Please write and send praise, critique, interesting links or random musings to

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What American Exceptionalism?

Nov 3rd, 2010

by F. Grey Parker

The election has come and gone. Aside from a few oddities, such as a potential write-in ballot victory in the Alaskan frontier, the chips have fallen. All manner of interpretations are being proffered. Yes, it was a historic defeat of the Democratic Party. No, it was not without precedent. Yes, Barack Obama will have to adapt to a new ground game. No, that does not have to mean capitulation to either the Wall Street Journal's demands for austerity or Reason magazine's peculiar notions of taxation.

In the din of so much punditry, I haven't heard anyone say what seems to me increasingly obvious. We need to admit that most of the basic economic principles that worked for generations simply don't work anymore.

In an age where all of our crises are essentially linked, we have a responsibility to address whether or not capitalism as we have known it is even compatible with our future. A blind allegiance to early 20th century principles of the "free market" is no less naive than the promotion of pure Communism. These polar philosophies may have risen to dominance in the middle years of the Industrial Revolution but they are rooted in the agrarian 1800s and the dissolution of Feudalism.

To our detriment, there are clearly too many of our citizens who are not ready to have this conversation at all.

Great hay has been made of the current upheaval in Europe. American conservatives argue these troubles are the direct result of limited-socialistic policies. "See?" they say. They posit that the very concept of a firm socio-financial contract between a nation's government and it's citizenry is a recipe for disaster. In turn, they use this as fodder to fire at almost any domestic spending, particularly social programs. The fact that European struggles with the global financial meltdown have had more to do with our under-regulated markets destroying their investments is largely ignored.

On the other hand, the American Left has offered ideas best described as New Deal Light. These proposals have been both alien enough for some of our electorate to find them scary (particularly older voters) and inconsequential enough to disappoint others. Absent totally are suggestions that represent what I like to call Hoover Dam Thinking.

After 30 years of Reaganomic theoretical supremacy, this is the endgame. If we don't think big now, we risk being imprisoned by smallness and contraction for decades.

So where is the remarkable thinking? There is plenty of radicalism. Where are the great plans? It seems that we lack the maturity to engage creatively. For example, we could literally cut a third of our defense budget and still spend militarily not much less than every other country on the planet combined. Perhaps we could spend that money on other things; How about a massive solar array in the South-West? Say that in casual conversation. You will either find radical condemnation or knee-jerk support. Just don't expect a reasoned and complex national discussion about truly grand designs.

In spite of how far they have set us back, there is one point on which the Tea Partiers and I agree; This country, as we once knew it, no longer functions. End of agreement. There is no further common ground. In the short term, the Republican party has just sold a small ballot majority one of the biggest bill-of-goods since Barnum. Modern America can't exist with their version of "small government." For one thing, we have electricity, women can vote and we no longer posses slaves (in the traditional sense.)

In the past two years, the Right has attempted to declare sole-proprietorship over the philosophy of American exceptionalism in spite of the fact that their path will all but guarantee decline, misery and mediocrity. The Left, conversely, has failed the tests of boldness.

A word to the wise: the death knell of the Feudal economy was heard in the trenches of World War I. Our world's many societies waited long past the point of peaceful adaptation to the realities of human need. Do we really have to tear the world apart one more time before we can achieve a new paradigm?

If there were ever a moment for massive investment in extraordinary projects, it's now. That would be a start.


  1. One thing overlooked about the "moment" here is the role that European and other trade partners' central banks play in determining whether or not American banks get to freely lend money for these "extraordinary" projects. They're not allowing our banks borrowing credit (and thus, their customers), because their economic best interests are not served by allowing us to regain some competitive trade edge.

    Our probable best strategy is to convince the people that government sponsorship of those extraordinary projects be a grand American Economic Vision, and get on with funding them into job growth and infrastructure investment. Government's not always the answer, but in these times, it's what works.

  2. Exceptionalism has gotten us into imperialist pre-emptive warmongering. Exceptionalism should be buried with all our old school militarism.

    Someone once said, where there is no vision, the people perish. We're at that point. But let's not conflate extraordinary project visions with a revival of the meme of American exceptionalism.