10 July 2018

Second Rate

It is no longer possible to miss the many areas in which the United States has fallen behind or declined to become second rate. In many cases progress is being made only in select regions, while the rest of the nation declines or is stagnant as other countries improve.

* Health Care and Substance Abuse.

We pay far too much for weak results that don't cover everyone. Our health care system for the poor is worse than that of many third world countries. Our mental health care is poor. We have high rates of infant and maternal mortality compared to our peers. We have an anti-vax subculture that threatens our nation's safety. We have very high rates of STDs in African-American communities and to a lesser extent other minority communities. We are dismantling our ability to respond to epidemic disease outbreaks. Much of the rural U.S. is seeing declining life expectancies. Access to abortion is declining.

The U.S. is doing a particularly poor job  at adapting culturally and in terms of nutrition and health care and lifestyle to more sedentary work and rapidly changing diets, resulting in an obesity epidemic.

We do a miserable job of managing opioid addiction and abuse. We do a miserable job of addressing psychoactive drugs for the most part. Our alcohol regulation for young adults is hypocritical and ineffectual.

Exceptions: Obamacare made significant strides in reducing the number of uninsured Americans in states that fully adopted it, but is being actively degraded and resisted.

The U.S. does better in inventing new treatments, although often not approving them very quickly. 

We are making progress in reducing teen pregnancy with targeted programs making long term contraception available but it is painfully slow and uneven. 

The U.S. has made great progress in reducing tobacco use. The U.S. is making good progress in marijuana regulation in many states.

* Education and Higher Education

We provide poor curriculums for the non-college bound, and too many career opportunities now require excessive educational credentials. The economic prospects for primary and secondary teachers has declined causing this sector to attract less top talent.

We spend lots of time and effort and money on foreign language instruction that produces very few fluent foreign language speakers due to poor instruction methods and poor foreign language instruction timing. Foreign language instruction that works needs to start younger and include significant periods (multiple weeks at a time or more) of language immersion instruction.

We have a significant number of very bad schools, especially in predominantly minority inner city schools. We have a significant minority of students in religious schools and home schooling who are taught grossly inaccurate material in science and social studies by parents and teachers who are themselves unqualified and ignorant.

Too many academically talented Americans aren't going to college because they can't afford to do so. This is mostly a function of financing higher education poorly. Student loan debt has been a major new problem for the current generation of higher education system graduates. Too many students are admitted to programs that they are likely to fail in and then burdened with heavy student loan debt nonetheless. The cost of higher education has soared with much of the increase attributable to rising administrative costs.

We have done almost nothing to increase the supply of new medical degree recipients despite surging demand for them. In law, we have done the opposite and opened many new law schools with very low bar passage rates despite a significant increase in the number of lawyers being produced each year.

Exceptions: The quality of elite U.S. higher educational institutions is still first rate and attracted the best and brightest from around the world until recent immigration policies have discouraged foreign students from coming to the U.S. 

Many countries with superior primary and secondary educational systems in developed countries continue to have less rigorous and less effective higher educational instruction and research in many areas relative to selective U.S. colleges and universities.

* Public Safety, Criminal Justice and Human Rights

Our murder rate is too high. Our violent crime rates are too high. Our gun related accidental death rate is too high. Our gun related suicide rate is too high. Much of this is related to non-existent or ineffectual gun control measures.

Our incarceration rate is far too high. We still overuse the death penalty in an unfair manner. We impose far too many life without possibility of parole sentences and equivalent to life in prison sentences. Our sex offender registration programs are destructive overkill. We try to many juveniles as adults. We impose to many sentences, especially in recidivist cases, that are grossly disproportionate to the offense. Race unduly affects criminal justice outcomes. We greatly overuse solitary confinement. We greatly overuse pre-trial incarceration. We incarcerate too many people for what amounts to an inability to pay debts. We use the criminal justice system to deal with what are fundamentally mental health problems. Our jails and prisons are controlled by gangs rather than prison officials.

Civil remedies for human rights violations like improper use of force by law enforcement are gradually growing harder to secure. Our immigration policy is a nightmare of human rights violations. Our President encourages human rights violations and mandates them in some cases.

Exceptions: Crime rates in the U.S. have declined dramatically since the mid-1990s even though they are still high by international standards.

* Democracy and Corruption

Our electoral system has stunningly low voter turnout. Voter suppression tools like restrictive voter registration laws, voter-ID laws and felon disenfranchisement laws unfairly prevent people from voting. Our single member district plurality election system inappropriately stifles third-party voices, suppressed voter turnout and suffers from pervasive gerrymandering (including the constitutionally enshrined electoral college and U.S. Senate) that has resulted in a huge disconnect between voter preferences and electoral outcomes. Incumbency provides disproportionately and unreasonably strong electoral advantages. Our political parties and voters both seem incapable of screening out grossly unqualified and extremist candidates. Our vote tallying mechanisms are vulnerable to hacking. Our long ballots and declining availability and quality of coverage of politics in the news media cause many electoral decisions to be made by ill informed voters. A huge proportion of our population (ca. 30%) ignores reliable sources of information and science in favor of demonstrably false propaganda and religious doctrine. Our campaign finance laws to not achieve their intended objectives. Money rich special interests routinely overpower majority preferences. Judicial elections do a poor job of filling the bench with the best possible judges and encourages corruption.

