America the Dispensable?

Declinism is back. Fred Kaplan argues in the NYT that for the U.S., "the signposts, at the end of this year, are ominous. As an economic power, the United States no longer sets the rules, much less rule the game. As a military power, it vastly outguns the rest of the world, but has a harder time translating armed might into influence."

America's problems, as Kaplan sees them, involve an "expansive China," an "emergent Europe," and "a growing American dependence on both."

Abiola Lapite, however, thinks that Kaplan's "nice little horror story" is either sensationalism or political axe grinding.

"America's productivity growth is still unrivaled in the rich world," notes Lapite, "and its demographic trajectory is far better than those of Europe and China, both of which are set to age extremely rapidly over the coming decades (and making matters worse for China is the unbalanced sex-ratio in that country)."

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  • ||

    I'm inventing a new measurement, called the Kaplan.

    It's the amount of time it takes an American foreign policy hawk to go from complaining about European democracies' military weakness and dependence on us, to complaining about their gathering militarty strength and independence from us.

  • ||

    If you do a comparison between us right now and England in the 1890s, there are a LOT of scary parallels: generally speaking, more money to be made in the merger and dismantling of companies, rather than in starting up new ones; a certain level of technological complacency, and resting on our laurels rather than going out to earn new ones; pouring more and more of our relative income into military adventures; blaming scapegoats rather than addressing the real issues. . .the list goes on. Howard Bloom's book "The Lucifer Principle" has a whole section devoted to this.

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    OTOH, Jennifer, we're in a much better position than the British of that era, in that the basis of our strength, military and economic, is not based on a global empire. Empire was the central organizing principle of England, while for us, it's just a hobby.

  • Franklin Harris||

    Empire was the central organizing principle of England, while for us, it's just a hobby.

    An expensive hobby that we'be been indulging full-tilt for 50 years.

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    Joe-
    Agreed, the parallels are not perfect, but good enough to be worthy of note. Ridiculous trade deficits, vanishing manufacturing sector--I'm not saying America is doomed; I'm just saying that if we want to remain at the top of the heap we need to do more than continually shout "We're number one!" at the top of our lungs.

    The fact that our economy kicked the world's butt in 1950 has nothing to do with what's going on now. And the fact that scientific achievement is down is ESPECIALLY ominous. Much of our scientific superiority of the last half-century was imported from other countries, and the number of scientific geniuses emigrating here is in decline. The rest of the world is moving forward with cloning, stem-cell, genetic and other technologies, while we're gazing at our navels and asking ourselves "What would Jesus do?"

    Seriously, read "The Lucifer Principle," or at least the section titled "The Decline and Fall of the American Empire."

  • Matt Shultz||

    If you look at the historical record, very few empires have ever disappeared completely. People point to the parallels between Washington and Rome a lot, and while the Roman Empire fell, it was arguably replaced by the Roman Catholic Church. The British Empire? Okay, it fell ... but at the same time it gave birth to the world's most powerful nationstates (the US and India) both of which remain fairly loyal to the British people, if not the British crown.

    That said, yes, Bloom made some excellent points in Lucifer Principle ... a prescient book in many respects, given that it's publication pre-dated 9/11. Many of the symptoms of decline, however, strike me as cyclical. Moral hysteria, for instance, comes and goes. Resting on laurels? Well, the US did seem to be doing that, to a certain degree, in the 90s ... but then they'd just taken down the Evil Empire, and I figure it was due some R and R. The other symptoms (technological complacency, mergers rather than new companies) are just silly. The best rejoinder to both is one word: Google.

    All the comparisons to past empires miss a crucial point: the US is not an empire. Empires are based on territorial control and colonial administration ... both used by the US as short-term tactics rather than long-term strategy. The US is something fundamentally new, superior, and probably more durable. The key to US power is economic growth, with the military used to stamp out fires that threaten trade relationships or to bolster the defence of trading partners rather than to permanently occupy territory.

    And if the US does fall into a dark age? I doubt it will last long, technological change having accelerated history considerably. More to the point, as Bloom himself said, "keep your eyes on the memes." The disappearance of a political order called the United States of America does not by any means imply the disappearance of the ideals upon which the republic was founded.

    Sorry for the long post ... it's just that I see these specious declinism arguments all the time, and get rather sick of them.

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    The funny thing is that American economic dominance is not a good thing for America and never has. The fact that that dominance is declining due to foreign growth is the best possible news for the US and for the rest of the world.

    America has been alone on top because of our rule of law over government power. Even China has shown that growth cannot happen without a certain degree of personal freedom. To me, foreign economic growth is as sure a sign as any of a generally improving human condition.

  • ||

    Here's the problem:
    "but has a harder time translating armed might into influence."

    Armed might doesn't translate into influence. The opposite is more nearly true.

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    Jennifer, I agree that there are parallels. What I disagree with is your belief that the loss of American empire would mean we would no longer be at the top of the heap. Even a complete collapse of our global hegemony wouldn't allow any other power to supass us; it would mean that we would be two laps ahead of the rest of the competition, rather than three.

    And, as Rimfax suggests, there is no point in measuring our strength against other countries, since our well being doesn't depend upon our being able to dominate them. I don't get any poorer when my neighbor get a raise; hell, if I'm on good terms with him, maybe I'll get a better Christmas present. Europe growing militarily? Great! Let them worry about the Balkans. Let them bribe the Israelis and Palestinians next time.

  • gaius marius||

    The rest of the world is moving forward with cloning, stem-cell, genetic and other technologies, while we're gazing at our navels and asking ourselves "What would Jesus do?"

    lol -- ms jennifer, you obviously don't have to sell me on the idea of american precariousness, which i think is very nearly self-evident.

    sentiments like

    the US is not an empire.

    are simply bizarre -- quite delusional, i think. what do people imagine we're doing with fleets, troops and bases all around the planet, consuming the world's largest military budget by orders of magnitude? american insularity makes me laugh sometimes. it may not be your conception of a land empire a la rome, but it is most certainly a commerical and cultural empire a la britain. the analysis to read is niall ferguson's, where he rightly points out that staid conceptions of land empires are too narrow to include most of history's acknowledged empires.

    with respect to decline:

    Many of the symptoms of decline, however, strike me as cyclical.

    this is absolutely true, mr schultz. but one should, i think, view american decline within the perspective of the broader decline of the west as a decadent civilization. some of the economic problems we face are uniquely american at this time, though other declining empires have faced them; but many of the social problems we face are the result of sociopolitical trends that have been playing out since the 14th c throughout the west.

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    Matt-
    I didn't say, or mean to imply, that the world will head into a new dark age if the US economy crumbles. I don't think the USA will cease to exist as a viable political entity; I just think we'll go from a rich country to a poor one, and from a country that's extremely influential in world affairs to a country nobody particularly cares about.

    We have one problem the British Empire didn't have to face: not only are we neck-deep in debt, but much of that debt is held by countries who don't particularly like us. Also, the fact that OPEC might switch from a petrodollar to a petroeuro is another sign of impending economic trouble.

    I know lots of people just "pshaw' the idea that America might be in decline, but I ask which sounds more unlikely: the thought that America might be in decline, or that America will be the first civilization in the history of the human race NOT to decline?

  • gaius marius||

    The US is something fundamentally new, superior, and probably more durable. The key to US power is economic growth, with the military used to stamp out fires that threaten trade relationships or to bolster the defence of trading partners rather than to permanently occupy territory.

    this, i might note mr schultz, is a revision of "this time its different" -- an argument that repeats itself every time an empire enters decline.

  • gaius marius||

    We have one problem the British Empire didn't have to face: not only are we neck-deep in debt, but much of that debt is held by countries who don't particularly like us. Also, the fact that OPEC might switch from a petrodollar to a petroeuro is another sign of impending economic trouble.

    this is really the achilles heel of the arrangement now, ms jennifer, i agree. never before has the holder of the acknowledged global currency behaves so irresponsibly with the mandate -- and when it is taken from us, as seems inevitable given such abuses, much of what pundits have deemed inherent american economic superiority will be revealed as the fallacy it is.

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    Jennifer, we're not "neck deep in debt." We're not like a guy who can't get a car loan. We're like a guy who's got so much credit card debt that...he can only afford the payments on an Accord instead of an Acura.

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    Joe-
    Where are you getting the information that we're in fine economic shape? You're a leftie, so I can't even blame this one on too much Fox News and Rush (smiley-face).

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    Fun article from a couple of days ago: "Euro Trash: Even Drug Dealers are Giving up on the Dollar."

    http://www.slate.com/id/2111504/

  • Matt Shultz||

    Jennifer:

    Neck deep in debt? I might be mistaken here, but I was under the impression that the British government threw pretty much the entire country into hock to finance WWII, WWI, the Napoleonic Wars ... Hell, the British government all but invented public debt. I'm not saying debt isn't a problem, of course. But, most of the countries that have faced economic collapse due to out-of-control government debt have actually experienced most of their problems when the IMF, the World Bank, et al forced those states to resort to onerous taxation and intrusive government intervention in order to service said debts. So long as the US government has the sense to tell the IMF where it can put it's bad advice if and when they come calling, I don't see debt as being insurmountable. As far as the debt itself being held by unfriendly countries ... well, a lot of it is in the hands of Japan and China, the former of which is friendly, and the latter ... okay, I have to admit I'm not really qualifed to make any comments on that. But yes, if China were to suddenly sell of its treasury holdings, that would be catastrophic for the US economy, though I doubt the effects would still be evident more than a decade down the line.

    Gaius:

    Since the 14th century!? Are you ... never mind, too easy.

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    "If you do a comparison between us right now and England in the 1890s, there are a LOT of scary parallels:..."

    I would add jingoistic flag waving to Jennifer's list.

    ...as well as the belief that spreading civilization justifies imperialism.

    Shultz's Third Law of Social Dynamics states explicitly that when governments become more expensive than they are valuable, they either reform or implode. Many government programs are more expensive than valuable, the War on Drugs being a good example. The fruits of Capitalism can make a lot of such wasteful programs bearable economically, an imperialist adventure in Iraq being a good example of that.

    We haven't yet bitten off as much as Britain did, and size matters. Imagine if the United States took responsibility for the security and development of all of India and Pakistan in addition to a wide strip of Africa from Cairo to Capetown as well Australia, New Zealand, Canada and parts of Asia too. I would argue that the relative size of Britain's Empire makes it hard to compare to the United States today.

    There's also the question of choice. Britain, over and over again, chose to squander resources on the maintenance of empire. I would argue that just because Britain in the mid to late 19th and early 20th Centuries chose to implode rather than reform, well, that doesn't necessarily mean that America will make the same choice. It certainly doesn't auger well for us, but hope springs eternal.

