The 144th Belmont Stakes was run on Saturday, June 9, but without I'll Have Another, the Triple Crown contender, who was withdrawn from the race because of tendinitis. That raised the question in our mind, "Will we have another?" No, not a racing Triple Crown winner. We are confident that another champion horse will come along to claim that title -- even though there hasn't been one for more than 30 years since Affirmed won in 1978. Our question relates to a different type of race: that among nation-states for preeminence and world leadership. To put it more completely, will we have another era of American position and stature similar to that of the last half of the 20th century, or is the American era and the concept of American exceptionalism a vestige of history?
That's been a topic of much rumination over the past few years. We addressed the issue directly in our book, Renewing the American Dream: A Citizen's Guide for Restoring Our Competitive Advantage, published in 2010 Two aptly named books that came out in 2011 captured the melancholy mood of the country then: Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum's That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, and William Harris and Steven Beschloss' Adrift: Charting Our Course Back to a Great Nation. The most recent books on the subject reflect the fact that the nationally dour perspective has not improved much in 2012. Consider the following titles: Edward Luce's Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent, E.J. Dionne, Jr.'s Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent, and Luigi Zingales' Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity. All these books provide thoughtful analysis, and each is worth reading as a wake-up call, as are many others not cited here. Even though the books are critical of America's current condition, they are generally optimistic in spirit and provide constructive prescriptions for change.
This stands in stark contrast to the bulk of the rhetoric that we have seen emanating from the political arena during this election season. In a May 12 article, "Declinism resurgent" (subtitled "The election campaign encourages America to feel worse about itself than it needs to"), The Economist observed that "America is prone to bouts of 'declinism'" and asserts there are "grounds for optimism," which include Boeing's launch of the highly innovative 787 Dreamliner, the IMF's projection of an average growth rate for the U.S. of 2 percent for 2012 and 2013, a young work force, skilled workers, and the best universities in the world.
We agree with The Economist's take on this. In spite of legitimate concerns about where the country stands now, we are unequivocal in the opinion that it is still the best country standing. There are undeniably opportunities for improvement (e.g., continuing high un- and underemployment, wage stagnation, and increasing income inequality), but the nation is rebuilding itself from a position of strength rather than one of weakness. There are substantial "grounds for optimism" in the short, medium, and long terms.
Currently, the United States is doing very to extremely well in recovering from the economic crisis in comparison to the majority of the Eurozone and mature economies. Although somewhat constrained, the flow of innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives domestically remains unparalleled worldwide.
In the future, as the superheated growth of the emerging economies of India, China, and Brazil slows and their inevitable "growing pains" play out, the United States will become the safe haven for investment. Over the next 30 years, as the multinationals achieve targeted market penetration and the wage differentials between presently developed nations and the developing nations shrink, the primary drivers for the spate of "offshoring" of American jobs will disappear.
Within that same time frame, the demographics that currently favor the Chinese over the U.S. will begin to switch. The U.S. population will grow at a reasonable and attractive rate to support future economic growth and business development stateside. In contrast, because of the "one-child" policy that China adopted in the late 1970s, China's population will decline precipitously and put a serious strain on its economy.
Finally, the virtually unrivaled natural resources of the United States -- vast expanses of land, tillable soil, large bodies of fresh water, and natural gas -- will become the sources of future competitive advantage, as will the absolutely unrivaled diversity of the country's human resource base. Our ability to harness the country's natural and human resources helped make America what it is today and should enable us to prosper tomorrow.
There is no guarantee of a return on these "grounds for optimism," however. We are at a crucial pivot point. What we do in this next decade will determine the future nature of America and the next "American era." Given this context, we are firmly convinced that that next era can be comparable to or better than the past one, if we are able to focus on:
- Renewal of the American spirit and dream and not just economic recovery
- Rebuilding all forms of capital (e.g., institutional and political), not just addressing financial capital and the debt and deficit concerns
- Unifying citizens and communities rather than dividing them into warring camps and pitting them against one another
One American era has ended. Will we have another? Yes, we can. Yes, we will. That's not a political slogan. It's a statement of faith in America. It is a conviction born out of a review of the nation's history and an assessment of its current capacity and potential in both the domestic and international arenas. It is a reflection on the enduring tenacity, resilience, and common sense of the American people.