The dramatic decline in unions and civil society groups involving in person participation (like service clubs and churches) has undermined the civic capacity of the United States.

Corruption is on the rise, in the form of nepotism, executive branch officials who actively undermine their agencies' missions, political appointees who are grossly unqualified, personal financial interests and campaign contributions that unduly impact political decisions, and political disregard for the constitution, the rule of law, political norms and human rights. Court decisions have made it harder to prosecute corrupt officials. Corrupt officials are being pardoned. Civl forfeiture programs with bad incentives have encouraged corruption.

Exceptions: Some states have adopted same day voter registration, have reduced felon disenfranchisement, and have made wider use of mail in ballots to increase turnout. 

Maine has adopted rank choice voting.

Some states are less corrupt than others.

* Transportation, Energy, Environment, Urban Planning and Housing.

The U.S. underfunds roads and bridges leading to decaying infrastructure due in significant part to declining inflation adjusted gas tax revenues.

The U.S. has too strong incentive (including tax incentives) to buy fuel inefficient vehicles and too weak incentives to build less polluting and more fuel efficient (or electric vehicles).

The U.S. has an inferior passenger rail system that is slow and economically a failure. Passenger rail accidents in the U.S. seem to be more common. The U.S. has an anemic passenger bus system that is largely restricted to the disabled and very poor. The U.S. lags considerably in having walkable and bicycle friendly cities. 

The U.S. has unnecessary widespread homelessness and deep poverty. The U.S. has too much urban sprawl and unaffordable housing, in significant part due to excessive restrictions on housing density and prohibitions of small or inexpensive housing methods. The U.S. is lagging in rapid and efficient pre-manufactured component housing in its construction industry, which is lagging in innovations.

The productive individuals and firms in the U.S. economy leave economically declining areas (mostly rural and Rust Belt communities) rapidly, leaving less mobile individuals behind in deteriorating circumstances in these areas.

The U.S. was once a global leader in nuclear power production. Our industry has stagnated relative to the nuclear power industry in other parts of the world, and we have failed to adopt new technologies or build more plants. 

The U.S. is rapidly scaling back environmental regulations and is the only country in the world not fighting climate change through the Paris Accords, and waging war on solar power. Fracking has caused many environmental harms which are not sufficiently regulated and safety regulation for oil and gas workers has seriously slipped.

The U.S. lags in energy technologies including tidal energy, energy conservation, and co-generation. The U.S. uses heating oil excessively when it is a less than optimal heating fuel.

The arid western United States allocates a very large share of its water supply to very inefficient and marginally economically productive agricultural water users. Not infrequently, scarce water supplies are used to grow water hungry crops in inappropriate places for such crops relative to other climate areas.

Security theater has dramatically undermined the effective speed and convenience of commercial passenger air travel, while only modestly increasing safety.

Exceptions: The U.S. has greatly reduced the use of coal to generate electricity in recent years, mostly in favor of cleaner natural gas, wind power and solar power. 

The U.S. is making progress in developing mass produced electric cars and trucks, and in advancing critical battery and energy storage technologies. 

The U.S. is making progress in developing self-driving vehicles. There has been modest progress in developing intracity passenger rail systems. 

The U.S. interstate highway system is still largely unmatched globally and make automotive travel between cities fast (especially with 75 mile per hour speed limits in many cases) and quite safe. 

Drunk driving deaths are down considerably.

* Manufacturing, Taxation, Trade, Unions and Intellectual Property

While automation has increased the productivity per person of manufacturing workers (as well as the skill levels of these jobs), offshoring of manufacturing (particularly to China and to a lesser extent Mexico) in pursuit of lower wages and less labor and environmental regulation, leaving the U.S. with a hollow manufacturing sector that is also less innovative because it doesn't deal up close on a daily basis, en mass with the problems associated with manufacturing goods.

Via Wikipedia. In the period of rapid Union membership growth from 1930 to 1955 almost all union members were in the private sector: "At the apex of union density in the 1940s, only about 9.8% of public employees were represented by unions, while 33.9% of private, non-agricultural workers had such representation." The public sector also made up a smaller share of the work force in the 1940s than it does today.

The decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector which used to be one of the bastions of the union movement and its vulnerability to further offshoring, has decimated the U.S. private sector union movement. The percentage of U.S. private sector employees who are in labor unions (6.5% as of 2017) is now as low as it was in the 1930s (and even a century ago in 1918), before most U.S. labor laws protecting the right to unionize were enacted (after almost continuous decline since 1954), and unionization rates are generally significantly lower in "red states" largely as a result of anti-union state policies. Only one state out of the 25 states with the lowest unionization rate (New Mexico) is not a "right to work" state. Only four of the top 25 states plus D.C. in unionization rates are "right to work states" (Kentucky, West Virginia, Nevada and Michigan). Private sector unionization rates declined 61% from 1983 to 2017 and has declined by 81% from the peak in the 1940s to 2017. Public sector unions are much more healthy with 34.4% of wage and salary workers in the public sector in a union, a number that has been increasing, by 350% since the 1940s and have grown significantly even since 1983. And, there was a roughly 8 fold growth in union membership percentages from 1897 to 1918.

Obvious places to expand U.S. manufacturing, like intact component modules to be shipped to construction sites, have not taken off.

The decline of manufacturing has not affected all developed countries. Many high wage developed countries with strong environmental laws and strong labor laws still have vibrant manufacturing economies.

But, tariffs, quotas, trade wars and harsh immigration policies that the current administration has utilized to counteract offshoring have largely made the situation worse and not better, for example, encouraging notable parts of the already scarce U.S. manufacturing base to move abroad.

Unduly strong intellectual property laws have crossed a threshold where they have become a barrier to a more productive economy instead of encouraging it. International tax rules, meanwhile, have made it far too easy to legally reduce or indefinitely defer taxable income in industries with significant intellectual property contributions.

Bad sales tax rules have accelerated the retail apocalypse in which brick and mortar stores are in decline due to competition from online retailers.

Tax breaks on physical capital unaccompanied by tax breaks for human capital have encouraged job killing automation at the margin where technology based solutions wouldn't have been adopted but for tax incentives in that U.S. tax code.

Exception: The U.S. still leads in producing entertainment content and patents, although this productivity is confined to a few highly productive regions like California and New York.

The U.S. still has lots of export driving production in the agricultural and mining industries, and is less oil import dependent than it was in the past.

Many "foreign" automobile companies have built factories in the United States.

The U.S. has a few sectors like aircraft, where it is still a manufacturing leader, again, in geographically concentrated regions, mostly in blue states.

Overall, in the U.S. consumer goods are cheap in inflation adjusted and growth adjusted terms, although certain kinds of services are now much more expensive.

* The Military

The U.S. has record low numbers of front line ground troops, limiting its capacity for war fighting despite immense military spending. This is particularly a concern when high technology military systems that are expensive, take time to produce in large numbers and take a great amount of training to use, reduce the usefulness of rapid expansion of its ranks through a military draft.

The U.S. spends far too much on the military relative to its needs, or what it gets for its money, particularly with regard to spending on major weapons systems like surface combatants, manned warplanes, guided munitions, tanks and slug throwing artillery. The U.S. military's high cost structure greatly impairs its ability to respect effectively and efficiently to asymmetric threats like the 17 year old war in Afghanistan. Military procurement is pervasively corrupt.

The U.S. military has been slow to adjust its force mix to reflect the dramatically increased accuracy of precision munitions, drone and satellite based reconnaissance systems, and automation that are now available.

The U.S. invests heavily in a blue sea surface combatant and nuclear attack submarine force that is not justified by any current threat and in the case of the surface warship fleet is vulnerable to a variety of emerging threats, when other resources would better address the threats these forces are designed to address. 

The U.S. Navy has also unreasonably resisted exchanging many fighter aircraft on aircraft carriers with equally capable or more capable armed drone aircraft fulfilling many of the same roles; the U.S. Air Force has likewise unreasonably resisted replacing fighter aircraft with equally capable or more capable armed drone aircraft, despite the successful development of prototypes for both roles.

The U.S. invests heavily in expensive supersonic stealth fighters while failing to procure less expensive but adequate air power in volume for lower threat missions.

The U.S. has failed to take diplomatic action to reduce conventional weapons threats driving so much of its expenditures in a handful of hot spots like East Asia and the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. has underinvested its ample resources in asymmetric warfare resources, in nation building, in human capital investments like language training, in littoral combat capabilities, in close air support for ground troops, in fixed wing troop transportation options, and in fire support for amphibious and coastal troops. The U.S. military has been slow to adopt clearly superior innovations in high volume, low cost systems like its small arms.

The U.S. strategic arsenal of nuclear weapons is run by units with a record of horrible internal discipline and grossly outdated technologies that have never been upgraded.

The increasing cultural divide between professional volunteer soldiers in the U.S. military and the general public is concerning.

Exceptions: While the U.S. pays an immense amount for the military it has, its most advanced systems in many areas are world class or competitive with world class system. For example, the military has made great strides in development active defense technologies against all manner of incoming ordinance and missiles.

Its troops are generally very well trained and are reliably subject to civilian authority. 

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