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May 11, 2009

Our Awesomeness in Numbers

By: Bernard Chazelle

The OECD report is out. Like a pack of hungry wallabies, the media pounced immediately on the only item worth reporting: the French eat and sleep longer hours than anyone, and yet they're among the thinnest. The Americans work the longest hours, spend half as much time eating as the French, and they're the fattest! No wonder everybody hates the French. Oh, and something the wallabies missed. The French (like most Europeans) are now taller than the Americans. No doubt the nativists will blame short immigrants, except that science has conclusively debunked that myth. Americans are shrinking (in height, not width) because of poor diet and lousy prenatal/infant care.

If you prefer, you can quit reading right here, and surf on to other sites that will tell you how the US is number 1 in all sorts of important things, like arms sales; bank transactions; billionaires; etc. GDP is high, too, and by the measures of classical economics, we're not doing too bad.

The difference with the OECD report is that it gives you numbers that actually matter to living human beings. You may choose to be shocked, shocked that such things happen in our advanced society. But when a rule has more exceptions than instances in which it holds, it's helpful to change the rule. Once you think that we live in a third-world plutocracy, then all of a sudden everything begins to make sense.

Also, after you read and weep, ask yourself why the only item that made the headlines was about the sleeping habits of the French. Maybe the French always sleep but the American propaganda machine surely never does.

Here are the US rankings out of the 30 OECD countries (1 is best; 30 is worst -- worst as in Somalia-like). The names of the countries even more Somalian than the US appear in parens.

Infant Deaths: 28 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey).

Life Expectancy: 24 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Czech & Slovak Republics).

Health Expenditures: 1 out of 30.

Poverty Rates: 28 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey).

Child Poverty: 27 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Poland).

Income Inequality: 27 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Portugal).

Obesity: 30 out of 30.

Incarceration: 30 out of 30.

Work Hours (ranked in ascending order): 30 out of 30.

Height (women): 25 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Korea, Portugal, Japan).

Height (men): 24 out of 30 (Italy, Spain, Mexico, Portugal, Korea, Japan).

OECD countries: Turkey, Mexico, Poland, USA, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Greece, Luxemburg, Australia, Netherlands, Slovakia, Korea, Czech Republic, UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Iceland, France, Austria, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at May 11, 2009 11:06 AM

"Health Expenditures" is also ranked in ascending order, I presume?

Posted by: Cloud at May 11, 2009 12:05 PM

Argh. I mean descending order.

Posted by: Cloud at May 11, 2009 12:09 PM

We're #1 in corporate profit though, aren't we? Right? Profit is all that matters? Right? Greed is good!!!! Long live greed!!!!

Posted by: Xboxershorts at May 11, 2009 01:11 PM

I found something we are best at....

Prevalence of mental health disorder.

I've never been prouder!

Posted by: Xboxershorts at May 11, 2009 01:23 PM

Thank God for Turkey and Mexico!

Posted by: Seth at May 11, 2009 01:36 PM

Thank God for Turkey and Mexico!
Posted by: Seth at May 11, 2009 01:36 PM


Posted by: Woody at May 11, 2009 01:43 PM

Perhaps the media pounced on only on the *first* item in the OECD news release, you know, as a case of journalistic laziness and endless feedback loop as the news news spreads from one outlet to the next... wouldn't be the first time :-)

Posted by: Herve Bronnimann at May 11, 2009 02:10 PM

It's almost like empire is a remarkable self-capsizing mechanism.
Ain't nature wonderful?

Posted by: Pvt. Keepout at May 11, 2009 02:25 PM

How about numbers of executions? I just watched a woman (I refuse to call her a reporter) on CNN talk about an execution in Iran, after which she gave the numbers of executions per year in Iran and also said that Iran led the world in numbers of minors executed. Does anyone know the execution rate in the US, and have we ever executed a teenager? I know teenagers are tried as adults more and more, and presumably if the charge is murder, the death sentence would be one outcome. And she didn't even report it at a fact, but went on editorializing on it. I watch so little cable that it's always like being thrown into an acid bath.

Oh, also, a Saudi Arabian judge has ruled that if a wife spends too much money, her husband can slap her. He made this statement at a domestic violence conference. Wow, did the non-reporter go on about this. As if the rate of domestic violence, including murder, isn't through the roof in the U.S.

Just another day in the Muslim-bashing media.

