...FP: You went through Gary, Indiana, and you talked to people in Gary. They were at a casino. They were in a town that was devastated. I had this sense of hopelessness for these people. There is no future. There is not going to be a manufacturing resurgence that they're going to take advantage of. Casinos are kind of strange machines that seem to prosper by sucking the last bits of economic vitality out of a community, because the poor and the old go there and give up their money. And so for a moment, it looks like something is prospering, but at the end of the day it's accelerating decay. I mean, is that your view? It seems like another component of your point about spoiled children. What is your feeling in terms of the problems of the grown-ups?A Nation of Spoiled Brats
EL: Part of the reason I to talk about these casinos is to use them as a metaphor for the bankruptcy of public policy, particularly urban public policy. Casinos, sports arenas, and convention centers don't generate income for those who've lost their jobs. The casino is a particularly apt metaphor for the intellectual bankruptcy of thinking, because, if done well, you can generate short-term income and tax revenues. But the costs are pushed back a little bit further, so the balance sheet doesn't show what it's really doing to your community, which is drastically raising all sorts of social bills that you're going to have to pay, whether it be about policing or by prison services or a penal system or indeed the further decay of the community.
...FP: Final question is what does all this mean for the rest of the world? If you're in China; if you're in India; if you're in Singapore looking at the U.S. as a stabilizer, when you see this descent, what do you think the impressions ought to be? Should there be looking for new leadership, finding new structures, giving up on American leadership, expecting a period of fumbling on the part of the United States? What are the geopolitical consequences of the conclusions of your book?
EL: I think you could get a paradoxical one in the short term, and you might already be seeing it in Asia, which is that the more America's punch declines, and the more China's reach extends, the more popular America's going to get in that neighborhood. We're all going to remember that America is a country of immigrants that welcomed people from all over; that America is a country that has universal values, however annoying and selectively they might sometimes have been applied. This could never possibly apply to China. And that's without mentioning China's political system, which is obviously not democratic.
So I think the paradoxical short-term response might actually shore up American power in parts of the world where it is in greater demand than there was before. But that's the short term. If you look at that asymmetry, and when America says it seeks to sustain its global footprint, it's not talking about closing down bases. Indeed, it's setting up new bases in places like Australia. It's going to find it hard to afford this indefinitely. It's very expensive.
In contrast, all China seeks to do is to challenge American supremacy in its own backyard. They have asymmetric goals here. The Chinese increased their defense budget this year by 11 percent. America's allegedly cut its defense by 8 percent. Actually, it's probably a bit of smoke and mirrors there. It's a high and inflated baseline. So maybe America left its defense budget essentially flat. But if you have that for a few years all of a sudden the talking point that's always on the tip of our tongues -- namely, that America spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined -- isn't going to be true any longer. It doesn't take too many years like these for that to cease to be true.
I hope that in the near future America will be able to remind itself that strength comes from its domestic economic muscularity and the degree to which America can again be a beacon to the world, a model worth emulating, rather than by the range and deployment of its weaponry, or by the spending power of those at the top. But I'm not optimistic -- given the trajectory of the debate today and in recent years -- that things will necessarily shake out that way. I wish I could see more cause for hope.
This post was deleted for the following reason: This is pushing pretty far into the outer limits of wall-of-text for above the fold stuff; if you want to maybe do this over tomorrow with a different presentation that'd be fine. -- cortex
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