April 19th, 2014
10:09 AM ET

How U.S. is lagging on quality of life

Fareed speaks with Michael Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School, about a groundbreaking new Social Progress Index – and how the United States is lagging on many indicators. Watch the video for the full interview or on GPS this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

You were shocked at what you learned about America.

Yes, I think this wasn’t the picture of America that I think many of us Americans have – that we are a leader, a social leader, that we've advanced the ball in terms of opportunity and the needs of our citizens. And it shows anything but that.

So if you look at the Social Progress Index, on the whole, what's striking is the top countries are New Zealand, Switzerland, Iceland, these small countries. But basically then a lot of European countries and Canada beat the United States.


The United States is 16, Ireland is ahead of it, Japan is ahead of it, Britain is ahead of it, Germany is ahead of it.


What does that tell us? What does that measure?

So this effort tries to really, for the first time ever, take let's call it the social or community or quality of life dimensions of a society, and capture those in a rigorous measurement framework – using the best data available in the world. That's the best and objective measures of these various multiple things. But of course, social progress is a broad concept.

Right. And that's where you break it down into these subcategories. Health and wellness, Japan is number one, Italy is number two, Switzerland is number three. You have to go all the way to 70 to get to the United States.

It's an area where the U.S. – if you actually look objectively, we're just not delivering. We actually spend the most money on this of any country in the world, probably in all of recorded history, in terms of our health care budget every year. But in terms of the actual outcomes – and by the way, the Social Progress Index measures the outcomes you achieve, not how much you spend, not how much you care, not whether you have a big heart…



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Topics: Economy • GPS Show • United States

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  1. Chris

    People don't make progress as they are to lazy to work for it and waiting for a handout. We're becoming a welfare country with many thinking someone owes them something. Stop having kids you can't afford and maybe life will get better.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  2. jdoe

    As always, Americans have the solution to this problem: Just close your eyes, cover your ears, and repeat to yourself over and over, "We're the best! We're the best!"

    April 20, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Reply
    • JFHNTX

      we're the fattest, dumbest, poor people in the world.

      April 20, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Reply
      • Harry

        "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

        April 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm |
    • MattD

      We are the best. Not perfect, but less imperfect than everyone else.

      April 20, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Reply
      • lyleeloo

        Were you being sarcastic?

        April 20, 2014 at 8:54 pm |
      • Kevin

        Why are we the best? Is it because we have 7-11 on every street corner? This proves how most Americans feel. They are unaware of how others live as they have failed to account for the lives of others. See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. It all makes sense here. If you fail to open your eyes and ears and only speak the gosphel of the USA, you will never know any different.

        April 20, 2014 at 8:58 pm |
      • MattD

        Nope, not sarcastic. The US is not perfect, but I have been all over the world, met all kinds of people from all over, and the only other nation I truly accept as worthy of leadership is Germany.

        April 20, 2014 at 9:02 pm |
      • MattD

        Have any of you people ever been to other countries and seen how people live? I'm not talking the beautiful tourist Meccas, but the the real places full of ordinary workers and off the beaten path.

        April 20, 2014 at 9:04 pm |
      • R Calling

        MattD: You may have traveled all over the world, but you don't sound like you've been to Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Holland, NZ. Or for that matter, to outside French quarters in NO, or in South Central LA, or any of the ramshackle, potholed, crime infested, high unemployment, ghetto areas all over this country. If you had, you wouldn't make such a bold and quite ignorant proclamation. Take any category, starting with education, life expectancy, health cost, any of the numerous happiness indicators, compare the US to the countries that are ranked above it, and make your statement again.
        I'll breathlessly await your smart comeback.
        BTW, 97 countries and counting.

        April 20, 2014 at 9:25 pm |
      • angela

        Yup I have not just travelled a lot, and not just that but have lived in other countries and run a business in 3 other countries. Nope we are nowhere #1. By almost any measure we are not just no longer #1 but are falling further behind every year. Our medical care is comparatively worse every year, we are less economically secure, we spend more hours working and with less to show for it. Our educational system has fallen behind. significantly. Housing? well our houses are larger on average but that is about all. Yes I have not only been where ordinary people live in Canada, the UK, Denmark, Norway and Holland but I have actually lived there, still have a flat in South London right near the Pepys housing Estate. Their standard of living is higher, their medical care is better, they are more secure financially, and when you take into consideration what we spend on medical care in the US, they are actually wealthier.