Posted by: catherine at May 11, 2009 03:20 PM

Excellent post, Bernard.

I think the Dutch and Germans are now several inches taller, on average, than Americans. We are being miniaturized, to provide greater ease of component replacement when worn-out or otherwise dysfunctional. Ideally, American workers will be no larger than an Ipod, requiring less food and storage space, yet remaining somewhat productive. Our economy demands machine-efficiency, and workers being deprived of nutrients and sleep fits the model. The obesity is merely an outward reflection of our sluggish thinking processes, form following function.

Posted by: Oarwell at May 11, 2009 04:09 PM

can't believe we got beat out by Greece and Hungary.. It does not compute! We work longer than Japanese? How is that possible?

Posted by: Sam at May 11, 2009 04:34 PM

You're right Oarwell, here in Europe we will soon employ minature Americans to perform I-Pod related operations. Another victory for the service based economy!

Coming Soon!

A free Pocket-Sized American(tm) with every subscription to Pinko-Commie weekly!

Posted by: Euripides at May 11, 2009 04:37 PM

Lucky for me, I'm primarily attracted to men shorter than I am.

Posted by: ethan at May 11, 2009 05:17 PM

Oarwell: The Dutch have always been very tall on average, substantially more so than Americans. Icelanders are I believe the tallest in the world.

Regarding America's declining height, I would imagine that the growing numbers of Mexicans, who tend to be shorter, would skew us down.

Posted by: Seth at May 11, 2009 05:56 PM

We spend billions of dollars dropping bombs and killing people and destroying everything that comes in our way but as far as giving overseas development assistance is concerned, we do not give even 1% of GDP and lag behind Portugal, Greece and Italy!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at May 11, 2009 07:40 PM
The Dutch have always been very tall on average...

Except, of course, for when they weren't.

In the space of about 150 years, the Dutch have gone from being one of Europe's smallest people to the tallest in the world.


The most convincing argument for why the Dutch have grown so tall so recently was put forward by J.W. Drukker, a professor of economic history at the University of Groningen. His studies revealed that the Dutch growth spurt of the mid-19th century coincided with the establishment of the first liberal democracy. Before this time, Holland had grown rich off its colonies but the wealth had stayed in the hands of the elite. After this time, the wealth began to trickle down to all levels of society, the average income went up and so did the height.

Posted by: darrelplant at May 11, 2009 07:57 PM

Immigration plays a negligible role. It has been established in two ways. First, if you factor out the ethnicity variable, you find that Caucasians have stopped growing since the mid-50s. The fastest-shrinking group is "black female." John Komlos is the height guru who was the first to establish these trends. There was a neat profile of him in the New Yorker a while back, which got me interested in the subject.

Second, Mexicans are not genetically short. They're short because of health and diet. This has been shown also in several studies. Ethnically homogeneous Mexican-American families quickly catch up up with their peers height-wise.

Fast-food for kids is the single biggest cause of stunted growth in the US.

As I've always thought, McDonalds should be banned as a terrorist organization.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at May 11, 2009 08:12 PM

I watch so little cable that it's always like being thrown into an acid bath.

An acid bath of stupid, you mean. Lately, my only cable "news" exposure has been in airports, which gives me a sample rate of roughly once every six months. At that rate, the steady increase in loud-n-stupid really stands out.

First, I'm drawn to the screen, even though I know what horror awaits me there, then my jaw drops open while my mind struggles to pick the tiniest shred of sense from what I'm seeing: "Wha... Did they just... But..."

That's usually when the drooling begins and other people start to stare and then back away. If I'm lucky, I snap out of it, but if I'm not lucky, I find myself on the floor with someone trying to jam a spoon into my mouth to keep me from swallowing my own tongue.

Posted by: SteveB at May 11, 2009 08:23 PM


How true. Your 6-month data points mirror my own experience. Next flight, I expect to see Bart Simpson on CNN delivering the lastest terror alert. Except Bart Simpson would be asking too much.

For what it's worth, and maybe it's worth nothing, I also noticed my last holdover that I was the only person with a book. And trust me, arriving from ultra-efficient Milan back to JFK was like traveling from the 21st century back to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil.' Signage as you pass through U.S. Customs might as well say, "Welcome back, sucker."

Posted by: Oarwell at May 11, 2009 09:22 PM

arriving from ultra-efficient Milan...

