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The Real American Exceptionalism

| Written by David Morris | 39 Comments | Updated on Apr 18, 2011 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/the-real-american-exceptionalism/

This commentary was also published at On the Commons.

For Republican presidential candidates the phrase American Exceptionalism has taken on almost talismanic qualities. Newt Gingrich’s new book is titled, A Nation Like No Other:  Why American Exceptionalism Matters. “American the Exceptional” is the title of a chapter in Sarah Palin’s book America by Heart.

And woe be to those who take issue with the phrase.  2008 Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declares, “To deny American exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation.”  2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney insists, “The reorientation away from a celebration of American exceptionalism is misguided and bankrupt.”

What is this American exceptionalism Republicans so venerate? After interviewing many Republican leaders,  Washington Post Reporter Karen Tumulty concludes it is the belief that America “is inherently superior to the world’s other nations”.  It is a widely held belief.  Indeed, most Americans believe our superiority is not only inherent but divinely ordained.  A survey by the Public Religious Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “God has granted America a special role in human history.”

Let me make it clear at the outset.  I too believe in American exceptionalism, although I don’t think God has anything to do with it.  But I suspect my perspective will find little favor among Republicans in general and Tea Party members in particular.  For I believe that America is exceptional in the advantages we’ve had over other nations, not what we’ve done with those advantages.

Indeed, to me there are two American exceptionalisms.  One is the exceptionally favorable circumstances the United States found itself in at its founding and over its first 200 years.  The second is the exceptional way in which we have squandered those advantages, in the process creating a value system singularly antagonistic to the changes needed when those advantages disappeared.

Americans did not become rich because of our rugged individualism or entrepreneurial drive or technical inventiveness.  We were born rich.  Ann Richards’ famous description of George Bush Sr. as an individual is equally applicable to the United States as a whole, “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”

When asked to identify the single most important difference between the Old and New World, renowned historian Henry Steele Commager responded, in the New World your baby survived.  The New World had an abundance of cheap land which meant the New World, unlike the Old World, was largely populated by self-reliant property owners.  Coupled with a moderate climate and rich soil, immigrants could grow all the food needed for their families, livestock and horses.  There was plenty of clean water and sufficient free or low cost wood to build and heat one’s house.

The fact that Americans could choose to live on a farm also gave them significant bargaining power with employers. As a result wages in the New World were much higher than in the Old World.

The United States also benefited enormously from tens of millions of immigrants who, through a Darwinian-like process of natural selection, were among the most driven and entrepreneurial and hardy of their native countries.  And on the dark side of the immigration picture, we also benefited immensely from millions of involuntary immigrants who provided an army of unpaid labor for southern plantations.

American exceptionalism must also include our unique advantage in having two oceans separating us from potential enemies.  After 1815, no foreign troops ever again set foot on American soil.  Indeed, America has benefited mightily from foreign wars.  Arguably, the conflict between France and England had more to do with our winning independence than our own military efforts.  In the first half of the 19th century, European wars led political leaders to peacefully sell huge quantities of land to the United States for a pittance (e.g. the Louisiana purchase of 1803 doubled the size of our infant nation).

A century later foreign wars again dramatically benefited the United States. “In the twentieth century the American economy was twice left undamaged and indeed enriched by war while its potential competitors were transformed into pensioner”, notes historian Godfrey Hodgson.  After World War I the United States became the world’s creditor.  After World War II Europe and Japan lay in ashes while the United States accounted for a full 40 percent of the world’s economy.

The list of exceptional advantages must also include our vast reserves of fossil fuels and iron ore.  For our first 200 years we were self-sufficient in oil.  Today we still export coal and are largely self-sufficient in natural gas.

Making a Sow’s Ear Out of a Silk Purse:  The Culture Born of American Exceptionalism

Americans became the richest people on earth not because we were endowed with inherently superior national traits nor because we are God’s chosen people, nor because we have an elegant and compact Constitution and a noble sounding Declaration of Independence. We became rich because we were exceptionally lucky.

