July 2, 2021
In a country obsessed with patriotism, July Fourth is like the icing on the icing for Americans who have Bruce Springsteen song lyrics tattooed on their chests… and for whom a well-rounded meal is a red, white, and blue apple pie washed down with a cold Budweiser in their pickup truck with an eagle stenciled on the side.
I’m stereotyping, of course, and (kind of) joking. And the rest of us will give America a happy birthday in our own way this weekend, with burnt burgers and the smell of sparklers in the sky.
America isn’t perfect… But it’s pretty good. And I’m thinking a lot about this now, as I just moved back to the U.S.
Among the many things that are to love about the United States – spray cheese, entire TV channels devoted to college sports, 24-hour drugstores, tipping in restaurants – here are three reasons in particular to love America.
Reason No. 1 to Love America: There’s So Much to Choose From
The cereal aisle. Nineteen Mexican restaurants within a 10-miles radius of the suburban Virginia hotel where I’m staying now… and 6,575 kinds of screws on homedepot.com. Walmart Supercenters have nearly four football fields’ worth of stuff… 132 hotels in downtown Baltimore alone… and 52 craft breweries just in the state of Alabama.
It’s not that everywhere else is a Model-T world (“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black,” Henry Ford famously said). But the range of options for pretty much anything your imagination can conjure is orders of magnitude greater in the U.S. grocery store acreage… Amazon listings… places to go, stay, eat, and drink. There’s nowhere like America to do or get whatever you want, quickly and easily.
Of course, if you’re a Cheerios and McDonald’s person who wears black T-shirts every day, options are a distraction. But when you’re in the mood for Szechuan food, or need a CCV valve for your ’66 Corvette, want 26 scent options for your deodorant, or want to stay at a treehouse hotel… well, then America is your place.
I’m not sure if you remember books, America, but it’s what people used to sink their faces into to avoid dealing with family and strangers. Our editor-in-chief, P.J. O’Rourke, has written a few in his time, and he’s re-releasing his bestselling Eat the Rich, complete with a new chapter to take on the absurdity of 2021 economics. And as an American Consequences subscriber, you can have access to the newly released edition for free! Claim Your Copy Now.
Reason No. 2 to Love America: It’s Cheap
Costs are relative – and you usually get what you pay for. But most products and goods (with the key exceptions of health care and education) cost less in most of the U.S. compared with much of the rest of the developed world (and rising inflation is a global phenomenon – it’s not just the U.S.).
Of course there’s huge variability regionally – many things (especially real estate) are more expensive on much of the East and West coasts. And there’s similar price variability within many countries – so it makes more sense to compare costs between cities globally. (And, of course, whether things are cheap or expensive depends on how much money you have and your income.)
But no matter how you cut it, the United States is – on average – really cheap, for a developed country. Land is plentiful, and outside the biggest coastal cities of the U.S., real estate is (still) cheap. Cars are barely taxed, and gas is cheaper than almost any other developed country. Food (and beer) is cheap. The titans of retail consumerism deliver an extraordinary array of goods at very low prices (as the first part of Walmart’s advertising slogan asserts, “Save money”).
Don’t feel it? Go spend some time in western Europe… or developed Asia. Yes, some things will cost less… But on average, the United States is a bargain.
Reason No. 3 to Love America: Doing Business Is Easy
Need to open a business? Are you launching a product? The World Bank’s annual Ease of Doing Business survey looks at the process of doing business across a range of parameters (registering property, paying taxes, getting electricity, and others) in different countries. In the most recent survey, the U.S. is ranked No. 6, after New Zealand (No. 1), Singapore, and other countries.
What these sorts of surveys overlook, though, is the talent pool. I launched a business in Singapore, and it was a straightforward process. But the next step – finding people to do the actual, you know, work – was tough… simply because Singapore (and its 3.7-million-strong labor pool) is small. So is Hong Kong (No. 3) and Denmark (No. 4).
In such small markets, the number of qualified and experienced people for the specialized task you need accomplishing – long-form copywriting, app development, 3D printer designer, whatever – is going to be a fraction of what’s available in a far bigger market like the U.S. Opening a business is great, but if you don’t have a large enough pool of qualified people to work with you, you may as well not bother in the first place.
