David Brooks: “American Exceptionalism is Just Gone”

 

An excerpt from David Brooks’s latest column in the New York Times:

[N]ow American attitudes resemble European attitudes, and when you just look at young people, American exceptionalism is basically gone.

Fifty percent of Americans over 65 believe America stands above all others as the greatest nation on earth. Only 27 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 believe that. As late as 2003, Americans were more likely than Italians, Brits and Germans to say the “free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” By 2010, they were slightly less likely than those Europeans to embrace capitalism.

Thirty years ago, a vast majority of Americans identified as members of the middle class. But since 1988, the percentage of Americans who call themselves members of the “have-nots” has doubled. Today’s young people are more likely to believe success is a matter of luck, not effort, than earlier generations.

I don’t know what to do with these statistics — I just don’t. Do you?  

Weep over them, maybe?

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    Joseph Stanko

    Economic success comes from 3 main factors:

    1. hard work
    2. luck
    3. connections, networking, knowing the right people

    I don’t think this is much different today than at any point in American history.

    I do think one thing that has changed is that young people in recent years have been told to “follow your dream” and “do what you love” and that that plus hard work and following the rules will lead to success.  Well, that’s a flat-out lie...

    Let me think.  I’ve written a software product that is used by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.  And I can’t find work.  So yes, I think it is quite a bit more difficult to succeed in today’s economy than it was in your time, if for no other reason than that the government doesn’t compulsively overheat the labor market anymore.

    That’s why the right reforms are so important: productivity reforms (part of which is restricting unskilled and boosting skilled immigration), labor market reform (which will hopefully happen in the next decade, now that labor unions are finally dying out), land reform (restrictions, zoning laws), etc.

    • #61
  2. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    Danny Alexander: #10 Joseph Eagar

    I’m 46 years old, having graduated undergrad in 1990.  Trust me, I understand what you describe — indeed, as someone grappling with long-term unemployment for quite some time now since returning to the US from Japan in late 2010, I can very much relate even if I have more gray hair.

    Yeah.  It turns out that, statistically speaking, our vaunted “information economy” hasn’t been creating very many jobs, and in fact lost jobs for most of the 2000s (for which I blame the criminal negligence of universities, who turned out a great many incompetent programmers).

    • #62
  3. Profile Photo Inactive
    @TotusPorcus
    Taliesin

    We’re just like every other group of people out there, trying to live up to great and lofty ideals.  · 1 hour ago

    So you believe in American exceptionalism, just as you’re sure the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism? 

    Think I’ve heard that somewhere before.

    And it completely misses the point.  We are not “just like every other group of people out there.”  Although we are forgetting what makes (or made) us different and running the risk of becoming “just like every other group.” 

    And on that note, I believe this calls for a cross-post to the War on Work thread. 

    • #63
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @AdamKoslin
    Totus Porcus

    …We are not “just like every other group of people out there.”  Although we are forgetting what makes (or made) us different and running the risk of becoming “just like every other group.” 

    And on that note, I believe this calls for a cross-post to the War on Work thread.  · 18 minutes ago

    No, we are just like every other group of people.  People are people wherever you go.  What makes us different is the heritage that we have to struggle to keep up with.  That heritage is uniquely ours, though others may strive to emulate it.  That’s what I term “patriotism”; being proud of one’s country and heritage, and seeking to live up to it.  “Exceptionalism” seems to indicate to me that we are somehow special just by being Americans.  That makes no sense.  In order to be special, we have to actually *do* special things.  We aren’t somehow elevated just by our paternity.

    • #64
  5. Profile Photo Member
    @AdamKoslin
    Joseph Eagar

    Yeah.  It turns out that, statistically speaking, our vaunted “information economy” hasn’t been creating very many jobs, and in fact lost jobsfor most of the 2000s (for which I blame the criminal negligence of universities, who turned out a great many incompetent programmers). · 40 minutes ago

    Hey, don’t be too hard on us incompetent programmers; we all gotta start somewhere. :)  

    (I started working with HTML, CSS, and Javascript a month ago.)

