Being a normal nation isn’t so bad

The US National Intelligence Council, a US government intelligence body, has a blog entitled “global trends 2030” where they are discussing long-term global trends of interest to American policymakers. In their latest series of posts, they intend to analyze the question of “American decline”, which the writer defines as “a reduction in American power across several domains, including economic and military strength, and diplomatic and cultural influence”.

The writer, William Imboden, states that future posts would examine the assumptions underlying these views, and present arguments from a variety of writers challenging the view of “American decline”. From this side of the Pacific, the idea that American hegemony won’t decline over time is borderline delusional – you can only adopt modern technological capitalism a century before most of Asia, not have your infrastructure destroyed in World War II, and have Mao Zedong almost lead the the Chinese into national suicide once. At least in economic terms, the United States’ share of global GDP has to shrink over time. And where economies lead, military and diplomatic strength are likely to follow.

But what I find most fascinating in his piece is what appears to be the unstated assumption that “American decline” would be somehow a disaster for America.

To which I’d pose the simple question – “why”?

While Britain continues to slog its way through a recession prolonged in part through the mindless austerity policies of the Tories, overall, her majesty’s loyal subjects have coped rather well with the end of Empire. In fact, it’s hard to make the argument that they’ve been adversely affected in any substantial way at all. Britain is no longer a global maritime power. But it remains a middle-sized rich country with an enviable standard of living for most of its citizens, and there’s no reason to think it won’t remain so indefinitely.

And I’d also mention its Antipodean colony, which is doing rather well for itself at the moment despite never being a hegemonic power anywhere but PNG and a few Pacific microstates.

The implications for Australia are another matter entirely – perhaps rather more serious, as Hugh White has argued very longly and loudly (and again in the Fairfax press yesterday). But for the United States? Why not just accept that it can no longer be a globally dominant superpower and get on with being a large, rich nation? Perhaps even fix three of its most serious problems, two of which (healthcare and income inequality) have nothing much to do with foreign policy, and the third (climate change) can only be tackled cooperatively anyway?

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6 Responses to Being a normal nation isn’t so bad

  1. wilful says:

    Just watching 7.30 last night (old habits die hard) and there was an NRA executive on a podium exclaiming that indeed (due to gun laws, but generalisable) the USA was the greatest nation on earth, the free-est, the bestest, truly a shining beacon for all. Which of course makes foreign observers chortle with derision. but for a substantial proportion of the domestic audience, utterly true. The UK had quite a lot of psychological scarring to get over the idea of the British Empire, the end of the US Empire is going to be just as hard for Amuricans to accept.

    Though if history teaches us anything, you cannot stand in the way of these sorts of forces. I think it was Guy Rundle that was talking about Obama being the first US President to start to gracefully manage the decline of the American Empire.

    I’m really not worried about Australian defence and security without Uncle Sam – I think the benefits compared to the disbenefits have been pretty overstated. We’ve paid fair tribute, with Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan (and buying junk like the JSF and the Kanimbla/Manoora). Australia will always be too expensive and too far away to attack, and if China really wanted to piss us off, India would be on our side, or vice versa. We can cause more damage to other countries through strategic deterrence than they can cause us.

  2. Funnily enough, their economy is the second fastest growing in the world in absolute terms.

    But, poor children, their share of the pool is diminishing.

    You can see how they would feel sad about it. I doubt any big gorilla has ever been happy about losing alpha status.

    • Useful chart.

      China clearly can’t maintain that growth forever, but they still have a fair bit of potential to grow.

      Their GDP per capita is currently less than one quarter that of Australia (at purchasing power parity). They have an awful lot of catching up to do, which they can do just by adopting existing technology and practices – and, indeed replicating what has worked in the richer parts of the country in the poorer parts.

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