The end of American dominance

by Pete Talbot

“The era of American global leadership … is over.”

So writes John Gray. First in the Observer of London and reprinted in December’s Harper’s Magazine.

The U.S. economic meltdown is but a symptom of what Gray terms “an historic geopolitical shift, in which the balance of power in the world is being altered irrevocably.”

The paradox in this shift is that the emerging powers, China and Russia for example, spurned the American model of free (or self-regulating) markets. In one of my favorite insights, Gray says, “China in particular was hectored relentlessly on the weakness of its banking system. But China’s success has been based on its consistent contempt for Western advice and it is not Chinese banks that are currently going bust. How symbolic yesterday (Sept. 27, 2008) that Chinese astronauts take a spacewalk while the U.S. Treasury Secretary is on his knees begging for a bailout.”

And further, as American administrations lectured other countries on the necessity of sound finance (Indonesia, Thailand, Argentina, etc.) our country continued borrowing on a colossal scale to finance tax cuts and fund it’s overstretched military commitments.

Gray doesn’t blame one party over another for the financial collapse but “a free-for-all market that American Legislators created.” He continues:

“The irony of the post-Cold War period is that the fall of communism was followed by the rise of another utopian ideology. In American and Britain, and to a lesser extent other Western countries, a type of market fundamentalism became the guiding philosophy. The collapse of American power that is underway is the predictable upshot. Like the Soviet collapse, it will have large geopolitical repercussions. An enfeebled economy cannot support America’s over-extended military commitments for much longer. Retrenchment is inevitable and it is unlikely to be gradual or well planned.”

I’d like to offer some insights of my own:

There’s a little nationalist in all of us, so our initial reaction to the above story is disheartening — especially if you believe that American policy is a force for good around the world. America has done many positive things abroad: from fighting Nazi and Japanese Imperialism in World War II, to foreign aid to impoverished countries, to the Peace Corps. Lately, though, not so much, as evidenced by our loss of grace on the world stage.

So, I don’t believe isolationism (a la Ron Paul) is the answer but maybe it’s time for a little national introspection. Like, how we got where we are today, economically and imperially. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower coined the phrase “military-industrial complex.” We need to take a hard look at just what is driving our foreign policy.

I certainly don’t believe that Communism is the answer. As a matter of fact, to say that China is a Communist country is to do the term “Communism” a huge disservice. China continues to practice the worst aspects of Communism: a rejection of freedom — of religion, speech and the press — while embracing the worst aspects of capitalism: the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the inability to form labor unions, a disregard for workplace safety and contempt for the environmental.

But the U.S. has lost its way. Maybe a break from number one superpower status isn’t such a bad thing until we can get our country back on the right path.


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  1. --dhc--

    I think that our inevitable fall from grace stems from one fatal decision: handing over the power to create money to a private institution.

    When Congress overstepped their constitutional bounds and passed the Federal Reserve Act way back when, it was not an endorsement of free market idealism. It was the creation of a privately controlled monopoly on the money supply where there should have been one of two things: a state-controlled money supply or a truly free market for currency. As it stands, we have the farthest thing from a free market for currency, as it is against the law to use anything other than the greenback to settle debt in the US. In fact, the headquarters of a moderately successful silver-backed alternative currency called the Liberty Dollar were recently raided in accordance of this law.

    In almost every instance where the free market is being criticized right now, it has been a long way from free for a long time.

    I’m not saying that we should never intervene, and I think that a government-controlled money supply is the best option, but it’s important that we don’t start abusing the term free-market. We have not had a market-based economy fail us, we have had bad fiscal policy set by the congressionaly-appointed money supply monopoly known as The Fed fail us, with the help of a lot of corrupt lawmaking and favor-dealing.

    –dhc–

  2. Pete you’re way off here. Know your role, be a local blogger, not a foreign policy commentator.

    I, Freedom Squirrel, am here to teach you a little lesson about patriotism and foreign policy.