    • #65
  6. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Taliesin

    No, we are just like every other group of people.  People are people wherever you go.  What makes us different is the heritage that we have to struggle to keep up with.  That heritage is uniquely ours, though others may strive to emulate it.  That’s what I term “patriotism”; being proud of one’s country and heritage, and seeking to live up to it.  “Exceptionalism” seems to indicate to me that we are somehow special just by being Americans.  That makes no sense.  In order to be special, we have to actually *do* special things.  We aren’t somehow elevated just by our paternity. · 7 minutes ago

    I agree, and think Mark Steyn would as well. Steve Sailer summed up American exceptionalism as the belief that we can do incredibly stupid things (messianic wars abroad, missionary immigration policy at home) and get away with it because we’re somehow special.

    • #66
  7. Profile Photo Inactive
    @TotusPorcus
    Taliesin

    No, we are just like every other group of people.  People are people wherever you go.  . . .  “Exceptionalism” seems to indicate to me that we are somehow special just by being Americans.  That makes no sense.  In order to be special, we have to actually *do* special things.  We aren’t somehow elevated just by our paternity. · 4 minutes ago

    Spend a week with the Taliban and let me know if you still believe that. 

    I think you are confusing the statement that America is “exceptional” with the notion that Americans are therefore “better” or “special” in the sense that every child who plays youth soccer is “special.” 

    That’s not the concept.  America is exceptional because it is a nation founded on a particular set of political and philosophical precepts, and not, e.g., on dynastic tribal affiliations.  Anyone who buys into those precepts can be an American.  Not anyone can be a German. or a Brit, or a Greek.  But when Americans forget the precepts and willingly see themselves primarily in tribal terms (yay “diversity”!), and as subjects of a Federal Government that assumes the powers of a monarch, then America will cease to be exceptional. 

    • #67
  8. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @FightinInPhilly
    Aaron Miller

    FightinInPhilly: Question for those who think we’re doomed- why are you spending time on Ricochet? Seriously- what could possibly be the point of a 200 word post if you honestly believed that? I’m genuinely curious.

    Amusement, expression, learning, socializing, networking. And why not?

    Ok, I think I get that.  But I feel like Paul Giamatti in Private Parts, trying to understand people who hate Howard Stern- “but if they hate him WHY DO THEY LISTEN ?!?”   Must just be different styles. Pessimism just bums me out. :)

    • #68
  9. Profile Photo Member
    @DannyAlexander

    #64 Joseph Eagar

    Major companies have failed those entering or seeking to enter the software development field — and various other technical fields — just as egregiously as the universities have.  

    Serious on-boarding and in-depth training has/have simply vanished at the Fortune 500 level and elsewhere — and then CEOs have the gall to complain that there is a skills-alignment gap between educational institutions and their enterprises.  If CEO pay-packets were halved and the newly-freed-up funds invested into reviving in-house corporate training programs, the positive payback for all stakeholders could be enormous.  

    Unfortunately, though, at the C-Suite level that sort of non-zer0-sum perspective is viewed as a threat.  There’s a reason Dilbert creator Scott Adams portrays the CEO character as he does.

    • #69
  10. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Joseph and others: maybe one of the main differences from the 80’s is that if one couldn’t find a job in one’s field you took the minimum wage job and maybe two of them. While working those jobs perhaps you planned to start your own business which, may or may not, be in your original field. You may even have sacrificed a lot (sleep being optional too) by getting into a fixer upper house, working on it for 20 years, then selling it (and maybe your business) at a huge profit. Suddenly you find yourself quite a bit older, are told you didn’t build that, and they confiscate huge chunks of your life’s work, not to mention a huge part of your retirement…to top it off, you are then blamed for doing it to yourself as part of some ‘group’.

    • #70
  11. Profile Photo Member
    @TeamAmerica

    @Danny Alexander- Let me play devil’s advocate: What if the reason CEOs won’t invest in training is due to American investor’s ‘day trader’ mentality which puts pressure on CEOs  for short-term results, and training costs would hurt the bottom line. Also, they fear training employees who then go to another company, costing the corporation the money spent on training.

    • #71
  12. Profile Photo Inactive
    @JMaestro
    PracticalMary: Joseph and others: maybe one of the main differences from the 80’s is that if one couldn’t find a job in one’s field you took the minimum wage job and maybe two of them. While working those jobs perhaps you planned to start your own business which, may or may not, be in your original field. You may even have sacrificed a lot (sleep being optional too) by getting into a fixer upper house, working on it for 20 years, then selling it (and maybe your business) at a huge profit. Suddenly you find yourself quite a bit older, are told you didn’t build that, and they confiscate huge chunks of your life’s work, not to mention a huge part of your retirement…to top it off, you are then blamed for doing it to yourself as part of some ‘group’. · 9 minutes ago

    You outline the other face of the Democrats’ new project to subsidize non-work — their decades-long project to punish actual work.

