Winners Make It Happen; Losers Let It Be

Some people say that America is different because it is rich and powerful. I say that America is rich and powerful because it is different. Visitors to America noticed this same individualism, religious fervor and volunteerism when the U.S. was a weak little country hugging the Atlantic coast. Through generations of change and immigration from around the world, these have remained defining American characteristics. All in all, we would rather be free than personally secure. The ironic thing is that people with that attitude often achieve both, while their comfort-seeking friends get neither.

The U.S. is special. We are more individualistic and optimistic than almost anyone else in the world. In most international surveys, the U.S. is an outlier. Respondents in most countries say they believe that outside events control their lives and the percentage is growing. In America, most people think they that they control their own lives and this percentage is growing. I guess we know that winners make it happen, losers let it be.

We are proud. About 80% of Americans are proud to be Americans. Only about a third of the French are proud to be French and less than one in five Germans say they are proud to be German. Religion plays an important role in the lives of 60% of Americans. For the French this number is around 15%. Americans believe by a 60/40 margin that it is more important for government to guarantee freedom than equality. In Europe, the percentages are essentially reversed.

(Of course I am simplifying. Some of the sources I used are available on line. You can read more about it http://people-press.org, http://www.transatlantictrends.org )

Americans think they should do more for themselves many of the things governments do in other countries. Foreign visitors to the U.S. are often surprised by the extent and professionalism of volunteers in the U.S. Good public schools expect and get the cooperation of parents in all sorts of capacities that are done by paid bureaucrats in most other countries. Where the labor unions permit, volunteers care for parks, work in hospitals, plant trees and build shelters. (More on this http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itsv/0998/ijse/toc.htm http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/volunteer)

Scholars have speculated for years what makes Americans the way they are. We still bear the mark of the British instiutions on which our country was founded. (In world surveys, English speaking countries like UK, Australia etc are closer to U.S. attitudes than most others), but obviously something else is at work. Most immigrants quickly turn into Americans no matter where they come from. (I am immigrant on both sides of my family, yet I am now nothing but American.) I write this post as an inquiry. Why and how has the U.S. become what it is? How can we make sure it continues to be so?

Posted by Jack at November 11, 2004 2:06 PM