December 10, 2012 10:35 pm

Optimism belongs to individuals – not the US state

From Mr Bruce C. Onsager.

Sir, Your optimism for the US is heartening (“It is not all gloom for US economy”, editorial, December 8), but it displays a characteristically European trust in the state. Shale gas, reshoring of manufacturing and other trends could provide great possibilities for the US. But to understand Americans’ new-found pessimism, including the most recent University of Michigan sentiment reports, one needs to realise that American optimism over its short history as a nation has been a personal optimism felt by its citizens, individually, and projected outward to their neighbours and nation. It was not an optimism in what their nation could accomplish, as if their state had a vision and initiative of its own. It was instead an optimism that they, personally, could accomplish their vision with their initiative, as could their neighbours and, by extension, their nation of neighbours.

Americans have never faced a future with a government as large, expensive or pervasive in its regulatory reach as they see unfolding in the near future. Europeans may view Americans’ “fiscal cliff” as a bump in the road that they’ll get over. However, Americans with a deep sense of personal vision and initiative see it as more. Whatever “deal” emerges is the beginning of a future relationship between Americans and a permanently larger and more pervasive government. Will their government curtail their shale gas possibilities as have European governments? Will an activist Department of Labor cut short the potential of reshoring with the kind of actions that nearly stopped Boeing from expanding production in North Carolina?

For a people whose confidence and optimism have always been in what they can personally accomplish, the unfolding future has a great deal of uncertainty, which is uncharacteristically out of their hands. Hopefully, you are right about America’s bright future. Americans are just not accustomed to hoping rather than acting personally to realise their future.

Bruce C. Onsager, President, StratCap Partnership, Naperville, IL, US

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