After a decade of non-stop yammering about America’s inevitable and already far-advanced decline, the chattering classes (even in Europe and China) are beginning to reconsider. As the FT‘s Philip Stephens points out, the US is in pretty good shape if you look at its long-term outlook:
The big reason for optimism is structural rather than cyclical. Short-term storms have obscured longer-term trends. These are on America’s side. There is no need to take my word for it. Ask the Chinese.A year or so ago, the Beijing-based Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations made an unpublished assessment of the various components of US power. The CICIR serves China’s intelligence agencies and has a reputation for unvarnished analysis. It found many more entries on the positive than on the negative side of the US balance sheet.Some of these strengths speak for themselves. America’s military reach will be unrivalled for decades. It has a stable political system. The country’s demographic profile is significantly better than that of any potential rival. Washington sits at the centre of the world’s most powerful alliance system. Its intelligence capabilities are unmatched. The US has huge advantages in technological prowess and intellectual resources. Around the world it exerts a strong cultural draw. It has a global outlook.
Though the Chinese report raised concerns about America’s public debt and political gridlock, these are short term problems that pale in comparison to those that are crushing Europe.
In particular, America’s growing ability to tap into and exploit its vast shale oil and gas reserves is the gift that keeps on giving, and will provide more incentives for businesses to move to America.
Only a few short years ago, the airwaves were rife with frantic warnings of American decline. Now, the conventional wisdom is shifting as journalists begin to realize that this country’s long term strengths—in the opinion even of the Chinese—considerably outweigh those of other places. People often go wrong estimating America’s future prospects by comparing the state of the country to perfection; we fall short and depression ensues. It’s more reasonable and more illuminating to compare America’s strengths and weaknesses against those of possible rivals; from that perspective the United States looks reasonably well placed.