17 November 2007

The end of American dominance

The age of American hegemony is almost over. The future belongs to fast-growing China. In a couple of decades, if not before, China will be recognized as the world's leading nation, while the US will have sunk down into the ranks of the has-been powers, nursing its memories of past glories and wondering what went wrong.

It must be true -- all the smartest pundits are saying it! And they have always been right before. Let's look at the record.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was obvious that the Soviet Union was pulling ahead. Sputnik and Gagarin revealed a technological lead that the US would never be able to overcome -- chaotic American capitalism just couldn't compete with scientific socialism. We were bogged down in the Vietnam mess and America's youth all just wanted to tune out, drop in, and get turned on, or something like that. Everyone could see that we were becoming decadent and falling behind. And they were right! Just look at how nowadays the Soviet Union is.....er.....never mind.

In the 1970s, the oil-rich Arab states clearly held the future in their hands. Americans fumed helplessly in gas lines as the Arabs withheld oil exports to Western countries which supported Israel, then jacked up prices on the oil they did sell. Saudi Arabia's per-capita income soared past America's. Pessimists warned that the Arab world would soon become a mighty economic and political Colossus, while the West would sink into decline and subservience under the lash of the irresistable "oil weapon". And they were right! Just look at how that Colossus has.....oh, wait a minute. Saudi Arabia's per-capita income is now only about one-fifth of ours, and the economic output of the Arab world (population 300 million) is smaller than Spain's (population 40 million), while the Arabs are still fragmented into twenty quarrelsome states with systems of government that would be an embarrassment to a troop of baboons. Never mind.

In the 1980s, Japan stood at the brink of world leadership. Books like Japan as Number One were best-sellers, and the Japanese were buying up American real estate left and right. Japan was pulling ahead technologically, and the US had no hope of catching up. Somnolent American companies couldn't compete. Experts said that the US would soon need to get used to playing second fiddle in a Japanese-led world. And they were right! Just see how Taiwan, South Korea, western Europe, and even the US itself now look for their security to.....oh, wait, it's still the US military. And notice that the main international currency is now.....oh, wait, it's still the dollar. And of course today the world's leading center of technological innovation is.....oh, wait, it's still the United States. Never mind.

In the 1990s, the European Union was the planet's rising star. Two dozen highly-advanced nations had joined forces and committed themselves to "ever closer union". Central planning by the expert bureaucrats of Brussels would outperform the messy American free market. European leaders gloated that they were building a superstate to rival and eventually surpass the US. And they were right! Notice how Google, GPS, and Boeing have been driven from the market by Quaero, Galileo, and Airbus.....OK, bad example. Notice how the EU with a population of only 450 million sustains an economic output the same size as that of the US with its 300 million.....OK, another bad example. Notice how the purchasing-power-adjusted standard of living in Germany and France has now.....been overtaken by Arkansas. Never mind.

So trust me, the pundits are right. The future belongs to China. The decline and fall of America is an all-too-plausible scenario. After all, it has already happened so many times!

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