2013 October 30 Wednesday
Americans Influenced By International League Tables?

A New York Times article claims Americans are more willing to look abroad for examples of how to live because the US has fallen in so many international comparison tables.

These days, there are international league tables ranking the United States against dozens of countries, in hundreds of categories. These findings — along with the war in Iraq and the financial crisis — have chipped away at some ideas we’ve long had about ourselves. For instance, new studies of social mobility show that people in Canada and much of Western Europe now have an easier time than we do of realizing the “American dream” of becoming richer than their parents.

I certainly think that American exceptionalism is increasingly viewable only in the rear view mirror. But the value of these international ranking tables is largely lost due to widespread ignorance of human nature. The ideological gatekeepers in academia and mass media feed the masses a steady stream of mythology about the human race that prevents people from gleaning the many valuable insights that can be gotten from international comparisons.

When it comes to human nature we live in an era of ignorance that is analogous to how the Catholic Church tried to prevent anyone from coming to believe that the world is not flat. In our flat world Finland's school system is assumed to be the reason for very high Finnish student performance even though both Finland and South Korea do great on international comparisons in spite of having very opposite approaches to teaching and treatment of students. Since innate ability and innate personality traits are off the table we are left in the position of astronomers in the Middle Ages trying to build elaborate models to account for it all - but with less demand for the rigor that any explanatory model be capable of predicting future events.

If you do not believe mainstream doctrine the world makes so much more sense. What to make of a chart which shows countries which are falling behind or closing the gap with the United States on productivity. It all depends on your priors. Given priors that include reading psychometric research the chart just reports what you expect. Given priors based on the tabula rasa faith the chart could seem inexplicable or require assembly of a large assortment of patchwork arguments based on politically correct intellectual fads.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 October 30 08:38 PM 

Stocks vs Flows said at October 30, 2013 10:29 PM:

That Economist table basically says that Asia has been doing better than Latin American in recent decades. But one has to look at stock as well as change.

If country A is growing faster than B, while country B is richer than A, it's not obvious we should take this as indicating the intrinsic superiority of the people of A. Brazil is richer than China, and all the Latin American countries in that list are richer than India.

What's your explanation for past relative Latin American wealth and Asian poverty? One can say that Asia was hit hard by socialism/communism, but this opens up a world of explanations to contribute to the story in addition to IQ.

Sam said at October 30, 2013 11:32 PM:

Or you could say Asia was invaded by the Japanese and then Asia was hit hard by socialism/communism. Then stop there.

American exceptionalism is a huge almost empty continent where 90% or better of the competition was killed by disease. Filled to the brim with abundant water, major rivers running in a profitable manner, minerals, wood, fiber, oil ,coal and with no power close enough to threaten their growth. We're just lucky. Unfortunately those days are over.

Abelard Lindsey said at October 31, 2013 12:32 PM:

A comparison of China and India would be instructive.

A nitpick but relevant here. The medieval Catholic church knew the Earth was a sphere (this has been known since Ptolemy). What the Catholic church was desperate to protect was the notion that the Earth was the center of the universe. Astronomers had to create cycles within cycles to explain the motion of the planets when a helio-centric model explained it simply.

WJ said at October 31, 2013 12:46 PM:

"What's your explanation for past relative Latin American wealth and Asian poverty?"

The Asians who come here (especially the Indians) are not representative of the Asians back home. The Latinos who come here are not necessarily representative of the Latinos back home. Many Latin countries have high European admixture. They're not all the Mestizo peasants we see standing in front of Home Depot.

We're falling in the international ranks because 30-40% of students are black and Hispanic, and within 18 years over 50% of students will be black and Hispanic. Is that true of Finland, or South Korea? But no politician in his right mind would say that on TV, so there is no defense against it. The only answer is that our system is bad, or underfunded (the Democrat's answer) or the unionized teachers are dumb and lazy (the Republican's answer). This, of course, is the flat world/geocentric system he's referring to.

As for me, American Exceptionalism can rot. American Exceptionalism is the flattery a used car salesman reels you in with to get you to buy a lemon for twice the Blue Book. It's the lie that we have to let immigrants flood here in unsustainable amounts because, well, that's what spirit of America and it's what the Statue of Liberty's about and it's what the Founders wanted (in spite of a certain law passed in 1790; see link below).


WJ said at October 31, 2013 12:53 PM:

"Astronomers had to create cycles within cycles to explain the motion of the planets when a helio-centric model explained it simply."

Kinda like the way cheap labor lobbyists create epicycles upon epicycles to explain why mass immigration hasn't shown to be of any benefit to the country.

Michael L said at October 31, 2013 6:26 PM:

these Americans are "willing" to look at cherrypicked examples trotted out by the liberal media to push their evil agenda, whether based on foreign countries or on figments of leftist imagination. There are plenty of other Americans who are influenced by the example of American mores and practices as of 1960 (back when America was richer and more powerful than any modern country the media may ram down our throat now) but of course can't have that. That wouldn't be change NYTimes can believe in.

Anon said at November 1, 2013 6:06 AM:

"Gleaning" not "gleening"
"Are" not "aer"
"Patchwork" not "patch work"

You're welcome.

Jim said at November 1, 2013 6:50 AM:

Knowledge that the Earth is spherical goes way back to long before Ptolemy. It was already well-known in the fifth century BC. Eratosthnes calculation of the radius of the Earth is in the third century BC.

Randall Parker said at November 3, 2013 6:31 PM:

Stocks vs Flows,

There is hardware and there is software. Hardware is innate qualities such as intelligence and personality traits. But if a country is running communist software the hardware potential is wasted (as was the case in China and is still the case in North Korea).

What is interesting is just how big the gap can be between the potential in the hardware and the actual. North Korea has the biggest gap today between actual and potential.

While China today is still behind Brazil by some measures of living standards a few things are worth noting:

- The crime rate in China is far lower. In spite of a corrupt government the Chinese are well behaved.

- The productivity level of Chinese engineers and managers is much higher. Brazil has some engineers and some tech companies. But natural resources play a major role in Brazil's living standards. Compare that to Japan with far less natural resources and yet higher living standards by some measures (high housing costs due to limited real estate though).

- China still has problems with quality of government. China's government has made the wrong trade-off over pollution and economic growth for example. Corrupt people getting rich too. Yet China's private sector has some high productivity power houses such as the construction companies that can construct buildings and roads at incredible speeds.

Randall Parker said at November 3, 2013 6:52 PM:


Charles Murray has an interesting short ebook American Exceptionalism. Worth a read. Here's the thing: America really was exceptional by a number of measures. The ways that it was exceptional were good. We are losing those attributes that made the US population exceptional. This is happening because of a combination of the welfare state, immigration, and loss of religious belief.

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