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

soundoff (1,080 Responses)
  1. MACT

    The bottom-line is that the things that make other countries so much better cost money. For whatever reason the American spirit is "I want to keep it all for myself", so Americans are averse to paying the kind of taxes that are needed to support the type of social amenities described in the article.

    April 21, 2014 at 7:49 am |
  2. ug

    Oh boohoo...someone didn't get their welfare check in the mail yet...

    April 21, 2014 at 7:54 am |
  3. iceload

    We all know the problem is unrestrained corporations that operate with the support of govt. This isn't the case in other countries. Civilized countries realize there must be restraints on these immense organizations. But we are moving in the opposite direction of "corporations are people" and "money is speech". This is the root cause of our immense military spending, runaway healthcare costs, unemployment and the continuous forming of monopolies.

    April 21, 2014 at 7:56 am |
  4. Willa45

    What the US really needs is a "corrupt politicians" index. If you can nail that one down and find an effective remedy, problem solved!

    April 21, 2014 at 7:58 am |
    • scoot404

      What we need to do is elect only middle class people in congress so they can relate what people live through. Most of our politicians don't get anything done do to the lobbiest running this country. Nothing will ever get better until we put people who can relate to what we live through every day.

      April 21, 2014 at 10:31 am |
  5. chrissy

    While many people aren't impressed with POTUS Obama, they like the GOTP even less! As for the ACA, its a revise edition of D U M N E Y CARE and WHO revised it the MOST? 192 pages added to the POTUSs proposal by the GOTP all for the greater good, of NO ONE! They THOUGHT they were furthering THIER careers...turns out, they just opened the eyes of alot of sheeple!!! So yea CHANGE is a comming ...in 2016!! And the GOTP just might be affected more than they bargained for!

    April 21, 2014 at 7:59 am |
  6. pcg

    First off the US is far larger and more ethnically diverse that the other countries so that creates a whole set of problems they don't have to deal with. Secondly I question how this survey is even put together because I've been to europe a couple times and aside from the historical appeal I see no reason to live there over the US. I personally think you can have a much better life here than in europe but you have to work for it and most people just won't put in the effort.

    April 21, 2014 at 8:05 am |
    • Army Guy

      Larger ? yes. More diverse? not really. Look at Germany,a large country 80 Million people, just as diverse as the US especially taking the absorption the GDR into account but they make it work by asking the rich to pay there fair share and making sure everyone has a stake in the country. It IS a higher quality of life – more free time,less crime,better education,health care etc.Maybe you will have the chance to really experience Europe one day and not just as a tourist but you will probably be to busy working!

      April 21, 2014 at 9:04 am |
    • TexasZAG

      I couldn't disagree with you more, pcg. For starters, your "survey" of experience is: a) too small to be statistically significant; and b) is characteriszed by your nationalistic bias. Also, I've been to Europe a number of times (more than just a few), from Austria and Germany, through France, and on down to Italy. One thing that amazed me wherever I went was the degree to which people intermingled and lived within community. Humans are communal by nature, so this individualistic culture in the U.S. is somewhat opposed to how we are, instinctively. Couple that with the greed and selfishness of Americans (the two biggest reasons that we spend twice as much per capita for health care without getting the returns on that investment), and you get what this study has ferretted out. Quality of life is not how much money you can hoard.

      April 21, 2014 at 9:20 am |
      • Itgal

        I agree with you – I worked on a project in Sweden for a year and was amazed at how good their lifestyle is over there. Way better than here, for all the reasons you stated. Example: I went to a neighborhood clinic to see a doctor and to get my prescriptions renewed. The doctor was very thorough, took his time to make sure he understood my issues. The doctor visit plus the medications came to less than the copay for just the meds here at home!

        April 21, 2014 at 11:17 am |

    I don't get it. I remember the 70's and 80's. It seems to me the quality of life is much better today. I travel a lot within the U.S. and everywhere I go it seems as good, or better. There are pockets, obviously. Small, rural areas in the Midwest seem to be in the poorest conditions, depending on certain areas of the Midwest.

    April 21, 2014 at 8:07 am |
    • Publius Novus

      I don't think you get it ILREDINK. The survey is showing quality of life. My wife and I are better off financially now than we were in 1985. But we also work a lot more and we have far less free time to enjoy what we have than we had in 1985. I well remember saying, with each promotion, that now I would have to travel less and would be able to spend more time with my family. The travel diminished, but the time spent in office increased. I dropped my tennis club membership because I simply didn't have time to play. The time tied to the cell phone, laptop, and PDA increased. Yes, we make more money. But we spend less time on vacation or in leisure activity now; I haven't played tennis in 15 years.

