American Exceptionalism: It’s in Our Genes

We must ensure that our advantage is one we continue to enhance rather than destroy.

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Doomsayers on both sides of the political aisle continue to insist that America is declining. MIT professor Simon Johnson predicted that 2013 could mark the beginning of American decline due to our unsustainable economic situation. Others say our decline has already begun. In 2011, author and speaker Mark Steyn wrote a runaway bestseller, "After America," describing the inevitable collapse of America due to moral and cultural decay. In The Wall Street Journal last year, David Wessel and Stephanie Banchero warned about our failing education system and its potential consequences for the nation as a whole. Others argue that our days as the world leader in innovation are over – or soon will be.

While we have reason to be cautious, our supremacy today cannot be seriously questioned. In fact, our innovation culture is so strong that a fundamental mistake in social sciences research over the years may have been using American students as subjects. Recently, three psychologists released a paper demonstrating that Western society, and America in particular, tends to challenge global norms.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the European debt crisis.]

In an article describing this research, reporter Ethan Watters writes, "Americans were again at the far end of the scale … showing the least tendency to conform to group belief." In the end, the researchers determined that "American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners – outliers among outliers."

Americans are independent thinkers. They create. They challenge the status quo. They make a difference. They solve problems. One can argue that as innovators, creators or independent thinkers, Americans are outliers. Indeed, our nation may be the most successful experiment in behavioral genetics in human history. We are an amazing case of people having the mental agility and willingness to overcome fear of the unknown and the unpredictable in order to raise their station in life.

We are an exceptional nation of innovative entrepreneurs. We must recognize this, celebrate it and make sure that our comparative advantage, especially in innovation, is one we continue to enhance rather than destroy.

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