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Hooray for the red, white and blue Carlos R. Davalos | Thu, Jul 01 2010 03:23 PM

How do I know this is the greatest country in the world?

A Nigerian cab driver told me so. We were in Las Vegas. The details about why he was here are fuzzy but the gist of his story included working 15-hour days during the week and as a busboy on the weekend so he could bring his brother over to attend university and, eventually, start a business with him.

How do I know this isn't the greatest country in the world? Because we're in the midst of arguably the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression and it's due in large part, if not exclusively, to greed.

Yes, the catalysts to the collapse were bank failures, mortgage brokers gone belly up, sub-prime lenders loaning money to people they knew couldn't make the payments, and speculators who thought they could make quick bucks by over-extending themselves in an effort to flip one house after another. The common thread among all of these factors is greed.

We are a nation of consumers. We equate wealth and prosperity with how many houses we own and how many gas-guzzling toys are parked in our driveways. We don't ever have enough because someone else has more and we're always trying to catch up. That is who we are.

We are a great nation because, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 86 percent of the population in this country has access to medical care.

But having access doesn't always mean receiving healthcare or having good medical care.

One study reported that despite spending about $7,000 per capita on healthcare, the United States ranked last in terms of quality, efficiency, access, equity and the ability to lead long healthy lives.

The countries that ranked above us include Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. What's so great about that?

We attract some of the world's brightest, most innovative minds to universities and colleges to carry on research and teach.

But we rank 49th in the world in literacy, according to a 2004 report published in The New York Times.

We live where $8.99 buys all-you-can-eat fried chicken and where we can purchase a seven-layer burrito and a side of nachos at 3 a.m.

Yet, there are approximately 16 million children in the United States who live in households where it's a struggle to put three nutritious meals on the table every day.

Are we the greatest country in the world? Like happiness, maybe greatness is a state of mind.

Happy Independence Day.

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