America the Miserable
(warning - this post cites from the one immediately prior)
I'll throw in a few cents - I just came back from a [...] seminar with [...] a small group of smart people, and the general perspective in the discussion was that we have much more to worry about than the decline of America. If you tack on 'relative to other nations,' this is inevitable, I think, given America's undisputed hegemony since WWII. We're not as hungry as China or India, who now have nearly unfettered access to networks of exchange compared to half a century ago, and no amount of speeches will make us so. But America declining in absolute terms doesn't seem to be a real concern in the near future.
More worrisome is a set of macro dynamics which include an increasingly unstable financial nonequilibrium ( i.e. US deficits financed by China), growing China influence over Asia-Pacific and Africa, declining power by any single entity to control outcomes, growing inequality between the haves and have-nots, development of nuclear weapons by non-democracies, potential for state-sanctioned cyberwars in an era where nearly all systems including battleships are networked, increased power of individual and non-state actors, and uncontrollable and accelerating knowledge flows – creating massive uncertainty and the potential for catastrophic outcomes. We should be deeply and viscerally afraid.
I agree with C. in his call for pragmatism and the avoidance of what N. calls "wishful non-thinking," but I also agree with M.'s call for an action orientation. The striking thing about old frameworks is that they tended to neglect the power of the observer-actor, which historically was, well, negligible. In a very real way, and because of the advances in the digital infrastructure, this is no longer the case. Though it's becoming increasingly hard to control outcomes, we can change them. Sitting here in London, I'm struck by the differences between the US and other countries in implied degrees-of-freedom to act that can be imputed from behavior - I'm probably being opaque, but people outside the US seem to act in a more bounded way than Americans (with different bounds for different nations). That's an enormous cultural advantage in an environment where individuals and non-state actors have more power. Being here, I'm also struck by the relatively stable unwinding of the massive British empire over the last century, leaving the UK still a significant player on the world stage. We would do well in the US to consider how to manage the inevitable devolution of power in a stable and strategic way. Decline of nation power doesn't necessarily need to mean decline of the power of our values.