Let’s wade into some poly-ticks.
The British media is having a field day making fun of Mitt Romney’s recent stumbles in London, where he insulted his hosts by criticizing their preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics. (The Guardian‘s headline yesterday: “Mitt Romney’s Olympics blunder stuns No 10 and hands gift to Obama”.) This has lead some bloggers and journalists to reprint this passage from Romney’s book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness:
England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions.
That’s pretty insulting, but is it true? Let’s take these assertions one by one:
“England is just a small island.” Of course, on the face of it, this is false. England isn’t any kind of island. We’ll assume the governor meant Great Britain (which is an island), or the United Kingdom (which is a nation-state situated on a number of islands, the largest of which is Great Britain). Now, Wikipedia has a list of the world’s largest islands (by area), and Great Britain is the 9th largest in the world, so I wouldn’t personally consider it a small island. Sure, the U.K. is small (in area) compared to the United States—the U.K.’s area is about 243,610 km2, compared to 255,026 km2 for my native state of Oregon—but the U.K. has some 63 million people, and a GDP of US$2.29 trillion, giving it the 9th largest economy in the world. It’s not an insignificant place.
“Its roads and houses are small.” Matthew Ygelsais at Slate points out that it is true that the U.K. has smaller houses. Of course, given the large increase in house sizes America has seen in the past few decades, I’m not sure this is a bad thing. (Remember, the U.K. didn’t have a subprime mortgage crisis, either—although some of their banks did need to be bailed out, because they got involved in _American_subprime mortgages.)As far as the roads go, it’s true that you will find narrow streets in the older parts of European cities, because such streets predate the invention of the automobile. Nevertheless, you will also find highways in the U.K. that look just like the ones in America:
Well, okay: modulo the side of the road the cars drive on.
“With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy.” To fact-check this claim, I made a small table:
United States United Kingdom Exports (2011) US$1.511 trillion US$495.4 billion Population (2011) 313,847,465 63,047,162 Exports per capita US$4814 US$7858
For whatever it’s worth, the U.K. is the world’s 11th largest exporter.
“And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions.” I don’t know enough about World War II to evaluate the merit of this claim, but it does come across as a jerky thing to say. Look, the U.K. was fighting Nazi Germany as early as September 1939; the U.S. didn’t get involved in direct fighting until December 1941. By the way, the Battle for Britain, in which the British successfully resisted German invasion, occurred in 1940—while we were sitting on the sidelines.
America is a great country. We shouldn’t have to say incorrect and jerky things about other countries to feel good about ourselves.
(Information about GDPs, country size, population, and exports were taken from the CIA World Factbook.)