Economics

Apocalypse Forever

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Convinced America is going into the shitter? Tempted to buy into the recent rise of rise-and-fallism? Make sure you first read this great little World Affairs Journal survey by Georgetown professor Robert Lieber of retrospectively inaccurate and sometimes comical American "declinism." A sample:

It was in the 1970s that declinism began to take on its modern features, following America's buffeting by oil shocks and deep recessions, a humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam, victories by Soviet-backed regimes or insurgent movements in Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia, and revolution in Iran along with the seizure of the U.S. embassy there. A 1970 book by Andrew Hacker also announced The End of the American Era. At the end of the decade, Jimmy Carter seemed to give a presidential stamp of approval to Hacker's diagnosis when he used concerns about a flagging American economy, inflation, recession, and unemployment as talking points in his famous "malaise" speech calling for diminished national expectations.

By the early 1980s, declinism had become a form of historical chic. In 1987, David Calleo's Beyond American Hegemony summoned the U.S. to come to terms with a more pluralistic world. In the same year, Paul Kennedy published what at the time was greeted as the summa theologica of the declinist movement-The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, in which the author implied that the cycle of rise and decline experienced in the past by the empires of Spain and Great Britain could now be discerned in the "imperial overstretch" of the United States. But Kennedy had bought in at the top: within two years of his pessimistic prediction, the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union in collapse, the Japanese economic miracle entering a trough of its own, and U.S. competitiveness and job creation far outpacing its European and Asian competitors.

Link via Opinion L.A.

NEXT: Ceci n'est pas une movement

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  1. But this time isn’t like all the other times! BusHitler! Glaciers melting! High oil prices! Dollar falling! Panic!

    Things are so bad that the price of exclamation points is going through the roof. This post cost me a fortune.

  2. Our system does seem to be self-correcting. The competition of the factions, combined with our system of checks and balances, often does seem to lead to adjustment and adaptation, just when we think we’re going down the crapper.

    But you know what? That self-correction had pretty kick in pretty soon. Because things really aren’t looking so great right now.

  3. Sorry, “had better kick in pretty soon”

  4. jbd,

    Can we at least KNOW we are in a recession before we start worrying about the upturn taking too long?

    I have a feeling we will be out of the recession just about the time we discover that it technically is one.

  5. On the economic side, I think the declinists tend to obsess about the destruction side of creative destruction, because it is usually more apparent now in concentrated, obvious ways, with the creative side not making itself felt into the future, in more diffuse, less obvious ways.

    On the political side, well, its always easier to see the flaws in your own guys, and forget that the other guys are just as stupid and corrupt, if not moreso.

  6. I hope there won’t be American Hegemony for all eternity. It’d be pretty sad if the rest of the world stayed so poor and unproductive that a country like India with over 1 billion people never had as much wealth and power as a country with 300 million.

  7. Make no doubt about it dude. America is coming apart at the seems. I would NOT keep cash in the banks that is for sure.

    JT
    http://www.FireMe.to/udi

  8. On the economic side, as long as things are still getting destroyed, we’re fine. When we are driving the same cars, using the same computers, etc. as we were 10 or 20 years ago, we can say we’re in decline. Declining societies, by virtue of disaster, dissolution, or slow oppression, can’t replace capital.

  9. Are Jimmy’s posts written by a retarded bot?

  10. some fed: I’m driving a ’94 Saab. I guess I’m in decline.

  11. Jesus H, someone said hes a keylogger bot.

    Someone do a turing test.

  12. People always point to the Roman empire as some example of decline to parallel America. But the people who do that really don’t know much about Rome. When Rome was at its peak of power and vitality was when it had its most vocal internal critics. If you just read Tacitus, who wrote at the height of Roman power, you think the Rome was on its way to the dustbin of history. In contrast, the writers in later periods who wrote when Rome really was on its way to the dust bin of history do nothing but praise and talk about how powerful and wonderful Rome was. In some ways, gloom and doom is a sign of strength and confidence and over outward optimism a sign of weakness. See the rediculous propeganda put out by places like North Korea for another example of this.

  13. John, I don’t hear much doom and gloom from our politicians. I always hear America is the best, America is #1, greatest nation in the world, etc etc. Anyone who says otherwise never gets elected.

