September 03, 2009

Love It or Leave It

1 People's Republic of China[5]1,332,750,000September 3, 200919.65%Chinese Population clock
2 India1,168,460,000September 3, 200917.23%Indian Population clock
3 United States307,301,000September 3, 20094.53%Official USA Population clock
4 Indonesia229,965,0003.39%UN estimate
5 Brazil191,796,000September 3, 20092.83%IBGE projection
6 Pakistan167,336,000September 3, 20092.47%Official Pakistani Population clock
7 Bangladesh162,221,0002.39%UN estimate
8 Nigeria154,729,0002.28%UN estimate
9 Russia141,862,000September 3, 20092.09%Russian State Statistics Service
10 Japan127,590,000August 1, 20091.88%Official Japan Statistics Bureau estimate
11 Mexico107,550,6971.59%INEGI estimate

National Population Statistics of Mexico[6]

12 Philippines92,222,660mid 20091.36%

National Statistics Office medium projection

13 Vietnam85,789,573April 1, 20091.27%Official preliminary results of the 2009 census
14 Germany82,046,00
I was video witness recently to the unedifying spectacle of that guy named Dennis (Kneale, I think) of CNBC doing battle with "econobloggers" and other doomsayers, meaning (in his focus) the troublemakers at zerohedge, who harp a lot on the Federal Reserve and what its online community think of as the "phony" American economy. Dennis (who looks like the Muppet Big Bird, or maybe Buddy Holly, if Buddy had lacked all charisma and talent) was having none of it. America is back, it's great, and anyone who doesn't think so should leave, because there's no place as wonderful as the USA.

I don't know why conservatives always come back to that: if you think there are problems here, you should go somewhere else. This sounds little better than a formula for reducing the country to a population of deluded people. Anyone with any criticism, valid, constructive or not, should get out. Personally, I've always thought the United States is a pretty nice place, and I've traveled around some, including to off-the-beaten-track places in the former Eastern Bloc, such as Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Slovenia. I've also spent a fair amount of time in France and Germany, somewhat less in Italy, a smattering in other European locales.

In making any comparisons, you have to begin with a few caveats. First, there will generally be a bias toward where you're from, because familiarity, nostalgia and connections count for a lot in human happiness. So except in extreme cases, such as, say, North Korea, you're likely to begin with a preference for your homeland. And moving to a foreign country at any point past the "main part" of your life (youth and your prime earning years) means you'll never really experience what it's like to live in a foreign country. So Big Bird's whole thesis is kind of dumb. Americans stay here for lots of reasons unrelated to thinking it's necessarily the one, the only, great place to live.

The second thing is you can't simply compare any country to any other country. For example, there is the population question. The United States is the 3rd largest country in the world, with about 307 million people (600 million if you count illegal aliens). The two larger countries are of course China and India, and I don't want to live in (a) a communist dictatorship or (b) a place where Bollywood is considered a center for the arts. Huge countries are not just quantitatively different from smaller countries, they're qualitatively different. Smaller countries are governable, for one thing, and usually have a strong sense of national identity and common purpose. These features allow such countries (Denmark, France, Germany) to provide general social security and amenities for their populations. These qualities have been lost in the United States, of course, which is riven by partisan, religious and regional divides. In a lot of ways, we're a country in name only, with a militarized security state holding things together through fear, as in China. It's the reason we've always got at least a couple of wars going these days - to remind us of what we're about. This ain't Norway, baby.

But I would say that one must go all the way down to Germany, with a population of about 84 million, before I could find a candidate where, other things being equal, I would consider living. Of course, for reasons already mentioned, other things can never be equal, because there is no other country where I spent my youth and established all my memories. Plus, my German is just not that gut. In the Happiest Place on Earth (Denmark, not Disneyland, with a population of 5.5 million, [again-Denmark, not Disneyland, except maybe on July 4]), one could probably conduct a better test of the Big Bird Thesis: would you leave Copenhagen or the Danish countryside in order to move to Riverside, California? The automatic preference for the United States which the CNBC dork assumes might not be so obvious.

But among the top 13 countries in the world, in terms of population? No contest, I want to be here, in America the Beautiful. Not Pakistan, Nigeria or Indonesia. Brazil? Well, maybe forty years ago...

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