But the myth that we became richer than other countries because of our blessedness encouraged us to develop a truly exceptionalist culture, one that has left us singularly unequipped to prosper when our luck changed, when inexpensive land and energy proved exhaustible, when the best and the brightest in the world began staying at home rather than emigrating to our shores, when wars began to burden us and enrich our economic competitors.

The central tenet of that culture is a celebration of the “me” and an aversion to the “we”.  When Harris pollsters asked US citizens aged 18 and older what it means to be an American the answers surprised no one. Nearly 60 percent used the word freedom.  The second most common word was patriotism.  Only 4 percent mentioned the word community.

To American exceptionalists freedom means being able to do what you want unencumbered by obligations to your fellow citizens. It is a definition of freedom the rest of the world finds bewildering.  Can it be, they ask, that the quintessential expression of American freedom is low or no taxes and the right to carry a loaded gun into a bar? To which a growing number of Americans, if recent elections were any indication, would respond, “You’re damn right it is.”

Strikingly, Americans are not exceptional in our attitudes toward government.  In a survey of 27 countries, two thirds of the respondents on both sides of the Atlantic answered yes to the following question, “Does the government control too much of your daily life?  Is it usually inefficient and wasteful?”

What makes us exceptional is our response to the next question. “It is the responsibility of the government to reduce the difference in income”.  Less than a third of Americans agreed while in 26 other countries more than two thirds did.

Citizens in other countries are as critical of their governments as we are.  But unlike us they do not criticize the importance of government itself or the fundamental role it plays in boosting the general welfare.   They do not like to pay taxes, but they understand the necessity of taxes not only in building a public infrastructure but also in building a personal security infrastructure.

Far more than other peoples, Americans believe that skill and hard work are the keys to success and wealth is a measure of how hard you work or how skilled you are.  Which leads us to believe that people should have the right to amass as much wealth as they can and view a graduated income tax as a punitive penalty on success and a sturdy social safety net an invitation to slothfulness, reduced productivity and an overall slowdown in economic growth.

The expression, “The Nanny State” is singularly American.  The expression “We’re all in this together”, while rhetorically still extant in the United States, less and less describes the values that motivate our policies.

In contrast, Europeans believe luck and circumstance are more important than hard work and skill and a sturdy social safety net is needed to help those who are unlucky.  Acting on this principle, they have designed most of their social benefits to be universal, as have Canada and Japan, unlike here where residents have to prostrate themselves before bureaucrats to validate their penury before they are grudgingly doled out ever-smaller and temporary amounts of assistance.

One consequence of universality is that even while they complain about taxes, Europeans can point to many aspects of their lives where they directly and personally benefit from taxes (e.g. universal health insurance).  Americans cannot.

For many Americans even means tested benefits are unwelcome. The term “welfare” is a pejorative a handout given to undeserving people who will use it in unworthy ways.  Ronald Reagan’s lethal phrase “welfare Queen” accurately captured that mindset.

The new influence of Tea Party conservatives has taken this anti-social attitude a step further best reflected in the speeches of Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee and made concrete in his recent budget.  Ryan believes that helping the poor represents a “collectivist” philosophy.  His heroine is Ayn Rand, the God of libertarians.  He requires his staffers to read Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged and calls Rand  “the reason I got involved in public service.”

Jonathan Chait sums up Rand’s moral philosophy, “The core of the Randian worldview, as absorbed by the modern GOP, is a belief that the natural market distribution of income is inherently moral, and the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.”

For Ayn Rand charity is not only unwelcome; it is evil.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others…The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good. Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime.

That value system is made explicit in Paul Ryan’s much publicized budget which would slash taxes on the rich by almost $3 trillion while cutting spending on the needy by almost that much.

The United States is also exceptional among industrialized nations not only in having by far the world’s most unequal income distribution but in believing that this inequality benefits us all, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

The data is crystal clear.  Since 1980, the income share of the upper 1 percent of Americans has doubled.  The share going to the top 0.1 percent, those earning more than $1.2 million a year, has quadrupled.  Meanwhile the average worker’s wages have declined.  In 2004 a full-time worker’s wage was 11 percent lower than in 1973, adjusting for inflation, even though productivity had risen 78 percent between 1973 and 2004

In the last decade, while the top 1 percent of Americans saw their incomes rise, on average, by more than a quarter of a million dollars each, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined.