  14. But Declinism isn’t the only problem we face.

    We also face Impossibility-of-Declinism.

    Impossibility-of-Declinism is the political theory [if we can dignify it by calling it a theory] that because we’re ‘Murika, it is impossible for us to decline, regardless of the policies we pursue, because we’re just too special and too cool and because we’re the Greatest Country In The World and blah blah blah.

    If we pursue the right policies we will thrive. If we pursue the wrong policies we will fail. If there is a Kennedyesque “cycle” out there in the historical record, it’s because nations that are on top face huge temptations to pursue the wrong policies, and up to this point they have always given in to those temptations. Maybe we will too; maybe we won’t. But it makes it more likely we will if you run around saying, “Those people who say our policy choices are wrong are just stupid Declinists.”

  15. “John, I don’t hear much doom and gloom from our politicians. I always hear America is the best, America is #1, greatest nation in the world, etc etc. Anyone who says otherwise never gets elected.”

    That is any politician. You can’t get elected talking about how much the voters and the country sucks, although a few liberal dems and pissed off evangelicals have tried. I thinking more about society in general. Further, how many politicians, after they have left office, have written books about how horrible things are because no one made them king? A lot.

  16. I think our position in the world isn’t as strong as it was right at the end of the Cold War, but that has more to do with other countries becoming stronger not necessarily the United States becoming weaker.

  17. People also tend to think that China and India rising equates to our decline. Not so.

    Also, nukes kind of change the equation. Can tribes of VisiCanadians and Mexigoths really pillage D.C. when even the most decrepit President and bomb the crap out of them?

  18. “Also, nukes kind of change the equation. Can tribes of VisiCanadians and Mexigoths really pillage D.C. when even the most decrepit President and bomb the crap out of them?”

    No. They will just come and sell us our drugs and clean our houses for us.

  19. Al Qaeda has managed to pull off some pretty impressive “raids” despite our nukes.

    Nukes are useless unless you’re a madman.

  20. One of the reasons that “America is #1” is that we often institute idiotic policy that will fail, but we tend to do it at slower and more reduced rates than the rest of the world. Our health system is fucked up, but not as fucked up as say Britain or Canada. Our regulatory structure is overbearing, but not as overbearing as the EU’s. One thing we took the lead in was the WOD, but almost everybody else has followed our lead completely.

    We’re basically sucking the least in a lot of ways. As long as we continue to do that, we will stay at #1.

  21. Episiarch, I agree. I like to say that this is the place that sucks the least, rather than the YEAH WE’RE NUMBER 1!!! stuff.

  22. Gibbon was full of shit and caused 200+ years of people to completely misread the fall of Rome.

  23. “Our health system is fucked up, but not as fucked up as say Britain or Canada.”

    Epi
    I see your point but I think that the truth of this statement depends on who you are or how situated you are. If you are one of the millions of uninsured I’m sure you’d find England or Canada’s system to be preferable (or for that matter France’s which is probably better than them all).

  24. If however you are someone with kick ass coverage (like me, hey what can I say, the market rewards those with virtue) then a system like Britian’s would be an overall loser.

    My point is that when you say a system is good or better it’s probably a good idea to think of “for whom.” I think its utopianism to assume that healtch care system x or y is “the best for everyone.” (I’m not saying you were saying that btw)

  25. MNG the French system is on the verge of bankruptcy. Try harder.

  26. “Gibbon was full of shit and caused 200+ years of people to completely misread the fall of Rome.”

    I agree to an exetent. He had it out for Eastern Rome and pretty much set out to show how the Eastern Orthadox Greeks were depraved morons who destroyed themselves. He is really unfair to the Byantines. I would reccomend John Julius Norwich’s three volume history of the Byznatine Empire long before I would recomend Gibbon. Norwitch is a lot more fair minded and tells a hell of a story.

  27. MNG, we can nitpick over health care but my overall point is that in general we tend to suck less at important things than other countries and this maintains our dominance.

    I think its utopianism to assume that healtch care system

    “I’m an obtuse man, so I’ll try to be oblique. Your illiteracy has made me the whipping boy of this school district. I attended the school board meeting this morning, and they all had their little laugh. It was a feeding frenzy of cackling hyenas, and I was the wildebeest carcass.”

