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Yes, the economic landscape looks bleak. Way too many people are out of work, our federal and many state budget deficits are frightful, infrastructure is crumbling, terrorists still have us in their cross-hairs and the only thing our reprehensible politicians want to do about any of this is come up with the right sound bites to get reelected. On top of it all, I’m a Cubs fan.
Despite it all, I remain an optimist. With the Cubs, there’s always the promise of the next season. For the United States of America, adversity always seems to bring out our best. That’s why I don’t pay attention to the legions of pundits who blather about us as a society in decline.
First argument I throw back at them is, compared to what? A knee-jerk response from a lot of them is - China! In a decade or two they may well overtake us as the world’s biggest economy, and some people who should know better even admire their politics. Sure, they’re a bit repressive, goes their thinking, but a lot better than they used to be and not nearly as bad as truly spooky regimes like in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Sudan and so on. When the Chinese want to get something done, nothing stands in their way, these useful idiots gush.
My retort would be that I would not want to exchange our country’s problems for China’s. Fast as their economy is growing, they still can’t provide employment for hundreds of millions of their citizens who eke out a Third World existence, and most who do have jobs make a Wal-Mart greeter tycoonish by comparison. China harbors the world’s worst pollution and doesn’t give a hoot that it poisons air and water well beyond its borders. Most problematic of all, China’s decades-old crackdown on population growth has set the stage for a demographic nightmare in years to come.
What about the Europeans, then? The Euro has overtaken the dollar as the world’s strongest currency, and the EU is - or until recently, was - thought by many to be the wave of the future as a political and economic force.
Except the EU’s Greece problem may be just the first crack in a foundation likely to further deteriorate over time. It’s interesting to note that Europeans themselves are more pessimistic than we are about future prospects.
A Financial Times/Harris Poll taken last December in the U.S. and the five largest European countries asked people about their standards of living today and what they think it will be 10 years ahead. Adults in the U.S. led the pack in identifying themselves as better off today than 10 years ago (44%), as well as being optimistic about the new decade (43%). By comparison, 44% of French adults and 36% of Britons are pessimistic about the future (compared with 33% of Americans).
When the question was framed in terms of “… do you expect your (own family’s) standard of living to improve, stay the same or get worse?" - the U.S. once again led the pack with 39% of respondents saying it would be better.
Wishful thinking doesn’t mean the desired outcome will happen, of course, but this survey reveals an aspect of the American character that has been demonstrated time and again throughout history. For all our problems, and for all the jabs we take from the international community, deep down inside most people around the world recognize that the U.S. still offers more opportunity than anywhere else to make a better life, whether that entails making money or stimulating the intellect or pursuing whatever other passion that stirs a person. Fearful we’re being dragged down the European path? Future elections may well put a stop to that.
The current gloom over our economy reminds me of the terrible months during Fall 2001 when the events of 9/11 sent financial markets tumbling and the pundits babbling of another Great Depression. Here’s what I wrote in October 2001 in response:
- “ … economics is a social science driven by
peoples' confidence in the future … nobody knows whether the bad times will
last for months or years, but I think it will be shorter than most people fear.
The darkest hours are before the dawn.”
Sure enough, by the first quarter of 2002 we were in recovery, and it picked up steam all the way until 2008. I say we’re going to be surprised again by the strength of the next recovery, which may already be in its beginning stages.