The US is falling behind its developed-nation peers in checking the boxes of progress, according to a recent report from the United Nations Office of Sustainable Development. The country that last year ranked 32nd out of 193 UN member states has dropped 11 places in a single year and now trails even Ukraine and Cuba on the list, coming in just head of Bulgaria.
The ratings are based on a country’s progress in fulfilling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, 17 metrics meant to epitomize societal progress. They include concrete achievements like “clean water and sanitation” and “zero hunger” alongside less defined aims like “quality education” and “responsible consumption and production,” but all are described on the UN’s website as critical to implementing the organization’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – something all member nations have agreed to do.
Scandinavian countries lead the UN’s rankings for 2022, with Finland at number one and Denmark, Sweden and Norway rounding out the top four. The first non-European country to make the list is Japan, which narrowly made the top 20 at 19.
Historian Kathleen Frydl blamed racism and “American exceptionalism” for the US’ purported decline in her piece for The Conversation on Friday, arguing the former has “cheated many Americans out of the healthcare, education, economic security and environment they deserve” while the latter “keeps the country from candid appraisals and course correction” amid a rise in ill-defined “threats to democracy.”
Certainly, surging economic equality and a two-year sustained drop in life expectancy would appear to put the US on the wrong side of several of the Goals, including “good health and well-being,” “no poverty,” and “reduced inequalities.” However, the UN ranked its performance on two of those three as improved, with only the inequality metric showing negative, and focused instead on a supposed decline in “responsible consumption and production.”
The UN is not the only entity to flag the US as a nation in decline. The Economist classified it as a “flawed democracy” earlier this year in its evaluation of the “state of democracy” worldwide. Its metrics take into account countries’ electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties.