Feature

Business columns: The eternal sunshine of U.S. optimism

My students &ldquo;see change as the norm&rdquo; and upheavals like our present crisis as opportunities, said Richard Reeves <em>BusinessWeek.</em>

Richard ReevesBusinessWeek

As bad as things look now, Americans have lived through worse, said Richard Reeves. “And it was optimism and hope—often irrational, always American—that got us going again.” In the late 1830s and early 1840s, “people were broke and in debt” after real estate speculation got out of control (sound familiar?). But even then, Americans were confident that they could pick themselves up and start again. Some debtors even persuaded their creditors to finance trips to the western frontier, where, they promised, they would prosper and repay their debts. That spirit endures. In international surveys conducted in December 2008, a majority of Europeans expressed pessimism about their personal financial futures. A majority of Americans, by contrast, were optimistic. I see the same attitude among my journalism students at the University of Southern California, who “listen with barely concealed boredom to sky-is-falling dirges.” The students “see change as the norm,” and view upheavals like our present crisis as opportunities. This outlook is not “infallible or even rational.” But it’s a thoroughly American attitude; it has seen us through hard times before, and it will again.

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