- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Rather than a particular data-point, today’s Decline Watch looks at some recent commentary from across the declinist spectrum.
First up, Pat Buchanan’s new book Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? It’s important to note that Buchanan answers his own question by limiting the concept of “America” to a country dominated by Christian white people. Talking Points Memo has some of the most outrageous quotes here. For example:
The white population will begin to shrink and, should present birth rates persist, slowly disappear. Hispanics already comprise 42 percent of New Mexico’s population, 37 percent of California’s, 38 percent of Texas’s, and over half the population of Arizona under the age of twenty. ……. Mexico is moving north. Ethnically, linguistically, and culturally, the verdict of 1848 is being overturned. Will this Mexican nation within a nation advance the goals of the Constitution—to “insure domestic tranquility” and “make us a more perfect union”? Or has our passivity in the face of this invasion imperiled our union?
Again with the rhetorical questions! We know you’re not actually asking us, Pat.
If you prefer your pessimism slightly less unhinged, head on over to the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Competitiveness Index. Switzerland took the top spot this year followed by Singapore, Sweden, and Finland. It’s not good news for Uncle Sam:
The United States continues the decline that began three years ago, falling one more position to 5th place. While many structural features continue to make its economy extremely productive, a number of escalating weaknesses have lowered the US ranking in recent years. US companies are highly sophisticated and innovative, supported by an excellent university system that collaborates admirably with the business sector in R&D. Combined with flexible labor markets and the scale opportunities afforded by the sheer size of its domestic economy—the largest in the world by far—these qualities continue to make the United States very competitive. On the other hand, there are some weaknesses in particular areas that have deepened since past assessments. The business community continues to be critical toward public and private institutions (39th). In particular, its trust in politicians is not strong (50th), it remains concerned about the government’s ability to maintain arms-length relationships with the private sector (50th), and it considers that the government spends its resources relatively wastefully (66th). In comparison with last year, policymaking is assessed as less transparent (50th) and regulation as more burdensome (58th).
A lack of macroeconomic stability continues to be the United States’ greatest area of weakness (90th). Over the past decade, the country has been running repeated fiscal deficits, leading to burgeoning levels of public indebtedness that are likely to weigh heavily on the country’s future growth. On a more positive note, after having declined for two years in a row, measures of financial market development are showing a hesitant recovery, improving from 31st last year to 22nd overall this year in that pillar.
FP blogger Clyde Prestowitz has more thoughts on the report, which he thinks is actually overly generous to the United States.
FP‘s Optimist columnist Charles Kenny has a compelling new piece arguing against a zero-sum view of economic competitiveness. The rise of the rest, he says, is all for the best:
Even if the causes and related impacts of growth varied, however, it is pretty clear that the United States was a beneficiary. In terms of national security, the list includes a number of countries that may have moved some distance further away from failed-state status thanks to their development performance. And a bad decade for the U.S. economy would have been even worse without these high-flying performers. In some cases, their expansion was built on growing exports of raw materials and oil that kept prices lower — for Americans and everyone else — than they otherwise would have been. In others, particularly China and India, it was built in part on the export of cheap goods and services to the American consumer. And in most cases, the growth created considerably larger markets for U.S. industry. According to data from the U.S. International Trade Administration, U.S. exports to the 19 fastest-growing economies grew approximately fivefold in current dollars between 2000 and 2010, to $119 billion.
I’m not sure even Kenny can match the gangbusters optimistim of Telegraph economics columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard who penned this Drudge-bait column yesterday, arguing that the increased energy output from technologies like hydrofracking and the narrowing of the U.S. China wage gap would lead to world power swinging back to America:
The switch in advantage to the US is relative. It does not imply a healthy US recovery. The global depression will grind on as much of the Western world tightens fiscal policy and slowly purges debt, and as China deflates its credit bubble.
Yet America retains a pack of trump cards, and not just in sixteen of the world’s top twenty universities.
It is almost the only economic power with a fertility rate above 2.0 – and therefore the ability to outgrow debt – in sharp contrast to the demographic decay awaiting Japan, China, Korea, Germany, Italy, and Russia.
Europe’s EMU soap opera has shown why it matters that America is a genuine nation, forged by shared language and the ancestral chords of memory over two centuries, with institutions that ultimately work and a real central bank able to back-stop the system.
The 21st Century may be American after all, just like the last.
Finally, America’s finest news source, The Onion, delivers this pitch-perfect parody of decline/recovery commentary:
WASHINGTON—With gasoline prices dropping a full 26 cents from where they were a month ago, a new era of confidence and hope washed over Americans this week, confirming the United States is once again the greatest nation in the world.
Arriving amidst an intractable 10-year military occupation of Afghanistan, the decreasing likelihood that workers will be able to retire at 65, and a wildly fluctuating stock market, today’s announcement that the national average price of self-serve regular has fallen to $3.39 verified that the worries of the past are now officially behind us, and that the U.S. stands alone as the world’s preeminent superpower.
“Finally, we have indisputable proof that America is back and absolutely better than ever,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told members of the press while pointing to a large board displaying the nation’s average prices for regular, plus, and premium petroleum. “This dip in gas prices marks the triumphant return not only of our economy and financial system, but of the supremacy of the American way of life itself. Though there were some dark times when we paid a few cents more per gallon, we’re now paying less, and that means everything is great again once more.”
“And to think any of us ever doubted the United States was the very best nation in existence,” Geithner added.