To Republicans, inequality is unimportant because of another aspect of American exceptionalism, the unparalleled opportunity in the United States for those with ambition and grit to move up the economic ladder. They insist, and most of us firmly believe, that America is still the land of opportunity, that the probability of a rags to riches saga is much higher here than abroad.

But recent data contradicts that fundamental tenet of American exceptionalism.  A Brookings Institution report comparing economic mobility in the United States and other countries concludes, “…”Starting at the bottom of the earnings ladder is more of a handicap in the United States than it is in other countries.” And more broadly notes, “there is growing evidence of less intergenerational economic mobility in the United States than in many other rich industrialized countries.”

Another hobbling fundamental tenet of American exceptionalism is that we have nothing to learn from other countries.  Why mess with God’s perfection?  Back in the late 1980s I went to producers at Minneota’s public television station, TPT and proposed a show tentatively entitled, “What We Can Learn From Others”.  They wondered what in the world I was smoking.

This sense of uniqueness has most clearly been reflected in our debates on national health care reform. In 1994 both the United States and Taiwan engaged in national debates about how their health care systems might be improved.  To come up with the answers, Taiwan’s leaders visited about a dozen other countries to gain insights about the wide variety of existing national health system structures and use these insights to tailor a system adapted to their own needs.  US leaders visited no other countries.  The debate rarely even mentioned other countries except dismissively and usually inaccurately (e.g. Canadians cannot choose their own doctors).  This occurred despite the overwhelming evidence that the US medical system is the most expensive, the least accessible and by many measures, one of the least well-performing of any in the industrialized world.

The 2009 debate over health reform took place as the United States economy collapsed, unemployment soared and foreclosures mushroomed.  Yet there was virtually no discussion about the relationship of health care and personal financial adversity.  A study by Steffie Woolhandler and colleagues at the Harvard Medical School done in 2007 revealed a remarkable statistic: 62 percent of US bankruptcies were a result of medical expenses.   Equally damning, 75 percent of the people with a medically related bankruptcy had health insurance.

How does this woeful statistic compare to other countries?  It is impossible to say because in other countries such a statistic would be a sign of gross irresponsibility and perhaps a societal breakdown.  On Frontline, Washington Post veteran reporter T.R. Reid examined health systems around the world.  In the process he interviewed the President of the Swiss Federation.  Switzerland had dramatically changed its own health system in 1994 through a national referendum.

Reid:  How many people in Switzerland go bankrupt because of medical bills?

Swiss President Pascal Couchepin:  Nobody. It doesn’t happen. It would be a huge scandal if it happens.

Conservatives proudly point to the Declaration of Independence as the foundational source of their guiding principles.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But American exceptionalism has bred a culture and value system that have in turn embraced policies that have made the pursuit of happiness exceedingly difficult.

More and more Americans are desperately trying to hold on.  In an astonishing reversal of the first 200 years of American history when we were seen as perhaps the most optimistic of all peoples, we have become one of the most personally insecure.

To make up for the decline in wages, Americans are working longer hours and taking on more debt just to make ends meet.  Today Americans are at work 4-10 weeks longer than their counterparts in Europe.  Forty million Americans lack health insurance and tens of millions more have health insurance with limited coverage.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, at the founding of the American Republic a key difference between the Old World and the New World  was that in the New World a baby survived.  Today, the numbers paint a different picture.   The proportion of infants that survive in the United States is one of the lowest in the industrialized world.

At the founding of the nation, access to low cost land transformed the United States into the first large nation in history populated principally by property owners.  Since late 2007. however,  there have been more than 7 million foreclosures in the United States and some predict another 2 million in 2011.

America has been and continues to be exceptional.  At first we were exceptional because of circumstances that conferred on us enormous advantages over other nations.  Today we are exceptional because of our culture, a culture born of our unusually fortunate history and now perhaps the single biggest handicap to our collective survival and prosperity in the less favorable circumstances of the 21st century.

