As we enter 2011, the American public is not feeling good about the future. According to a 2010 year-end Rasmussen Reports survey, a provider of public opinion polling information, only 31 percent of respondents said the country was headed in the right direction. A second December survey indicated that Americans were less optimistic about 2011 than any previous year since the question was first asked seven years ago.

This is understandable. The U.S. economic recovery is not vibrant enough to support job growth necessary to dent unemployment, which hovers near 10 percent. Although the short term outlook is less than stellar, the future of America is.

Why America Will Remain Great

The American free enterprise system, entrepreneurialism, can-do spirit, tolerance, rule of law, checks and balances, and acceptance of immigrants have made the United States the greatest nation on Earth. For generations, these factors, which promote stability and opportunity regardless of individual differences, have created an environment that empowers people to unleash their creativity and achieve their goals.

That’s why U.S. innovation is responsible for more than half the world’s patents each year. American companies like Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft, which have a combined market value of nearly $700 billion, would have emerged and prospered in few other countries.

Foreigners recognize this. Thus, as the populations of many countries decline, the United States continues to grow, reaching 308.7 million, according to the 2010 census. What’s more, over the last decade every U.S. state gained in population, except one. Much of this growth is attributed to legal immigration.

Why do foreigners flock here? America continues to be the primary destination of those seeking a better life, including the world’s brightest entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists. In fact, in 2008 alone, the United States issued 1.1 million permanent residence permits, 60 percent more than the next highest country destination, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The American dream, which may have taken a temporary respite due to the worst recession since the Great Depression, will continue well into the future. Part of being American is accepting that failure is sometimes part of a successful process.

Horatio Alger Lives

Although not flawless, the American system of free market capitalism, which has been adopted around the globe, has created the greatest economic growth the world has ever seen. When discussing the benefits of capitalism, author and philosopher Michael Novak said, “No other system so rapidly raises up the living standards of the poor, so thoroughly improves the conditions of life, or generates greater social wealth and distributes it more broadly. In the long competition of the last 100 years, neither socialist nor third-world experiments have performed as well in improving the lot of common people, paid higher wages, and more broadly multiplied liberties and opportunities.”

Horatio Alger, the 19th century American author who wrote rags to riches stories, illustrated how poor kids achieved the American Dream of wealth and success through hard work, courage, determination and concern for others. This truly American cultural and social ideal remains embedded in the American psyche. It gives people hope and confidence that in America anything is possible. And this optimism drives Americans to reach farther.

America’s Values Will Keep It Strong

To borrow a phrase from Lord John Acton, a member of British Parliament in the 1860s, the framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” They also understood the importance of transparency, rule of law, separation of church and state, and balance of power. Their experiment, which was founded on a philosophy and not a blood line, clearly sets the U.S. apart.

In a speech, Michael Novak stressed that checks and balances are to the political order what competition is to capitalism. The balance of power, whether political or economic, prevents any group from permanently imposing its will on others. This is essential if a free society is to survive. It’s also part of the formula that shepherds constant change—some good, some bad—and always allows for self correction and self regulation.

China Will Not Dominate the U.S.

China does not possess these American strengths. As a result, although the Middle Kingdom presents enormous challenges to American competitiveness, it’s brand of authoritarian capitalism likely will undergo severe difficulties in the years ahead. Plus, China’s cultural reluctance to challenge the status quo does not encourage home-grown innovation.

When comparing India and China, Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of The World Is Flat, says that despite China’s rapid economic growth, India could still race ahead because it has already passed the “speed bump” of Democratic reforms. India’s advantage, he says, lies in the fact that it has gone through democratic transition, which China must someday face.

If history is an indicator, every country that has opened its economy has been forced to open its political system. Although today the Communist Party is deeply rooted in every level of Chinese society, this inevitable future reality, which may be messy, will certainly impact China’s economic trajectory.

With China’s and East Asia’s widely predicted “unstoppable rise” and America’s assumed “inevitable decline,” it would appear that the 21st century will be dominated by nations that border the Pacific Ocean. This is in sharp contrast to the 20th century, which was considered by many to have been dominated by nations that border the Atlantic. Here, it’s important to note that the United States also borders the Pacific.

Like the United States, China has many problems that won’t be solved anytime soon. But although China has made enormous strides, many that have been documented on these pages, the Middle Kingdom will not dominate the future, but instead, will share it with the U.S.

As for the United States, simply being “America” does not guarantee a favorable future. But combined with policies that promote competitiveness and individual liberty, America will continue to be hard to beat.

This article appeared in Impact Analysis, January-February, 2011, and The Buffalo News, February 27, 2011.

John Manzella
About The Author John Manzella [Full Bio]
John Manzella, founder of the Manzella Report, is a world-recognized speaker, author of several books, and an international columnist on global business, trade policy, labor, and the latest economic trends. His valuable insight, analysis and strategic direction have been vital to many of the world's largest corporations, associations and universities preparing for the business, economic and political challenges ahead.

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