Where It’s Worse
Feeling bad about America? That’s not surprising. The economy’s lousy, life’s getting tougher, and Washington politicians seem oblivious. But it’s worse elsewhere. Here are 11 other countries with problems that are even more challenging or embarrassing than our own:
Perhaps the Tea Party should adopt Belgium as its model country—since it hasn’t had a functioning national government for more than a year, a modern record for any nation. Nobody has really noticed because regional and local governments handle most necessary services. Meanwhile, eight political parties have begun having talks about maybe, someday, forming a government.
It’s irresistible to tweak our mild-mannered neighbors to the north for recent riots in Vancouver after the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in hockey’s Stanley Cup finals. The uncharacteristic mayhem included several stabbings, over 100 injuries, and more than a dozen torched vehicles. Oh, Canada—it’s only hockey!
Two decades of nepotistic government hiring and swelling union wages have left the Greek economy in a shambles, with debt levels Greece can’t possibly pay off on its own. Even with a European bailout, living standards will decline for years.
The entire banking sector collapsed in 2008 after the country’s banks went on a foreign lending binge that led to huge losses the banks couldn’t cover. Iceland ended up stiffing foreign bank customers out of about $5 billion worth of holdings. Iceland is recovering, but a plunging currency has led to double-digit inflation and plummeting living standards.
Famously low corporate tax rates haven’t stopped Ireland’s economy from shrinking by a punishing 14 percent since the global recession hit in 2008. A worse housing bust than that of America and a wrecked banking sector forced a European bailout last year that calls for sharp spending cuts likely to make joblessness worse—and possibly force those tax rates up.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi always seems to be involved in a sex scandal, and recent feuds with officials in his own ruling party have intensified worries that Italy might need a Greek-style bailout to help pay down high levels of debt. If so, Italy could easily overwhelm Europe’s resources, since its economy—and its presumed needs—are bigger than in Greece or Ireland.
Its citizens have recovered from the March tsunami with dignity, but Japan remains mired in a two-decade slump it can’t find a way out of. It’s over-dependent on exports and favorable exchange rates, and deep distrust between government and business leaders has hamstrung Japan’s ability to open itself more to the world economy.
It’s a so-called American ally, yet Pakistan apparently harbored Osama bin Laden for years. Exasperated American officials are now turning up the heat, leaking evidence of Pakistani ties to terrorists and other nefarious deeds, such as the government’s alleged role in the torture and death of a prominent Pakistani journalist earlier this year.
The big controversy in Saudi Arabia these days is over women being arrested—for driving, one of several routine activities women are prohibited from doing. Despite threats of arrest by the “religious police,” daring female activists have been posting YouTube videos of themselves driving on Saudi roads.
The United Kingdom
The phone-hacking scandal perpetrated by Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World has so far ensnared several prominent politicians and journalists. That follows a huge 2009 scandal over bogus expense claims by members of Parliament. The British public may be even more disgusted with their legislators than Americans are with Congress.
Since taking power in 1999, dictator Hugo Chavez has turned a hopeful economy—fortified with vast amounts of oil—into a clunky, Soviet-style mess. Inflation is 25 percent per year, and the government literally can’t keep the lights on, with—blackouts occurring regularly. Chavez’s government blames sabotage, excessive consumption, and unusual weather.
11 Countries With More Problems Than America
- The United Kingdom
- Saudi Arabia