Wednesday, August 24, 2016

American Exceptionalism, Revisited

I have written that, while we are an exceptional country in many ways, it is boorish if not wrong-headed to go around crying “we’re no 1!”  I have also written in the same place that there is no other place in the world where I had rather been born.  We are special!

And here are two proofs.  We have dominated the Olympics (but, flying in the face of both my memory and my pride of country, the former Soviet Union beat us in medals per Olympics competed in) since their modern inception in 1908.  And we have dominated Nobel Prizes since they were first handed out in 1901.  Both “contests” reward individual accomplishments, not national prowess.  The winners of these medals are all highly motivated and the least one can say about the countries that claimed these stellar individuals is that they didn’t discourage achievement, that they rather provided a vibrant environment for these men and women to excel, to become excellent.

But then I asked myself: what if we take population into account?  It only makes sense that a bigger country will outperform a smaller country on most measures, doesn’t it?  China and India have many times more people than we have but we know that they have not counted for much in either Nobel Prizes or the Olympics (until recently for China, but they have a long way to go).  And the old USSR counted more citizens than we did until they disbanded in 1991.  Nevertheless, taking population into account paints a starkly different picture from American world domination as seen above.  Among major countries, Sweden (30), Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Austria, United Kingdom (125), Israel (12), Germany (105) and the Netherlands outperform the USA (353) with Nobel Prizes, per capita.  Of course, one can say that Sweden and her neighbors have a special advantage as the prize is a Swedish prize.  But still.  As for the Olympics, per capita, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria, and East Germany all outperform us (enjoy all the lists on this web page).

What is there to say?  That we are special but maybe not as special as we would like to believe.  We do well, very well, in most every test that can be thrown our way.  And we are often number one.  But sometimes, we are number one because there are so many of us!

God bless America!