    John Gray is an idiot and is as credible a foreign policy theorist as you are. And as a progressive, I get mad when people like you are always wanting to chide our government’s stature in history for the actions and policies of a corrupt few who managed to hijack it for 8 years. The GOP is the enemy here, not the American government.

    Ask a credible theorist like Joseph Nye, and he’ll tell you it’s the beginning of an American resurgence internationally because of a thing called soft power, something we never had with Bush–a problem that is leading to the corrosion of our dollar and international legitimacy. It’s the power that comes from a country’s ability to act in accordance with and promote its–in our case progressive–values. There’s a reason why all the major banking interests pushed for Obama. If his administration can make good on their value claims to the rest of the world both domestically–by passing laws supporting those progressive values– and internationally by making good on the human rights, environmental, and trade agreements Bush let flop in the interest of the major international equity firms. If he can do this, or make a concerted effort to that’s recognized within the international community, then our international credibility will be restored. Business improves. Peace improves. Fewer Arabs get bombed. Our soft power will come back.

    Don’t forget, we took our first spacewalk over half a century ago, and China still thinks Axl Rose and Duff McKagan are their biggest national security threats. And it’s not a reflection of America and American values that is wrong with the bailout. That is a result of Republican America and Republican American values, but not the rest of the country.

    If anything it symbolizes everything wrong and f*cked up with the GOP, and that’s the reason we’ve got to keep these bastards out of power–not just sit on our asses like unpatriotic pollyannas protected by a sheltered liberal bubble in the mountains.

    Stick to the city beat. If your measure of patriotism is siding with some candy-ass british journalist who wants to convince you America is no longer great, then you’re not an American to begin with, and there’s a more scientific reason you start getting the shakes when someone mentions “tea time.” Go be a brit. Stop hemming and hawing about moving to Canada and do it. Be small. Be a little island that just criticizes the others for not being proper. Remember, we took this island from them for a reason. Because we didn’t want to be their small little satellite stooge. Well don’t start it up again after all these years Pete.

    We’ve worked hard for along time for you to question our nation’s greatness just cause some dumb brit told you to. If you really really hate what Bush has done, then don’t let the country take the wrap for it.

    For I, Super Squirrel am here with a positive message about America.

    If you don’t like it, climb a tree.

  3. JC

    “We have not had a market-based economy fail us, we have had bad fiscal policy set by the congressionaly-appointed money supply monopoly known as The Fed fail us, with the help of a lot of corrupt lawmaking and favor-dealing.”

    That’s kind of like saying: the Bible didn’t fail us; because we are human, we failed the Bible.”

    Given your take that free-market capitalism is a philosophical ideal approaching religiosity, and that those of us on this good earth are mere mortals who are fallible and will sin, then it is inevitable that free-market capitalism will never reach its god-inspired potential, as only he is pure, and we are but imperfect beings.

    Beware, there are those false prophets (the fed and treasurers) among us that might forgive us for our sins (gluttony with capital). Unfortunately they bear no penance (regulation) with their communion (being blessed by bailout), and only serve to lead us back to the valley of the shadow of death (Wall Street).

    Indeed for those who have become addicted to their evil ways (concentrating capital), and detached from the reality of the common man, applying the sacrament only furthers the disease: “we are powerless over our addiction to capital and power and our lives have become unmanageable.”

    Send thee to confessional (Congressional hearings) to speak of thy sins and beg for forgiveness. And receive thy penance by the will of the people and be humble as you change your evil ways.

    And remember forevermore that you shall have no other gods before you, that the false god of free market capitalism shall forever be banished from the face of this earth.

    ;-)

  4. Lizard

    sure, pete, america did really noble stuff by fighting those nazis. we even gave them good jobs at NASA and in military intelligence agencies.

    it seems as long as our economy wasn’t collapsing, it was just fine to turn a blind eye to the ugly side of american imperialism, but once our wallets get light, THEN it’s time for a little national introspection.

