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Goodbye to Hegemony
January 27, 2008 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Waving Goodbye to Hegemony. "Just a few years ago, America’s hold on global power seemed unshakable. But a lot has changed while we’ve been in Iraq — and the next president is going to be dealing with not only a triumphant China and a retooled Europe but also the quiet rise of a 'second world.'" [Via The Washington Note.]
posted by homunculus (63 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just a few years ago, America’s hold on global power seemed unshakable.

No it didn't. American hegemony has always been a myth.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 4:20 PM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I read that essay this morning in the NYT magazine.

It's probably connected to the title, but all I could think about through the entire piece was Orson Scott Card.
posted by Oxydude at 4:33 PM on January 27, 2008


Good. Very good. Now we can stop bleeding dollars and manpower into acting like the world's policeman (I'm looking at you, Mr. Military-Industrial Complex!) and take care of some domestic repairs first.

A generation of fixing up our healthcare, educational, and infrastructural woes, and we'll be right where we need to be: working alongside our international partners.

Well, in a perfect world, anyway.
posted by John of Michigan at 4:34 PM on January 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is a double from yesterday. It was deleted.
posted by dobbs at 4:34 PM on January 27, 2008


Double
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:38 PM on January 27, 2008


Didn't the 'second world' originally refer to communist nations, with the third world being non-industrialized states that the first and second world fight over?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:43 PM on January 27, 2008


This won't be deleted; the previous post was deleted for the editorializing.

John of Michigan, that's what the UK did after WWII. You can argue that there were excesses, but people's satisfaction with life went way up, IIRC. Don't feel like using the Google to verify, right now.

Thing is, UK could count on the US. Who's the US going to count on, China?
posted by ibmcginty at 4:45 PM on January 27, 2008


I think Metafilter needs a subsite consisting of just the cover story from the weekly New York Times Magazine.

nytm.metafilter.com would then get automatically updated whenever the new issue is published. I think it would just save us all a lot of time.
posted by chillmost at 4:45 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's well worth your time to read Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins.

Mr. Perkins talks about how he was recruited by the CIA, and then went to work in the 'private sector'. His mission was simple: to convince foreign governments to take loans they couldn't repay, by giving them flawed analysis that showed that the assets built with the loans would generate enough capital to pay off the debt. At the same time, they'd try to set up structures so that a ruling junta became extremely wealthy, while the rest of the country was plunged into poverty. This made them invisible client states of the American Empire, and has probably caused more suffering and human rights abuses around the world than any other single force I know of. With our stranglehold on their economies, we had cheap access to their natural resources and the ability to coerce their governments into voting as we wished in the UN.

So of course Latin America hates us. We've fucked them over for the last fifty years, assassinating elected officials and installing corrupt regimes in their places. As Mr. Perkins puts it, his team was the first to go in to try to take over a country. If they couldn't do it, then the jackals went in -- the assassination attempts. If THEY couldn't do it, then it fell to the Army to remove governments that didn't toe the line.

This is the reason they're starting the 'Chavez is a drug lord' line; the jackals apparently aren't working, so they're starting to lay seeds for military intervention for 'our protection'. Saying that he's 'not doing enough to fight the drug trade' is quite akin to blaming President Bush for the specific actions of drug dealers, but that kind of twisted logic appears to be pretty normal for us in the region.

(and, FWIW, I don't like Chavez at all; he's a lefty authoritarian, where the Bushies are righty authoritarians... so of course they hate each other, and of course I dislike both.)

Conservatives like to rail about how liberals want to blame America for everything, but when you read books like this, you find out that the liberals were actually correct much of the time. A great deal of the pain and instability worldwide has been caused by our direct, knowing intervention. We have deliberately tried to create weak, corrupt regimes worldwide, so that we can get free or cheap access to their resources.