 

We’re #1

Charting American Exceptionalism


 

SOURCES

1. Multiplier of CEO Pay to Average Worker Pay. Adam Choate , Dana Rowzee, Jerrod Tinsley, CEO Pay Rates: U.S. vs. Foreign Nations. November 17, 2005. http://www.cab.latech.edu/~mkroll/510_papers/fall_05/group6.pdf

2.  % of Total Income Received by Richest 0.1%. A B Atkinson, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, Top incomes in the long run of history. 2009.http://tinyurl.com/4yje6n7

3. Military Expenditures-2010.  Global Military Spending. Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. February 20, 2008.http://armscontrolcenter.org/

4, Prisoners Per 100,000 Population. Christopher Hartney, US Rates of Incarceration: A Global Perspective. Nat’l Council on Crime and Delinquency.http://tinyurl.com/3mjy4ur

5. Murders Per 100,000 Population. Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 – 2000 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention).http://tinyurl.com/3uojsfj

6. Health Costs as a % of GDP. Health Care Spending as Percentage of GDP: Talking About Quality Part 1: Health Care Today. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. June 30, 2009. http://www.rwjf.org/pr/product.jsp?id=45110

7. Infant Mortality-Deaths Per 1000 Live Births. World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision. Department of Economic & Social Affairs. ESA/P/WP.202. United Nations. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/wpp2006/WPP2006_Highlights_rev.pdf

8. Social Spending for Families-% of GDP. Chris de Neubourg, et. al. Social Safety Nets and Targeted Social Assistance. Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. http://tinyurl.com/3kvm4py

9.  % of Children Living in Poverty. Child Poverty in Perspective, Innocenti Report Card.  Report Card 7. UNICEF. http://tinyurl.com/3l3cz7a

10. % of Population Experiencing Homelessness-1990-2006. International Perspectives on Homelessness in Developed Nations.  Editor Paul Toro. Journal of Social Issues.  Vol. 63, No. 3. 2007.  http://tinyurl.com/3w4xtdp

 

 

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About David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its initiative on The Public Good. He is the author of the New City States, Seeing the Light, and three other non-fiction books. His essays on public policy are regularly published by On the Commons, Alternet, Common Dreams and the Huffington Post.

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  • Beverly Cochrane

    Thank you for this Blog for the prose,research, presentation, subject matter,etc…and the Truth!

  • Tim Crosby

    Very intriguing and thought provocative. I would love to share this work but in this world of varying truths I can only share what I can source.

    Can you share the source of the graphs? Do you have a weblink?

    Thank you.

  • Richard Creamer, Ph.D.

    Thank you for your excellent summation and overview of the state of America today and especially for the clear and shocking charts. Does “American exceptionalism” not suggest a feeling that we are, though heterogenous, a “super race.” Scary!

  • Michael Spears

    David,

    Any chance of creating an email newsletter in addition to the RSS for distributing these items from your site ? I prefer email delivery ,if available. If not, I’ll continue with RSS.

    Thanks .

    • Thanks for the suggestion Michael. I’m unsure there’s an easy way to do it but let me ponder it.

  • Great presentation of how America is #1 for many of the wrong reasons. It’s unfortunate that a blinded corporate media and an elected class that cares more about campaign funding than funding heating assistance for the poor is so out of touch on so many levels with reality.

    While the unemployment rate is pumped as 8.8%, the “real” unemployment rate is over 20% according to John Williams at Shadowstats.com. The worker participation rate is at 27-year lows. Regarding the long-term unemployed, the rates are still in record territory. In fact, those out of work for 99 weeks or more are at record levels. Shameless plug: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-thornton/unemployed-99er-populatio_b_845886.html

    As Joseph Stiglitz put so well “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”.

    Keep up the great work.

  • The sources, with links, are at the bottom of the article.

  • BobJ

    I lived in Sweden for a year while on sabatical and I can assure you that we fall well short of being “the greatest nation in the world.” Well short.

  • Colleen Crompton

    Mr. Morris: Your article is so valid and so valuable. It is truly unfortunate the ‘public’ appears to be more occupied with todays favorite athlete or entertainer, rather than items of true importance.