    By the way, do you know what govt this benevolent superpower first undermined through clandestine CIA subversion? Iran, 1953.

    the reality of how this country has acted since WWII is despicable, only matched by the arrogant denial of the populous at large.

    humility was never a part of our national character. that is just one of the many “changes” that needs to happen.

  5. Matthew Koehler

    Since antiquity millions of people around the world have died of a disease they simply called “consumption” (ie Tuberculosis).

    How ironic that in the future, historians will look back at the end of American dominance in later stages of the 20th century and the beginning stages of the 21st and see that consumption — as in over-consumption, over-development, “free-trade”, et al — were the root cause of our collapse.

    People have been warning Americans about the perils of the modern version of the disease “consumption” for a very long time. Most of those warnings were ignored and the visionary people who alerted Americans to the developing perfect storm have been mocked, criticized and even labeled as “terrorists.”

    Those future historians, anthropologists, etc will have a field day looking back at the end of American dominance trying to figure out how a society with so much access to information and so many warning signs chose instead ignorance, to their own demise.

  6. TheKritik

    The “Market” is not an agent that does things.

    WE (actual people) participate in activities like buying, saving, investing, and selling. The “Market” is more of a behavior that occurs regardless of the controls of government (bartering is a market behavior). Intervention is only meant to direct/restrict/promote activity. And yes, we get it wrong, very wrong. This is why the philosophical debate between intervention and “free market” ideas persist. Society can’t decide. We know that the “free market” might allow bad stuff, but we also know that intervention gets it wrong leading to other kinds of bad stuff.

    Regardless of your philosophy, however, it is difficult to exist without the ability to buy goods you can’t make yourself, to save value you’ve earned, to invest in things like a home, car, or education, or to sell the things we create to do all of the above again.

    The point is: you can’t exit the market (as if it is a place – tsk tsk) entirely unless you become entirely sefl-sufficient and independent (read “anti-social”).

    Capitalism is also a behavior, a particular behavior that extracts value through the activities of buying, saving, investing, and selling. Too often we treat “Capitalism” as a philosophy and forget that we “do capitalism” all the time (whether you’re rich or poor). It won’t go away if we redistribute wealth, it won’t go away if we elect socialists and communists, it won’t go away if we seize property of land owners. Nor has it gone away in the places who have pursued those very things (partially, because they discovered that even governments could act like capitalists).

    You necessarily have to change your behavior and not act like a capitalist… which is really hard to do. But by all means, save more, spend less, continue investing, and search for new creative ways to derive value. Just don’t invite me to the revolution ’cause I ain’t interested.

    So, that’s my nationalist introspection for the day…

  7. JC

    “The ‘Market’ is not an agent that does things.”

    Then as long as free-marketers cry out absurdities like “let the free-market do its thing” and treat it as the subject of an action, then I am going to continue to feel like I have been “free-marketed.”

    Free-market provocateurs have elevated the notion to that of a deity with independent action that demands the inevitable worship. And thus was born our economic distress.

  8. TheKritik

    LMAO! You have been sooooo “free marketed!” Is that like being “punked?”

  9. JC

    I think that what we are all seeing with all of these bailouts and raiding of tax-payers wallets is a classic case of getting “free-marketed” or in simpler terms, f*cked.

  10. TheKritik

    Like I said before… governments can “do capitalism” too (especially when government revenue is oh so dependent on those big wigs and not you or me).

    But to be fair, bailouts and raiding tax-payers wallets qualify as interventionist. The “free-market provacatuers” wanted no bailouts.

    round and round they go…

  11. Freedom Squirrel – you were caught up in spam. Don’t know why, don’t know how – but Pete had nada to do with it.

  12. klemz

    I declare Freedom Squirrel the undisputed winner of this thread. Good to have you back.