Once Americans aren't writing the history books anymore, I don't think we'll be well-remembered.
posted by Malor at 4:56 PM on January 27, 2008 [19 favorites]


seems to me that this has been developing for quite some time - you'd think our leadership would have noticed it - unfortunately, there are elements in this society who are never going to believe that we are on our way to being an ex-superpower until more years pass - or we get our asses handed to us - or we just go broke trying to act otherwise

we're already on our way to going broke - and unfortunately, i don't see many leaders who really understand that our power is declining rapidly
posted by pyramid termite at 4:57 PM on January 27, 2008




While the article makes good salient points, the view of the future in the second paragraph pretty laughable in its presumptions.

America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar.

Pay no attention to the troops that likely remain in the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Kuwait, the Balkans, etc. in 2016, as well as many, many NATO allies and others with happy economies.

China has absorbed Taiwan...

Not without triggering a major regional war, it won't...

and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim

... where it runs into the fact that the U.S. has more aircraft carrier deck space than the rest of the world combined, and two brand-new carriers that are several years into their 30-year lifespans.

The European Union has ... secure oil and gas flows from North Africa

Bwah hah hah...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:00 PM on January 27, 2008


I remember a series of ads a long time ago which had the purpose of establishing the term "third world" in our vocabulary. What they said was that the "first world" was the industrialized nations, the "second world" was nations which were resource rich, and the "third world" was the have-nothings.

In other words, Saudi Arabia is "second world". Botswana is "third world".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:10 PM on January 27, 2008


American hegemony has always been a myth.

Please. I'm still waiting for the US' Suez moment. It'll come soon, if China didn't already call us on Iran (we won't know for years), but a myth? The US hasn't been called to task in decades.
posted by MillMan at 5:11 PM on January 27, 2008


Great article. A long but rewarding read.
posted by cell divide at 5:13 PM on January 27, 2008


Pay no attention to the troops that likely remain in the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Kuwait, the Balkans, etc. in 2016

at least in europe (aside from the balkans), it'll be real easy to not pay attention to those troops as it's beyond me what they'll be doing there

Not without triggering a major regional war, it won't...

it all depends on whether the u s is really willing to have a major war against china - logistically, any such war is doomed

where it runs into the fact that the U.S. has more aircraft carrier deck space than the rest of the world combined, and two brand-new carriers that are several years into their 30-year lifespans.

a few missiles will take care of those
posted by pyramid termite at 5:14 PM on January 27, 2008


My understanding is that "third world" was a reference to the "third estate"

A "reference" to it in the sense that the French phrase tiers monde was modeled on tiers état, but etymology is irrelevant to contemporary meaning. Third World does indeed mean, in the OED's definition, "The countries of the world, esp. those of Africa and Asia, which are aligned with neither the Communist nor the non-Communist bloc; hence, the underdeveloped or poorer countries of the world, usu. those of Africa, Asia, and Latin America." (First cite in French: 1956 G. BALANDIER Tiers Monde 369 "La conférence tenue à Bandoeng en avril 1955, par les délégués de vingt-neuf nations asiatiques et africaines.. manifeste l'accès, au premier plan de la scène politique internationale, de ces peuples qui constituent un ‘Tiers Monde’ entre les deux ‘blocs’, selon l'expression d'A. Sauvy"; first English cite from 1963.)
posted by languagehat at 5:15 PM on January 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


In large measure much of this to be shortly after WWII when we began to put up bases for our military throughout the world. Till recently, most of those countries paid not a cent and they got our "protection" should it be need against Russia. By not bothering with much of their own military, those nations could develop economically and take care of domestic needs. Russia, no longer a threat of any major kind, we continue to spend ourselves into oblivion and maintain--figure this out--how many bases and how many people worldwide? Bring them all home and they can all get jobs making cars in Detroit. Or go on unemployment.
posted by Postroad at 5:24 PM on January 27, 2008


I thought there was also originally a "fourth world" which were countries without any potential whatsoever.
posted by maxwelton at 5:24 PM on January 27, 2008


"I thought there was also originally a 'fourth world' which were countries without any potential whatsoever."

