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America in decline? « Previous | |Next »
January 22, 2010

If Barack Obama was elected to regenerate America --a politics of rebirth that has a strong Protestant salvation theme in it---then does the Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts signify the end of that attempt to arrest the decline of the US amongst Americans? If the United States is still a superpower, then it is a superpower that faces tough competition from outside and difficulties within.


Is the U.S. an empire in decline? There is a pervasive sense of decline in the US. The case for America's decline is put by the economists J. Bradford DeLong and Stephen Cohen, both of Berkeley, write in their book, The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money.

They argue that:

After almost a century, the United States no longer has the money. It is gone, and it is not likely to return in the foreseeable future … The American standard of living will decline relative to the rest of the industrialized and industrializing world … The United States will lose power and influence.

America is now massively in debt to foreigners and will be more in debt with each passing year as far into the future, whilst the modern or contemporary is no longer American.

DeLong and Stephen Cohen add that:

When you have the money--and "you" are a big, economically and culturally vital nation--you get more than just a higher standard of living for your citizens. You get power and influence, and a much-enhanced ability to act out. When the money drains out, you can maintain the edge in living standards of your citizens for a considerable time (as long as others are willing to hold your growing debts and pile interest payments on top). But you lose power, especially the power to ignore others, quite quickly--though, hopefully, in quiet, nonconfrontational ways. And you lose influence--the ability to have your wishes, ideas, and folkways willingly accepted, eagerly copied, and absorbed into daily life by others.

The end is inevitable: the US must recognize that it has become like a normal country. For America, this will be a shock: American has not been a normal country for a long, long time.

The opposite case is put by James Fallows in How America Can Rise Again in The Atlantic. The argument is that:

What I’ve seen as I’ve looked at the rest of the world has generally made me more confident of America’s future, rather than the reverse. What is obvious from outside the country is how exceptional it is in its powers of renewal: America is always in decline, and is always about to bounce back.

The United States says Fallows, has the power to correct its problems with respect to jobs, deficits, military strength and independence. America still has the means to address nearly any of its structural weaknesses.

According to Fallows, America's governing/political system is not is equal to the tasks. It's caught up in paralysis. Its government is old and broken and dysfunctional, and may even be beyond repair. So America the society is in fine shape whilst America the polity most certainly is not.

Now there is a great deal of truth in that. However, it does not deal with the decline of the US as a superpower and the emergence of a multipolar world of nation; a similar decline to that of the British empire. As a center of power, the US is still more powerful than others, but for some years now that energy has been flowing in the opposite direction.The world's greatest exporter became its greatest importer whilst the most important creditor has became the most important debtor.

Every important national economy in the world now exports products to the United States without purchasing an equivalent amount of US goods in return. The US trade deficit with China was about $200 billion dollars in 2005; it was a solid $80 billion with Japan; and more than $120 billion with Europe. The United States can't even achieve a surplus in its trade with less developed national economies like those of Ukraine and Russia. Everyday, container-laden ships arrive in the United States – and after they unload their wares at American ports, many return home empty.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:30 PM | | Comments (2)


Given our slavish adoption of American culture and ideology... we're going to have to to some serious introspection and growing up.

A weakened United States could start retreating from the world stage with President Barack Obama increasingly turning to others for help dealing with the world's problems — in part because he has no alternative.