Whatever Happened to the New American Era?
Last superpower standing
In 1991 the
The collapse of the
The triumph of capitalism over communism and of liberal pluralistic democracy over totalitarian one-party rule appeared a natural complement to the wider processes of globalisation that were transforming the global economic, political, social and cultural domains. During the 1990s, globalisation looked to many commentators, not only American, as though it was made for (and in the views of some even made by) the
This process of globalisation affects virtually every nation or region in the world. The phenomenon is driven, first, by technological advances reducing the cost of transportation, mobility and communication, and second, by deliberate political decisions to reduce or even to eliminate man-made barriers to international mobility.
The first of these two driving forces is irreversible, barring a catastrophe on the scale of the fall of the
The political forces driving the lowering of man-made obstacles to international trade and mobility cannot be taken for granted. They have been reversed in the past. They can be reversed again. Between 1870 and 1914, international trade in goods and services was as free as it is today. International lending and borrowing were also highly developed and subject to few official restrictions. The range of financial instruments traded internationally was of course much more restricted than it is today. However, mobility of people, including international migration, was less restricted during the Gold Standard days than it is today.
In 2000, the election of George Bush and Dick Cheney as President and Vice-President of the
Then the worm turned. The horrors of 9/11 suddenly brought home to
The events of 9/11 brought home to
- The international spread of contagious diseases affecting humans has accompanied the increased mobility of humans and animals. Historically, smallpox and measles have destroyed societies. Today, TB, HIV-AIDS, Ebola virus,
Nilevirus and flu virus can spread with alarming speed. So can BSE and foot and mouth disease.
- The threat of international contagion in financial markets, manias and panics, irrational euphoria and despondency is but a phone call, news flash or e-mail message away.
- Many conventional criminal activities (the drugs trade, money laundering, human trafficking, tax evasion) hare now organised on a global scale.
- Global warming, or global climate change in general, results from CO2E emissions anywhere affecting the climate everywhere.
- Threats to national or regional cultures, religions and identities whether posed by materialist consumerism or an aggressively proselitising Saudi-financed Wahhabi form of Islam, made more acute because of the global reach of the modern media, including the internet.
The events of 9/11 added international terrorism to this little shop of horrors - a global threat perpetrated by loose global networks of terrorists and those who support them.
All these pathological forms of globalisation can only be tackled effectively through global action, that is, through world-wide co-ordinated actions by governments, international organisations and civil society. Safety and security through withdrawal, exclusion or isolation is not an option. Neither is shouting “he who is not with me is against me” and charging ahead, guns blazing (literally or metaphorically) to confront enemies you don’t understand.
It was a double tragedy that the leadership of Bush and Cheney, fed by a mixture of ignorance about the world beyond the US, overconfidence alternating with irrational fear, arrogance and plain stupidity, came to guide and lead the most powerful nation in world at the very moment that creative, intelligent multilateralism was more necessary than ever.
In future posts on this subject, I plan to discuss (not necessarily in this order), some of the reasons behind the swift decline of American power and influence. At the moment I plan posts on the following topics:
- Limits to what can achieved with military firepower.
- High-handed unilateralism and ignorance of the world beyond the 49 contiguous states.
- Economic weaknesses
- Lower productivity growth
- Rent-seeking vs. wealth-creating entrepreneurship: cronyism, corruption and myopia
- Oil and energy-dependence
- External indebtedness
- Tax distortions
- Weak economic institutions
- Monetary policy
- Financial sector regulation and supervision
- Distorted fiscal federalism
- Weak political institutions
- A nation run by and for lawyers
- Checks and balances or paralysis?
- Inequality of wealth and income and the erosion of representative democracy and the rule of law.
- The unholy alliance of Christian fundamentalism and market fundamentalism
- Loss of moral authority:
and extraordinary renditions Guantanamo Bay
- The rise of Chindia and the rest of the Bricks and of the N11