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Behind the myth that few Americans have passports

Monday, October 20, 2008 | 12:21 p.m. CDT; updated 12:02 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Only 10 percent of Americans have passports."

Most people in the U.S. have probably had this statistic quoted to them at some point, and certainly most U.S. citizens abroad have had it quoted to them — probably many times.

During the three years I spent in the United Kingdom, I heard this legend about once a month. Now that I'm back home, I want to take an opportunity to discredit it, once and for jolly all.

The number itself is inaccurate (the most recent statistics put out by the U.S. State Department suggest the number is closer to 30%) but that's not the real issue. The reason foreigners love to quote this back to Americans is the problem.

The loaded assertion behind the myth is this: Americans, the perpetuator suggests, are happily isolating themselves from the rest of the world in the laziest of ways, reveling in cultural ignorance and scoffing at the very idea of going abroad. They could travel if they wanted to, the assumption goes, but they simply don't.

It is true that certain Americans might be criticized for a certain lack of foreign travel. The London Times headline reading "‘Stay-at-home' Barack Obama comes under fire for a lack of foreign experience" makes sense. Should the potential leader of the American military personally check out the lay of Middle Eastern lands? Given the fact that he could make senatorial claims on taxpayer subsidies for such a journey, I'd say that's a reasonable expectation. But people like Obama could afford it besides — he earned $1.7 million as recently as 2005 — and are accountable to others for how they spend their time and money (at least to some degree).

However, for the average American, traveling abroad is not nearly so feasible, economically or logically, and these are the people taking the brunt of the criticism. In an article written for the London Guardian, John Patterson claimed most Americans don't go abroad because it's a "drag", because they're "ridiculous, paranoid, pathetically insular and grotesquely self-pitying." And just so we didn't worry that any of this was hyperbolic, he explained that Americans "have no reason to hate or fear (foreigners), but they have given the rest of us a million reasons to hate and fear them."

Let's pretend you're the average American whose traveling habits Patterson, et. al. so detest. You, Jo(e) the plumber, and your spouse have two kids. Your income, the median income for all American households, as determined by the U.S. Census, is $50,233. Your housing, according to the Consumer Price Index, will cost you 32.6% of your income; you're left with $33,857. MSN Money reckons that your 4 and 6 year-old children will cost you $11,280 and $11,130 respectively; you're left with $11,448. The Environmental Protection Agency tells you just buying gas for your 2005 Dodge Neon will cost you $2,088, and it will cost at least $1,400 to insure two people in your house to drive, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The average annual premium for an employer health plan covering a family of four, as determined by the National Coalition for Health Care, will cost you another $3,300. You're left with $4,659.

Using the lowest price option on Orbitz.com, you'll find that the flights from Springfield, Missouri (a nice, average American locale) to Paris and a six night stay at a hotel will cost your family about $4,000—if you go in the off-season.

You're broke.

Now, given that you and your spouse, according to the above breakdown, have yet to eat anything (or buy anything else for that matter) this year, is it likely that you will be mincing around the banks of the Seine now or any time in the foreseeable future? No. You were going to struggle to make ends meet in the first place. Want to spend an extra $100 on a passport application fee just for fun? Probably not. Meanwhile, Europeans can fly to Barcelona, Belfast or Berlin for less than a swanky dinner in London town would cost them.

The logic behind criticizing Americans for not having passports is also kin to the maxim that if you haven't racked up a nice, long list of countries that you've stepped foot in, then you're not well-traveled. The fifty states may share a federal government, but that doesn't mean they're not as culturally and geographically disparate as many European countries.

There are Innuits bearing the cold in Alaska and people who only speak Spanish in sunny California. There are teetotaling Mormons in Utah canyon lands and maple syrup farmers in mountainous Vermont. People are cooking Creole dishes in boggy Louisiana, and wranglin' cattle in the deserts of Texas.  (Etc., etc., etc.)

And doesn't break the bank for Jo(e) to drive to a neighboring state.

I do not, rest assured, harbor any illusions that foreign peoples can or should abandon the Yank-bashing fad entirely: unpopular political decisions have yet to exhaust their comeuppance. I do, however, present this with the hope that all Americans can recognize and wholeheartedly reject the non-constructive national criticism and its context-free statistics.

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter for the Missourian. She recently moved to Columbia after spending two years teaching in Winchester, England, and one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has freelanced for a variety of publications, from 417 Magazine in Springfield, Mo., to the Guardian in London. Katy plans to complete her MU master's degree in 2010.


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Comments

Katy Steinmetz October 21, 2008 | 12:35 p.m.

I'd love to get some opinions on this from you local commentators out there.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 21, 2008 | 1:23 p.m.

I like the analysis. Americans do tend to be broke - we have all this STUFF to spend money on, and, well, what is life without it (or so we think)?

That said, being broke has never stopped us from spending money we don't have, as we are seeing the fallout from these days.

I think it's more that we have a lot to do here as far as vacation oportunities, and we don't have to pay a large exchange penalty. I know people who vacation in Europe, but I know a lot more who vacation in Branson because they just like it better (and it's cheaper).

DK

(Report Comment)
Ross Peterson November 8, 2008 | 9:57 p.m.
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Katy Steinmetz November 18, 2008 | 11:03 a.m.

Still out there, Ross Peterson?

(Report Comment)
lisa recker December 11, 2008 | 5:25 p.m.

Wow, great article! I am an American living in the UK and also heard the same gripe about Americans not holding passports. I can't believe you only heard it once a month! I get nagged wkly! I have a lil' spiel that I am armed with to quickly rattle off the and defend 'most' Americans. There are 3 main points.