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    I don't know if the comparisons with England of 100 years ago are any more valid than comparisons with any other empire or leading world power at any point in history.

    The truth is that unlike most other powers we've had the advantage of selective isolation.

    That isolation allowed us to grow relatively unnattacked after 1814 AND gave us the strategic superiority to kick ass in WWII (along with a lingering superiority complex).

    It is now simply working against us.

    We resent other countries for depending on our might for 50+ years (remember that "America: The Good Neighor" tribute back in the 60s?).

    They resent us for using them as pawns throughout the Cold War, giving them our pop culture (at the expense of 'classic' culture) and rejecting Esperanto.

    Now they're tired of being our bitches and they want to play ball with someone a little nicer...like maybe China.

    This comes at the same time that our Republican leaders wish to reinforce our selective isolationism.

    None of this is a value judgement. Just an observation of "cause and effect" in action.

    As Joe pointed out...a little competition may be just what we need...but beware "The Law of Unintended Consequences"

    I join with others in disagreeing that our might has given us influence.

    No doubt it HAS HAD some influence. But our withering goodwill (now painted as a weakness by the hawks) was the greater sum of that influence with a lot longer reach.

    The recent "stingy" comment - while certainly unjustified - would have been inconcievable only a couple of years ago

    It is MY observation that we could be managing our many and valid complaints with the U.N. and the E.U. in a more effective fashion.

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    Matt-
    You say we're not technologically complacent? Okay. . .what up-and-coming new technologies is America currently at the forefront of? Right now, our biggest corporations aren't doing R&D on consumer products they can sell to the world--they're corporate welfare queens, making overpriced weapons for the government. We ARE at the forefront of the pharmaceutical industry, I'll admit, but other countries are currently engaged in bioresearch which might well make the whole pharmaceutical industry as obsolete as the horse-and-buggy crowd.

  • Matt Shultz||

    Actually, Ken, it just might be a good thing if the US gov - or at least sizable parts of it - implodes. I've suspected for a couple of months now that the Bush administration is trying to do that, quietely, without telling anyone. Privatize everything but the army, and things might start looking a lot rosier (unless you actually believe that gobbling half the economy is beneficial, but I seriously doubt that's under discussion here.)

    OT, couldn't help but notice you spell your last name the same as I do ... it's a rare spelling, in my experience, so we might just be related.

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    My $0.02:

    1) Is our hegemony declining? Almost certainly. And, while that may or may not be a good thing, at the very least there will be some silver linings on that cloud.

    2) Does loss of hegemony mean we'll be somebody else's bitch? Not in the forseeable future. We'll be first among equals rather than the hegemon. And we'll certainly not be the one they call on when China shouts "Bring in the gimp!"

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    Hypothetical question: say you have two countries. One of them is discovering that there could be ENORMOUS potential in certain scientific endeavors, like say human cloning. The other country has a temper tantrum and tries (unsuccessfully) to get everybody in the world to sign a treaty banning research into this new technology. Which country is more likely to be a yahoo-infested backwater a century from now?

  • gaius marius||

    Since the 14th century!? Are you ... never mind, too easy.

    lol -- not easy at all, i'm afraid. read more here, mr schultz.

  • gaius marius||

    Does loss of hegemony mean we'll be somebody else's bitch? Not in the forseeable future.

    i agree, mr thoreau -- i think we can look forward to a long decadent decline rather than an abrupt one -- rather as britian has experienced. but the acuteness of our financial problems, once realized, may accelerate our "normalization".

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    Jennifer,

    Amen. Bravo. Excellente!

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    I always thought the Eastern Roman Empire (aka the Byzantine Empire) was the model: a long slow, very slow decline into the twilight. Lots of art, mysticism, sports, sexual decadence. They lasted 1000 years after the Western Empire fell apart.

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    Jennifer-

    Remember that most Americans didn't try to ban stem cells, and most people in other countries didn't embrace stem cells either. In the US (and in most other countries), we could over-simplify by saying that there are 3 camps: stem cell enthusiasts, stem cell opponents, and non-commital types. The first 2 factions are minorities, the last faction may or may not be a majority.

    In the US the stem cell opponents are simply more vocal than the enthusiasts. They might not even be more numerous, just simply louder.

    In 100 years this country won't be a yahoo-infested backwater. It will be a bunch of technologically advanced metropolises surrounded by angry yahoos who bitch about the wicked decadence of the folks in the big cities. Even while they enjoy modern medicine, entertainment, and information technology.

    Kind of like it is today ;->

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    Oh, I see now. Sorry I failed to grasp the original implications of our failing technological progress.

    The broken hingepin of American dominance; cloning and stem cell research.

    Talk about fitting all the world into a narrow scope.

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    I believe the technical definition of one who is a 'yahoo' is a person who focuses like a laser beam on one thing and makes the rest of their universe revolve around that one thing.

    Far a more enlightened view on the original subject, American dominance and where we might be headed, you guys can try freetheworld.com. They take an annual index of global economic freedom for almost every country on the globe.

  • David C. Rollins||

    Thank you, Ray. But wait -- our manufacturing base is in decline! Boo hoo. There's no reason we can't shift our economy to the manufacturing of software, entertainment media, financial services, pharmaceuticals, etc. Let the poorer countries do the dirty work of heavy industry and its resultant pollution, etc.

    There's no reason to be alarmed at our trade deficit for a similar reason. Trade deficits mean there is a net inflow of investment -- the accounts have to balance, so fewer goods exported mean more foreign investment. This investment wouldn't happen if there wasn't a reasonably good chance of return, which will continue as long as we keep tax rates low enough to ensure economic growth. And recall that none of these other countries are even *considering* reform of their pension systems.

    Even so, let's consider the worst case scenario of an imminent default on the debt. What happens in a liquidation -- you sell your assets. Disney and The Nature Conservancy would love to own some national parks; there's certainly lots of prime real estate occupied by bureaucrats who could be relocated to some outer ring (cheaper) suburb; the national forests could be easily absorbed by wall street and the land management trusts. It's so unlikely that no one talks about it, but if we get to that point we have more than enough assets. And after liquidation we'd have a radically smaller government. :-)

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    gaius,

    because there are a great many people here that disagree with me doesn't make my explanation a reductionist convenience.

    It merely means you are ignorant of the overall economics situation.

    Our economy is not a perfect model of a free market economy, I've already said that. But (1) we're still the most free economy in the world excepting Hong Kong and Singapore and (2) we're generally headed in the right direction.

    As evidenced by our shrinking union labor force, tariffs are a bad word now (though they still exist of course) serious talk about privatizing social security and so on.

  • ||

    Although I agree that our hegemony is on the decline, that may be due as much to growth in other countries as it is to any decline over here. I'm not convinced that doom is upon us.

    So, I'm going to repost something that I posted yesterday:

    gaius-

    OK, here's a market-based challenge to your claims. In almost every tragedy there is a profiteer. Maybe it's the guy who short-sells some stock. Maybe it's the person selling the life rafts, or the person running the only decent company still standing in the ruined industry. Maybe it's the people in Utah who will own beachfront property if the polar ice caps melt.

    Since you seem to think that western civilization and its economic institutions are on the verge of collapse, could you identify who will profit from this? Better yet, will you put your money where your mouth is and invest in the businesses likely to profit from the downfall of the decadent west?

    Comment by: thoreau at December 29, 2004 05:35 PM

  • Matt Shultz||

    Jennifer - Just off the top of my head, I'd have to name software development, non-humanoid robotics, nanostructured materials, and (as you pointed out) pharamceuticals. Sure, we're losing some ground on biotech ... but at least we haven't all but banned 'frankenfoods' like those dynamic lovers of progress in the EU.

    So far as a lot of companies making a profit off of fat military contracts ... nothing new about this. In fact, a lot of what we have today (the internet, for example) traces directly back to government projects; a lot of the rest (automotive and aerospace industries) got their start in the civilian market but experienced a huge burst of development when the government needed weaponry.

    I honestly don't see the US losing serious ground technologically. It's not like this is the 18th century, with only one or two fields at the forefront. Technological development these days is so multifaceted that the US can probably afford to let the Asians gain the upper hand in biotech without becoming backward. And yes, there are a lot of 'progressives' in the US that are against progess of any sort, but they've been hemmoraging credibility for a while now.

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    David,

    Our manufacturing sector is not disappearing. We do not generally do 'mass' manufacturing; all of that usually goes to China.

    The actual amount of goods manufactured here is increasing though much of that through increased mechanization.

    Those who think our entire economy hinges on one sector, manufacturing in this case - and it is a popular canard, especially right after an election year, these people are akin to the Luddites from the 19th century.

    Boo hoo indeed; such a myopic view is sad to behold.

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    A post in continuance from my repsonse to gaius;

    The British Empire analogy from J really hinges on this; the Brits met the global emergence of competition with tariffs, more unionization and subsidies like this country has never seen.

    We're meeting "the new world" with less of everything that has historically restricted an economy.

  • gaius marius||

    It merely means you are ignorant of the overall economics situation.

    how convenient for you, mr ray.

    It merely means you are ignorant of the overall economics situation.

    i tend to agree, mr schultz -- but leadership in the advance of techne isn't essential to american preeminence. the roman world continued to be at the front of engineering through the woeful end. social and economic concerns are primary, of which techne is but a part.

    Since you seem to think that western civilization and its economic institutions are on the verge of collapse, could you identify who will profit from this? Better yet, will you put your money where your mouth is and invest in the businesses likely to profit from the downfall of the decadent west?

    sorry i missed this yesterday, mr thoreau --"verge" can mean a lot of things. i think it is a likely eventuality, and that the next century will bring massive changes.

    but, that aside, if i had to bet, i would say asia, far and central. particularly as demographics are concerned -- which is important -- india, indonesia, pakistan and iran are well situated, as well as thailand and vietnam. china is immense and underdeveloped, and could lead early (for the next several decades) -- but these others will have a good chance to close the gap, imo, if the entire region continues to open and liberalize (and does not become a battlefield for america, as germany and italy remained for other players during europe's development).

    predicting the future, however, is only probability.

  • ||

    Jennifer, you make a fascinating comment in "I don't think the USA will cease to exist as a viable political entity;". While I suspect that decinism is a bit premature at this point, I do ponder the issue of the USA as a continuing viable political entity. There are a number of indicators which would suggest that both internally and externally, the USA is losing serious ground as a continuing viable political entity. Large chunks of soveriegnty have been essentially yeilded; e.g. open borders, etc. while at the same time, the system of "elections" seems to be rapidly failing as well. The "underground" economy is coming to rival the "official" or legitimate economy. And I think the gov't types sense that "control" is somehow slipping, ergo the Patriot Act and other such things. I somwhat see, (as I ponder what it means to be viable political entity), the USA as a country or nation state, unbecoming. It would be fascinating to know just how much money and how many people are quietly offshoring both themselves and their assets. Haven't been able to get a handle on that, but I suspect it's a staggering figure. Is it possible that as fewer folk trudge to the polls to vote, more are voting, quietly, with their feet and bucks?

