Twice in the 20th century, the US retreated from global leadership, in the 1930s and again (to a lesser degree) in the 1970s. In both cases, the retreat followed from domestic economic and social crisis.
Those who wish to see the US continue to play a strong international role therefore should pay attention to the welfare and stability of the American population.
Which is why it’s curious to see Bob Kagan’s influential essay on the myth of American decline give such short shrift to such concerns—and to those who feel them:
Much of the commentary on American decline these days rests on rather loose analysis, on impressions that the United States has lost its way, that it has abandoned the virtues that made it successful in the past, that it lacks the will to address the problems it faces. Americans look at other nations whose economies are now in better shape than their own, and seem to have the dynamism that America once had, and they lament, as in the title of Thomas Friedman’s latest book, that “that used to be us.”
I reviewed the Friedman/Mandelbaum book referenced here.
And yes, it was a reporter’s book, heavier on anecdote and example than data and graphs.
But it’s not as if there is any shortage of data on the economic and social difficulties that have overtaken the bottom 80% of the American population over the past generation.
I agree with Kagan that it’s possible to overcome such difficulties. But when difficulties are overcome, they are overcome because they are confronted—and when they are confronted, it is typically because somebody gave warning about them.
It is uncomplacency that inspires reform, and when has reform been needed more than now?
—More to Come—