Before you sell the house, auction the family heirlooms, gather up the kids and book passage on a boat to anywhere to escape the decline of the American empire, take a deep breath. Things aren't as bad as some would have you believe.
Perhaps you've read articles or seen statistics that claim the United States is among the worst of the worst when it comes to things like income inequality, life expectancy and student performance in math and science.
If that's the case, you have to wonder why so many folks are risking life and limb to get in. The United States happens to be the No. 3 destination for asylum seekers, according to NationMaster.com, an online database that aggregates statistics from the CIA World Factbook, United Nations and World Bank, among others. Not surprisingly, the United States ranks first in the number of immigrants.
What about other indicators that challenge the notion that the United States is going the way of empires past? Students from across the globe flock to the United States for college and post-graduate education. Six of the top 10 universities in the world are here, according to U.S. News & World Report. The other four are in the United Kingdom, that other emblem of Empire Passe.
U.S. students may score poorly in math and science, but somehow they manage to overcome that handicap to become world-class researchers. The United States can claim more Nobel Prizes than any country: 320 vs. 116 for runnerup United Kingdom. In areas such as physics, chemistry and medicine, the United States has two to three times as many Nobels as its closest competitor, which is either the United Kingdom or Germany.
You know all those manufacturing jobs that are disappearing to low-wage, developing countries, or better yet, the jobs China is stealing from the United States? The real reason for the vanishing act is increased productivity, the ability to produce more for each hour worked.
This is one of the areas where the United States excels. In the past decade, the United States ranked third in the average increase in manufacturing productivity, behind Taiwan and South Korea, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gross domestic product per capita? Second in the world.
Innovation and entrepreneurship? The United States ranks first in the number of new businesses that were registered in 2005, according to the latest available data from the World Bank. The number of patents issued to U.S. residents in 2009 (93,727) was about the same as those issued to residents of all other countries combined (96,395), according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
One widely cited statistic during the health care debate was how much the United States spends compared to how little it gets in return. That return was measured by life expectancy, which at 78.1 years put the United States 50th among 223 nations.
Yikes! Like many statistics, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Health and health care are two different animals. If you eat and drink too much and smoke, it reduces your life expectancy.
Once you suffer a heart attack or are diagnosed with cancer, your chances of survival are best in the United States.
The United States ranks first in airports, tourist receipts and in the number of winners at the Miss Universe contest. It ranks fourth of 41 nations in spending on research and development as a share of GDP and first when it comes to investment in information and communication technology.
Of course, there are some firsts of which the nation should be less proud. The United States leads the world in obesity, oil consumption, anxiety disorders and divorce rates. It has the highest corporate income tax rate among industrialized countries.
These weaknesses pale in comparison to the biggest problem faced by the United States: promises made to future generations that the government can't keep and politicians won't touch. A burst housing bubble has devastated lives. Unemployment is still an elevated 9 percent 20 months after the official end of the recession, higher than in the United Kingdom and Germany. More than 6 million people have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks, and economists are starting to question whether the reasons are cyclical (slow growth) or structural (a labor force unsuited to today's jobs).
For every number homegrown America-haters spit out to show our best days are behind us, there's an offsetting statistic that points to our underlying strength. The solution isn't a war of words or statistics. It's the recognition that many of the characteristics that made the United States the envy of the world are still intact or begging to be resuscitated.
The naysayers don't appreciate American exceptionalism and never will.