Essay / Politics

Is the USA doomed?

Times Online – CommentBut for many decades America’s share of the world’s economic output has been in decline. Think of a see-saw. America at one end is now easily outweighed by any substantial grouping at the other, and most of those powers are on friendly terms with each other. America’s modesty in 1945 understated its muscle, just as Bushite vanity overstates it today. He has over-reached. His country is overstretched, losing economic momentum, losing world leadership, and losing the philosophical plot. America is running into the sand.The Times, which should know how to chronicle a nation in decline, has seen fit to publish an article on the end of American greatness. Of course anyone older than forty can recall that in the seventies, these same sort of people were proclaiming an end to American power as well. This Times writer is wrong, like a long list of doom sayers before him. The USA may be entering its most glorious period. Of course anyone who proclaims doom always sounds smarter than the optimist. Reagan was thought a dope, I think, partly because he believed in American greatness. Sit and read back issues of Time or Newsweek, or the London Times, boys and girls to see how his “hubris” and notions of “victory” were mocked by the self-proclaimed wise of the age. Sometimes writers fall into the traps of the perfectly useful metaphor that nations have a “life span” like animals. Of course, no human institutions last forever. Human frailty promises that any institution will eventually fail. However, it is foolish to to think that nations must decline or that there is a set limit to their time on Earth. The USA may collapse. Its power may fade soon, but it will not do so because it is aging. It is not aging for ideas never age and America is an idea. When the idea of republican government is passe, when there is a more free economy and political state on the planet, and when that state builds a world-class army, navy, and air force, then will be the time to worry. What state will do these things? China? It is a revolution waiting to happen with an economy at war with the ideology of the state. Japan? This is a state that soon have the oldest population in human history. Europe? There is no Europe. There is only a collection of second-tier powers, with aging populations, economies burdened by growing rule making, and no defense system. My favorite candidate would be India, but one does not have to be in India long to see that this nation, deeply divided between haves and have nots in a way America cannot dream, has its own deep problem. It always has a rival in Pakistan which might lob an atom bomb on it at any moment, something the USA has much less reason to plausibly fear. There are five reasons to think the doom sayers are wrong and that the optimists are right. America will remain the greatest power on the planet. First, American military might is not stretched thin. We have no draft. We are not going to have a draft. We have not tooled our economy for war and yet we still, with harldy an effort by most of us, have liberated two nations. Our losses are small. If America has the will, we will win in Iraq. There is no plausible path to victory for the terrorists there as they represent no alternative idea of government. We still have troops in old Europe. All of those troops will soon leave, their mission accomplished. It too sixty years, but America did it. I remember reading that we did not have the resources or will to do that job as well. The vastly larger economy and population of the present American state will easily do what their fathers did in the fifties and sixties with much less raw power. As it is, we fight the War on Terror with the noble sacrifice of our brave young men and women, but do so with hardly a ripple in our economic growth. If the American people or government felt the need, and it does not, we could put ourselves on war footing as we did in the Second World War. How many planes, tanks, and ships does the Times writer project that we could build if we desired to do so? A nation in decline, like ancient Rome or Tsarist Russia, cannot project power when fully mobalized. The Tsar lost World War I, because Russia could not win it. The British lost the Empire, because they were bled white by World War I and II. The also were trying to occupy a nation, India, many times their size. Unless the USA tries to occupy India or China (!), we seem to be in good shape. The Times writer keeps forgetting that our goal is not to occupy Bosnia or Iraq. We wish to help them get to their feet. If they refuse to behave for their own good, then we can leave at any time that the cost seems too high. If our goal was to be a colonial power, then the Times writer might have a point. However, we have limited territorial ambitions. We seek long term control of no nation. We utterly control the air and the sea. We could bring Iran to her knees in days. Of course, if threatened we also have the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. No one can rival our ability to project power. Second, the American economy continues to grow. Of course, we have declined since the Second World War relative to the rest of the world. The world economy is growing and this is partly because of the fairly free trade practices of the USA. The writer is making the mistake of thinking economics a zero sum game. It can be better to have twenty-percent of a huge pie, than all of twinkie. The main issue is whether the economy is growing. It is. We have (for our size) on of the fastest growing free markets in the world. We hope other nations do well. China, as a larger nation by population, might become economically greater than us in theory. However, they lack the political structure to accomodate sustained growth. It is easy to remember when Japan was going to out strip the USA. No one says that now and Japan had a more stable government structure than China. China is not free and the lack of freedom will doom her. Declining empires have economies that are actually in decline, not relative decline. Third, America has a growing population. We have many young people, unlike the dying European states. Young people bring fresh ideas and energy. Mexican immigrants, in the fourth generation, will be scientists and leaders. Where will England, France, and Japan find her next generation of leaders? In this sense, India and China are more a threat than any place else. However, their population growth cannot be as easily absorbed by their economies. We need our new workers, India dreads them. Fourth, America has good ideas. Who has a more stable written constitution? Who has a more stable and fair legal system? We contine to produce great literature, art, and film. Our scientists produce millions of great idea a year. While we do not wish to have all the good ideas, it is still the case the America has a disproportionate amount of them. Republican government is the hope of mankind. What is better? Free markets lift up the poor. Who has another way? Our university system is the envy of the world, even with all its problems. Where is a better one growing? Oxford and Cambridge bemoan their own decline and are the only two top schools Britain can boast. There are no great schools in the Islamic world. Asian schools cannot compete with American schools for top flight research professors. Though we may decline even here in relative terms, American schools are not declining. Education is not a zero sum game either. As we grow, it is our hope that other nations have systems that grow as well. Finally, America is one of the most religious nations on the planet. There is no sign that this is going to change soon. We are believers and have the power of belief. Our national faith, Christianity, remains robust. We have a healthy civil religion, which tolerates our large religious minority groups and helps them thrive. Our for
m of Christianity is at peace with republican government and free markets. I can think of no other nation on earth which has a unifying religious belief that is peace with modernity. This translates into belief in all our institutions. We believe in our national ideals. We are not burned out like the Dutch on nationalism. We still have a large majority that believes in the Constitution and the flag. Americans are optimistic about our future. Can France say the same? If we are at times decadent, then it does not take much to change us from it. The Times writer has confused our love of comfort with softness, but in doing so he makes the mistake that Sauron made of the hobbits. We are comfortable, because it is sensible to prefer comfort to hardship when you can have it, but we are fierce fighters in a pinch. If needs must, we can still rouse ourselves to great deeds. I love Britain which is the nation of much of ideological roots. However her own decline from great power status has caused her too often to look, almost hopefully, for it in everyone else. Britain declined because her great power status was in the end based on denying liberty to others. America will not decline because our great power status is not based on this error. We are great, because we are free and desire, imperfectly at times, to have others be free as well.

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