Besides the money point you mentioned .. they only get on avg 2 wks of holiday. Say you need one wk with the family over the holidays ... So you come over for one wk in the summer, you spend a day traveling on either end, jag lag, etc .. to spend 2 days in say France. That is not enough time to even see Paris! There are many reasons why most Americans don't have passports and Ross you hit one of them .. 'others don't understand the diversity and physical size of America.'

My last point and one that I hope changes .... *drum roll* I think the 18-30's should be more pressed with traveling and learning about other cultures. Other countries usually work/travel out of there country for a year and this is a normal practice! It makes you aware of the bigger picture instead of getting a job right out of college and working 60 hours so you can be completely stressed out just in time to have your mid life crisis. which is mostly fueled by the job you have to get money to buy more THINGS.

Anyway .. thanks for letting me rant for a bit ;)

PS.. this comment goes out to one of those statics. For the sake of confidentiality ... we will call him Moon Boots Traylo. GET A PASSPORT!

(Report Comment)
J J December 12, 2008 | 2:24 a.m.

Great article! I do a lot of traveling abroad and I've gotten into this numerous times. I always defend the US though with the obvious burden of being geographically isolated, at least compared to Europeans. Now I have more meat to throw at them.

(Report Comment)
Jack Wilsey June 3, 2009 | 9:04 a.m.

Americans get far less holidays than Europeans, the minimum holiday requirement for a full time working in the UK is now 28 days or 5.6 weeks, in the US it's something like 11 days.

However now that you need a passport to enter Canada I should imagine US Passport ownership should increase, however the only other assesible country by land is Mexico and parts of South America are hardly welcoming.

(Report Comment)
Ess Dee July 5, 2009 | 8:29 p.m.

While I see your point, you fail to consider that a family of four need not go to Paris every year.. nobody is asking the average American to fly to Europe each summer.. also they could do things such as leaving the young kids with the grandparents. Also, I don't think it costs 22K a year to raise two children, this math doesn't add up.. unless you're spending on private schools.. I doubt the demographic you describe has the money to send their kids to anything but public schools.

(Report Comment)
Joe ThePlumber August 29, 2009 | 6:03 p.m.

The last poster raises some valid points. The issue is not that those who do not possess passports will not travel to Paris every year, it is that they will not travel to Paris in any year, or anywhere else for that matter. There are countries which are considerably closer to the US geographically and significantly less expensive to visit as a result, for example South America or The Carribean, which most Americans will never venture to.
In addition the suggestion of it being too expensive to travel abroad does not stand-up to scrutiny. Whilst the median income is quoted, this ignores the fact that, by definition, half the population earns more than this amount, yet less than a third have passports. Also, regardless of the cost of bringing up two young children, much of the population will not have dependants to support either.
A previous poster suggests that the average holiday is too small to allow foreign visits. Admittedly those in the US have on average less holiday than their European counterparts, but the mean figure is still 25 days, far more than the two weeks quoted.
Despite having lived abroad, the original author of the article shows considerable cultural ignorance by referring to The Times and The Guardian as The London Times and The London Guardian respectively, as well as being quick to dismiss the possibility of any accuracy in the suggestion of further cultural ignorance from the rest her compatriots due to lack of travel. I am personally of the opinion that such attitudes displayed by many of the Americans who do travel beyond their own shores leads a significant number of those in the countries they visit to believe that the fact that most US citizens do not own passports is not necessarily a problem.

(Report Comment)
Katy Steinmetz September 23, 2009 | 8:38 a.m.

A few points to Joe's post: First, the addition of "London" was not mine but the copy editors' and was done for the benefit of those readers who haven't lived abroad and who might reasonably confuse "The Times" of London with, say, The New York Times.

Also, I never say that no American is culturally ignorant; certainly some are, and certainly some people from every culture are. My point was that the passport "statistic" gets quoted to suggest that 90 percent of Americans are happily untraveled, and that's not the case. Sure, some people can afford to travel and should and don't, but the majority of people cannot afford it. Even if they do just go to Paris in one year, that's something they'd have to save up for, and most couples or families have other long-term investments, such as cars or college funds or IRAs, that would reasonably and practically, if still not ideally, take precedence over blowing thousands of dollars on a week abroad.

I'm afraid Joe betrays some ignorance of travel, too. Beyond driving to Mexico or Canada, which would be relatively cheap but would also take up most of that vacation time just in going to and fro, it's not cheap to visit "nearby" countries in South America. Going to Rio for a week's vacation - and Orbitz will again back me up here - is only about $100 cheaper than going to Paris, if you get the cheapest deal possible. And even if an American could get a cheap trip to the Bahamas, sitting on a beach on an island that is largely a tourist trap is hardly going to satisfy the critics who say Americans aren't culturally enlightened.

This gets back to the idea that people from other continents often fail to understand what a difference in geographic isolation and price there is for Americans to tackle when it comes to making their way to a land of another culture. Sure, it would be great if all Americans could go abroad and get a first-hand understanding of other peoples, but it's unfair to criticize all Americans for not doing something only a minority could ever afford.

(Report Comment)
Katy Steinmetz September 23, 2009 | 9:15 a.m.

(Please excuse the grammatical implication that Mexico and Canada are in South America. Consider it rephrased, "... it's not cheap to visit "nearby" countries, such as those in South America.")

(Report Comment)
Katie Kloster October 28, 2009 | 3:29 p.m.

The low number doesn't surprise me.

My brother and father have lived all over the world, but as military personnel they didn't need passports.

The passport expires, so only the Americans who are traveling abroad within 5-10 years need one.

America is more vast than many people know. I have been told numerous times by Europeans that Hawaii is a territory and not a state.