  • gaius marius||

    We're meeting "the new world" with less of everything that has historically restricted an economy.

    "this time, it's different."

    i would issue you solon's warning.

  • Matt Shultz||

    Gaius -
    Okay, seriously here. The 14th century was when the West was just getting out of the middle ages and into the renaissance. Expanding trade, expanding culture, technological and scientific advance ... yup, you got it, the very picture of decadence.

    The 15th and 16th centuries saw the continuation of these trends, combined with the colonization of the New World.

    The 17th and 18th centuries saw the continuation of all those previous trends, combined with the industrial revolution as well as the consolidation of a brand new political order, the nation-state, perfectly suited to said industry.

    The 19th and 20th centuries have seen the continuation and elaboration of ALL those trends (lets recap: scientific advance, technological advance, vastly increased diversity and complexity in virtually all cultural endeavors, and the consolidation of the political order) as well as such things as the exploration of space. And much higher living standards. Longer life expectancies. Better jobs.

    Yeah, I can see your point. We've been on the road to perdition ever since those damn Italians started translating classical texts and that idiot Gutenberg started mass-producing them. Oh, for the good old days of the 13th century. That was truly the Golden Age of western civilization all right: ignorance, poverty, endless internecine wars, most people dying less than five miles from where they were born and thankful they hadn't gone any further because There Be Dragons.

  • ||

    Even so, let's consider the worst case scenario of an imminent default on the debt. What happens in a liquidation -- you sell your assets. Disney and The Nature Conservancy would love to own some national parks; there's certainly lots of prime real estate occupied by bureaucrats who could be relocated to some outer ring (cheaper) suburb; the national forests could be easily absorbed by wall street and the land management trusts. It's so unlikely that no one talks about it, but if we get to that point we have more than enough assets. And after liquidation we'd have a radically smaller government. :-)

    I can only imagine the courtroom battles over selling national forests. Lawyers could delay sale of assets until an asteroid destroys life as we know it.

  • gaius marius||

    There are a number of indicators which would suggest that both internally and externally, the USA is losing serious ground as a continuing viable political entity.

    mr tony, that's an extraordinary view and i (as fantastic as many perpetuators-of-the-status-quo will find it) somewhat agree.

    the elections mechanism is doomed -- the pressure for rousseauian dictatorship derivative of fascism here is building, imo, and an economic crisis may well finish the job. but beyond that, separatism has become thematic throughout the west, from northern ireland to bretagne to basque to california, over the last century.

    if one takes the point of view of the united states as the the original northern colonies holding dominion over an empire of states and territories -- a strange (ie, counter to 7th grade history) but historically quite valid view, akin to roman domination of italian city-states -- this becomes a bit easier to envision.

  • ||

    Kaplan sets up a straw man and knocks it down; some story.

    America has never set the rules OR ruled the game as an economic power, and our military might has seldom inspired other nations to do what we want.

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    "OT, couldn't help but notice you spell your last name the same as I do ... it's a rare spelling, in my experience, so we might just be related."

    Know any SDAs?

  • ||

    It's easy to overstate the decline of America in relation to the wider world.

    Europe, the main competitor, will soon surpass us economically. However it is decades away from the sort of political unity necessary to challange American hegemony. And like Japan, it has an aging population, more so than the US even.

    China is growing at a large rate, but the population is still dirt poor and most of the country suffers from the kind of ass backwards infrastructure you'd expect from a centrally planned state.

    Same deal with India, where lack of national unity and the Pakistan problem will continue to keep it from being a major global player.

    But while America will probably fade much later than many people hope, it's going to happen sooner than most Americans assume. The main danger, I think, is from having the decline be a chaotic one, with the US pitted against the world. The question shouldn't be "will America hegemony fade?" Of course it will. But how? And whose will replace it?

  • gaius marius||

    the very picture of decadence

    first off, mr schultz, you'll get farther if you don't make the assumption of inane stupidity of everyone who doesn't agree with you at first blush. :)

    clearly, we haven't been from the start. you misunderstand me *completely* (willfully?). decadence has been an issue in the west only since la belle epoque, imo. but the trends which are impulsive of our civilization since the 14th c -- particularly individualism and emancipation, but also secularism, abstraction, analysis, specialization -- the things that defined western development -- have been done. they've been carried to their absurd extremes. can we get more individualistic without it being farcical? can we get more free of obligation without destroying the value of our society?

    i don't think so. and this is what is meant by decadence -- when the absurdity of our civlizational impulses is accepted as normal -- and if you'd bothered to read through the link i posted, you wouldn't need me to explain it. i still recommend it, and the book its based on. will deepen your worldview immensely.

  • ||

    "America's productivity growth is still unrivaled in the rich world..."

    That would be nice if it weren't just an accounting gimmick you can chalk up to 'hedonics'.

    Also see:

    Employment - "Up until the Clinton administration, a discouraged worker was one who was willing, able and ready to work but had given up looking because there were no jobs to be had. The Clinton administration dismissed to the non-reporting netherworld about five million discouraged workers who had been so categorized for more than a year. As of July 2004, the less-than-a-year discouraged workers total 504,000. Adding in the netherworld takes the unemployment rate up to about 12.5%."

    Federal Deficit Reality - "The major U.S. credit rating agencies, S&P, Moody's and Fitch, issue credit ratings to sovereign states. The United States enjoys the top 'AAA' rating, but that could change if the rating agencies apply their sovereign credit rating methodologies to the GAAP U.S. financial statements, instead of the gimmicked accounting accepted for decades."

    The Consumer Price Index - "Changes made in CPI methodology during the Clinton administration have understated inflation significantly, and, through a cumulative effect, have reduced current social security payments by 30% from where they would have been otherwise. That means Social Security checks would be 43% higher. In like manner, anyone involved in commerce, who relies on receiving payments adjusted for the CPI, has been similarly damaged. On the other side, if your are making payments based on the CPI (i.e., the federal government), you are making out like a bandit."

    Gross Domestic Product - "Near the end of the first Bush administration, an outside-the-system manipulation was worked. A senior member of the Executive Branch approached a senior officer of a large computer company and requested that reporting of computer sales to the BEA be inflated. This was done specifically to help with the reelection effort. The request was granted, and thanks to the heavy leverage of computer deflation, reported GDP growth enjoyed an artificial spike."

  • ||

    I'm going to have to agree with Matt here, gaius. Since the 14th century? That's enough to put most of your "doom and gloom" talk in serious doubt. Maybe - maybe - you can argue that things have been declining since then as a result of individualism and such. But that also ignores that human society has actually changed over that time period. It's just not true that "there is nothing new under the sun" - we, as a civilization, have a much better grasp of psychology, history, physics, engineering . . . the list could go on and on. Our understanding of all of these is woefully incomplete. But it's better by leaps and bounds than that of any other civilization in the history of the world. That's one major difference: All other civilizations that have declined have been ones based on a large number of peasants farming the land dominated by an elite who were the true repository of "culture." That's simply not the case in modern Western civilization. There are a lot of other differences. I'm not one of those who thinks that we have nothing to learn from history, but I'm also not one of those who thinks that history is destiny.

    You seem to have a penchant for characterizing America as Rome in the later years of the Republic. While it's certainly true there are parallels (and I would have agreed completely a few years ago), that doesn't mean that history is going to repeat itself. For every parallel, I can name a difference that is just as profound. Of course America is going to decline. It's even possible that we're already in decline. But to base the trajectory of that decline on Republican Rome just doesn't make sense.

  • ||

    The United States is far less important the ideas underpinning the American experiment. Even if the entire country vanished like Atlantis, America has demonstrated that freedom is the foundation of an affluent nation. Now, the world may not like how America uses its vast wealth, but it is difficult to argue against the results of free minds and free markets. America also proves the merit of a society based on the rule of law.

    Like any nation-state, America has fallen far short of its formative ideals. So what? The ideas behind America are winning. If America becomes "one of many," I expect it will be for one of two basic reasons: The world will become more free or America will become less free. The wealth of a nation lies in the freedom of its people, to create, to strive, to succeed and to fail. If America forgets this fundamental lesson, it deserves to fade away. For the sake of a new year, I shall lift a glass in the hope that freedom becomes the norm for mankind rather than the exception.

  • gaius marius||

    I shall lift a glass in the hope that freedom becomes the norm for mankind rather than the exception.

    here here.

    but.

    But to base the trajectory of that decline on Republican Rome just doesn't make sense.

    it's said that history repeats, but wears a different dress. i agree with you -- our decline will be very different from rome's. but that does not mean that the parallels of empires at their heights are not valid to make and gain insight from.

    and that is because what does not change from age to age is human nature.

    That's one major difference: All other civilizations that have declined have been ones based on a large number of peasants farming the land dominated by an elite who were the true repository of "culture." That's simply not the case in modern Western civilization. There are a lot of other differences.

    while i would dispute your characterization -- the increasing productivity of agriculture by man-hour-acre has is as old as farming -- i would also agree that much is different.

    but the advance of technology is likely not to make much difference, as amazing as that may seem to people steeped in the religion of scientism and technology. rome too had the most amazing technology the world had ever seen, putting her light-years ahead of all that had preceded it. did it save her?

    i'm very skeptical of the idea that we've crossed some irreversible technological boundary to perpetual civility -- if that is what you're arguing -- because we'd be far from the first to suppose it true, and because we are in the end animals just the same as any other in history.

    does anyone here truly believe -- in such close proximity to rousseau and, closer still, radical environmentalism that we are incapable of shunning technology as destructive -- which, inescapably, it is, even if it is yet more productive? i think we ignore our capacity to revert to our base nature only to our peril. i think there is nothing western civ has done that cannot be undone; it is only my hope that we don't choose to undo it.

  • ||

    "All of this America in decline nonsense comes from people with ideological biases against the US (those who think patriotism is a bad word) combined with a poor grasp of economics"

    That's kind of like saying "The only ones who claim the house is on fire are the ones who want it to burn." Maybe I'm talking about this because I DON'T want our country to decline. Especially not if some horror like China might fill the power vacuum.

    I'll repeat (and rephrase) my earlier question. Which is more likely: that America will decline, or that America will be the first civilization in human history NOT to?