      April 21, 2014 at 11:21 am |
      • MariaErics

        I have the same issue. I make more money, but have way less free time. That situation has gotten worse since the Great Recession when my job got offshored. I was lucky enough not to be laid off for too long, but the new job pays just a bit less while forcing me to travel continuously and work long hours. People say I am lucky to have a job, but sometimes I wonder.....

        April 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
  8. chrissy

    Lol agree @ willa45! But....would we still get an accurate reading, even with an index?

    April 21, 2014 at 8:07 am |
  9. Badly-Bent

    "The opposite of pverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice."

    April 21, 2014 at 8:13 am |
    • jv12

      Poverty is a state of mind, and a life style usually involving drugs and dysfunction. You give a poor person a million dollars they will be poor again within a year. The system isn’t the problem, people are.

      April 21, 2014 at 9:04 am |
      • scott

        wow jv12 you sure are observant arent you how bout all the celebs that are millionaires and there lives are also infested by dysfunction and drugs you threw a low blow when you said give a poor person a million dollars they will loose it all i think you give a million dollar to anyone regardless of background they are most like to throw it away

        April 21, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  10. rc

    It would be interesting to know the average BMI of those countries as well. While I'm no scientist, I'm guessing there is a strong correlation between BMI, how much you spend on healthcare, outcomes and quality of life.

    April 21, 2014 at 8:23 am |
    • PK

      While I understand the point you're trying to make, BMI is a terrible indicator of fitness. It takes ZERO account for muscle tissue. An NFL RB like Adrian Peterson (6'1", 217) has a BMI of 28.6 which is approaching obesity on the BMI scale.

      April 21, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
  11. chrissy

    Amen @ Badly~Bent! Now thats the kinda change i want! And also agree @ iceland! What we NEED to do is encourage every person eligible to vote to do so!!!!

    April 21, 2014 at 8:28 am |
  12. chrissy

    And we can ALL educate ourselves before voting time! Thanks to the internet its easier than ever! Find out WHO is contributing the most to those candidates, and you will KNOW just WHOs pocket they are really in. And you can just bet, none of them are in the pockets of...We the People!

    April 21, 2014 at 8:36 am |
    • Publius Novus

      Nice thought. But what you will find is that every person running for office is either financially independent or beholden to wealthy individuals, corporations, or PACs, or all of the above. Some, perhaps most, are corrupted by this reliance. Our political system relies upon huge amounts of money for anyone, D, R, or I, to get elected. Until that gets fixed, simply knowing who is financing the candidacy of any particular individual is interesting, but not particularly helpful.

      April 21, 2014 at 11:27 am |
  13. biglio

    If you ask a North Korean which is the greatest country in the world it will tell you: "north Korea!"
    If you ask an American which is the greatest country in the word he will tell you: "The US",
    Because both are brainwashed by their oligarchs propaganda......

    April 21, 2014 at 8:41 am |
    • jack2

      You have a lot of nerve comparing us to NK. You must be liberal

      April 21, 2014 at 1:42 pm |
  14. chrissy

    @ Maggie...its only HOPELESS if you give up!!!

    April 21, 2014 at 8:53 am |
  15. Gale Griggs - Chesterfield, SC

    Michael Porter's revelation in this report is amazing. As Americans, we need to get our head out of the sand. I know Michael personally and have the utmost respect for all of his work and opinions. He is one of the most intelligent men I've ever known or heard of.

    April 21, 2014 at 9:10 am |
  16. chrissy

    Oh thats just CRAP @ jv! Now WHOs drinking that "political posturing" flavored Kool aid???

    April 21, 2014 at 9:13 am |
  17. chrissy

    Lol yup @ maggie!!!!

    April 21, 2014 at 9:21 am |
  18. James Varela

    I was born in 1965 and I have seen real living standards for most middle income Americans fall since the first oil shock in 1973. I can still remember 3 year car loans and 20 year mortgages. This has been caused due to our government allowing the gap between the rich and middle class to grow into a chasm and excessive immigration which has resulted in a highly bloated labor market in an era where technology is destroying jobs right and left and not creating enough new ones to offset the loses. The time for a negative income tax is long overdue.

    April 21, 2014 at 9:33 am |
  19. Natrldiver

    The problem is that some one or a group of people are defining what a quality of life really is and comparing it from one country to another.

    I love how a world organization of people who probably don't have the slightest clue as to what a quality life really is.

    April 21, 2014 at 9:39 am |
  20. chrissy

    Correct @ James! And i remember gas at .23 a gal but those days are long gone! Time to man up and DO something about it. Not wait for others to do it, cuz that just aint gonna happen! And @ Algore i dont like those "types" either! I also aint too fond of the alternative that ppl like you try to shove off on me! I would prefer a decent one WITH a spine! So far "your" team hasnt presented one of those in a helluva long time, so i guess ill opt for just decent!