Americans will always be called arrogant. I was told that Americans were arrogant for putting the US in the middle of the world map, as opposed to the European version in which Europe and Africa are in the center. When we get to arguing about why our map looks different or why in another anglophone country a newspaper has a diffent name, it can get quite silly.

(Report Comment)
Jenn Korona January 25, 2010 | 7:39 a.m.

Great article. I think that language is another barrier for Americans abroad. Europeans (of necessity, not superiority) frequently speak a second language, frequently English. Being able to communicate is a huge part of experiencing a destination. One can only see so many castles, museums, and churches before asking the question...'but what about LIFE here?' For me, that's a reason that travel within the US is attractive. I can experience a different culture by traveling from Michigan to Mississippi, for instance, rather than just experiencing the SIGHTS of another culture. There's a big difference.

(Report Comment)
Anna Czaczkowski June 12, 2010 | 2:41 a.m.

I've been living in Europe for two years and am an American, and I have to admit that I myself have spoken negatively about the amount Americans travel. Your article did make me pause.... however after thinking it through I have to return to my initial views on the matter. Once children are involved, and if you aren't making a whole lot of money, it's understandable that you won't be traveling much. However, I see the way young people in America are acting and it is truly astonishing and sad to me.... Many of them feel that they need to have a large flat screen TV in the living room of the apartment they are renting.... that's a few thousand dollars which could have been put towards an eye-opening, horizon-expanding adventure abroad. My argument is not that everyone can afford such travel, but that Americans are making all the wrong choices- and prioritizing consumerism over their own personal growth. Certainly, experiencing all of America is important... but as you said, that can be more easily done even when one has children. I wish that the young people of America would be more interested in experiencing something truly different- preferably even beyond western europe.

(Report Comment)
Joy Piazza June 12, 2010 | 10:27 a.m.

Wow. What's going on at the Missourian? In the last week I've read two brilliantly thought out pieces --analysis, synthesis, critical, informed, researched, well written, strong ethos, useful to the body politic. Kudos to Sarah Palmer, Katy Steinmetz, and the Missourian!

(Report Comment)
Bailey May June 15, 2010 | 1:10 p.m.

I really believe that this article fails miserably. Sure, it is expensive to travel from the US. But did the author and many of the other posters on this thread who agree not realize that travel from NORTH AMERICA is expensive all around? That being the fact, then how is it that Canadians, who also share the continent of North America, are extremely well traveled in contrast to Americans? Sure, some Canadians may have more vacation time, but our Canadian dollar is traditionally less than the US dollar, so we have to spend more to convert to other currencies, and the cost of airfare is often more expensive than departures from the US.

It is quite honestly, the mindset of the people. We have a desire to get out and learn about other cultures and see new and different places. It is fostered in us through education and learned during childhood, and basically a part of curiosity. I've had many Americans say "Why do I need to travel when I live in the best city in the best state in the best country in the world?"

That is really what it comes down to, the mindset of the people, not the expense (I traveled to Turkey at 19 after saving up money for months, no help from my parents, just because my boyfriend was Turkish and I wanted to know more about where he was from).

Most people save money for the things they desire enough, a plasma TV, a nicer car, etc. So yes, it is all about what the individual desires, and Americans simply don't have as much desire to travel abroad. Mystery solved.

(Report Comment)
Jeff June 15, 2010 | 2:37 p.m.
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Tolita Ositelu August 27, 2010 | 3:10 p.m.

Thank You Bailey Mae, I believe your response says it all.

As a Brit I'd just like to add that the 'geographic isolation' argument is weak to say the least. You don't get more isolated than Australia and New Zealand yet many whom I have met from these countries are some of the most well-travelled folk I have ever come across.

This article seeks to defend the average American but reads more like excuse-making, as some of the comments in response from other US citizens have highlighted. Even the author's claim that there's enough to see in the US without the need to venture abroad just sounds like another example of the laziness/convenience argument it seeks to dispel.

Miss T- London, UK

(Report Comment)
Peter Russell October 24, 2010 | 7:56 p.m.

Hi Guys,
I found this group after googling 'how many americans have passports ' :D
Interesting comments on this topic.

Miss T said above...
'You don't get more isolated than Australia and New Zealand yet many whom I have met from these countries are some of the most well-travelled folk I have ever come across.'
Yep, I'm a kiwi and most of us travel overseas at some point. It always used to be to the 'Old Country' (England).General prosperity has only kicked in really in the last few decades and coupled with cheap air travel, the options have increased.
Prior to the 1970s it was just too expensive.Lucky if you had a car, let alone a distant excursion.
NZ had a huge contribution of men to the world wars and often the chance to travel was right up there with saving king and country :)
Having a reason to visit a particular place helps. I took my 12year old daughter to England, Scotland etc to see where we had come from.

All the reasoning in that article make sense to me. It does tend to ignore the consumerist malase of parking up with a big TV and a small mind though :)
cheers
Pete in Wanganui

(Report Comment)
Sidney Fernwilter November 3, 2010 | 10:25 p.m.

Most of the world would be very happy to see fewer US citizens abroad. Especially armed US citizens making life a hell for millions of people.

(Report Comment)
Laura M November 24, 2010 | 7:38 p.m.
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hank ottinger November 24, 2010 | 9:23 p.m.

You won't know if you don't go.

(Report Comment)
Gunner Talese December 14, 2010 | 6:46 p.m.

The economic defense is certainly a nice try, but as an American and as someone who has traveled around the world, I cannot defend my fellow Americans' complete lack of intellectual curiosity about other people, other cultures, other languages and other countries.

I agree with the European criticism that Americans are generally ignorant, arrogant, incurious children who generally never grow up. It's a byproduct of an easy, lazy life with the primary mental stimulation being the New Testament; it's hardly surprising that Americans' brains barely function after being hit over the head with the Bible for most of their lives.

