4th of July – Independence Day

For a Brit, being in the US on 4th of July is always a fun experience. You have to put up with the inevitable jests about how they ‘kicked our butts’ 234 years ago to form their “more perfect union”. You must listen to how this country is devoted to “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and then, just before the fireworks, you hear about the number of times they have “saved the world’s butts”. It is all done with good humour, goodwill and good hospitality.

Last weekend I stood on the asphalt roof of the appropriately named ‘London Terrace’ apartment complex. I was invited by tenants to this perfect vantage point to watch Macy’s – the department store – shoot tons of fireworks into the air. Impressive does not begin to describe the Hudson River spectacle; the 40,000 shells must have cost millions of dollars.

Between the “Oooh” and the “Aahs” I thought of the ideals that had led to this nation’s celebration and realised, in 2010, the very independence the US had gained has been turned on its head by globalisation, seen through the prism of the financial crisis.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence talks of “all men being created equal” and declares the new US being “free and independent states”. But today, how free and independent is the United States when China holds nearly a trillion dollars worth of US government debt? Indeed how free and independent is any country today? As the European sovereign debt crisis has shown, a wobble in one small country can cause a tumble oceans away.

Each week data from one economic power has a direct impact on everyone else. China’s latest PMI (purchasing managers index) showed the Asian economic engine is slowing down and gave grounds for worry in the US and Europe. Meanwhile the US jobs report last Friday revealed American job growth is still incredibly sluggish and that took the shine off the global market gains. In the weeks ahead, we will have financial reform in the US, debt refinancing by Spain, budget decisions by Germany, further cuts by the UK government, even the finalising of a mines agreement in Australia which will boost mining shares. These events will all have ramifications afar. To borrow liberally from Donne, while “no man is an island” it seems when it comes to the economy neither is any country too.

This year during these independence celebrations were reminders that times are still very tough. From Antioch in California, to Akron in Ohio, to Stamford Connecticut politicians cancelled July 4th firework displays. They couldn’t justify the cost when they are laying off staff, cutting back on benefits and services. Sometimes displays were saved at the last moment by generous corporate donations; for others the skies remained dark.

As Americans celebrate independence, the interconnectedness of cities, countries, continents, will become ever greater. And even though as President Obama warned at the G20, the rest of the world cannot bank on growth by exporting to the US consumer, the shoppers here do remain essential.

As I left the rooftop on Sunday my eye caught an advertisement for Macy’s – the pyrotechnics sponsor – reminding me that its annual 4th July sale was “nearly over” and time was running out to snap up those “amazing bargains”. After experiencing first hand Macy’s spending so much money to entertain the city with fireworks, I decided it would be churlish not to give something back and decided to dedicate Monday morning to a small spot of shopping.

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Richard Quest is a CNN correspondent based in London, host of the weekday one-hour program “Quest Means Business”. For program highlights and more, go to www.cnn.com/qmb