Well, that's just the liberal fascism at work. Makes the planes run on time.

Posted by: SteveB at May 11, 2009 10:05 PM

Be that as it may, the Mexicans are currently quite a bit shorter than the average American. As they steadily move here (roughly 10% of Mexicans live in the US) they will skew the average height down. Maybe this will change as their descendants eat more protein, etc.

Or is it racist to even suggest that there could be a genetic component to height? And the Dinkas are so tall because they have had a liberal democracy for so long?

Posted by: Seth at May 11, 2009 10:32 PM

Seth, you didn't seem to read the first paragraph of Bernard's reply.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at May 11, 2009 11:19 PM

Michael Medved LIED to meeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

Posted by: Paulie Chestnuts at May 12, 2009 12:34 AM

Bernard, Fritz Hollins was governor of South Carolina when he noticed what malnutrition brought his state: rickets, scurvy and low IQ's among other 3d world problems. He wrote a book The Case Against Hunger which set forth America's shortcomings over 40 years ago and fought hard to upgrade the food stamp and free lunch programs. These brought some healthy changes in some of the benchmarks you cite. Sadly, it is long out of print, but not Michael Harrington's Other America, which is a little older, but just as astounding today as it was nearly 50 (yikes!) years ago. Seth, you could learn a little about context by coming to grips with the fact that what seems obvious and commonsensical to you is wrong and has been discredited decades ago.

Posted by: drip at May 12, 2009 07:54 AM

But we're number one in FREEDOM!! So be thankful and just count your blessings.-Tony

Posted by: tony at May 12, 2009 08:24 AM

Yeah, and I bet that study was done by FRENCH people and you know what THEY'RE like: All lying about stuff and laying around eating moldy cheese and shirking there duty to be militaristic!

Posted by: Svensker at May 12, 2009 09:58 AM

Svensker: That's all very true but remember that they sleep all the time, so when did they do the study? In their sleep, no doubt? (I believe I've worked in my sleep actually. I say I believe because you can never be 100% sure of such things.)

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at May 12, 2009 10:59 AM

Er, Tony, I assume you are being ironic about the US being number one in Freedom.

Posted by: Larry Gambone at May 12, 2009 11:26 AM

That's usually when the drooling begins and other people start to stare and then back away. If I'm lucky, I snap out of it, but if I'm not lucky, I find myself on the floor with someone trying to jam a spoon into my mouth to keep me from swallowing my own tongue.

Posted by SteveB

Steve, heh heh. I try to keep heavy objects away from my reach, so as not to destroy the TV (well, maybe that would be a good idea, but, you know - I'd miss the two or three good shows per month.)

Posted by: catherine at May 12, 2009 12:02 PM

interesting, but how much of height is genetic then? say my parents are both 5 foot tall, do i have a genetic limit of some sort like 5 foot 6 if all the best healthcare and nutrition were afforded me?

any studies been done? anyone know?

Posted by: sal at May 12, 2009 12:29 PM

Or is it racist to even suggest that there could be a genetic component to height?

OK, I'll play along: Let's agree that the average height of a grouping of roughly three hundred million people could be a function of many independent variables. Looking at just a couple of those variables, 1) poorer health care and nutrition and 2) immigration from countries with lower average heights, which one are you drawn towards? And why?

In other words, no, it's not racist to suggest immigration is a factor. But, over time, as one topic after another comes up for consideration here, certain people seem to be drawn to certain explanations in a fairly consistent way. After a while, I think, "Hmmm... maybe this guy is just a racist?" Would it be racist of me to even suggest that?

Posted by: SteveB at May 12, 2009 12:36 PM

BC: They would of done the study while they asleep, they do it alot. Plus, there famous for making stuff up and trying to make all we strong and true real Americans eat arugula and things like that. While turning us socailist. they are pretty tricky.

I have heard from a good friend who listens to Rush every day that they are real poor too and have a bad living standard.

Posted by: Svensker at May 12, 2009 12:38 PM

Steve: Generally I would accept the health care/nutrition argument. Except from what I understand height is largely tied to consumption of protein and Americans continue to eat a lot of protein, even if it is from McDonalds.

It is a fact that America has absorbed a massive influx of immigrants from historically shorter countries since 1965 (Latin America, SE Asia). Marking this can only be considered racist if you believe that height is a national attribute of great importance. Which I don't.

