U.S. ‘decline’ greatly exaggerated, some experts say
For more than a decade now, economists have predicted that China is poised to eventually become the world’s largest economy.
And the emerging India already has a middle-class population larger than the entire United States population combined. Which have many wondering; how does the growth of these countries affect the United States as the world’s premier super power, as it moves well into the 21st century?
After all, this is not the first time America has seen war, protest, high unemployment or a recession. And by population, it’s the third largest in the world, and it boasts the most racially and culturally diverse society in history.
“It is quite common to think our time is unique or special in some way. Truth is, it’s probably not” said Dr. Kyle Scott, a visiting assistant professor of Political Science at Duke University. “It is possible that our time is unique, and the changes the nation is going through signal the beginning of American decline. But it is also possible that Chicken Little is jumping the gun a bit in that the U.S. is capable of turning things around.
“Relative to the rest of the world America is doing well, and it is important that we go through periods such as this to keep us vigorous and attentive. When times are good, we get lazy and weak. When times are rough we are forced to reconsider and define what it is we stand for a take positive action to move things in that direction.”
It’s no secret that China and India have vast economies, each with state-of-the-art technological centers on par with the United States. But according to the CIA’s World Factbook, they are also ranked 125th and 162nd, respectively, in GDP per capita, lacking clean water and safe food for too many citizens.
Both face massive environmental and infrastructural challenges within the next decade. And neither country is in range of providing an American level of services to its citizenry, much less the comfortable level typical of flourishing Northern European economies.
“The American Dream has always been based on the assumption that the future will be better than the past — that’s why this prolonged recession is such a collective issue for us,” said Margaret J. King, Ph.D., director for The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis in Philadelphia.
In 2008, the U.S. National Intelligence Council admitted for the first time that America’s global power was indeed on a declining trajectory. In one of its periodic futuristic reports, Global Trends 2025, the Council cited “the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way, roughly from West to East” and “without precedent in modern history,” as the primary factor in the decline of the “United States’ relative strength — even in the military realm.” Like many in Washington, however, the Council’s analysts anticipated a very long, very soft landing for American global preeminence, and harbored the hope that somehow the U.S. would long “retain unique military capabilities … to project military power globally” for decades to come.
On the contrary, other economist argue that the deep cultural dimensions of globalization and innovation, will remain rigged in America’s favor, with other nations not being able or even willing to catch up. And many societies in East and South Asia are confronting ambivalence and resistance to developments that Americans see as progress, because of views that traditionalists see as moral and social decline.
Iran and Pakistan are just two examples of nations whose rapid modernization was undercut by underlying reactionary cultural forces. But current trends of cultural environment are indicators of the growth and development of a country.
“In terms of the future of America, there are reasons for optimism,” said Doug Noll, the author of “Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts.” “Fundamentally, as long as we maintain the Constitution without significant power imbalances and as long as we protect the Bill of Rights, we will prosper.”
According to Henry R. Nau, The Myth of America’s decline: leading the world economy into the 1990s,for today’s emerging economies to become long-term giants, rather than variations of prerevolutionary Iran and the Soviet Union, they must first become more economically and socially integrated. And to become economically integrated, they must become culturally integrated, which means a host of conflicts are on the horizon regarding varying societal views on change, tradition, materialism, social mobility, openness, patronage and so on.
Challenging the pessimists who focus only on the decline of American power, Nau argues that outcomes depend much more on how America defines its political identity or national purposes in the world community and what specific economic policies it chooses. In recent years, America has projected a more self-confident political identity, anchoring an unprecedented trend even in the communist world towards freer political institutions; and future American economic policy choices, especially the need to reduce the budget deficit, still hold the key to preserving and enhancing what considerable power the United States retains.
“Eastern nations may in time become better than the West at the freewheeling socioeconomics that America and the rest of the West invented, but not without considerable social turmoil,” wrote political writer and commentator Rob Asghar to CNN.com. “A true taste for innovation and adaptation will result only from a vigorous clash between individualistic impulses and communitarian ones — clashes that will take decades to play out, with uncertain outcomes.”
“Americans may block their own path and sabotage their own cultural tilt toward innovative growth if political dysfunction continues. But with even some sensible reform of the political system, a resilient, forward-thinking and forward-moving economy should result.”
For more than a century America has been at the forefront of commercial and cultural globalization. And the driving force has been the collective desire to exercise the freedom of creating and capitalizing on opportunities. The result has been an unparalleled ability to advance technologically, to industrialize and to become the number one global economy.
“We have huge resources, an innovative workforce, and a large protected land mass,” said Noll. “The pressing needs for the future include making sure that every child has food, shelter and safety, is well-educated, and has economic and social opportunity. We must revert back to teaching critical thinking through science, mathematics, and language skills so that our children can deal with the ambiguity and complexity of the modern world.”
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.