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U.S. Has Much To Be Thankful For

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, November 26, 1996

Thanksgiving is a good time to consider the many faces of America’s abundance. With a few notable and troubling exceptions, our prosperity is secure and things are getting better. In the words of environmental writer Gregg Easterbrook, “Most indices of U.S. life have been positive for years, even decades.” Examples:

  • The environment is improving. By almost any measure — air quality, water quality, mined land reclamation, the management of hazardous materials — our environment is improving.
  • Material prosperity is secure. There are nagging problems of income distribution, but American business works. The U.S. is the world’s largest trading nation with the world’s largest market and the world’s largest economy. Contrary to media reports, downsizing and delayering are examples of a healthy, innovative and adaptable business economy — not a sign of economic weakness. Go to Europe, with double-digit unemployment and industries that can’t compete globally to see what happens when laws and regulations prevent business executives from managing capital, labor and technology in the most efficient way.
  • The threat of nuclear war has sharply diminished. Most people over 50 can recall periodic atom bomb drills in public schools, which included getting under the desk for “protection” from a nuclear blast. My 11- and 13- year-old children give me the RCA dog look when I tell them about this. That’s good. That’s progress.
  • Public health is rising. By almost any measure — from the eradication of polio to sharp reductions in the incidence and severity of most childhood diseases — we are healthier. In this century we have added nearly 30 years to our life expectancy. We eat better. We smoke less. We last longer.
  • Race and gender barriers are eroding. During the past 40 years, we have opened up our electoral system, schools, labor unions and the professions — including management — to women and minorities on a scale unprecedented in human history.
  • The American way of doing business has been adopted worldwide. English is now the language of global business and diplomacy. The same holds for the norms (if not always the practice) of American approaches to accounting, advertising, management, research and development, corporate ownership, corporate finance and, increasingly, business ethics and business education.
  • The U.S. is the world’s only remaining superpower. We are the world’s 800-pound gorilla. We have the military organization, logistics and capabilities to project power anywhere. Whatever we do — go in, sit on our hands, provide help through the back door or look the other way — is often decisive.
  • Americans remain an optimistic, can-do people. Americans are upbeat, despite years of negativism by political leaders who spend millions of dollars in each election cycle running each other down and belittling American achievements and American institutions.

These are among the unvarnished facts of life about the remarkable run of the American experience. Yet, for some strange reason, American elites — moviemakers, song writers, journalists and increasingly political and corporate leaders — seem to be unable to accept our status among nations or deal forthrightly with the (largely positive) consequences of our own success as a nation and a people. Thanksgiving is a good time to acknowledge our good fortune, challenge the alien values of so many of America’s cultural mandarins and give thanks for the good judgment and achievements of ordinary Americans.

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