Yeah, but now we just call it "France".
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:34 PM on January 27, 2008


a few missiles will take care of those

We've had this conversation before you and I, and you still don't know what a CVBG is.

sorry ... i forgot it's mefi ... ahem ... "we're all gonna die!" ... there, everyone happy?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:37 PM on January 27, 2008


That was an okay article. After the first page it got fairly pedantic. I'm not sure this guy has it all as figured out as he thinks he does. Interesting things to chew over, though a few more economic arguments might have been useful, too...
posted by blacklite at 5:37 PM on January 27, 2008


and you still don't know what a CVBG is

i know what an a bomb and an h bomb is
posted by pyramid termite at 5:42 PM on January 27, 2008


here's fareed zakaria's take, 'the world bails us out':
Power is moving away from the traditional centers of the global economy—the Western nations—to the emerging markets. To put it more bluntly: the United States is in the beginning of a period of relative decline. It may not be steep or dramatic, but the fact that it's happening is clear. Even if one assumes a slowdown, the other big economies will still grow at two and three times the pace of the West. Over time they will take up a larger share of the global economy—and the United States and Western Europe will have thinner slices. This is not defeatism, it's math.

The math has political consequences... consider George W. Bush's trip to the Middle East last week. After making several pleas that Saudi Arabia act to ease oil prices, the president had to accept a hard new truth. He was the supplicant; power lay with the king. (In fact, it was the oil minister who brushed off the president's entreaties.) What a contrast to the 1990s, when the price of oil hovered under $20 a barrel and the Saudi economy was teetering.

On the American campaign trail, the candidates talk about a world utterly unrelated to the one that is actually being created on the ground. The Republicans promise to wage war against Islamic extremists and modernize the Middle East. The Democrats deplore the ills of globalization and free trade, and urge tougher measures against China. Meanwhile Middle Eastern fund managers and Asian consumers are quietly keeping the U.S. economy afloat.
cf. niall ferguson's take in 'an Ottoman warning for indebted America'; while there are parallels, i'm beginning to think the present situation may be more akin to the opium wars...
posted by kliuless at 5:45 PM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


With China holding well over a trillion dollars in dollar-denominated assets, and with our incredible debt level, if they really decide they want something, anything, in the entire world, they can have it. They can outbid us on anything. If it's a military objective, like Taiwan, they have an actual budget surplus, and are right there, so they don't have much of a logistics chain. Further, they can wreck our economy at will.

China's in the driver's seat now, whatever we may tell ourselves about 'carrier deck space'.
posted by Malor at 5:45 PM on January 27, 2008


and you still don't know what a CVBG is

That's where I first saw the Talking Heads back in 78.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:47 PM on January 27, 2008 [10 favorites]


It's a book excerpt (or summary). Lots of grand geo-political books come out all the time, I'd like to see what the folks in Foreign Affairs, National Review or some other policy wonk trade mag think of it before getting sucked up into the model envisioned here. That's usually were one sees influential stuff like "clash of civilization" or "end of history" ideas first appearing. Still, plenty of sober facts about the world changing, worthwhile read.
posted by stbalbach at 5:53 PM on January 27, 2008


Cool Papa Bell, it is true that we have considerable naval forces at our disposal. In fact, the naval capabilities of the United States are unparalleled. However, there is one poignant fact that you are missing.

To maintain such an impressive force requires massive funding.

There is absolutely no guarantee that the United States will continue to be able provide the funds necessary to support all elements of the DOD. Running gas turbines might get a little expensive... as only the CVNs have the advantage of reliable propulsion should fuel sources get tight.

Our world is starting to run on fumes... we've be foolish. We will continue to be foolish.

This is a good read.

Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran...

My humble opinion... Global Thermonuclear War prior to 2050.

Smoke'em if you got'em.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 5:59 PM on January 27, 2008


CVBG, meet the swarm. (Wikipedia. Metafilter. And do you know who else refloated ships in a war game because they didn't like the outcome? Not a good omen for anyone who knows the story of Midway.)