  • ||

    Also, I never meant to imply that biotechnology is the only new thing on the horizon; I just used it as an example. Do you actually think I'm being partisan for thinking that a government which tries to ban, rather than embrace, new technology is a government heading in the wrong direction?

  • gaius marius||

    Maybe I'm talking about this because I DON'T want our country to decline. Especially not if some horror like China might fill the power vacuum.

    amen, ms jennifer.

  • ||

    just want to note that the french-canadian barbarian invasions won an oscar last year for best foreign language film... it was sorta a sequel to the decline of american empire; history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes :D not sure what that means, but they're at the gates!

  • ||

    hey, btw, looking around for the lucifer principle (i really liked the online version of the global brain, btw) i came across this exerpt from a new book howard bloom is doing set for release in 2005, "Reinventing Capitalism - Putting Soul In the Machine: A QUICK RE-VISION OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION" :D

    cheers!

  • ||

    "All of this America in decline nonsense comes from people with ideological biases against the US (those who think patriotism is a bad word) combined with a poor grasp of economics"

    That's what they said about the Gracchi Brothers.

  • ||

    Jennifer, most of your post might be correct in single specific instances, but in an overall view, it's not very accurate.

    more money to be made in the merger and dismantling of companies, rather than in starting up new ones;

    Even with the ridiculous amount of government hurdles to startup small business and run them, there has been no letdown in entrepreneurship in this country. In fact, coming out of the last recessionary cycle, the numbers of new businesses leaped to highs beaten only by the boom cycle of the late 90's.

    a certain level of technological complacency,

    Say what? Outside of the sticky situation of genetics, the US still has the largest amount of technological advances and discoveries in the world. No other country in the world spends as much on R & D as the US. Where are you getting the backing for 'complacency'?

    and resting on our laurels rather than going out to earn new ones;

    How so? This is a giant generalization.

    pouring more and more of our relative income into military adventures;

    You're correct here, but only in the last three years, which is almost to be expected because we're quite reactionary. From 89-01, this wasn't the case whatsoever.

    blaming scapegoats rather than addressing the real issues

    Again, this is a large generalization. How specifically are we, as a country, doing this?

    . . .the list goes on. Howard Bloom's book "The Lucifer Principle" has a whole section devoted to this.

    Oh come on. Bloom's book is nothing more than an exercise in historical scavenger hunting. All he does is search through history to attempt to reference commonalities, and most times there is no basis or proof at all that those commonalities actually coalesce into themes.

    Bloom's book, to me, is like the bible code. Search long enough and you can find anything.

  • ||

    If America is not an empire, it certainly has a lot of the problems of an empire, has far flung military bases like an empire, etc.

    Furthermore, there are also other, lesser, empires on this planet; France and Britain are still empires for example (check out their far flung military bases, empire-like problems, etc.), and China appears to be a re-emerging empire.

  • ||

    My rule of thumb about predictions. If its more than ten years into the future its pure guesswork. :)

  • Matt Shultz||

    Ken: what are SDA's?

    gaius:

    Given the sheer amount of media I'm deluged with, I doubt I'll have time for that essay, any more than I have time to read tracts on why the holocaust didn't happen. Trying to argue that the west has been in decline over the past 600 years - or even over the past 100 - strikes me as ridiculous. The evidence just doesn't fit.

    You blame "individualism and emancipation, but also secularism, abstraction, analysis, specialization" for this 'decline' (great arguing points on a libertarian blog, by the way!) This makes me think that you're speaking from a position of hostility to pretty much all of western civilization. Would you prefer to live in a society based upon collectivism, slavery, religiosity, fuzzy thinking and an agrarian economy? These are, incidentally, traits that describe quite handily much of Islamic 'civilization' over the past 800 years or so.

    I do not misunderstand you, gaius. I'm simply telling you that it's bollocks.

  • ||

    Thomas Paine's Goiter,

    Well, to be blunt, that's true of most (all?) efforts to try to draw historical parallels to current events. Its true that we can learn from history, but it is not true that history provides us with a blueprint for the future

  • ||

    Right now, our biggest corporations aren't doing R&D on consumer products they can sell to the world--they're corporate welfare queens, making overpriced weapons for the government.

    Wow. This is starting to sound like a WTO protest. Looking at the 50 largest companies in this country, there are all of 3(!) that have a hand in making any sort of weapons.

    Hyperbole is good food, isn't it?



    Besides, most innovation and advances don't come from large-scale corporations, they come from startups, spinoffs and university enviroments, and the startups that come from those environments.

  • ||

    Hypothetical question: say you have two countries. One of them is discovering that there could be ENORMOUS potential in certain scientific endeavors, like say human cloning. The other country has a temper tantrum and tries (unsuccessfully) to get everybody in the world to sign a treaty banning research into this new technology. Which country is more likely to be a yahoo-infested backwater a century from now?

    Well, at least you've now revealed your only beef and the reason in your mind for the impending implosion of the country.

  • gaius marius||

    In fact, coming out of the last recessionary cycle, the numbers of new businesses leaped to highs beaten only by the boom cycle of the late 90's.

    mr goiter -- do you have any info on small business' share of gdp over the last few decades? just from curiosity. i can't find it.

    My rule of thumb about predictions. If its more than ten years into the future its pure guesswork. :)

    lol, mr gunnels, my idea is actually that, the farther out you go (if you're careful), the better your chances are. ten years may be more noise than signal, as it were.

    fwiw, i suppose hume probably had the right idea about predicting the future.

  • Matt Shultz||

    Jennifer: Couldn't agree with you more that the gov's discouraging of biotech is silly and counterproductive. I just don't think it spells the beginning of the end of technological progress in the US, largely because the gov hasn't banned it, they've just refused to fund SOME of it. Monsanto is still going strong, and I believe Advanced Cell Technologies was doing some pretty cutting edge stuff with stem cells on their own dime. And even if the gov were to ban genetic engineering in all its incarnations, keep in mind we're talking about a technology that takes up an amount of space comparable to a drug lab. And the feds have been real successful with their ban on those.

    While it's always possible that the American people as a whole might lose their nerve in the face of the perfect storm of creative destruction being unleased by science, technology, and capitalism at the moment, I doubt it. This even though some parts (the greens, the fundies) already have. However, for those who think it is likely, consider this: what are the implications of the current legislative battles over copyright and filesharing for the future of technological change?

  • gaius marius||

    I do not misunderstand you, gaius. I'm simply telling you that it's bollocks.

    mr schultz, i don't know whether you're stupid or simply not thorough. you tell me you understand, then prove my your every comment that you, if you are literate and have bothered to read what i've written, haven't understood a thing i've said. what am i supposed to think?

    i can't help you. you have to read and understand it to seem credible in criticizing it.

  • ||

    Thomas Paine's Goiter,

    I think the poster is referring to the growing presence of foreign-made technologies in the U.S., the relative decline (in comparison to other countries) of patents by U.S. firms, and surge (or resurgance in the case of Europe) technological innovation at foreign universities.

    I however, consider all these things to be positive things for the U.S., since freely traded technology is IMHO pretty neutral from an economic standpoint.

  • ||

    People throw around GDP figures as if it's impossible to be economically ahead but politically behind.

    America has spent more than its share of "political capital" in recent years on what's essentially a throw of the dice in Iraq. That's not something money can always easily buy, and *is* something you need in the long run.

  • Matt Shultz||

    gaius: By all means, assume I have the intelligence of a senile monkey, and give me the Coles Notes version of how, exactly, the factors you listed earlier are contributing to the decline of western civilization. Spell it out for me, in simple language fit for an illiterate peasant.

    Oh, and btw, comments on my intelligence and literacy are quite apt, coming from a man who eschews capitalization and can't even spell my name right.

  • ||

    Matt,

    Monsanto is still going strong...

    I thought they were still in that rough patch they hit a few years ago?

    Norway last time I checked is the most innovative country when it comes to the use embryonic stem cells.

    What the U.S. is having problems with is re-newed competition from overseas universities and research firms (which I view as a good thing) and graduate students being turned off by the new cordon of legal restraints one has to go through to get a student visa. I personally know a couple graduate students who said "fuck it" and went to school in Europe (Sweden, Britain and France respectively).

  • ||

    Thomas Paine's Goiter: "the US still has the largest amount of technological advances and discoveries in the world"

    That's not strictly true.

    Fareed Zakaria - "The dirty secret about our scientific edge is that it's largely produced by foreigners and immigrants. Americans don't do science."

    Losing Our Intellectual Edge - "[T]his year brought clear signs that the United States' overwhelming dominance of international higher education may be ending. In July, Mr. Payne briefed the National Academy of Sciences on a sharp plunge in the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, a requirement for applying to most graduate schools; it had dropped by half."

    Thomas Paine's Goiter: "How specifically are we, as a country, doing this?"

    Apparently, quite easily.

  • ||

    Well, to be blunt, that's true of most (all?) efforts to try to draw historical parallels to current events. Its true that we can learn from history, but it is not true that history provides us with a blueprint for the future

    We can learn from history, no doubt. My problem with Bloom, and those that have done the same in the past, as well as those that ascribe to his nonsense, is that he takes history piecemeal. There people set out statements about decline, then start picking through history to find one reason here, one reason there to back it up.

    Of course you're going to be able to do that! There are never any one-to-one comparisons. Any time it's attempted there are mounds of caveats to be presented forthwith.

  • ||

    mr goiter -- do you have any info on small business' share of gdp over the last few decades? just from curiosity. i can't find it.

    Actually, I don't. The numbers that I was working from were employment based, and now I can't find that link either. There are more people employed in small businesses, partnerships and sole-proprietorships than ever.

    Now, to find that link...I need a second machine just to house my links and saved papers...

  • ||

    grigory,

    France is undertaking a full court press to get Chinese and Indian students into its various engineering schools and technical colleges (they are expecting at least some of them to become citizens - which has been the case); the serious decline you saw in the 1980s of French technological advances scared the crap out of them I think.

  • ||

    I think the poster is referring to the growing presence of foreign-made technologies in the U.S., the relative decline (in comparison to other countries) of patents by U.S. firms, and surge (or resurgance in the case of Europe) technological innovation at foreign universities.

    I think you give the poster too much credit. Even using your scenario, it's still a game of catch-up for the rest of the world.

  • gaius marius||

    Spell it out for me, in simple language fit for an illiterate peasant.

    i'll do the work of quoting myself form earlier in the thread just for you, mr schultz:

    but the trends which are impulsive of our civilization since the 14th c -- particularly individualism and emancipation, but also secularism, abstraction, analysis, specialization -- the things that defined western development -- have been done. they've been carried to their absurd extremes. can we get more individualistic without it being farcical? can we get more free of obligation without destroying the value of our society?

    do you see what i mean? that which has been "good" and productive for us for most of the span since the renaissance has been taken too far, and have ended in loggerheads or become counterproductive, even destructive. this is the definition of decadence, which is a technical term of the historical study -- of which libraries exist -- of civilizations in decline.