    They’ve given us a war of all against all, where only the politically-connected aristocracy can “win.”

    Some “win”: best-fed fish in a poisoned pond.

    • #72
  13. Profile Photo Moderator
    @AmySchley
    TeamAmerica: @Danny Alexander- Let me play devil’s advocate: What if the reason CEOs won’t invest in training is due to American investor’s ‘day trader’ mentality which puts pressure on CEOs  for short-term results, and training costs would hurt the bottom line. Also, they fear training employees who then go to another company, costing the corporation the money spent on training. · 8 minutes ago

    Edited 5 minutes ago

    It’s a prisoner’s dilemma problem. I do sympathize.

    That doesn’t make it any less painful for those of us with our tails caught in the wringer.

    • #73
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @DannyAlexander

    #72 TeamAmerica

    Not sure how often you’re on LinkedIn, but within my own contact network at least, it’s weird how frequently people will post this hackneyed imagined dialogue:

    – CFO:  What if we train our employees and then they leave?

    – CEO:  What if we don’t and then they stay?

    *Some* people in *some* areas of corporate America seem to be contemplating just this kind of shortfall quite a bit, and attempting to influence the thinking around it however clumsily.  

    (“Clumsily” as in, come on, the CEOs are ultimately at fault in these circumstances, however much they might be swayed by their CFOs.)

    • #74
  15. Profile Photo Member
    @
    J.Maestro

    PracticalMary: Joseph and others: maybe one of the main differences from the 80’s is that if one couldn’t find a job in one’s field you took the minimum wage job and maybe two of them. While working those jobs perhaps you planned to start your own business which, may or may not, be in your original field. You may even have sacrificed a lot (sleep being optional too) by getting into a fixer upper house, working on it for 20 years, then selling it (and maybe your business) at a huge profit. Suddenly you find yourself quite a bit older, are told you didn’t build that, and they confiscate … · 9 minutes ago

    You outline the other face of the Democrats’ new project to subsidize non-work — their decades-long project to punish actual work.

    They’ve given us a war of all against all, where only the politically-connected aristocracy can “win.”

    Some “win”: best-fed fish in a poisoned pond. · 1 hour ago

    Yes, being a victim (and/or remaining one) is from the Left and it’s not wise to believe it.

    • #75
  16. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    Joseph Eagar

    Danny Alexander:

    ….. People my age feel like serfs, and justifiable so.  It’s a lot harder to break into the middle class today then it was in your day.  And by “lot,” I mean “orders of magnitude.”

    Frankly, in our current economy successisa matter of luck.  It’s perfectly natural for young people to feel that way, that’s why it’s so important we implement the right economic reforms. ·

    Income mobility is as good today as it was 20 years ago. It’s a myth that it’s not. Since there are more dropouts from the economy, this suggests that mobility is greater for the participants.

    In terms of luck, Rick Santorum was right. The great majority of those who get married before having kids, graduate high school and get a full time job get to earn over $50k. The great majority of those who don’t end up in poverty. With some exceptions, whether that’s the approach you take is in part a choice, rather than pure luck. It’s certainly not helpful for young people to wrongly believe that hard work is not generally determinative.

    • #76
  17. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    KC Mulville

    • First, there are Americans, who aren’t any better than anyone else.
    • Second, there is the “American Way,” which is a defined perspective about government, the worth of the individual, and how we can make a society that forms some kind of cohesion without simply ignoring or suppressing individuals in the process.

    Yeah, the American way is superior. It is exceptional. Those principles make otherwise-ordinary people into a superior nation.

    But if no one ever taught you the American Way, and asked you whether Americans are exceptional, all you’d consider is whether Americans are better persons than those from other countries … and you’d naturally say no.

    …..

    There’s a sort of Burkean equality here. Americans form a natural aristocracy. It is not the case that an American is a better person at conception than someone from elsewhere, but they’re fitter at 20 weeks after conception than most, and far more likely to survive to 52 weeks. Once outside, they’re raised in a freer, more principled air, and the market is not wrong to say that they’re worth more, nor the statisticians who say they give more and work harder.

