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Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about.
— Barack Obama, SOTU January, 2012
As I was working on yesterday's post, I overheard On Point's Tom Ashbrook talking about America's decline.
Is America in decline? It’s become almost assumed in recent years. China, India, Brazil, others — up. America — down. Humbled. Less than it was. Now comes the pushback. “The Myth of American Decline,” goes one headline.
And the theme becomes political just as fast as you can breathe. America in decline? No way, said the president last week. Not on his watch.
Well, which is it? Are we up, down or sideways? Is decline a myth? Or is that idea just a kind of denial? American dreaming?
This hour, On Point: Truth or dare. We’re debating American decline.
The first guest was Michael Beckley, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s international security program. His recent article China's Century? Why America's Edge Will Endure in the journal International Security "contends that America is not in decline and that both its international power and hegemony are increasing." He started off like this—
I think if you just look across any of the indicators of national power, whether it's wealth, innovation, military power, you see the U.S. staying pretty much where it's been for the last 20 year or in some cases, increasing its lead. It remains the wealthiest major power, and these wealth gaps have been increasing. The average American citizen in 1990 made $20,000 more than average Chinese citizen. Today that wealth gap is $40,000...
Beckley continues in this vein. You see, America is not in decline because we stack up so well vis-a-vis the Chinese! If you look at the other sources cited by Ashbrook, a telling pattern emerges.
- Beckley, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government
- Not Fade Away: Against The Myth of American Decline by Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe
- Whether or not America is declining is the wrong question, by Stephen M. Walt, co-chair of the editorial board of the journal International Security
What do these guys and others not mentioned have in common? They are mouthpieces for the Imperial elites. The question of America's decline is framed in terms of its foreign policy, the projection of American military power and economic interests all over the world, how we compare with China, and so on. We always to need to consider the source.
All of these clowns have what Mark Twain called corn-pone opinions—you tell me where a man gets his corn pone, and I'll tell you what his opinions are. Where do these guys get their corn pone? From places like the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Center on the United States and Europe. It's very likely these people have never even met an ordinary American unless that poor schmuck was serving them cocktails or cleaning their bathroom.
But if you ask one of these average Americans (who one never runs into at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government) whether this country is in decline, the answer is likely to be Yes. Here is a list of the trends these representatives of the Imperial elites fail to mention.
- very high levels of household, private (corporate) and government debt
- the peak and decline of American crude oil production
- astonishing income inequality and even more astonishing wealth inequality
- skyrocketing health care costs in a country in which over 45 million Americans have no coverage at all
- skyrocketing college tuition costs and student debt burdens
- stagnant real wages for 80% of Americans over the last 30 years, the falling median income
- the "financialization" of the economy and the rent-seeking behavior of the 6 largest banks, who are now even bigger than they were before the meltdown in 2008
- the obvious failures of the public education of "average" Americans
- the growing role of special-interest money in politics and crony capitalism (corruption)
- America's decaying infrastructure, including bridges, public transit, water and sewer lines, etc.
- the alarming downward spiral of popular culture (on the TV, on the radio, in music and movies)
Even this relatively long list is incomplete. It is disingenuous for an Imperial sycophant like Micheal Beckley to refer to the wealth of the average American. Apparently, none of this comes up very often at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Or if it does, it is dismissed as unimportant because the elites view these growing problems as orthogonal to Imperial interests, which are indistinguishable from their own interests.
When I talk about America's decline on this blog, I am talking about what is happening domestically, what is occurring inside the United States. America is rotting from within. We are just one big financial crisis (or severe recession) away from complete economic catastrophe in the United States. We're living on the edge. As things stand now, we can expect increasingly worse outcomes for these "average" Americans over the next decade and beyond.
I also think it is naive for those in the Imperial elites to cling to the self-serving belief that what happens within America itself will not eventually limit the Empire's foreign policy options, its ability to keep the oil flowing, it's insatiable need to kill brown people with predator drones, and it's maintenance of the so-called Pax Americana.
So when Barack Obama tells you that anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned doesn't know what they're talking about, you might want to keep all this in mind. And you might also remember that he is not talking about the living standards of average Americans. He is talking about the Empire, whose previous policies he has done so much to uphold and extend.