  • anon

    American exceptionalism is just a code word
    for Empire. As the rest of the world wakes
    up from subsidizing American lifestyle for 30 years.
    Inflation is exported, Pollution is exported, Slavery is exported.
    Food and Fuel is subsidized. Dollar has to be accumulated
    by every country so Americans can live by debt.

    Americans will know real pain unless they start another war
    to keep their preeminence. Sadly other countries will be
    destabilized because of American anger.

  • The word POVERTY is misspelled in “% of children living in poverty” slide. Can you please fix that?

    Thanks.

  • While your graphs provide useful (and sobering) lessons, infant mortality statistics are notoriously misleading. In the USA, if a baby takes one breath after being born and then dies, this is an infant death. In most other countries, if the baby dies within one day (or even several days, in some cases) it is a “stillbirth,” which does not “count” in infant mortality statistics. A McGill University study showed that, comparing apples with apples, American infant mortality is on a par with Norway, which provides universal health care. Kramer, Michael S. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey Volume 57(7), July 2002, pp 429-430. “Registration Artifacts in International Comparisons of Infant Mortality”

    – Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach, CA

  • Kenneth Breazeale

    The graphs depicting “Murders per 100,000”, and “Prisoners per 100,000”, should be broken down into race. Additionally, USA taxpayers suffer the largest welfare state in the entire world, therefore, I am not quite sure what is meant by the chart titled “Social spending for families”.

  • Carl Hanemann

    Your grouping of graphs is pretty dramatic. I’d also like to see graphs of median and per capita personal income and GDP by country. A common belief is that the US ranks first in these and this is used as an excuse for why the results in some of the other graphs don’t really matter.

  • Andrew Gaertner

    Thank you David for putting it all so clearly. I am forwarding this link to friends.

  • Really nice piece of work, David!
    Thanks for doing this!!!
    Gar

  • Lesley Anne Kinney

    @Kenneth Breazeale
    Why should they be broken down by race?

  • Owen

    Thank you, you have effectively and (imo) accurately summed up the state of our nation. I see evidence of our system breaking down around us at every turn, but no one really seems to notice it. Under the guise of conservatism and libertarianism, the middle class has been turned into a new generation of cheap, low income factory fodder for the corporate welfare. The richest 1% control everything, and have convinced the other 99% of us to fight amongst ourselves for the scraps, and we can thank good ole’ american distrust of government to keep things that way.

  • The people of the U.S. only spend 1/2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product? How come then if we don’t get to buy 99.5 percent of what we make that we are so much in debt to China and so forth? There is no way that we spend so little on the products we make; I know we don’t get that many things from Japan and China. On the other hand, if we only get to buy half a percent of what we make, then some people need to get off their fat lazy asses and get a job so we can raise this rate to five percent or maybe even ten percent and then maybe we can start paying off this debt that just keeps accumulating because nobody feels like paying it off.

  • Charlie

    Great work! Can you please show these (or some of these charts) in terms of trends over time?

    Thanks,

  • jim spittle

    @ Ken B. ?

    Great article. There is more to life than money and military…and kicking around other small nations. Am ericans have much to be proud of but we still have much tod o if we want to consider ourselves “exceptional”. And really, shouldn’t that be for others to decide?

  • Cheryl Janachione

    Thank you for the great summation. Many people in our society don’t seem to want to read more than 8-10 words so maybe these dramatic graphs will get there attention. I wish I knew what would get the American public interested in their own good. Maybe we have to make it entertaining.
    So sad because this is really serious…

  • sopwith

    The flaws in this presentation are many. How many of our medical problems are due to the influx of third world people into our country, with the blessings of our government? The same is true with salaries of lower level workers, and life expectancies. The crime rate amoung US citizens of white European decent is amoung the lowest in the world, the rate amoung non white US citizens amoung the highest. And then there is the military expendatures part. The US maintains a policing level of military not so much to control the Russians or other would be adversaries, but rather to control the Germans and Japanese and assure they do not field armies of aggression as they have had a habit of doing. Once our policing policies fail, bad things happen. And about our dependence on foriern oil sources…I believe (without proof) that our energy resources are being held as collateral on the endless loans from foriern countries.
    The US has been lucky from time to time, but not always. We were once lucky with a government that did not wish to control our every waking moment. We were lucky to have low tax rates, secure borders, good schools, and functioning hospitals. The government and the oligarchs that own them are largely responsible for our decline, with equal blame going to the Alinskiites that have assumed control of our education system, unions and moral code. A truely free society is doomed when the enemies of republican government learn to infiltrate the institutions that keep a society intact. The people of the US have been betrayed by their leaders, educators, wealthy, and especially the self proclaimed monitor of society, the journalists and writers, many of whom wish to continue to enjoy the benefits of capitalism while decideing the common people would be better served with feudalism.

