Globalism in Your Pocket
Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks, Jan. 23, 2006
Highest life expectancy: Andorra, that barely lived-in shadow of a country, at 83.5 years. The United States is in dismal 40 th place, tied with Portugal—the Arkansas of Europe—at 77.9 years (that’s women and men combined). Just about every country in Europe, including England and all its bad gums, plus a few surprises (Cyprus, Malta, Guadeloupe) do the US better in life’s regards. Largest foreign aid donor? In dollars, the United States, at $16.3 billion. In relation to the size of countries’ economies, the US drops out of sight, to 26 th place. Saudi Arabia leads the pack in that one. You could say that the Saudis conveniently mish-mash their foreign aid of oil and dates with their aid to madrsassas, but then the US likes to mish-mash its foreign aid with its military bribes, too, so the two countries are even on that score. And on it goes: The book is addictive.
I’m quoting from The Economist’s Pocket World in Figures, 2006, just released and making it to every subscriber’s bathroom-reading shelf. It’s more fun than a World Series box score (when the Yankees win) and weird, too: On one page The Economist, a shameless slut for anything American, ranks the US first in business creativity and research, with Taiwan, Finland, Japan and Sweden on its heels. But the country with the most patents filed, by far, is Japan (119,000 last year, compared with the US’s 86,000), and according to the “number of patents in force per 100,000 inhabitants,” as good an indicator of creativity as any, Luxemburg wins by landslide, at 5,800, followed by Switzerland at 1,166, Sweden, Ireland, and so on. The US is a distant 15 th. Then there’s highest health spending. As expected, the US is first, at 14.6 percent of GDP (which has nothing to do with health, as we’ve just seen).
But what on earth are Cambodia and Lebanon doing in second and third place? And how is Lebanon ( Lebanon!) leading the world in car ownership per 1,000, at 732 (the year of Charles Martel turning back Islam’s autobahn into Europe, incidentally). New Zealand is second, Brunei third, and the US, Notre Dame Cathedral of the car culture, in 14 th place. The NASCAR hordes will howl when they see that. The book goes on, 250 pages of gems as meaningless as they could be, in any given hand, vital. Depends if you’re one of those Luxumburgians who can turn a particle of dust into… well, a country, in Luxemburg’s case.