Call it America's Age of Angst. The buzz of negativity seems to be everywhere. DECLINE AND FALL: WHEN THE AMERICAN EMPIRE GOES, IT IS LIKELY TO GO QUICKLY reads the cover headline for British historian Niall Ferguson's article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Faced with an unemployment rate near 10 percent, a ballooning deficit, and a grueling partisan battle over health-care reform, both President Barack Obama and his Republican critics in Congress are complaining loudly about the government's inability to get things done. In the meantime, there's a growing sense that others—here, China is always first on the list—are steadily chipping away at America's leadership position in the world. The messages from the White House are somewhat schizophrenic. In his State of the Union Message, Obama expressed frustration about the gridlock in Washington. … While claiming that he will not accept second place for the United States, he made it sound like that's where the country is heading if it doesn't change course. Vice President Joe Biden, who is dependably blunt, echoed that sentiment, charging that "Washington right now is broken." But in an interview with Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, he also lashed out at the "ridiculous" talk of America's decline. "Give me a break," he complained. … But this time, the anxiety seems like more than a feeling. It is more deeply rooted in concerns about long-term trends, and warning lights are flashing in several places. It's harder now to shrug off the America-in-decline theories than ever before. – Newsweek
Dominant Social Theme: Not much to do but mourn.
Free-Market Analysis: As a newspaper devoted to analyzing dominant social themes, the Daily Bell occasionally turns to Newsweek to mine some of the best promotional presentations available. Newsweek, long affiliated with the Washington Post – the crown jewel of establishment newspapers – never misses the opportunity to offer up elite memes with confident and robust prose. This article, commenting on an article in Foreign Affairs no less (perhaps the journal that stands at the forefront of elite promotional reporting), offers up all the expected talking points and then some. In fact, the idea of the US as a country/empire in terminal decline is itself a dominant social theme, in our opinion.
Why would the Anglo-American power elite want to convince Americans that their country is on the way down? Because the elite is apparently after global consolidation and if Americans are convinced that the US is finished, they may be more amenable to joining forces with, say, Canada and Mexico in a super-state. This sounds strange to some, but remember, please, that the Bush administration, a so-called conservative administration, attempted basically to begin a merger of America and Mexico by legislative means only a few years ago. In Texas, Republican Governor Rick Perry spent a good deal of time in the mid-2000s trying to push forward a trans-continental superhighway between Mexico and Canada that would have cut America in two.
This Newsweek article, in any case, makes plenty of promotional points. It presents the case that America is going down, that nothing much can be done about it, that America's fate is basically the fate of all empires and that in any event, the lifecycle of nations is similar to the lifecycle of, say, trees – they grow to the sky and then eventually they die and tumble to earth. Here's some more from the article:
In his Foreign Affairs article, Ferguson points to two of the most troubling trends. According to one projection by the Congressional Budget Office, America's public debt could skyrocket from 44 percent of GDP before the 2008 financial crisis to 716 percent in 2080. If legislative reforms don't expand the size of government, the CBO dials the projection back to 280 percent. Hardly reassuring either way. As are the projections Ferguson cites about China's GDP overtaking U.S. GDP by either 2027 or 2040, depending on which calculation you choose. And India, he notes, is projected to overtake the U.S. in 2050.
The opinion pages are full of self-flagellation and unflattering comparisons. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman described walking through Los Angeles International Airport and noticing how shoddy it looks, despite periodic attempts to cover up its aging. "In some ways LAX is us," he wrote. "We are the United States of Deferred Maintenance. China is the People's Republic of Deferred Gratification. They save, invest and build. We spend, borrow and patch."
Even in the high-tech fields where America has traditionally led the way things seem grim—especially regarding government institutions and infrastructure. "The United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing. It's that simple," warned Mike McConnell, President Bush's director of national intelligence, in The Washington Post. "As the most wired nation on Earth, we offer the most targets of significance, yet our cyber- defenses are woefully lacking."