Or maybe the old adage "There are two kinds of ships: submarines and targets" is correct.

Either way, the carriers aren't going to save us in the face of a determined enemy. For most of the Cold War and later, we were smart enough to only use them against people who didn't make a serious effort to sink them. In a conflict against Iran or intervening to defend Taiwan, we probably won't be so lucky.
posted by pandaharma at 6:11 PM on January 27, 2008


I sent this article to McCain, Clinton, Edwards, and Obama this morning. Here's hoping one of them actually reads it.
posted by andythebean at 6:25 PM on January 27, 2008


G W Bush emaciated the United States. Nice legacy, and no sneer from Dick Cheney, who was the architect of our demise, can make it any better. Are they Russian or Chinese agents? They were the most effective agents either of those countries could ever have prayed for against the US.
posted by caddis at 6:36 PM on January 27, 2008


caddis, we were a tottering wreck when Bush took over, we just didn't know it yet, still flush from the stock market bubble and Fed malfeasance.

Bush took the revolver and put a bullet in our collective head, mind, but we were already in dire trouble before he even took power.
posted by Malor at 6:42 PM on January 27, 2008


Not without triggering a major regional war, it won't...

China will absorb Taiwan the same way the E.U. has absorbed neighboring states, diplomatically. There are many people in Taiwan who favor reunification, and the KMT party started on the mainland, and fled to Taiwan. There are plenty of Taiwan nationalists too, but it's likely that the two countries will merge at some point, at least in an economic sense.
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


fwiw, there was a pretty great exchange in that rgemonitor post between two chinese expats -- 'twofish' and 'DC' -- in the US...

twofish thrusts:
"If you have twelve aircraft carriers and two thousand nuclear missiles and your creditors don't, then they'll refinance your debt. In fact, having twelve aircraft carriers and two thousand nuclear missiles, may be the reason why they are loaning you money in the first place."
which DC quickly parries:
"Ok, the US has 2,000 Nuclear Warheads and the Chinese have between 400-500, but isn't 400 Nuclear warheads still enough to destroy the entire North America continent. In the past decade, the Chinese Nuclear force based on two ICBM missile platforms, has been completely modernized with a survivable second strike capability. The vulnerable, liquid fueled Silo based DF-5 missile have been replaced with the mobile, solid fueled DF-31 land missile system. The single Type-092 SSBN submarine has been replaced by a fleet of Type-094 SSBN with the JL-2 missile, each missile with 3 independent multiple re-entry warheads." etc.
and some more highlights from the exchange...
twofish: "...And in any case, the PLA can't put three divisions of troops in Iraq."

DC: "True, but 3 US Aircraft Battlegroups won't survive for long in the Taiwan Straits..."

twofish: "That's why the US did a naval exercise last year to see that it could get nine battle groups in the western Pacific in 30 days..."
it actually ends a couple threads (and days) later...
DC: "...With the recent Singapore-China defense agreement, Southeast Asia is rapidly integrating into the Chinese sphere of influence while the US will remain distracted by Middle East events for decades to come. With the notable exception of Aircraft carriers, the China PLA Navy is now larger in Western Pacific than the US Navy with 60 Destroyers and Frigates, 50 Attack Submarines, 45 Corvette patrol ships, 40 Amphibious Assault transports. A new unsinkable Naval Airbase has been constructed in the Spratly Islands in Southeast Asia."

twofish: "...It would be a total disaster for ethnic Chinese in SE Asia if the PRC pushed the Spratlies issue, which fortunately, it really isn't doing. China's best course of action is to 'agree to disagree' about the Spratlies and talk about joint exploration of oil."
that is all :P

cheers!

posted by kliuless at 6:56 PM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


caddis, we were a tottering wreck when Bush took over, we just didn't know it yet, still flush from the stock market bubble and Fed malfeasance.

