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The Myth of America's Decline

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Guess we should stop hyperventilating about China's rise threatening to displace America as the top dog, globally.

 

The myth of America's decline

 

By Rob Asghar, Special to CNN

 

Los Angeles (CNN) -- China is poised to become the world's largest economy within a decade, according to some economists. Rising giant India already has a middle-class population that is larger than the entire United States population, according to others.

 

Such nuggets fuel an industry of prophetic warnings of decline, exemplified by the phrase "How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented" in the subtitle of Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum's recent best-seller.

 

The rapid growth of China and India and other Asian tigers does not mean that the United States has "fallen behind," however. It takes a panicked perspective to even ponder the point.

 

China and India have immense economies, each with state-of-the-art technological centers that put others to shame. But they are also ranked 125th and 162nd, respectively, in GDP per capita (according to the CIA's World Factbook), lacking clean water and safe food for too many citizens.

 

Both face massive environmental and infrastructural challenges within the next decade. Neither country is in range of providing an American level of services to its citizenry, much less the comfortable level typical of flourishing Northern European economies.

 

And if we consider the deeper cultural dimensions of globalization and innovation, one could go so far as to argue that the globalization game is and will remain rigged in America's favor, with other nations not being able or even willing to catch up.

 

In truth, many societies in East and South Asia are confronting ambivalence and resistance to developments that we might see as progress but that their traditionalists see as moral and social decline.

 

Iran and Pakistan are just two examples of nations whose rapid modernization was undercut by underlying reactionary cultural forces. For related reasons, the various proud Asian tigers are not on an unbendable trajectory.

 

Current trends are not destiny; it is more accurate to say that culture is destiny. Western academics may deride the "unoriginal" thinking of Chinese or Indian students, but this critique is based on an entirely different (some would say culturally imperialistic) worldview.

 

Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching," still proudly full of wisdom today, stands as a reminder that disruption, individualism and innovation are inherently heretical in many traditional societies -- and if they occur in one area of a traditional society, a backlash typically follows in another. Gandhi's spirit, with its vigorous opposition to consumer capitalism, is hardly extinct.

 

Meanwhile, America is the best at being America, because America is the closest thing to a society that unambivalently enjoys being American. The United States has cultural and demographic traits that remain unique -- for better and worse.

 

American culture is peculiarly tilted toward valuing disruptive new ideas and welcoming the immigrant who brings such ideas into its society. An individualistic, heterogeneous, novelty-seeking American culture, strengthened by a critical mass of interdisciplinary American research universities that draw the world's best minds, represents a considerable edge in social and economic innovation.

 

For today's emerging economies to become long-term giants, rather than variations of prerevolution Iran and the Soviet Union, they must become more economically and socially integrated. And to become economically integrated, they must become culturally integrated, which means a host of conflicts are on the horizon regarding varying societal views on change, tradition, materialism, social mobility, openness, patronage and so on.

 

It will not be easy, and success is not inevitable. Many emerging nations are like a young child on the precipice of a tense and unpredictable adolescence.

 

Eastern nations may in time become better than the West at the freewheeling socioeconomics that America and the rest of the West invented, but not without considerable social turmoil. A true taste for innovation and adaptation will result only from a vigorous clash between individualistic impulses and communitarian ones -- clashes that will take decades to play out, with uncertain outcomes.

 

Americans may block their own path and sabotage their own cultural tilt toward innovative growth if political dysfunction continues. But with even some sensible reform of the political system, a resilient, forward-thinking and forward-moving economy should result.

 

America was the key force in popping open the Pandoran box of commercial and cultural globalization, with all the attendant anxieties and unintended consequences. But the globalization game is an inherently American game, and it will take a great deal of luck, strategy and determination for someone else to play the game better than Americans are able to play it.

 

 

 

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Nah, you're just being a typical American, lol. We are our own worst critics. We're the biggest whiners and complainers of our own country's perceived shortcomings and decline, and have been for generations.

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Nah, you're just being a typical American, lol. We are our own worst critics. We're the biggest whiners and complainers of our own country's perceived shortcomings and decline, and have been for generations.

 

a decline of China is NOT going to be good for us

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Nah, you're just being a typical American, lol. We are our own worst critics. We're the biggest whiners and complainers of our own country's perceived shortcomings and decline, and have been for generations.