Posted by: Seth at May 12, 2009 01:06 PM

Seth: It is a fact that America has absorbed a massive influx of immigrants from historically shorter countries since 1965 (Latin America, SE Asia).

It is also a fact that it has happened before. Eastern European immigrants were noticeably shorter in the closing years of the 19th century. Scientific racists ascribed this to genetic causes, and when American-born children of immigrants grew up to be taller than their parents, the scientific racists explained it as the result of their mothers' having had sex with native-born Anglo-Saxon-Teutonic-Whatever males, since immigrants were 'known' to have genetically lower morals. Anti-science cultural relativists/behaviorists like Franz Boas put it down to improved diet. (See Allen Chase's The Legacy of Malthus for more information.)

Marking this can only be considered racist if you believe that height is a national attribute of great importance. Which I don't.

Well, no, that isn't a criterion for racism. I'm inclined to be skeptical of your explanation because I'm taller than both of my native born parents, who grew up during the Great Depression. I imagine someone with more time on his hands could look at average height in the US when poverty went up in the 30s.

It could be that an influx of shorter immigrants could be one reason for a recent decline in height in the US; it's true that immigration/migration from Mexico has gone up dramatically in the past couple of decades. Do you have any evidence that this is so, however? In any case, height is only one index of declining health in the US.

Posted by: Duncan at May 12, 2009 02:26 PM

I get OECD and OCD confused a lot. Compulsively, even.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at May 12, 2009 02:28 PM

yes was a joke...I dont know how to put one of those little smiley faces, or winking faces than some people do when they are joking....My politics are very far left-left libertarian/anarchists-so most of the comments out of my mouth regarding the USA govt and ruling class elite will be harsh except when I am joking!-Tony

Posted by: tony at May 12, 2009 02:48 PM

All the wingers I know hold three immutable beliefs:

1) They believe everyone below them in society is immoral, lazy, contemptible and undeserving of anything they have.

2) They believe everyone above them is moral, industrious, admirable and deserving of everything they have.

3) They greatly overestimate their position in this food chain.

Taken together this means that they have no empathy for the lower class, are easily led by the upper class and (most importantly) are always at war with their own class and their own self-interest. They are essentially perfect economic barbarians - so for them the OECD report is a victory, not a defeat.

Posted by: Jimbo at May 12, 2009 03:34 PM

The numbers are really depressing, specially as they reflect state of physical well being of citizens, judicial system and economic disparity in our country.
And to make matters worse, we are leading (6th out of 55) where we should not be.........
"The Electronic Police State"

Posted by: Rupa Shah at May 12, 2009 04:12 PM

I do not know how the first URL changed and won't work. I am copying and pasting it again though the second URL has the info and is working.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at May 12, 2009 04:21 PM

so when ishmael said, sometime after the pequod incident, a kentuckian in his socks is taller than your frenchman, was melville lying? or did taller mean shorter back then?

Posted by: anonymous at May 12, 2009 09:19 PM

Hungry wallabies? Mate have you ever seen those cute little dudes? Their table manners are exemplary.

(unless you're referring to our national rugby team which inconguously bears that less-than-fearsome moniker)

Posted by: AlanDownunder at May 13, 2009 05:54 AM

Hungry wallabies? Mate have you ever seen those cute little dudes? Their table manners are exemplary.

(unless you're referring to our national rugby team which incongruously bears that less-than-fearsome moniker)

Posted by: AlanDownunder at May 13, 2009 05:54 AM

2001 article (from war and torture-promoting NYT) says that the average height of Japanese 11 year olds has increased 5 inches in the past 50 years. (!)

''The standard cooking table, for example, only fits the older generations. We are trying to measure the younger generation so as to advise Japanese corporations how to meet their needs.''

Radiation? Godzilla? "So far, there has been no definitive explanation for the increased growth, but it is widely believed to be caused by improvements in diet and the elimination of once-common infectious diseases, both expressions of Japan's swift postwar economic rise. According to one recent study, for instance, intake of animal protein has doubled to 60 grams a day since 1960."

(Found by Googling "average height" and "Japanese.")

Posted by: Oarwell at May 13, 2009 10:15 AM

Another French Factoid - As we learned from our many French exchange students, about half of French youngsters study calculus in high school. In the U.S. it is five percent at most.

Posted by: AJ Oliver at May 15, 2009 11:31 AM