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Wednesday, June 01

World

Readers Write

Tokyo Tom has asked some questions regarding my recent Newsweek post that I think deserve a serious answer. He writes:
PM, do you see no serious issues in Andrew Moravcsik's "Dream on America" piece that merit discussion, or is everything a zero-sum game with you?
I think the article is a serious issue. My problem with it is that it's not an examination of anti-Americanism but an excercise in anti-Americanism. The former is worthwhile; the latter not.

I'm not sure what you are referring to with is everything a zero-sum game with you? The answer is no, but I don't know if that addresses your intended question.

I had thought it was a fairly accurate report of the perception of the declining importance and influence of the US in the world – so that what I found disappointing was not so much the content of the essay, but rather Newsweek’s decision not to run it in the US.
I have two main problems with this, which may not be easily distinguishable to those not familiar with my views.

The first is on anti-Americanism. It's a real issue, and it's worth examining, but it's uniformly irrational and counterfactual. That is, when it's based on facts, it's not logical, and when it's logical, it's not based on facts.

The second was with the article itself, which rather than simply examining anti-Americanism, is anti-American itself. And since anti-Americanism is irrational and counterfactual, that was reflected in the article.

Do you disagree as a factual matter either with (i) the perception abroad of a slipping US lead, coupled with rising disenchantment with/active opposition to US policies, especially post-9/11
I don't know that there's a perception abroad of a slipping US lead (in what?) There's certainly disenchantment with and opposition to US policies. That has been true for 229 years. What we see today is not the worst of it.
or (ii) the long decline in our relative economic dominance post-WWII as Asia, Europe and Latin America grow?
I would bloody well hope that US economic dominance had declined since World War II.

World War II basically destroyed Europe and Japan, and caused massive destruction in Russia, China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. America threw huge amounts of manpower and resources into winning the war, but its infrastructure was essentially undamaged. The war wiped away any lingering traces of the Great Depression in America, but it took a long time for Europe and Asia to rebuild.

What's more, America has 5% of the world's population, but accounts for over 20% of production. That this proportion is decreasing doesn't mean that the US is declining in real terms, just that the rest of the world is starting to get its act together.

What does the CIA Factbook or other statistics tell you about the changes in the share of the US in the global economy from 1935 to 2005? If these are indeed trends, is there a reason to be alarmed about either of them?
No. The trends are positive. The US economy continues to grow. The economies of some poorer countries are growing faster; that's good. Their growth will slow as they become richer and gains in productivity become harder to achieve. That happens to everyone.
Should we not be concerned with the antipathy towards the US in the rest of the world?
Frankly, I'm more interested in whether Fox will revive Futurama than the antipathy of the rest of the world to the US.

What I am dedicated to is getting good, reliable information out there, and a balance of opinion. That's a large part of the reason I run mu.nu. Too many countries live inside bubbles, I'd like to pop a few of them.

Do you see no trade-offs as the US spends huge sums (a signifcant amount borrowed against sharply cut federal revenues) on the military (including extravagant boondoggles such as missile defense, unsettling technologies such as tactical nukes, and nation-building in Iraq), while other countries are investing directly in productive industry?
No, of course there are no trade-offs. Everything's a win!

Sorry, my sarcasm got the better of me there.

In order:

The US military allowed intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, with a standing, peace-time, all-volunteer military, with great success and minimal losses. That's a good thing.

Missile defense is hardly a boondoggle with nations like Iran and North Korea looking to lob nukes at anyone they dislike. You'd be foolish not to be investigating missile defense at this point.

Unsettling technologies such as tactical nukes? You have something of a point there. Nuclear weapons are taboo; their use is all but unthinkable. Tactical nukes would weaken that taboo, and if your number one priority is preventing the use of nuclear weapons, that would be a bad thing. I think, though, that this has to be balanced against the intended purpose of tactical nukes - bunker busters to destroy ABC (atomic/biological/chemical) warfare facilities in rogue states.

Other countries are investing in productive industry? Why, so is America. At the same time as acting as the world's policeman and planning a moonbase and a manned expedition to Mars and a billion and one other things.

It is more than simply disappointing that our invasion of Iraq has drawn no where near the level of burden-sharing that the US was able to secure in the cases of the first Gulf War and the action against Serbia.
Right. But we need to examine the reasons for this. The liberation of Iraq was the right thing to do. Opposing it was wrong. We want to know why people opposed it. Most of the reasons given, however, are irrational and counterfactual.
Reflexive self-justification and denial are understandable, but do not help us to deal with real problems.
Which is why I don't engage in such things.

