As dismal as the picture promoted by the GOP seems, actually the United States' recovery is head and shoulders above other countries and economies in the world, though don't expect President Obama's policies to get any credit for it from them.

To the GOP, to be a real American, you have to believe in what's come to be called "American exceptionalism," the belief that America became the world's leading superpower because, dammit, Americans are just better. Our business leaders are smarter, our workers are more industrious, and we're just all around a better variety of homo sapiens. Maybe we should be renamed homo unitedstateus.

In his recent book, The Accidental Superpower, Peter Zeihan has found more logical reasons for America's success, and they have nothing to do with entrepreneurship, industriousness, or the character of the average American.

From Fareed Zakaria's Washington Post review (the full article is here).

(Zeihan) begins with geography, pointing out that the United States is the world’s largest consumer market for a reason: its rivers. Transporting goods by water is 12 times cheaper than by land (which is why civilizations have always flourished around rivers). And the United States, Zeihan calculates, has more navigable waterways — 17,600 miles’ worth — than the rest of the world. By comparison, he notes, China and Germany each have about 2,000 miles. And all of the Arab world has 120 miles.

But that’s just the beginning. “The world’s greatest river network . . . directly overlies the world’s largest piece of arable land, the American Midwest.” Add to this deep-water ports, which are needed to get goods to and from the rest of the world. Many countries with long coastlines have very few natural harbors. Africa, for example, Zeihan says, has “only 10 locations with bays of sufficient protective capacity to justify port construction.” The U.S. contrast is, again, striking. Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay and the Chesapeake Bay are the world’s three largest natural harbors. The Chesapeake Bay alone “boasts longer stretches of prime port property than the entire continental coast of Asia from Vladivostok to Lahore,” Zeihan writes.

All of these factors have created the world’s largest consumer market, which in turn creates surplus private savings and a dynamic, unified economy that is remarkably self-sufficient.

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Why the hell shouldn't we judge past history by 21st century standards?

So, then, you didn't stop and you took a look at Native American tribes so you could find fault with them as well?

The North West land ordinance was about parceling out land and giving Native Americans certain rights. The land was parceled out. The rights were not honored. The point of the article wasn't to say that white people were evil or Native Americans did bad things but to show that the politicians did not follow through with what they said they would. Why would I find fault with any group of people or race in a report about how politicians honored the laws they wrote? It wasn't about the behavior of races but the integrity of politicians and the legal system.

If I had to write a report about Native Americans...I would have absolutely zero problem finding a multitude of sources showing rather nasty moments of one native American tribe abusing or showing extreme cruelty towards another one. It seems in fact that the further South you go (from the Arctic circle to the Yucatan peninsula) the more horrific the mistreatment could be. I would have no problem writing that and presenting it regardless of who the audience was.

But then...that's not the paper I was assigned...was it? And in any case...regardless of how cruel some tribes could be...that doesn't excuse for a second the horrors that Native Americans suffered during American (and Canadian) expansion and the dire state some Native American communities are in and the far majority of Native Canadian communities live in. Talk about third world misery in the developed world. Belle is right. Success depends very much on the measuring stick.

Let's go all the way back, then, and show what morally bankrupt people the cro magnons were.

You're forgetting that no morality, not even our own, is written in stone or across the sky. Morals are temporally local and are products of the imagination of those who promote them.

As I always say, there are only two kinds of rights (and a morality implies rights). The two types are: legislated and imaginary.

What we regard as human rights today are just that: what we regard as human rights TODAY. We are who we are today and we have our present day values, but those values are OUR values which doesn't make them better than anyone else's.

If you want objective values, you should join a religion because their values are objective and written in stone. Ours are subjective and written on shifting sands, no matter how correct and appropriate they may seem to us today. me...if I could send you back 200 years in time and transform you into a Native American so that a pioneer could donate you an infected blanket and you could then sit around for a few months and watch your family cough out blood until you all waste away...I would. I'm sure you'd love the opportunity to enjoy the cultural-intricacies and moral puzzles of early American history. After that I'd send you to East Africa as Muslims started rounding up slaves to send across the ocean. If you survive the trip...I'll let you work for a decade or so on the cotton plantations.

