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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I totally think this is something worth discussing further. Initially, my "gut reaction" is that this is true. Although I would hardly at this point call Americans "special,"....more like spoiled, entitled, ungrateful, flippant, and snobbish. That's for the top tier that actually has money. For those who do not have money, I would describe as scraping by, and would be better off in another country anyway. So, the only thing great about that scenario is that there's possibly something we can do about it. The problem is that "we" don't. So are we really special? I think it's all about appearances. I think we're far behind the rest of the world actually, mostly because of the GOP. Yes, I am an expat waiting to happen. I want out of this place.

We Americans got a great windfall by settling what has turned out to be the best hunk of geography on the planet, a hunk of land that was almost made to build a super-state on. Our river systems and natural ports outshine everywhere else. The Mississippi, The Ohio, The Hudson, The Columbia, and many other rivers carry goods at 1/12 the cost of moving them over land. These are great industrial waterways. And that's not even including The Great Lakes, which allow river-like transportation between a number of major landlocked Midwestern ports and the Atlantic Ocean.

These rivers and lakes also lie near some of the greatest mineral resources in the world.

World War II gave the US probably the world's most extensive road system, which is augmented by extensive state and local highway systems.

Where even fairly prosperous countries have impediments to international trade, the United States is almost made for it. 

And yet, the United States is becoming more and more self-sufficient in many important areas. Whereas almost every country in the world imports American-built or -labeled high technology, the United States buys very little. Off the top of my head, I think we probably buy almost all of our high-tech industrial and scientific optics from Japanese companies like Nikon and Canon.

As for heavy industry, almost all of our large commercial ships are made overseas. The US shipbuilding industry (military shipbuilding aside) is done in places like China and South Korea. Our own shipbuilding is hardly even on the map. Even lowly Romania has a larger shipbuilding industry.

While we used buy most of our cars from Asian companies, now many of those nameplates are built or put together here and the ones still built in Asia often are required to use a large proportion of American-made parts.

But the point is, these are the exceptions that, by their exceptionalism, prove the rule that the US has become a lot more self-sufficient than other countries. It's now even said that the US has become (or soon will become) the largest producer of oil and gas in the world.

It's now even said that the US has become (or soon will become) the largest producer of oil and gas in the world.

That is not necessarily a good thing. If you're looking only from an economic perspective? Perhaps. But not if you're taking a tripple bottom line approach. We along with China are the 2 primary causes of what is driving climate change, and thus our planet into extinction. What good is money if we are depleting the very ecosystems that sustain all life on earth?

We are also leading countries like China and India in terms of cleaning up our emissions. 

None of our mineral resources will last forever anyway. What we really need to be doing is figuring out what we'll do when there is no more petroleum, iron, etc.

Also, I worry a lot more about the ocean than the air, recognizing of course that there's a system of interaction between them.

We are also leading countries like China and India in terms of cleaning up our emissions. 

Too little too late

That's not a terribly helpful observation. It's playing The Blame Game.

Well considering that the CO2 levels have risen to just above 400ppmv and are rising steadily 3-4 more levels every year, the only way to climb back down the ladder to the "safe" level of 350ppmv is the essentially STOP burning coal and other CO2 emissions into the air and dumping it into our waterways.....

Logically speaking do you think that's going to happen anytime soon?

I didn't think so.

Also, I worry a lot more about the ocean than the air, recognizing of course that there's a system of interaction between them.

Me too. It is a perfect storm that spells disaster. A disaster that money cannot save us from, but that money is what got us there to begin with.

Um, White Eyes.

Me - um - thought my people got - um windfall.  Make um - most of it before the Chinks win World War IIII.

These kinds of expositions really make people outside of the United States groan. It's one thing to say "America is a great country to do business in because of..." or "America offers opportunities that people in most countries cannot enjoy" but it is another thing to list several outrageous claims one after another in the superlative. Smartest business leaders? Groan. Most industrious? Groan. Most awesmoest bestest people everest? Groanest.

Americans have a lot to be extremely proud of but the grandstanding and superlatives really make me wonder why so many people have to keep convincing themselves that they are so great. Is there a latent insecurity there?


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. Also...Europe built many very long canals in the 19th century when it was extremely expensive, technologically difficult and labour intensive, 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. Perhaps navigable waterways are important but not enough (low regulation, low tarrifs and not interfering in mature markets is perhaps what in combination with the US's transportation infrastructure gave the US provided the world with so many lessons in economic growth.

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.

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? 

I'm also wondering it perhaps it's the simple fact that the civilizations that inhabited the US prior to European influences were people who actually took care of the the resources they used, so the land was plentiful, where are much of Europe had already been destroyed at that point. It could just be that we have the shortest history, and therefore had a bit of a head start when the Industrial revolution happened. I don't think we started with any advantage, except that we allowed slave labor to become the backbone of the economy, and still is to this day. what yardstick do you measure success? I think it's pretty lousy and incredibly maddening and I don't want a part in it anymore.

I once had to write a paper on the North West ordinance which was about demarcating land in the US and providing rights to Indian Americans (which by the way is the part of the US with probably the longest and most navigable water-ways). I noted the success by which the land was parceled and the utter failure at protecting the rights of Native Americans.

The professor (and American) gave me a low grade...because I was judging early American history by 21st century standards (he said this to everyone after I did my report). I replied that I was actually judging their history by the standards set in the ordinance they created (the laws they wrote which they failed to enact). He then told me that I should have understood that the ordinance was really about land and the Native American part was a way to placate the misgivings of Indian Americans so they could get the law passed without problems or tensions. Instead of judging it we should try to understand it. I replied that this was all very obvious and a very dark moment in US history. He repeated that I cannot judge them by our standards. I yelled: I AM JUDGING THEM BY THEIR OWN STARDARDS THEY SET IN THEIR LAWS WHICH THEY FAILED TO HONOUR. Everyone in the classroom agreed with me.

He didn't reply. I challenged the grade and the faculty gave me a much higher mark. Why the hell shouldn't we judge past history by 21st century standards? 


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