Is America really in decline?
This question seems to be popping up with more frequency. The latest comes from Rick Newman from U.S. News & World Report. In an article entitled Nine Signs of America in Decline, he begins this way:
The sky isn’t falling, exactly. America isn’t on a fast track to irrelevance. Even in a state of total neglect, we could probably shamble along as a disheveled superpower for a few more decades.
But all empires end, and the warning signs of American decline seem to be blinking more consistently.
The article is filled with links (for those who want to really dive deeply into this discouraging scenario), including “4 problems that could sink America: we don’t like to work, nobody wants to sacrifice, and we’re uninformed.”
Spiegel International trains its sights on our middle class in an article entitled: America’s Middle Class Has Become Globalization’s Loser by Gabor Steingart.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States is still a superpower. But it’s a superpower facing competition from beyond its borders as well as internal difficulties. Its lower and middle classes are turning out to be the losers of globalization.
This article is one of a series of excerpts from the new book “World War for Wealth: The Global Grab for Power and Prosperity” by Spiegel editor Gabor Steingart.
There have been many warning signs through the years.
David Halberstam’s book, The Reckoning, warned about softness in America compared to a more energetic work ethic, born of hunger, in countries on the ascendancy.
Technology has taken so many, many jobs away from those with education that stops before a college degree. And Fareed Zakaria wrote The Post-American World, in which he argued that it’s not so much America in decline as it is that the rest of the world is rising. Here’s an excerpt:
This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else. It is about the great transformation taking place around the world, a transformation that, although often discussed, remains poorly understood…
Look around. The tallest building in the world in now in Taipei, and it will soon be overtaken by one being built in Dubai. The world’s richest man is Mexican, and its largest publicly traded corporation is Chinese. The world’s biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, its leading refinery is under construction in India, and its largest factories are all in China. London is becoming the leading financial center, and the United Arab Emirates is home to the most richly endowed investment fund. Once quintessentially American icons have been appropriated by foreigners. The world’s largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. Its number one casino is not in Las Vegas but in Macao, which has also overtaken Vegas in annual gambling revenues. The biggest movie industry, in terms of both movies made and tickets sold, is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Even shopping, America’s greatest sporting activity, has gone global. Of the top ten malls in the world, only one is in the United States: the world’s biggest is in Beijing. Such lists are arbitrary, but it is striking that only ten years ago, American was at the top in many, if not most, of these categories.
Let me be so bold as to offer a couple of my own observations.
1) We’re developed, the others are developing.
Developing is more exciting, and more “profitable,” than “developed.” Growth rates are higher, excitement is higher, and developing spurs ever more growth rates while developing.
The signs are all around us. Mary Kay, McDonald’s…, company after company is finding more growth across the world than they can find in America. America is “grown.” The rest of the world is “growing.” We built our Interstate Highway System long ago. The growth that brought our country was massive. Other countries are now building their highway systems (I use this literally and figuratively), and their growth will be massive. Developing is exciting – developed is stable. And, ironically, stable is not as exciting as developing.
2) The jobless recovery could become a permanent high-percentage jobless economy.
This is truly worrisome. There is plenty being written about this. The problem is simple: what we used to call “blue collar jobs” have disappeared in huge numbers. For example, it used to take hundreds of strong “men” to unload a ship at a port – not it takes a dozen people at a computer terminal with robotic technology loading and unloading containers. These hundreds of men have nowhere else to go to find the work they were qualified/trained to do. Education is critical, and America is not growing in our educational excellence. Many warn that we are falling behind.
Here’s a line from the Spiegel book excerpt:
The new jobs were created elsewhere, which had to have an effect on family income in the United States.
If we do not re-train our work force, and innovate our ways into brand new jobs yet unseen, this will grow from being a big problem to a huge, huge problem.
Thomas Freidman wrote, in Hot, Flat, and Crowded, that in many places in other parts of the world there are too many Americans – too many wanting to modernize, with modern appliances, modern technology, with cars and affluence.
In other words, they are developing – we are developed.
I think the solution will lie in the American ability to be bold, daring, innovative – to be American. We have to out-America the rest of the world. I think we will, but our work is cut out for us.