care, when there’s a completely servicable doctor with a clinic in the scary part of town.

A mate of mine is in a bit of trouble; he’s been out of work a while has almost run out of money. However, he is starting work in three weeks. Unfortunately he as to move from his rented accommodation next week and doesn’t have the deposit and a month in advance for a new place.

The council are stumping up £800non-returnable deposit to hs new landlord a an incentive. It makes economic sense because costs build up once people are on the streets, not least in trying to reintegrate them. Plus there’s the common human decency.

I also saw a documentary about the 20,000 homeless last winter in Detroit - interviews with all sides. It seemed an insane world. Utterly inhumane.

I think I prefer this kind of ‘wealth’.