United States Ranks 27th on Social Justice among OECD Countries!

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Dear Commons Community,

In a report released on Thursday by the Bertelsmann Stiftung Foundation of Germany entitled “Social Justice in the OECD — How Do the Member States Compare?” the United States ranked 27th out of 31 countries on the overall social justice metric.  The OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) evolved from the Marshall Plan and is made up of 34 (mostly European) countries.  The ranking is based on a number of indicators related to poverty, health care and education.

The NY Times columnist, Charles Blow, summarized the report as follows:

“We sold ourselves a pipe dream that everyone could get rich and no one would get hurt — a pipe dream that exploded like a pipe bomb when the already-rich grabbed for all the gold; when they used their fortunes to influence government and gain favors and protection; when everyone else was left to scrounge around their ankles in hopes that a few coins would fall.

We have not taken care of the least among us. We have allowed a revolting level of income inequality to develop. We have watched as millions of our fellow countrymen have fallen into poverty. And we have done a poor job of educating our children and now threaten to leave them a country that is a shell of its former self. We should be ashamed.”

Ashamed Indeed!!



  1. Barbara,

    Thanks for your insightful comments. As I indicated to Bob earlier, not all of the countries in front of the USA can be considered socialist and some (central European countries) have substantial immigrant populations. The issues raised in this OECD report need to be considered as we as a nation try to figure out how to get back on track economically. It seems that for the past several years especially, our government has been most concerned about its large corporate constituents and have not done enough for the poor and those who have much less influence in Washington.


  2. Tony —
    By coincidence, my students in Introduction to Research Methods are right now working on creating a comparative data chart similar to the one discussed by Charles Blow in the NYT Op-Ed article, “American’s Exploding Pipe Dream.” I think it’s the contrast between our deeply held beliefs — an implicit religion — in basic equality of opportunity in the United States that makes the now widespread exposure of the information on Gini coefficients alongside the degree of collusion between econominc and political power elites so morally shocking. But I have a lot of questions about the comparisons to Scandanavian countries, and especially given what I perceive to be major differences in immigration policies: See, for example, Migration News. I would like to hear from someone with specialized expertise on this topic.

    In addition to the difference in immigration patterns for many Scandanavian (and other European countries), in it noteworthy that Gini coefficients are not available for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (what’s happening in Dubai), Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait. THEARDA is the easiest place to check, but I’ve checked almost all the possible sources. This is not to condone disregard for the poor and our need as a country to make important changes that target especially educational opportunities for the poor. We also need to break down the easy glide path for top .01% political influence peddlers. But I haven’t jumped on the anti-American bandwagon yet and am not quite ready to hold up socialism, and especially socialism in countries that are largely homogenous in terms of their ethnicity, as the socio-economic and cultural ideal. It depends, I guess, on level and kind of socialism. I’m yet to see a case example in which the concentration of economic and political power into one hierarchical structure has worked over the long run for people, no matter how good it sounds on paper. Even Peter Drucker saw the problem of huge spreads between the top and bottom. So huge levels of inequality is something on which everyone agrees — Drucker put numbers to it. After the top person earns more than 20 times what the bottom person earns, a corporation is headed for trouble.

    The vague cries for help are also coming from the middle class, folks who operate small businesses or work for larger corporations — families who are losing their homes because they can’t meet mortgage payments. What makes it all so crazy is that the average mortgage salesperson — most likely — didn’t have influence over policy and couldn’t see the big picture. He or she is also in the 99%. They had sales targets (I’m reminded of the film GlenGarry Glen Ross). But some of the stuff now uncovered, deliberate stuff, like the Citi Corp group bundling bad mortgages and then creating a hedge fund to invest against it — someone used some real intellectual capital to think this up. It’s kind of like student cheating — not the typical student who cheats on an exam because his or her eye accidentally fell on the right answer in a crowded classroom — but the kind where one or two gang leaders organize an elaborate and sophisticated cheating ring. It would be easier and more efficient just to study the material, but these students feel compelled to drag other students into their efforts to subvert the system. I’m a wimp, but even I can see that the latter kind of cheaters may need some quiet time in a place with few luxuries or privileges to think over the consequences of their actions. This usually requires citizens who understand the deeds, a court system and — alas — police force.

    I’m increasingly sympathetic to OWS, partly because they have curtailed the 24/7 drumming, which was especially annoying to residents. But also because I can see how they have enhanced widespread awareness of the existing degree of inequality combined with an inability on the part of most people to grasp the mechanics of the recent mortgage debacle and financial crisis — even as OWS has led numerous young people into the false hope of easy solutions to difficult issues. It’s sad that our economic, political and banking system have become so complex as to be incomprehensible and so little value is placed on real education.

  3. Bob,

    Thanks for your post. You are right that a number of the countries especially the Scandinavian ones on the list practice socialism but many of the countries on the list in front of the United States do not. It seems that with the wealth that exists in this country, we could be doing more for those in need. Furthermore, the disparity between rich and poor makes it more of an issue particularly during difficult economic times. In sum, I think our country can be doing better to reduce the hardships of poverty.


  4. Tony: Neither you nor Charles Blow bother to mention that many of the northern European nations that head the list are oriented to socialism and have a very high personal income tax rate and have a cradle to grave philosophy of protection of their populace.

    I have not seen an economic statistical analysis of the numbers published by theOECD and the German irm that prepared the report.

    Most Americans, I believe, do not embrace socialism, and do not want higher taxes, except maybe on the very wealthy. Yet, it is a fact, that Americans are compassionate and do a lot to support those who are at the bottom of the heap. So are you and Mr. Blow saying we should change to the European socialism model?

    Bob Taylor