The Decline of the United States

Right after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, American intelligence analysts went giddy with the demise of one of the most fearsome evil empires that ever existed. We now had a new world order, supposedly, that had as its only superpower the United States of America. We were the leaders of the free world once again, but this time without the dangers of a nuclear holocaust. In 2009, 20 years later, the situation has changed completely.

In every area except construction, understandably so, American output shows a notable increase over 2002, ranging from 5 to 20% as of November 2008, the last figure available at this moment. It is misleading to compare numbers from year to year, as market fluctuations and world events (for example, the US election in November), distort the real meaning of our economic and industrial growth. When experts are asked their learned opinion, they frequently quote the previous month as a bellwether, forgoing the significance of historical data. For example, they will say “Manufacturing output fell 1.5% in November 2008”, without mentioning that the number is still 5.5% higher than in November 2002.

The OECD, the organization for economic cooperation and development, is an organism that includes the US, England, Mexico (believe it or not), and 27 other countries, but strangely enough, not China, nor India, the future superpowers. The US, as of October 2008, shows a higher unemployment rate (a very good economic indicator) than England, Japan, and Canada, but well below the European Union’s numbers. The GDP per capita (Gross Domestic Product) shows that the US is in third place, admittedly behind much smaller countries such as Norway and Luxembourg. A troubling statistic, however, shows that 59% of the US population is living with an income that is below the GDP national average, which is $ 40,000. Compare this percentage with Mexico’s 69% (average GDP per capita is $ 10,000). There is obviously a gross inequity in the distribution of wealth in both countries.

Another concern is the household saving rate, that is a percentage of household income that is available for savings. For 2006, the last year available, the US showed less than 2%. France had the highest rate at 12%, Germany at 11%, Japan at approximately 3% and Canada close to our own rate under 2%. Is it any wonder that we are in trouble financially? Americans have forgotten the art of saving for a rainy day, spending most of their income and beyond (credit cards) and/or using the equity in their houses as a piggy bank (which of course they can no longer do).

In 2004, we had the dubious distinction of having the highest number of prison inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, 725. The country closest to us, the Russian Federation, had 587. Germany and France has less than 100. Does it mean that our police are more efficient, or, as many claim, that we suffer from a higher number of crimes due to the ready availability of weapons, drugs, and broken families? Let’s not forget that our national divorce rate hovers around 50% compared to 1.9% for Japan, 15.2% for Spain, 42.6% for England (2007 numbers, Wikipedia).

While the numbers show that we are still a power to be reckoned with on this turbulent planet, we can no longer claim that we are the original superpower. Our image worldwide has deteriorated considerably since 9/11 because of the arrogance and incompetence of the Bush administration. China and India have shown us that they will have a say on the world’s stage very soon, if not already. Muslim extremists want to attack us wherever our presence is felt and we have lost the ability to negotiate with our enemies. We have also lost the opportunity to make Russia a staunch ally with our ridiculous insistence in placing Patriot missiles close to their border.

We are now involved in 2 wars simultaneously, we are suffering the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, our national deficit has too many zeros to count, and 2 million people lost their jobs during 2008, again a number not seen since the 1930s. People have lost confidence in their elected officials (a new scandal of corruption seems to appear every week involving a politician), the value of housing has plummeted while foreclosures have rocketed. Will we ever recover our prestige and our preeminent position in the global concert of nations?

BOLA TANGKAS