America is bursting at the seams. Recently, I drove through several states, stopping in familiar cities along the way. Except that they are no longer familiar, but in some cases nearly unrecognizable. Those of us used to driving in big city traffic — if one ever gets used to it — are no longer unique. Today, traffic snarls happen even in small towns where a few years ago five or six cars stopped at a red light was a rarity.

Now, automobiles have proliferated everywhere and may back up for blocks. Drive through practically any town or city and what you see first is a sea of automobiles, moving, parked or waiting in car lots to be sold. New car ads feature lovely mountain roads and uncluttered city streets, but we all know that in the real world, the hundreds of horses under the hood of our car must creep along for vast stretches of highway at about the same pace as a team of real horses.

If the traffic tsunami is one sign of growth, building and hiring are other symptoms of American economic exuberance. Lately, there is talk out of Washington about rebuilding America’s infrastructure. As usual, Americans are ahead of their politicians. In case the politicians have not noticed, the work is already well underway: new and expanded bridges, additional highway lanes, new shopping malls and commercial buildings, startup enterprises, and the urgent, ubiquitous sign: now hiring.

For several decades we were told that America would soon run out of oil and that slavish dependence on OPEC was our inevitable future. But something went awry on our way to a petroleum Armageddon. The drillers were already at work and today people who know about such things tell us that the United States is a net exporter of petroleum products.

Politicians rush to claim credit for economic successes and to blame opponents for recessions. But I repeat what I said above: The American people whose energy and enterprise create the national wealth are usually ahead of their elected officials. It is a mystery, yet a truth, that in America, normative ideas and movements arise and grow in the general populace long before they are included in official party platforms and legislative agendas. Some ideas wilt like unwatered flowers; others survive to be ratified and enacted into law.

But Washington is the last stop in the process, not the first. And probably a good thing, too. With an atmosphere like intellectual carbon monoxide, Washington is where good sense goes to die. No wonder Americans have an innate distrust of schemes dreamed up by Washington committees, commissions and think tanks without being tried and tested in the crucible of public common sense.

Unless it threatens the national economy or security, Americans pay little attention to what goes on in other countries. But they instinctively distrust the kind of centralized, elitist planning which by excluding the general population has devastated the economies of several nations.

Harold Raley is a professor, linguist, writer and philosopher. Email

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