Please, my non-passported American friends, get the hell out of the country; you might enjoy it.

(Report Comment)
Geri Smith March 15, 2011 | 12:19 p.m.

As an American who has lived in Latin America for 32 years--18 in Mexico and the rest in South America--Brazil, Argentina and Chile--I have to ask commenter Jack Wilsey why he says that "parts of South America are hardly welcoming." Absolutely not true! Americans are warmly welcomed throughout Latin America; people there realize that sometimes-unpopular U.S. policies aren't always backed by all American citizens. Even in countries whose leaders are outspokenly anti-Washington, such as Venezuela and Cuba, the people are overwhelmingly friendly to American visitors. This article presents a well-reasoned argument for why many Americans don't venture abroad, but I agree with many of the commenters that spending money on an overseas vacation once every 5 years would be a much better use of a family's resources than a 52-inch plasma TV. And it would be good if more of those trips explored areas other than Mexico's beach resorts, which are pleasant but don't offer much in the way of local culture.

(Report Comment)
Meredith Nicoll March 16, 2011 | 8:15 a.m.

As an American who has lived in Europe for a few years, I have to agree with those who see this as an excuse. Yes, it is more difficult for some, but not all, especially not for young people. It simply isn't a priority.

"America is the best, so why should I see something else." This attitude was even rampant among the students in the America-Bubble that constituted the "Abroad program" I attended in college and it continues to shock me every time I go home.

The best example was when told a woman I had just met that I lived in Europe. She told me she had never been and said (with no irony or tone of remorse) that she had thought to send her son to France for his graduation, but then heard that EuroDisney wasn't any good, so he went to California instead.

This comment may be extreme, but by no means abnormal. This woman was one of many upper-middle-class americans I have met who simply have no interest in experiencing anything non-American.

The money/vacation argument is valid for adults, but then I say that it is extremely sad that Americans don't make it a priority to have better working conditions with more vacation. But I guess they don't know how a job like that could be if they don't travel!

(Report Comment)
Justin Betland March 22, 2011 | 3:58 p.m.

I have to admit, Americans are quite lame when it comes to traveling abroad. I always thought I was strange because I had this obsession with the old cultures of Western Europe. People would look at me funny for telling them I wanted to live in Europe, and still do. I'm a proud American citizen for the most part, so it's not that I don't want to live here. I'm just very drawn to other cultures.
You have to give us credit though, the relatively small number of us Americans who enjoy cultural enrichment and have passports, for having fascination to travel when it's not nourished in school, or by our families.
There were times when traveling abroad where people seemed stereotypically anti-american, but it was usually over the government, and in general I felt people were as friendly as they are here in the U.S. I was told my American accent sounded like a movie star. That was cool. Americans should really got off their ass and travel more. My European vacations were very enriching.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Call May 18, 2011 | 11:58 p.m.

Then why do 53% of Canadians hold a passport? Economically the countries are similar.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 19, 2011 | 8:49 a.m.

"Then why do 53% of Canadians hold a passport?"

Maybe so they can get to America quickly when they need medical care, instead of first going through the passport-application process.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 19, 2011 | 9:48 a.m.

@ Jimmy

This article was written in 2008 and thus the numbers come from 2008 or before. Canadians coming into the US by land or sea did not need a passport until 2009. Your statement does not hold up when logic and facts are brought into the discussion.

BTW, Canadians coming here for health care is a myth. Studies have proven that it is simply not true. On the other hand there is loads of evidence of Americans going to Canada for health care and prescription drugs.

“These findings from U.S. data are supported by responses to a large population-based health survey, the NPHS, in Canada undertaken during our study period (1996). As noted above, 0.5 percent of respondents indicated that they had received health care in the United States in the prior year”

http://content.healthaffairs.org/content...

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 19, 2011 | 9:56 a.m.

Send them to IRAQ!!!

And thanks Jimmy for reminding us that this is the best place and that everyone wants to come here and there is no reason for us to go there, no reason to go anywhere. We don't need to leave on a plane or use a train, we don't need to cross a moat or ride in a boat. We don't need to cross a wall. No, we don't need any of that at all.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12x_vUd1n...

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 19, 2011 | 10:15 a.m.

"BTW, Canadians coming here for health care is a myth."

You cited a study that published nearly a decade ago and was based on data collected between 1994 and 1999.

More recently (2009), the president of the Canadian Medical Association said that patients are getting less-than-optimal care. "We all agree that the system is imploding, we all agree that things are more precarious than perhaps Canadians realize," she said. "(Canadians) have to understand that the system that we have right now - if it keeps on going without change - is not sustainable."

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 19, 2011 | 10:24 a.m.

Jimmy,

Heath care's purpose is to serve the patient not the doctor. Your quote from the new President of the CMA show's doctor's opinions on the issue. Patients in Canada overwhelming disagree with her...

http://www.medicare.ca./wp-content/uploa...

Her issue is with there being a perceived shortage of doctors on the horizon because her and her colleagues feel that they are underpaid.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 19, 2011 | 11:14 a.m.

Jack, the survey asks, "Would you support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or oppose public solutions to make our public healthcare stronger?" What kind of response do you think that will elicit? Very few people would say that they oppose making something stronger.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 19, 2011 | 11:47 a.m.