  • ||

    Jennifer-

    The rise of China as a world power is only a horror if China doesn't liberalize politically and socially. Chinese liberalization is certainly taking time, more time than one might like, but it is happening. It may not be quite on the order of a "historical inevitability" (to steal a commie phrase), but the process has quite a bit of momentum.

    Here's a funny fact about the Chinese police state: Apparently a lot of their informants are elderly women who are plugged into all of the gossip. And apparently everybody knows who these informants are. I asked a Chinese friend of mine why they don't just overthrow the government between 4pm and 5pm, when the old ladies are enjoying the early bird special?

    Is it just me, or is there something underwhelming about a police state whose informants are known to everybody and physically weak?

  • ||

    grigory,

    Its a secret, but the fastest growing immigrant group to France are Chinese persons. Furthermore, the French government and French companies like Carrefour have done a pretty good job of creating a sense of Francophilia in China over the past ten years or so.

  • ||

    The dirty secret about our scientific edge is that it's largely produced by foreigners and immigrants. Americans don't do science.

    Works for me. In fact, this is exactly how we got to the pinnacle in the first place - the smart, energetic people came here, rather than staying home.

    Who cares where the big brains were born, as long as they come here to do their thing?

    And you might want to ask yourself why they come here to do their thing, if America is in decline, is all hostile to new thinking, etc.

    Europe is highly unlikely to exert more influence than the US in the foreseeable future. Their economy is smaller than ours, per capita, and is growing slower. They are hobbled by a gargantuan regulatory state that increasingly embraces the precautionary principle. And they have a demographic implosion on the horizon.

  • Matt Shultz||

    Gary:

    Okay, maybe Monsanto was a bad example. I'm not an expert on the biotech business, I'm sad to admit. How much of the rough patch is stock market related, and how much actually related to profits? And how have they been affected by the EU's generally obstructionist attitude towards agricultural biotech, and the greens' vicious misinformation campaign?

    Of course, I geuss not all decline would be caused by the US gov ... anti-progress grassroots movements are probably more important, actually. And certainly there's a distressing amount of that when it comes to biotech.

    Thomas: I agree with you for the most part, but not about Bloom. Granted his methods aren't the most scientific, but I think he has some valid conclusions. His whole approach to studying history - looking for commonalities rather than differences - is really the only rational way to do it. Otherwise you'll never find ANY patterns, actual or imagined. And from our perspective, looking back over 8000 years of recorded history, it certainly looks like there is a certain ebb and flow to it all, certain symptoms of decline and others of vigour.

    The money question really is, if we are in decline, is there any way to reverse it short of hitting rock bottom? To know if we are, we have to identify the symptoms (Jennifer, I think you did a good job of picking out what those symptoms are - I dispute how how much they apply to the US, not that they're the things to watch for.) That done, we have to answer the question: why do civilizations decline? THAT done, well ... whether we CAN reverse it is something I sure don't have the answer to, and I rather doubt anyone here does either. Something to think about, though.

  • ||

    That's not strictly true.

    Fareed Zakaria - "The dirty secret about our scientific edge is that it's largely produced by foreigners and immigrants. Americans don't do science."

    Losing Our Intellectual Edge - "[T]his year brought clear signs that the United States' overwhelming dominance of international higher education may be ending. In July, Mr. Payne briefed the National Academy of Sciences on a sharp plunge in the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, a requirement for applying to most graduate schools; it had dropped by half."


    Right. And that drop won't be filled by anyone. There are Eastern Europeans that are waiting to fill the void. There are Vietnamese and Koreans waiting to fill the void.

  • ||

    Thomas Paine's Goiter,

    Even using your scenario, it's still a game of catch-up for the rest of the world.

    Maybe, but I believe it easier for them to catch-up than it was for us to get here in the first place. Anyway, I welcome the decline of American hegemony (though I don't view it as a disaster - clearly the decline of British hegemony wasn't a disaster for Britain since Britons are more well off now than they ever were during the height of their empire).

  • ||

    You didn't see the second link R C Dean. They're not coming here anymore. Would you want to come to a country work a few years and see your savings erode away as the currency depreciates? Watch as the US monetizes its debt and see the dollar sinking, sinking.

  • ||

    Matt,

    Part of Monsanto's problem was poor PR on their part. In other words, Robert Shapiro is a moron and he could have done a far better job of defending his company his company without playing into the public fears about GMOs. Not that I am excusing the EU's policies on GMOs (which are now far more sensible than they were a few years ago), etc., but a sensible CEO doesn't play up to the caricature of the "evil corportate menace" painted of capitalist entities by anti-capitalist nutballs.

  • ||

    Thomas Paine's Goiter,

    A basic problem right now are issues with getting visas. The hurdles for getting one are now much higher than they were prior to 9/11. Now, maybe there is some good in that (obviously there are lots of tradeoffs to consider here), but these hurdles are hampering efforts to get bright foreigners to come to the U.S. and that is hampering technological development (for the short-term at least).

  • ||

    fwiw, the economist recently did an insightful piece on 'biotechnology in the third world'...

  • gaius marius||

    Europe is highly unlikely to exert more influence than the US in the foreseeable future. Their economy is smaller than ours, per capita, and is growing slower. They are hobbled by a gargantuan regulatory state that increasingly embraces the precautionary principle. And they have a demographic implosion on the horizon.

    i too have great difficulty making a case for the rise of europe -- but would note, mr dean, that countries in the far east are at an advantage in all those departments except per capita output.

  • ||

    Western Europe is not externally debt free. It is better off in terms of absolute dollars of debt, but no better off in terms of debt to GDP ratio than the US. Balance will be achieved.

    Productivity growth in the US is huge by international standards, and all the focus on the size of the US debt without considering the context of either growth or production is not helpful.

    China has huge potential due to its theoretical productive capacity, but so did Germany after reunification. China is a country in two parts, and it remains to be seen if the whole thing will look more like the 1% in Hong Kong or the 99% starving in the center of the country. A bazillion people who have no ability to produce above subsistence are not obviously helpful in the catch up game.

    The trade piece is the most important by far, anyway. Take away the portion of nearly any foreign based international company's revenue that is derived from the US market and see what is left. To the extent that spending on the part of the US consumer is unsustainable, so is the growth of the rest of the world.

  • ||

    Hmmm ... I'm not in favor of national impoverishment by any means, but I can't really see the downside in the American empire dissolving.

    Frankly, the post-Cold War strategy of "peace through U.S. dominance" looks pretty ephemeral on both the peace and the dominance fronts.

  • ||

    Jason Ligon: "Productivity growth in the US is huge by international standards"

    Again, the productivity miracle of the US is an illusion brought on by an accounting gimmick, hedonics, that the US uses to a degree that no other government does. While there are international standards of reporting, the US does not abide by them. The widely cited outsized productivity growth of the US is a myth on an apples-to-apples comaprison.

  • gaius marius||

    the productivity miracle of the US is an illusion brought on by an accounting gimmick, hedonics, that the US uses to a degree that no other government does.

    i agree with mr gross' assessment. this sort of politically-motivated manipulation is one of the consequences of our current american condition of excess. one cannot overstate the doubt one should place in optimistic government numbers as they emerge from the leviathan, no matter which "nonpartisan" department they emerge from.

  • ||

    Great discussion. Some random thoughts:

    - Our defense budget is only about 4% of our GDP. Factor in homeland security/CIA/NSA, and perhaps you're near 6%. More than I'd like, but not disastrous in and of itself. America's real problem here is the way that domestic spending has balooned out-of-control - in particular, the runaway growth in SS and Medicare.

    - Our reliance on foreign scientific/technical expertise is clearly a problem, particularly given how post-9/11 hysteria has made it harder for foreigners to come here. I think a lot of blame here goes to the way in which it's become easy for a relatively intelligent student at a top-tier university to get a good GPA while doing a liberal arts major. Math and science majors are, comparitively, hard work, and thus more likely to be shunned. And thus we have a dearth of native-born engineers and scientists.

    But between the salaries and the entrepreneurial culture, I think we'll still attract a good amount of foreign talent. One interesting case in point is Dr. Shuji Nakamura, a Japanese scientist whose breakthroughs basically enabled the mass-commercialization of LEDs. Nakamura's work brought in hundreds of millions in sales for Nichia, the Japanese company that he worked for, but Nichia refused to pay him more than a standard engineer's salary. Ultimately, Nakamura left Japan - a country with a per capita income nearly equal to ours - to do research at UCSB while working part-time for Cree, Nichia's American rival.

    - One American weakness that I don't think gets enough attention is the increasingly substandard state of our infrastructure. A generation ago, America's highways, airports, and telecommunications networks were as good as any in the world. Today, our highways and airports are clogged with traffic and in dire need of upgrades, while our telecom networks are routinely lagging foreign networks with regards to the deployment of new broadband and wireless technologies. I think a combination of inertia and regulatory stupidity is to blame.

    - Until Europe's economic growth shows signs of matching America's, I can't see the Euro becoming the world's reserve currency. And unless the leading EU nations carry out major reforms and reverse current demographic trends, the EU's growth rate will continue to lag. That said, America's trade and budget deficits have to make foreign Dollar holders wary.

    - America has fallen behind in some technological fields, such as consumer electronics, fuel cells, and stem cell research. But it still holds leadership positions in nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals, DNA sequencing/genetic engineering, all kinds of IT hardware and software markets, and most semiconductor markets outside of consumer electronics. This isn't to say that other countries haven't made important strides in these fields, but America is more than holding its own.

    - If America is following the trajectory of Rome (and I'm a bit skeptical of this theory), I think it resembles Rome near the end of the Punic Wars. The country has only recently emerged as the world's dominant power, and it still possesses a cultural dynamism and a martial tradition that Rome had clearly lost by its final years.

    - Even if you consider America to be an empire (I'd call it a quasi-empire at most), I think a key problem with comparisons to empires of old is that they fail to account for the impact of two revolutionary military advances: nuclear weapons and guerilla warfore. The former can lead to even a major power's annihilation in a matter of minutes, while at the same time making it impossible to militarily conquer said power or any allies protected by its nuclear shield. The latter, meanwhile, makes the invasion and occupation of any land where most of the locals don't want you there extremely difficult, and altogether impossible if you're hindered by some practical or moral imperative for restraint - both of which can be found in large abundance in America's case.

