American Exceptionalism has been called into question lately, most recently by Vladimir Putin in a New York Times oped. The old godless Socialist even references God faux Jeffersonian style. Jefferson stated that God make all people equal. In Putin’s version, God makes nations equal:
“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
What has made America exceptional, however, is exactly what the USSR was missing. It is the reason America defeated the Soviet Empire and became the sole world superpower. It is an economic system based on doing good for others, rather than one based on political pull. It inspires everyone to do all he can because, unlike with Soviet-style Communism, he is rewarded for doing so.
The American economic system that made America Exceptional is based on three principles: 1) Consumer choice and free competition, 2) Property rights, and 3) Limited regulation. Consumer choice and free competition allow customers to choose the provider of the goods and services they receive. It allows individuals who have a better method of delivery to prosper. This causes a system by which those who do the best job of determining and providing for others’ needs to prosper. Competition also works for employees, who can change employers if they are mistreated or just not paid in proportion to what they provide. Employers also have the freedom to choose their employees, which forces employees to be better than they otherwise would be.
Property rights allow individuals to hold onto what they earn. Unlike Soviet Russia, business owners have little fear of confiscation by government officials. This provides further motivation to serve others since you may keep the reward you receive for doing so.
The final element is limited regulation. By making it easy for individuals to start and run businesses, they can spend more time working to serve others. Less time and effort is wasted.
The American system rewards those who do good for other people. It causes people to think beyond themselves and discover what it is that they can build that will help the most people. Over the last two centuries, great men and women – both domestically and foreign-born – have gone from poverty to exceptional wealth in single generations by bringing great ideas to life through hard work and perseverance. These ideas have become things like the intercontinental railroad and later the production automobile, the telegraph and later the telephone, the transistor and later the computer, and the Digital Operating System (DOS) and later Google and Facebook.
Equally important to American exceptionalism is the requirement that individuals trade equally for what they receive. Rather than spending time selfishly while receiving a welfare check, able-bodied individuals are expected to produce at least as much as they consume. They are expected to meet the needs of others to have their own needs met. This produces more wealth since almost everyone is spending at least a third of their time meeting the needs of themselves or others.
This system has also been the source of great innovation. The farmer with a plow who could feed a few families has been replaced by the industrial farm with great machines that can feed whole cities. The craftsman in his shop who can create one tool a week has been replaced by the factory that can create thousands of tools per hour. This is possible because individuals spent their time devising great machines that would allow more needs to be met with less effort. To multiply the effort of one man many times over.
These innovations have allowed the rise of the middle class. A person who could learn to run these machines could produce far more than he could with only his bare hands, thereby allowing his pay to increase dramatically since he is able to produce for more people.
By getting everyone who can to produce for others, this system has created an enormous amount of wealth. This has allowed for those who are unable to work to be supported easily. There is food and shelter for the elderly widows. There is care and treatment for the mentally ill and the physically disabled. Around the world there is funding to fight AIDS and starvation in Africa’s jungles and pirates in its oceans. To fight poverty in Central and South American. To bring toilets and clean water to towns in India. To aid victims of Tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia.
In concept, American Exceptionalism is the belief that God has provided America with a special place in the world. Even those who are atheist who truly look at the American economic system and compare it with other systems must see that it is fundamentally good and just. No other system promotes selflessness and performing useful work like American Capitalism does. Certainly not Soviet-style Communism.
Sadly, we are seeing a loss of these guiding principles. Consumer choice and free competition is being eroded by large companies that conspire with legislatures to write protectionist regulations. Property rights are being taken through abuse of the eminent domain process, land taking regulations issued by the EPA, and other government actions. Finally, the level of regulation is increasing each year, making it more difficult to start and run a business.
Candidate Obama said, when asked, whether he felt that America was exceptional. He stated that he felt America was exceptional, just as a Canadian would feel Canada was exceptional. Given that his policies generally erode the principles of the great economic system on which America was based, perhaps he shares the views of President Putin that no nation should be exceptional.
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