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American Exceptionalism
Posted by: MichaelW on Thursday, November 06, 2008

Some food for thought (the chicken/egg variety):
There are two versions of American exceptionalism. American-American exceptionalism is “we’re richer because we’re better.” European-American exceptionalism is “you’re better because you’re richer.” Both sides agree on exceptionalism, and just see different causes and implications. The Europeans expect us, on account of our wealth, to live up to (their) ideals, while we think that our wealth ought to prove to them that our ideals are better than theirs. No one of any importance seems to think that the United States is a normal country.
I suppose I fall in the better-causes-richer camp, since it's always seemed repugnant to me that simply having wealth makes anyone "better" than another.

The American ideals of individualism, self-reliance, liberty, equality before the law, and governance by rule of law not the tyranny of men, are not in fact exclusive to our nation. But the fervor with which each generation places on retaining these ideals, while manifesting them in ways to suit an evolving populace, does seem to be uniquely American. And the nations that have either adopted some or all of these principles, whether following in our footsteps (as we followed in those of our European predecessors) or arriving at some semblance of them on their own, have generally enjoyed greater prosperity and wealth than those who have not. So, in my mind, those whose ideals match more closely to our own are relative "better" than those who have chosen a different path, and therefore they are also wealthier.

If it were the other way around, then the wealth would have had to come from somewhere, and it would have had to be exclusive to America. One common refrain is that America is rich because we have always had access to abundant natural resources, which we have been able to control exclusively and exploit to our great advantage over the rest of the world. Several points come to mind when I hear this:

(1) so did Native Americans and they weren't rich, so the natural resources obviously needed something else to make them valuable;

(2) Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch settlers were traipsing about the New World long before there was a United States of America and they established little more than mercantile outposts designed specifically to exploit the natural resources, and yet today they preside over minuscule economies compared to ours. Moreover, in none of these former European colonies is there anything remotely similar to the wealth found here in America (with the exception of Canada, which had the same benefit of British influence that we did), all of which suggests that something other than access to natural resources and the ability to ruthlessly exploit them leads to wealth and success for a nation.

(3) If access to abundant natural resources is so key to a nation's wealth (thus making them "better"), the how do you explain the phenomenal economic growth of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan where resources are extremely limited, and the comparative stagnant to non-existent growth of most of Africa where resources are quite plentiful?

The common denominator, it seems to me, is that countries where importance is placed on individual rights, a strong rule or law, and equality before that law are able to create more wealth for their citizens. On the other hand, where community to emphasized over individuals, the state holds primacy versus the governed, and the law enforces group rights, there is much less opportunity for wealth creation, and there is much less in the pot to spread around.

In that vein, some have suggested that true socialism never really caught on here because a sense of individualism simply could not be replaced with a fealty to community in a land where private property was held so dear. If so, I would suggest that this is what makes us "better" and therefore wealthier. Therefore, if the world wants to share in our success, then perhaps they should think about getting on board with the process that created it, instead of thinking of new queues to create so they can line up for handouts from it.
 
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Strong work ethic & Selective Hamiltonianesque trade policies.

*runs and ducks for cover*
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
Selective Hamiltonianesque
Mercantilism is an especially mild variety of what can be recognized as socialism—government’s tax authority subsidizing politically favored economic activity.

That doesn’t make it sensible.

Hamilton’s most positive contribution was insisting on an actual federal government and in paying off the war debt at parity. He went down-hill from there.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
I don’t think that your argument holds for Japan, which so far as I understand it does not have a very individualistic culture.

I wonder how well or how badly Switzerland fits into this postulate.
 
Written By: Paludicola
URL: http://www.vikinghats.com
Europeans who dare acknowledge American success risk standing out in the group. There is tacit acknowledgment,though, of American success by looking at how many Europeans come to America to buy goods at cheaper prices and by looking at how many Europeans watch American shows as a secret indulgence.
 
Written By: Garmon Estes
URL: http://
Mercantilism is an especially mild variety of what can be recognized as socialism—government’s tax authority subsidizing politically favored economic activity.

That doesn’t make it sensible.
You could call it socialism if it was world government doing it. No other country has their government assume the role of Umpire. They are happy with the roll of coach.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
"American Exceptionalism" to me doesn’t include wealth or resources at all. To me its exclusively about values. America is exceptional because it upholds the best values. Though you could expand exceptionalism to include other free nations, which may be helpful in our conflict with the middle east, and neo-socialist nations like Russia and China, however, America still maintains other, more nuanced values that most other western nations do not embrace; such as the right to bear arms, constitutionally protected speech, and the fact that we generally embrace free markets and private property rights more wholely than anyone else.
 
