March 4th, 2011
04:10 PM ET

Hans Rosling shows the world catching up to America

Hans Rosling, a professor at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, is a sword-swallowing statistician, best known for his astonishing moving graphs that bring trends to life and make "data sing."  Hans founded Gapminder, which uses moving bubbles to highlight the world’s most important trends.

In the new video above produced for CNN, Hans shows us how the world has progressed in the last hundred and fifty years.  The story Hans tells highlights the central idea we need to understand, which is that this new world is less about America falling behind than about the rest of the world catching up to America.

America is indisputably #1 by some key measures. But it is falling behind in many other keys areas.  For example:

–  The United States is the 4th most competitive country in the world.

–  We’re only the 5th best country in which to run a business.

– Our infrastructure ranks 23rd, as compared to other nations.

– We’re 41st in the world on infant mortality…and 49th on life expectancy.

Perhaps most worrying, America is no longer a place where anyone can make it. In a 2005 study of social mobility across generations – basically how likely is it that you can move out of the economic class you were born into – the U.S. came last of the six countries examined, behind Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Canada and even Britain.

There is one important place where we’re #1: On our total debt to other countries.

Now, of course there are many positive places where we’re still #1, too.  The U.S. is still the world’s largest economy, we are the world’s largest market for goods, we’re still #1 in innovation.

So…the picture is more mixed than the rhetoric about America as #1 suggests. The question addressed in the special is what it would take to keep America comfortably at # 1. Tune in at 8PM ET this Sunday.

For more videos by Hans, check out the viral video, "200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes" and his TED talk on Asia's rise.

Also, tune in on Sunday at 8PM ET and PT. Fareed Zakaria GPS will air a one-hour special on “Restoring the American Dream,” with scholars Niall FergusonJeffrey Sachs,Dambisa Moyo and Joseph Nye (who will be taking your questions online next week).

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Topics: Economy • Global

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Monica Campana

    We're still number one in innovation. The emphasis on test scores as opposed to problem solving, information literacy and critical thinking will not help us maintain this designation. You get what you pay for and testing companies thrive while teachers are blamed and fired.

    March 5, 2011 at 5:24 am | Reply
    • Les Birdsall

      Blaming teachers for the performance of our education system is stupid. It's a counter-productive political campaign promoted by conservative Republicans. Why aren't they pressing leaders – – superintendents, principals and, most of all, education deans to produce a system capable of achieving universal student proficiency. Our 100 year old factory school is not capable of doing this. Please note, problem-solving, analysis, project management, leadership, teamwork, etc. – – all critical elements of the education we need were never a powerful part of the existing factory school.

      We need a newly designed education system.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:33 am | Reply
      • Cumulonimbus

        Parents may be more to blame than teachers anyway. My children don't have paid teachers at all, nor do they have a well-defined curriculum arbitrarily defined by adults. Yet, their standardized test scores exceed those of their peers in the well ranked local public school. Their curiosity thrives, they show excitement for learning, and they retain their childhoods (including real play time).

        March 6, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
      • tom

        Blame it on video games and excessive porn.

        March 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
      • jjheinis

        The reason why the US is in such a fix is that Americans tend to take the easy way out: We are a nation of videogamers, used car salesman and consumers who obsess on taxation and "evil big government". Education is an industry where students are the raw material and graduates are the finished product. American business is not dominated by engineers, technocrats or scientists but by finance whose sole goal is to maximize short term return. In Limbaughland, we focus on hating them librals calling them socialists and communists rather than working together to solve our nation's problems. It is easier to replace Americans with smart asians from India and China than to train them. Of course, this is a jingoistic nation which does not look at the facts. Instead, we shout "We're number one" and "ah hates librals". We could do better but won't.

        March 8, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Pete Campana

      I fully agree with Monica. Yes, our innovation is a high point. It is this inventiveness that attract minds from around the world.
      So many bright minds come to our country for their education. What a true compliement to our nation.

