America’s size is its strength – and its weakness

We often forget just how big the United States is. It is the fourth largest nation on earth by area after Russia, Canada, and China. It is the third most populous country on the planet after China and India.

As a result, the USA has enormous strengths. It is the world’s largest economy and such a large domestic market makes it an incubator for so many new products and services. The country accounts for approximately a quarter of global domestic product and almost 30% of total wealth in the world. It is the foremost military power in the world making up more than a third of global military spending.

But size carries a price and the USA has many weaknesses that stem from that size.

To govern a country of this size in a democratic fashion, there needs to be a federal system of government with power shared between the national level and 50 states. Each state has an executive, a legislature and a judiciary. In current circumstances, this makes any meaningful change to the two centuries old American constitution effectively impossible because, as well as a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress, three-quarters of the state legislatures have to ratify the proposed change. Even the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) failed to meet that threshold.

In recent months, this federal system has contributed significantly to the failure of such an advanced country as the USA to handle the coronavirus crisis because there is no nation-wide programme of action. Indeed the country has one of the worst records on earth in combatting the virus. And this is not just because of Donald Trump but because there are so many states with different approaches.

Or take the issue of police reform which has been highlighted as a urgent need by the Black Lives Matter movement. Such is the size of the country, there are no less than 18,000 police agencies to be reformed. There needs to be judicial and prison reform too but there are 50 judicial systems and 50 penal systems.

In terms of the American psyche, the impact of the size of the country is that most Americans have never left the country; indeed a significant proportion rarely leave their state. Only 40% of Americans even have a passport and most of them only use it to travel to adjoining Canada and Mexico. So, although we think of the USA as a melting pot of nations, most of its citizens have no comprehension of life outside their own country and mistakenly think that the American way is self-evidently the best way, not least on health care or gun control.


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