  13. goof houlihan

    I’ll hold off on giving up on the United States just yet, Pete. You go ahead on that one without me.

    And yes, individual freedom is still the answer.

  14. Lizard

    freedom squirrel: your “lesson” is just typical american exceptionalism. i guess you prefer murdering children with sanctions instead of those messy bombs. how patriotic of you.

    here’s a counter-lesson: your brand of patriotism is nothing more than a deluded form of national amnesia. so keep applauding soft power and mocking china if it makes you feel better.

    And as a progressive, I get mad when people like you are always wanting to chide our government’s stature in history for the actions and policies of a corrupt few who managed to hijack it for 8 years

    i get mad when people like you consider yourselves progressives while remaining blind to the duopoly scam that keeps the jackboot on the neck of poor people around the world.

  15. Lizard

    this article takes a quick look at PPI’s (prominent progressive intellectuals) because that’s all it takes, a quick, critical look, to see the hypocrisy of supposed “progressive thought” in the west.

    I think it’s not too simplistic to state, unequivocally, that anytime innocent civilians die because of merciless foreign policy stances taken by slickly marketed stewards of empire, we all lose a little bit of our humanity.

    so don’t act surprised when a kid kills himself online as some viewers cheer him on, or, more locally, two drunk teenagers stomp a homeless man to death.

    kids take their cues from their culture, and our culture doesn’t value life enough to stop torturing foreigners or executing prisoners, let alone emphatically voicing opposition of the unprovoked wars of occupation carried out with our complicit support.

    instead we’ll let head doctors pimping themselves for BIG PHARMA create new disorders, like empathy fatigue, and we’ll gladly gulp down another pill to keep that gnawing feeling suppressed, contained, safe.

  16. klemz

    It’s not that I don’t agree, Lizard, but I’m not sure if there’s a point to screaming at the sky for being blue.

  17. it is not all america’s fault you guys. i figure a lot of bad stuff is bound to happen when you try to stuff 6.5 billion humans onto a planet designed for about 3 billion maximum occupancy. the entire world is in great distress and in some ways we are one of the most fortunate if not the most fortunate people on earth.time to give thanks. things could be a lot worse. let’s all take a break for a weekend and pitch in and help those less fortunate. that is the true joy of the holidays. and america is second to none when it comes to helping our fellow man.

  18. JC

    “a planet designed”

    Whoa, wait a minute, problembear. When did you sign on with the intelligent design camp? It’s not so much how many people, as it is what those people are doing and what they are consuming.

    Now before you go all Malthusian on the 3.5 billion ‘surplus’ beings, let’s remember what percent of the world’s resources us ‘mericans consume… and act accordingly.

  19. jc- you’re right. i was going to say… you can only stuff so many rats in a cage before they start biting each other… i just thought the max occupancy analogy would be more palatable to non problem animals, er humans.

    maybe i should have said habitat carrying capacity exceeded..

  20. Lizard

    klemz: i don’t think imploring my fellow citizens to recognize the discernible, historical steps we’ve taken to arrive at this point of national cataclysm is comparable to screaming at the sky for being blue.

    by using that analogy you are implying i am overexerting myself in describing something that can’t be changed.

    or maybe you’re right, klemz. the sky is blue, water is wet, and Obama is “picking” more wolves to guard the henhouse. Volker is in, Gates is sticking around, and Lieberman is simply giddy.

    insanity: doing the same thing expecting different results.

  21. goof houlihan

    Everybody knows my opinions.

    Good bust on problembear’s intelligent design. The religious right and the mystical left are two sides of the same authoritarian coin.

  22. petetalbot

    Me thinks that too much is being read into this post, although the comment thread is fascinating.

    Looking at some of the comments, one would think I personally insulted a few of the folks who have responded. For example, you’d think I called Freedom Squirrel’s mother a slut.

    “I, Freedom Squirrel, am here to teach you a little lesson about patriotism and foreign policy.”