I am not buying that. I agree that there were structural problems with the economy and that it had perhaps an artificial boost at the beginning of GW's term, but he did everything exactly wrong for the last seven years and basically has augured us into the ground. What a legacy.
posted by caddis at 7:08 PM on January 27, 2008


caddis, I agree with you wholeheartedly as far as what Bush has done, but we were already in a giant mess in 2000. It's just become an unbelievably giant mess under his "guidance".
posted by Malor at 7:44 PM on January 27, 2008


Although I tend to agree with parts of this essay's analysis, I found Parag Khanna's piece to be annoyingly grandious and melodramatic; the kind of sloppy world-level analysis that a "foreign policy generalist" in the mold of Samuel Huffington would produce, and typical of the kind of foreign policy thought which prevails in American think tanks and places like the Council on Foreign Relations (where, surprise surprise, he has worked).

He'll go far... if he plays his cards right he could be the left's Fareed Zakaria. Maybe they could play Risk together, along with Scowcroft and Kissinger over a night-cap.
posted by Auden at 8:21 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


UK could count on the US.

Well... theoretcially, if there was a global war against the USSR. In smaller conflicts, such as Seuz, not so much. Lack of US intervention there ensured a disaster for us and pretty much put a stake in the heart of any idea that there might be a return to empire... which really in the long term has turned out to be a pretty good thing.
posted by Artw at 8:42 PM on January 27, 2008


What happened more than anything else because of Bush, in the minds of the rest of the western world, is that your marketing failed and we started to see you for what you really are. It was always bullshit; Bush and ilk pushed the bullshit so hard there is no chance of anyone buying it anymore.
posted by lastobelus at 10:32 PM on January 27, 2008


As a small addition to my above comment: if you'll notice, anytime the IMF or the World Bank get involved in the affairs of a small nation, that nation mysteriously fails to thrive.

This would appear to be deliberate.
posted by Malor at 10:48 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love that he pulled in the Jay-Z Euro thing.
posted by salvia at 11:01 PM on January 27, 2008


The author's dismissal of India as playing second fiddle to China... "20 years behind"... is very wrong.

India is chaotic and dizzyingly diverse and seemingly impenetrable to western sensibilities. They are perpetually unorganized, fractious, factious, and tough for westerners to figure out... you have a dozen different cultures that are mistaken for one. What is missed is that they are smart, motivated and self reliant in ways China is not.

Militarily, India has a much better air force and blue water navy than China - they have a carrier fleet, and pretty much keep the Russian aviation industry solvent by themselves. China does not have the economic or education resources to keep pace with Indian development. China's development is dependent on near slave labor conditions in the manufacturing segment. India's development stems from the service sector and growing the middle class. They also have the common sense to stay out of global politics... they're a regional power and happy with the role. China keeps dabbling internationally, and usually for little or no solid gain apart from worrying the Americans and Europeans and Russians - which is something they really ought not to do.

Also, China isn't even the dominant military power in the western Pacific Rim - this is undisputably Japan. The US comes in second, South Korea third and Australia fourth. The only thing that sets China apart is membership in the Nuclear Club - but Japan, South Korea and Australia have the technology and industry to change that literally overnight. Their conventional forces are better equipped, trained and their logistics are lightyears ahead of the PLA.

That said, the EU is the new global superpower. The US will catch up once they adopt some of the EU's social and economic policies, and stop meddling overseas now that the commies are gone.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:30 AM on January 28, 2008


With China holding well over a trillion dollars in dollar-denominated assets, and with our incredible debt level, if they really decide they want something, anything, in the entire world, they can have it. They can outbid us on anything. If it's a military objective, like Taiwan, they have an actual budget surplus, and are right there, so they don't have much of a logistics chain. Further, they can wreck our economy at will.

China's in the driver's seat now, whatever we may tell ourselves about 'carrier deck space'.


