How will our generation adapt to the decline of America? That will be the question of our country, and indeed, of the world as we progress through the twenty-first century. On both an economic and political level, America has lost the ability to think with vision and with force. Perhaps it was hubris, but this country used to be the destination for success. Today, that success is altogether fleeting.
In economic terms, we will grapple with higher unemployment, greater income inequality, more contingent labor, lower living standards and ultimately less fulfilling careers. The source of these problems are numerous. The lack of quality public education for a large part of the population is my top culprit. Our economy has become more technical over time, yet we cannot increase the number of scientists and engineers coming from our schools (or for that matter, change a culture that ridicules the math and science abilities of its youth). Other sources of problems include a declining civil infrastructure and an aging population.
If our problems were exclusively economic, America's future would be secure. This is the country that leads in economic reinvention and entrepreneurship. No, the other problem is one of politics.
The level of dysfunction in American government is simply breathtaking, and it will only get worse with new trends like the rise of corporate campaign contributions in the wake of the Citizens United case. Public trust has reached such an abysmal low that no politician - I repeat, no politician - can possibly govern effectively in the face of the factional politics that divide us. What politician can ask for the sacrifices needed if no one believes them?
What will America look like in two decades? Take a look at today's New York Times, where Martin Fackler discusses the two decade decline of Japan:
"But perhaps the most noticeable impact here has been Japan's crisis of confidence. Just two decades ago, this was a vibrant nation filled with energy and ambition, proud to the point of arrogance and eager to create a new economic order in Asia based on the yen. Today, those high-flying ambitions have been shelved, replaced by weariness and fear of the future, and an almost stifling air of resignation. Japan seems to have pulled into a shell, content to accept its slow fade from the global stage.
Its once voracious manufacturers now seem prepared to surrender industry after industry to hungry South Korean and Chinese rivals. Japanese consumers, who once flew by the planeload on flashy shopping trips to Manhattan and Paris, stay home more often now, saving their money for an uncertain future or setting new trends in frugality with discount brands like Uniqlo.
As living standards in this still wealthy nation slowly erode, a new frugality is apparent among a generation of young Japanese, who have known nothing but economic stagnation and deflation. They refuse to buy big-ticket items like cars or televisions, and fewer choose to study abroad in America."
Cynically, such a story is written for the current U.S. mood (this is the top emailed story right now). Nonetheless, it is a harrowing look at what the next decades will look like for America. Sclerotic government and a resigned economy - the engine of American decline.
Posted on October 17, 2010