“In the midst of the Great Depression, New Hampshire’s Billy B. Van travelled the country, speaking to chambers of commerce, business conventions and civic leaders.   Mr. Van had a gimmick when his audience began to complain about hard times.  He was fond of tacking up a large white piece of paper and then marking the center with a small ink dot, asking his audiences what they saw. They all said the same thing: a little ink dot. With the setup complete, Mr. Van would respond:

“You all see the tiny little dot, but none of you see the big sheet of white paper.” [1]

This tale, from an obituary in our local paper, seems very apt today.   The media is full of stories about doom, gloom, destruction and despair in the United States.   But that strikes me as just focusing on the little dot.

There are 7.4 billion people in the world.[2]  The United States has something like 325 million people[3], less than 5% of the total population.   Yet, by many meaningful measurements, the US leads the entire world.   From large things like language, money, technology, military, philanthropy, higher education, natural resources, safety and even manufacturing, to little things like sneaker brands, the US sets the pace in a wealthier and healthier world.

English is THE language of communication.    Over 600 million people have received formal education in English as a second language, more than four times that of the next most popular second language.[4]  And even more amazing is that an estimated one-third of the entire world’s adult population, more than 2 billion people, can communicate informally using English.[5]

The US Dollar is THE currency of the world.  People often prefer the Dollar than their own currency.  63% of foreign exchange reserves are in US Dollars.[6]  85% of all foreign exchange transactions involve the dollar.[7]   Heck, more than 70% of US $100 bills are held outside of the United States.[8] [9]




The United States has an astonishing amount of wealth.  42% of the world’s financial assets are held in the United States.[10]  Half of the 100 largest companies in the world are based in the US.[11]   The US has as almost as many billionaires as the next nine countries combined. [12]  The US GDP is on a long and steady march upward, and is currently at over $56,000 per person, in current dollars.[13] [14]



Technology is driven by the United States.   Fourteen of the 25 largest tech companies in the world hail from the U.S., including seven of the top 10.[15]  According to one count, more technology companies are started here than in the next nine countries combined.[16]    Citizens of the US have won almost as many Nobel Prizes in the Sciences as the next nine countries combined.[17]  The internet?  You name a global website, and the underlying computer coding is based on English.[18]  Even the address book of the internet, ICANN, is in California.

The US spends more on its military than the next nine countries combined.[19]  According to David Vine, “Although few Americans realize it, the United States likely has more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation, or empire in history.”[20]   Depends on who is counting, but our country maintains something like 800 bases in 80 foreign countries.[21] [22]





The United States has been named as “the world’s most generous country” for years.[23]    In 2015, charitable donations exceeded $370 billion, leading the world in total and as a percentage of GDP.[24]  76% of the population helped a stranger sometime in the last year.[25]   Our government provided over $31 billion in direct foreign aid in 2015, more than any other country.[26]

Higher education has flourished in the United States.    According to a variety of surveys, 19 of the top 25 Universities are located in the US.[27]  If you throw in the top Universities in Canada and the UK, 22.5 of the top 25 Universities in the world are taught in English.[28]   Not surprisingly, the US hosts more of the world’s international students than any other country.[29]

Our natural resources are glorious and wide ranging.    At one end of the spectrum, the US was the first country to establish a national park, in 1872.[30]   At the other end of the spectrum, our natural resources are worth approximately US $45 trillion, trailing only Russia in raw value.[31]  The US is the largest producer of oil and natural gas.[32]  Thanks to a variety of factors, the US is shortly expected to achieve energy independence for the first time since the 1950’s, where energy exports will equal imports.[33]

Much has been written about the decline of manufacturing in the United States.  But even so, the US still has the second largest manufacturing economy in the world.[34]   China, which passed the US in total manufacturing in 2010, has four times as many people as the US, but lags far far behind in productivity per person.[35]

Culture is a harder thing to measure, but the United States certainly dominates by many measures.   Movies, music, and brands from the US are pervasive throughout the world.   In what countries can’t you buy a Big Mac, or an Air Jordan or a cut from Beyoncé?

Safety?  By following Bill Clinton’s exhortation to “examine the trend lines, and not the headlines”, you can see that we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.[36]  Fewer people, measured as a fraction of the population, die now from war or murder than ever before.[37]   Long term global trends on health, nutrition, and literacy are all very good.[38]    Over a BILLION people have moved out of extreme poverty in the last 25 years.[39]   The United States is no exception to this general progress:  In the same 25 years, domestic crime rates have fallen 50% for BOTH violent and property crimes.[40]   Read that again – our crime rates today are half of what they were 25 years ago. [41]



So as far as I can figure out, the United States is an extremely dominant country in a rapidly improving world.   Our language, technology, currency, wealth, military, higher education, natural resources, and culture all set the pace.

Now please note that there are many things I am not saying.   I am not saying that the United Stated leads in every measure of every aspect of life.   Nor that “relative” leadership in each of these areas is not changing.  Nor that leadership is good.   Or bad.  Nor that the general studies cited here are without critics.  Most importantly, I am NOT saying that the world or the US are free of problems.  Nor that wealth or income are distributed the way we might like.   I am not saying that every death isn’t tragic.   Nor that discrimination doesn’t exist.   Nor that global warming isn’t a threat.   Nor that the world needs to make progress on human rights.  Nor that there are not local tragedies happening all the time.   All I want to do is to step back and take a look at the big white paper.  And recognize that the US has a pretty amazing position in the world.   The United States IS great.