        April 20, 2014 at 9:52 pm |
      • Andi

        In fact I have be3en to many other countries MattD. Have you ever been to Detroit? South side of Chicago? East LA.? Baltimore? Bedford Stuyvesant? -- I could go on and on but I think it would be a futile effort to prove a point that you will never grasp.

        April 20, 2014 at 10:37 pm |
    • Trypax

      Michael Porter is a professor at Harvard BUSINESS School. He's a giant in his field of business strategy. You know, capitalist business strategy. Do a Google Search on him. Your knee jerk reaction to his findings shows your close-mindedness.

      April 20, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Reply
    • Joe Peterson

      How many of these countries ranked above the USA....... Have similar liberal immigration policies? Have absorbed a wide range of immigrants (some less determined or qualified than others)? Were built upon a heterogeneous population? Were developed with a permanent underclass? What is the criteria of these reports? etc....

      April 20, 2014 at 9:01 pm | Reply
      • sixthromeo

        Agree, the article is a lie. ALL members of the European Union should be lumped together and shown as the EU; all 50 of the states are lumped together as the United States of America; all of the states of Mexico are lumped together as the United States of Mexico. These comparisons of tiny, nothing, little places like Ireland or Iceland cannot compare. Yes, even Iceland belongs to a Nordic Commonwealth; it is who bailed out their economy and Iceland is up to its teeth in hock to them.

        April 20, 2014 at 9:17 pm |
      • HuusAsking

        England's pretty diverse. They take in people from all over the Commonwealth, including South Africa, the West Indies, Australia, even India. As for immigration, consider Australia, who has to deal with people from the islands to the north all the time, to the point the UN has had to get involved.

        April 21, 2014 at 3:47 am |
    • Jaymarah

      Um – when were we really # 1 – The Boomers are so obsessed with perfection and have fallen for the "we're number one" line far too long. They have used it to only empower self-serving politicians who create useless policies that enrich them and their friends. I don't care if we are number one in every little thing deemed necessary by some talking head. America needs to get back to writing it's own story instead of constantly playing "keep up with the joneses" in the world.

      April 20, 2014 at 10:36 pm | Reply
    • jim

      lol you are so right. Americans are probably the most easily brainwashed people by their own government and news media. We rate in so many categories lower than most countries, but we chant that we are the best. Only thing we rate the best at is being the world police and having a ridiculous military and military bases around the world. Half of our wars were not based off our freedom. They were based off of power and money. Welcome to the great US of A where the American dream is nothing but a dream....

      April 20, 2014 at 11:09 pm | Reply
  3. Alex

    U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!...

    April 20, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  4. Ted

    What a terrible hit piece in support of Obamacare, the the vast majority of Americans don't want. So the author rates all the Socialist countries ahead if us? Maybe you should travel some and get actual facts instead of liberal partisan garbage. CNN should never have allowed the article as it lowers you to CNBC.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Reply
    • Joe Blow

      I have. Clearly you haven't.

      April 20, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Reply
    • Rich

      You need to learn what socialism is. Most of these nations are a mixture of socialism and capitalism. The US practices socialism as well. What do you think public education is?

      April 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Reply
      • Norm

        You're not seriously holding up our public education system as something socialism should be proud of, are you?

        April 20, 2014 at 10:50 pm |
    • Sean

      I grew up in England and Germany, and would move back in a second if I could.

      April 20, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Reply
      • Chuck

        Lived in both as well as Canada. I can certainly understand our sentiment. I had to come back because I was transferred back. But, now that I'm retired, I think I prefer warmer climates.

        April 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm |
      • MattD

        I would love to live in or near Munich, Stuttgart or Cologne. The UK is a dying crap heap.

        April 20, 2014 at 9:10 pm |
    • Chuck

      Socialist countries like Germany? I've traveled the globe, and lived in three countries beside the US (UK, German, Canada). I doubt that you are as well traveled as you would have us believe.

      April 20, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Reply
    • Brandon

      If you were paying attention, that was not in support of Obamacare. Most of those countries have single-payer healthcare systems. They don't use this god awful system where prices are set by the insurance companies and biomed monopolies.

