I sat across the table from him. Across a swath of mismatched stacks of paperwork amid the glow of his relatively ancient PC hovering next to him across the way. My other colleague sat to my right.
“So, what are you saying then?” I asked, knowing full well the answer.
My friend across the table shrugged, a political scientist through and through, responding, “Well, if we stay in the wars we lose for sure, and…” My other friend finished his sentence, “And if we pull out of them we lose just as well.”
They both nodded, in perfect agreement with the situation as it appeared to them through the dusty lens of political theory. I didn’t nod. We talked a bit longer. I was largely silent. Then I stepped out into the hallway amid the bustle of activity beyond the quiet office. Stepped from the contemplations of dooms and glooms of the world into that very world, bustling about unaware of the fate that lay before them.
I’m something of an International Relations scholar myself, and so I know the rhetoric and the foreboding theory that matches eerily with the current situation of our country. It’s the same rhetoric that makes two highly intelligent individuals resigned to an inevitable decline of America. The short version of it is that all superpowers have fallen, and they have all declined according to the same blueprint: military overextension, economic downturn, adverse global public opinion of the superpower. There are more stipulations, but these are the main factors. And it is not debatable that they are occurring today.
However, unlike my political scientist colleagues, I do not believe in the inevitable decline of the United States. Not on my watch. And not on yours either. Political scientists place too much emphasis on military effects. What is more important to me are the economic consequences of United States policy abroad. Call it economic determinism: politics doesn’t dictate events and power in the world, the economic system does. Whoever controls the world economy, whoever controls the money, has global dominance. To me, conservative politics is the answer to global economic control, and by extension United States world dominance.
Here is an analysis by an independent government agency on future American prospects:
A report by the National Intelligence Council reproduced every 5 years documents the trends of American globalization and the effects of American foreign policy on our national interest. The last publication, Global Trends 2020, foretold the role of United States internationally in 2020 and foresaw an environment in which America remained the foremost power in the world due to other major powers resigning to United States dominance.
5 years removed from that study, Global Trends 2025 has been published, positing a dramatic difference in the outlook of America’s future. To quote the study:
The 2025 report describes a world in which the US plays a prominent role in global events, but the US is one among many global actors who manage problems. In contrast, the 2020 report projects continued US dominance, positing that most foreign powers have forsaken the idea of balancing the US.”
Effectively, the five year time-span marks a decidedly significant change in attitude about the future of US power on the global level. On the one hand is a vision of US supremacy due to outstanding influence over foreign states, and on the other is effectively a softly worded portrayal of American decline.
Now, one might easily point to the argument that Bush’s warmongering in the Middle East led to this decline due to increased resentment of the US by world powers. That’s the easy criticism. However, it would not be true to say these conflicts have the most significant effect on our perceived decline. What is true is that the wars are only a small piece to the puzzle, a puzzle that can be more effectively solved with its largest piece: economic instability.
I will address the current events that Global Trends claims will precipitate this economic decline in power. Here is number 1:
The refusal of emerging markets to allow currency appreciation despite booming economies, together with the willingness of the US to incur greater sums of debt, has created a mutually supporting, albeit ultimately unsustainable cycle of imbalances.
You can make the case that US debt can be attributed to Bushs’ massive escalation in spending on destructive military assets that do not provide an economic return. But the National Intelligence Council’s report does not imply that national debt incurred during the Bush Administration led to decreased influence but that “US willingness to incur greater sums of debt” was the major influence in deteriorating US influence. In other words, yes, we were in debt at the onset of the Obama administration, but this debt was not the source of decreased influence, rather Obama’s continued government spending that created still more national debt provided the impetus for US decline.
Much is made of the domestic economic instability, but what of the international economic instability? Hilary Clinton in an address to the Brooking Institute said this:
Sustainability is not just about the environment; it is about our fiscal standing. We cannot sustain this level of deficit financing and debt without losing our influence, without being constrained in the tough decisions we have to make. We wanted to try to begin with the publication of this strategy to make the national security case about reducing the deficit and getting the debt under control.”
In no uncertain terms, the issue of national debt is one with huge national security implications. (if only her administration actually had the guts to cut spending and end this problem, right?)
Structural condition #2:
Increasingly aggressive foreign acquisitions by corporations based in the rapidly emerging economies—many will be state-owned—will raise political tensions, potentially creating a public backlash in countries against foreign trade and investment. The perception of uneven benefits from globalization in the US may fuel protectionist forces. Lagging Western growth prompts the US and Europe to begin taking protectionist measures against the faster-growing emerging powers.
