"Just as healthy optimism can turn into irrational exuberance, a clear-eyed realism about the challenges facing the United States can gradually inflate a pessimism bubble," says Ross Douthat today. "Maybe this time is different. The recession is deeper. Our debts are piled higher. The gloom is more pervasive. But even now, there isn’t a major power in the world that wouldn’t happily change places with the United States. Our weaknesses are real, but so is our potential for resilience. While our rivals (in Asia as well as the West) face a slow demographic decline, our population is steadily increasing. The European Union’s recent follies make our creaking 200-year-old institutions look flexible by comparison. And China can throw up all the high-speed rails and solar panels it wants, but it won’t change the fact that most of the country is still sunk in rural poverty."