When it's done...I'll bring you back to the 21st century, with your new appreciation for 18th century subjective morality...and you can help us learn to understand and appreciate cultural differences and make us see a different perspective and way of life :)

I expect that most of us would become more enlightened with such an experience. For that matter most of human history might offer insights into interpersonal/'vultural' relations...

I expect that 'Cloud Atlas' might have been such an attempt, if we had been paying attention.

The proof that morality is localized in time is that back then they didn't view those things as wrong but as simply getting things done. 

Right now, we can't come to a cultural agreement on whether abortion is wrong, and even many people who are "pro choice" still have mixed feeling about it. It hasn't been 100% decided yet.

In India, many surely think it's shocking that we wear shoes made out of cow hide. In the future, who knows, maybe they'll think we're appalling for still making children whenever we want instead of having to win an international population control lottery.

The students in the class rolled their eyes? Probably because they didn't really absorb what he was saying. There's a reason why he's in front of the class and they're there to listen.

Too many people today don't understand that you can't have it both ways: You can't have moral judgments that are facts and yet deny the metaphysics that would allow such opinions to be absolutely true.

Moral/ethical judgments aren't facts, they're expressions of a person's belief(s).

We rolled our eyes because his biases were clear and he was a terrible professor. He judged everything and anything except American history. As you do yourself. What bothered him wasn't that I said "these people were bad" (I did not say that) but that I showed part of the history of his own country was one of very imperfect hypocritical politicians. Show me any moment in the history of any country where there haven't been imperfect hypocritical leaders? I'll take everything back if you can. Of course Professor Captain America got defensive and pissy and failed me. He was a terrible petty professor and both I, all my fellow students and the faculty agreed.

I would find your concern for moral relativity a lot more convincing unseen if you showed that same kind of consideration for the sensibilities of those who do things that do bother you.

So when you critique the state of Palestine and judge their actions as compared to those of Israel the grandness of world views and moral subjectivity seem to disappear and all we see is an analysis of the mid east via Unseens subjective morality. It is a morality strongly rooted in logic and rationally thought out. So when you defend gun rights it certainly doesn't come from a random subjective view but a well though out morality which is rooted in rational principles. As they should be. I'm surprised to see you say the opposite as your ethical ideas are usually rooted in solid critical thinking even if I may disagree with your interpretation some times.

What is notable is how cultural relativists play the "morality is subjective and cannot be rooted in objective rationality" when what is being critiqued is something they are emotionally attached to. What a surprise unseen that you play the relativity card when it comes to the historical actions of your white colonial ancestors who are the subject of a book you like which speaks of the possible forging of the great nation you live in. I don't see that same sensibility when you talk about other cultures of today or other moments in Western history. This could not be a better illustrative example. You've done the same with Nagasaki and American torture.

This is just a silly game which in your case is done in reverse of how most post-modern-Islamic-appologist-cultural-relativists do it. Instead of critiquing Islamic barbarism and cruelty...they defend their right to their own world view and critique only Western history and modern patriarchy and sexism (as though there is some reasonable line that can be drawn between the two LMAO). So while exotic narratives are a no go...anything that is within our cultural sphere can be attacked through objective rational principles.

This is all a ridiculous lazy cop-out. Either everything can be analysed through a rationally thought out morality with no exceptions and no untouchable corner free of critique...or you draw your own indefensible line as to what can be touched and what cannot...and all it does is serve to show your own biases, hypocrisy and what morally-indefensible actions you feel like defending. No one cares about our hypocritical biases. Why would they?

That doesn't mean that we cannot try to understand other world views, or other moral codes (we must)...but to say that only some things can be critiqued through a rational moral code and that others cannot (because you say so) is post-modern-game-playing-nonsense which is useless idiosyncratic intellectual dishonesty.

Because we can not go back to cleanup our screw ups, but we can more forward to correct some, or prevent new ones.

Pretty much. That's the hallmark of a modern civilized society.

The river theory is pretty interesting. I wonder though how that lines up with Canada and Russia where there are also an incredibly large amount of navigable waterways.