  28. John,

    I’ll check it out. In general, I have issues with any treatment of the Fall of Rome that glosses over the Sassanids. They have been relatively ignored by western scholars for several reasons, but I think we clearly a major, factor explaining the fall.

  29. Epi

    My spelling does at times border on the retarded, the latter a problem which H & R is trying to address.

    “We’re doing our best to weed them out, but some of these retards are extremely clever.”

  30. “Don’t know mcuh about no rise and fall. Don’t know much about nothing at all.”

  31. Epi-
    With the exception of certain skyscrapers…..

  32. We may have our differences, MNG, but SWC can always bring us together.

    “Befriending new people can lead to having sex with your children, accidentally.”

  33. In 1987, David Calleo’s Beyond American Hegemony

    Heh, we’re at least twice as hegemonic in 2008.

  34. “Heh, we’re at least twice as hegemonic in 2008.”

    Yeah, but less than in 1992.

  35. What most here seem to address is (1) political/military power and (2) relative positioning as opposed to other countries.

    The first seems totally irrelevant to the sane, as long as we’re not talking outright destruction.

    The second is not really that important to quality of life. If your standards decline absolutely speaking (which, in most of the West they arguably do), you shouldn’t get too much of a kick out of knowing that they’re still even poorer in Sri Lanka.

  36. If your standards decline absolutely speaking (which, in most of the West they arguably do)

    Ove what time period do you think living standards have declined in absolute terms in the developed West, bernd?

  37. I’d say that ‘real outcomes’ in terms of

    (1) Prices of average consumption, though not necessarily a very ‘carefully’ chosen CPI, have grown more than incomes for at least two years.

    (2) ‘Safely’ achievable interest for long term savings have been increasingly losing out against money supply expansion for quite a while.

    That standards of living in the extremely short term sense of “stuff at my disposal right now” are probably admittedly still going up, but at least the US and the UK seem to finance that by confusing credit cards with money they own.

  38. Oh, and my sample size on the last ones is the highly subjective perception of my friends & acquaintences, so meh. But they’re neither losers nor whiners and a lot keep good private books; so I guess I’ll trust that as much as any official CPI.

  39. Anybody who buys into declinist philosophy has bought the Marxian lie that history — and therefore the future — is inevitable.
    We mold the future. It does not mold us.

  40. Episiarch- that sounded like S J Perelman.

    Yes?

  41. Episiarch- that sounded like S J Perelman.

    No. Strangers With Candy.

  42. We mold the future. It does not mold us.

    Amen, brother.

  43. If you are one of the millions of uninsured I’m sure you’d find England or Canada’s system to be preferable (or for that matter France’s which is probably better than them all).

    If you’re one of Mugabe’s generals, Zimbabwe’s economic and political system kicks ass. Does that mean that it is incorrect to say that the US system is superior to Zimbabwe’s?

  44. Matt Welch,

    Are you trying to say that because previous predictions of decline have failed to come true, current ones must not be true either? While that may offer cosmos and liberals a comforting nite-lite, that would imply that America can never decline, which is absurd.

    Predictions should be judged on their own merits.

  45. As I understand it, the fall of the Roman Empire happend because their currency was so devalued that its infrastructure could no longer be maintained and for at least the 1st 200 years of the Empire there were hardly any inovations to speak of. I read an abridged version of DFRE, and it looked to me like he was blaming Christianity in general for turning the Emire into a bunch of pacifistic pussies threby rendering the Eimpire too impotent to defend itself.

  46. If you are one of the millions of uninsured I’m sure you’d find England or Canada’s system to be preferable

    Actually, I know several Canadians who chose to be uninsured in the U.S. over to “Universal” health care in Canada.

    When your choice is:

    Get the most advanced cancer treatment right away in the U.S., worry about the bills later.

    or

    Stay in Canada, go on a waiting list for a few months, after which time your cancer will be too advanced for treatment.

    many people will choose the first option.

    And ironically, they will never pay their bills in the U.S., which means that they are getting more free health care as a guest in the U.S. than they would under the “universal” system in their own country.

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