The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Decline of Decline

Over on his Foreign Policy blog, Dan Drezner skewers the newly fashionable notion that America is in decline.  It’s a refreshing and badly needed corrective to the chorus of naysayers who start at every shadow.  There is a kind of hypochondria of power that is all too prevalent among US pundits; part of it is simple ignorance of history and the nature of US aims and capabilities, part is a general pessimism about capitalism and the human condition, and part is a healthy concern for trends that, left unchecked, could well result in big problems down the road.  And there are all those people who confuse the ongoing decline of the blue social model with the health of the United States.

Drezner nails it here:

Since the Second World War, the pattern in the global political economy has been for the United States to adjust to systemic shocks better than any potential challenger country.  A lot of very smart people have predicted that this time was different — the United States wouldn’t be able to do it again.  These trends suggest that maybe, just maybe, that might be wrong.

Read the whole thing.

Published on January 23, 2012 6:46 am
  • Eurydice

    Is it a “newly fashionable notion”? I’ve been hearing about America’s decline for all of my life, and I’ve been around for a while. The thing is that America’s in flux, all the time – people, ideas, technologies, are deecending and ascending all the time. Those on the way down are busy bitching about it in books and articles – those on the way up are busy climbing their way up.

  • WigWag

    There is a proclivity on the part of the pundit and professorial classes to dislike and mistrust the United States. While this is especially prominent on the left, it can also be found on the right amongst Ron and Rand Paul types.

    Their predictions of American decline are not really prognostications; what they are is wishful thinking.

  • http://www.theparenttrigger.com Bruno Behrend

    While I agree that the declinists overstate their case, their warnings are worth heeding.

    Further, I’m less concerned with our financial or political response to shocks than I am with the cultural decline.

    I think everyone should read Charles Murray’s long piece in Saturday’s WSJ, “The New American Divide.”

    It’s a lot easier to adjust to financial shocks by creating trillions of paper dollars to reinflate bank balance sheets than it is to reverse the cultural degradation of America.

    Our poor and lower middle class lives in a cultural sewer of bad decisions and declining job prospects, while our ruling classes (See Codevilla’s indictment) are becoming insular, morally flabby, and prone to papering over their own problems with cash instead of character.

    Watch Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, laugh for a couple hours, and walk out your door and realize that the future is now.

  • Jim.

    Huh, that’s the best news I’ve read in quite some time, though there’s still plenty of room to be skeptical.

    It would be interesting to track the trends in overseas wages, inshoring, deleveraging, etc in addition to WRM’s own trends. Just because Krugman is happy with deleveraging doesn’t mean it’s proceeded nearly far enough, particularly beause he’d have been happiest if we hadn’t deleveraged at all.

  • Hoyticus

    It depends on how you measure decline? From the end of WWII where we were 50% of world GDP to now at 25% of world GDP. The main problem is deterioration of manufacturing prowess and the linkages associated with that, i.e. the country to first invent the transistor was most likely going to be the one to invent computers which happened to be the US. These advantages may sadly be temporary, our innovative capacity isn’t destined to last forever

  • Albert

    Obama’s re-election campaign is in full swing and its propagandists are doing their part…

  • a nissen

    Until Prof. Fukuyama gets serious here must rely on the Nation, et al for the take he has locked behind the paywall at the Journal of the Council on Foreign Relations.

    F.Fukuyama (The Future of History):
    “some very troubling economic and social trends, if they continue, will both threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood.”

    W. Grieder @ the Nation:
    “Yikes. What trends are those? Global capitalism, he said. Free-trade doctrine and new technology, along with the steady offloading of American jobs, are destroying the middle class—the necessary foundation for democracy in advanced economies. “What if the further development of technology and globalization undermines the middle class and makes it impossible for more than a minority of citizens in an advanced society to achieve middle-class status?” Fukuyama asked.

    His alarming observations were picked up by other conservative commentators and treated respectfully, a sign that these anxieties are widely shared. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, longstanding advocate of globalization, embraced Fukuyama’s argument. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote with sympathy for the struggling white working class. It votes Republican and gets hammered by corporate capitalists in return.

    Fukuyama treats this threat to the middle class as a newly discovered insight, but of course, it is precisely what organized labor and liberal-left critics have been saying for about thirty years. Fukuyama’s warning reminded me of a disturbing article by Robert Kuttner I read in 1983 in The Atlantic, “The Declining Middle.” Fukuyama’s explanation of the economic forces echoes the book I published in 1997, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. Alas, the Stanford historian lacked the grace to acknowledge that he was catching up with the liberal left, essentially confirming our critique. If Fukuyama said so, he would lose membership in the Conservative Thinkers Club.

    Nevertheless, I salute Fukuyama for putting some hard truths on the table. His essay will help other conservatives get over the tired bromides about free trade and see through the false claims promoted by the multinationals. The trade issue is at the core of US economic deterioration, yet it is the great silence in the 2012 campaign. It will keep chewing up the American middle class until one party or the other finds the courage to do something about it ”

    My fearless advice:
    Data mills must be forced to address the Income and Race chapters of Thomas Sowell’s “Economic Facts and Fallacies” before any of us (Fukuyama too) have a chance of effectively reading puddings/thinking critically, let alone predicting the future of much of anything.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    While I agree that America isn’t in any danger of losing it’s #1 position any time soon, anyone who quotes Krugman as a reliable source has a broken [nonsense] Detector and isn’t to be trusted.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    I guess a Democratic League is out of the question? It could replace WTO, be financed by a tax on international trade and its mandate would be to maintain freedom of the seas and of the air — but only for those states that abide by minimum standards of a liberal society, which would compose the membership. (E.g., China would not belong without democratic and market reforms.)

    The U.S. cannot afford to police the world indefinitely. Nor have we been elected to do the job.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    The world’s industrial democracies can leverage their combined economic might to police the world without firing a shot. But once we build China up into a major industrial and military power that will not longer be an option. We should stop doing business with unfree societies that enslave their own people to make cheap stuff for us. We can’t compete with that. We shouldn’t compete with that. It’s worse than wrong, it’s a mistake.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405408704 Mahender

    I wkeord for marketing company that makes outbound calls for new donor acquisition. To me that’s a dying and irrelevant way to do that. My boss knows he is managing the decline. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405429136 MaRi

    I’m in the midlde of a multi-million dollar one in the state of California, where funding is running out for programs and projects through grants.This state has not see the worst of the decline.