Chris Van Es

The Strange Rebirth of American Leadership

With the era of American "declinism" upon us, it is worth recalling that we have heard it all before – often alongside equally compelling arguments that Americans, and US leadership, have never had it so good. America’s glass is always simultaneously half empty and half full.

FLORENCE – At the recent annual meetings of the American Economic Association, there was widespread pessimism about the future of the United States. “The age of American predominance is over,” declared one economist. “The US should brace for social unrest amid blame over who was responsible for squandering global primacy,” said another.

We have heard this story many times before, not only in the US, but in other places as well. George Dangerfield’s controversial history, The Strange Death of Liberal England, describes his country’s sudden decline at the peak of its power at the turn of the last century. The world everyone knew simply and inexplicably seemed to disappear. Many Americans – think of the Tea Party’s adherents, for example – fear that something similar is happening to their own country. Or that it has already happened.

Dangerfield based his diagnosis on a cross-section of institutions, politics, and personalities, set against the bitter class warfare of the time. Americans, however, have generally been averse to class warfare. True, the US has been home to a rigid, albeit comparably fluid, class structure ever since its founding. But Americans just don’t like to talk about it, even when they are whining about the follies of the “elite.” Nearly all Americans, apart from the richest and poorest, define themselves as “middle class.” Such remains America’s democratic ethos.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/eDh5PZF;
  1. An employee works at a chemical fiber weaving company VCG/Getty Images

    China in the Lead?

    For four decades, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth under a centralized, authoritarian political system, far outpacing growth in the Western liberal democracies. So, is Chinese President Xi Jinping right to double down on authoritarianism, and is the “China model” truly a viable rival to Western-style democratic capitalism?

  2. The assembly line at Ford Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Whither the Multilateral Trading System?

    The global economy today is dominated by three major players – China, the EU, and the US – with roughly equal trading volumes and limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system. With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization.

  3. Donald Trump Saul Loeb/Getty Images

    The Globalization of Our Discontent

    Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.

  4. A general view of the Corn Market in the City of Manchester Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

    A Better British Story

    Despite all of the doom and gloom over the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union, key manufacturing indicators are at their highest levels in four years, and the mood for investment may be improving. While parts of the UK are certainly weakening economically, others may finally be overcoming longstanding challenges.

  5. UK supermarket Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The UK’s Multilateral Trade Future

    With Brexit looming, the UK has no choice but to redesign its future trading relationships. As a major producer of sophisticated components, its long-term trade strategy should focus on gaining deep and unfettered access to integrated cross-border supply chains – and that means adopting a multilateral approach.

  6. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now