Written By: Jimmy the Dhimmi
URL: http://
It is not better equals richer. It is more freedom equals richer.
Dependance on the state is not freedom.
State over individual is not freedom.
 
Written By: Rick
URL: http://
"If access to abundant natural resources is so key to a nation’s wealth..."

Then there is the Soviet Union/Russia, whose cup runneth over with natural resources.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Regardless of natural resources, size, whether land-locked or with access to the sea, population, demographics, which continent, which religion or which language, all twenty of the most prosperous non-OPEC nations or mini-states have one thing in common: a commitment to open scientific inquiry.

These wealthiest nations also have the highest rankings of human rights, which suggests that the very strong correlation between freedom and prosperity is grounded in an appreciation for open inquiry.

The great test of this theory will be China. China’s vast commitment to science since 1979 will eventually not be enough to sustain their dramatic economic progress, because they certainly do not encourage open inquiry.
 
Written By: a Duoist
URL: http://www.duoism.org
I would say scientific inquiry and sharing knowledge is a part of it, but only a part. China has undergone the same early phase of rapid industrial growth which all industrial powers have undergone. Their growth will certainly slow because it always does.

There are dynamics to industrialism whether you have a dictatorship or a republic. The people in the rural areas become angry that the prosperity passes them by, the people in the city are angry at rising crime, prices and pollution. It will be very hard for the Chinese government to handle these things unless they go back to Mao type repression.

Getting back to the subject. We were different from the very start. And the difference is individual rights. But all that may have changed now. It remains to be seen if the new majority have absorbed enough of the ideas of Locke, Jefferson,
Smith, and Mills to keep us from becoming just another declining European style welfare state.
 
Written By: kyleN
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
It remains to be seen if the new majority have absorbed enough of the ideas of Locke, Jefferson, Smith, and Mills to keep us from becoming just another declining European style welfare state.
Are you kidding? A majority of Americans of either side couldn’t even name the first names of those fellas.
 
Written By: Is
URL: http://
We’re going to get a chance to revalidate the exceptionalist hypothesis as we go through the economic crisis. I maintain that our real strength relative to Europe is our ability to change to meet new circumstances. We certainly have new circumstances now!
 
Written By: Larry
URL: http://
It remains to be seen if the new majority have absorbed enough of the ideas of Locke, Jefferson, Smith, and Mills to keep us from becoming just another declining European style welfare state.
Are you kidding? A majority of Americans of either side couldn’t even name the first names of those fellas.
Yep, which just goes to show you how powerful their ideas are.
 
Written By: Phil Smith
URL: http://
Oh, and there’s no ’s’ in Mill.
 
Written By: Phil Smith
URL: http://
Yep, which just goes to show you how powerful their ideas are.
Really?

Or does it mean, being dead white men, they’re simply not taught anymore?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Jimmy the Dhimmi - "American Exceptionalism" to me doesn’t include wealth or resources at all. To me its exclusively about values. America is exceptional because it upholds the best values.

Rick - It is not better equals richer. It is more freedom equals richer.

Ditto.

I think that we’re about to get a bellyful of the opposite ideas: that "more equal" is better, that "exceptional" is somehow arrogant or even discriminatory, and that the "best values" about hard work, individual achievement, and rewarding success that we used to have are going to be replaced by the ideals of the nanny state.


 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
Interesting that conservative base - the anti-science, anti-intellectual, xenophonic, flag-waving patriots - are poorer than average. The red states are a net importer of wealth from the blue states yet they hate "spreading the wealth".
 
Written By: TomD
URL: http://
The red states are a net importer of wealth from the blue states yet they hate "spreading the wealth".
Do yourself a favor and look up non sequitur.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
I don’t think that your argument holds for Japan, which so far as I understand it does not have a very individualistic culture.
Japan was more an example of a country without a lot of natural resources, yet a high GDP. You’re right that countries which are more homogeneous tend not to be as enamored with individualism, but when they generally implement the other American ideals they end up being richer than otherwise compared to countries that implement none or fewer. Keep in mind also that we drafted Japan’s Constitution and handed it to them, so some of these ideals were literally shoved down their throat. In the end, however, they have seemingly been better off for it.
The red states are a net importer of wealth from the blue states yet they hate "spreading the wealth".
That also raises the question of why blue states are so eager to raise taxes so that their wealth can be spread by the government.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
Prior to America, it was England and before them, the Dutch.

All share the same traits: a free market, political freedom, political stability, individualism, technical advances. Americans in part based their Constitution on that of the Netherlands.

The Dutch failed due to Spanish military might. England was a success, and the model for Enlightenment thinking. The US is really a contiuation of England, just newer and improved.

Japan essentially copied the West after American warships woke her up. But prior to WW2 they still took the wrong path, until we reset their values. And they have yet to fully grasp the lesson, but then again we are also moving towards failure.