 

No, not our oun worst critics, our own worst enemy.

 

We are doing to ourselves what no other nation could accomplish. :dismay:

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I agree with the authors statement about individualism and innovation. I have worked with engineers in China and they can't design their way out of a paper bag. They are very polite and willing, and they work fast and do excellent work. They are also very good at reverse engineering, but they just can't come up with new ideas. It's a cultural thing. We had Chinese engineeers trying to design a derivative of one of our existing products. They started by reverse engineering the existing product and to figure out how it worked and then modify it into a new product. They failed at it and so I ended up doing the design work for them.

 

However, the idea that the U.S. will be an "idea" economy is just about as dumb as a "service economy". The fact is that everyone is not cut out to be a research scientist. Engineering school is hard and most Americans lack the intelligence and commitment it takes to get a college degree in a technological field. When I was a freshman I took lecture hall classes with hundreds of students. By contrast, some of my senior level Mechanical Engineering classes had six students. A lot of folks were lost along the way.

 

Without manufacturing, the middle class may very well be screwed. Sure there are plenty of professions and even whole industries that disappeared in the past. The difference then was that there was something better to replace it. The thing I fear for America is that this time around there is nothing better to replace it. A serivce economy means low paying crappy jobs that may not even provide enough hours for benefits (think WalMart). Service jobs really only provide financial gains to those in the trades or those that own services companies. America will be the home of innovation for a long time, but unless you are an innovator, you are not going to reap benefits.

 

The industrial revolution created the middle class in western countries, and proof of that can be seen in the rise of a middle class in countries where American jobs have been outsourced too. Third world countries have no middle class. They have the rich elite, and everyone else is pretty much poor. Before the industrial revolution, free time was a luxury of the idle rich. The 99% were too busy spending sunrise to sundown basically doing what it takes to survive. The industial revolution brough the novel ideas of specialization, mass production, and the division of labor. Instead of plowing the fields from sunrise to sunset, the average American was now able to go work in a factory where they could trade their time for money that would allow them to buy the things they need. Not only did the average American no longer need to provide most (if not all) of their basic needs, but they had money left over and free time to have leisure.

 

Factory jobs are important to maintaining the middle class because they provide opportunities to the unskilled and uneducated. Service jobs simply don't provide that level of opportunity. It is my opinion (and hopefully I am wrong) that the golden age of the United States is over. It ended the day the housing bubble burst. I see a country where there will be a new normal that many will have to get used to. A country where there is a widening gap between the haves and have nots. For some people I feel that their economy will NEVER return. Someone who dropped out of high school and spent 30 years assembling widgets in the local union shop will simply not be able to find a service job that can replace their former income. Higher education, that's a useless feel good suggestion. Not everyone is cut out for college, and the older you get, the tougher it is to go back to school. Even if you are a smart cookie, how are you going to handle trying to learn calculus when it has been 20 years since you took a math class?

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Stephen Leeb PhD

 

"The American Dream is close to being replaced by a living nightmare:

 

•Key commodities that are essential to our daily lives and that are widely believed to be abundant are running critically short. Even worse, the Chinese are doing what they can to monopolize the world's dwindling resources.

 

 

•The U.S. is now largely dependent on our greatest economic rival for rare earth elements as well as a host of other minerals--all of which are absolutely essential to the development of alternative energies and are critically important for our defense industry, computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.

 

•While America has been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, China has focused its substantial muscle on securing vital commodities from these and other lands to upgrade its infrastructure and industrial strength to meet the resource challenge head-on.

 

•China has wrapped itself in the green flag of combating climate change while systematically discouraging other nations from adopting similar policies in a bid to gain time to achieve its plans.

 

RED ALERT is a provocative and frightening look at the growing political, economic, and social power of China and the threat that nation poses to the Western world. It lays out how the Chinese are strategizing to overtake the United States as the world's premier economic power-and details how our failure to respond quickly will result in a permanently lower standard of living for Americans.

 

Peppered with startling statistics, charts, and evidence of how China continues to expand its economic reach, RED ALERT is both controversial and powerful in its scope."