America Has Lost Some of Its Luster…
If you’re American, chances are that you think the United States is the “greatest country in the world.”
That’s what 54% of respondents to a Chicago Council poll said last year (not surprisingly, there’s a big political divide: 80% of Republicans, and just 35% of Democrats).
What that means is that 46 of every 100 Americans aren’t believers in American exceptionalism – and don’t think it’s the Disneyland of countries.
What’s more, the “greatest country” tally is down sharply since 2012, when 70% of Americans (R: 85%, D: 66%) felt it was. And last year’s reading is the lowest this century.
Despite all the United States has to offer – and the many reasons to love America – in recent years it’s lost some of its international gleamings as the land of opportunity and the home of the brave.
In a Pew Research Center survey conducted last summer, the percentage of people in a number of countries who had a favorable view of the U.S. plummeted to multidecade lows.
For example, just 35% of Canadians viewed the U.S. positively (versus 72% in 2000). “Canada is wondering if they’re living in the apartment above a meth lab,” says marketing guru, social commentator, and podcaster Scott Galloway. And only 41% of people in the United Kingdom – long considered America’s bestie – reported having warm fuzzies about the U.S. (versus 83% in 2000).
Pew explained that the dim view most of the world had for former President Donald Trump, coupled with the mismanagement by the U.S. of the coronavirus pandemic, were major contributors to the collapse in the international perception of the United States.
(Mitigating factor: In the summer of 2020, unfavorable views of China were also reaching “historic highs” in many countries, Pew reported. So… take that, China.)
Some of the damage to America’s attractiveness in the eyes of the rest of the world might be reversed with the more world-friendly policies of President Joe Biden. But the increased polarization of politics and policy – both domestic and foreign – in the U.S. may permanently tarnish America’s reputation as a reliable ally, as Foreign Affairs explains…
Polarization will introduce uncertainty in foreign affairs and exasperate U.S. allies. And if continued polarization leads the United States to abandon tricky negotiations or renege on existing commitments every time a new party is in power, Washington’s reputation as a credible adversary and a reliable ally could be in serious jeopardy.
The wealth gap in America has never been wider — we’ve still never fully recovered from the Great Recession of 2008, and it’s only going to get worse from here. But the effects of the Big Con are going to devastate those who don’t take action. So do something now while you still can.
So What’s Not to Like
And the United States is – like all of us – imperfect. It has by far the highest firearm-related death rate of any developed country. (No. 2 among developed nations, Switzerland, has a rate that’s a quarter that of the land of the Second Amendment.) It has the fifth-highest level of income inequality of the 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – and around one in seven Americans live in poverty.
The World Health Organization ranks U.S. health care as No. 37 in the world – although, on a per capita basis, the U.S. spends 40% more than the No. 2 big spender (which is, ironically, also Switzerland). Residents of 45 other countries live longer than Americans. And the U.S. is the world leader in coronavirus deaths.
(On my personal list of things to not like about ‘Murica? The fact that 63% of Americans don’t have a valid passport, and thus have little sense of the rest of the world. “Irish” bars featuring acres of polished brass, and images of dancing leprechauns and giant-sized four-leaf clovers. Radio stations with more ads than music. Mortgage providers that completely ignore your income if you became a contractor just months ago – even if it’s for a company that you’ve been employed by for eight years. Crappy airlines with rude flight attendants.)
Still… America is a people magnet…
(Almost) Everyone Wants to Come Here
Green card lotteries – in which would-be immigrants to the U.S. can win the right to go to the U.S. – are consistently massively oversubscribed. Each year, upward of 20 million people apply for the 55,000 green cards (which grant permanent residency in the U.S.) that are awarded. Last year, more than 500,000 people were apprehended trying to cross the border into the U.S. – risking their lives for the chance at a better life.
The United States has more immigrants (at 45 million) than any other country. And all those immigrants do good work: Nearly two out of every five people in Silicon Valley were born outside the country. According to the immigration think tank New American Economy, as of 2018, about 44% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or the child of immigrants. No wonder so many people from abroad want to come here.
This diversity of cultures is another beautiful aspect of our country… America, the great melting pot.
So, this holiday weekend, enjoy the time with friends and family in this land of the free… I’m glad to be back here in the U.S. Maybe I’ll even indulge in some spray cheese on my burger.
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July 2, 2021