If the U.S. economy falls, China is even more fucked than the U.S. China's dollar denominated assets are currently depreciating at a rapid rate. But they can't sell them off because if the US economy tanked they would have no where to sell all the plastic shit that they make so well. China's whole economic rise has been based on being an cheap manufacturing base for US goods. In doing this they have used relativly small companies with close relations with US corporations. In contrast with Japan, they have not been able to develop globally competitive corporations or a large domestic consumer base. Plus China is still heavily dependant on foriegn investment and domestic savings, dumping dollar assets would fuck that up as well. It's not going to happen.

Even if China invaded Taiwan and won, (which I doubt it would), they would be a global pariah state and you can't make much money if you can only sell your fake iphones in Burma and Sudan.
posted by afu at 1:40 AM on January 28, 2008


If the U.S. economy falls, China is even more fucked than the U.S.
I don't think that's entirely so, afu. Of course, the global consequences of a U.S. collapse would be pretty severe, but the E.U. is China's largest trading partner, not America. There is a strategy to develop a domestic market, which I agree hasn't seen the kind of successes Japan has, but in terms of absolute numbers will be a similar size soon just because of population - i.e. there will remain a large number of poor, but a relatively affluent population of a couple of hundred million or more is realistic.
I agree that any "absorption" of Taiwan seems unlikely in the near term.
posted by Abiezer at 2:20 AM on January 28, 2008


Well... theoretcially, if there was a global war against the USSR. In smaller conflicts, such as Seuz, not so much. Lack of US intervention there ensured a disaster for us...

It was more a US intervention against us. Not that we - and France and Israel - didn't deserve it. And not that the US was motivated by anything other than self-interest (with a dash of lingering historical resentment).
posted by Mocata at 2:31 AM on January 28, 2008


afu: the US is not the only market. The US economy is actually smaller than that of the EU, and with a lower arms budget, the EU has more money available for buying "plastic shit". (Except, we also have an industrial base, too.)

slap*happy, whenever I visit the USA I'm struck by how pot-holed the roads are, and how run down the infrastructure is. Never mind the frightened whimpering about the cost of medical care. All those CVBGs that Cool Papa Bell and the other gung-ho armchair warriors are going on about have been built at the expense of the infrastructure spending that's necessary to support the business culture that's needed to win the exports to generate the profits to pay the taxes to buy the next generation of CVBGs.

The rot set in during the late 1960s with the culture of corporate restructuring and profit maximization. It switched the USAs business culture from wealth creation to wealth concentration, which is not the same thing at all. Infrastructure was starved of resources for decades, and nobody really paid any attention because you can get by with minimal infrastructure spending for a few years -- it doesn't decay instantly -- and the concentration of wealth among the hyper-rich, combined with a narcissistic media culture, concealed the hollowing-out of the rest of society.

But once the critical infrastructure stops working it's hard to rebuild it.

You can't eat a carrier battle group. You can't even sell it. All that money has been wasted, and it ain't coming back. You want supporting evidence? Ask the Soviets Russians.
posted by cstross at 2:50 AM on January 28, 2008 [8 favorites]



Well... theoretcially, if there was a global war against the USSR. In smaller conflicts, such as Seuz, not so much. Lack of US intervention there ensured a disaster for us and pretty much put a stake in the heart of any idea that there might be a return to empire... which really in the long term has turned out to be a pretty good thing.


Lack of US intervention? Eisenhower threatened to freeze all French, British and Israeli assets in the US.
posted by atrazine at 4:16 AM on January 28, 2008


Awesome, bring it on. actually - what can I do to help bring down the US?

