I think all Americans can agree that we’ve been through a tough patch. There was the recession. The housing collapse. The stupidity of those to whom we entrusted our money, the flatulence of our political leadership. But perhaps the most difficult thing to take was the tsunami of predictions we had to endure about how the American Century was over, that there were other places in the world that would now pick up the standard and march off to a different kind of music entirely.
Isn’t it amazing how much of what you read and hear turns out to be nonsense? To this category let us now consign the whole “End of the American Dream” story line. It’s a new century. And as we consider in this issue the entire question of historic competitions, one thing stands clear: This particular macro-corporation is still unrivaled.
Long ago the Reds were supposed to be the future. Commies, you know. They were not only enemies who hid under our beds. They were also our rivals for the hearts and minds of working people. In the end, we beat them with McDonald’s, blue jeans, and American cigarettes.
Later, we were all going to be working for the Japanese. Big, long books told us how we had to study Japanese management, embrace it, because our form of corporate governance was over. Japan Inc. had the bones. Nobody says that anymore. Japan is a great place to visit, but we’re not going to be working for the Japanese anytime soon. They have their own stagnation to deal with.
Europe? No way. As a source of high entertainment, maybe. Particularly Italy. I love what’s going on in Italy on several levels. First, you now have a comedian controlling the agenda. No, not that comedian. He was convicted of corruption and may actually see some time inside. The other guy, the stand-up comic, he shows promise. They asked him which of the totally screwed-up established parties he would like to work with, and he said, “Nessuno dei due.” Which means “neither.” Way to go, Beppe! But I don’t think you’re going to be bidding for world leadership anytime soon. Spain? Greece? Soggy old Blighty?
Then there’s the Chinese miracle. No question, it’s remarkable. Certainly large. And China behaves like a rival, appropriating our intellectual property and hacking into our mainframes. But we’re already starting to see the cracks in the machine, aren’t we? The growth engine is slowing. Reality is intruding. No need to whimper and give up our claim on the century that lies ahead.
Who else is out there? A nice couple I know got kidnapped right after they got off the plane in Mexico City. They came home after the ransom was paid, relieved they hadn’t been decapitated. Where else? Brazil? Venezuela? Indonesia? Korea? South Africa? Mali?
There are, of course, the guys who want to blow us up. They may succeed. But there have always been guys who wanted to blow us up, haven’t there? Perhaps we should send them more McDonald’s, jeans, and Marlboros.
Last week I had a cab ride with a driver from Albania. She told me that when she was growing up, neighbors would listen through the walls to find out what television program you were watching, and if it wasn’t on the native Albanian station but, say, on the Croatian one instead, they would call the police, who would come and take you away. This happened to a cousin of hers. He was tortured and held for months before he was released. He watched nothing but Albanian TV after that, and she came to America. “This here,” she said, waving to the insanity of Midtown traffic around us, “the best place in the world.”
The economy is coming back. Spring is in the air. Let’s buck up, America. It’s our century if we want it.
This story is from the April 08, 2013 issue of Fortune.
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