Why Nations Fail
From The American Conservative; By Ron Unz | April 18, 2012; Original Article.
These facts do not provide much evidence for the thesis in Why Nations Fail that China’s leaders constitute a self-serving and venal "extractive" elite. Unfortunately, such indications seem far more apparent when we direct our gaze inward, toward the recent economic and social trajectory of our own country.
Against the backdrop of remarkable Chinese progress, America mostly presents a very gloomy picture. Certainly America’s top engineers and entrepreneurs have created many of the world’s most important technologies, sometimes becoming enormously wealthy in the process. But these economic successes are not typical nor have their benefits been widely distributed. Over the last 40 years, a large majority of American workers have seen their real incomes stagnate or decline.
Meanwhile, the rapid concentration of American wealth continues apace: the richest 1 percent of America’s population now holds as much net wealth as the bottom 90–95 percent, and these trend may even be accelerating.
A recent study revealed that during our supposed recovery of the last couple of years, 93 percent of the total increase in national income went to the top 1 percent, with an astonishing 37 percent being captured by just the wealthiest 0.01 percent of the population, 15,000 households in a nation of well over 300 million people.
Evidence for the long-term decline in our economic circumstances is most apparent when we consider the situation of younger Americans. The national media endlessly trumpets the tiny number of youthful Facebook millionaires, but the prospects for most of their contemporaries are actually quite grim.
According to research from the Pew Center, barely half of 18- to 24-year-old Americans are currently employed, the lowest level since 1948, a time long before most women had joined the labor force.
Nearly one-fifth of young men age 25–34 are still living with their parents, while the wealth of all households headed by those younger than 35 is 68 percent lower today than it was in 1984.
The total outstanding amount of non-dischargeable student-loan debt has crossed the trillion-dollar mark, now surpassing the combined total of credit-card and auto-loan debt—and with a quarter of all student-loan payers now delinquent, there are worrisome indicators that much of it will remain a permanent burden, reducing many millions to long-term debt peonage. A huge swath of America’s younger generation seems completely impoverished, and likely to remain so.
International trade statistics, meanwhile, demonstrate that although Apple and Google are doing quite well, our overall economy is not. For many years now our largest goods export has been government IOUs, whose dollar value has sometimes been greater than that of the next ten categories combined.
At some point, perhaps sooner than we think, the rest of the world will lose its appetite for this non-functional product, and our currency will collapse, together with our standard of living. Similar Cassandra-like warnings were issued for years about the housing bubble or the profligacy of the Greek government, and were proven false year after year until one day they suddenly became true.
Ironically enough, there is actually one major category in which American expansion still easily tops that of China, both today and for the indefinite future: population growth. The rate of America’s demographic increase passed that of China over 20 years ago and has been greater every year since, sometimes by as much as a factor of two.
According to standard projections, China’s population in 2050 will be almost exactly what it was in 2000, with the country having achieved the population stability typical of advanced, prosperous societies. But during that same half-century, the number of America’s inhabitants will have grown by almost 50 percent, a rate totally unprecedented in the developed world and actually greater than that found in numerous Third World countries such as Colombia, Algeria, Thailand, Mexico, or Indonesia.
A combination of very rapid population growth and doubtful prospects for equally rapid economic growth does not bode well for the likely quality of the 2050 American Dream.
China rises while America falls, but are there major causal connections between these two concurrent trends now reshaping the future of our world? Not that I can see.
American politicians and pundits are naturally fearful of taking on the fierce special interest groups that dominate their political universe, so they often seek an external scapegoat to explicate the misery of their constituents, sometimes choosing to focus on China. But this is merely political theater for the ignorant and the gullible.
Various studies have suggested that China’s currency may be substantially undervalued, but even if the frequent demands of Paul Krugman and others were met and the yuan rapidly appreciated another 15 or 20 percent, few industrial jobs would return to American shores, while working-class Americans might pay much more for their basic necessities.
And if China opened wide its borders to more American movies or financial services, the multimillionaires of Hollywood and Wall Street might grow even richer, but ordinary Americans would see little benefit.
It is always easier for a nation to point an accusing finger at foreigners rather than honestly admit that almost all its terrible problems are essentially self-inflicted.
This is a six-part article:
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