The United States in Decline: Volume 26
Table of contents(17 chapters)
List of contributors
Senior editorial board
Student editorial board
Is the United States in decline? If so, what are the causes and dimensions of that decline and is it irreversible? Will American decline be accompanied by the rise of a new hegemon? To what extent are that rise and decline merely concurrent processes, determined by forces internal to each polity, or are American decline and the rise of its competitors both manifestations of a single global dynamic?
This introduction defines decline and presents the answers to those questions offered by the authors of the chapters in this volume. I conclude by analyzing the effects of internal US decline upon the global economy and geopolitics and offer an agenda for future research on politics and nationalism in a post-hegemonic world.
In this chapter, we argue for an essential dualism in the U.S. economy; there are simultaneously institutional sources of dynamism and institutional patterns that portend a process of decay and decline. This dualism corresponds to a growing divide between innovative small- and medium-sized enterprises and big corporations – both financial and nonfinancial – that are increasingly predatory in their business strategies. Surprisingly, firms on both sides of the divide are increasingly dependent on government. The small- and medium-sized firms rely heavily on government science and technology programs to help them innovate. The large firms need government to protect their position. Whether dynamism or decay will prove to be stronger, we think, is contingent on political choices that will be made over the next ten years. This contingency, in turn, makes it easier to understand the highly polarized nature of partisan politics in the United States today.
Since the 1970s, many global political economists have been seeing the US as a declining hegemon. After four decades into this hegemonic decline, performance of economies having been regarded as candidates for new hegemons such as Germany/Europe and Japan fell far short of these expectations, while US share of the global economy and its military supremacy remained stable. This staying power of the US stems from the “dollar standard,” under which the US dollar is the dominant foreign reserve currency and international transaction medium in the world economy. The dollar standard originated in the Cold War era when all major capitalist powers relied on the US for military protection. It persisted after the end of Cold War, thanks to the continuous mutual reinforcement of the dollar standard and the global domination of the US military. The recent rise of China, which is the first major capitalist power outside the orbit of US military protection, poses a serious dilemma to the US. On the one hand, China’s export-oriented development drives China to purchase US Treasuries on a massive scale, hence lending support to the short-term viability of the dollar. On the other hand, US’s skyrocketing current account deficit, much attributable to China, precipitates a crisis of confidence over the dollar’s long-term prospects. China is likewise caught in a dilemma between sustaining its export-driven growth and shifting to a domestic-consumption-driven economy. The development of the US–China currency conflict, together with the transformation of the Chinese developmental model, will be the most important determinant shaping the future of the dollar standard and US global power in the years to come.
This chapter examines explanations for the slowdown of capital accumulation since 1980. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data on trends on productivity and capital spending, we find that slowing productivity growth accounts for slower capital accumulation. Other explanations for the downturn, such as outsourcing, the “post-industrial” economy, and financialization, do not reflect macroeconomic trends. However, we argue that shareholder value ideology affected decisions about how to balance productivity growth and inputs such as capital and labor. We discuss the consequences of slowing accumulation on American economic hegemony.
This chapter argues that aspiring hegemons face a wide array of complex and distinct military challenges. Managing scarce military resources requires a subtle and complex global strategy that is likely to generate cognitive overload for the political system. As a result of cognitive overload, aspiring hegemons are likely to flail around, rapidly shifting from one global strategy to another. Such strategic flailing will occur independently of whether or not the economy is in crisis, though clearly economic crisis will exacerbate the tendency towards strategic incoherence. The chapter examines U.S. global strategy since the end of the Cold War, looking at the focus on “rogue regimes,” a growing concern with “global chaos,” worry about the rise of a peer competitor (China), and the debates about the root causes of, and best strategies to mitigate, terrorism. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the role of culture and notions of national identity and their role in the formulation of grand strategy.
We argue that the United States has experienced a decline of economic, political, and military power since the 1970s, and that this decline can be attributed in part to the fragmentation of the American corporate elite. In the mid-twentieth century, this elite – constrained by a highly legitimate state, a relatively powerful labor movement, and an active financial community – adopted a moderate and pragmatic strategy for dealing with the political issues of the day. The “enlightened self-interest” of corporate leaders contributed to a strong economy with a relatively low level of inequality and an expanding middle class. This arrangement broke down in the 1970s, however, as increasing foreign competition and two energy crises led to spiraling inflation and lower profits. In response, the corporate elite waged an aggressive (and ultimately successful) assault on government regulation and organized labor. This success had the paradoxical effect of undermining the elite’s own sources of cohesion, however. Having won the war against government and labor, the group no longer needed to be organized. The marginalization of the commercial banks and the acquisition wave of the 1980s exacerbated the fragmentation of the corporate elite. No longer able to act collectively by the 1990s, the corporate elite was now incapable of addressing issues of business and societal-wide concern. Although increasingly able to gain individual favors from the state, the elite’s collective weakness has contributed to the political gridlock and social decay that plague American society in the twenty-first century.
I trace and explain how the ratcheting of corporate mergers and deregulation transformed the structure of elite relations in the United States from 1960 to 2010. Prior to the 1970s there was a high degree of elite unity and consensus, enforced by Federal regulation and molded by structure of U.S. government, around a set of policies and practices: interventionism abroad, progressive tax rates, heavy state investment in infrastructure and education, and a rising level of social spending. I find that economic decline, the loss of geopolitical hegemony, and mobilization from the left and right are unable to account for the specific policies that both Democratic and Republican Administrations furthered since the 1970s or for the uneven decline in state capacity that were intended and unintended consequences of the post-1960s political realignment and policy changes. Instead, the realignment and restructuring of elites and classes that first transformed politics and degraded government in the 1970s in turn made possible further shifts in the capacities of American political actors in both the state and civil society. I explain how that process operated and how it produced specific policy outcomes and created new limits on mass political mobilization while creating opportunities for autarkic elites to appropriate state powers and resources for themselves.
Past predictions of convergence between American capitalism and the Soviet planned economy optimistically assumed that advanced industrial society must also become democratic and pragmatic in its choice of economic policies. The Soviets had to become more capitalist. All such predictions proved only partially correct. Russia did become capitalist after a hugely destructive collapse, which obliterated the democratic demands of the 1960s in deindustrialization and enormous inequalities. Only ideological prejudices, reinforced in 1989, prevent most observers from seeing that America and Russia did in fact converge in a similar pattern of socioeconomic crisis. The outcomes of their crisis sequences could seem different in 2012, but these might not be the final outcomes.
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- Emerald Publishing Limited
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