  • Carlos

    Great work !!!!!! eye opener!!!! Thanks so much for your great article!!!!!!

  • Alex Mendoza

    Music please… You like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto, you say “American exceptionalism” and I say “American Arrogance”, Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto, exceptionalism, arrogance, Let’s call the whole thing off!!!

  • stan Payson

    Great article. Unfortunately, it takes an open minded person to grasp the content. Another factor to consider is the inability of a 2 party political system to represent the diversity of public opinion in government.

  • Great piece. I will share it with others. One element of American exceptionalism is missing, the role of slavery in our politics and economics. Who else wrote a Constitution that counted slaves as 3/5 of a person? Who else fought a civic war over slavery? Who else has continued a caste system based on race as we have?

  • Susan Haywood

    The arrogance and ignorance of most Americans is mind-boggling. The big question is how to take back the media, the government, and our own humanity. Many people have their heads in the sand, even as they lose their pensions, jobs, homes, and bargaining power, and CEO’s receive bonuses. It would be interesting to see statistics on mental health in the US; anti-depressants are ubiquitous, and perhaps that’s how we disconnect. Many of us see what the problems are, but few of us have the stamina to fight or the feeling that we can make a difference. Instilling compassion and creating community may not be enough unless we can reach the rich and powerful. How are we going to do it? My friends criticize me when I suggest revolution, but if we don’t take to the streets, who will notice? Are we still so entitled that we don’t recognize the pinch? Madison has given us a surge of energy. How can we keep it up?

  • Awesome myth-debunking work, David. I’ve linked it to FB and Twitter for better coverage. I hope others will do the same so that ‘word’ gets out.

  • Ruth J.

    Nice article with two critiques.

    “The New World had an abundance of cheap land which meant the New World, unlike the Old World, was largely populated by self-reliant property owners.”

    The land wasn’t cheap. It was stolen from its indigenous forbearers, who were slaughtered en masse.

    “And on the dark side of the immigration picture, we also benefited immensely from millions of involuntary immigrants who provided an army of unpaid labor for southern plantations.”

    I take issue with the use of the term “we”. I’m a black American and we did not benefit from the forced servitude of our ancestors. In reality, my community is still suffering from the effects of slavery and ongoing structural racism. So, while I get that the “we” follows from the previous sentence referencing the United States, it still stung.

    Some may say that I am injecting race into this conversation, but the truth is race was always there. It was simply erased. We need our allies to use accurate language that illuminates the many layers of historical oppression for a broader audience.

  • Michael Orange

    Once again, David, a home run of analysis, clarity, depth, and timeliness. Thank you for having the wisdom and the courage to put your thoughts and insights out there for your readers.

  • Crippler

    Interesting, but I suspect some flaws in the methodology of some of the graphs.

  • Bob Soper

    Thank you for posting this, David– you hit the ball out of the park.

  • Fred Martin

    Hello David Morris:
    We hear much about small businesses being the generator of new jobs but I wonder what that really means. 1) How does one define a small business? 2) What is the hitorical trends in employment between large and small businesses?
    I speculate that in the aftermath of WWII the employment was mostly in large businesses and relatively little in small shops. But over the decades there has been a shift away from business with large numbers of employees to many smaller businesses employing a few employees and hopping that there is a zero sum rule, which I suspect there isn’t.
    Do you have any knowledge or ideas on this concetp?