 

 

 

 

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Bob, I agree with your premise about factory jobs, but having worked in middle management in factories for many years (food and beverage), I can say one thing with certainty, it's hard to find good workers these days. The old school thinking of the average American worker hasn't changed much since the heyday of the 60's. Unskilled, uneducated workers, think they are worth twice what they are being paid, and spend a lot of time complaining about it. I have worked for some the the major players in my industry, and have seen this in several parts of the country. We offer a good salary, terrific medical and dental benefits, 401K's with company match, tutition reimbursement, etc, etc. and it's still never enough for many. When you try to change things, become more efficient, develope programs and procedures to more more safely, reduce waste, inshort, become safer, cleaner, and more profitable, all you meet is resistance. You would think in these days of chronic unemployment, people would jump at the chance to come in and work hard. Nope, they come in and complain. I'm obviouslyt not talking about everyone, we have some very talented, dedicated employees who help make our company as successfu as it is, but it could be even better. Up to 30% of the workforce just doesn't get it. No drive to be competetive, just there for a pacheck and a chance to bitch. This is the cultural component the original post doesn't touch on in detail. Unions don't fix this, they make it worse. It has to come from people themselves. Hard work, taking pride in what you do, seeng yourself as a key player in moving an organization forward have all but disappered, if they ever exsisted in the first place.

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I agree with the authors statement about individualism and innovation. I have worked with engineers in China and they can't design their way out of a paper bag. They are very polite and willing, and they work fast and do excellent work. They are also very good at reverse engineering, but they just can't come up with new ideas. It's a cultural thing. We had Chinese engineeers trying to design a derivative of one of our existing products. They started by reverse engineering the existing product and to figure out how it worked and then modify it into a new product. They failed at it and so I ended up doing the design work for them.

However, the idea that the U.S. will be an "idea" economy is just about as dumb as a "service economy". The fact is that everyone is not cut out to be a research scientist. Engineering school is hard and most Americans lack the intelligence and commitment it takes to get a college degree in a technological field. When I was a freshman I took lecture hall classes with hundreds of students. By contrast, some of my senior level Mechanical Engineering classes had six students. A lot of folks were lost along the way.

Without manufacturing, the middle class may very well be screwed. Sure there are plenty of professions and even whole industries that disappeared in the past. The difference then was that there was something better to replace it. The thing I fear for America is that this time around there is nothing better to replace it. A serivce economy means low paying crappy jobs that may not even provide enough hours for benefits (think WalMart). Service jobs really only provide financial gains to those in the trades or those that own services companies. America will be the home of innovation for a long time, but unless you are an innovator, you are not going to reap benefits.

The industrial revolution created the middle class in western countries, and proof of that can be seen in the rise of a middle class in countries where American jobs have been outsourced too. Third world countries have no middle class. They have the rich elite, and everyone else is pretty much poor. Before the industrial revolution, free time was a luxury of the idle rich. The 99% were too busy spending sunrise to sundown basically doing what it takes to survive. The industial revolution brough the novel ideas of specialization, mass production, and the division of labor. Instead of plowing the fields from sunrise to sunset, the average American was now able to go work in a factory where they could trade their time for money that would allow them to buy the things they need. Not only did the average American no longer need to provide most (if not all) of their basic needs, but they had money left over and free time to have leisure.

Factory jobs are important to maintaining the middle class because they provide opportunities to the unskilled and uneducated. Service jobs simply don't provide that level of opportunity. It is my opinion (and hopefully I am wrong) that the golden age of the United States is over. It ended the day the housing bubble burst. I see a country where there will be a new normal that many will have to get used to. A country where there is a widening gap between the haves and have nots. For some people I feel that their economy will NEVER return. Someone who dropped out of high school and spent 30 years assembling widgets in the local union shop will simply not be able to find a service job that can replace their former income. Higher education, that's a useless feel good suggestion. Not everyone is cut out for college, and the older you get, the tougher it is to go back to school. Even if you are a smart cookie, how are you going to handle trying to learn calculus when it has been 20 years since you took a math class?[/quote]

 

The only way I see the good old days unionizable positions return is to force a rollback on civilization, manufacturers, who have turned to technology to manufacture, being forced to turn off the machines and hire people.

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RCrowley: The only way I see the good old days unionizable positions return is to force a rollback on civilization, manufacturers, who have turned to technology to manufacture, being forced to turn off the machines and hire people.

 

 

:) I knew you were a Luddite, masquerading as a technologist.:)

 

 

:D I happen to know you're hardened enough to withstand my abrasive comment. :D

 

 

 

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