Embracing America's Competitive Advantages

December 14, 2011

The United States was built and survives on core strengths unique to our republic. Our democratic system, our capacity for innovation, our insatiable desire to challenge and explore and the diversity of our people – these are national cornerstones that give America its ever unique competitive edge. Even as other countries establish working solutions for their respective societal challenges, the United States must recognize and rely on its own strengths and put them to work answering American challenges.

Recently in The Atlantic, Frederick Hess, a resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), wrote about America’s enduring strengths, arguing that, “America's ‘handicaps’ are the inevitable flip side of its unique strengths. Rather than figuring out how to undo them, we would be better served figuring out to leverage them.” Hess wrote that these enduring strengths are America’s federalism, entrepreneurial dynamism, size, and heterogeneity.

Our federal system allows our leaders to explore different approaches to complex challenges; the entrepreneurial American spirit drives the U.S. private sector; and because America is the “most racially and culturally diverse society in history,” we have access to a plethora of innovative ideas and approaches on many pressing challenges.  For as accomplished and unique as the nations of today may be and for as legendary and impressive as the empires of old may have been, none of them has quite the mix of ingredients as the American recipe.

While there is much about our country that can be openly questioned with its ongoing partisan gridlock and economic stagnation, the same components that made for an American century give it the exact foundation to expand technology, entrepreneurship, civil society, education, and more.  To be sure, other countries have their own success stories, built upon the circumstances and assets unique to each nation. This, however, does not mean the United States should emulate how the rest of the world answers its 21st century challenges. As Hess wrote:

“Indeed, if we look to nations that are gearing up to lead the pack in 2052, rather than 2012, we see that countries like Qatar and India are taking cues from America’s approach to solving its problems. We would be well-advised to take the hint, and to push forward by drawing on what the U.S. has always done best.”

Hess’ insights on what remains a still undefined century seems to echo words that Bill Clinton shared after being sworn in as president in 1993.  He said, "There’s nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”  For as visionary as those words may have been on a brisk January in 1993, they remind us that a foundation as unique as ours gives us strength and untapped capacity that others can only dream about.  It’s just one more reason our recovery and competitive edge is still a good bet.