8 Things Americans Take For Granted (But Shouldn’t)

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It’s easy to complain about your country.

And Americans have some legitimate complaints. A 2016 Harris poll showed that the United States had a Happiness Index of 31 on a scale to 100. That number dropped from the previous year, which seems to indicate that Americans aren’t really happy to be here.

However, we think it’s important to note that the United States has quite a few advantages over other parts of the world. We often take those advantages for granted. For instance…

1. Our infrastructure is fairly reliable.

Okay, so infrastructure isn’t sexy—it’s still important to know that most of the time a bridge won’t suddenly collapse and that your toilet will flush when you ask it to do so.

According to the World Economic Forum, the United States is ranked 11th among countries by infrastructure score. That’s behind the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and several other Western countries, but ahead of most of the world.

Shot of the Golden Gate Bridge
Umer Sayyam on Unsplash

The WEF’s report does suggest that we need to spend more on infrastructure going forward, but we’re certainly in a good position to do so, given that infrastructure investment has drawn bipartisan support in Congress.

2. We don’t really pay much for gasoline.

Currently, we pay about $2.12 per gallon for gasoline. Before you start complaining, compare that to a few other countries and territories. In Hong Kong, you’d pay $7.12 per gallon; in the United Kingdom, you’d pay $6.02. German consumers pay $5.38 per gallon, while Norwegians pay a whopping $7.04.

Some countries like Venezuela have much lower gasoline prices thanks to state-controlled refineries (Venezuelans pay about 4 cents per gallon). Among Western countries, the United States has remarkably low gas prices

So, why doesn’t gas cost more in the United States? Mostly because we haven’t increased our gas taxes since 1993. Some economists believe that this is a mistake, because increasing taxes would encourage some drivers to park permanently, therefore decreasing consumption and limiting the effect of driving on the environment.

Shell gas station with lots of people and vehicles in the area
Zakaria Zayane on Unsplash

In any case, if you like to drive, the United States will let you hit the road without breaking the bank.

3. If you eat meat, you’re in good company.

What’s more American than a nice, juicy steak? Not much, as it turns out.

Meat consumption in the United States stands at an incredible 270.7 pounds per person per year. That’s more than any other country on the planet except for Luxembourg (and really, Luxembourg’s small enough that one hungry guy is probably throwing the curve).

Over the last few years, we’ve been eating more chicken and less beef. Chicken finally passed beef as the nation’s favorite meat sometime around 2010, and we’re eating more turkey than ever before, possibly because we’re trying to get healthier.

Big, double hamburger with all the toppings
amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

Our meat consumption does come with notable environmental drawbacks, as it takes about 1,036 BTUs of fossil fuel energy to create a quarter-pound hamburger. Still, this is an article about what’s great about America, so we’ll focus on the positives: If you love meat, you’ll love it here. If not, well, meat consumption is on a slight downward trend, so be patient.

4. Our food is relatively cheap.

In America, you’re probably not going to break the bank just to get a loaf of bread. While food prices have gone up over the years, the numbers are on our side.

If you’re an average consumer, you spent about $2,273 on food in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Expressed as a percentage, that’s about 6.4 percent of your income.

Although that might sound like a lot, it really isn’t. The USDA tracks food expenditures for 83 countries, and U.S. consumers spend a smaller percentage of their incomes on food than consumers in any of those other countries.

Cereal box isle at grocery store
Nathália Rosa on Unsplash

Our money might go significantly farther in some of those countries, though. In India, for instance, you can easily find a gallon of milk for less than a dollar. If you really want to dig into economic theory, you could also argue that we’re actually paying more than we think, since part of our annual tax bill goes toward farm subsidies. Still, even after adjusting for subsidies, the United States has it pretty good when it comes to food.

5. We’ve got relatively long lives.

American life expectancy averages out to 79.3 years, according to the World Health Organization, which isn’t too bad on a global scale, all things considered. Granted, we’re not first in this category—we actually come in 31st, behind Costa Rica, Chile, and Cyprus, among others. The country with the highest life expectancy is Japan, at 83.7 years.

But before you despair about these figures, be thankful that you’re not in a war-torn country like Sierra Leone, which has a 50.1-year life expectancy. We’re also ahead of Cuba, which is something that we’re definitely going to throw in Cuba’s face during the next international block party.

Also, many of the causes of premature death in the United States are very preventable, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we’re making some progress.

Older couple sitting on bench, looking out at mountain view
Matthew Bennett on Unsplash

From 2010 to 2014, fewer Americans died from preventable causes, which means that we’re getting healthier and making better decisions overall.

6. We’ve got plenty of room.

The United States has a population density of 85.53 people per square mile. Globally, that puts us at 182nd among countries and territories. Compare that with a country like Monaco, which boasts an incredible 49,236 people per square mile.

In densely populated countries, pollution is a bigger issue, and people often live in tiny, cramped spaces in massive apartment buildings. Overcrowding can cause serious humanitarian issues, and even when buildings are carefully planned, high population densities can make for a stressful existence.

That’s generally not an issue for Americans. Of course there are a few disadvantages to having all of that room. If you live in a rural part of the United States, you’ll almost certainly need an automobile to get around, whereas owning a car would actually be a liability in many parts of the world.

Street view of Chicago, Illinois
Max Bender on Unsplash

If you like to stretch out, however, you can certainly do so here.

7. Our government isn’t very corrupt.

“Wait,” you might be saying, “Everything I’ve ever read about the United States government says that members of Congress basically roll around in giant money pits before signing whatever lobbyists put in front of them.”

It’s true that our democracy has its issues, but again, on a global scale, we’re doing pretty okay. The Corruption Perceptions Index is generally considered a valid, objective report for analyzing government corruption, and its recent report gives the United States a score of 69, indicating that our government is “less corrupt” than the global average.

The U.S. ranks 23rd overall, behind the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, and Sweden, but ahead of Ireland, Japan, Chile, and Poland. According to the index, the country with the least amount of corruption is Denmark, which scored an outstanding 90.

United States government building
Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash

Given the size and age of the United States, however, we’ll count this as a substantial win.

8. We have the largest economy in the world.

Think that China is handily whipping the United States on trade? Well, not according to the numbers. The United States has the world’s largest economy, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $18.56 trillion.

Photo of
Patrick Weissenberger on Unsplash

To put that in perspective, the entire European Union has a GDP of $17.11 trillion. China’s GDP is a relatively paltry $11.39 trillion, and the next closest country, Japan, has a GDP of a mere $4.7 trillion.

Currently, we’re benefiting from moderate unemployment, a high average annual salary, and a business-friendly economic climate.


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