  • ||

    Goiter-
    It's a bit disingenuous to talk about how the largest companies have so few members taking money from the military. True, companies like Wal-Mart or Allstate aren't receiving any military contracts, but take out the service and food companies, and focus on the largest companies who actually manufacture stuff.

    I work as a copyeditor for a consulting firm for the defense industry, and among my least favorite jobs each month is editing the Defense Company reports, which include incredibly boring accounts of the various defense contracts, and percentage breakdowns about how much money each company makes from private industry versus government contracts.

    I don't have the book here with me to cite exact statistics, but they're ridiculous. Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing. . .take away their government contracts and these guys wouldn't survive. In many cases, there'd be nothing left. None of our shipbuilders or airline manufacturers seem to be able to make it on their own these days. And the number of other, smaller companies with wholly civilian reputations who have their hands deep in Uncle Sugar's pocket shocked me.

    In the field of gas turbines, whether used for power generation or as engines for jets and ships and things, the American companies Pratt and Whitney and GE are still doing quite well, even when you only count civilian contracts, but most other major players, and most of the up-and-comers, are from overseas. The same holds true in many other industries. (As if those reports aren't aggravating enough to copyedit, without being filled with company names like Ishikawajima-Harima).

    Meanwhile our education system is a worldwide laughingstock, especially in mathematics and the sciences, and as other posters have pointed out here, we're seeing a reduction in the number of foreigners who are able to come here and enrich our knowledge pool. So which of our native children will be the next Thomas Edison--the one who learned and believes that the earth is six thousand years old, or the one who can't recognize the wrongness of "6x5=157" without using a calculator?

    As a country, we've built up a big enough head of steam to coast on our inertia for awhile, and we're certainly not going to wake up tomorrow and find that we're suddenly third-worlders, but we are starting to lose momentum at the same time other countries are starting to pick it up. There's still time to change, but not if we go around insisting, as some have here, that anybody who suggests a need for change hates America.

  • ||

    Again, I agree with my old pal gaius. Dictatorship will be the likely result of our individualism fetish. All the western nations are setting the stage for financial disaster with our government debt schemes, and we worship the individual so completely that we don't care even for the cost to our own children.

    I don't subscribe to the idea that world prestige is zero sum. A decline of the US is not a guaranteed boon to anyone. China is going to have demographic problems, just like Europe. India has a hostile neighbor and hundreds of millions who have not kept pace with progress.

    Everyone has a manufacturing fixation. In 30 years, China will be full of rotting factories, those jobs will have found cheaper labor somewhere else, and Chinese union bosses will be bitching and moaning about how "this country don't build nuttin' anymore!"

  • gaius marius||

    Until Europe's economic growth shows signs of matching America's, I can't see the Euro becoming the world's reserve currency.

    mr eric, i would submit that they already have the requisite size. what will count is *stability* -- the reserve currency must have an expectation of value retention. the dollar has already embarked on a textbook exercize in inflationary destruction of value. i can't predict for 2005 -- but as soon as 2010, the dollar will be widely scorned as a terrible global investment.

    If America is following the trajectory of Rome (and I'm a bit skeptical of this theory), I think it resembles Rome near the end of the Punic Wars. The country has only recently emerged as the world's dominant power, and it still possesses a cultural dynamism and a martial tradition that Rome had clearly lost by its final years.

    direct comparison is tricky, of course -- but if i had to analogize, i'd say the last half of the 20th c may well be the antonine years -- not for the united states per se, but for western civ generally, which i think one can relate more validly to classical civ.

    the reign of the the antonines was a golden era and stable, but one plagued by the rampant individualism and mounting economic troubles that one sees in western nations today. the philosophy of those years was largely stoic -- individual virtue detached of the material world and the depredations of men -- and i think that closely fits the current age in the west (more obviously in europe, but also here).

    the third century ad, following the death of marcus aurelius, was the actual end of anything we would call the roman empire. constantine came to the helm of a nearly dead, completely dysfunctional and chaotic political entity that functioned only mechanically when it functioned at all.

    the antonines ruled rome some 700 years after solon gave laws to athens. fwiw, we are that distance now from the scholastics and the beginning of the renaissance.

  • gaius marius||

    I don't subscribe to the idea that world prestige is zero sum. A decline of the US is not a guaranteed boon to anyone.

    i would say, mr sulla (gulp), that this is certainly the lesson of roman decline. no one benefitted from the decades of chaos that ensued.

  • ||

    grigory:

    Do you have any handy resources on the impact of hedonics on standard productivity measures? There are good reasons to tie prices to characteristics as opposed to units in highly dynamic markets, so I don't know that I'd outright call the use of hedonics a gimmick. I perused a couple of articles about the effects of hedonics on inflation, but how it relates to productivity growth escapes me at first blush.

    Thanks.

  • ||

    Americans don't do science

    Americans don't do software either, if recent personal experience is any indication. I'm researching some niche programming software to fill in the gaps left by Microsoft's products - it's all European, all priced in Euros, and now therefore all out of my price range.

  • ||

    Americans don't do science

    If this thread is any indication, Americans don't "do" much of anything except spend their working hours arguing with strangers over the internet.

  • Mark Bahner||

    James Glassman just had an piece on TechCentralStation headlined, "Will We Be Richer Than Our Kids"?

    http://www.techcentralstation.com/122704B.html

    This was my reply:

    Ah, yes! The ol' 'end of the world' scenario! We may see the first generation in ~400 years to live less well than their parents.

    Yeah, that *might* happen! But would Dr. Glassman like to bet on it??? :-) (Seriously...if Dr. Glassman would like to place such a bet at www.longbets.org, I'd be happy to cover the 'other side' of his bet.)

    Arnold Kling and I peered into the mists of the 21st century future. As we all probably know, the previous century--the 20th--was by far the greatest century in the history of the world, in terms of per-capita wealth generation. Well, Arnold Kling and I both agree that not only will world economic growth in the 21st century be better than in the 20th, it will be astoundingly, mind-bogglingly better:

    http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2004/10/3rd_thoughts_on.html

    Of course, these projections are for *world* per-capita economic growth, not for the U.S. But even if U.S. per-capita economic growth lagged the world average by 2% per year for the 21st century, the per-capita growth in the U.S. in the 21st century would literally be orders of magnitude better than in the U.S. in the 20th century.

    Dr. Glassman also writes, 'We're developing a science gap. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Adam Segal points out that '38 percent of America's scientists and engineers with doctorates were born outside this country.' Now, as their own Asian economies strengthen and as we take steps that make work here less attractive, such as accounting changes that force companies to drop their stock-option plans, these U.S.-educated scientists are going back home.'

    This analysis commits the error in logic that assumes that increased wealth in countries outside the U.S. makes the U.S. 'less wealthy.' It most emphatically does NOT!

    Did the fact that Thomas Edison made his improvements on the light bulb in the United States make people in Europe, China, and India *poorer!* No, of course not.

    It's great if scientists and engineers want to come to the U.S. But it's ALSO great (even for the U.S.) if they want to stay in their own countries. The only situations that would be bad would be: 1) if they wanted to come to the U.S., but weren't allowed to do so (either by the U.S. government, or by their own governments), or 2) if the conditions in their own countries were so miserable (e.g., with lack of freedom) that they had no desire to live there. Both of THOSE situations waste human capital.

    I'm an engineer, so I don't pay too much attention to such things ;-), but it seems to be part of human nature to fear that the future will be especially awful. But rational and unbiased analysis does not lead to that conclusion, regarding economic growth in the world and in the U.S. in the 21st century.

  • ||

    Mark-
    I don't know about the others but I personally don't automatically assume that an American decline will harm other countries, or even ourselves; I'm just saying that the decline is there.

  • Mark Bahner||

    gaius marius writes, "the reign of the the antonines was a golden era and stable, but one plagued by the rampant individualism..."

    "Rampant individualism!" Ooh! Horrors!

    ;-)

  • ||

    At the risk of rousing Lonewacko from the blogosphere - America's technological dominance will continue to last so long as we do not continue to restrict entrance visas for international students and other immigrants.

    America has an enormous competitive advantage to Europe, and especially Asia, when it comes to skimming the best and the brightest from other countries and then providing them with relatively better opportunities to succeed. This has been the source of America's power from Day One. The minute we lose sight of that is the minute we lose the Empire.

    Somebody mentioned Google above - how many of America's largest companies were started by first or second generation immigrants? How many of the world's inventions came from America? How many of these came from first or second generation immigrants? The bomb that arguably ended WW2? Hell, even our best athletes are now coming from other countries.

  • ||

    "what will count is *stability* -- the reserve currency must have an expectation of value retention"

    Of course. And if the EU's growth rate significantly trails America's in future years, as tax, regulatory, and demographic factors have a good chance of leading it to, it's going to have an impact on the value of their currency. That said, the impact of the current account and budget deficits on the Dollar are clearly nothing to scoff at.

    "the third century ad, following the death of marcus aurelius, was the actual end of anything we would call the roman empire."

    That's kind of debatable. A state's demise is generally defined as the point where it can no longer control its borders. By that measure, the Battle of Adrianople would be the point where the Western Empire ended.

    "the antonines ruled rome some 700 years after solon gave laws to athens. fwiw, we are that distance now from the scholastics and the beginning of the renaissance."

    Though if you go by Barzun's theory that the Protestant Reformation (and the attendant demise of the Church's hegemony over Western Europe) marked the start of Western Civilization, we're just a little bit past the distance between Solon's reign and the end of the Third Punic War. Meanwhile, if you go by Spengler's theory that Western culture started with the emergence of Gothic architecture, and that Greco-Roman culture began following the end of Mycenaean civilization, then we're just nearing in on the point where republic gives way to empire.

    But as I alluded to in my last post, the impact of technological and economic change makes me hesitant to start forming civilizational analogies. Nuclear weapons and guerilla warfare irrevocably alter military dynamics, while the interdependency wrought by globalization often makes it suicidal for major powers to go at each others' throats a la Greece-Persia or Rome-Parthia even if military considerations don't stop them.

    And I think it can be argued that much of what's described as "decadence" by Barzun and others is the result of mass vertigo caused by the rapid pace of technological and social change, with the latter feeding off the former. Inventions such as the automobile, the birth-control pill, and modern telecommunications have upended thousands of years of human behavioral patterns in little more than a century. It's not absurd to posit that society needs some time to digest these changes, during which things can go a little haywire. Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, though now a bit dated (talk about poetic justice), covers this idea well.

  • ||

    A state's demise is generally defined as the point where it can no longer control its borders.

    You might want to qualify that statement and specify the degree of control. Whatever one might think of illegal immigration, it is definitely happening and demonstrates that the US gov't currently does not exercise complete control over its borders. The same could be said of drug smuggling.

