You have put many of the relevant points very well, Clive Crook, and I think this an inevitable development.

America’s sweeping power and matchless affluence after WWII were temporary phenomena, the result all the world’s major competitors being flattened by war and America’s industries having just reached remarkable levels of output as the armory of democracy.

But all those competitors – Germany, Britain, Italy, and Japan – are today back and thriving.

Not only are they thriving but new remarkable competitors have emerged, especially China. And now we even have countries like Brazil and Russia starting to emerge.

Trade and economics are of course not zero-sum games, but competition always means there are relative winners and losers.

Americans, even the most humble of them, over the last half century have formed an iron-clad sense of entitlement. Their leaders have only force-fed them in this with jingo nonsense like “the American dream,” and the new (new in the postwar period) phenomena of mass marketing and advertising with new penetrating media have only further fed this fantasy belief.

Americans’ naïve religious propensity, the inheritance of Puritan genes, makes many of them extremely gullible to such nonsense as being special.

This entire set of beliefs and expectations works strongly against American competitiveness, and America simply is not competitive in many areas. It is living off its accumulated fat, as it were, in many respects.

Real wages for the middle class have done nothing but fall for decades. Americans have adjusted by such efforts as two spouses working and moving out to elephantine houses thrown-up on the deserts and in the cornfields. Both these strategies have pretty well been exhausted.

I would add, too, the important factor that American education has, on average, become inflated and lost a good deal of value. High graduation is practically guaranteed even for someone who barely reads.

Undergraduate degrees have suffered exactly the same decay in value. You can get an English degree in America without ever reading Shakespeare. You can get a degree in television studies or circus. You can get a degree just by playing basketball.

What these educational trends represent is the consumer portion of education taking over to a considerable extent from the human investment portion of education, a reflection surely of the postwar feelings of American entitlement, as in “my kids goin’ to college” even if the kid involved has no academic talent. Such education makes you competitive with precisely no one and only wastes resources in a form of consumption.

Another absolutely crucial area contributing to America’s decline is its long series of pointless, costly wars. Nothing is more wasteful than the military, but America’s sense of entitlement has fooled it into believing it can manipulate the world to its narrow interests and quite frankly uninformed prejudices.

America’s titanic investments in the pointless slaughters in Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and in many lesser efforts has been as unproductive as its decayed system of education.

You can’t keep doing stupid things – all the while pressuring everyone else to pretend that they are not stupid – forever, and I genuinely believe America has reached the limits. Our greatest future danger is America’s not recognizing these truths and adjusting appropriately, instead taking the John Wayne approach to the new world emerging, especially towards China.


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