    You’re a pompous ass. So only you have the insights into how this country got to where it is today, and possibly, where it’s headed.

    And you dare question my patriotism because I reprint a piece that I believe is worthy of discussion. What arrogance! But in Freedom Squirrel’s mind, if you question U.S. policies or bring different perspectives into the mix, you’re not a patriot. You sound a lot like the G.O.P. that you so soundly trash in your comment.

    And you dismiss Professor John Gray, Oxford chair and consultant to governments. So what’s your vitae, squirrel?

    It must be nice to have all the answers. I certainly don’t, which is why I research issues and reprint interesting articles here for others to discuss.

    This isn’t a contest, although klemz declares Freedom Squirrel the “winner” in this thread. Hardly. I think there are valid points from a number of our commenters.

    And Goof, I don’t believe I ever said anything about giving up on the United States. I said it might be time for a little introspection.

    Anyway, when I come across articles that I believe have some merit, or are at least worthy of debate, I’ll continue to post them. And I appreciate the comments but I think it’s a sign of arrested development to personally attack those who post and those who comment because they have a different point of view.

  23. Jim Lang

    I love America for the simple reason that I was born here and I live here, but personally I cringe whenever I hear politicians talk about how we are “the greatest country in the world” or other rhetoric about how the American people are somehow better than everyone else.

    I am a patriot and I am also motivated by self-interest and therefore I would like to see America retain its dominant position in the world. But I reject the concept of American exceptionalism which breeds the false belief that this dominant position is something that is intrinsic to America, rather than something we need to continually earn through leading by example.

  24. klemz

    Did Montana just get the Internet? When somebody declares someone the winner of a thread, it only means that they said the most genuinely amusing thing that has or could be posted about somebody else’s point of view, which of course is an absurd notion. It’s a statement that gives props for being funny, but not without irony.

    sheesh.

  25. Lizard

    thank you pete for posting the article, and i’m sorry i took such an antagonistic stance toward your commentary.

    i just don’t have much patience left for anyone who talks about american foreign policy being a force of good in the world without acknowledging the litany of atrocities perpetrated by both parties of our govt.

    anyway, here’s a song that may or may not apply.

  26. petetalbot

    Hey everybody, keep those comments and links coming. I just get a little cranky when someone thinks they know it all and then suggests that if we don’t agree with them, we’re unpatriotic and stupid.

  27. Lizard

    looking back, what’s been so great about america? what have we really done for the world that’s so improved it? (beating nazis doesn’t count when the descendent of a nazi sympathizer and/or treasonous war profiteer can fraudulently claim the highest office twice in eight years).

    *

    while celebrating genocide by roasting a big, obnoxious bird, my banker brother-in-law laughed at the latest terror attack footage playing endlessly on CNN, saying something to the effect that if that happened here our SWAT teams would have it cleaned up in a couple of hours like the increasing efficiency of the police state (the RNC convention was a BIG step) is something to be proud of.

    behind that kind of bravado lurks insecurity, the kind that requires the implicit support of spending more than the rest of the world–combined–on weapons of mass destruction; that’s not strength, but a national paranoia that the angry, seething brown tides of foreigners want to take what we have.

    maybe that attitude is allowed to fester because the privilege of being the supposedly “last super power” means not having to listen to what other countries have to say. that is going to change, whether we want it to, or not.

    and yet, despite our persistent clinging to engrained traditions and nationally naive perceptions, meaning is more fluid than ever. even the old paradigm of unchecked usury has become such an obscene, ghastly monster (as clearly evident by the behavior of the tip-top 1%ers as they seek more assurances like kings demanding blood from stone) that people from across ideological borders are beginning to see the territory as a whole, and wholly threatened.

    so stop thinking like a democrat, republican, american, or proudly self-interested individual, because we will need to depend on each other in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

    and you can take that to the bank; any one of the three that will be left as shreds from the great paper massacre of ’08 settles.




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