Its about time the US went down. their pseudo demoractic religious bullshit is makeing the place look bad. It can't happen soon enough for me.
posted by mary8nne at 5:15 AM on January 28, 2008


I certainly don't want the US to collapse but a little humility might do us some good. I'm so sick of that "greatest nation on earth" BS that politicians seem compelled to spout. There are lots of great nations, we're just one of them (for the moment).
posted by octothorpe at 5:35 AM on January 28, 2008


China keeps dabbling internationally, and usually for little or no solid gain

they get contracts for resources, especially oil, and they also make the rest of the world more cautious about issues that really matter to them, such as taiwan - they're getting rewarded for their dabbling

china's real problem is keeping the lid on internally - i'm not sure they can do it
posted by pyramid termite at 5:48 AM on January 28, 2008


cstross: I'm largely with you, with regards to military spending, but I'm not as quickly on board with the notion the US can't right the ship. The issue isn't a lack of federal will, it's a lack of local competence. Roadwork is handled, in order, by the municipality, the county, and then the State (as in Massachusetts, and yes, it's really spelled that way). The feds only toss money at the State and local level, they do little road-building of their own. Some of the best roads in the US are in New Hampshire, and if anyone had an excuse for crappy roads, it's them. The US really, really needs to federalize three things: major infrastructure (bridges and such), health care, and education. Kids living in towns where property values are through the roof get to go to nice colleges of their choice. Kids who grow up in Decrepit Mill Town of Choice go to not-so-nice gangs they don't get to chose at all.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:52 AM on January 28, 2008


Slap*Happy: believe me, I'd like to see the US pull out of this nose-dive. ((a) A lot of my friends are American, and (b) I earn my living selling stuff to a predominantly American audience. What hurts Americans and their economy -- as opposed to their government and it's more jingoistic foreign policy -- hurts me, too.)

Your point about local problems is a very important one. On this side of the Atlantic, my property taxes are much lower than they would be in the USA, but my central government income taxes are higher. Part of the job of the central government is to top up the local regional authorities (and also to ride herd on them, setting standards), to ensure that local pockets of deprivation aren't allowed to get out of control. Unfortunately the historical architecture of the USA -- as a bunch of separate states -- militates against this kind of semi-centralized model.
posted by cstross at 10:26 AM on January 28, 2008


Boy, two things really strike me here -

One, I feel compelled to reiterate that the American people and the current adminstration (and their f---ed up foreign policy) are only weakly connected. They pretty much did things that were orthogonal to (if not diametrically opposite of) what they had promised during the campaign. Even the largely oblivious religious fundamentalists who rabidly supported them are (Finally) awakening to feel betrayed.

If the US population were to revert back to, say, snaring squirrels and digging for edible roots, out of some worst-case overlap of peak oil, financial collapse, and greenhouse effect catastrophe, well, it would be bad for all of us - even if it did slake some justifiable schadenfreude. Geez. Admit that wishing bad things on any population is bad for your own karma. No man is an island.

Secondly, while Mr. Zakaria's "it's just math" is fairly believable, I think that pretty much everything beyond that level of argument is long-shot conjecture. Whenever the future gets here, it will be plenty stranger than anything we have the imagination to predict. Lots of armchair "Oh, we have more of this" and "Oh, but they have more of that" here is going to seem not cutely quaint but laughably pointless in less time than it takes to reread it. Every nation has some cards they're not showing, for one thing. Secondly, if it were that easy to predict geopolitical outcomes, people would be laying down big bets now and winning big (and then it would become obvious.)

All that said, I can credit the original article for pointing out that the current administration has been a lousy steward of long-term US interests and alliances, at a moment in history when it would have been helpful to have done exactly the opposite. Duh. It would have seen like a prescient article, say, five years ago.
posted by newdaddy at 11:13 AM on January 28, 2008


re: wealth concentration*

raghuram rajan & martin wolf make some suggestions; also see the FT's editorial comment over the weekend, 'the start of the great unwinding', cf. 'what has the Credit Crisis taught us?'

as others have pointed out, what's interesting (to me) is not so much the lack of US infrastructure spending and industrial base per se, but that the rest of the world has actively financed, if not encouraged, the US' profligacy in military (and mortgage/deficit) spending, notably among them china** and saudi arabia.

