Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Future of American Power?

The future of US power has been a major topic of discussion recently. The global economic crisis, which for once affected the US as much as any other country in the world and the rise of China and the s

It often seems that 'declinists' mistake one possible future for present reality. Other writers correctly acknowledge that US power remains preponderant, but suggest that the US could soon be rapidly overtaken by China or somewhat peculiarly by something called 'Asia', which assumes some sort of Huntingtonian 'civilizational' assault on the Western and US power.

Others seem to be saying that the US shift to deficits will undermine future US power as taxes need to be raised to drawn down the deficit.

This latter view is evident in a piece by Thomas Barlow in which he argues that the innovative capacities of the US are in danger. The 'self-made man' is under threat! He ignores the fact that US innovation has often been the result of a fairly typical mix of state and private initiative. Think the Internet! Indeed as Fred Block controversially argues the US has long had a "hidden developmental state".

Barlow points out that the US is on top when it comes to the knowledge intensive economy. Californian businesses, he points out spend more money on R&D than Germany. "If US states were countries ... 12 of them would be ranked among the top 25 nations globally by total business R&D expenditures."

My gut feeling is that the US is a long way from being seriously challenged by the great Asian powers and its dominant position will once again become clear in the light of (the albeit) slow recovery.

Contrary to Barlow, I think that if the US ever got its state intervention right by developing a comprehensive public health system and extending educational opportunities across the poorer sections of US society, its strength would be fundamentally renewed. In other words, if the US developed a fairer, more egalitarian society it would become an even more productive economy.

The greatest danger for the US and the world is a shift towards a reactionary aggressive isolationism caused by deepening economic problems and misguided interpretations of their causes.

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