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Is the United States Still “Best in Everything?”

dollar-drop.jpgLast month, in a hotel gift shop in Athens, Greece, I started talking with the clerk about how expensive things were for Americans in light of the dollar’s plunge against world currencies. My visit to the corner Starbucks for a latte, bagel, and two morning papers had set me back $23. She remarked in her best English, “It’s so confusing, your currency. The U.S. is the best in everything, so why is your money worth so little?”

Certainly, the dollar is not in good shape. It is at a 26-year low against the British pound, having fallen 44 percent since February of 2002. It’s at a 30-year low against the Canadian dollar and an all-time low against the euro.

I associate weak currencies with weak countries and strong currencies with strong countries. Why, then, has the greatest economy on earth watched its net worth as a nation decline by nearly 50% since 2000?

If America is still “the best in everything,” the current weakness in our currency is probably temporary. Ten strong-currency.jpgyears from now we may see the dollar once again strong on a global basis. But what if we are no longer “the best?” What if our falling dollar is the beginning of a new trend?

Could it be our nation’s economic greatness is more a perception from the past than a fact of the present? Some alarming new statistics suggest this may be the case. A number of trends would indicate the rest of the world has embraced the economic thinking and policies that made America great.

According to an article in USA Today, eight of the 20 largest global initial public offerings in 1996 were listed on a U.S. exchange. So far in 2007, not one of the top 20 global IPOs is listed in the U.S.A. “Things are bad and getting worse,” says Hall Scott, a Harvard Law School professor. He blames the trend on the regulatory environment and excessive litigation risk.

We are beginning to get beat at our own game. Capitalism is slowly becoming a politically obsolete theory in America, while it is on the rise globally. One example of this is that Americans are becoming more and more nationalist in their thinking.

A recent Pew poll asked respondents their opinions of growing trade ties between countries. Those from the U.S. ranked dead last (59 percent) in regarding such ties as “very good” or “somewhat good.” The next lowest ranking, 69 percent, came from Egypt. Americans believe, more than any other country on earth, that foreign goods and services are unnecessary and even unwanted.

foreign-currency.jpgThis is a paradoxical attitude from a country that is a net importer, relying on foreign oil and goods to fuel its consumer-driven economy. If anything, one would think that Americans would be leading the global parade in supporting trade. We once were, but no more.

So it should come as no surprise that, when the Pew survey asked if trade with foreign companies had a positive impact on a country, only 45% of Americans answered positively, placing us in the bottom five nations. “We expect the world to welcome U.S. companies with open arms and yet do not reciprocate the hospitality,” writes Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek’s October 22 issue.

Maybe the clerk in Athens was mistaken about the U.S. still being “best in everything.” If so, I hope we quickly wake up to that fact so we can do something about it. Unfortunately, social anthropologists tell us it takes 15 years for society to integrate the recognition of a change. My fear is that we’re in for a rough ride before we begin to regain our economic strength.

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3 Responses to Is the United States Still “Best in Everything?”

  1. Ed Conlin January 2, 2008 at 8:25 pm #

    be sure to look at the email I sent you
    called “Shift Happens “

  2. Cindy January 2, 2008 at 8:26 pm #

    Rick,
    This is exactly why I am looking at being an expat. I believe as a country we are resting on our laurels from the past and need to wake up. I don’t believe we are the great country military power or economic leader we once were. Cindy

  3. Dan S January 2, 2008 at 11:44 pm #

    From an email I recieved:

    There was a Chemistry professor in a large college that had some exchange students in the class. One day while the class was in the lab the Prof noticed one young man (exchange student) who kept rubbing his back And stretching as if his back hurt.

    The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while fighting communists in his native country who wre trying to overthrow his country’s government and install a new communist government.

    In the midst of his story he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked, ‘ Do you know how to catch wild pigs?’

    The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line. The young man said this was no joke.’You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come everyday to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming. Whn they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in The last side. The pigs, who are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat, you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd.

    Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how To forage in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity.

    The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening to America. The government keeps pushing us toward Communism/Socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, tobacco subsidies, dairy subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP), welfare, medicine, drugs, free medical, etc. while we continually lose our freedoms – just a little at a time.

    One should always remember ‘There is no such thing as a free Lunch! Also, a politician will never provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself.

    Also, if you see that all of this wonderful government ‘help’ is a problem confronting the future of democracy in America, you might want to send this on to your friends. If you think the free ride is essential to your way of life then you will probably delete this email, but God help you when the gate slams shut!

    ‘A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to

    take away everything you have.’ …….. Thomas Jefferson