Monday, November 22, 2010

The Ur-Myth of the Americans

The American conceit is perhaps the least charming of all nations. We're told that "free enterprise" outperformed all other economic systems, accounting for our wealth, and presaging the future.

In reality, we took a continent from the natives, and, protected by two oceans, developed an immense interior market jumpstarted by the discovery of oil. It's not liberal economics that brought prosperity to America, but America that brought prosperity to liberal economics.

Liberal economics were the economics of the surging European mercantile classes in the early 19th century, the justification for freeing economics from feudalism- and a timely development they were, as the thermal power of coal and oil transformed the underlying structure of the economy.

The United States, having extinguished feudal tenure by killing the original owners, did not need liberal economics. In the US liberal economics have grown, in reaction to the demands of the industrial state for predictable inputs and markets, into a lunatic fantasy of what never was and what will never be- a sort of Disney CGI animation of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

What actually happened, should we choose to wander those deserted bylanes, is not only illuminating, but often, in addition, charming. We're starting another great change in the structure of the economy and we can use all the clues we can get.

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