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Debunking popular myths about the U.S.

The US Flag

May 23, 2005

Listed below are 15 commonly-held myths about social, economic, health and environmental conditions in the United States, followed by facts that debunk the myths.  The facts have been gleaned from the Pocket World in Figures 2005, published by the The Economist magazine.   

Myth # 1:  The U.S. ranks low in human development.
Fact:  On the Human Development Index, which measures literacy, life expectancy and income levels, the U.S. ranks above Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Austria, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and 38 other countries.

Myth #2:  The U.S. is uncompetitive in global markets.
Fact:  The U.S. is the world's biggest exporter, twice as big as Japan and three times as big as China.  It also ranks first in manufacturing output, with 80 percent more output than Japan and more than twice as much output as either China or Germany.  And it is surpassed in per-capita Gross Domestic Product by only Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland, all of which are tiny, lily-white countries.  The social-welfare countries of Germany, France and Italy have a per-capita GDP that is only 66 percent, 67 percent and 57 percent, respectively, of the per-capita GDP of the U.S.

Myth #3:  Because the U.S. doesn't produce enough scientists and engineers, it has lost its edge in innovation.
Fact:  It ranks first on the Innovation Index, which is a measure of human resources skills, market incentive structures and the interaction between the business and scientific sectors.  It also ranks first in the number of Nobel Prize winners in economics, medicine, physics and chemistry.  The first-place rankings are in spite of the U.S. ranking fifth in R&D spending as a percentage of GDP and dropping to 10th place on the Index of Economic Freedom.

Myth #4:  American roads are congested due to a lack of mass transit.
Fact:  The U.S. ranks 42nd in the number of vehicles per kilometer of road.  Germany, a country with a lot of mass transit, ranks third.

Myth #5:  The U.S. is the most car-crazy country.
Fact:  It ranks 12th in the number of cars per 1,000 people, surpassed by such countries as New Zealand, Luxembourg, Iceland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Australia.

Myth #6:  The U.S. has a high rate of auto accidents.
Fact:  It ranks 31st in the number of people injured per miles traveled.  Italy, Canada, Belgium, Israel and Germany have more injuries.

Myth #7:  The U.S. ranks low in educational achievement.
Fact:  Only one nation, South Korea, ranks higher than the U.S. in the percentage of the population enrolled in post-secondary education, in spite of the U.S. having a large number of immigrants from third-world countries.

Myth #8:  The U.S. leads in breast cancer, lung cancer and diabetes.
Fact:  It does not make the top-20 list in deaths per 100,000 people for breast cancer.  The top five countries for breast cancer are Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, United Kingdom and Hungary.  The U.S. ranks eighth in lung cancer, surpassed by the Netherlands, Italy, Croatia, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium and Hungary.  And it ranks 14th in diabetes, surpassed by such countries as Canada, Spain, Italy, Greece and Singapore.

Myth #9:  Americans don't read books.
Fact:  The U.S. is tied with Singapore in fourth place for book sales per capita.  Japan, Norway and Germany rank first, second and third, respectively.  France is in 17th place.

Myth #10:  American teenagers watch the most TV and drink the most alcohol.
Fact:  The U.S. ranks tenth in the percentage of 15-year-old males who watch TV four or more hours a day on weekdays.  Ukraine is in first place.  The U.S. does not make the top-14 list in 15-year-olds who drink alcohol weekly. 

Myth #11:  Americans are heavy smokers and drinkers.
Fact:  The U.S. does not make the top-20 list in per-capita smoking.  Greece is in first place.  In beer consumption, the U.S. is in 11th place; and in alcohol consumption, it doesn't make the top-23 list.  The Czech Republic ranks first in beer consumption, and Luxembourg ranks first in the consumption of alcoholic drinks.

Myth #12:  The U.S. leads in crime.
Fact:  The top ten countries for serious assaults per 100,000 people are in rank order:  Australia, Sweden, South Africa, Belgium, Ghana, Swaziland, Fiji, Jamaica, Netherlands, United States.  The top ten countries for theft are:  Australia, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, France, Austria, United States, Germany, Iceland.

Myth #13:  The U.S. leads in defense spending.
Fact:  When measured as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, the United States does not make the top-39 list.  North Korea is first, Israel is tenth, and Singapore is nineteenth.  Most Arab countries are on the list, and many rank near the top.  For example, Saudi Arabia is fifth, Kuwait is sixth, and Jordan is eleventh.

Myth #14:  The U.S. leads in threatened species.
Fact:  It is in 21st place in mammal species under threat and in 10th place in bird species under threat.  Indonesia, China, India and Brazil rank in the top five in both categories.

Myth #15:  The U.S. leads in sprawl and deforestation.
Fact:  It ranks third in the amount of forested land and second in the amount of land under protected status.  It doesn't make the top-48 list of nations with the highest rural population density.


By Craig J. Cantoni
Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against Legal Theft (  His new book, Breaking from the Herd:  Political Essays for Independent Thinkers by a Maverick Columnist, can be purchased for $18.95 at retail or $10 from him.  He can be reached at






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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                                            Last Updated Sunday, July 11, 2010 01:18 AM