The U.S.A.: Empire at the End of Decadence (?)

Charles M. Blow

One of the most upsetting articles I have read in recent years was written by Charles M. Blow and appears in the Saturday, February 19, 2011, edition of The New York Times.

Whatever (if any) bias you may ascribe to Blow and/or to the Times, it should be noted that most of the information referred to in the article is provided by these sources: The C.I.A.’s “The World Factbook,” the unemployment rate from the Bureau of Statistics, The Economic Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Unit 2010,” Gallup, King’s College London’s World Prison Brief, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment.”

Here’s the article.

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It’s time for us to stop lying to ourselves about this country.

America is great in many ways, but on a whole host of measures — some of which are shown in the accompanying chart — we have become the laggards of the industrialized world. Not only are we not No. 1 — “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” — we are among the worst of the worst.

Yet this reality and the urgency that it ushers in are too hard for many Americans to digest. They would prefer to continue to bathe in platitudes about America’s greatness, to view our eroding empire through the gauzy vapors of past grandeur.

Republicans have even submitted a draconian budget that would make deep cuts into the tiny vein that is nonsecurity discretionary spending, cuts that would prove devastating to the poor and working class.

At the very time that many Americans — and the very country itself — are struggling to emerge from a very deep hole, the Republican proposal would simply throw the dirt in on top of us.

This cannot be. Financing for education and social services isn’t simply about handouts to the hardscrabble, it is about building an infrastructure that can produce healthy, engaged and well-educated citizens who can compete in an increasingly cutthroat global economy.

One of President Obama’s new catchphrases is “win the future,” but we can’t win the future by ceding the present and romanticizing the past.

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Those who challenge the data provided by the article’s  sources are urged to suggest other sources whose data are more reliable. Meanwhile, click here to see a graphic explanation of how the United States compares/contrasts with other advanced economies.

Charles M. Blow is The New York Times‘s visual Op-Ed columnist. His column appears in The Times on Saturday. He joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and quickly became the paper’s graphics director, a position he held for nine years. In that role, he led The Times to a best of show award from the Society of News Design for the Times‘s information graphics coverage of 9/11, the first time the award had been given for graphics coverage. He also led the paper to its first two best in show awards from the Malofiej International Infographics Summit for work that included coverage of the Iraq war. Blow went on to become the paper’s Design Director for News before leaving in 2006 to become the Art Director of National Geographic Magazine. Before coming to The Times, Blow had been a graphic artist at The Detroit News. He graduated magna cum laude from Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he received a B.A. in mass communications. He lives in Brooklyn with his three children.

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