Friday, July 5, 2013
The Optimism of Americans
A couple of weeks ago Mark Cliffe, chief economist at ING, the Dutch banking group, attended a design conference in the U.S. It left him reeling. Over in Europe, as he says, corrosive pessimism has become so deeply ingrained it is barely even noticed any more; gloom is the new norm, particularly in the dismal science of economics.
Not so in the U.S. design community. "The most striking thing for me was the contrast between the optimism of the tech crowd and the prevailing pessimism of many economist about productivity growth in general, and technology in particular," Mr. Cliffe recalls.
It's hard to believe that it was just a few years ago that we Americans were going through another period of bemoaning the fact that the best years were behind our country, and that the rest of the world was going to leave us behind.
Today, however, the U.S. is one of the most attractive places in the world to invest. It's not just my patriotism talking; our low energy prices, competitive wage costs, and a stable legal infrastructure has made the U.S. one of the best places for business in the world.
I just finished reading Fareed Zakaria's book The Post-American World: Release 2.0.
First published in 2009, Zakaria makes a compelling case that while America must accept the fact that the rest of the world is no longer willing to simply accept direction from Washington, the U.S. will remain a very important - if not the most important player - on the world scene.
But that doesn't mean that we are necessarily the envy of the world. Consider for example this editorial in this morning's Washington Post.
Written by a Canadian named Paul Pirie, the author argues that although our society is certainly successful by a number of economic metrics, it is not necessarily clear that our lifestyle is superior to other parts of the world.
After pointing out that America incarcerates a larger percentage of our population than any other country on the planet, he writes:
As for the pursuit of happiness, Americans are free to do just that — provided that they aren’t rotting in jail. But are they likely to find it? Most Americans work longer hours and have fewer paid vacations and benefits — including health care — than their counterparts in most advanced countries. Consider also that in the CIA World Factbook, the United States ranks 51st in life expectancy at birth. Working oneself into an early grave does not do much for one’s happiness quotient. This year the United States tied for 14th in “life satisfaction” on an annual quality-of-life study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That puts the United States behind Canada (eighth) and Australia (12th). A report co-authored last year by the economist Jeffrey Sachs ranked the United States 10th in the world for happiness — again behind Canada and Australia. The Sachs study found that the United States has made “striking economic and technological progress over the past half century without gains in the self-reported happiness of the citizenry. Instead, uncertainties and anxieties are high, social and economic inequalities have widened considerably, social trust is in decline, and confidence in government is at an all-time low.”