    I'm not sure what degree of control I'd specify as the cutoff point for the demise of a state, but it's definitely a matter of degree, since there is no state with perfect border control.

  • ||

    Mark-
    By 'decline' I mean NOT that our wealth will decrease, but that our position relative to the rest of the world will drop.

    Certainly our real wealth will increase, because of technology and other such things. Other countries' wealth will increase, too, and eventually surpass our own.

    You know how a middle-class person today is far wealthier in many ways than the wealthiest people alive four hundred years ago? Your house is warmer and more comfortable, you have access to medicine that actually works, you can listen to any music oir watch any entertainment anytime you wish, etc. However, if your great-grancestor of four hundred years ago was an extremely wealthy man in the top ten percent of the local population, whereas you are an average middle-class American, I think it would be safe to say that your family has declined, even though you personally are in many ways wealthier than your ancestor.

  • ||

    "You might want to qualify that statement and specify the degree of control."

    Point taken. I'd argue that the point where a state's demise occurs is when a group of people can cross the state's borders and remain independent of its political authority. That is, if the state loses the ability to hold this group accountable to its laws, and to expel them upon identification. After the Battle of Adrianople, that was definitely the case with the barbarian tribes who had made it across the Roman Frontier.

  • ||

    Eric II,

    Until Europe's economic growth shows signs of matching America's, I can't see the Euro becoming the world's reserve currency.

    I don't know if that is the reason why the Euro would replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency. However, let's note that right now the Euro's position (as a reserve currency) is only slightly better than the sum of the legacy currencies it replaced.

    As to the issue of borders...

    Rome's borders were always quite fluid and invasion of even the peninsula was fairly common even when Rome was ascededant (and this doesn't even count the various coup d'etats, etc., that the Republic and Empire experienced).

  • ||

    Eric II,

    ...while the interdependency wrought by globalization often makes it suicidal for major powers to go at each others' throats a la Greece-Persia or Rome-Parthia even if military considerations don't stop them.

    A similar argument was made regarding interdependency of European states before WWI. Humans are quite adept at doing shit that goes directly against their "objective" or "rational" interests when emotions flare, loss of face is at issue, they are paranoid (e.g., the Germans before WWI, the South before the Civil War), etc.

  • ||

    ...and making matters worse for China is the unbalanced sex-ratio in that country...

    China appears to be remedying this issue by exporting much of its excess male population to the U.S. and Europe. This is in turn good news for Europe demographically.

  • ||

    Jason Ligon: See the GDP article I cited earlier. In that productivity is output per hours worked (total factor productivity is another matter) the 'inflation' of GDP overstates productivity.

    Eric II: "One American weakness that I don't think gets enough attention is the increasingly substandard state of our infrastructure."

    Richard Berner of Morgan Stanley has addressed this deficiency in "America's Long-Term Challenges, Part II" (Part I). As the East Coast blackout showed, utilities have woefully underinvested over the years (I blame PUHCA); we essentially have a 1950s power infrastructure still in place that is wholly inadequate for a digital economy (Gilder overstated the case, but still).

  • Mark Bahner||

    Jennifer writes, "By 'decline' I mean NOT that our wealth will decrease, but that our position relative to the rest of the world will drop."

    As I pointed out, our position relative to the rest of the world has ALREADY dropped significantly. In 1950, the U.S. GDP was almost half of the world GDP, but today it's "only" a quarter. So was the U.S. better off when Germany, Japan, the U.S.S.R., France, etc. lay in ruins?

    Jennifer continues, "However, if your great-grancestor of four hundred years ago was an extremely wealthy man in the top ten percent of the local population, whereas you are an average middle-class American, I think it would be safe to say that your family has declined, even though you personally are in many ways wealthier than your ancestor."

    Samuel Clements (Mark Twain) was for a while one of the richest men in the U.S. (certainly in the top 10 percent). Yet he lost a brother who died a few days after suffering burns in a boiler explosion. He lost a son (his only son) to diptheria. He lost a daughter to meningitis. He lost another daughter who drowned in her bathtub suffering an epileptic seizure. Probably none of those deaths would have occurred in the United States today. (We don't have boiler explosions, and people who are badly burned are much more likely to survive. No one dies of diptheria. Very few people die of menigitis. And epilepsy is better controlled and most people take showers.)

    I've been to Mark Twain's house in Hartford Connecticut. It's a neat house. But I would never trade my brother's life for Mark Twain's house. And I have no doubt that Mark Twain would have gladly given up all his wealth for the life of *his* brother. Or his son. Or his daughters.

    I'm much more wealthy than Mark Twain ever was.

  • ||

    "Humans are quite adept at doing shit that goes directly against their "objective" or "rational" interests when emotions flare, loss of face is at issue, they are paranoid (e.g., the Germans before WWI, the South before the Civil War), etc."

    True. Which is why I still worry about Chinese ultra-nationalism in spite of the country's dependence on trade with Japan, America, etc. Though in terms of foreign trade as a percentage of national GDP, I think the level of interdependency existing right now between major economies is noticeably higher than it was in other eras.

    "China appears to be remedying this issue by exporting much of its excess male population to the U.S. and Europe."

    The way things are trending, China might have more than 150 million "excess males" within a couple of decades (it has about 75 million right now). Probably more than what America and Europe are willing to handle. India's situation could end up being nearly as bad.

  • ||

    Jennifer,
    The whole issue here may be, would you swap places with Elizabeth I?
    In other words, the world's population is on the cusp of giving a shit less about status; worrying about which nation is king of the hill.
    Rankism is one of the remaining prejudices that we are beginning to address.

  • ||

    I tried posting this once, and I got an "operation timed out" message. So I'll try again, and if this is a double posting I'm sorry.

    Ruthless-
    The world is on the verge of giving up rankism? Huh? What? Where are you getting this from?

    I remember reading, about a year ago, about a study concerning the relativity of money versus happiness. Say you have two people: one with a $50,000/yr salary in a town where the average pay is $25,000; the other making $100,000/yr in a town with an average salary of $200,000. All other things being equal, the guy making $50,000 is likely to be happier and more content with how he's done in life, even though the $100,000 man has a better life on a strictly material basis.

    Do you actually think that "Keeping up with the Joneses" is a phenomenon unique to modern suburban America, and has nothing to do with human nature in general?

    As to whether I would want to trade places with Elizabeth I or another of her rank and time--no. At my age, I am far too accustomed to this lifestyle, and could probably never be content with a world where my bed is crawling with bugs though the sheets be made of silk, and there's nothing safe to drink but ale, beer and wine, all of which I despise. For that matter, I live in such a clean and antiseptic world that my immune system, though strong enough to keep me healthy here, probably wouldn't last five minutes in sixteenth-century London.

    But if you could do some science-fiction parallel-universe thing where another version of my infant self is born to be a queen during the Renaissance, my Elizabethan counterpart would probably be far more happy and content with her world than I am with mine.

    Just as you would not likely be an anarchist, had your infant self been born Lord Ruthless, Fifth Earl of Bongwater-on-Sea, or some such exalted personage.

    So to reiterate: when I say that America is in decline, I mean that, while our real material wealth is likely to continue increasing, future Americans will NOT be citizens of the single most powerful nation on the planet; they will be citizens of a country on the second or third rung of the world power ladder.

    And though those Americans will be much richer than us, what with their vacation homes on Mars and their cavity-proof teeth and hundreds of other such luxuries that even Bill Gates and George Soros can't have now, the super-nationalistic, super-patriotic future Americans will view the late twentieth century as the Golden Age of America, despite the twentieth century's lesser material blessings and greater instances of injustice (i.e. institutionalized racism).

    I don't necessarily think this will be a bad thing; I just say it will.

  • ||

    Make that, "I don't mean it's a bad thing, I just say it will HAPPEN."

  • ||

    Eric II,

    Right now there are (as I have read) between five hundred thousand and a million Chinese living in France and France wants more of them (indeed that's one of the many reasons behind France and China's courtship efforts of late). I don't think its unreasonable to adopt the French government's figure of three to five million by 2050. Note that France is not in demographic decline (it is expected to increase its population by 10% over the next fifty years - to sixty-six million***), yet Germany is; thus it would make even more sense for Germany to accept more of these "excess" Chinese males.

    Anyway, China need not get rid of all those excess males; it need only get rid of enough so as to mitigate the problems related to their presence. And Europe need not accept all those males; it need only accept as many as it needs to deal with its own demographic issues.

    It seems readily apparent to me that immigration is a solution to a lot of the world's demographic problems, yet doom and gloomers of the right and left eschew or disparage this solution.

    *** Yes, I remember what I wrote about predictions more than ten years into the future. :)

  • ||

    Jennifer,
    I guess what I'm saying is that decline may someday be looked at as a good thing (Martha Stewart).
    For example, I think I'd love to live in Riga, Latvia.
    Don't you think most of the current residents of Riga view the idea underlying this thread as beneath commenting on?

  • ||

    Gary Gunnels,
    Open borders and places of refuge would be the solution to MOST of the worlds problems.

  • ||

    "I don't think its unreasonable to adopt the French government's figure of three to five million by 2050."

    Quite possible. And given all the challenges Europe is facing in assimilating its Arab minority, I can see why they'd want to encourage immigration from lands further east. Though even if all Western nations took in Chinese immigrants at the proportion that France is shooting for, and all of the immigrants were men, a meaningful surplus of men is still likely.

    Moreover, I think it's unreasonable to assume that any large-scale immigration won't include a decent number of women. Both because some women will want to emigrate, and because, regardless of their new country's attitudes towards interracial dating/marriage, many of the male emigrants will prefer to marry someone of their own ethnicity. And a greencard will tend to increase their marriage prospects back home - on that note, the explosive growth in marriages between men from Taiwan and Hong Kong and women from mainland China is worth considering.

  • Mark Bahner||

    Jennifer writes, "What I'm saying is that in a hundred years, Americans will probably be much richer than any of us here are now, thanks to fabulous technological advances, but America will NOT be king of the world anymore."

    In a hundred years, hydrocarbon-based human beings won't even be the dominant species on earth. A home computer now has the thinking capability of approximately a mouse. But by 2020-2030, a home computer will have the thinking capability of a human brain. And by 2100, a single home computer will have more thinking capability than all 6 billion hydrocarbon-based human brains now existing.

    So it's very likely that many human beings will increasingly "trade up" as the century rolls along, with more and more brain functions being handled by electronics. By the end of the century, those who still have entirely hydrocarbon brains will be like people today who live in cabins in the woods without electricity or running water.