there's a great phrase in this thread by 'gheorgius' that the whole process has been "simultaneously determined." in other words, in order to self (or jointly) immolate, the presence of both fuel and oxygen are necessary conditions for spontaneous combustion. dousing oneself with gasoline may seem like unusual behaviour, and prone to accident, but the situation doesn't become really serious until someone comes along with a match... 'fault' here may be apportioned, but the underlying question that should also be asked is what could induce such behaviour in the first case?

the answer (almost invariably) to our ostensible mystery, per rajan, is that the (real actual) risks were not properly accounted for and evaluated, particularly in light of the perceived rewards. as a result, the failure to adequately assess risks leads one down the primrose path of destruction. same as it ever was, asymmetric information, that thing about hindsight, etc.

what's neat (sobering) per gellner -- or like anderson, and i guess more recently taleb -- is that the course of human history is governed by the unknown ("events, my dear boy, events"); not that the world is essentially random (altho it may well be), but that the seemingly improbable is sometimes just as likely a guide.

cheers!

---
*can i just [be a complete asshole] say (like stephenson) i kinda prefer your nonfiction to your fiction? like why ruin (too strong a word) great ideas with plot and character? i know, it's a matter of taste :P
**e.g. in an updated mercantilist 'opium war' replace opium with cheap financing and tea with industrial capacity/technology transfer

posted by kliuless at 11:19 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Malor : Empires are mostly remembered for their achievements, not the suffering they cause. The American empire will be remembered first for the moon landing and second for the atomic bomb. Clearly historians will talk about much more, but most won't focus on the suffering either.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:43 PM on January 28, 2008


Hello? Bomb?
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on January 28, 2008


I've seen it said that the 20th century will be remembered for the atomic bomb and the 12-step program.
posted by Malor at 5:42 PM on January 28, 2008


What they said was that the "first world" was the industrialized nations, the "second world" was nations which were resource rich, and the "third world" was the have-nothings.

So now that the USA has outsourced all its industry, it'd be a second-world nation?

So now that the USA has driven each of its citizens into several hundred thousand dollars of debt, it'd be a third-world nation?

How's this: first-world nations are those that have universal health care, a secure electoral system, and an ongoing drive toward greater personal freedoms and greater social responsibility?
posted by five fresh fish at 5:48 PM on January 28, 2008


and more than 2 weeks of summer, cigarettes that don't taste like cat droppings, and a national dish that isn't coffee and donuts
posted by pyramid termite at 8:39 PM on January 28, 2008




Signing statements are totally legit, it's not like earmarks.
posted by Artw at 5:31 PM on January 29, 2008


came across this recently -- comparative histograms of world economic powers -- fwiw...
posted by kliuless at 3:33 PM on January 30, 2008


Matthew Yglesias weighs in with his opinion of the article after finally reading it. Excerpt:
However, in the interests of sobriety it's worth flagging two important caveats. One is that one shouldn't understate the extent to which the US/EU/China "big three" is still an unequal triad. The United States is a lot richer than China. We have a much larger and more competent military establishment. And while China is beginning to play a global role, we have much more deeply entrenched relationships with countries in every region of the world -- including places like Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan in China's back yard.

Meanwhile the EU, were it a cohesive nation-state, would be an extremely mighty power. But it isn't one. When Europe acts with common purpose, it's a very influential player, and it's every bit America's equal in certain commerce-related aspects of international relations where this happens, but Europe simply has much less institutional capacity to act in this way than does the United States.

On top of that, the big thing to keep in mind when considering any particular "declinist" thesis about American hegemony is that we've actually been on the decline for a good long while. In 1945-46 the U.S. economy completely dominated the world, contributing some absurdly high share of total output. Every other significant country on earth had been completely destroyed by war, and we had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. Over time, this dominant position unraveled and Robert Keohane's After Hegemony, a study of America's efforts to forge a diplomatic system to continue to get bye in this new world actually came out decades ago. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a kind of illusion of a return to hegemony since international politics had been organized as "USA or USSR" for so long, but all along throughout the postwar period other countries have been gaining in importance.
posted by Kattullus at 2:09 PM on January 31, 2008


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