      April 20, 2014 at 11:02 pm | Reply
    • GTA

      If "the vast majority of Americans" truly did not want Obamacare, then you have a bigger problem than Obamacare. You have a Congress that does not listen to the people. So, why don't you cite that? However, I don't agree with your original assertion, mainly because I suspect it is rooted in conservative talking points and without substance.

      April 20, 2014 at 11:17 pm | Reply
    • hereswhy

      A large percentage of the people against the conservative-designed Obamacare actually wanted a more liberal healthcare program – single-payer, that releases businesses from managing our health care. Not sure how we ever thought that was a good idea.

      The fact is, son, a pro-life society can't let people suffer and die just because they can't afford outrageous medical bills. It's immoral and the radical right will have to answer to a higher power for their survival-of-the-fittest mantra.

      April 21, 2014 at 12:01 am | Reply
    • D_Moran

      Liberal partisan garbage? The principle author is a professor at Harvard Business School and a Republican. Did you even bother to look at the Social Progress Index or are you just lashing out because it doesn't fit your preconceived notions? He has reams of data to back up his thesis. Where are your "actual facts"?

      Google these terms: global infant mortality, life expectancy, OECD student test scores, social mobility rankings. You will see that the US does not lead in these categories.

      You can't fix a problem if you can't even bring yourself to acknowledge it even exists.

      Over the last thirty years the upper-middle and wealthy classes have done quite well. The middle class has stagnated and the lower classes have become poorer. It's the plight of the latter group that has weighed on the US ranking.

      The solution is not just throwing money at the problem or "bigger government". Greece spends more money on social programs as a percentage of GDP than the US and is ranked a dismal 35th. It lies in a more effective allocation of resources.

      April 21, 2014 at 12:55 am | Reply
  5. Marty

    Obama can fix this, he can fix anything. NOT!!

    April 20, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Reply
    • christian

      maybe one individual at a time can start to fix this by being accountable. maybe it can start with you rather than the defacto and ignorant obama (or any politician) blame game

      April 20, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Reply
      • maggieheyoka

        its nice to see there are still hopeless optimists in the US.

        April 21, 2014 at 8:42 am |
    • hereswhy

      When children like you give an opinion, a superior mind can't help but wonder if you have any idea how our government works. It was designed with checks and balances so that one person can never have too much power or control. Even if Obama were able to fix all our problems, he would have to balance his capacities with the desires of those who oppose his policies and their relative political power.

      From that compromised position for all sides emerges policy, not from one guy. Please educate yourself if you wish to participate in future discussions. Thank you.

      April 21, 2014 at 12:03 am | Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Our quality of life "lags" because our economy competes internationally. The quality of life of most international countries is below the U.S. More and cheaper workers that import cheaper goods into the U.S. means the U.S. worker will either accept less or go home. It's no secret. Our legislators passed laws that allowed our corporations to make more money by importing cheaper goods made with cheaper labor. So the minimum wage laws are just GREAT....if you're serving Dunkin Donuts coffee or flipping McDonald burgers. But most jobs that used to provide a living for a family are gone overseas so we could buy cheaper goods, if we have any money.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Reply
    • Chuck

      The quality of life is above the US in most industrialized countries. However, if you want to compare us to other third world countries....

      April 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Reply
      • sixthromeo

        It is not, at all, the USA is a total of 50 countries; try comparisons listing all 50 of the states.

        April 20, 2014 at 9:12 pm |
  7. foolmeonceshameonmefoolmetwice...aintgonnafoolmeagain

    Why anyone would argue so passionately for either party amazes me.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Reply
  8. Truth

    If you remove the Deep South (Conservative GOP states like Mississippi) from the Index calculation I bet the USA would rise to the top.

    Face it, Conservative hold America back.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Reply
    • Wolf

      As long as you believe in a 2 party system run by only one group you will always be a tool...no more...no less...just a tool.

      April 20, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      More likely that if you removed the major metro areas that are run by Dems we'd be further ahead. There's nothing that Dems/Liberals/Progressives have touched that doesn't eventually collapse under greed and sloth.

      April 20, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Reply
      • readerpan

        Denial of reality.

        April 20, 2014 at 11:44 pm |
  9. Simon

    For those readers who are young, educated and mobile ... get out of the USA while you still can. There are much better places in the world to live ... much, much better. Do some research and visit around a bit ... while you still have time.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Reply
    • MK

      So where do you recommend?

