Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Myth of American Decline

From Robert Kagan's important article in The New Republic:

...Success in the past does not guarantee success in the future. But one thing does seem clear from the historical evidence: the American system, for all its often stultifying qualities, has also shown a greater capacity to adapt and recover from difficulties than many other nations, including its geopolitical competitors. This undoubtedly has something to do with the relative freedom of American society, which rewards innovators, often outside the existing power structure, for producing new ways of doing things; and with the relatively open political system of America, which allows movements to gain steam and to influence the behavior of the political establishment.

The American system is slow and clunky in part because the Founders designed it that way, with a federal structure, checks and balances, and a written Constitution and Bill of Rightsbut the system also possesses a remarkable ability to undertake changes just when the steam kettle looks about to blow its lid. There are occasional “critical elections” that allow transformations to occur, providing new political solutions to old and apparently insoluble problems. Of course, there are no guarantees: the political system could not resolve the problem of slavery without war. But on many big issues throughout their history, Americans have found a way of achieving and implementing a national consensus.

When Paul Kennedy was marveling at the continuing success of the American superpower back in 2002, he noted that one of the main reasons had been the ability of Americans to overcome what had appeared to him in 1987 as an insoluble long-term economic crisis. American businessmen and politicians “reacted strongly to the debate about ‘decline’ by taking action: cutting costs, making companies leaner and meaner, investing in newer technologies, promoting a communications revolution, trimming government deficits, all of which helped to produce significant year-on-year advances in productivity.” It is possible to imagine that Americans may rise to this latest economic challenge as well...

The rest of the article here.

President Obama likes it.



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