Scott Colom: Another century of American exceptionalism

December 6, 2010 10:28:00 AM



Despite the current chatter in many corners about the decline of America, I believe America''s best days are ahead of us. I''m optimistic that America will prosper in the 21st century as much as it has in past centuries.  


That''s not to say we don''t have challenges. China''s economy is projected to grow at a faster pace than ours over the next few years. Some economists believe this will result in the overall Chinese GDP outpacing that of the United States by 2030 (This is partially a result of unfair currency manipulation.). Over almost the same period of time, the Congressional Budget Office is projecting the total debt of our federal government will reach 100 percent of GDP. So, at a time when we need to increase the pace of economic growth in America, we are also facing a potential debt crisis.  


The current political gridlock in Washington is the most worrisome prospect of this dilemma. Instead of trying to address these problems, our two political parties appear to be constantly engaged in a media assisted and/or generated wrestling match. Both parties play to their base as much as possible; and compromise only enough to win swing districts -- which are few and far between with political gerrymandering -- and win national elections. And because neither party''s base represents a sustaining majority (every national election is won by a few percentage points) and the political views of these bases are so different, no party can solve these long term problems without almost half of the country hating what they did or didn''t do. (Want evidence: Google the political reactions to the bi-partisan debt commission''s recommendations to reduce the long term deficit) 


With these realities, one might question why I''m optimistic about the future. A recent article in Foreign Affairs entitled "The Future of American Power" by Joseph S. Nye, Jr outlined at least three reasons why America will not suffer a significant decline. First, America will continue to have the best environment for emerging entrepreneurs. We have the finest universities in the world and invest the most in research and development. These universities attract the brightest and most creative students from around the world. This is one of the reasons we continue to register more patents than the rest of the world combined and lead in several important new growth sectors, such as information technology and biotechnology.  


Second, our civic institutions are more reliable and more endurable than the rest of the world''s institutions. While there is a strong mistrust of government here, a sentiment that came with the birth of our country, we continue to have one of the least corrupt governments in the world. Professor Nye reports that the World Bank gives the United States a score above the 90 percentile of control of corruption. This gives entrepreneurs more reliability about the cost of doing business compared to the rest of the world, which is why a high percentage of start-up businesses are born here.  


Finally, I still believe American exceptionalism is in our DNA. The next generations of American will be no less competitive, ambitious, or imaginative than the previous ones. My peers have dreams of inventing the next great product, like the iPod; or starting the next great company, like Starbucks. They want to discover the medicines to prolong health and life. They want to improve education in their communities and states. They want to lead. Most importantly, they want their share of the American dream.  


Scott Colom, a Columbus native, is a staff attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice in Jackson. His e-mail address is [email protected]