Jimmy

The key part of the question is public solutions; as in opposition to private solutions. They are not asking if Canadians want to make it stronger; they are asking whether Canadians want to make it stronger through public options or private options and Canadians overwhelming support public. They do this because they realize that public options will keep their cost much lower. The service for some may not be quite as good but does the extra cost warrant that little bit of extra service? If one still wants that extra service they have the option of getting supplemental private insurance in Canada. Healthcare cost per capita in the US is almost double what it is in Canada; do you feel the healthcare that one receives here is worth twice as much as it is in Canada? Please keep in mind that they have a better life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates when you answer.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 19, 2011 | 11:50 a.m.

Jimmy,

I should note before you answer that the per capita healthcare cost for Canada includes supplemental private insurance policy costs provided by employers and policies bought by individuals. Even with the supplemental insurance costs we are twice as expensive on a per capita level.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 19, 2011 | 12:07 p.m.

Jack, you said, "They are not asking if Canadians want to make it stronger; they are asking whether Canadians want to make it stronger through public options or private options." But the survey results you provided asked only, "Would you support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or oppose public solutions to make our public healthcare stronger?" It didn't ask how.

As for supplemental insurance, that's popular among Canadians because it's a way for them to get health care that public system can't or won't provide.

The Canadian system is hardly the land of milk and honey. Ontario says that under the current system, health care costs will be 70% of its budget in the next 10 years. That's why it and other provinces are looking to cap physician salaries. The IMF agrees: http://toronto.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/C...

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 19, 2011 | 12:19 p.m.

Oh! I guess they had better stop health care then. The SKY is falling!!! The sky is FALLING!!!

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 19, 2011 | 12:26 p.m.

Jimmy,

You must be joking about this survey,

"Would you support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or oppose PUBLIC SOLUTIONS to make our public healthcare stronger."

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what they are asking.

"As for supplemental insurance, that's popular among Canadians because it's a way for them to get health care that public system can't or won't provide."

Of course, that is the whole point. Public Healthcare is a social safety net just like Social Security here. You don't plan to retire on just social security do you? Of course you do not; you supplement it with other investments and savings. Canadians supplement their base healthcare with policies suited to their specific needs. This method is far more cost effective and efficient as proven by their per capita cost that is HALF of ours.

As for the rest, I'm not saying that the Canadian system is perfect or that it does not need changes to keep it plausible going forward but that does not get rid of the FACT that it is incredibly more efficient and cost effective then our system. All large political-social programs need to be changed and updated over time as society changes; this does not make them bad programs. Going backwards is not going to help us become more efficient.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 19, 2011 | 12:36 p.m.

Jimmy,

Your IMF report on the Canadian system is a perfect example of what I am trying to get across. Go look up the IMF's report on the US healthcare outlook; it is FAR worse. The point being that the Canadian system is not perfect but it is FAR more efficient than ours.

Also note that all cost estimates for our system do not include bankruptcy and the cost related to them. This amounts to huge inefficiencies for our economy. Healthcare costs are the number one reason for declared bankruptcy in the United States.

“The Medicare trust fund begins to run into deficit in 2016, and the unfunded actuarial liability (in net present value terms) has been estimated at 130 percent of current GDP. This raises the question of whether it would have been prudent to defer an extension of benefits, including to cover prescription drugs, until credible measures to address the system's longer-term financial problems are established. Indeed, the broader weakness of the U.S. health care system—which has left health care spending the highest among OECD countries (relative to GDP), without a commensurately high ranking in public health indicators suggests that more sweeping reforms of the system may be needed.”-IMF

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 19, 2011 | 5:26 p.m.

"Go look up the IMF's report on the US healthcare outlook; it is FAR worse. The point being that the Canadian system is not perfect but it is FAR more efficient than ours."

But the Canadian system also is unsustainable. The efficiency advantages are not enough to avoid a collapse, whether that's measured in the percentage of budget spent on health care or some other metric.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 19, 2011 | 5:45 p.m.

"But the Canadian system also is unsustainable. The efficiency advantages are not enough to avoid a collapse, whether that's measured in the percentage of budget spent on health care or some other metric."

This is certainty true but it still does not get rid of the fact that the Canadian system is far more efficient than ours. However, I think that any system will have this problem over a significant time range. The world changes and thus our various societal systems must also change with it.

The Canadians will have a much easier time adjusting their system to make it sustainable over the next few decades than the United States will.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 20, 2011 | 8:10 a.m.

"This is certainty true but it still does not get rid of the fact that the Canadian system is far more efficient than ours."

If that is in fact a fact, then it's cold comfort for Canadians because their system will remain sustainable only slightly longer than ours. For example, as you posted, "the Medicare trust fund begins to run into deficit in 2016," while Ontario expects health care costs to be 70% of its budget about four years after that. What a Pyrrhic victory.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Dick May 20, 2011 | 8:41 a.m.

The Fraser Institute's credibility is that of a Libertarian right wing think tank that only espouses free market economic policies. It's the Canadian version of the Heritage Foundation. It has been under attack for many of the same things the Heritage Foundation is often accused of: Biased reporting, the omission of data which is contrary to its goals, and specific points of view purchased by organizatons and businesses which oppose taxes, unions, and minimum wage laws.
It's about as bad as believing anything written in the National Enquirer.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 20, 2011 | 8:53 a.m.

Jimmy,

The IMF's predictions are just that, predictions. There are plenty of other projections that say the Canadian system is fine looking forward. Only time will tell.

On the other hand, it is a indisputable FACT that the Canadian system cost half as much as ours. It is a indisputable FACT that their life expectancy and child mortality rates are lower than ours.

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frank christian May 20, 2011 | 8:55 a.m.

Fraser Institute:
"We are an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with active research ties with similar independent organizations in more than 75 countries around the world." http://www.fraserinstitute.org/publicati... You decide.

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Jimmy Bearfield May 20, 2011 | 9:15 a.m.