      March 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Reply
    • Robert

      Maybe it's better...let other countrys have the same kind of rat race,no time to relax,constant competition,everybody from around the world flooding into THEIR country trying to find success,and see how they enjoy it.Maybe we can relax and be content for once,and not worry about competition and money.

      March 6, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      Dear Monica
      Unfortunately we (US) are not number 1 in innovation.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Reply
    • Evan

      There are many factors behind innovation and the chances to lose it. One of these is seen playing out in the school boards across the US with the watering down of science and critical thinking that goes with it. The efforts being made to distract science by attempts to put creationism into the science room is one example. Darwin's theory of evolution is a fact. It forms the basis of our understanding of biology – biology which brings about advances in crop quality or improvements to medicine. Without a fundamental such as evolution being understood the way it should be then the innovators of tomorrow will always be learing with one arm tied behind their backs and slipping further behind.

      March 7, 2011 at 11:58 am | Reply
    • MannyHM

      Singapore system of public caning for bad behavior and minor crime as well as hanging for major crimes makes people there behave. Spitting and throwing wrappers are prohibited and has an equivalent penalty. It's a small country that they have to protect. They are forced to be good (actually obedient or else...). Here in the big USA, if you don't like living where you are, you can easily move to another place. Discipline is lacking except in the military and the judicial system.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      I think you're ignoring the fact that many of those excellent minds that actually innovate are foreign students that come to America simply because of the opportunities there.

      The Chinese, Indians, Europeans that are working on the next great thing move to the US because of the market and capital. Otherwise they would start their companies back home.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  2. Russian Sphinx

    Perfect, it shows how big diversity is in China, so big differences between Chinese districts. I did chart showing changes in consumption of alcoholic beverages in Russian regions
    Now I am collecting data to build other charts for Russian regions.

    March 5, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  3. Hard Truth

    The answer is to stop listening to people named Fareed, or Hussein. America falls behind when her military power is not respected. The chief disrespecters are hippies, foreigners, and Democrats. Laugh it off, but its the facts.

    March 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Reply
    • reality

      the answer is to start listening to educated opinions,and think for ourselves. Americas military is respected more today than 10 years ago. its power is unquestioned by most. The change has come like an echo from the past our military considers itself to be liberators not conquerors. Our military seeks peace and alliances with Arabs not colonies or territories. The chief dis respecters are reactionaries, and those in love with the practice of imperialism. oh yeah and self important xenophobes.

      March 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Reply
    • JayDubb

      I have to agree and well said.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:32 am | Reply
    • susanne

      narrow minded thinking

      March 8, 2011 at 8:54 am | Reply
  4. PJ

    Thanks to 8 years of Cheney/Bush getting us into two wars the US has run into trouble. Obama came along just in time and is turning it around.

    March 6, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Reply
    • Cumulonimbus

      How can you blame Bush for starting the war in Afghanistan? If I recall correctly, sending forces there had broad bipartisan support, and I expect that had Gore been elected through the existing system, the trigger for the war would not have changed (after all, the terrorists did not really care who was president), and he would likely have sent forces there as well.

      March 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Reply
      • Westland

        "Support" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was not spontaneous.....the Americans had to apply economic and political pressure.

        March 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  5. Les

    I don't see the U.S regaining its status as number 1 in areas of math and science and the resultant productivity that comes from being at or near the top in those areas because the school systems are a disaster and they won't be fixed because Americans are afraid of imposing more regimentation in the schools. The kids are basically running the schools. There is absolutely no discipline in the public schools and we as a society are afraid to impose any. You can have the best looking schools with the best equipment and the best teachers but you until you have discipline in the schools like they have in the countries that are leading in the aforementioned areas the U.S can forget it. I have talked to more teachers who have been cussed out, threatened and some even beaten. They can't wait to get out of the school system. In this country adults are afraid of being and acting like adults when it comes to kids. The kids and irresponsible adults are setting the standards.

