Topic: Liberal Fascism
The specious comparison is a staple of progressive rhetoric, especially popular on those frequent occasions when the Enlightened seek to bash the Land of E Pluribus Unum. For instance: “Among developed countries, the United States [insert unflattering factoid].” And yes, indeed, it seems shocking that the United States has a higher rate of this or a lower rate of that than other developed countries—until you stop to ponder just what is meant by the term “developed countries.”
Here are five countries that are usually classed as “developed”: the United States, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic. How much do these countries actually have in common? Or to put it another way, how probative are comparisons between and among them? It may be true, for example, that the murder rate in Denmark is much lower than it is in the United States—but is it really possible to put one’s finger on two or three specific factors that make the difference? Yes, say progressives who employ the “developed countries” comparison. But an argument is only as good as the assumptions on which it rests, which in this case is the “developed countries” model.
According to Wikipedia, a developed country is defined as “a sovereign state that has a highly developed economy and advanced technological infrastructure relative to other less industrialized nations. Most commonly, the criteria for evaluating the degree of economic development are gross domestic product (GDP), gross national product (GNP), the per capita income, level of industrialization, amount of widespread infrastructure and general standard of living.” Which criteria should be used and how they should be applied is, according to Wikipedia, a subject for debate among experts, but this definition will do for present purposes.
Now obviously the five nations listed above— the United States, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic—each fit within this definition. That is, both the US and, say, the Czech Republic are “developed.” But there the similarities end, for the definition of “developed country” excludes a myriad of factors—historical, cultural, social, demographic, economic, political—that give the two countries their unique national characters. And when comparisons are made between and among “developed countries,” all these factors are, literally by definition, left out of consideration.
In some sense of course all countries are “developed”; that is, their present condition is the outcome of all the factors that called them into being and shaped their character. “National character” is, indeed, a slippery concept that has often been put to intellectually dishonest uses. But a France without the French Revolution, an England without tea or suet pudding, would hardly be the France and England we know. Every country is unique, even those that grew from the same root. A Dane would hardly thank you for lumping his country together with Sweden, nor would a Canadian appreciate having her country caricatured as America Lite. Consider the so-called Anglosphere countries: Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Certainly they have their similarities but a visitor from one to any of the others would be equally if not more greatly struck by the differences.
For a comparison between the United States and some other developed country to be valid, all historical, cultural, social, demographic, economic, political factors ought to be taken into account. This being plainly impossible—no one person or group of persons is capable of weighing them all and a large number are unknown and perhaps even unknowable—any such comparison must surely be regarded with skepticism. This is not to say that such comparisons are without value. There’s nothing wrong in principle with looking at the Swiss healthcare system and asking one’s self if it could serve as a model for US healthcare reform. But that’s not where progressives are coming from with their specious comparisons between the US and other “developed countries.” For them it’s all about cosmic justice and virtue signaling. “Why can’t we be more like Canada, Denmark, France…?” progressives ask. The question is rhetorical in their minds but there’s an answer and it’s obvious: because we’re not Canadian, Danish or French.
Conservative solutions to social problems are often dismissed by progressives as “simplistic,” for instance when the former opine that the most effective way to fight crime is to arrest, convict and imprison more criminals. But this, we are told, takes no account of the “root causes” of crime, nor does it address the challenges of rehabilitation, etc. and so forth. In short, the problem is defined as being too complex to be solved by straightforward law enforcement methods. That poverty programs and rehabilitation of criminals have had no discernable effects on the crime rate, while on the other hand locking up more criminals correlates strongly with a decades-long fall in the crime rate, are inconvenient facts that are waved aside with appeals to “complexity.” But virtually in the same breath we’re told that the United States lags behind other “developed nations” in this or that category, as if the French tax system of France or the welfare systems of Scandinavia would be workable in a country so unlike them. Few comparisons are as simplistic—and specious—as that.