    April 21, 2014 at 9:53 am |
    • Publius Novus

      I must be a little younger than you chrissy, because my earliest memories of gas prices are in the $0.31-$0.33 range. But I also remember cars without seat belts, stinky air that you couldn't see through, and streams with golden water from mine runoff, and a CIA that undermined a developing democracy in Iran, in order to make sure those oil prices stayed low. The good ole days?

      April 21, 2014 at 11:34 am |
  21. dbtunr

    As we have the burden of the World Policeman, the rest of the World should thank us.

    April 21, 2014 at 10:08 am |
  22. Brett

    What do you expect when the majority of the tax money is spent on policing the world? The rest of the world spends that on good transit systems and health care.

    April 21, 2014 at 10:16 am |
  23. chrissy

    Agreed @ scoot! And enact term limit, same as the POTUS! Just so they dont get so comfortable in their "elected positions" that would make them susceptable to lobbiests! Also an age cap would be advisable because after a certain age, lets face it, common sense isnt always prelevant! Lol

    April 21, 2014 at 11:21 am |
    • Citizen

      I would also recommend that each Public Servant, upon leaving office, have an audit of their finances before and after service. If a great increase in personal wealth, then a great explanation would be in order.

      April 21, 2014 at 1:11 pm |
  24. chrissy

    Yea your younger than me! And it isn't polite for you to ask how much either lol! And make no mistake i aint so old that i cant kick ass and take names lmao! And KNOWING whos pocket the candidate is in is particularly helpful when people with independant thinking capabilities, or thinking outside the box, go to the polls!

    April 21, 2014 at 11:52 am |
  25. chrissy

    And @ Publious, if you have a better idea how WE THE PEOPLE can bring about our government reform then i am all ears!!!!!!

    April 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
  26. Proactive

    No surprise. Anyone that has been in this life long enough and has travelled and lived in other countries knows it is true. The Leadership needs to pay more attention and implement the right policies. It is often true that pupils often overtake their teachers! We cannot remain complacent and live on past glories of greatness. We need to continue along that path. The reason some of us use the word 'ignorant' when describing the majority that do not know these facts!

    April 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
  27. Mustafa ZulfuqurAli

    Great to see a Harvard educated "white guy" tell the truth, for once, about just how far America has sunk! Thank you Michael Porter. The American Dream has become the American Nightmare for over 200 million Americans. Possible solutions: (1) make super-pacs illegal immediately. campaign financing went from bad to worse over the last 20 years. with all our politicians dancing to the tune of the super-greedy, the rest of us don't have a prayer! (2) don't ever ever ever let RRR = rich racist republicans run the show again. They have proven, beyond any shadow of doubt, that their "old trick" of bombing the crap out of the planet, is very bad foreign policy, that causes the entire world to turn against us. (3) admit that we have slipped, as a people. the 5 D's: divorce, drugs, debt, decadence, deception have dragged us down far indeed. let's use that old concept called the "protestant work ethic" to pull us up, by our bootstraps, and gain us some real respect in the world.

    April 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
  28. chrissy

    EXACTLY @ scott! Now give a poor person the "means and opportunity" to EARN even half that and they will treasure it! In CORPORATE American it isnt possible at the present!

    April 21, 2014 at 12:38 pm |
    • SamT

      The "means" would be a college education, or a trade school education. The "opportunity" at the lower income bracket is limitless...the gov't pays for college tuition, and recipients don't even have to pay it back. Also, as a bonus, lower income individuals get a weekly check just for being low income. Of course, none of this is free, it comes off the backs of the tax payers' labor, but hey, what the heck, those people don't deserve their hard-earned money, it should go to people who don't work for it, right?

      April 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm |
  29. sfg

    Fareed and his friend should move to Islamabad.

    Last time I checked,
    people were dying while trying to cross the desert
    to get into the US illegally
    because they don't want to wait
    for the regular immigration process
    to work.

    The US is still the #1 destination for would be immigrants.

    April 21, 2014 at 12:41 pm |
    • MariaErics

      You might not be aware of this since they only report it occasionally in the press (likely because it woudn't stir people up about the immigration debate), but in truth the numbers of those dying to move to America has drastically decreased since the recession.

      April 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm |
    • Pro-active

      yes, there is no denying that the US offers the greatest Opportunity but it cannot be complacent and live on past glories. it needs to keep moving ahead and progressing or else others will zoom past it like some have done.

      April 21, 2014 at 4:20 pm |
  30. Squeezebox

    It's easy to have a nice quality of life when you're spending OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY. Most of the countries ahead of us on the list are socialist with high marginal tax rates to pay for it. Not saying this is good or bad, but the more capitalist a country is, the lower it's likely to score on this list.

    April 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm |
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