"It is a indisputable FACT that their life expectancy and child mortality rates are lower than ours."

It is also a FACT that when it comes to infant mortality, "Canada now ties the U.K. for 15th place out of 17 peer countries. Its infant mortality rate is shockingly high for a country at Canada’s level of socio-economic development": www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/healt...

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Jimmy Dick May 20, 2011 | 9:22 a.m.

Though little known at the time of its founding, the Institute has been a source of controversy since its beginning. It was founded by Walker with a grant from forestry giant MacMillan-Bloedel, at a time when MacMillan-Bloedel was in conflict with B.C.'s left-wing NDP government.

Critics of the Institute and other similar agenda-driven think tanks have noted the Fraser Institute's reports, studies and surveys are usually not subject to standard academic peer review or the scholarly method. The accuracy and reliability of the information they produce is therefore often questionable. The Institute also dedicates considerable energy and funding to actively promote their findings and their agenda to broadcast and print media, a practice not followed by most research foundations or in the research work of university departments.

In 1999, the Fraser Institute was attacked by health professionals and scientists for sponsoring two conferences on the tobacco industry, entitled "Junk Science, Junk Policy? Managing Risk and Regulation" and "Should government butt out? The pros and cons of tobacco regulation." Critics charged the Institute was associating itself with the tobacco industry's many attempts to discredit authentic scientific work.

Just look it up in a search engine. Think for yourself and make your own opinions.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 20, 2011 | 9:29 a.m.

@ Jimmy B

Are you serious? The graph you linked to did show that Canada is not that great in terms of infant mortality but is still much better than the United States. Yes Canada was ranked 15th out of 17 but the US was ranked 17th out of 17! Since we are comparing the US system to the Canadian system your point is moot. The Canadian system is more cost efficient than ours and their health indicators are better than ours.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm May 20, 2011 | 9:31 a.m.
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John Schultz May 20, 2011 | 9:44 a.m.

Yo Jimmy, maybe you neglected this bit while throwing around adjectives, but Heritage isn't Libertarian as you may have attempted to state.

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Jimmy Dick May 20, 2011 | 10:00 a.m.

Actually John, I agree with you that the Heritage Foundation isn't as Libertarian as others. They are however, an extremely conservative thinktank. I used to read their output until I found myself fact checking it far too often. In my opinion the last four years have seen a shift in their objectivity to the point where there is a major lack of fair reporting from them. Just another case of polarization.
You have to be careful with any thinktank these days regardless of what position they state. Left, liberal, right, conservative...they're all presenting a biased point of view which is making it harder to sort the truth from the BS.

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frank christian May 20, 2011 | 11:15 a.m.

J Dick - With "Frazer", we at least have a name. The closest we have ever gotten to a name, with you is the highly questionable, "Jimmy Dick". I asked you once not to bother with criticism of a source, just disprove it's presentation.
"Just look it up in a search engine. Think for yourself and make your own opinions." But don't read one that might disagree with your twisted version, right?

Universal health care is going down with every democratically elected gov't, around the world. Just deal with it.

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Jimmy Dick May 20, 2011 | 11:33 a.m.

I would love to buy you a beer Frank on the day after Election Day 2012 so you can sit there and cry in it after the American people repudiate your narrow vision for America. Step back and look at American history since WWI. You'll see where America has been making the shift to universal health care. By the way, what world is univeral health care being voted out in? It isn't this one. The people want it and when that happens, the people get it. Just look at our American history.

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Jimmy Bearfield May 20, 2011 | 2:02 p.m.

"Are you serious? The graph you linked to did show that Canada is not that great in terms of infant mortality but is still much better than the United States. Yes Canada was ranked 15th out of 17 but the US was ranked 17th out of 17! Since we are comparing the US system to the Canadian system your point is moot. The Canadian system is more cost efficient than ours and their health indicators are better than ours."

The point is that when it comes to health care, America's hat is only marginally better off than the U.S. from a variety of standpoints, such as infant mortality and financial sustainability. Fifteenth is still fifteenth. That's like telling the Astros that they should be more like the Twins.

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Paul Allaire May 20, 2011 | 2:16 p.m.

Why be fifteenth when for twice the cost you could be dead last? Great thinking, Jimmy. You went beyond my expectations today.

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Jimmy Bearfield May 20, 2011 | 3:09 p.m.

I'd rather be able to pay twice as much for something than not be able to get it until it's too late. Look at some of the comments at www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2010/04/22/... , such as "I cant get an MRI for 6 - 18 months."

Or this one: "Administration is grossly over paid. Administration has way too much 'fat' back. Administration likes to create things so administration can stay employed and get huge salary and bonuses for creating things that don't mean 'anything'!" You hear the same mantra here, except it's referring to insurance company administrations rather than Medicare/Medicaid administration.

Heck, we're so screwed up here that some in Canada are saying they should reform their system to be more like ours: www.thehilltimes.ca/dailyupdate/view/pri... It can't all be milk and honey up there if they're willing to go to that extreme, right?

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Paul Allaire May 20, 2011 | 3:17 p.m.

Yeah, a lot of problems and it STILL beat your system for half the money. Something tells me that you would rather pay twice as much to be sure that nobody gets a free ride. Hell, you'd probably pay triple for that.

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frank christian May 20, 2011 | 3:47 p.m.

