We Are Not Europe

| October 4, 2006

US-UK Flag

I had the privilege of spending some time in the UK last month. It was a marvelous trip, and all I can say is that once again visiting another country helps focus my appreciation of America.

Don’t get me wrong! I thought London was a fabulous town, possibly my favorite in the whole world, and my time in Glasgow with my cousins was well worth the effort and cost of doing it. Something about being away from the USA can help one clearly see the distinctions of what we are vs. where we came from, and in my case appreciate the results.

A bit more than 200 years ago, we were a thriving British colony, part of a large and expanding empire. Since our revolution we have charted our own course, always keeping a fairly cordial relationship with the society that we broke from. But given our 200+ years, we are still a very young country in terms of most of the world’s states.

It has not been hard to hear political and cultural leaders advocate that we in the US should try to be more like Europe, and I will grant that Europe has a lot of very interesting alternatives to how to set up and run a society, a city and a country to ours. When I experience Europe first hand, I can’t help but think back to that fundamental principal of what makes the US great in many ways, in the US different does not automatically mean bad.

It is probably the height of political thought crime to state that no matter how much the other countries howl at our leadership or our actions, even if they try their hardest to ensure they have nothing to do with us, the world needs and greatly benefits from America.

I can put it this way

Constrained: We love to complain about our governments, it’s as American as apple pie. Government in Europe has a long history, and is firmly entrenched in almost every aspect of their lives, adding some form of control. The net effect is to constrain the people, even if it is in very minor ways, which results in less freedom to innovate and create

Channels for Innovation: If you can overcome government regulations and a culture that stresses conformity within a certain boundary, innovation has fewer fertile places to sprout and grow. True there is some marvelous work being done at Universities, but if you were to compare the amount of new ideas and new inventions per capita, why is America always breaking new ground and finding solutions? Not because we are smarter, but we have set up the means to harvest good ideas and turn them into products, we have the channels to let innovation reward those willing to put forth the effort.

Baggage of Legacy: Lets face it, Legacy is the burden of IT. What seemed like a good idea 10 years ago is sometimes laughable today. Now spread that entire pattern to a continent, but stretch the time line out to be many 100s of years. A city like London has been around for well over 1000 years, and in some ways it shows. They have done a wonderful job in keeping it useful as transportation, communication and everything else changed. But look at how much creative energy went into that, rather than finding a cure for cancer or sending people to the stars. Just as in IT, the longer your legacy tail the less you can focus on breaking new ground.

New Ground: In the US we have an ample supply of “new ground”. There are huge swaths of this country that are largely un-touched by man in any significant way. (In spite of tales that we are destroying everything and that we are running out of land). I would suggest that having open spaces waiting for new ideas helps foster new ideas, and gives us the space to adapt to try them out.

In short, let folks complain if they don’t like the USA. Our unique location and relative youth as a culture and a nation has given us a huge advantage. No, we are not like Europe, and the world is much the better for it.

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Category: Commentary, Geopolitics, Main

About the Author ()

Bruce Henderson is a former Marine who focuses custom data mining and visualization technologies on the economy and other disasters.

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