In the latest issue of Newsweek, there's a thought-provoking article called "The End of Exceptionalism." The author Fareed Zakaria begins by stating -- "The U.S. has always thought of itself as exceptional, but nowadays we are standing apart for the wrong things."
If that gets your patriotic fervor going, then perhaps this article will be a little more than just mildly discomforting. He goes on to talk about the amazing trends sweeping the globe. The following is my synopsis of his article:
Despite all the rhetoric about how everyone in the world hates America, it seems the world is embracing some of our most fundamental concepts. According to the recently released Pew Global Attitude Study, we're seeing a sea change in global views. Large majorities across most countries and cultures now favor democracy, free markets, trade and cultural exchange.
Surprisingly, America is becoming the notable exception. When asked about growing trade ties between countries, 91% of people in China considered the trend very good or somewhat good, while 85% of respondents in Germany said so, 88% in Bulgaria, 87% in South Africa, 93% in Kenya, and the list goes on. The U.S. was dead last in support, at 59%.
One could dismiss this by saying that America has been the leading economic power for so long that it feels threatened by trade. But the only country in the survey even within 10% of the U.S. was Egypt, and no one would consider that nation to be a source of economic growth for the future.
When asked if foreign companies had a positive impact, again the world agreed. That's good because U.S. multinational companies are by far the biggest player in the global market. Of respondents by nation, 73% in India, 70% in Brazil, 75% in Bangladesh, 82% in Nigeria, etc., favor these companies. Again, the U.S. was in the bottom five of all countries with only 45% favoring them.
It seems more than a little ironic that we expect to sell our cars, computers, movies, pharmaceuticals, ag products, expertise, clothes, etc., all over the world and be met with open arms, yet somehow feel we shouldn't have to return the favor.
With trade, everyone benefits and lifestyles improve. It would obviously be economic disaster to not engage in free and open trade.
Our new exceptionalism even extends toward immigration. Everyone rightly should be opposed to "illegal" immigration, but Americans are more opposed to immigration than even the Germans and the French. We're a nation of immigrants seeking protection and maintenance of the status quo.
It also was surprising to learn that U.S. sentiment is in step with the world regarding the notion that military force is sometimes required to maintain order in the world. Seventy-seven percent of Americans agree, but that's well below India and not much above the Swedes and Italians. I was amazed that roughly the same number of Germans and French (65%) feel the government has too much power as do Americans.
An interesting side note to all of these key principles is people's attitudes toward the environment; about 2/3 of people in the U.S. believe in protecting the environment, even if it means slower economic growth.
From an economic standpoint, these trends, as they relate to trade, immigration and the like, are disturbing. It's nearly impossible to find an informed economist or business person who doesn't believe that expanding trade, travel and markets, will be a defining characteristic of the 21st century. Still, not only are we at the bottom of the list in terms of support, but we exhibit the biggest drop in acceptance of these concepts among the countries surveyed. Who would have thought the country least supportive of capitalism and democracy could be the U.S.? If current trends continue, we could actually be there.
A large part of this attitudinal change is the result of the politicizing of such issues as immigration, as well as pandering populist politicians who inexplicably prefer winning a certain block of voters over the greater good of their constituents.
History is replete with examples of countries that shunned competition in favor of blaming others and turning inward, and our own industry is a microcosm of these very trends -- where fear mongering and emotional appeals have consistently been advanced in recent times despite strong empirical evidence to the contrary.
Despite a virtual 100% consensus among industry economists, a large number of producers still believe trade has negatively influenced the price they have received for their cattle. If this country and this industry continue to demonize trade and the global economy, we may find ourselves poorly equipped for the world we are entering.
However, maybe it's just capitalism at work. After all, peddling fear has always been easier than selling hope. Ironically, the result of selling hope and fear are also well known.