Daniel Hannen, a member of the European Parliament, writing in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, used a term I thought exceptional. The term — “cheerful materialism” — refers to how we U.S. citizens go about our business. I liked that powerful thought.
According to a recent article in Forbes, the United States has dropped to 11th place in a country index that measures citizen happiness. What country seems to be the most joyous? It’s Norway. But Sweden is No. 1 and Denmark No. 2 in the entrepreneurship and opportunity category. I wonder if President Obama is paying attention.
Back to Daniel Hannen, who posits that our president, in a way, seems to think American exceptionalism is of no more import than Greek exceptionalism, a strange position for the person supposed to be the No. 1 U.S. cheerleader. Hannen also says, “It’s no accident that the English-speaking nations are the ones most devoted to law and individual rights.” Hannen is an interesting fellow, and he makes a case for the citizens of other less democratic countries becoming “petulant” with governments when things are not going their way. (One imagines Italians and the wink-wink corruption that allows many to escape taxes.) As I keep writing, there’s a reason that other nations look to the United States for stability and transparency.
Are you familiar with TED, as in ted.com? I heard an interesting piece from TED on NPR on my way back from a business trip to Kansas City Sunday. Turns out we may not need to feel sorry for poor and oppressed Chinese factory workers. Turns out that such workers want to leave rural areas and living in huts on poor farms in order for a better life. One seemingly typical factory worker worked for a time in an electronics factory, moved to another better-paying job and finally worked her way up to a supervisory position in a third company, saving enough along the way to buy an apartment for her parents and a second-hand Buick. (Buicks are the auto to own in China; just think, when I was a kid, Buicks were the car for doctors in the United States to own. If this working one’s way up idea sounds familiar, it may be because many grandparents and great-grandparents went through the same process, except what was being made was different.
A lot of what happens to us as individuals and as a nation has to do with attitude. We are a people who innovate, who produce and who adapt. We also have an unusual knack for picking up complex ideas, simplifying them and turning them into positive action and sometimes change. Whether our nation is happy or not, people are still trying to bust through the doors to get here.