America is Great, U.S. Health Care is Bad

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 15 2012 2:17 PM

The Importance of Noncomprehensive International Comparisons

I had a curious exchange on Twitter the other day with James Pethokoukis. Basically my point was that the French health care system is much better than the American health care system and his counterargument was that the United States is substantially richer than France.

Interestingly, when the United States isn't one of the two countries being compared, people seem to not fall into this fallacy. Nobody denies that Denmark is richer and has better economic policy than Italy or that Italy has tastier food, better weather, and more amazing renaissance paintings than Denmark. Danes could learn a lot from Italy about making pizza, which isn't the same as saying that Danish people should strive to make their country "like Italy."*


I happen to think the United States of America is a great country and has some of the very best economic policy in the whole wide world. That's one of the reason we're so rich and successful. And it's a story that liberals ignore at their peril. At the same time, to say that American policy on the whole is better than French policy (in France, for example, a supermarket can't be open on Sunday afternoons) doesn't mean there aren't specific things France is doing better. Their passenger trains are better than ours, for example, and their health care system is better. Don't take my word for it—ask the editor of America's premiere libertarian magazine or the OECD, which notes (PDF) that "France even scores best among the OECD countries on amenable mortality – that is, mortality that could be avoided thanks to timely and effective health care."

Which is all just to say that it becomes unnecessarily difficult to learn valuable lessons from abroad if every international comparison is reduced to a totalizing culture war controversy about the overall merits of the United States or the American way of life.

*Clarification, Aug. 16: An earlier version of this item got Italy and Denmark mixed up here.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

It’s Fine to Use Facebook to Serve People With Legal Papers, Court Rules

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?