But along the way, it began to feel like, while the arrogance was still there, we were losing ground in our leadership position.
I remember the first time I traveled outside of the country. I was 24. I remember how excited people were when I said I was an American. They wanted to know everything they could possibly know about what it was like to live in such a great country.
But the next time? It was while the second Bush was in office and people began to blame me for what was happening in the world. As if little old me were responsible for it all by myself.
And this past April it was even worse. No longer do people from other parts of the world want to be like us. No longer is it exciting to be America. In fact, the more you can blend into the country you're visiting, the better.
America is Losing its Way
You see, there are certain things I think everyone should have to do. I think everyone should have to ride a bicycle in traffic before they can get or renew their driver's license. I think everyone should have to take a toddler out to dinner. And, after reading this article, I think everyone should have to start and run a business, have to figure out how to make payroll, and have to chase money from customers who don't pay their bills.
Author Niall Ferguson says:
Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Still, everyone should try-if only once-to start a business. After all, it is small and medium enterprises that are the key to job creation. There is also something uniquely educational about sitting at the desk where the buck stops, in a dreary office you've just rented, working day and night with a handful of employees just to break even.
As an academic, I'm just an amateur capitalist. Still, over the past 15 years I've started small ventures in both the U.S. and the U.K. In the process I've learned something surprising: It's much easier to do in the U.K. There seemed to be much more regulation in the U.S., not least the headache of sorting out health insurance for my few employees. And there were certainly more billable hours from lawyers.
When I was in Norway last year, we had a big dinner conversation about how Americans will sue anyone for anything without really thinking about it. That is the perception Europeans have of us: We're a litigious society.
They're not wrong.
The Institutions are Killing Us
And we've also built a society full of regulation, the ability to protect our homes, and a broken justice system.
Ferguson is suggesting we focus our economic stimulus not on bigger deficits, printing more money, and even more laws and regulation, but on making it easier to do business.
In 2006, the United States was number one on the 2008-2009 Global Competitiveness Index.
Today we're number seven.
The time it takes to get a business started is 13 percent longer than just four years ago (China improved by 12 percent, in comparison).
It's not easy, this running a business thing. Some people can't (because of family obligations) or don't want to take the risk.
Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs to the Rescue
So what if, instead, you worked in an organization where you were empowered to create jobs by being an intrapreneur?
Job creation is the only way to regain our economic status, to build our leadership position, and to continue to innovate.
Without it, the lawyers and lobbyists and people with deep pockets will continue to build infrastructure that makes it impossible for the Davids to compete against the Goliaths. And soon we'll have a society of the really rich and the really poor.
If the entrepreneurial dream is not your bailiwick, find ways to create new jobs within your organization. If your organization doesn't allow it, find a new one that does.
The wave of the future - and our country's leadership - depends on each one of us. Let's not fail her now.