Editor’s Note: Happy Independence Day from all of us at Liberty Through Wealth!
Today, Alex discusses that – despite common perceptions – there is so much to celebrate. In that spirit, take a moment to peruse his thoughts, then enjoy our most quintessentially American holiday – hopefully with flags and fireworks, barbeques, and baseball!
– Christina Grieves, Senior Managing Editor
It’s not fashionable to talk about America’s greatness these days.
Most of us prefer to grouse about political gridlock, the federal debt, economic inequality, racial tensions or the dismal state of popular music.
There is a sense among many that we are no longer an exceptional nation, that the country is in decline and the American Dream is over.
Let’s begin with a few indisputable facts:
- American life expectancy has never been longer. Science and medicine have added decades to our lives. In 1900, life expectancy in the U.S. was just 40 years. The near doubling of the human life span may be the single greatest achievement in the history of civilization.
- Our standard of living has never been higher. Look around you at all the labor-saving devices, the huge variety of goods and services available, the luxuries – from Ultra HD TVs to Starbucks’ lattes to Egyptian cotton sheets – that permeate your existence.
- Our homes have never been larger. According to the Census Bureau, the median square footage of newly built single-family homes is 2,386 square feet. That’s 56% larger than the median home built in 1973.
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American workweek – at 34.4 hours – has never been shorter.
- Computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones – which are revolutionizing our lives – have never been cheaper or more powerful.
- We are the world leader in technological innovation. The internet was created here. (Thank God for Al Gore, right?) If we are no different than the other Western democracies, why were transformative companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, eBay, Snapchat, Instagram, PayPal, Tesla, Uber and Airbnb – to name just a few – all founded here?
- Contrary to media images, American cities have been growing steadily safer for decades. Violent crime is in a long-term cycle of decline.
- Educational attainment has never been higher. Eighty-eight percent of Americans have a high school diploma. Fifty-nine percent have some college experience. Forty-two percent have an associate or bachelor’s degree. (For comparison, in 1952, only 6.4% of Americans had completed college.)
- The essentials of life – food, clothing, energy and shelter – (in inflation-adjusted terms) have never been more affordable.
- All forms of pollution – with the exception of greenhouse gases – are in decline.
- The American military – the primary defender of the free world – has never been stronger.
- American agriculture is the envy of the world. Our farmers now grow five times as much corn as they did in the 1930s – on 20% less land. The yield per acre has grown sixfold in the past 70 years.
- For decades, experts warned us that we had to end “our addiction to foreign oil.” Yet thanks to new technologies – like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – we are not just the world’s largest energy producer but also a net exporter.
- The U.S. leads the world in science, engineering, medicine, entertainment and the arts.
- No nation attracts more immigrants, more students or more foreign investment capital.
- Americans are the most charitable people on earth, both in the aggregate and per capita. The Giving USA Foundation recently reported that U.S. charitable donations hit $427.7 billion last year.
- The U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency.
- Americans are just 4.4% of the world’s population, yet we create nearly a quarter of its annual wealth.
- Our economy is No. 1 by a huge margin. It is larger than Nos. 2 and 3 – China and Japan – combined.
- Median household income has never been higher. And the Federal Reserve recently reported that U.S. household net worth hit a record $108.6 trillion in the first quarter. That is more than double the 2000 level.
Despite our good fortune, polls show that Americans are less optimistic about the future today than in 1942, when we were in the fight of our lives against Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito.
Maybe we need a humorist to wake us up.
As author and humor columnist Dave Barry notes:
My mom, like my Dad, and millions of other members of the Greatest Generation, had to contend with real adversity: the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, hunger, poverty, disease, World War II, extremely low-fi 78 rpm records and telephones that – incredible as it sounds today – could not even shoot video.
Your ancestors a few generations removed would view your life today as the realization of some utopia, a golden age.
Of course, America also has an exceptional past.
Fireworks will fill the skies this weekend because our nation’s founding was revolutionary – not in the sense of replacing one set of rulers with another, but in placing political authority in the hands of the people.
Our Declaration of Independence is a timeless statement of inherent rights, the true purposes of government and the limits of political authority.
Our core beliefs are enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the longest-serving foundation of liberty in history.
Our nation’s growth and prosperity have been extraordinary. How did our small republican experiment transform and dominate global culture and society?
Geography played a big role. Buffered by two oceans and a rugged frontier, we had plenty of cheap land and vast natural resources. (But then so did countries like Russia and Brazil.)
Entrepreneurs were given free license to innovate and create. Profit was never something to apologize for. Rather it was viewed as proof that the businessman offered customers something more valuable than the money they traded.
Historically, we have opened our arms to tens of millions of immigrants who dreamed of a better life and helped to build this country.
In the process, we developed an astounding capacity for tolerance. Today we live peaceably alongside each other, unperturbed by differences of religion or ethnicity.
I’m not suggesting that other nations don’t have proud histories, unique traditions or beautiful cultures. I’m delighted when I get a chance to visit Sydney or Buenos Aires, not to mention Paris or Rome. There’s a lot to love about day-to-day life in other countries.
But people around the world don’t talk about the French dream or the Chinese dream. Only one nation is universally recognized as the land of opportunity.
That’s because America cultivates, celebrates and rewards the habits that make men and women successful. Anyone with ambition and grit can move up the economic ladder. Everyone has a chance to improve his or her lot, regardless of circumstances.
In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said:
America’s future has never been brighter. The U.S. has the best universities, hospitals and businesses on the planet, and our people are the most entrepreneurial and innovative in the world, from the factory floor to the executive suite. We have by far the widest, deepest and most transparent capital markets, and a citizenry with an unparalleled work ethic and “can do” attitude.
American ingenuity, technology and capital markets have created dramatic improvements in communications, transportation, manufacturing, computing, retailing, food production, construction, healthcare, finance, pharmaceuticals, robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence, genetics and dozens of other industries.
We can’t even imagine all the fantastic innovations that lie ahead of us.
The notion that America is an exceptional nation is not, as some would argue, just a crude strain of patriotism.
Our country embodies timeless ideals, an optimistic attitude, and an enthusiastic endorsement of the pursuit of happiness.
If you’re looking for something to celebrate today, try this: Americans are living longer, healthier, safer, richer, freer lives than any people in history.
Yes, we have made missteps along the way and face no shortage of problems and challenges today.
But today you might celebrate who we are, what we’ve done and just how far we’ve come.