So, state involvement in our economy, which has become commonplace under Obama’s watch, will precipitate foreign antagonism and influence foreign powers to follow suit, destroying the privatization of our economy and replacing it with a battle of mercantilist state controlled system of trade. Hm. Sounds like the policies of our old masters in the British Empire, an empire over which the sun was said to never set. Well, it certainly does now…
State control is destructive in economic terms. The movement of the Obama administration away from free-trade and capitalist measures has placed our nation on the precipice of disaster. But its all in the name of stimulating the economy, right? I mean, public spending is necessary for economic growth, look at FDR and the Great Depression! Wrong. Totally wrong. The Wall Street Journal explains it best:
In May 1939, U.S. unemployment still exceeded 20%. European countries, according to a League of Nations survey, averaged only about 12% in 1938. The New Deal, by forcing taxes up and discouraging entrepreneurs from investing, probably did more harm than good.”
The war didn’t get us out of the depression either, as many have claimed. Look at the facts:
The near-full employment during the conflict was temporary. Ten million to 12 million soldiers overseas and another 10 million to 15 million people making tanks, bullets and war materiel do not make a lasting recovery. The country essentially traded temporary jobs for a skyrocketing national debt. Many of those jobs had little or no value after the war.”
So what did? The myth that public spending is necessary in a recession stems directly from the misperception that the socialism of the New Deal elevated the United States out of a depression. Conservative Congressional legislation after FDR’s death is the true reason for US economic bounce back:
Congress reduced taxes. Income tax rates were cut across the board. FDR’s top marginal rate, 94% on all income over $200,000, was cut to 86.45%. The lowest rate was cut to 19% from 23%, and with a change in the amount of income exempt from taxation an estimated 12 million Americans were eliminated from the tax rolls entirely. By the late 1940s, a revived economy was generating more annual federal revenue than the U.S. had received during the war years, when tax rates were higher. Price controls from the war were also eliminated by the end of 1946. The U.S. began running budget surpluses.”
Conservative fiscal policy brought us out of the Great Depression, but only after Roosevelt squandered the scarce resources we still had remaining on purposeless entitlement and public works programs. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal mentions the detrimental effects of “price controls:” protectionist and mercantilist policy, anti-free market, liberal regulations much like Obama’s liberal agenda that will threaten the stability of our state.
So, state influence in the economy, predicted by Global Trends 2025, will lead to a decline in our power. This prediction is based on Obama fiscal policy and economic mercantilism. This issue of state control leads to the final structural economic condition:
The increasing role of the state as a player in emerging markets has contrasted until recently with nearly opposite trends in the West, where the state has struggled to keep pace with private financial engineering, such as derivatives and credit swaps. Today wealth is moving not just from West to East but is concentrating more under state control. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, the state’s role in the economy may be gaining more appeal throughout the world. in terms of size, speed, and directional flow.
The first event that is happening is that emerging industrial countries like China and India are emulating United States mercantilist policy and state economic control. They are using this tactic with a great degree of success. However, it is proven that protectionist tactics are effective in newly emerging former third-world countries. The Newly Industrialized Countries: South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore all followed this plan of state mandated economic pursuits. These Asian states were once third-world countries due to the presence of imperialistic forces from the West who left a broken primary product economy. Following protectionist measures and economic realism, these states achieved unbelievable success. But that success has since leveled off because the advancement of a market from primary product resources into technology and information services cannot be facilitated by authoritarian regimes involved in direct economic control. That tactic is useful to create initial economic prosperity, but only up to the point where the market is ready to develop industry and technology.
So, really, the fear about economic growth in Asia is justified, but only to an extent. And it does not mean that their economic policy is more effective than free-market measures, only that it is more effective at stimulating poorly industrialized economies. The main issue here is state control. And it is essentially the same problem that has previously been addressed with FDR’s New Deal. More government is the underlying theme in all of these structural conditions. More government control, more government spending, more government economic tinkering. And the results are categorically described in the Global Trends 2025, as leading to the decline of our nation.
Stepping out of that office, away from the soothsayers of doom, the “experts” who trust political theory above all else, I shuddered to think of what might become of our way of life should the liberal agenda extend beyond 2012. I do not believe that American decline is inevitable today. But if the 2012 presidential race allows for the incumbent to remain in power, I think that the time for optimism about our country will have come and passed. We are on the precipice of falling from power due to liberal government policy, and it is a very real threat. The only defense against it is to bring conservatism back to the White House in 2012. Barring that occurrence, you might as well become as resigned to American decline as the political theorist, musing about the end of the world in cramped corners. Because then….then that sentiment will be justified.