Glass way more than half full

This Thanksgiving season, no one has more reason to be grateful than us. Though the media, politicians, Hollywood and a growing number of cap-in-hand special interest groups would like you to believe otherwise, Americans enjoy an unrivaled degree of prosperity. Even the 12.5 percent of Americans identified by the census bureau as poor are well off by world standards. Forty-three percent of all poor families own their own homes. The average poor American enjoys more living space than the average Londoner or Parisian. Three quarters of poor families own a car. Ninety-seven percent have a color television (more than half of the families have two or more televisions). A majority have cable TV, a VCR or DVD player, a microwave oven, and air conditioning.

These government statistics, compiled by the Heritage Foundation, paint a different picture of the downtrodden than does the nightly news, but the facts do not tell the whole story. Without a comparison of how other people live around the world, Americans have no real sense of just how grateful they should be.

Unfortunately, Americans don’t get out much. Roughly a quarter of US citizens hold passports. I’m probably safe in assuming that more of my countrymen watch American Idol than BBC World News. American myopia creates a skewed perception of reality. America’s poor families have homes, cars and televisions. The poor in most of the world have little or nothing. Completely destitute in America means finding a shelter where you can have a warm bed, a meal and the help you need to get back on your feet. In Haiti, the poor are baking dirt into cookies to fill their stomachs.

In America, if you lose your job there are “help wanted” signs up and down the street. The jobs may not be optimal but they’ll do until something better comes along. I’ve certainly done my time behind a register and sweeping a broom and I’ll do it again if I have to.

No such option exists for people in Zimbabwe where the unemployment level is 80 percent. There are no jobs. Government corruption and control of the market have reduced this once prosperous nation to abject ruin. Zimbabwe is far from the only country to strangle its economy with government regulation. The world average for unemployment is 30 percent. In the U.S. it is less than 5 percent.

America’s clean air and water may look dirty if you don’t know better. In Cairo, every breath I took was like sucking off a tail pipe. I found myself smoking Egyptian cigarettes just to get the taste of the air out of my mouth. Cairo took 2nd place in the Progressive Policy Institute’s Smokiest Cities contest with 159 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air. By comparison, Los Angeles, America’s most polluted city has 36 micrograms of particulate matter.

Breathing in the Egyptian capital was tough but drinking the tap water was out of the question. I drank bottled water and ate oranges, a fruit hermitically sealed by its own peal. Cairo was a great place to visit and I’ll go again, once my lungs have healed.

Should I need any medical help along the way, I’ll get it here, thank you. Americans have access to the best health care in the world. In developing countries, people die for want of penicillin or routine vaccinations. In socialized European nations and our neighbor to the north, citizens can get decent care if they have the time to wait for it.

According to the Frasier Institute, a Canadian think tank, Canadians wait on average nine weeks between getting a referral from a general practitioner and actually seeing the specialist. They then wait another nine weeks to get treatment. A cancer radiation referral takes five weeks, orthopedic surgery nine months.

My point here isn’t to browbeat readers into gratitude but to give a needed perspective. Ignorance is not bliss. An ungrateful heart is an unhappy one. It leaves people vulnerable to being misled by honey-tongued politicians promising to make them richer, healthier, and happier. In the places where the government tries to give people these things, it inevitably makes them poorer, sicker and less free to seek their own happiness.

This Thursday I gave thanks to God for the many blessings in my life including my beloved country. I joined with those who, in the words of George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, “unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection...for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed...”

Krista Kafer is a Denver-based education consultant, frequent cohost on Backbone Radio, and regular columnist for Face the, from which this is reprinted by permission.