      April 20, 2014 at 10:13 pm | Reply
    • christian

      studying abroad is a great option

      April 20, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  10. JC

    The US lags because of how quality of life factors are scored. You get points for what percent of the population meets a certain level, but you don't get extra points for the percent that significantly exceeds the certain level. So if they were rating homelessness, for example, you would be scored highly for having the smallest percentage of homeless but not on the quality of homes that the majority lives in. I don't think that a simple "quality of life" ranking can tell the whole story.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Reply
  11. BB

    Why not Google "World Bank Whistleblower Karen Hudes Reveals How The Global Elite Rule The World"? inside look from Karen Hudes (a graduate of Yale Law School who worked in the legal department of the World Bank for more than 20 years.)

    April 20, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • lancew

      Um, I googled her and she's crazy. Please research..... the reason internet chatboards are garbage heap.

      April 20, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Reply
  12. sixthromeo

    The United States of America is fifty countries in a single union. Ireland has no population and no land mass in comparison to a total of fifty other countries united in the states or in comparison to a total of fifty other countries. These articles are written by communist USA haters.

    April 20, 2014 at 9:10 pm | Reply
    • GTA

      You must be joking because you could not possibly be that stupid.

      April 20, 2014 at 11:27 pm | Reply
  13. Wolf

    Who cares...either we're envied or despised...again it's what other countries think...the same countries that love U.S. currency but hate it's citizens, the same countries that say our hospitals a medieval but everyone comes here to exploit the services...Sticks and stones may break my bones but they'll eventually heal so you can imagine how feel about name calling...

    April 20, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  14. James Steinham

    Where reality meets fact! At the end of the day, America has failed socially to take care of it's citizens. I see some people quoting other third world countries or less developed countries. But this same reality stares back at us right in our backyard – Orleans, Detroit...to name a few. But we turn away and some how afford to believe that this is not in our very land.

    April 20, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Reply
    • John Doe

      America wasn't built to take care of its citizens. America was built by people who knew how to take care of themselves. If you want socialism, leave, go abroad. If you want to compare "averages" across the board, I'm sure that America doesn't come out on top. We're not about averages. We're about living the dream. Sounds cliche, I know, but that's what this country was built on – not providing a cushy life for the masses, but built on freedom to do what you want, live how you want. Freedom to pick and choose your own healthcare, education, etc and not have the government tax you like in the EU (50% of your salary – gone, for those making ~ $100k or more) to give you what THEY think you "should" have.

      April 20, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  15. countingdown

    "I have several generations,"

    Should read: I've live through several,

    April 20, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  16. Galactus

    Deport the 12 million illegal aliens living in the United States and you will improve the quality of life.

    April 20, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Reply
    • Freduardo

      Yes, deporting the illegal aliens would help but the number is more like 25 million.

      April 20, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Reply
    • christian

      can we also deport the large amount of fat, lazy and ugly people along with them?

      April 20, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Reply
    • GTA

      Deporting the illegals would improve the quality of life? Really?
      As John McCain said a couple of years ago, these are the people who tend our pools and gardens, pick our crops, clean our hotels and look after our children. If they don't do these things, who will?

      April 20, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Reply
      • Jaymarah

        America was built on cheap free labor – Irish Slaves, Indian Slaves, African slaves, Chinese Slaves and now Latin America. Get people here with force or empty promises and then exploit them – old story new players.

        April 21, 2014 at 12:16 am |
  17. barb'sbarb

    Why do we lag behind? Because we spend billions on war and enrich the military industrial complex at the expense of the American people - which was the very thing that Republican President and World War II General Eisenhower warned us ....

    April 20, 2014 at 9:47 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      Psst... all that money goes to people who are actually working. Engineers, accountants, project managers, factory workers, machinists, etc. Your beef seems to be that we prefer to give our money to people who work and not to the lazy ones that don't.

      April 20, 2014 at 11:07 pm | Reply
      • readerpan

        The fact is that those same people can build lots of things we need more than a war machine. You should try thinking instead of parroting GOTP talking points.

        April 20, 2014 at 11:50 pm |
  18. znnnewsnet0875

    Follow the Money !
    Beg to –ask where is the money spent --and who's pocket doe's it in up in.
    As we all know, the system depends on the money moving threw it like blood moving threw the body.

