National Review has had a lot to say about American exceptionalism in the past year. There is no question, in my mind, about American exceptionalism during the 20th century. What about today? How do we stack up with, say, those poor, benighted Egyptians, with their thug president?
Here are some metrics dear to Exchequer’s heart:
National Debt as Share of GDP: USA, 95.6, Egypt, 76. That’s assuming Egypt’s economy takes a significant hit this year. Advantage: Egypt.
Deficit as Share of GDP in 2011 (Estimated): USA: 9.8, Egypt, 8.7. Advantage, Egypt.
Rate of Pillage, a/k/a/ Government Spending as a Share of GDP: USA, 24, Egypt, 27. Advantage: USA. But not by all that much.
Freedom from Corruption, as scored by the Heritage index: USA, 75, Egypt 28. But I think we’re being too easy on ourselves limiting the discussion to Heritage’s very useful index. Corruption is not as widespread in the United States, but the stakes are higher: In License to Steal, Harvard’s Dr. Malcolm Sparrow estimates that Medicare and Medicaid fraud in the United States could exceed $300 billion a year, or half again as large as Egypt’s GDP. Which is to say, Egypt would have to dedicate 150 percent of its economic output to corruption to catch up to Medicare and Medicaid corruption. Advantage: USA, with an asterisk.
Why do I point this out? Because I want to remind you: The conditions that have resulted in 200-odd years of relative peace and prosperity for the American people are not normal. The normal state of mankind of a lot more like Mubarak’s Egypt than Reagan’s America, or Obama’s. Institutions matter, and one of the institutions that matters is sober, responsible government. Drawing a line forward from 2011 into the future, which does the American government more closely resemble? The one that helped make this nation great by allowing liberty to thrive, or one of the ones that used to be a punchline until such jokes stopped being very funny?
— Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, just published by Regnery. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.