J Dick - Being liberal must really be a blast. One can spend his/her life gathering all the helpful statistics from the past and spout them all over everyone saying, "America has been making the shift to" *socialism* while never once even mentioning the undeniable death knell from the debt of the gov'ts involved. IMF required Greece to privatise their "corrupt" universal health care system as a condition for their bailout loans. The socialistic practice requiring ever increasing billions and trillions of units of currency to be released in the name of "helping the poor", then being spent, given away and stolen (not necessarily in that order), can never be sustained, but that is not the concern of those in control and their water boys. I don't recall any progressive around here ever addressing the cost and/or waste of the program they are defending. Unless, it would be BO claiming BOcare can be paid for by stopping the Medicare waste. I would ask you to elaborate on this point of "cost ignorance", but I'm you are too comfortable having exposed my "narrow vision for America."

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 20, 2011 | 5:30 p.m.

Again, Paul, being 15th out of 17th and a decade from financial collapse is nothing to crow about. Good thing that some country will always be embracing medical tourists.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 20, 2011 | 5:44 p.m.

I always believe it when a right wing think tank predicts the future.

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Candice K May 30, 2011 | 9:11 a.m.
This comment has been removed.
Clay Thomas September 18, 2011 | 2:12 a.m.

@Jimmy "I'd rather be able to pay twice as much for something than not be able to get it until it's too late."

I'm American and I've been unable to get a repetitive strain injury treated for the last 3.5 YEARS! Why? Because I've been semi-unemployed and haven't been able to afford health insurance, in spite of having an Ivy League degree and years of work experience, published papers, etc.

The American healthcare system only works for those with lots of money. If you're wealthy, it's great not to have to wait in line, but personally, I would take a 6-18 month waiting period any day over the hell that I've had to live through.

I have found that my "fellow countrymen" have left me high and dry whenever difficulties have arisen, and I see an awful lot of this everywhere I look in America. Look at the burgeoning homeless populations, and then look at the number of Americans who sit back, apathetic, and ignore their suffering so that they can gorge like pigs at the trough. In America, it's all about me me me, so God help you if you have a problem that you can't fix yourself. in America, if you fail for any reason, even if it's not your own fault, you're probably screwed, and there will be anyone there to help you.

I say this as an American who has never lived anywhere else and can call nowhere else home. But I'm increasingly embarrassed to be an American.

I think that the author's premise is largely incorrect. I think that indeed, many Americans are perfectly content to simply sit on the couch and watch TV for thousands of hours like human vegetables. The primary goal of many Americans seems to be to exert as little effort as possible in all things. traveling is a pain in the ass, and frankly, I think most Americans are simply too lazy and apathetic to bother. There are exceptions obviously, but I'm talking about the masses here.

I also don't buy the argument about trips costing too much for the American family to afford. Americans do have more children than Europeans on average, but I have seen plenty of Europeans traveling with kids, so it can be done. And again, it must be mentioned that American have more money on average, since they spend more weeks working every year, and pay less taxes. based on this, Americans should have significantly MORE expendable income for traveling than their European counterparts.

As far as the United States being a large country - yes, that's true, but I know a great many people who won't even bother to leave the state because apparently even that is too much trouble.

and no, I don't think Americans are harder working than Europeans. Germans enjoy lengthy vacations, and yet on a per-capita basis they're the most economically productive people on earth.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield September 18, 2011 | 10:37 a.m.

"in America, if you fail for any reason, even if it's not your own fault, you're probably screwed, and there will be anyone there to help you."

Hardly. For example, nearly half of all infants and about one-quarter of all children 1-4 years of age receive WIC (www.ers.usda.gov/publications/fanrr27/fa...). Refuse to work but choose to have a baby anyway? No problem. Here's WIC, TANF, deeply subsidized daycare, refundable tax credits and a Pell Grant. Don't list the father, and you can qualify for even more taxpayer money.

The food stamp safety net clearly is still there, considering that nearly 15% of Americans now use it. No health insurance? There's a one-in-three chance that you're eligible for Medicaid, SCHIP or some other taxpayer-funded program (www.coverageforall.org/pdf/BC-BS_Uninsur...). Even if you make $50K or more, there's a good chance that you still would qualify.

The list goes on and on.

(Report Comment)
ryan Clark November 24, 2011 | 9:49 a.m.

Ok first off I'm from Kansas City with family in St. Louis. I have traveled Missouri and the Central United States from Wyoming/Colorado/New Mexico in the west and Tennessee/Florida/Ohio to the east extensively.

To say that these places are as diverse as the U.S. v. Europe or South America is plain incorrect and misleading.
New York is very different from KC, but London is much more different and that's just staying in a country that speaks English. Change languages and the culture changes. Texas even in the parts that speak Spanish still is very different than say Mexico City.

Also the cost argument is mute. If you think a flight for four to Paris is the cheapest price you are mistaken. If you put in some effort $3000 our less from KC or St. Louis is easily doable. As previous people have said it is the mindset. Many Americans view the world as more unsafe than it is due to our lovely news media. South America is not as dangerous as many think. Also the Southern Cone in many cases is safer than the United States if you use street smarts like you would anywhere.

On the fun little healthcare debate. If you think public healthcare means compromising quality you have got to be kidding. Those that can't afford it in the U.S. are worse off than those that get free healthcare in other parts. Do you really want only people that can pay for healthcare to get treated Mr. Moneybags. You can bet that disease spreads faster if more are uninsured and money won't protect you from it.

I believe a mix of public and private is best. Yes it is expensive, but relatively the U.S. spends more than necessary with very few visible benefits. It's not socialism it's common sense. If you destroy the worse-off in society in the long-term everyone is worse off. That's why a large middle class is a very good thing, not only having the very wealthy.

Finally, on a personal note as a Kansas Citian on the right side of the state line I would expect nothing less of a Columbian, go to St. Louis or KC and get an education. Btw going to London doesn't qualify as extensive international experience just like going to California doesn't. Write about something you actually have experience in. When you've actually got outside of the bubble. Your still in the American mindset. As a Midwesterner I find it offensive that you reinforce the same stuff we are spoon fed in the U.S. with the same excuses.
Thank you, and go Jayhawks!