The left is failure. It was failure in the USSR, in New Deal America as FDR prolonged the Great Depression 7 years, in stagflation America of the ’70s, and in the CRA/Freddie/Fannie Clinton housing bubble and financial crash. It is also a failure in Europe today.

Indeed, the US per capita GDP will fall somewhere around that of Canada or Germany if Obama is able to achieve his goals.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
The red states are a net importer of wealth from the blue states yet they hate "spreading the wealth".
Fun with numbers! yeah!

the anti-science, anti-intellectual, xenophonic, flag-waving patriots - are poorer than average
As opposed to arrogant wealthy blue voting intellectuals who generalize and stereotype people they don’t agree with while claiming to be open minded and enlightened.

Oh, and by the way there Mr. Intellectual - the word you’re looking for is XENOPHOBIC, not xenophonic.
Unless you’re trying to tell us the Red Staters don’t like phonics.






 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
No, looker, he was exactly correct. He was noting that the bitter-clingers speak a different language that they can’t understand, what with words like "personal freedom" and "choice" not about abortions and wanting private people to have guns and not just the police and their bodyguards.
 
Written By: Veeshir
URL: http://
Just to continue the silly side-tangent pedantry, "xenophonic" isn’t "doesn’t like phonics"; it would be "strange and foreign sound(ing)".

"phonophobic" would be not liking phonics.. or "afraid of sound".

And I would posit that confusing Republican and "pro-small government" is a bad idea. Social Conservatives generally are not very (or rather, very not) pro-limited government. If Republicans actually were for small government, I could be persuaded to vote for them again.
 
Written By: Tito
URL: http://
And I would posit that confusing Republican and "pro-small government" is a bad idea. Social Conservatives generally are not very (or rather, very not) pro-limited government. If Republicans actually were for small government, I could be persuaded to vote for them again.
Well said.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
If Republicans actually were for small government, I could be persuaded to vote for them again.
You hit on the very crux of the Republican party’s problem. Republicans don’t have to kick the social cons out, they have to realize that the social cons have no where to go and act upon that knowledge - i.e. worry about getting back to the basic principles of smaller government - without worrying whether the sc’s will be pleased. The same wedge issues that always keep them in the Republican fold will still be there next election.

 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Tito - Social Conservatives generally are not very (or rather, very not) pro-limited government. If Republicans actually were for small government, I could be persuaded to vote for them again.

Interesting point, but I think that there’s a good case to be made that social conservatives are just as "small government" as even the most ardent libertarian. What are the hot button issues for social conservatives these days? I would say that they are abortion and gay marriage. Neither of these require a bigger or more activist government. Abortion would be dealt with using existing police power to arrest and prosecute abortionists in the same way that we already arrest and prosecute other types of criminals. Opposition to gay marriage is basically telling the government to stay the hell out of (re)defining what marriage is and has been for centuries. Therefore, if anything, opponents of gay marriage are for smaller, less intrusive government.

I will admit that more extreme social conservatives probably wouldn’t mind a VERY activist government not dissimilar to the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony of about three centuries ago. But I think that the battle social conservatives have today is not making government bigger; it’s about keeping big government from enforcing laws that violate their values and beliefs.
 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
docjim, the factor you overlook is that socons are NOT necessarily small government when it comes to taxes either. There’s a very strong strain of "easier to pass a camel thru the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" class tension there. Christianity is very easy to convert to a Leftist philosophy if you ignore the fact that the Christ wasn’t very interested in using government to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
 
Written By: SDN
URL: http://
Japan was more an example of a country without a lot of natural resources, yet a high GDP. You’re right that countries which are more homogeneous tend not to be as enamored with individualism, but when they generally implement the other American ideals they end up being richer than otherwise compared to countries that implement none or fewer. Keep in mind also that we drafted Japan’s Constitution and handed it to them, so some of these ideals were literally shoved down their throat. In the end, however, they have seemingly been better off for it.
Japan is also heavily Hamiltonian in its Trade Policies. The Lexus is the product of several decades of cultivating a domestic auto industry.

Japan also had the advantage of a clean slate. When MacArthur rebuilt their steel industry, he used a more modern process than what was in common use to the point. This process had a slight cost advantage. The few small North American Steel makers that survived the foreign steel competition in the 70’s were the onese that adopted this process. However, no domestic large steel manufacture could possibly weather the capital cost of such an upgrade and have remained competitive with other domestic makers. The recessions of the 70’s dried up whatever capital they had to have been prodded into making such a move as a Hail Mary move. The Japanese on the other hand could weather the rebuilding of their steel industry because the government would not let them be wiped out by foreign competition. Relative to us, Japan is better off for it.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://

 
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