There's plenty of anecdotal evidence of America's shortening shadow, too. The EastWest Institute, my current employer, holds a Worldwide Security Conference in Brussels every winter. In 2009, almost every session was dominated by speculation about what the Obama administration would do. This year, discussions on major topics like Afghanistan and cybersecurity included mentions of the United States, of course, but frequently the focus was on regional players with little reference to Washington at all. The group seemed simply to understand that Obama is too preoccupied with domestic problems to deliver on his earlier promises of intensive international engagement.
There's even something in the air. Malcolm Beith, a former NEWSWEEK colleague who holds dual British and American citizenship, dropped in on me recently. After a long stint in New York, he spent the last couple of years in Mexico City as the editor of a local English-language newspaper. "New York reminds me much more of London now," he observed. "It seems humbled." Humbled by the financial crisis and, perhaps, and by the sense that it no longer is quite as much the center of the universe as most New Yorkers like to imagine.
Ugh … The above contains all the logical fallacies we are used to associating with the mainstream press, especially in support of the power elite's dominant social themes.
To begin with there are citations of America's soaring debt. Well who on earth is responsible for it? Average Americans? Not likely. The debt is the result of out-of-control spending by the federal government at the behest of both political parties – and in service of a corrupt ruling class, in our estimation.
Then there is the mention of the Los Angeles airport. Of course it's increasingly shoddy looking. It's owned by the city of LA and both the city and state are broke. There's another reason: the federal government is making air-travel as difficult as possible in pursuit of the mirage of absolute passenger safety, and facilities often reflect the commercial state of the larger businesses that they support. Cities do, too. Take a look at Detroit, where they are considering turning large parts of the municipality into wilds.
There's the meretricious comment by Friedman that the Chinese "save" while Americans "spend." Not so. Left to their own devices, people mostly take care of themselves. They organize community structures to take care of the poor and religious institutions to enforce morality through shame-based mechanisms. There is no difference, in this regard, between Chinese and American people. America is simply at a more advanced stage of decrepitude because its elites have had more time to be destructive.
The article mentions high tech, and then points out that America is no longer a leader here because it is losing the cyber security race. Well, here's hoping that the cyber-security "race" is thoroughly fumbled. Let the Chinese and Russian governments move ahead aggressively with government programs to secure their networks. Soon the people using those networks will find that the security is a poisoned chalice, aimed not at protecting then from overseas enemies but at restricting THEIR access to the Internet. If security is necessary, trust the private sector to find a solution. It would – but that's probably the last thing the US military industrial complex wants the public to realize.
In a recent conference, both "Washington" and Barack Obama received short shrift. Again, Newsweek sees this as a negative, but we don't. For us this is a positive development, certainly from a free-market standpoint. The less meddling the world's number one meddler does, the less wars, regulatory turf fights and other kinds of misery are likely inflicted on innocent parts of the globe. America was founded on the Jeffersonian concept of trading with overseas partners, not interfering militarily or in other ways but those precepts seem to have been discarded.
Basically, the problem with this Newsweek article, like the Foreign Affairs article it is promoting, is that it conflates individual human action with the actions and prestige of the nation state. Like certain talk show hosts and politicians that like to address "America," ("Hey, America, thanks for watching/caring!") the article muddles individual human beings with the real-estate upon which they reside. While an argument can be made for individual culture and idiosyncratic regional identifiers, one wonders at this point how much is truly left in America that is genuine, original and market-based. Much of America, the nation-state, is corporate oriented and so restrained by regulatory democracy that it has been deformed beyond recognition.
Yes, perhaps there is an America beyond what Newsweek describes, but it exists in gray markets beyond the reach of government, in whispered conversations where people gather to question what cannot be spoken out loud anymore – the bloody waste of endless, serial, overseas warfare, the problems with the 9/11 official story, the difficulties with the economy and increasingly worthless fiat money, the lack of jobs, the political corruption and tax gouging, etc.
America needs honest money – gold and silver – and a return to an entrepreneurial culture. Discontinue public schooling and cut the school year back so children can learn skills at home and via community involvement. Pare back government involvement and state media interference so people understand that it is their own human action that builds their futures not government actions. Generally reduce government's heavy hand as much as possible and make it more difficult for the power elite to use the color of government authority to achieve their own mercantilist goals. Then watch the rebirth of America. The empire may fail. But that doesn't mean the average human being has to.