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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Yes, I had to reword that several times to avoid that pitfall. It did start me thinking of the atrocities committed by humans over time. I wonder if there was ever a truly peaceful country that wasn't protected by distance, mountains, seas, or other natural defenses.

The United States has had an ocean between it and its enemies (setting the war with Mexico aside) and has turned this isolation into an almost unassailable platform from which to launch military enterprises, some less justifiable than others.

And the slaves (unwilling immigrants) were brought in by those risk-taking willing immigrants, the slaveholders. 

And yet, without our waterways, ports, and our vast tracts of arable land, how far would we have gotten?

Lately, the biggest pool of risk-taker immigrants are our undocumented laborers.

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