Americans did not become rich because of our rugged individualism or entrepreneurial drive or technical inventiveness. We were born rich. Ann Richards’ famous description of George Bush Sr. as an individual is equally applicable to the United States as a whole, “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”
When asked to identify the single most important difference between the Old and New World, renowned historian Henry Steele Commager responded, in the New World your baby survived. The New World had an abundance of cheap land which meant the New World, unlike the Old World, was largely populated by self-reliant property owners. Coupled with a moderate climate and rich soil, immigrants could grow all the food needed for their families, livestock and horses. There was plenty of clean water and sufficient free or low cost wood to build and heat one’s house.
The fact that Americans could choose to live on a farm also gave them significant bargaining power with employers. As a result wages in the New World were much higher than in the Old World.
The United States also benefited enormously from tens of millions of immigrants who, through a Darwinian-like process of natural selection, were among the most driven and entrepreneurial and hardy of their native countries. And on the dark side of the immigration picture, we also benefited immensely from millions of involuntary immigrants who provided an army of unpaid labor for southern plantations.