When I tried to exit a New York subway station last Monday morning, I found it blocked by a crowd of people and a herd of TV cameras. Later that day, when I was heading home, I couldn’t even get near the subway entrance. To understand why, I only have to say that the station is named “World Trade Center.” An enormous crowd had assembled spontaneously to celebrate the death of the villain who plotted the attacks of 9/11 and to commemorate friends, family, and strangers who lost their lives on that terrible day. Whatever the longer term security implications of bin Laden’s death may be, the assault on his compound was a masterstroke of planning, execution and courage, and the event gave me inspiration to write about what America does well.
Start with the sheer size of our economy. We’ve all talked (correctly) about the growth of China’s economy and its long-term implications. Today, however, the U.S. economy is almost two and a half times the size of China’s, and per capita, it is roughly 12 times larger. Despite all of China’s potential and all of our challenges, the U.S. is still a very rich country, while China is still quite poor.
Worried about U.S. dependence on imported oil? You’re not wrong, but remember that the U.S. (as of 2009) is the world’s third largest petroleum producer, and our two largest foreign suppliers—Canada and Mexico—account for almost one-third of our imports. This doesn’t mean that you should start thinking about buying a used Hummer, but there’s no reason to fear that we’ll be freezing in the dark either.
Finally, what about the seemingly intractable U.S. fiscal situation? We all want to move toward a balanced budget, but according to the polls, we all want someone else to pay for it, either through higher taxes or reduced benefits. With two fundamentally different budget proposals on the table—both of which are based on Pollyannaish assumptions—at least we’re finally facing the issue. And the influence of the so called “Gang of Six” (a group of six Democratic and Republican senators) gives us reason to hope for creative solutions and a measure of political courage. If those Navy SEALs—and many others—can risk their lives for our defense, maybe a few more elected officials will risk their incumbency for our well-being.