  • Pam

    I agree with a lot of the article. We WERE tremendously lucky – being in the right place at the right time is always a bonus. Most certainly we “took over” land that belonged to others and had a large population of workers who also benefited. But we also had many people who seized the opportunities with which they were presented and became successful. These were often people who had not had these opportunities in their home countries and they made the most of them.

    But time is a great equalizer and things have changed since the founding of America. If I remember my history correctly, America was founded as a republic, not necessarily as a capitalistic society. That is something that we have been told over and over until most of us believe it (“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Goebbels). I find it very disconcerting to hear so many Americans claiming to be Christians but also believe in the survival of the fittest in our society (although they don’t seem to believe in evolution – very strange!). Having had a Baptist upbringing, those two beliefs seem mutually exclusive to me. I also find the ranting about government intervention in our lives interesting when the same people are now insisting that the government has to fix the job situation – how odd. Of course things are not perfect and we want to eliminate waste and misuse of public funds but throwing the baby out with the bathwater cannot be the answer. Although most people don’t believe it, they too can drop to the bottom of the totem pole very quickly. The myth of believing that when corporations are making money, the working man will benefit as well should finally be laid to rest. As an example, why don’t we give corporations tax breaks only if they employ Americans instead of rolling over when they threaten to take jobs overseas (which they then do eventually anyway)?

    I have now lived in Germany for nearly 30 years – although I also now live part of the year in the US, have travelled a lot here in Europe and have friends in most European countries. Things here have never been perfect either, but although the people here are not the bible-thumping “Christians” I have often seen in the US, they seem to have an innate sense of their responsibility to their fellow citizens and fellow man. It would interest me to know whether Siege 44 has ever spent any time outside of the US (other than a few weeks of vacation). For Sopwith, Europe also has had a lot of immigration – legal and illegal – since WWII but they don’t blame all of their woes on these often pitiable people. The question is what can we do to make conditions better for them in their own countries because, make no mistake, when things become intolerable for them they will come, whether legally or illegally. They have nothing to lose.

    I am still proud to be an American but I am often not proud of many of my fellow Americans who openly flaunt their selfishness, greediness, intolerance, and ignorance as American “virtues”. They are not and they do not represent me. This is, unfortunately, no longer the country in which I grew up.

  • Vincent Ferrara

    This all reminds me of something I read once about a millionaire who built a media empire. It’s been a while and I can’t remember which one (maybe Ted Turner?). Anyway, the article was about how he inherited a small local radio (or TV?) station, and built and expanded the business to become one of the wealthiest men in the country. The author seemed to be prasing him as some sort of “rags-to-riches” success story. But the whole time I read it I kept thinking, “He inherited a &%$#@ RADIO STATION!” That’s NOT the same thing as starting with NOTHING. Sure, maybe the station wasn’t especially profitable when he took over, and he worked hard and made some smart decisions. But someone who truly does start with nothing can be just as smart and work just as hard, and would still be extremely likely to end up in poverty, or very close to it.

  • I love charts without attribution. I love different countries chosen for different stats. I love the choice of the stats themselves. I guess we all sing to our choirs.

    That said I don’t agree with you. Don’t agree with the Republicans either. At least you implicitly accept/acknowledge that we need to go back to a very stripped down life style (as to material things) to avoid disaster over the next several decades – worldwide not just here.

    Of course I need to see a solution for the problem of the earth’s population being two or three times the level that can likely be sustained; Erlich was merely 50 to 100 years ahead of time.

    So, let’s see the game plan. And let’s get some leaders that will address the reality of what all of these things mean. And then let’s see if we can energize enough people – including the many millions who are third generation wards of the state to pull together and somehow achieve real improvements. It’s a long shot, but not hopeless.

    So, cutting through the usual suspects – tea partiers, wild eyed christians, war mongers, corporate thieves, grandma over the cliff, ad nauseum – is there a country that you would view as a model however imperfect it may be? It is past the time for incrementalism in my opinion, so how can significant changes be made quickly. There are plenty of bad guys out there besides us so if we can make the changes how will we proliferate the changes.

    Bash away, but there are many of us that fear the bashing is becoming all consuming and we worry that the only thing left will be to party on ’til armageddon.

    • Rick,

      The references for all the charts are found after them in the article.