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Sticky Power’s Staying Power

In a surprising turn of events, an old piece I wrote in 2004 for Foreign Policy on “America’s Sticky Power” became the most popular item on FP’s website on Tuesday.

Economic, or sticky, power is different from both sharp and soft power — it is based neither on military compulsion nor on simple coincidence of wills. Consider the carnivorous sundew plant, which attracts its prey with a kind of soft power, a pleasing scent that lures insects toward its sap. But once the victim has touched the sap, it is stuck; it can’t get away. That is sticky power; that is how economic power works.

Sticky power has a long history. Both Britain and the United States built global economic systems that attracted other countries. Britain’s attracted the United States into participating in the British system of trade and investment during the 19th century. The London financial markets provided investment capital that enabled U.S. industries to grow, while Americans benefited from trading freely throughout the British Empire. Yet, U.S. global trade was in some sense hostage to the British Navy — the United States could trade with the world as long as it had Britain’s friendship, but an interruption in that friendship would mean financial collapse. Therefore, a strong lobby against war with Britain always existed in the United States. Trade-dependent New England almost seceded from the United States during the War of 1812, and at every crisis in Anglo-American relations for the next century, England could count on a strong lobby of merchants and bankers who would be ruined by war between the two English-speaking powers.

Why the sudden resurgence, you ask? Via Meadia doesn’t know, and, if his Twitter is to be believed, neither does FP Associate Editor David Kenner.

But I’d like to think it’s because good ideas don’t die.  The concept of sticky power I explored in that piece is the basis of the new geopolitical realities in Asia today; maybe somebody noticed.

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  • Anthony

    Good ideas don’t die and they have a timeliness in human affairs….

  • Jim.

    Ask Mr. Kenner if he has any data on the IP addresses of those looking at your article. That could be very, very interesting data.

  • kit

    Ask the FP webmaster, the IT department. The web server log should show the source of the traffic.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The American Global Trading System, that replaced the British Global Trading System, has grown into the largest and most efficient market in human history. It is responsible for uplifting billions of people out of abject poverty, and exposing them to the superior American Culture.
    The US owns the liquidity to this system with $4.5 Trillion in foreign bank held Treasuries. Every export model economy on Earth is just beginning to realize, how they have overpaid for those Dollars, and how little they would be worth if paid off. Paying off those Treasuries would make the US an export model economy instantly, and in the best way possible. US businesses, which are the survivors of decades of brutal foreign competition, would gobble up world market share in every major industry. Market share that would last long after the impulse that created it dissipates.
    And they thought they were cheating us with their currency manipulations, and we didn’t know it. It just goes to show that you can’t con an honest man, but conning a crooked nation is a piece of cake.

  • Phil Kerpen

    I think I can shed some light on the situation. Mead is an author who is commonly cited by the policy debate community. The Sticky Power article was used in a recent brief published by a major debate community. That would probably drive up the traffic.

    PS. WRM, your 2009 article entitled “Only Makes You Stronger” ( very commonly cited as saying that economic collapse leads to global nuclear war. Is that an appropriate reading of your articles?

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