BOOK REVIEW: Measure of a Nation

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If America were a corporation, how would an independent analyst judge its ability to compete against other corporate giants? According to UN statistician Howard Steven Friedman, that hypothetical analyst would label America a corporate dinosaur and recommend that the nation either change or face extinction.

The Measure of a Nation: How to Regain America’s Competitive Edge and Boost Our Global Standing (view now)

This book focuses on how to improve America by first comparing its performance with thirteen competitive industrial nations, then identifying the best practices found throughout the world that can be adopted here in the United States. Friedman lays out some disturbing facts about America’s lack of competitiveness in five key areas: health, education, safety, equality, and even democracy. Taking the approach that “data doesn’t lie,” Friedman notes alarming statistics, for example:

Americans have the lowest life expectancy among all competitor nations.
Americans are at least two times more likely to be murdered and four times more likely to be incarcerated than any other competitor country, including Japan, France, and the United Kingdom.
America shows the sharpest disparity between rich and poor among all nations on its competitor list.

Using charts that clearly illustrate the unbiased, party-neutral data, Friedman uncovers the major problem areas that the nation must address to become a leader again. Homing in on best practices from other countries than can be adapted to the United States, Friedman plots a course to transform America from a corporate behemoth burdened by internal issues and poor performance to a thriving business with an exciting portfolio of solutions.

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By Robert Nuttmann

The Measure of a Nation was a quick read for me. This book was just finished in early 2012 so very up to date. I have to say that the author nailed our significant national problems in the order of significance I would have put them in if I were writing the book. The beauty of this is that the author is a statistical person and if he has an political axe to grind he did not do it in this book. His major subjects from my memory are.

1. Health care. The best overall view of this subject I have read. He points out where we are falling down in comparison to our closest competitor countries and addresses both the delivery of services but also the costs. I had not thought of several of his major points and conclusions and I have to say I was very enlightened by it.

2.Education (again this is from memory – I have already sent the book to a friend to read) . Great statistical analysis and comparison. He again points out how we compare with other similar nations and how we need to make improvements. I did think he gave a bit too little thought to how free market solutions might work, but no book is perfect. The author is no libertarian. If I had written the book I would have talked at length about possible free market solutions. This was not done here. But he did point out the biggest issue we have with our current public schools.

3. Crime and punishment. I have had a very close family member murdered by a handgun. The author points out the absurd situation in the United States where we have assault weapons and vast amounts of handguns in the hands of virtually anyone. His solution is well thought out and would be my solution of the possible ones. He also discusses at length our population of incarcerated citizens compared to the other nations closest to us. Again I think he is on the right track.

4. The state of our political system. I have to say here that he makes brilliant points. He talks about just how free we are and what we have done to update our system in the last 200 years. Not much.

5. Corporations. Here he discusses the differences between out corporations and the ones in competitor nations. Very eye opening.

6. How do we compare with other nations with regard to who earns what. No shock here. Our money has gone to the top people in the last 50 years. Far more so than our close competitors. And his comments on personal mobility in economic status is very illuminating.

I recommend this book highly.

About the Author: Howard Steven Friedman (New York, NY) is a leading statistician and health economist for the United Nations. He has worked with major organizations including UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNDP, and UNESCO. Friedman is also a professor of professional practice at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and he formerly directed data analysis teams in the corporate world. He is the author of more than thirty-five scientific articles and book chapters in areas of applied statistics and health economics.


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