(Report Comment)
frank christian November 24, 2011 | 10:22 a.m.

ryan Clark- The last sentence of your lengthy post puts the credibility of the rest in deep jeopardy. Too bad.

(Report Comment)
ryan Clark November 24, 2011 | 1:03 p.m.

frank- I went to Iowa State not KU who is likewise not sympathetic although not as fiercely unfond of Missouri as KU. As mentioned my whole family lives there, so it's not like I don't know what I'm talking about and yes I'm from the Kansas side I live two miles from the border. Also Missouri just left the Big 12, expecting to be popular when being incredibly selfish, you know like texas, doesn't make too many friends. I don't think people at MU are stupid like some ignorant Jayhawks I just think they made a poor decision, but we're all human.

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frank christian November 24, 2011 | 5:14 p.m.

ryan Clark - "Also Missouri just left the Big 12, expecting to be popular when being incredibly selfish,"

You should have quit while you were ahead. Your comments on travel are meaningless and those on "public health care" show the ignorance you attribute to Jayhawks. The condescension that accompanies, "I don't think people at MU are stupid" is not a plus either.

Missouri taking care of it's own interest among the really selfish Texas, Oklahoma and Okla. State is not selfish and you write "expecting to be popular" only because MU officials have indicated willingness to continue competition where possible after the switch. I have verbally wagered that due to the dollars involved KU will be playing football and probably basketball in Kansas City, MO as early as next year. I could also wager that if KU and Iowa State were given an invitation from another conference "they'd be outta there" by this time next month.

(Report Comment)
Anya Abel November 29, 2011 | 10:55 a.m.

I have stumbled upon this article as I was googling 'if the average Americans are well traveled" (I suspected the answer was no). As an American resident who came from Indonesia (probably a country still considered third world), but grew up in Jakarta (the capital of Indonesia, whose environment comparably as metropolitan as, say, Chicago or Los Angeles), I often amazed with how a lot of Americans are not well informed or have a good knowledge about other countries as, say, all my friends and family in Jakarta. Of course since I was born and raised in a big city in Indonesia I also don't represent an average Indonesians who live in the villages (only about 13 million people live in Jakarta and the Indonesian population is about 230 million people). But I grew up thinking that America is the world's leading country and expected its citizens to be having a very good knowledge about other countries of the world since I thought the education system must be one of the best in the world. But no, even my now American husband, when he was about to room with my Indonesian colleague, he had no definite knowledge of where exactly is Indonesia. He had to brushed up looking on a world's map to familiarize himself to the location of the country. And my husband went to one of 100 the best colleges in the world (Purdue University). And his good friend at that time, whose a son of a factory worker thought that I had come to an upward mobility in social and financial status when I married my husband (whose family is actually less educated and less wealthy than my family back in Indonesia --- both my parents hold a PhD degrees from Indiana University and my father was one of the top government official in Jakarta). This friend clearly had no knowledge that not ALL Indonesian people are rice farmers or tea leaves pickers who don't wear shoes.

(Report Comment)
Anya Abel November 29, 2011 | 10:57 a.m.

CONTINUED...

Anyway --- as I have been living in the USA for 20+ years I still am amazed how many Americans still have very little knowledge about the rest of the world and if they do, they only refer to the bad news the American media are portraying other countries of the world. And as the questions of whether the average Americans are well traveled (answer is no, of course), I do agree with Ms. Steinmetz that it is pretty expensive to travel the world. And the average Americans don't make enough money to be able to travel the world. But I still see many Americans who can afford it but has no interest or do not put in their priorities to travel to another country. I once told my husband (after taking a cruise trip to Mexico --- which is a very popular vacation method for the Americans), that I suspect that the way Americans like to travel outside their country is to "bring the country along with them" (all the accommodations in the cruise line is a miniature of American with their American people and foods and entertainments). I come to think that Americans are uncomfortable of experiencing the real culture and people of other country. While I was on that trip, I overheard this American ladies said something to the effect of "how they can't stand looking at the poverties of the people in Mexico", that's why they love going on a cruise so they don't have to see these poverties (as the cruise line only visits the good resorts/touristy area of the said countries).

(Report Comment)
Anya Abel November 29, 2011 | 10:58 a.m.

LAST CONTINUATION...

I also do notice the arrogance (or more kindly, the pride) of being a citizen of the most powerful country in the world, can make an American citizen not want to know about other people, culture, from outside the American soil. Some of these people may think that why would they bother? All these other people and countries are considered "beneath" them.

At one point in our life, we had invited our wealthy friends to travel with us to Greece, and that was their first time being outside of North America (their vacations consisted of Hawaii and the Bahamas), and they actually could've well afford many of vacations to other countries even before we invited them. And they were not impressed as they said that Greece is just like California (where they live) and they don't understand why they had to spend 15 thousand dollars to be in California. My husband and I were appalled by these comments. And the he went on, complaining why the Grecians don't treat him like a king, as he had heard that other countries consider America as the greatest country in the world. He also was ignorant enough to speak to the store keeper in Spanish even as the store keeper told him that in Greece they don't speak Spanish.

Nevertheless, we aren't planning on inviting them anymore to our trips outside the USA.

(Report Comment)
Anya Abel November 29, 2011 | 11:04 a.m.

PS: OOOpps sorry when I wrote about my husband not know where Indonesia was, this was when he was in college more than 20 years ago. When he met me, through his Indonesian roommate (who was also my friend), he already knew where exactly Indonesia is). And my husband now has travelled the world with his work and with me (and our two children).

(Report Comment)

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