By Donella Meadows
–August 3, 1989–
Lots of Canadians read Time every week, but few Americans read Maclean’s, and that’s a shame. If we took the time to see the world as our northern neighbors see it, we could learn something. We could learn how we ourselves look to our closest and most sympathetic, but independent and sometimes critical, observers. We could also learn how we might be, if we were just as rich, just as democratic, and a lot less cocky.
The July 3 issue of Maclean’s lays out comparative statistics on the U.S. and Canada and asks people on both sides of the border how they feel about each other. The result is a fascinating documentation of two national experiments, carried out side by side, separated by what Canadian Margaret Atwood calls not the world’s longest undefended border, but the world’s longest one-way mirror.
Of course the statistics show striking similarities between Canadians and Americans, in both our strengths and our weaknesses. Our incomes are nearly identical, as are the differences between male and female incomes. The average income of a Canadian man is $31,865, of an American man $31,553. (All dollar figures are 1987 Canadian dollars.) The average woman worker in Canada is paid $21,012, in the U.S. $20,443. In both countries just over 50 percent of women work.
Some of us think of Canada as a howling wilderness, but it’s actually as urbanized as the United States — 76 percent of Canadians live in a city, 74 percent of Americans. We think Canada is socialistic, or at least tax-and-spend liberal, but the average personal income tax in Canada is a little lower than ours ($3224 for them, $3830 for us). Their current unemployment rate is slightly higher than ours, as is their percent of population living below the poverty line. (But 85 percent of the unemployed get government assistance in Canada, only 25 percent in the U.S.) Our suicide rates are almost identical.
Then there are the interesting differences. The environment-conscious Canadians emit much more acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide per capita than we do (because of their metal smelters). Canada is the only country in the world that uses more energy per capita than we do. But then we produce 20 percent more garbage per person than they do.
Canadian households save 14.7 percent of their disposable household income, Americans save 8 percent. A baby born in Canada has a 25 percent higher probability than an American baby of surviving to its first birthday. All Canadians have access to government-financed health care. The U.S. divorce rate is twice as high as that of Canada. The percent of our population that is homeless is more than twice as high. Our homicide rate per capita is more than three times higher, our sexual crime rate is seven times higher, burglaries are about the same, the number of police per person is about the same. One-fourth of American interviewed say they own a handgun; only 3 percent of Canadians do.
In the U.S. 97.9 percent of incumbent federal legislators were returned to office in the last election. In Canada it was only 72.5 percent. The average cost of an election campaign for a federal legislator was $29,000 in Canada; in the U.S. it was $267,000 for the House and $2 million for the Senate. Canadian electoral districts place ceilings on campaign expenses — the highest one in 1988 was $65,000. In the U.S. there is no limit. Less than 50 percent of eligible voters participated in the last U.S. federal election; 75 percent of Canadians did.
Statistics like these make me think it might be worth studying these northern folks more closely, but the Maclean’s survey makes it clear that they know much more about us than we do about them — and that’s their biggest complaint about us.
One-third of Canadians interviewed could name Dan Quayle as America’s vice president, but only one-tenth of Americans could name Canada’s prime minister. (Brian Mulroney, in case you’re in the other 90 percent). Over 80 percent of Canadians know that the U.S. is their largest trading partner; only 12 percent of American know that Canada is ours (most of us think it’s Japan). Virtually every Canadian is aware that the U.S. and Canada just signed a free trade agreement; just about half the Americans interviewed knew that.
You begin to see why, when Canadians are asked to describe Americans in just one word, these are the words that occur to them (in order of frequency): snobs, good, friendly, pigheaded, aggressive, powerful, obnoxious, indifferent. Americans, when asked to describe Canadians can only think of good things to say: friendly, nice, neighbors, wonderful, similar, satisfied, normal.
I guess it should come as no surprise that 42 percent of Americans say they wouldn’t mind living in Canada, but only 27 percent of Canadians would consider living in the United States. And 66 percent of Americans would favor annexing Canada as our 51st state, while 85 percent of Canadians think that’s a truly terrible idea.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1989