With Canada it might have to do with relatively low population density and with the glaring exceptions of Vancouver, Prince Rupert, and Halifax, a shortage of salt-water ports (it has a number of Great Lakes ports, of course). Much of Canada is so far north that whatever ports there may be, they are relatively useless from late fall to early spring.

Russia has a well-known problem in terms of a shortage of year round southern ports. Very many of its ports are on the Arctic Ocean. The US has many southern ports, some of them in the subtropics meaning much shorter trips to many parts of the world buying American goods.

Also...Europe built many very long canals, and their population in the North is extremely dense...which would mean many many navigable water ways would not be so necessary to facilitate greater trade.

Water shipment is 1/12th the cost of shipping overland. Canals help but generally are relatively small in scale to waterways like the Mississippi, the Columbia, the Ohio and other major US waterways. 

In any case, this is a really interesting article. The US absolutely has been at the forefront of every new transportation upgrade, infrastructure creation, adoption of new technologies, car train and plane manufacturing and so on and so on.

And that's because we're the exceptiona subspecies, homo unitedstatesus. And because we are God's Chosen Few, too, of course. That goes without saying. ;)

Why then are there tens of thousands of kilometers of high speed train tracks in Europe, tens of thousands in China and not a single one in the US? 

Speed isn't as much a factor in the business worlds as the cost of transport. I suspect high speed lines require a lot more expensive attention in terms of inspection and maintenance. In the US, rail transport is cheaper than by truck over great distances which may be due, in part, to not dedicating the tracks to high speed rail, but of course 99% of the time, a truck has to take the goods from a train depot to its ultimate destination.

Besides, once a train really gets out in the vast midwestern farmlands and/or the Great Plains, I suspect trains get up to 100 km/h or more a good deal of the time, which isn't exactly slow.

Speed isn't as much a factor in the business world

Speed is everything in much of the business world when it comes to short trips unless you are a consultant paying out of your own pocket or a lowly worker.

I suspect high speed lines require a lot more expensive attention

If policy makers worried about cost in the early 20th century then the American hi-way system would never have been built. The benefits outweigh the costs when connecting important business cities as though they are next door. Washington could be just over an hour from New York. 

I suspect trains get up to 100 km/h or more a good deal of the time, which isn't exactly slow.

That is turtle speed. In the coming decades it will crippling snail speed.

Because Paris, London and Amsterdam are just over two hours apart now (door to door) from Brussels, British and French politicians, financial firms, NGOs and companies enjoy a distinct advantage over those of other countries. They no longer need large offices in the city, can make last minute EU lobbying day trips, save serious man hours on traveling expenses. Ultimately last minute business class rail is far cheaper and far faster than flying coach. You are virtually next door. Those are just the advantages for the business world. Tourist passenger benefits are the added bonus.

Speed is everything in much of the business world when it comes to short trips unless you are a consultant paying out of your own pocket or a lowly worker.

Well, actually, I've been in the business world and my dad was Purchasing Director in a heavy industry corporation who bought steel and large castings and other raw materials and heavy goods from all over the world. In that world, cost trumps delivery time because saving on the shipping shows up on the bottom line and if the customer wants it fast, it costs extra, in large part to account for the speedier delivery

True, sometimes it's "I need it yesterday," but with good planning, a month from now instead of tomorrow is just fine if you save 2/3 on the cost of shipping, especially over vast distances. It might take 10 days or longer just to sail from Sapporo to Los Angeles, but if you don't need the goods right away, the wise thing to do is to ship cheapest way, and shipping over water is by far the cheapest way to ship.

Washington could be just over an hour from New York. 

Some people and businesses will want or need that and will likely have to pay a bit extra for it. In most cases, tomorrow or even next week will work just fine. If you see you're down to one box of copy paper and you go through a box every two weeks, getting it next week will be plenty of time. No need to pay extra for rush service.

That is turtle speed. In the coming decades it will crippling snail speed.

You seem to be talking about passenger traffic here and of course people are impatient and want to get where they are going ASAP, but a business person ordering supplies or raw materials or equipment will generally accept a slower delivery time for significant savings on the shipping fees, unless there is a real need for fast delivery, in which case most businesses will just swallow hard and pay extra.


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