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FAREED ZAKARIA, (CNN) The midterm election results were just one more reflection of the pervasive discontent in the United States these days. Two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, and yet if one looks at the rest of the world, what’s striking is how well the United States is doing relative to other major economies.

President Obama says the United States has produced more jobs in its recovery than the rest of the industrialized world put together. Why is this? Many believe the American economy has some inherent advantages over its major competitors, a more flexible structure, stronger entrepreneurial traditions, a more demographically dynamic society.

Well, along comes a fascinating new book that says you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Peter Zeihan’s “The Accidental Super Power” begins with geography, pointing out that America is the world’s largest consumer market for a reason — rivers. Transporting goods by water, he points out, is 12 times cheaper than by land which is why civilizations have always flourished around rivers.

And America, Zeihan calculates, has more navigable waterways, 17,600 miles worth, than the rest of the world put together. By comparison, he notes, China and Germany have about 2,000 miles each, and all of the Arab world has just 120 miles of river.

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, he writes. Add to this America’s many and unequal deep water ports which you need in order to get goods to and from the rest of the world. Chesapeake Bay alone boasts longer stretches of prime port property than the entire continental coast of Asia from Vladivostok to Lahore, writes Zeihan.

All of these factors combined have created the world’s largest consumer market, surplus savings and a dynamic unified economy. It’s also remarkably self-sufficient. Imports made up 17 percent of the American economy in 2012 according to the World Bank. Compare that to Germany’s 46 percent or China’s 25 percent. And this number in the U.S. will fall as America imports less and less foreign oil.

Zeihan emphasizes the degree to which America’s energy revolution has insulated it from the rest of the world. Thanks to efforts to extract shale, North America has much of the energy it needs at home. As the world gets messier, he argues, there are fewer and fewer compelling reasons for America to pay blood and treasure to stabilize it.

I’m not as sure as Zeihan that America’s advantages are simply structural. If one looks at the last five years, again in comparative terms, American public policy actually comes out looking impressive. To combat the global economic crisis of 2008, Washington acted speedily and creatively on three fronts, aggressive monetary policy, fiscal policy, and reform and recapitalization of the banking sector.

Every other rich country did less and has seen a more troubled return to normalcy.

Now since the response to the crisis, Washington has been paralyzed and polarized, but this is not the entirety of American politics. Beyond the beltway, mayors and governors are reaching across party lines partnering with the private sector and making reforms and investments for future growth.

When Tocqueville wrote about America in the 1830s he was struck by the bottom up vitality of its towns and villages. So as we approach Thanksgiving, let’s bear in mind that the genius of America is still alive, whatever most Americans might think.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1411/23/fzgps.01.html

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