The recent Republican National Convention (RNC) portrayed a very negative version of the current state of the Republic. There are certainly many issues facing the United States — structural underemployment, income inequality, divisive violence — but the truth is, on many counts the country is doing extremely well.
I wanted to collect some of those indicators and present them here to remind us that we’re not failing. In fact, we’re continuing to reach new heights. I’m sure there are many ways to claim that “America is in decline,” but let’s not fall into the politics of fear and despair. Of course, Americans know there are many ways to improve and so we can and should do better. But here are some proof points that might help you feel a bit more optimistic than the news out of Cleveland would have you believe.
The US GDP continues to grow to unprecedented heights (Federal Reserve).
That being said, the percentage of the world economy that the US economy represents has been declining since World War 2. Essentially, the US decided after World War 2 that it would support a global economic system that benefited the rest of the world (and the United States) called the Bretton Woods System. But recently, the United States has increased its percentage of the world economy due to challenges in China and the Euro Zone.
But let’s put this in perspective. The rise of the United States (especially considering its small population relative to the world) is unprecedented on a historical perspective.
US per capita GDP has been increasing faster than the rest of the world for decades, with recent acceleration relative to the rest of the world.
And it’s clear just where the United States stands on GDP per capita against other countries since 1700.
And should you want to argue that our GDP growth is due to government spending, it turns out that businesses in the United States are doing extremely well.
Industrial production has returned to pre-recession levels and continues its meteoric rise since the 1960s.
And the idea that we’re suffering at the hands of foreign imports is simply untrue. In fact, US exports continue to grow.
Despite headwinds, such as Millennials opting to forego car purchases and low savings rates, auto sales have recovered since the days of bankruptcy following the financial crisis. Also, the United States is leading the world in new auto technology via companies like Tesla, Google, Uber, GM, and Ford.
Speaking of innovation, the Federal Reserve has been tracking the health of the technology economy in the US. It’s also at historical levels (except for the craziness of the dot com bubble). Our technology sector is the envy of the rest of the world. Only Israel is able to compete on startup creation and investment. Every country and city is trying to create its own Silicon Valley. But no one beats the US.
With all of this growth, our dollars must be worth a lot less because it’s all fueled by inflationary monetary policy, right? Nope, that’s wrong. US inflation has been steady and even declined, due to demand for dollars and other global economic reasons. We could probably use a little bit more inflation right now, but that’s difficult when dollars are the reserve currency of the world, and everyone fears the economic and demographic issues facing large economies other than the United States.
After skyrocketing during the financial crisis, unemployment rates have decreased to historically low levels.
In fact, we’re in one of the longest employment booms in history. The US economy has seen an increase in jobs for 65 straight months.
That being said, we were rebounding from one of the worst economic disasters in US history. Unfortunately, the 2010–2016 recovery hasn’t recovered jobs proportionate to past recession booms. But we’re still in the recovery, so we may yet see the losses during the financial crisis erased.
Unemployment amongst people with a college education is far lower than those without one. As a service, creative, and technology dominant economy, US citizens benefit from an outstanding education. College attainment rates among both men and women continues to climb in the US:
Depending on your politics, this next graph could be seen as a positive or negative. But however you feel about oil, it is the basis for our modern economy. Technology advancements in the United States have completely revolutionized the oil markets over the last couple of years. The US is now one of the world’s largest oil producers, reducing our dependency on foreign sources, some of which are less than democratic:
And while it may seem like there’s a rise in crime, we’ve actually returned to 1960–70s crime rates — much lower than the early 90s. We may feel like there’s more crime because everyone has an HD camera in their pocket, and violence can be posted directly to social media, unedited. But the facts show a different story:
On an even longer timeframe, homicide rates are at all time lows in the United States.
There’s been a lot of recent news about horrible tragedies committed both by and against the police. But these are anomalies against longer term trends. We’ve certainly learned that the police are treating black males differently from white males, and while any death is horrifying, overall we’re trending down:
Even in absolute terms, police fatalities are way down, while the population has increased significantly:
Republicans — and particularly Trump’s campaign — are saying that the United States has become weak, and that are military is falling apart. This is certainly insulting to the military personnel, but it’s also just false. From a historical perspective, we’re spending an extraordinary amount of money on the military. Yes, it’s a smaller percentage of GDP than previously, but this decline started in 1988, and reflects a “peace dividend.”
And despite what you may have heard, the world thinks quite highly of the United States.
In fact, we’ve recovered much of the favorability that was lost during the early 2000s.
And what about immigration? Turns out, immigration is one of the brightest spots for long-term growth prospects in the United States. Japan, China, and Western Europe are ticking time bombs in terms of demographics. Their economies and national psyches will suffer as the largest part of their populations will soon retire. Japan is the first major economy to experience this. In the next decade, Western Europe and China will follow. The United States would have suffered the same fate had it not been for immigration. Put another way…if you want to collect that Social Security check in 2040, you better hope we keep admitting working-age immigrants. From a historical perspective, we’re admitting the same percentage of people as we have in the past.
Since everyone wants a long life, it’s good to see that we are living longer than ever before. Time to start saving some money people, because your retirement is going to last a lot longer:
And despite all of this growth, pollution per capita is decreasing due to significant efforts made to protect our health and our environment:
Maybe it’s our 24-hour news cycle, public desire to compare ourselves to our Facebook friends, or the vitriolic political atmosphere that’s gotten us believing the US is in decline. Despite the facts, sentiment about the country is historically low:
This video from “Last Week Tonight” clearly demonstrates how the RNC used feelings to overcome arguments made with facts.
Perhaps, we all just need to chill out, stop comparing ourselves to our worst fears, and ignore the demagogues on television. The facts will out!