Global Ethics Corner: America on a Global Ethics Thermometer: Image and Reality

Friday, February 25, 2011

Who are the good guys and bad guys in international affairs? How do countries stack up?

The issue is not patriotism or nationalism. Most want to honor their country. Nor is the issue development, the level of wealth.

The issue is how well do the institutions of government live up to expectations?

Of course, expectations and their evaluation are tied to personal values, but most people have a sense of ethical state behavior. In people's minds some countries succeed, many fail, and most fall in between. Switzerland is seen by most as a success, Libya is an example of failure.

There are many objective indices for evaluating a country's behavior. Among them are: life expectancy at birth, economic transparency, educational performance, personal security, income equality, opportunity for advancement, [infant mortality, human rights protection, level of development, growth, environmental impact], etc.

People choose different combinations when they judge. Charles Blow in The New York Times uses nine indices to evaluate 33 countries, and concludes regarding the U.S. that "It's time for us to stop lying to ourselves about this country. …on a whole host of measures… we are among the worst of the worst." [The title is equally provocative, "Empire at the End of Decadence: American Shame."]

This is a stunning conclusion to many Americans. Is the U.S. number one only in its own eyes?

Think critically for a moment not about the America we love, but about the America depicted by dozens of indices. Is Blow right? If so, why do people around the world want to immigrate to the U.S.? What has America gotten right? What should change?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Charles M. Blow, "Empire at the End of Decadence: American Shame," The New York Times, February 19, 2011, p. A19.

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

M.V. Jantzen
José Cruz/ABr
Maggie Osama
Thinkstock/Polka Dot

Hajime Nakano
Panagiotis V. Lazaridis
-{ thus }-
The U.S. Army
Gary McCabe
Mark Heard
The U.S. Army

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