For the first time, the U.S. News (of college rankings fame) took on the immense task of ranking the world’s countries. Released at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on January 20, the list features a staunch rejection of American exceptionalism, ranking the United States not at the top, but rather at number four. Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom, respectively, combine as the trio that tops the charts as the “Best Countries Overall.”
According to U.S. News, the rankings “are based on how global perceptions define countries in terms of a number of qualitative characteristics.” Sixty countries were measured on the basis of 65 attributes, then given a one through ten score in nine sub-rankings. Of these nine, the only in which America captured the top spot was power, meaning our nation is economically and politically influential with a strong military and international alliances.
Perhaps, then, being the most powerful country isn’t what we Americans should be most concerned about. The frontrunners of our respective parties continue to be concerned with the state of our country relative to others around the world. Hillary Clinton declares on her website that her national security policies will allow America to “lead the world in the 21st century.” Donald Trump focuses more on the military, saying he will build forces “so big, so powerful, so strong that nobody is gonna mess with us.”
Now, I’m not going to argue that maintaining a strong influence on world affairs isn’t important; our success in that area is probably why we broke the top five. However, relative power represented just 7.42 percent of the final ranking (as compared to quality of life at 16.89 percent and citizenship at 16.95 percent), and perhaps this undervaluing of influence was not without merit. If America is to truly realize her position as the world’s greatest country, there are areas in which we can learn from those countries considered, by U.S. News, to be better than we are. For example, the United States should look to both Germany’s entrepreneurship and Canada’s quality of life as exemplary nations in areas in which the U.S. can improve.
Though the United States has the largest GDP in the world, based on studies of the economy and surveys of citizens, the report places us two places behind Germany in their category of entrepreneurship—which measures education, innovation, and access to capital. A large part of Germany’s success is attributed to their apprenticeship model, which many find responsible for the low unemployment rates in young people (8 percent as opposed to the European Union’s 23 percent). The U.S., alternatively, has one of the biggest unemployment disparities in the world; rates are cut in half for those with at least a bachelor’s degree. It is reasonable, then, to assume that altering our education system to provide a better-prepared working class would increase our entrepreneurial status. In Germany, close to 60 percent of young people train as apprentices while less than 5 percent do in America. It wouldn’t be practical to suggest entirely adopting their system of apprenticeship; German students choose between an academic or vocational high school at age 10, and the American school system isn’t just going away. However, if companies were to start offering apprenticeships as a viable alternative to receiving a degree, the United States may have a more educated workforce and grow as an economy.
Canada’s 1971 adoption of multiculturalism is just one important example of how the government has successfully increased the quality of life for its citizens. In the United States, on the other hand, racial tensions are still prevalent, with a 2015 poll suggesting that 58 percent of Americans believe race relations were worse — rather than about the same or better — than a year prior. An unequivocal adoption of respect within society of different races, religions, customs, and languages, increased both the legal rights and quality of day-to-day affairs of Canadians, and the United States could look to passing similar legislation.
Individual voters place emphasis on different issues facing our nation today. While the U.S. News report may prove more detrimental in pitting countries against each other than beneficial (after all, rankings aren’t everything), the way the rankings were determined gives keen insight to what issues are considered important worldwide, and in which we as a nation can improve.