    March 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Reply
    • Bert in UT

      I agree, and would add lack of parent involvement. Too many parents expect the schools to do all the work of raising and educating their children. Without a supportive home environment that values education the kids will perform poorly no matter how good the teachers are.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  6. HealthyWealthy Corner

    I think the article is over generalizing. The plot is merely of lifespan (y axis) to the per capita income (x axis). First, human lifespan is finite and is seldom known to be greater than, say 100 years. So, unless we find the fountain of youth, US (or any other western country) is unlikely to be seen growing at the pace China is growing. The Asian developing economies have a very low values of lifespan to start off with. So obviously, their slope is going to be steeper (in the graph).
    Secondly, the metric used on the x axis is US dollars (whose value varies across countries). Meaning, 1 US dollar is not worth the same in US and in India. In fact, unless Hans Rosling has accounted for Purchase Power Parity (PPP) in his graphs, all of his conclusions are incorrect.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  7. Concerned

    I hate it when news services talk about infant mortality being high in the U.S. Other countries calculate infant mortality differently than the United States. If a child is born premature in this country and then dies, it counts towards the statistic. In France and other European nations, premature infant deaths are NOT counted in this statistic. No wonder they look so fantastic. Not to say that the U.S. is number 1 in this area, but we are a lot better than CNN is letting on.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      Rubbish. The statistics are collected using the same methods all over the world. You obviously don't know anything about the subject. This information is collected by the World Health Organization. You just can't accept that the US is not #1.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  8. james hicks

    Problem is fair trade. When a country lets countries with less laws, pay and safty send things into the US and then let our companys go to these countries and send things back to this country at no extra cost. This is the problem. Why would a company pay 10 dollars an hour for 8 hours of work when they can pay14 dollars a day for 10 to 12 hours of work. No health care no retirement, no sick leave and no safety on the job. Why is America getting behind? so called fair trade

    March 6, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  9. David Walsh

    What was left unsaid in Hans Rosling's video is that the resources of the planet are insufficient to allow the rest of the world to catch up to the current level of the U.S. unless the world's approach to growth is done in a more sustainable way. The current U.S. model of resource utilization in producing growthwould require at least 3 planets for the rest of the world to catch up.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      While we have a limited amount of resources, they're often recyclable, which would allow for continued growth/production/consumption.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  10. reedabmob

    We as consumers must buy American. When you go to a bar, order Miller beer or Coors, Budweiser. When you order Heineken, Corona, of some other foreign beer you are taking jobs away from American Workers, who are your brothers, sons, friends. And you will be helping the environment. Have you figured out the carbon footprint on a bottle of Heineken, or a bottle of Fuji water, when you can buy local you are doing your country a lot of good. Our appetite for foreign goods, is what is putting America at #4, or #5. China doesnt buy any of our products and here we are buing everything under the sun that is made in China. Stop all this nonsense

    March 7, 2011 at 1:23 am | Reply
    • Joe

      Dude, Budweiser was bought by a Belgium company several years back. Sadly, most companies are multinational now.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:42 am | Reply
  11. J Ang Lopez

    Why so obsessed with being "numero uno" in the whole world? It seems that ZF and his likes are either full of hubris or so insecure about themselves that they have to always keep tabs on how smart, affluent, developed, etc... they are compared to the rest of the world. Yes, US has a lot to brag about but also a lot to be ashamed of. There is no such thing as free lunch – the US attained its leading edge in many areas because it has lagged behind or sacrificed growth in other areas. When you're on the top, there is no way to go but down.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:15 am | Reply
  12. jones

    And why is it that people from all over the world are coming to our universities....begging to get out of their countries and wanting to attend our schools...if we are so ignorant and inept.....

    March 7, 2011 at 11:38 am | Reply
    • Chris

      It has changed. Indians don't have to go to University in the US to get the good jobs any longer. They don't just go to the US either, there are plenty of foreign students all over Europe, Australia and so on.

      One reason people from India, Korea and China want to study abroad is to gain international experience which looks good on their CV back home [where competition is fierce]. It doesn't have to be the US though.

