T Nation

American Power Is On The Wane


Professor Paul Kennedy in today's Wall Street Journal:

"So while today's Russia, China, Latin America, Japan and the Middle East may be suffering setbacks, the biggest loser is understood to be Uncle Sam. For the rest of the world, that is the grand consolation! By what logic, though, should America lose more ground in the years to come than other nations, except on the vague proposition that the taller you stand, the further you fall?

The first reason, surely, is the U.S.'s truly exceptional budgetary and trade deficits. There is nothing else in the world like them in absolute measures and, even when calculated in proportion to national income, the percentages look closer to those you might expect from Iceland or some poorly run Third World economy. To my mind, the projected U.S. fiscal deficits for 2009 and beyond are scary, and I am amazed that so few congressmen recognize the fact as they collectively stampede towards the door entitled "fiscal stimulus."

The planned imbalances are worrying for three reasons. The first is because the total projections have been changing so fast, always in a gloomier direction. I have never, in 40 years of reading into the economics of the Great Powers, seen the figures moved so often, and in such vast proportions. Clearly, some people do believe that Washington is simply a printing machine.
Never mind, I am told, the foreigners will pay gladly for that paper. This notion makes me queasy. In the first place, it is (without its advocates ever acknowledging it) a dreadful sign of America's relative decline. If you have seen Clint Eastwood's poignant war movie "Flags of Our Fathers," you also will have been stirred by the scenes where the three bewildered Iwo Jima veterans are dragged all over the country to beg the cheering audiences: "Buy American Bonds!" It's uncomfortable all right, but there was one massive consolation. The U.S. government, fully converted to Keynesianism, was asking its citizens to dig into their own hoarded savings to help sustain the war effort. Who else, after all, could buy? A near-bankrupt British Empire? A war-torn China? The Axis? The Soviet Union? How fortunate it was that World War II doubled U.S. GDP, and the savings were there.
As I suggested at that time, a strong person, balanced and muscular, can carry an impressively heavy backpack uphill for a long while. But if that person is losing strength (economic problems), and the weight of the burden remains heavy or even increases (the Bush doctrine), and the terrain becomes more difficult (rise of new Great Powers, international terrorism, failed states), then the once-strong hiker begins to slow and stumble. That is precisely when nimbler, less heavily burdened walkers get closer, draw abreast, and perhaps move ahead.
In this focus upon chronic fiscal deficits and military overstretch, certain positive measures of American strength tend to get pushed into the shadows (and perhaps should be given more light at another time). This country possesses tremendous advantages compared to other great powers in its demographics, its land-to-people ratio, its raw materials, its research universities and laboratories, its flexible work force, etc. These strengths have been overshadowed during a near-decade of political irresponsibility in Washington, rampant greed on Wall Street and its outliers, and excessive military ventures abroad.

Things could have gone better, although that is not to argue that America can return to the preeminence it held in, say, President Dwight Eisenhower's day. The global tectonic power shifts, towards Asia and away from the West, seem hard to reverse. But sensible policies agreed to by the U.S. Congress and the White House could certainly help to make those historical transformations less bumpy, less violent, and much less unpleasant. That's not a bad thought, even for a "declinist" like me."


Maybe spending 2-3 times as much on defense as China does would be adequate? What are we spending now, 8x?

And the defense budget isn't even the half of it. SS, medicare/medicaid will sink this nation.


Abandon ship!


There would be more than enough for both if congress didn't blow mass amounts of money on garbage.

Social security would have been fine.


The real question is whether a political system that redistributes wealth can avoid to blow massive amounts of money on garbage.

And I am afraid that includes any kind of social security.


Public choice applies the theories and methods of economics to the analysis of political behavior, an area that was once the exclusive province of political scientists and sociologists. Public choice originated as a distinctive field of specialization a half century ago in the works of its founding fathers, Kenneth Arrow, Duncan Black, James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Anthony Downs, William Niskanen, Mancur Olson, and William Riker. Public choice has revolutionized the study of democratic decision-making processes.


You absolutely, positively, cannot have non-corrupt politics.