Just so you know, Tom, I'm Australian.

The US is facing a critical task to stem and reverse the serious decline in relative power that the US is now experiencing as investment and power flow to the growing economies of Asia, Europe and Latin America
Why?

Why is this a critical task?

as the Newsweek article points out so well.
I can't see that the Newsweek article pointed out any such thing.
Our place in the world will soon be much diminished, and we refuse to get our own house in order - enormous budget and trade deficits, declining technical and science skills, a frayed social support network, accelerating disparities in wealth (see David Brooke`s op-ed in today`s Times), you name it.
The budget and trade deficits are a real, if long-term problem.

I'm not at all convinced there are declining technical and science skills. I don't see American research and engineering suffering at all.

I don't see a particularly frayed social support network either. And I don't see wealth disparities as a problem, as long as both rich and poor are improving their lot, and as long as there is opportunity for improvement, something America has always been very good at.

We face a growing dependence on imported oil but have no cogent energy policy (which should include pricing to cover defense and environmental costs).
America should be building more nuclear power plants, including breeder reactors. The present administration seems inclined to push in that direction, which is a good thing.
What a mess we are handing off to our children, who will have to foot the bills and the poorer America that we seem to be willing to settle for!
And again, the present administration seems willing to address issues such as the unsustainable nature of the Social Security system.
Many global issues cry out for US leadership, but we refuse to accept that mantle in favor of unilateralism.
Many global issues do indeed cry out for US leadership, but what nations are willing to accept that leadership? Unilateralism (the old go-it-almost-alone route) is not something America chose; it was imposed by the intransigence of other nations.
The Adminstration, Congress and big business are fiddling while Rome burns (see Tom Friedman’s op-ed in Friday’s Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/25/opinion/25friedman.html?th&emc=th). It is a real disappointment that the Republican party is not making a serious attempt to revitalize and strengthen the US economy, but is instead sapping our competitiveness with outrageously irresponsible budget deficits (in which the roles of tax cuts and our grossly expanded and unfunded military budget must be acknowledged).
I started reading the Thomas Friedman piece. He begins by criticisng companies for not demanding enough government money (in various forms). That's not the solution we're looking for.

In fact, I'm not sure what Friedman is proposing. Subsidies for industry? Protectionism? No, he seems to be pushing for trade agreements. But some sort of government intervention. What? And why? And how is that supposed to help? He seems to think that the government should shoulder the burden of GM's health insurance. Why? Why not let GM cut its health care plan, or failing that, go broke?

Budget deficits are a problem. They're hardly uncommon during wars, but long term, they need to be fixed. Expanding social programs and subsidising business isn't the road to a balanced budget.

I'll note that Australia has been running budget surpluses for years, to the point that government debt is expected to be fully paid by next year. On the other hand, we don't have anything like America's military expenses - even proportionally - because America is shouldering that burden.

While responsible for what still is the largest economy and most important country in the world, the Administration seems to be doing all it can to make sure that voters don't hear any bad news.
Um, in what way?

The administration doesn't run the media, you know.

While there may well be room to criticize the Newsweek piece, it is unfortunate that the blog discussion has ignored the real substantive issues raised by the article, but focussed instead on perceived slights to the flag and the “motives” of Newsweek.
I don't see any substantive issues raised by the Newsweek article, I'm afraid.
While I fault Newsweek for selling America short by deciding not to run the piece in the US, sadly this decision seems to reflect ironically one point of the article - that in fact most of Newsweek US readers would rather hear about the Oscars, than to be forced to face unpleasant facts about our declining global position.
The problem is the Newsweek article doesn't address the declining global position of the US, if such a thing is happening in any meaningful way. Rather, it addresses and engages in antipathy towards the US. That's not productive, not in any way.
But then I suppose it is too much to expect, if our Administration, Congress and business leaders are not willing to talk about serious issues, that our press would show it has real balls.
Once again, the Newsweek piece does not raise serious issues.

It's not a question of balls, it's a question of relevance.

Can we have a real discussion of our slipping economic position, or do we all find it easier to shoot the messenger? I look forward to some enlightenment.
We can have a real discussion, sure. But first, you have to establish what you mean by "our slipping economic position" in the context of an economy that is growing faster than almost any other first-world nation. That the global economy grew by 4.9% in 2004 compared to America's 4.4% is cause for celebration, not despondency.

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