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The US is moving up the global rankings that evaluate democracy and inequality to become a “developing country.”

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The US is moving up the global rankings that evaluate democracy and inequality to become a “developing country.”

Although the United States may see itself as the “leader of the free world,” it ranks far lower on the development index than other nations in July 2022.

The United States slid from 32nd to 41st in the world in the United Nations Office for Sustainable Development’s rankings. The United States is ranked between Cuba and Bulgaria using this technique, which uses a comprehensive model with 17 areas or “goals,” many of which are concerned with equity and the environment. Both are commonly thought of as developing nations.

The Economist’s democracy index now rates the United States as a “flawed democracy.”

Since I am a political historian who focuses on the evolution of American institutions, I see these poor evaluations as the inevitable outcome of two issues. Numerous Americans have not received adequate health care, education, economic security, or environmental protection due to racism. At the same time, a commitment to “American exceptionalism” prevents the nation from making honest assessments and course adjustments when dangers to democracy grow more serious.

The United States of America

In contrast to more conventional development metrics, the Office of Sustainable Development’s rankings place a greater emphasis on the experiences of ordinary people—including their access to clean air and water—than on income accumulation.

Therefore, while the enormous scale of the American economy is taken into account in its rating, uneven access to the wealth it generates is not. According to widely accepted metrics like the Gini coefficient, income inequality in the United States has significantly increased during the previous 30 years. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the greatest wealth disparity among the G-7 countries.

These findings are a reflection of the structural inequalities that African Americans experience the most in the US. Such disparities still exist today, even after chattel slavery and Jim Crow laws were abolished.

This type of structural inequity was originally brought to light by scholar W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1899 account of black life in the metropolitan north, “The Philadelphia Negro.” Although he acknowledged differences in wealth and position among black people, according to Du Bois, African Americans live in a “city inside a city,” which is a completely different world from that of white people. Du Bois attributed discrimination, divestment, and residential segregation—not Black people’s level of desire or talent—as the primary causes of the high percentages of poverty, violence, and illiteracy seen in Philadelphia’s Black population.

Martin Luther King Jr. also lamented the survival of the “other America” more than fifty years later, where “the buoyancy of optimism” had been replaced by “the exhaustion of despair.”

King used a lot of the same statistics that Du Bois had looked at to support his argument, including the state of housing and household wealth, rates of education and social mobility, health outcomes, and employment. On all of these measures, black Americans performed worse than white Americans on all of them. However, King observed that “many individuals from different backgrounds reside in this other America.”

The development standards cited by these experts were also heavily included in Michael Harrington’s 1962 book “The Other America,” which was the inspiration for the Democratic Socialists of America. Harrington was a political scientist. President John F. Kennedy is said to have been so shaken by Harrington’s work that it inspired him to create a “war on poverty.”

Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy’s successor, fought this figurative battle. However, poverty is regionally specific. Long after government initiatives in the middle of the 20th century, rural communities and segregated neighbourhoods remained impoverished.

According to my study, this is largely because government actions during that crucial time period accepted racism instead of fighting it.

The persistent efforts of segregationist Democrats in Congress led to an uneven and patchwork system of social policy across a variety of policy areas. Republicans and Democrats from the South worked together to defeat plans to enact organized labor or universal health care. They left a tumultuous legacy of local funding for public health and education by rejecting calls for robust federal action.

Many years later, the consequences of a racist welfare state may still be seen, if possibly in a less obvious way, in the poor health policies that have contributed to the alarming drop in the average life expectancy in the United States.

Democracy in decline

Other metrics exist to gauge a nation’s degree of development, and on some of them, the United States does better.

The United Nations Development Program’s ranking, which takes into account fewer variables than the sustainable development index, presently places the United States at position 21. The United States is firmly positioned in the developed world thanks to strong outcomes in average income per person of $64,765 and an average of 13.7 years of education.

However, rankings that give political systems more of a weighting suffer from this.

The United States is currently classified as one of the “flawed democracies” on The Economist’s democracy index, with a score that places it between Chile and Estonia overall. Due in large part to a fractious political culture, it is not a top-rated “complete democracy.” The contrasting routes taken by “red” and “blue” states are where this widening gap is most obvious.

Despite praising the peaceful transfer of power in the face of an uprising meant to disrupt it, The Economist analysts lament that only 55% of Americans believe that Mr. Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, despite the absence of any evidence of widespread voter fraud in their report from January 2022.

Election denial raises the possibility that election officials in Republican-controlled counties would invalidate or change vote totals in forthcoming elections if they do not support the Republican Party, thereby compromising the United States’ ranking on the democracy index.

“Blue and red” America also has disparities in women’s access to contemporary reproductive healthcare. This lowers the United States’ ranking in the UN’s sustainable development index for gender equality.

Republican-controlled states have passed or proposed draconian abortion regulations that put women’s health in peril ever since the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade.

The waning Republican commitment to democracy, in my opinion, adds credence to the idea that the United States should be classified as a developing nation, especially when combined with structural inequality and a shattered social policy.

American uniqueness

One must also confront the notion of American exceptionalism, which holds that the United States is superior to the rest of the world, in order to understand the United States’ poor performance in a number of worldwide surveys.

Both political parties have historically supported this viewpoint, both domestically and globally, but Republicans have given “exceptionalism” a more formal framework. “We believe in American exceptionalism,” was the opening statement of the Republican Party’s national platform for 2016 and 2020. It also served as the guiding idea behind Donald Trump’s promise to bring back “patriotic education” in the nation’s classrooms.

In Florida, the state board of education passed standards in July 2022 but prohibited training in critical race theory, an academic framework that teaches the type of systemic racism that Du Bois uncovered long ago. This was done as a result of pressure by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Instead of pursuing perfection, they have a propensity to announce it. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the promotion of American exceptionalism allows people to retain a strong feeling of national success.

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