      Another reason is the fact that there is a lot of high risk venture capital in the US making it easy to create a start-up. That's where the US excels. Without that venture capital foreigners would go somewhere else, and the US would miss the next Google! Remember, companies like Google were founded by at least one foreigner.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  13. Harry

    I just wanted to point out how utterly DECEPTIVE Hans Rosling's demonstration is. In case you didn't notice, the x-axis (income) is on a logarithmic scale, so that the same distance is used for the change from $500 to $5000, as is used for $5000 to $50,000. The demonstration goes on to draw lines comparing China's growth (on the low end) to that of the U.S. for the past 30 years without ever pointing this fact out which greatly EXAGGERATES China's growth relative to that of the U.S.

    It blows my mind that a professional statistician would use this kind of demonstration for a lay audience. It's just plain dishonest, he had to have known it would be misinterpreted by most viewers.

    March 8, 2011 at 4:38 am | Reply
  14. Steven Earl Salmony

    Dear Colleagues,

    I trust you will agree with me when I report that human beings with feet of clay everywhere need to have the benefit of the best available science. Otherwise, humanity may venture perilously down the "primrose path" of unsustainable population increase that the self-proclaimed masters of the universe are adamantly advocating and relentlessly pursuing. Perhaps the most revealing "leading indicator" to watch, the one that is being ubiquitously ignored, is the rapid increase of absolute global human population numbers in our time.

    We are routinely presented with plenty of factoids, figures and statistics as well as a misleading and tragically flawed Classical Demographic Transition Model. Where is the scientifically-driven evidence regarding population dynamics and unbridled, skyrocketing growth of the human species on Earth?

    As humanity's most luminous beacon of truth, science provides us with a last best hope for the survival of life as we know it on Earth. We must make certain that scientific evidence is never downplayed, distorted and denied by religious dogma, politics or ideological idiocy.

    Let us not fail for another year to acknowledge extant research of human population dynamics. The willful refusal of many too many experts to assume their responsibilities to science and perform their duties to humanity could be one of the most colossal mistakes in human history. Such woefully inadequate behavior, as is evident in an incredible conspiracy of silence among experts, will soon enough be replaced with truthful expressions by those in possession of clear vision, adequate foresight, intellectual honesty and moral courage.

    Hopefully leading thinkers and researchers will not continue suppressing scientific evidence of human population dynamics and instead heed the words of Nobel Laureate Sir John Sulston regarding the emerging and converging, human-driven global challenges that loom ominously before humankind in our time, “we’ve got to make sure that population is recognized.... as a multiplier of many others. We’ve got to make sure that population really does peak out when we hope it will.”

    Sir John goes on, “what we want to do is to see the issue of population in the open, dispassionately discussed.... and then we’ll see where it goes.”

    In what is admittedly a feeble effort to help John Sulston fulfill his charge to examine all available scientific evidence regarding human population dynamics, please give careful consideration to the following presentation and then take time to rigorously scrutinize the not yet overthrown science from Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation.

    Please accept this invitation to discern the best available science of human population dynamics and human overpopulation; discover the facts; deliberate; draw logical conclusions; and disseminate the knowledge widely.

    Thank you to all for considering this research. Comments from one and all are welcome.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
    Chapel Hill, NC

    March 20, 2011 at 8:52 am | Reply
    • Steven Earl Salmony


      —–Original Message—–

      Sir John Sulston, Chair
      People and the Planet Working Group
      UK Royal Society
      March 31, 2011

      Dear Sir John Sulston:

      Your recent comments regarding the review of research on the human population and its impact on the planet we inhabit by a high level panel of experts give rise to hope for the future of children everywhere. Thanks for all you, the Planet and the People Working Group and the UK Royal Society are doing to protect biodiversity from massive extirpation, the environment from irreversible degradation and the Earth from wanton dissipation of its finite resources by the human species. I am especially appreciative for two quotes from you,

      …… “we’ve got to make sure that population is recognized…. as a multiplier of many others. We’ve got to make sure that population really does peak out when we hope it will.”

      …….”what we want to do is to see the issue of population in the open, dispassionately discussed…. and then we’ll see where it goes.”