[1] Patrick O’Grady, “Newport Resident Sheds Light on Town’s Sunniest Man” in Upper Valley News, September 22, 2016, paraphrased paragraph
[2]World Population”, Wikipedia, October 4, 2016
[3]Demography of the United States”, Wikipedia, October 4, 2016
[4]List of Languages by Total Number of Speakers”, Wikipedia, October 4, 2016  Of note, Chinese speakers of a second Chinese language were excluded in comparison.
[5] David Crystal, “How Many Millions” in English Today, January 1985, pp 7 – 9.  Updated in 1997, 2003, and 2008.
[6]Reserve currency”, Wikipedia, October 4, 206
[7] Barry Eichengreen, “China’s Money Goes Global” in The Milken Institute Review, Fourth Quarter 2015
[8] Ruth Johnson, “Crisis and Calm: Demand for U.S. Currency at Home and Abroad from the Fall of the Berlin Wall to 2011” in Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System International Finance Discussion Papers IFDP 1058 November 2012
[9] “Most $100 Bills Live Outside The U.S.” by Jacob Goldstein for Bamboo Innovator, April 17, 2013 from Ruth Johnson, “Crisis and Calm: Demand for U.S. Currency at Home and Abroad from the Fall of the Berlin Wall to 2011” in Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System International Finance Discussion Papers IFDP 1058 November 2012
[10] List of sovereign states by external assets, Wikipedia, October 4, 2016, based on Allianz Global Wealth Report 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
[11] “Global Top 100 Companies by Market Capitalisation”, PWC, March 31, 2016 update.
[12]The World’s Billionaires”, Forbes, 2016 and List of countries by the number of US dollar billionaires, Wikipedia, October, 4, 2016
[13] “World Economic Outlook Database”, International Monetary Fund, October 2015.
[14] “Economy of the United States” Frichmon for Wikipedia, October 5, 2016
[15] Samantha Sharf, “The World’s Largest Tech Companies 2016” in Forbes, May 26, 2016 
[16] “Startup Ranking”, StartupRanking.com, October 4, 2016
[17]List of countries by Nobel laureates per capita, Scientific prizes”, Wikipedia, October 4, 2016
[18] Top Programming Languages, Author, compiled from “Top Programming Languages for 2015” by IEEE Spectrum, “TIOBE Index for September 2016” by TIOBE, and “PopularitY of Programming Language for September 2016” by PYPL
[19] “Comparison of Military Budgets, Author, compiled from “List of countries by military expenditures”, Wikipedia, October 4, 2016, and “2016 Fact Sheet” by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and “Top 15 Defence Budgets, 2015” by International Institute for Strategic Studies
[20] David Vine, “The United States Probably Has More Foreign Military Bases Than Any Other People, Nation, or Empire in History” in The Nation, September 14, 2015
[21] IBID
[22] “Top 15 Defence Budgets, 2015” by International Institute for Strategic Studies
[23] “Gross Domestic Philanthropy”, The Giving Institute, January, 2016
[24]Giving USA: 2015 Was America’s Most-Generous Year Ever”, The Giving Institute, June 13, 2016
[25] “CAF World Giving Index”, Charities Aid Foundation, November, 2015
[26] “List of development aid country donors”, Wikipedia, October 5, 2016
[27] “Top Universities”, Author, compiled from “World University Rankings”, Case Western Reserve, 2016 and “Best Global Universities Rankings”, US News and World Report, 2016, and “Academic Ranking of World Universities, 2016”, Shanghai Ranking and “World University Ranking, 2015 – 2016”, Times Higher Education.
[28] IBID
[29] “2015 Project Atlas Trends and Global Data Fact Sheet”, Institute of International Education
[30] “National Park” in Wikipedia, October 5, 2016
[31] Nancy Carroll, “Top 10 Countries with the Most Natural Resources” in CountryDetail.com, February 2, 2016
[32] “List of countries by oil production”, Wikipedia, October 5, 2016 and “List of countries by natural gas production”, Wikipedia, October 5, 2016
[33] Variety of Sources including “U.S. energy imports and exports to come into balance for first time since 1950s” in Today in Energy from the US Energy Information Administration, April 15, 2015  and Gregory Meyer, “US Close to Ending Era as Net Importer of Energy” in Financial Times, April 14, 2015
[34] Marc Levinson, “U.S. Manufacturing in International Perspective” for Congressional Research Service, April 26, 2016
[35] Dan Meckstroth, “China Solidifies Its Position as the World’s Largest Manufacturer” for Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, March 30, 2015
[36] Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack , “The World Is Not Falling Apart” in Slate, December 22, 2014 and Steven Pinker, “Violence Vanquished” in The Wall Street Journal, September 24, 2011.
[37] Max Roser, “War and Peace since 1945” in OurWorldInData.org, 2016
[38] “The Millennium Development Goals Report Summary” for the United Nations, 2015
[39] “Poverty” in Wikipedia, October 5, 2015
[40] United States Crime Rates 1960 – 2015” Compiled by DisasterCenter.com from FBI UCS Annual Crime Reports, 2015 and Lauren-Brooke “L.B.” Eisen and Oliver Roeder, “America’s Faulty Perception of Crime Rates” for Brennan Center For Justice, March 16, 2015
[41] Charles W Cook, “Careful with the Panic: Violent Crime and Gun Crime Are Both Dropping” in National Review, November 30, 2015

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