...I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
- George Washington, President, United States of America, October 3, 1789.
I've just finished reading Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow's majestic new biography of America's indispensable man. I was struck by the fact that our problems, compared to Washington's, are mostly benign. Indeed, it's an iniquitous understatement to say that we are living in - and partaking of - Washington's panglorious vision for America. Here are just a few of the things that we the people can be thankful for in 2010:
We are only 4% of the earth's population, but we produce and consume almost 25% of the world's products and services.
In 2009 - probably not our best year economically - U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $14.1 trillion, compared to the world's GDP of $57.8 trillion. The next largest economy in the world is Japan, with a GDP of about $5.0 trillion-about a third the size of ours. The American economy is so huge that our GDP is nearly equal to the GDP of the entire European Union, which has 60% more people than the United States; and our GDP is nearly three times larger than China's, which has four times the population of the United States.
Many people complain about the deindustrialization of America. It's true that a lot of industry has moved overseas, as former socialist slave states have adopted a more capitalistic economic model, bringing three billon new competitive workers into the labor market. Even so, the United States, with annual industrial production of $2.8 trillion, is still the world's largest manufacturer. It's also true that we benefit enormously from the products and cost savings that are produced in these new markets. We still produce more than twice as much as Japan; and in fact, we produce more than Japan and China combined. Our share may be shrinking, but the pie is getting bigger.
People complain about energy imports, but we often forget that the United States produces more oil than Iran, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, Canada, Mexico, or Norway. Only Saudi Arabia and the former Soviet Union produce more oil than the U.S.
And, we tend to forget that the United States is the world's second largest producer of natural gas; ditto for coal. Our natural gas production is greater than that of the next five producers combined. Our coal production is greater than the combined production of the European Union and India. In other words, although there is great concern that the United States is dependent on foreign energy, we are actually one of the world's largest energy producers, which is a good thing, because, as noted above, we are still the world's premier industrial economy.
When Washington became America's first president in 1789, the total U.S. population was less than 4 million people, most of them living within a hundred miles of the eastern seaboard. Land west of the Mississippi was a vast, unexplored, and virtually uninhabited wilderness. Today, the United States is still under-populated by global standards. Measured in inhabitants per square kilometer, the world's average population density is 49. Japan's is 338, Germany's is 230, and America's is only 34. When we compare population in proportion to land suitable for agriculture-America has five times as much arable land per person as Asia, and almost twice as much as Europe. We produce 10% of the world's wheat, 38% of the world's corn, 38% of its soybeans, and 12% of its cotton; with plenty of room to grow more when market conditions warrant.
Despite our often being pooh-poohed as an intellectual laggard, the U.S. is home to eight of the top ten universities in the world. (The two not based in the U.S. are Oxford and Cambridge.) In Mathematics we have six of the ten top-rated schools. In the Social Sciences, America is home to all ten of the top ten.
Some things about Americans don't change, despite the centuries. Washington, like many of his contemporaries, was generous almost to a fault. Today, America is far and away the world's great benefactor, but U.S. government aid is dwarfed by the voluntary giving of America's benevolent corporations, families, and individuals. Never has there been a society more generous.
Washington lived at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, when the world was lit only by fire and the practice of medicine was barely beyond its witch doctor stage. He spent nearly a quarter of his life leading men into battle - in his homeland and riding a horse. Time and time again he made himself a prime target for well-armed and well-trained enemies, as he fought to secure freedom, security, and independence for the American colonies. And though Washington lived twenty years beyond the average life expectancy of his era, he died of a sore throat at age sixty-seven.
We live at the dawn of the Biological Revolution, when a non-smoking couple retiring at sixty-two, can expect that one of them will live to be ninety. As the science of DNA continues its inevitable course toward understanding the very nature and causes of life, Americans may expect a rate of progress in medicine comparable to Moore's Law* in information technology.
As Thanksgiving approaches, how can we not be grateful? Until next week,
PATIENCE, DISCIPLINE, and CONFIDENCE in the FUTURE! mh
Note: Data for this article was compiled from:
The Next 100 Years, George Friedman, Anchor Books, 2010.
Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow, Penguin Press, 2010.
*Moore's Law, named for Intel cofounder, Gordon Moore, says that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit will double approximately every two years. The effect has been to double computing speed while halving the cost every two years. The law has held virtually true for more than fifty years. Moore's Law precisely describes a driving force of technological and social change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law