“American Exceptionalism” seems to have lost some of its luster in recent times. Once, Americans had little doubt that we stood head and shoulders above every other country, ranked number one in a host of national measurements, the rest of the world lagging behind, conceding our pre-eminence. In recent years, however, the news is not nearly as uplifting. Surveys of one sort or another, whether relating to educational attainment, health outcomes, “happiness,” infrastructure quality, office holding by women, etc., etc., have left the U.S. off the pace, absent from the ranks of the world’s leaders.
Upsetting, yes, but let’s not overlook one category in which the United States does stand alone, is indisputably exceptional, advantageously so. Did you know we are the only nation in the world (of over 200 countries) that supports a population at the 300 million plus level (approximately 330 million at present)? China and India are both out of sight (well beyond a billion each) and such notable nations as Germany (80 million), France (64 million), England (65 million), Russia (143 million) don’t even come close (not to mention Canada at 36 million). Indonesia, the only serious contender at 260 million, remains well behind.
So, what does it mean to stand alone with 300 plus million people (the world’s third most populous nation)? It might be a problem if we occupied a small land mass, but of course we don’t. There’s plenty of room here, an abundance of territory upon which to grow all the foodstuff that we could possibly need. We have both the space and the population to occupy it (and with plenty of room to spare, since we’re well down on the world list of population density). Our large numbers have allowed us to establish numerous major cities that dot the land (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas . . .). Most nations, on the other hand, have one dominant urban center and, after that, a limited number of cities of consequence.
Take 330 million people and mix in a huge economy (a GDP approximately $20 trillion), and it’s no wonder that we have the world’s largest middle class (been that way for some time). Sure, there’s China and India’s surging middle classes, but in terms of possessions and life styles they can’t compare to the way millions upon millions of Americans live. Here there’s massive materialism; the buying power of Americans is enormous. That’s why it’s so natural to “think big” here. Devise a winning product or service and you can sell it by the millions. What better incentive for creativity and invention could there be?
The leverage of large numbers, somewhat surprisingly also benefits the less well off, those suffering. In America, millions are afflicted in one way or another. Their advocates – those requesting substantial government appropriations or seeking generous private donations – can cite compelling numbers that confirm the urgency of the situation. Diseases of various sorts affect millions, while the sheer numbers of disabled veterans, orphans, the blind, crippled, drug addicted, homeless, etc., are such to stir even the most hard-hearted.
So, next time you’re deep in discussion about “American Exceptionalism,” don’t overlook our unique population size. It’s an achievement of which Americans can be rightly proud. Not too big – not too small, but just right.