    Given such a drastic change--that the hydrocarbon human brain will essentially become obsolete--it's pretty silly to be spending much time thinking about the position of the United States!

    As I point out on my website, money will also be essentially irrelevant by the end of this century. By the end of this century, the average per capita worldwide annual income will be over $20 million per year. So no one will have to work a day in their entire lives.

    Given that these changes are not only possible, but *probable,* it's pretty silly to think about what will happen to a silly concept like the U.S. government.

    Jennifer continues, "I'm wealthier in most ways than Elizabeth I of England, but do you think she'd be willing to trade places with me? Give up being the most powerful woman in the world in exchange for the very comfortable and luxurious life of a copyediting peasant in the twenty-first century?"

    Let's see...Elizabeth I was born in 1533. Her father (Henry VIII) had her mother's head chopped off when Elizabeth was 3 years old. ("Where's mommy?" "Mommy lost her head, darling, and won't be coming back.")

    Fifteen days after her mother was beheaded, her father married Jane Seymour. Jane Seymour died a year later. Three years after that, her father married Anne of Cleeves. But he divorced her 6 months later, and married Kathryn Howard that same year. Two years later, when Elizabeth was 9, her father had Kathryn Howard beheaded, and married Katherine Parr.

    Elizabeth I had three siblings...two half-sisters, and one half-brother. All died: Edward died of consumption (tuberculosis) at 16. Lady Jane Grey was executed by Elizabeth's other half-sister, Mary I ("Bloody Mary"). Mary I died of cancer at age 42, whereupon Elizabeth ascended to the throne (at age 25).

    Now, I don't know what your family life is like, but it's hard to imagine one worse than that!

    ;-)

    P.S. This is a pretty long piece about Elizabeth I's life before her coronation. I certainly don't see anything to envy in her life. What a mess!

    http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/eliz1.html

  • ||

    Eric II,

    My point is of course that there are mutually beneficial solutions to the problems that the nation-states of the world face (I must read like Roger Fisher) and I think the coming together of France and China is a good example of this.

    Mark Bahner,

    You are a snarky bastard. Keep it up. :)

  • ||

    Coincidentally, Jared Diamond, author of "Guns, Germs and Steel," has written on this very topic in today's New York Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/01/opinion/01diamond.html?oref=login

  • ||

    hey, there's more :D

    cheers!

  • Mark Bahner||

    "Coincidentally, Jared Diamond, author of "Guns, Germs and Steel," has written on this very topic in today's New York Times:"

    Leftist drivel. It's surpising how libertarians seem to respect Jared Diamond so much. He's basically clueless. For example:

    "But I draw hope from the knowledge that humanity's biggest problems today are ones entirely of our own making."

    I wonder if he wrote that before or after the tsunami (that will likely result in the deaths of more than 200,000 people)?

    "Asteroids hurtling at us beyond our control don't figure high on our list of imminent dangers."

    It was only about a week ago that an asteroid approximately 1 km in diameter was ruled out as possibly hitting the earth in 2029. Such an object would impact earth with the power of 60,000 Megaton bomb!

    http://www.astronomynotes.com/solfluf/s5.htm

    To give one a feel for that number, that's more energy than all the nuclear bombs currently existing on earth.

    "A genuine reappraisal would require us to recognize that it will be far less expensive and far more effective to address the underlying problems of public health, population and environment that ultimately cause threats to us to emerge in poor countries."

    As with any committed leftist, Jared Diamond doesn't even mention lack of **freedom** as one of the problems in any of the "poor countries."

    Diamond writes, "What lessons can we draw from history? The most straightforward: take environmental problems seriously. They destroyed societies in the past, and they are even more likely to do so now. If 6,000 Polynesians with stone tools were able to destroy Mangareva Island, consider what six billion people with metal tools and bulldozers are doing today."

    What a road of clap. Next thing you know, he'll be spouting I=PAT nonsense. Or quoting from from the Club of Rome's "Limits to Growth" and "Beyond the Limits" poppycock.

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

  • ||

    Mark Bahner,

    A proper warning system would have saved many if not most of those lives. As to asteroids, well, in the absence of proper planning, given the technology we have today, it is indeed our fault if we let one slam into the Earth.

    Diamond does go into some detail in his most famous work regarding "kleptocracies" and how they ruin the lives of their subjects (indeed, I believe he considers all governments to be kleptocracies - its just that some are worse than others).

  • Mark Bahner||

    Gary Gunnels writes (regarding the tsunami), "A proper warning system would have saved many if not most of those lives."

    That may be true, but it doesn't negate my point. The earthquake and tsunami can't possibly be regarded as a "problem entirely of our (humanity's) own making."

    "As to asteroids, well, in the absence of proper planning, given the technology we have today, it is indeed our fault if we let one slam into the Earth."

    Talk about "blaming the victim!" A 1 km asteroid has a mass of about 1.3 *billion* tons. We simply don't currently have the technology to deflect that sort of mass. All we can do now is to try to have as few people killed as possible. (Although if we knew that such a mass was not going to hit for another 30+ years, I suppose we could develop the technology to deflect it.)

    "Diamond does go into some detail in his most famous work regarding "kleptocracies" and how they ruin the lives of their subjects (indeed, I believe he considers all governments to be kleptocracies - its just that some are worse than others)."

    I haven't read it ("Guns, Germs, and Steel"). But again, I find it surprising how well libertarians seem to receive G.G.S., since it seems clear to me that Jared Diamond is basically just another leftist.

    Look how he remarks favorably on Britain become part of "united Europe." Look how he derides private schools and private pensions.

    Look how he espouses the B.S. that (over) "population" is a problem. Look how he does *not* mention a lack of freedom as being a problem in poor countries.

  • ||

    Mark-
    The tsunami was a horrifying catastrophe for the folks who went through it, but--as bad as it was--there's no way humanity as a whole will die off as a result of it. If civilization collapses and we enter a new dark age, it won't be due to a tsunami (unless you're talking about a tsunami caused by an asteroid landing in the ocean).

    Besides, the original point of this thread was whether or not America is in decline. As I've already said, I don't think America will be at the top of the world's totem pole a century from now, and the things that will knock us down a peg are indeed problems of our own making. We're too deeply in debt, our currency is being artificially propped up and will likely tumble sooner or later (some say this is already happening), and it remains to be seen whether an economy based entirely upon service and information (as opposed to tangible things people need or want to buy) can in the long run maintain a comfortable standard of living for its non-aristocratic people.

    And dismissing Diamond because "he's a leftist" is the classic example of an ad hominem argument. You were more convincing when you said that we'd all evolve into cyborgs before any current trends can become a problem.

  • Mark Bahner||

    Jennifer writes, "As I've already said, I don't think America will be at the top of the world's totem pole a century from now, and the things that will knock us down a peg are indeed problems of our own making."

    As I've already written: 1) the changes that are going to be happening in this century are going to be so dramatic, worrying about the "status" of the U.S. government hardly seems worthwhile, and 2) the U.S. has already "declined" in status, with respect to economics, since the end of the WWII.

    The simple fact is that Germany and Japan were essentially completely destroyed at the end of WWII, and now they have the same approximate level of prosperity as the U.S. It seems to me that only people who really hate Germans and Japanese could hold this "decline" by the U.S. to be a bad thing.

    "And dismissing Diamond because "he's a leftist" is the classic example of an ad hominem argument."

    Heh, heh, heh! Jennifer, calling someone a "leftist" isn't an "ad hominem" attack...any more than calling someone a "libertarian" is an "ad hominem" attack.

    I didn't dismiss Jared Diamond because he is a leftist, I dismissed Jared Diamond because of all of the silly things he wrote, e.g.:

    "To save ourselves, we don't need new technology: we just need the political will to face up to our problems of population and the environment."

    (Over) "population" is simply not a problem. Anyone who really bothered to analyze the matter could see that! The world population has grown PRECISELY as the world has gotten wealthier. And far from that wealth having any appearance of stopping, the logical conclusion from looking at the facts is that wealth will explode in the 21st century in a manner that *dwarfs* the increases of the 20th century.

    Likewise, the "environment" in developed countries has been improving for decades. Again, a simple *objective* review of facts shows that.

    And I also dismissed him because of the sensible things he *failed* to write, such as the patently obvious observation that one of the major problems in poor countries is a lack of freedom.

    It's not just a coincidence that there is a incredibly strong correlation between the *freedom* of countries (e.g., as measured by the Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation and others) and various countries' rankings according to the U.N. Human Development Index. That Jared Diamond fails to note this shows he really has no clue about what things (particularly freedom, especially including limited government and protection of private property) make societies successful.

  • ||

    Mark-
    Forgive my thinking you made an ad hominem attack, as you mentioned Diamond's position on private schools and a united Europe as examples of why any of his environmental positions are to be discounted.

    For all your talk of America's relative decline since World War Two--yes, the other countries have obviously improved, but America is still on top. I'm just saying we won't always be. Jared Diamond and cyborg citizenry aside, why are you so convinced this is not true?

  • Mark Bahner||

    Jennifer writes, "Forgive my thinking you made an ad hominem attack, as you mentioned Diamond's position on private schools and a united Europe as examples of why any of his environmental positions are to be discounted."

    Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer! I did no such thing. I wouldn't do such a thing, because it wouldn't be logical. As the (self proclaimed) King of Logic (for Southeast Durham) it would hurt my reputation to do that.

    What I *did* do was write that Jared Diamond's views on private schools and private pensions show he is a leftist.

    Separately from that, I pointed out that he is generally clueless about what causes societies to be successful and unsuccessful, since he doesn't mention freedom at all, and instead says,

    "To save ourselves, we don't need new technology: we just need the political will to face up to our problems of population and the environment."

    We don't have any problems of (over) population. And there are certainly no environmental problems in developed countries (e.g., the U.S.) that could possibly cause their societies to collapse.

    "For all your talk of America's relative decline since World War Two--yes, the other countries have obviously improved, but America is still on top."

    The only place where the U.S. is still definitely "on top" is militarily. And I don't see that changing anytime soon. (I think military strength around the world will continue to decline until they are essentially irrelevant by about 2050.)

    Economically, it's questionable whether the U.S. is indeed "on top." I think the Netherlands has a higher per-capita income than the U.S. And plenty of countries have fewer poor people than the U.S. (mainly because those countries are in Western Europe, and don't have a poor country like Mexico right on their border).

    But my point is that whether the U.S. is "on top" or in the "top 5" or "top 10" is essentially irrelevant. And it will become increasingly more irrelevant as the world gets richer. (And will be completely irrelevant circa about 2070, when money will no longer be relevant...i.e., no one will have to work a single day in their lives, if they choose not to.)

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