January 30, 2005

So much for the End of History

Posted by Curt at 07:05 PM in Politics | TrackBack

Just some cheerful words to chew on while our politicians wear their enamels off congratulating themselves about the Iraqi election:

“The collapse of the rival giant [the Soviet Union] has exaggerated America’s apparent strength because it has so much more economic muscle than any single rival. But for many decades America’s share of the world’s economic output has been in decline. Think of a see-saw. America at one end is now easily outweighed by any substantial grouping at the other, and most of those powers are on friendly terms with each other. America’s modesty in 1945 understated its muscle, just as Bushite vanity overstates it today. He has over-reached. His country is overstretched, losing economic momentum, losing world leadership, and losing the philosophical plot. America is running into the sand.”

Maybe I’ve been hanging out in France, where declinism (both French and American) never goes out of fashion, for too long, but that assessment seems more convincing than this disappointing “We are so great—right now” rebuttal by Victor Hanson. And the CIA seems to concur (though admittedly in more neutral language):

“The likely emergence of China and India … as new major global players—similar to the advent of a united Germany in the 19th century and a powerful United States in the early 20th century—will transform the geopolitical landscape with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two centuries.”


I, for one, think VDH got it right. Parris' argument about American decline relies on a pretty specious reading of economic and political facts. But then again, no facts will dissuade Parris: the better things look for the US, the sexier his "perfumed blossoms" metaphor becomes.

Posted by: elliot at January 31, 2005 01:50 PM

I don't know what element of it you find "specious." America HAS been in economic decline relative to the rest of the world for some time now, our military IS overstretched and American military and political initiatives are increasingly dependent on brute force, or rather maybe they always were, but there are no natural geopolitical groupings left to rubberstamp those initiatives like they did in the Cold War. You can argue about whether that is going to bring about any significant change of status in the future, but then your issue is not with his "reading of economic and political facts" but rather with his prognostication based on that reading.

Personally, I think this has to do with deep-seated underlying demographic and economic factors, so in that sense something like the Iraq War is probably not too significant, but I do think that it is the first highly visible sign of decay.

Posted by: Curt at January 31, 2005 02:42 PM

im no economist, but i know a few things. like the US is the largest economy on earth (still), has the most productive workforce, and ranks in the top three or four highest per capita incomes in the world. where is this economic decline?

Posted by: elliot at January 31, 2005 03:28 PM

That's the exact same logical fallacy that Hanson commits. Just because the U.S. has the largest economy in the world, etc., doesn't mean that it's not also in relative decline compared to the rest of the world (as is indeed the case). That's why I dismissed Hanson's argument more or less, because his response to the charge that we are in a process of decline which could lead to a dethroning in the future is that we are the best and the greatest right at this moment. Well, the two are not incompatible, certainly not with that attitude.

Posted by: Curt at January 31, 2005 08:25 PM