Or Americans might consider how Canada avoids gerrymandering by using an independent body for electoral redistricting.
Or Americans might send a fact-finding mission to examine Asia’s education systems, since Asian countries came in first through fifth on a recent global schools ranking, with the United States stuck down in 28th place.
Or Americans could look at how Norway invests its oil wealth in a vast pension fund to help future generations—a fund that is now worth $900 billion (or roughly $175,000 for each of Norway’s 5.1 million people).
Or Americans might examine Brazil’s “redemption through reading” program, where prisoners can reduce their sentence by four days for every book they read and book report they write.
In a highly competitive world, where the United States faces a number of rising powers like Brazil, India, and China, interest in innovation can’t end at the water’s edge. Other countries are willing to copy ideas from any source, and this potentially gives them a huge advantage.
The irony is that Americans are happy to learn about politics from foreigners—so long as they physically come to the United States first. Immigrants have profoundly shaped American political life, including Alexander Hamilton (born in the British West Indies), John Paul Jones (a Scot), Joseph Pulitzer (a Hungarian), Felix Frankfurter (an Austrian), Henry Kissinger (a German), Zbigniew Brzezinski (a Pole), and Madeleine Albright (a Czechoslovakian). If Americans listen to people who were born abroad and then immigrated to the United States, why not also learn from people who were born abroad—and then stayed abroad? After all, wisdom is not something you’re injected with at Ellis Island.
Change shouldn’t be too difficult. Step outside of the policy realm, and the United States is far from isolationist. Americans are extremely open to emulating foreign cultures. Universities like Princeton and Yale ape the Gothic architecture of Oxford and Cambridge. Wealthy Americans fill their homes with European paintings and antiques. A book on the Japanese art of tidying up was recently a bestseller. American businesses are also intensely focused on their international competitors, benchmarking their performance and copying their best practices. When the Korean firm Samsung demonstrated that consumers wanted larger smartphones, Apple came out with the much bigger iPhone 6. In a globalized economy, any U.S. corporation that refuses to assimilate good ideas simply because they’re foreign won’t last long.
Americans should view other countries the way Apple looks at Samsung. Which states lead the pack in education and health care? Who has effectively balanced free markets with protections for consumers? Who has embraced green energy most successfully?
Other countries can be laboratories of democracy. The point is not to transplant alien ideas wholesale into America’s distinctive soil. Instead, imagine the potential benefits if foreign innovations inspired Americans to think more creatively—or were adapted and given a uniquely American flavor.