Is the US the luckiest nation on Earth?

Or, how far do you agree with this article about how inevitable it was that the United States become a global superpower due to inordinately good fortune. It’s pretty long but some key bits of luck include;

One more from me; founded in the Enlightenment with secular founding documents promising freedom of and freedom from religion, so you don’t get as bogged down in sectarian squabbles as much as those that aren’t fortunate enough to have the First Amendment to turn to.

What do you think? Made a poll for those within the Republic and those outside it, with measures of how far you agree with the idea that the US is a very fortunate nation.

While true, many of those benefits seem to apply to Canada and Australia too. Except in those nations much of the land is not arable or habitable. I wonder what role that plays in why those nations have such smaller populations.

Yeah, I’d say we are pretty lucky regarding our location and natural resources.

Haven’t we gone to war with both Canada and Mexico?

Canada as part of the British Empire to a draw and Mexico for a win. Point being that neither on their own pose(d) an existential threat to the United States.

Not to mention that the Mexican-American War gave the US California in the 1848 settlement. Just before the Sutter’s Mill gold rush of 1849. Which can be argued was the spur behind the transcontinental railroad which turned the US into a continental superpower.

And, lest we forget, Nevada was a piece of the loot also, with its Comstock Lode of the 1870s. So, two of the most important precious metals strikes of the 19th century were either acquired (or stolen, if you prefer) from our neighbor in a war that many, even in the US, felt was unjust.

I checked “Agree,” and I would have checked “Strongly Agree” except for a few points that I will explain below.

The case for the US being “lucky” includes many of the things the OP talked about. I’m a fan of Kaplan, so I’ll cite his observation that the US includes strong geographic boundaries that allowed the early settlers to build up their resources and cities before expanding west. The fact that there is no defensible geographic boundary with Mexico presents a weakness, but overall the US is ideally situated with a large central landmass, abundant natural resources, accessible coastline and waterways, and of course giant oceans separating it from the only genuine military threats. The fact that the original inhabitants were a disorganized and comparatively primitive people also worked to the colonist’s advantage (regardless of the ethical failures involved). I know of no other place on Earth that shares these advantages. As others have pointed out, places like Australia come close but lack the diversity and natural resources the US possesses.

HOWEVER, there are large number of factors that have little to do with luck. The US led the way in revolution against monarchy and the establishment of egalitarian democracy. This is remarkable precisely because other countries that tried it failed to spectacularly. Shortly after the American Revolution, the French attempted to throw off their monarchy and usher in democracy. It ended in rampant bloodshed and a tyranny far more brutal than the government it replaced, which in turn fell before a hyper-militarized monarch that terrorized the rest of Europe. The history of political revolutions since then has been overwhelmingly mixed-to-negative, with most revolutions ending in decades-long civil war (as we are currently observing in Syria and elsewhere).

The US, FWIW, did not evolve into a stable democracy with a strong national identity overnight. This took over a century of infighting and squabbling which often spilled over into violence and, on one notable occasion, and exceedingly bloody civil war. This is to say nothing of the rampant racism and abuse of minorities that has marked the US history. Regardless, the US has done exceptionally well in establishing a shared national identity that transcends race, creed, and geography. The fact that Americans overwhelmingly invest in an American identity and a shared secular democracy is something many nations in the world have yet to master. Many countries in the world have highly divisive and antagonistic ethnic groups that place their group identity above their national identity and thereby retard their own progress.

The US has also done a remarkable job of crushing corruption and encouraging freedoms. This is not luck, but the result of a lot of hard work, shared national values, and the steady evolution of ideas and legal doctrine. The most exceptional thing about the US is our willingness tolerate a peaceful transition of power even between rival political groups, in that we place the importance of “the system” over the importance of any one individual. Our military, for example, does not swear loyalty to the President as a unique individual. Our ability to accomplish this is not “luck” at all but rather a deliberate and conscious decision made by the collective to support our national values and public policy. Compare this to certain other nations, where the executive power is invested in the person of the dictator (rather than his office) and transitions of power are marked by violence and the death or imprisonment of the outgoing leader, and it quickly becomes clear that the US is one of the few countries in the world that has really mastered this.

How do you define “lucky”? The United States didn’t just magically spring into existence. It wasn’t descended from original people who lived there for thousands of years like most of the countries in Europe or Africa. It was basically built from scratch by people from another continent.

Not just “from scratch”, but from genocide and slavery. We made our own “luck”, if that’s what you want to call it. I personally don’t feel right about attaching a “regardless” to that. If I’m lucky to be a Murican, it’s at best a tainted sort of luck.

Japan and Germany are pretty damn lucky since we could have owned them and instead we paid to turn them into industrial giants.

Extremely lucky. The people who built America had nothing to do with building America.

The people who put together the arrangements to buy the Louisiana Purchase had nothing to do with the US getting the Louisiana Purchase.

The people who found the gold mines and mined them had nothing to do with America getting rich from the gold mines.

Yes. It was all luck and had nothing to do with hard work.

What did the poor strawman do to deserve that beating? At no point did I say it was only luck that lead to America’s ascendance.

A lot of the “genocide” was inadvertent. There was a huge decline in the North American population thanks to diseases, most of which the Europeans brought over and the natives had no resistance to. So, “lucky” in a sense, since it probably made white settlement of what became the U.S.A. a lot easier than it would otherwise have been.

I grant that that is a variety of luck - but it doesn’t make me much happier. Remember the Lee Greenwood song “I’m proud to be an American”? I won’t go through the whole thing here, but when he sings “And I won’t forget the ones who died/To save that right for me” (from foggy memory), I’m fairly sure he doesn’t have in mind a Native American moaning in agony, on a bloody, pus-covered mat, his body blasted by smallpox.

I disagree. As others have mentioned, ‘luck’ was peripheral. It was hard work of every sort. There are plenty of other places with the US’s array of natural resources (if not so vast in size) that haven’t done as well.

The part about “no hostile enemies on our borders” part is only lucky in the sense that the one time they tried that, the Union side won.

It certainly wasn’t inevitable in 1775 that the region that is now the United States would become a single unified country with decent governance. It could have been kept as a colony by the UK, or fallen apart into mutually hostile states, or been the pawn of various European powers.

The fact that the United States is a unified peaceful country rather than a collection of shitty impoverished belligerent microstates isn’t luck. South America has gone through centuries of war and misrule. If Columbia and Venezuela aren’t lucky enough to not have hostile neighbors across the border it’s because Gran Columbia fell apart. Why did it fall apart? Good question. The point is, the Republic of Gran Columbia wasn’t able to stick together, and wasn’t able to reconstitute itself when it fell apart, unlike the United States. And so the nations of South America are unlucky.

There’s no reason to think the Confederate States would have been a hostile neighbor, had they been allowed to go in peace. Very much the reverse, really; each section would have been immensely valuable as a trade partner to the other.

I concede that the geographic features are fortunate, and that if we narrow our focus to political, social, cultural, and economic features of American society that developed between 1788-2016, then yes, we are pretty lucky and hard-working. It’s been said somewhere, has’t it, something along the lines of “the whole world marvels at the peaceful transfer of executive power every four or eight years in America” (lazy paraphrase).

I still want to remember all those who died needlessly, or at the hand of the powers-that- were, or were repressed, or exploited, in order to make that happen - as I’m sure we all do. But where do I go to see the National Native American Monument in D.C.? Or the National Monument to the Enslaved African?

There’s no doubt that the USA has some important advantages that are “lucky” in nature.

On the other hand, a lot of countries have natural resources and they squandered them. So some of this is like saying “It’s really lucky that you went to college so you could be a doctor!” OK, call it luck if you like. :slight_smile:

Gotta disagree, sorry. Canada is clearly THE luckiest nation on earth. Besides the geographic benefits you mentioned, we enjoy first world status, standard of living and personal liberties. Without the onerous responsibilities that come with being biggest and the best! We have been blessed with lots of room, fresh water, oil resources, enjoying the lifestyle benefits associated with tight gun control and universal healthcare. Our schools system is evenly funded and good quality. Our society open to inclusiveness (gay marriage), and multiculturalism, (immigration).

We have, and will continue to enjoy, the benefit of watching our southern neighbours be first adapters, while we ourselves take lessons from those experiences and often end up with more nuanced responses as a result.

We’re kinda low profile, as nations go, a MOST enviable position in my opinion. We are neither driving the world forward, nor are we in the crosshairs. Pretty lucky, to my mind!

I don’t think the geography qualifies as “luck.” Once upon a time, the United States had only the Eastern Seaboard. There were plenty of enemies (i.e., Native Americans) to the west that were not so easily pacified/conquered, and this was true of the ones who lived in the interior of the continent even after the United States expanded all the way to the Pacific. As others have already said, the neighbor to the north wasn’t always peaceful; someone said they didn’t pose an “existential threat”, but they burned the White House down, and the survival of the nation was enough in question that the national anthem was inspired by making it through the night during that war. By the turn of twentieth century, the challenges of growing were over, and the enemies on and within the borders were no longer belligerent, but that wasn’t mere luck. That was the hard work and bloody sacrifice (and yes, the genocide and racism in a less-enlightened age) of the Americans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.