Nov 28 2010
With a global recession, the continuing threat of global terror, and a polarized political season, it’s easy for Americans to assume problems are many and solutions are few. And for some, this brings into focus the question of American decline.
However, in a special edition of Foreign Affairs (November, December, 2010) on “The World Ahead”, Joseph S. Nye, Jr. of Harvard takes a longer-term and broader perspective than most “declinists” and concludes that America is well-positioned to succeed in the 21st century.
Will the spectacular foreign policy and technological success of the International Space Station inspire the United States, and other global leaders, to pursue a united, global approach to human settlement of the solar system?
Nye’s approach is broadly consistent with 21stCenturyWaves.com’s view that current trends favor America as a key leader in the new (post-2015) global Space Age over the next 20+ years, and beyond.
America’s Future Decline Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
Nye disposes of alleged parallels between the United Kingdom’s decline and the U.S., and notes that, despite its global empire and naval supremacy, by World War I the UK was not the global leader in GDP or military spending.
He suggests that belief in U.S. decline is psychological and not unusual in history. For example, Charles Dickens once observed that
If its individual citizens are to be believed, (the U.S.) always is depressed, and always is stagnated, and always is at an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise.
Nye mentions that belief in America’s decline rose after Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. This was the seminal, Cold War event that launched the first Space Age and triggered the extraordinary, Camelot-style Apollo Maslow Window .
China’s Future Ascent Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
Although Goldman Sachs projects that China’s GDP will surpass America’s in 2027, Nye points out that, even if true, China will lag in GDP per capita long after 2030.
A complicating factor is that macroeconomic trends over the last 200+ years indicate that the 2015 Maslow Window should close by 2025 (if not before) and that by 2027, economies may experience severe long wave-related downturns similar to 1973.
In the coming decades, not only will China feel a competition from Japan and India — both with good U.S. relations — but, according to Nye,
Whether China can develop a formula that manages an expanding urban middle class, regional inequality, rural poverty, and resentment among ethnic minorities remains to be seen.
Indeed, Stratfor continues to forecast that by 2015 China will experience a major Japan-style economic collapse.
In any case, a weakened China would not be a positive development either on Earth or in space, as I indicated in a 2008 post: “10 Reasons Why China is Good for Space”.”
American Demographic Decline and Economic Stagnation?
Unlike China and most of the developed countries of the world who’s populations are seriously aging, America’s history of immigration is the key. According to Nye …
With its current levels of immigration, the United States is one of the few developed countries that may avoid demographic decline and keep its share of world population…
Indeed, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew believes it’s “Sinocentric culture” will make China less competitive and unable to surpass the U.S. in the 21st century, because the U.S. can
attract the best and brightest from the rest of the world and meld them into a diverse culture of creativity.
This is underlined by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor who’s 2009 survey ranked the U.S. #1 in opportunities for entrepreneurship because of its
favorable business culture, the most mature venture capital industry, close relations between universities and industry, and an open immigration policy.
However, a stagnating U.S. economy would be a “showstopper” according to Nye.
Identified recently by both the current U.S. Secretary of State and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a threat to U.S. national security, the growing U.S. national debt will reach 100% of GDP by 2023 — a particularly vulnerable time near the expected end of the 2015 Maslow Window. Plus, as debt-to-GDP ratios grow, so do interest rates which limit private investment and slow economic growth.
To cure the debt, Nye recommends “spending cuts and consumption taxes that would pay for entitlements” post-recession. In fact, both long- and short-term trends in a variety of sectors point to a major economic boom by 2015.
National Power is “Like Calories in a Diet…”
More is not always better.”
The United States’ power is not what it used to be, but it also never really was as great as assumed.
Nye cites post-WW II when the U.S. was the dominant economic and military superpower in the world but could not stop the “loss” of China, or “roll back” Communism in Eastern Europe, etc. etc…
This is important because mistaken beliefs about national decline and/or power, “can lead to dangerous mistakes in policy”.
Historically, American power is based on “alliances rather than colonies.” Therefore, in the 21st century…
The United States is well placed to benefit from such networks and alliances, if it follows smart strategies.
A good example is the international, technological marvel known as the International Space Station. With a little luck, ISS could inspire a truly global 21st century approach to human settlement of the solar system.