Getting depressed about U.S. success

There is no end to the power of negativity. For instance, the stunning drop in the U.S. crime rate over the past two decades is nothing to crow about if it meant that the police had to increasingly stop, question and frisk likely suspects. What about education? The math and English scores in many inner-city schools are going up, but too many of those schools are charters with nonunion teachers. And, besides, U.S. schools are still well behind Finland’s. And the fact that American consumers have less debt than in the past 35 years—once upon a time that would have been good news, but now it means people are still mistrustful about spending. That’s also why savings rates have soared.

We all know that the U.S. recovered from the 2008 financial crisis while Europe is still struggling. Not much we can do about that. But looked at the right way, the Europeans are actually faring better. Their laid-off workers get unemployment insurance that never ends. Our form of capitalism is too cutthroat—it takes Congress to extend unemployment benefits.

And don’t get too carried away about American ingenuity. It has made the U.S. the center of the biomedical, robotics, big-data and self-driving-vehicle universe. It has also given America dominance in Internet search, and remarkable products like energy-saving thermostats that can be adjusted remotely with a smartphone. But there’s a problem. An awful lot of these advances were made by immigrants who studied at American universities.

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