    • #77
  18. Profile Photo Member
    @AdamKoslin

    I’m not an American Exceptionalist, and truthfully I don’t understand why people like Mr. Robinson are upset about it.  Mostly I’m just confused by the concept.  By what standard are we measuring “greatness?”  Don’t get me wrong,  I’m tremendously proud of this country’s history and heritage, and though London, Paris, Normandy, Moscow, and Tokyo are all on my bucket list as places to see and maybe even spend some few months or years, I’d never dream of emigrating or forfeiting my citizenship.  But I don’t see what good proclaiming “greatness” does for us that a good example won’t do better.  In these things, I try to follow the advice of my father; “actions speak louder than words.”  

    • #78
  19. Profile Photo Inactive
    @AaronMiller
    FightinInPhilly: Question for those who think we’re doomed- why are you spending time on Ricochet? Seriously- what could possibly be the point of a 200 word post if you honestly believed that? I’m genuinely curious.

    Amusement, expression, learning, socializing, networking. And why not?

    Besides, we can’t save America from ruin, but we can prepare to begin again. Now is a good time to ask ourselves what could have been done differently.

    • #79
  20. Profile Photo Contributor
    @MollieHemingway
    Taliesin: I’m not an American Exceptionalist, and truthfully I don’t understand why people like Mr. Robinson are upset about it.  Mostly I’m just confused by the concept.  By what standard are we measuring “greatness?”  Don’t get me wrong,  I’m tremendously proud of this country’s history and heritage, and though London, Paris, Normandy, Moscow, and Tokyo are all on my bucket list as places to see and maybe even spend some few months or years, I’d never dream of emigrating or forfeiting my citizenship.  But I don’t see what good proclaiming “greatness” does for us that a good example won’t do better.  In these things, I try to follow the advice of my father; “actions speak louder than words.”   · 13 minutes ago

    No. It’s just that we used to be exceptional in our embrace of liberty. And now we’re not.

    • #80
  21. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Freeven
    Taliesin: I’m not an American Exceptionalist, and truthfully I don’t understand why people like Mr. Robinson are upset about it.  Mostly I’m just confused by the concept. 

    Try this.

    • #81
  22. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    James Of England

    Income mobility is as good today as it was 20 years ago. It’s a myth that it’s not. Since there are more dropouts from the economy, this suggests that mobility is greater for the participants.

    In terms of luck, Rick Santorum was right. The great majority of those who get married before having kids, graduate high school and get a full time job get to earn over $50k...

    I actually agree with Santorum on this point.  That said, you’re comparing apples to oranges with your first paragraph.  If I understand it right, income mobility and the ease of entering the job market are not really related.  Mobility measures what happens to a person once he enters the workforce, but not how hard it is to do so.

    I’m not saying our problems are permanent.  In the long run, I’m worried more about taxes than structural unemployment.  But that’s the long run; right now, the economy sucks.

    • #82
  23. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    PracticalMary: Joseph and others: maybe one of the main differences from the 80’s is that if one couldn’t find a job in one’s field you took the minimum wage job and maybe two of them. While working those jobs perhaps you planned to start your own business which, may or may not, be in your original field. You may even have sacrificed a lot (sleep being optional too) …

    In the past, when someone took a huge capital gain off a house, they really didn’t “build” most of that gain.  That’s the nature of bubbles, and also housing restrictions.  The solution is to lessen government distortion of the housing market (and financial system). 

    The sort of gains people were making were far in excess of the work they could possibly put into a house.  It wasn’t a natural market phenomenon; the entire mess is entirely the fault of government policy (just as it is in most other developed countries).  Of course I don’t think the government should redistribute those  gains, which would only serve to legitimize the same failed policies.

    • #83
  24. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Joseph Eagar

    Pra …

    In the past, when someone took a huge capital gain off a house, they reallydidn’t”build” most of that gain.  That’s the nature of bubbles, and also housing restrictions.  The solution is to lessen government distortion of the housing market (and financial system). 

    The sort of gains people were making were far in excess of the work they could possibly put into a house.  It wasn’t a natural market phenomenon; the entire mess is entirely the fault of government policy (just as it is in most other developed countries).  Of course… · 1 hour ago

    Partially true, but not entirely. Bought at 11% interest rates, and held on to at great personal cost. Real estate has always been a good investment. The market is low in many places now, and interest rates are low. If the economy tanks you’ve lost nothing, but if it comes back you may be a winner. In any case you can live there if you want. Take a risk, do something. It doesn’t have to be real estate but don’t make decisions based on faulty and simplistic reasoning. Negativity is easy and anyone can do it.

