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U.S. should take notice of No. 16 ranking

Switzerland is the Omaha of the world.

EDITORIAL

That’s all we can figure.

Over the years, we’ve come across approximately 73 million surveys ranking American cities for “livability” and, while we can’t prove it, modest towns in the middle of corn and wheat fields, like Omaha, so often seem to win.

Not because Omaha, Nebraska, has it all, though it’s a fine town. Not because Omaha is Fun City.

But because crime is low in Omaha and towns like it, and schools are good and people are comfortable and Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver, even in 2015, might feel right at home.

We suspect that people who conduct such surveys think “Pleasantville,” the 1998 Tobey Maguire movie in which an orderly town gets a little wild when folks start expressing their true selves, was intended as a horror film.

Now comes another livability survey, this time ranking the best nations in the world to be born in, and Switzerland heads the list.

Why? Precisely for reasons you might guess: The Swiss have money. The Swiss don’t get bopped on the head for their wallets. The Swiss can find decent work. The Swiss can send their kids to good schools. The Swiss don’t slump into retirement broke.

And here’s the most important part: Swiss people say they are happy.

The survey, by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of The Economist, might not trouble us much except that the United States topped a similar study by the same group back in 1988. Now the United States has dropped to 16th place, tied with Germany and behind — in order of wonderfulness — Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Singapore, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Canada, Hong Kong, Finland, Ireland, Austria, Taiwan and Belgium.

To which we can only say, “E tu, Canada?”

The study, according to the Economist, makes a serious attempt to “measure which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.” It does so by weighing 11 factors, including economic strength, crime rates, the health of family life and trust in public institutions.

Looks like they’ve got us there. Does any American, no matter how big a flag-waver, want to pretend our nation hasn’t stumbled on all these measures of personal and civic well-being in the last quarter century? Trust in public institutions, as measured in polls of confidence in Congress, are at historic lows.

It is tempting to laugh off such livability surveys. Small and wealthy countries with homogeneous populations will always fare best, while big countries doing the heavy lifting of economic and social justice in the world — absorbing large immigrant populations, for example, and trying to make multiculturalism work — will fare the worst.

But the constant barrage of worrisome headlines in the news — a growing income gap, violence in our inner cities, absurdly low high schools graduation rates, absurdly high prison populations, runaway government debt, our polarized politics and the like — tell us we’d be wise to ‘fess up to our failings and look to other countries now and then for what we might learn.

The Economist specifically singles out the problem of “the large debts of the boomer generation” that the next generation of Americans will “inherit.”

Then again, let’s not beat ourselves up too much. The United States dropped from first place to 16th place in the survey because, in part, the surveyors no longer factor in the fun quotient. Seriously. The 1988 survey included a “philistine factor” measuring cultural poverty and also a “yawn index.” The 2014 excluded those crucial measures.

Take that, Switzerland. You too, Canada.

Say what you will, the United States is never boring.