Life on this side of the pond is far from perfect. Politics is deeply divisive. Gun crime is off the charts: more people get shot in the course of a year in one small city here in Mississippi than in the whole of London.
It baffles me that no one in America seems capable of making a decent cup of tea. I’m puzzled that a country so technologically proficient as the United States does not seem to be able to do roundabouts.
But there are, without question, some things that America does rather well.
A middle class family earning $50,000 a year in this part of America would expect to pay about 15 per cent in federal and state taxes. In the UK, they would be taxed almost a quarter of what they earned.
It is difficult to make an exact comparison, since the amount of tax people pay varies state by state, but overall, the tax burden here is far lower.
Higher living standards
Americans tend to live well. GDP per person in the UK is about $45,000: in America, it’s around $70,000. American workers are vastly more productive than those in Europe, Britain or almost anyplace else.
I constantly marvel at how blue collar America is better off than much of white collar Britain. Materially, everything is more bountiful, from the cars and the boats to the houses and the hair-dos.
It is striking how enthusiastic ordinary Americans are about the jobs they do, and nowhere more so than when it comes to customer service. Perhaps it has something to do with the prevalence of tipping, which incentivises that can-do service culture. Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that so many Americans will take on some kind of customer service job to get through college.
Whatever the reason, there is seldom the sort of surly attitude often encountered in other parts of the world.
America does liberty better than anyone. It might be the instinct of politicians in every country to boss us about, but in America the default is to distrust any would-be autocrat. This country founded in rebellion against a King has a long tradition of scepticism towards anyone claiming authority over the people, from George III to Dr Fauci.
That is not to say that America does not have its fair share of busybody mayors and governors, especially along the east and west coasts. But across much of the vast American heartland, however, ordinary folk often simply refuse to be told what to do. Americans also dislike being told what to think, and particularly having their children told what to think: an extraordinary 3.7 million American school children have now been kept out of the government run school system by their families and are educated by home schooling networks.
In Britain, where the National Health Service has become a kind of national religion, it is deemed sacrilegious to imply that any other country might have better health care. To suggest that Americans might have better health outcomes puts you beyond the pale.
But the facts speak for themselves. If you are going to fall seriously ill, you would be better off being ill on the US side of the Atlantic. According to the World Population Review, you would be nearly twice as likely to survive lung cancer in America (18.7 per cent survival rate) as in the UK (9.6 per cent survival). If you get breast cancer, you have an almost nine in ten chance of surviving in America. In Britain, it’s only 81 per cent. Some 97 per cent of prostate cancer patients survive in the US: in the UK, it’s only 83 percent.
There’s more to it than survival rates: a friend of mine was recently admitted to hospital for a minor operation. When I asked about the ward he was on, no one understood what I was talking about since every patient had their own room.
Americans tend to have remarkably good manners. It’s not just the polite way in which they greet strangers: Americans, especially in the South, have an old fashioned etiquette that we Brits once had but seem to have lost along the way.
I am constantly impressed with the good manners of young Americans in particular. At a football game I went to recently, there was lots of shouting, plenty of passionate yelling. The crowd made it brutally clear when they disagreed with the referees’ decision. Yet I did not hear a single F word the entire afternoon.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about American politics, perhaps especially people that don’t live here. All that attention, however, is mostly focused on what is happening at the federal level: the local nature of American democracy is often overlooked.
The United States should be thought of not as a backdrop to the political drama taking place in Washington DC, but a mosaic of self-governing communities, detached from what happens in the national capital.
Most of the key public policy decisions in America are decided at the state level. Key fiscal decisions are made at county level. A myriad of different officials, from sheriff to tax collector, are elected by local people in the communities they serve. This system of local democracy in America largely works in a way that local government in Britain since the days of Ted Heath has not.
This article was originally featured in The Telegraph.