    • #84
  25. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    Joseph_Eagar

    James Of England

    Income mobility is as good today as it was 20 years ago. It’s a myth that it’s not. Since there are more dropouts from the economy, this suggests that mobility is greater for the participants.

    In terms of luck, Rick Santorum was right. The great majority of those who get married before having kids, graduate high school and get a full time job get to earn over $50k...

    I actually agree with Santorum on this point.  That said, you’re comparing apples to oranges with your first paragraph.  If I understand it right, income mobility and the ease of entering the job market are not really related.  Mobility measures what happens to a person once he enters the workforce, but not how hard it is to do so.

    I’m not saying our problems are permanent.  In the long run, I’m worried more about taxes than structural unemployment.  But that’s the long run; right now, the economy sucks. · 

    The income mobility study, showing that it has not declined, compared everyone who is in the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th quartiles, and thus takes into account any difficulty in entering the workforce.

    • #85
  26. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    PracticalMary

    Joseph Eagar

    PracticalMary

    Partially true, but not entirely. Bought at 11% interest rates, and held on to at great personal cost. Real estate has always been a good investment. The market is low in many places now, and interest rates are low. If the economy tanks you’ve lost nothing, but if it comes back you may be a winner. In any case you can live there if you want.Take a risk, do something.

    That’s precisely what I’m doing, actually, starting my own business–and I guess it’s why I feel so anxious.  I find it terrifying, though I suppose I shouldn’t; my life situation has improved in the past month or two, and I’m no longer under as much time pressure to make this work. · 1 hour ago

    May God Bless You! · 0 minutes ago

    What Mary said, together with secular wishes of good luck, and congratulations!

    • #86
  27. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    Joseph Eagar

    James Of England

    The income mobility study, showing that it has not declined, compared everyone who is in the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th quartiles, and thus takes into account any difficulty in entering the workforce. · February 14, 2014 at 9:21am

    But that would mean that, among other things, that the rate of unemployed new college graduates has always been this high.  That doesn’t make sense to me.

    Frankly, I think its absurd to say that entering the labor market isn’t any more difficult now then it was ten or twenty years ago.  There’s a reason so many people, and not just retiring Boomers, are leaving the labor force. ·

    It doesn’t mean that graduate unemployment is the same. It doesn’t even mean that youth unemployment is the same (although, while we’re in a high part of the cycle, we’re well below the peaks of previous cycles). It means that, to the degree that they’re up, other factors have changed to counterbalance them.

    It’s similarly difficult now to enter the workforce as it was 22 years ago, much easier than 32 years ago, but harder than 20 years ago,

    • #87
  28. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    James Of England

    The income mobility study, showing that it has not declined, compared everyone who is in the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th quartiles, and thus takes into account any difficulty in entering the workforce. · February 14, 2014 at 9:21am

    But that would mean that, among other things, that the rate of unemployed new college graduates has always been this high.  That doesn’t make sense to me.

    Frankly, I think its absurd to say that entering the labor market isn’t any more difficult now then it was ten or twenty years ago.  There’s a reason so many people, and not just retiring Boomers, are leaving the labor force.

    • #88
  29. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    PracticalMary

    Partially true, but not entirely. Bought at 11% interest rates, and held on to at great personal cost. Real estate has always been a good investment. The market is low in many places now, and interest rates are low. If the economy tanks you’ve lost nothing, but if it comes back you may be a winner. In any case you can live there if you want. Take a risk, do something.

    That’s precisely what I’m doing, actually, starting my own business–and I guess it’s why I feel so anxious.  I find it terrifying, though I suppose I shouldn’t; my life situation has improved in the past month or two, and I’m no longer under as much time pressure to make this work.

    • #89
  30. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Joseph Eagar

    PracticalMary

    Partially true, but not entirely. Bought at 11% interest rates, and held on to at great personal cost. Real estate has always been a good investment. The market is low in many places now, and interest rates are low. If the economy tanks you’ve lost nothing, but if it comes back you may be a winner. In any case you can live there if you want.Take a risk, do something.

    That’s precisely what I’m doing, actually, starting my own business–and I guess it’s why I feel so anxious.  I find it terrifying, though I suppose I shouldn’t; my life situation has improved in the past month or two, and I’m no longer under as much time pressure to make this work. · 1 hour ago

    May God Bless You!

    • #90
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