    If you find it hiding in Banks are if it not in the states then that's part of the answer, if you find it let me know.
    Let me ask you what did you get out of the last two Wars and if you made no money then that is part of the answer.
    One more thing who made money from those Wars and there's your Answer !

    April 20, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  19. christian

    we lag because we put greed front and center in this country. Our culture is centered around buying stuff and making money. We have also evolved into a self- centric "me" society that is instigated by social media. Every time I look around, I honestly feel that a large majority of americans (rich, poor, middle class, white, black, hispanic) are devolving.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:10 pm | Reply
  20. Alex

    I don't like how I have to use my car to get around everywhere, even crucial places like the grocery store, parks, work. If you use public transportation or walk anywhere, that basically means you are poor and can't afford a car. I wish there was a choice.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:11 pm | Reply
  21. Raba ca dabra

    Given the size of the population the area of the country in sq miles and the size of the economy, i think it is a no contest we are way ahead of anyones dream, but if you comoare the number of cents in a $ going away from the poor to the filthy rich, it has gone way up in the past 40 years, Quality of life in general it will take another 25 – 50 years to deteiorate to level being suggested, some measurables like internet speed, modern education etc it is unfair to compare a country as bug a US to Finland, Ireland or Latvia the only true comparision should be to CHINA and INDIA and lets see who comes up ahead, so all in all, i wouldnt worry bout anything but the income dsiparity maybe a redistribution of wealth must come about .............

    April 20, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Reply
    • powder99

      You want to compare the US to China and India?

      April 21, 2014 at 12:32 am | Reply
  22. Freduardo

    Quality of life in the US has declined because of MASS IMMIGRATION the country has grown too much too fast.
    The population has grown from 200 million in 1967 to 315 million in 2014 an increase of 63% in 46 years has been
    more than this country can handle.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:20 pm | Reply
    • David

      Plus the recent immigrants build their own commnities. No more melting pot. Many only conduct commerce with each other, send money back to their country to bring more here, and hire their kind at interviews. This country used to be about diversity, but now its about race.

      April 20, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  23. HB

    No facts here just socialist propaganda.
    If you've done any traveling at all, you know – life is better here in the USA.
    This read was total garbage.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Reply
    • Stephen Colbert

      Yeah, the US is number 70. There were 69 more countries better for Fareed Zakaria to choose from when he left India, and he chose the US.

      April 20, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  24. Jaymarah

    Um – when were we really # 1 – The Boomers are so obsessed with perfection and have fallen for the "we're number one" line far too long. They have used it to only empower self-serving politicians who create useless policies that enrich them and their friends. I don't care if we are number one in every little thing deemed necessary by some talking head. America needs to get back to writing it's own story instead of constantly playing "keep up with the joneses" in the world.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  25. a bird's eye view

    America has some of the very finest people who inhabit our Earth. As well, there are some of the greediest people who deleteriously affect every aspect of life. We can debate the validity of the findings in relation to other countries, but what seems to be more obvious is the brokenness and inability of our political system and Washington in general to substantively improve the lot of our citizens. I respect those who take the time to comment on this and other important matters, and I think that our nation's fate will be in the hands of truly caring and committed individuals who will do everything within their power to improve things at the level they can.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  26. Major Lee Delicious

    We wouldn't be lagging behind if we had more guns. There is no problem America can't solve with more guns.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Reply
  27. Stephen Colbert

    Yeah, the US is number 70. There were 69 more countries better for Fareed Zakaria to choose from when he left India, and he chose the US.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  28. abcontador

    The poison of religion and low income/poorly educated slums pull the numbers down

    April 20, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  29. Balls of Steel

    We wouldn't lagging if we didn't let so many people in the country or finance other countries.

    April 20, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  30. mosesscurry

    What no one ever considers with any of this is population. It is much, much easier to manage counties of 50 million, 100 million than 300+ million. Then take into consideration the mass migration of illegal immigration and the vast differences in cultural ideals in our country compared to others and you may start to understand the why. It's easy to mange Iceland when your population is the size of a small US town and your a single race and culture. I'm sorry folks but diversity isn't always a great thing.

    April 20, 2014 at 11:20 pm | Reply
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