      Inasmuch as you and an esteemed group of professionals with appropriate expertise are examining scientific evidence regarding the unbridled increase of absolute global human population numbers, please note there is research that has been summarily dismissed by many too many of our colleagues regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation which I would like to bring to your attention. For the past ten years I have been unsuccessfully attempting to draw attention to certain evidence that to date remains both unchallenged and ignored by virtually every top-rank professional. They appear unable to refute the evidence and simultaneously unwilling to believe it. Their unexpected conspiracy of silence has served to conceal certain research by David Pimentel and Russell Hopfenberg. How else can it be that so many established professionals with adequate expertise act as if they are willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute in the face of scientific evidence of human population dynamics and human overpopulation? The conscious denial of what could somehow be real about the growth of the human population in our time is not doing anything that can be construed as somehow right and good for future human wellbeing and environmental health, I suppose. It appears as if we could be witnesses to the most colossal failure of intellectual honesty, moral courage and nerve in human history.

      Peer-reviewed professional publications, letters to the editor, slideshow presentations et cetera can be found at the following link,

      Thank you for attending to this request for careful, skillful and rigorous scrutiny of research from two outstanding scientists. Please know I am holding onto a ray of hope that the research of Hopfenberg and Pimentel is fundamentally flawed; that human population dynamics is different from, not essentially similar to, the population dynamics of other species; and that human population numbers are not primarily a function of an available supply of food necessary for human existence. That would be the best news.

      Sometime soon, I trust, many scientists will speak up with regard to apparently unforeseen and unfortunately unwelcome science of human population dynamics and human overpopulation the way people in huge numbers in the Mid-East are calling out for democracy now.

      Respectfully yours,

      Steve Salmony

      Steven Earl Salmony
      AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
      Established 2001

      April 3, 2011 at 8:29 am | Reply
  15. Steven Earl Salmony

    In the name of scientific integrity will someone with appropriate expertise, please, pray tell us, what scientists and professional researchers with appropriate expertise have known, based upon the best availabile scientific evidence, about the population dynamics of the human species? During my lifetime, what did so-called experts know and when did you know it? Why the worldwide conspiracy of silence concerning human overpopulation issues in the past 66 years?

    The family of humanity as well as much of life as we know it are now here inhabitants of a finite planet with a frangible environment that is failing fast. What really matters is being inadvertently ruined on our watch by the human population, but is not being openly discussed. My ‘blood boils’ in the truth that we have possessed knowledge of so much about ourselves as human beings with feet of clay and acknowledged so little about what has been known for so long about our distinctly human creatureliness, based upon extensive empirical research and unchallenged scientific evidence. Elective mutism and silent consent in the face of the reckless degradation, relentless dissipation and willful sell-off of what everyone knows to be sacred looks to me like the worst of all precipitants of the colossal ecological wreckage that appears in the offing.

    Inside and outside the community of top rank scientists, as well as among first class professionals in demography and economics who claim appropriate expertise in issues concerning human overpopulation, one issue is not being discussed by anyone. A worldwide conspiracy of silence continues to prevail about the population dynamics of the human species. The last of the last taboos is the open discussion of extant scientific research of human population dynamics. The implications of this astounding denial of what could somehow be real are potentially profound for the future of life on Earth, I suppose.

    Within the human community a tiny minority of self-proclaimed masters of the universe hold the ‘destiny’ of all in their hands. This elite group is operating behind the scenes these days and “growing” the global economy to such a colossal scale that it could soon become patently unsustainable on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth because our planetary home is not, definitely not “too big to fail.”

    Hurry up, please, it is time for speaking out loudly, clearly and often before it is too late for human action to matter. Like it or not, ready or not, intellectually honest and morally courageous scientists have unassumed responsibilities to science…. and unfulfilled duties to humanity that must be performed.

    August 1, 2011 at 5:41 am | Reply
  16. Steven Earl Salmony

    January 10, 2015 at 8:57 am | Reply

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