The only way to keep government corruption small is to keep government small.

That also has a bright side though, if government were efficient, we´d all be slaves.


Hate to disagree, but I have to. We're running out workers per beneficiary. I belieive I've read that at one point we had 16 workers per beneficiary? While I think it's down to 2.something now. Seems to be a fatal flaw to me.


Closer to 12x.

And let me remind you that China is an openly totalitarian state that routinely uses the army to shoot at its own citizens. They also have foes right on their borders (Tibet, Taiwan, etc.).


I'll bet we could really cut our costs if we subcontracted the manufacture of weaponry and military equipment to China.


We certainly have issues, but trade imbalances and and almost unpayable debt don't seem all that important right now.

I would say it's our creditors that are screwed. Them and the people who are supposedly sending us more stuff than we send them in return.


[quote]dhickey wrote:
We certainly have issues, but trade imbalances and and almost unpayable debt don't seem all that important right now.


At least the last 8 years


Ah, but remember, those who maintain order must have overwhelming and crushing force, or forces of disorder will commence. Imagine if the cops in your city only had weapons equal to the criminals (no SWAT and the like).

Our problem is our unwillingness to use that force when needed. Letting Chavez get away with his thievery, letting Somali pirates disrupt world trade, letting Iran supply Hamas with weapons...are all messages to the criminals that the 'cop' is unwilling/unable to maintain world order.

If the civilised people of the world had the least spark of brains, they'd initiate a tax upon themselves to support our military. When we can no longer police the world (and we're losing our willingness anyway), the world will fall apart into robber gangs trying to kill each other.

The chaos in the markets is a preview of what's to come, as investors KNOW what's about to happen.


We police the world? Cool! When did this happen?

The history of the US military is a history of oppression.


Ever hear of a 'police action' called Korea? Vietnam? Haiti? Panama? Lebanon? Iraq? Afghanistan?

Most of the world hates the USA and takes the order provided by us for granted. What'll happen if we don't? What happened to Rome when the legions no longer patrolled the empire?


And that is different from most police forces in history?

I like his police example.

A bunch of bullies in uniform that somehow got the strange idea that they could tell you what to do and kill you if you do not comply.


Fuck yeah!


Eventually, the Renaissance.


I didn't say it was differet, just more pronounced and more relevant in this particular case.


Well played.


Yeah, but instead of sailing up the Seine and looting Paris, terrorists will unleash bio-weapons or some other such things and kill everyone.

And do we really want to wait 1000 years to have the good times rolling again?


Looking at the changing world and deciding which country will be the most powerful by it's economic strength is a faulty way to go.

The world is increasingly becoming more and more unified. You see it in the legislation of our own country, the treaties with other countries and yes, the media.

You essentially have the Western school of thought, and Russia/China, using the mideast as a springboard for war games and power grabs.

We, the US, have been dissemenating our culture across the world for decades. In S. America we bought up the debt owed to European conquerors and essentially took over the economies by indebting them to us.

Castro and Venezuela are fighting this (Castro was). It isn't in the news and it wasn't taught heavily in school but dig through history and you will see we absolutely had a military presence through out latin america with Roosevelt in charge, which, along with political work, created a US friendly region and gave us rights to the Panama Canal, a huge military bonus back then. Political ties were developed until we formed NAFTA and they continue to develop. It won't be surprising to see a Euro style currency in the western hemisphere some day.

Going back further, our ideology reversed the European monarchy system. Europeans of today live as they do because of America and "the shot heard 'round the world".

Russian and China tried to do what we did in Latin America in Asia and we had the Vietnam War, a stalemate if anything.

Russia tried to do it again in Afganistan and we trained the Afghanis to fight the russians. THey wound up being religios wild cards who took their training and attacked us with the Taliban but they, and the middle east region, are now "latin america" and we are winning the battle of cultural dissemenation and influence in the region.

The world in general is moving to a world bank, one world gov't etc etc with America at the helm. We are not waning, we are growing if in an nontradional way.

You will have the idea of the bill of rights through out the entire world, with Russia and possibly China the wild card to be brought under control.

America will be the world, even if named differently.