What the US Really Leads the World In

You know the video… the one from HBO where the professor says that there is absolutely no evidence that the US is the greatest country in the world. He claims that the US leads the world in only three things 1)Number of incarcerated people per capita, 2) Percent of adults who believe angels are real and 3) Defense spending.

Now, certainly America has its problems. There are many things about the country that our citizens should be ashamed of. The concept of ‘greatest’ country is also highly subjective (and also pointless), so that isn’t a debate I’m going to enter. Also, it is a GOOD thing that other countries are catching up in many categories – it shows growth in many areas of the world rather than a decline in America. For instance, who leads the world in research isn’t nearly as important as the total amount of research that gets done. However, here are some facts about all the ‘star-spangled awesome‘ things that the USA actually DOES lead the world in.

  • Number of Olympic Medals – At 2601 total medals, we have more than TWICE as many as the second place USSR at 1204. Even if you add in Russia’s 521, we still have a hefty lead. (Source)
  • Number of Top Universities – At 61 of the top 100, the USA has more than half of the world’s top universities (Source)
  • Number of Scientific Papers Published and Number of Papers Cited – So the US leads in both the quantity of scientific research conducted, as well as the quality, at least as much as citations are a stand in for how influential a work is. (Source)
  • Nobel Prizes Awarded – At 350, we have almost three times as many laureates as 2nd place UK (123). (Source)
  • Books Published Per Year – China is catching up in absolute terms, but we are still far ahead per capita. (Source)
  • Number of Millionaires and Self Made Millionaires – Out of the 117 million households in the USA, there are more than 1 million of them (almost 1 in 10) who have more than a million dollars in assets (not counting their houses)  (Source) As only 8% of these inherited their wealth, this also means that America vastly leads the world in self-made millionaires.
  • Men landed on the freakin’ moon. – ‘nuf said.
  • Inventions – China caught up for a while, but the US once again leads the world in patent filling, with more than a quarter of the world’s total. (Source)
  •  Charitable Giving (individuals) – The US is tied for first in the World Giving Index, a metric that takes into account what % of the population gives to charity, regularly helps strangers, or volunteers their time to help others. (Source)
  • Government Aid – The US Government also gives for more money for humanitarian and development assistance than any other country. (Source)
  • Global spending on science and research – At $405 billion, this is significantly higher than that of any other country. (Source)
  •  Co2 emissions reduction since 2006 – Yep… (Source)

And last, and probably most importantly, the US leads the world in immigrants. (Source) Almost 46 million Americans were born in another country. This is no doubt a big part of the reason that we lead in so many other categories above. The very definition of an immigrant is someone who is motivated enough  to leave their current circumstances to seek out better opportunities somewhere else. These people are a tremendous resources to the US. I said before that there is no single statistic that can prove the “greatest” country, but if there were, it would have to be net immigration.

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