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United States Decline? Does The 21st Century Belong To China?


Guest Post: Steve Oravecz, former Political Editor and Columnist.

Is the United States on the decline? Was the 20th Century the American century, and does the 21st Century belong to China?

In today’s New York Times, Piers Brendon, a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and the author of  “The Decline and Fall of the British Empire,” sides with Vice President Biden, who is “being driven crazy because so many people are betting on American’s demise.”

Biden told Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr., “”From me you’re going to hear more,” he replied emphatically. “I want to tell you something, because if we cede the ground to those who suggest that — I don’t mean foreigners, I mean domestic critics — that somehow, we are destined to fulfill [historian Paul] Kennedy’s prophecy that we are going to be a great nation that has failed because we lost control of our economy and overextended, then we might as well throw it in now, for God’s sake. I mean it’s ridiculous.”

On he went: “Give me a break. So many people have bet on our demise that it absolutely drives me crazy. . . . There’s sort of an attitude that is both politically directed by our Republican friends but also believed by a fair number of people that we just can’t make this transition in the 21st century.

“We will continue to be the most significant and dominant influence in the world as long as our economy is strong, growing and responsive to 21st-century needs. And they relate to education, they relate to energy, and they relate to health care.”

Brendon says Kennedy argues “that the ascendancy of states or empires results from the superiority of their material resources, and that the wealth on which that dominance rests is eroded by the huge military expenditures needed to sustain national or imperial power, leading inexorably to its decline and fall. The thesis seems a tad schematic, but Professor Kennedy maintains it with dazzling cogency.”

Brendon goes on to compare America with the Roman Empire and British Empire, which he calls a “weak empire.” He says the differences between America and them are “palpable.”

Did Brendon actually read Kennedy’s book?

Brendon only got if half right. Kennedy says great European powers since 1500 declined for two reasons. Brendon got one right – huge military expenditures sap the empire’s wealth. But he ignored the other, the switch from a manufacturing economy to one dominated by finance.

Brendon says, “United Stateshas an enormous industrial base, producing nearly a quarter of the world’s manufactured goods, and dominates the relatively new invention of the service economy.” Yes, the industrial base is still huge, but it is under tremendous strain as jobs are outsourced to India,China and whatever other country will pay drastically lower wages that Americans need to maintain a middle class lifestyle. And the current depression was largely brought on by Wall Street and represents the results of the financialization of the American economy. Does anyone want to discuss derivatives?

As far as I can tell, America is repeating the history of the other great European powers since 1500 – despite Kennedy’s warning. If America wants to remain a superpower, it must reign in Wall Street – which does not create wealth – and revive its manufacturing sector —  which does.

Biden should stop whining and make sure he and President Obama lead the charge to regulate Wall Street and come up with an even stronger jobs program that focuses on steel, autos and electronics – not just alternative energy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. elecpencil permalink
    02/28/2010 11:34 am

    I couldn’t agree more and we need to pressure Obama to listen. Clinton didn’t listen to voices against NAFTA and GATT and I’m afraid Obama will be the same.

  2. 03/02/2010 4:25 pm

    Obama is getting failing marks from progressives. Unfortunately, I think the US in decline is a frighteningly possible reality. US politics is geared toward distraction and inaction. Most any actions are really reactions. Furthermore, special interests are pretty good at orchestrating “issues” which I think is a case in point for the tea bagggers.

    Is that really a significant movement or just so much astroturf? Are they the equivalent of the Chinese government’s 50-centers

    Quite frankly, I think there are loads of people similar to the 50 Centers whether they are paid or unpaid who work to sabotage free dialogue on the internet: as any post on an un popular topic will show. I can post about the BBC closing radio stations with no comments and then make a post on today’s supreme court case and be swamped.

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