December 3rd, 2004

Short hair suspicion

The unbearable obviousness of reality.

There's all these news stories floating around these days about how America is on the verge of a real economic problem, about how we're overextending ourselves overseas and how our dominance in the world is being threatened on every front. These news stories always surprise me. How is this news? Is there anyone out there who truly believes that America can remain dominant forever? Is there anyone out there who thinks that something like 5% of the world's population can project power over the other 95%? Empires, by their nature, over-reach and fail. That's just how it works. The reasons for this are tied up in human nature, but ultimately it has to do with the fact that when you reach a certain point of power nobody says no to you. They lend you unlimited amounts of money, fail to oppose you in your ridiculous foreign policy, and just generally accept that you're the bully on the block. So you overreach, which we've done. Our national debt is huge and ballooning. Personal debt is rapidly approaching GNP (Which would mean that every American would have to work a full year just to clear the HOUSEHOLD debt, and that's not counting taxes.) Militarily we've bogged ourselves down in a quagmire that's getting worse by the month, and while we are not defenseless at home our power projection capabilities are severely curtailed.

We've over-reached and we will eventually collapse. The question is not if but when, and the Bush policies are only hastening the decline. People know this, right? Do they think there's some plan B, like Thomas Edison springs back to life and creates another technological revolution, or Europe declares war on China and both buy our weapons systems and other supplies? Perhaps, but even that would just be delaying the inevitable. In the 80's we were worried about our future decline and Japan taking over, then we had the tech boom and those ideas took a backseat. Now we're back in worrying mode, and unlike 15 years ago we're not on the verge of financial solvency (Ending the first gulf war when we did helped set us up for the big boom). There's no reason to think that China won't continue to gain on us rapidly, and unlike Japan it's not a smaller population making more per capita than we are. It's a huge population with plenty of room for growth.

The thing is, it's not such a big deal. Empires collapse, and it's not the end of the world for their residents. Look at the British. They once spanned the globe and now they're back on their little island. Besides being known for having bad teeth they do fine. They're not out in the street begging. The Germans and their empire were crushed during World War II and while they have economic issues many of those come from a Soviet occupation that the U.S. won't have to worry about. Russia might be the one post-imperial country in truly dire straights, but many of their issues are holdovers rather than caused by their empire ending.

Russia is a good example of what's important when an empire steps off the stage of world dominance, though, and that's management of the decline. You either have a controlled implosion (Like the various European countries divesting themselves of colonies in the 20th century) or you have uncontrolled collapse, often brought about through war. The first is obviously superior to the second. In the U.S. we need to think about what our role will be after we are no longer THE superpower. We'll still be a big and very important nation, but other nations won't just go along with us and join our STUPID coalitions of the witless, we'll need to give something in return because our friendship won't mean enough. Economically we'll have to reduce our borrowing, but on the upside a dollar in free fall will allow us to pay down the debt more quickly and perhaps bring some manufacturing jobs back to our beleaguered industrial regions.

How do I think the U.S. can best manage its decline? By turning inwards and focusing on what's going on in this country instead of trying to police the world and be responsible for everything going on outside. Instead of invading Iraq we should have spent that money on beefing up security, specifically doing things like carefully vetting student visas so we could maintain the influx of brainpower we once had without risking allowing terrorists into the country, and checking cargo from ships thoroughly and consistently. I also think that we need to revamp our social programs to prepare for what will eventually be higher unemployment records, and of course paying down some of our debt so that if something drastic happens, like a switch in de facto world currency from the dollar to the Euro or a drying up of the vast quantities of investment moneys we currently inhale like consumption of them was some sort of macabre professional eating contest.

America will not be dominant on the world stage forever. It simply isn't possible. I'm not going to speculate on what will happen in the future because honestly no one knows. All of our potential replacements have deep and troubling problems, from Europe's demographics to China's looming health crisis and market transition. Maybe some sort of balance between blocs will develop. Whatever happens, though, I think America will be fine. We still have the best colleges in the world, we have natural resources, low population concentration BUT relatively high population, and we won't fall behind in terms of military technology for at least 15-20 years so great is our current advantage. The real danger is that this nationalistic evangelistic redneck movement will destroy the country from the inside out. It's already started, attacking evolution in our schools and slashing science budgets at our research institutes, but I don't think that will last. Rednecks are like everyone else, they want results, and when Bush doesn't deliver AGAIN they will wake up and realize that it's fine to read (or rather listen to the preachy man do some talkerin' while you looks at them little black squigglies) the Jesus book in between slugs of corn liquor on Sunday, but come the first Tuesday in November you need to vote with your POCKET book.

We're going to be okay.
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