A Culture of “Futurity”

Yesterday I attended an event of the National Chamber Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was “Challenges to Creating 20 Million New Jobs.” But, appropriately, and at the urging of one of the panelists, AEI president Arthur Brooks, we ended up talking about the importance of a “culture of entrepreneurship.” I mentioned I had just witnessed one of the great cultures of entrepreneurship at the three-day Gilder/Forbes Telecosm conference, this year focused on the technology companies of Israel, where a surge of venture capital and hyper-entrepreneurial activity has created a boom.

Today, David Brooks nicely captures this ethos of “futurity.” He worries that China has it, and we don’t.

It may seem like an ephemeral thing, but this eschatological faith in the future has motivated generations of Americans, just as religious faith motivates a missionary. Pioneers and immigrants endured hardship in the present because of their confidence in future plenty. Entrepreneurs start up companies with an exaggerated sense of their chances of success. The faith is the molten core of the country’s dynamism.

There are also periodic crises of faith. Today, the rise of China is producing such a crisis. It is not only China’s economic growth rate that produces this anxiety. The deeper issue is spiritual. The Chinese, though members of a famously old civilization, seem to possess some of the vigor that once defined the U.S. The Chinese are now an astonishingly optimistic people. Eighty-six percent of Chinese believe their country is headed in the right direction, compared with 37 percent of Americans.

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