Nice While It Lasted

Tim Watkin posts at The Guardian web site:

America is out of touch and behind the times on climate change and economic reform. It is mired in a stagnant war that the rest of the west has abandoned or is abandoning. American global influence is in decline, the country having lost the respect of allies and the credibility to lead. As we’ve seen yet again in last week’s brinkmanship by Turkey, American diplomacy has all the vim and vigour of Fred Thompson. For now America remains the world leader, but it’s moving steadily from superpower to first among equals. Nowhere is this more evident than in the sciences. …

… Overseas institutions and companies are increasingly competitive, and federal and state funding for science and engineering has fallen significantly, to just 0.8% of GDP. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are sucking up federal money, with President Bush last week asking Congress to raise the war budget for 2008 to $196bn. That’s quite an opportunity cost.

As Tom Friedman put it in his New York Times column on Iraq recently: “Can we pay for it and be making the investments in infrastructure, science and education needed to propel our country into the 21st century?” The answer, judging from speakers at the TechNet summit at Berkeley earlier this month, is no.

Watkin cites a report titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” which was authored by The Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), a joint unit of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.

It’s hard to ignore the scientists and business leaders who wrote the Gathering Storm report when they write, bluntly: “We are worried about the future prosperity of the United States.” As the US slides, other countries are catching up too rapidly. I think Americans will look back at the second half of the 20th century as the pinnacle of American power and influence.

The comments to this post are almost more alarming than the post. A number of American wingnuts responded, claiming that Chinese engineers can’t be compared to American engineers because Asians have no creativity, and hey, we landed on the moon.

We’re doomed.

The notion that America and Americans are intrinsically superior is so deeply ingrained on the Right that no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary is likely to flush it out. Also, American conservatives by nature will ignore and deny an impending problem until it bites their butts, and then they blame Democrats for not solving it.

You’ve probably had this experience yourselves — mention the mere possibility that the U.S. could be less economically dominant at some point in the future, and if there’s a wingnut present he will laugh at you. Nope, not possible, he says. The way things have been in my lifetime is the way they will always be, forever and ever, amen.

American economic dominance grew out of several factors. The United States was one of the few large industrial nations to emerge from World War II without massive war damage and with its manufacturing base intact and productive, for example. Mortgage subsidies helped the new married couples of the Greatest Generation to purchase homes, and the GI bill sent a large part of the population to college, and in turn those college graduates started businesses, developed new technologies, created new products. America dominated the second half of the 20th century partly by circumstance of war and geography and partly because we invested in ourselves.

These days college is prohibitively expensive. Our manufacturing base is moving overseas, and the current POTUS seems to think this is a good thing. A major American city suffers massive damage from floods, and two years later the federal government continues to show a remarkable lack of interest in setting things right. About one in six Americans lacked health insurance for all of 2005, and our elected “leaders” look the other way and talk glibly about fictional “market solutions.” Anti-government conservative ideology so dominates American politics that we can’t even have sensible discussions about using government to address our growing problems.

We’re strangling ourselves with our own stinginess to each other.

8 thoughts on “Nice While It Lasted

  1. The success of the latter parts of the 20th Century for this country resulted in everyone thinking themselves rich enough to vote Republican.

    It’s what happens when Democrats succeed.

  2. I’m reminded a great deal of the Soviet Union, where several generations of communist ideology ran that country completely into the ground. With a few exceptions, nearly everything the Russians made was a knock-off of what had been invented in the west. Ironically, as far back the 1950s the top Soviet leadership knew that their system wasn’t working, but it would take another generation, and Mikail Gorbachev to begin to change things.

    We’ve had one generation of free market ideology here, with its ruinous refusal to invest in people – either via health care or education, or for that matter in new techology. America rode the last wave of technological advance – the computer revolution – which ended around the time of the dot com bust – but other than exotic pharamceuticals, there is little else in that pipe. Other countries are passing us up in the areas of stem cell research, hybrid + low emission cars, and green technologies, while we waste billions on bullying the world. In the meantime, we are spending like there is no tomorrow, continuing to keep up appearances, while our economy is hollowed out.

    Fortunately, more practical leadership is on the horizon in 2009, but the real issue is going to be shifting the country’s priorities and having an honest discussion about all of this vis-a-vis taxes. Being married to any ideology has to be exposed for the turkey it is.

  3. We’re strangling ourselves with our own stinginess to each other.
    Reminds me of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. When Bailey is shown life without him, everyone is mean, angry, unwilling to give even the most basic respect to fellow human beings. I got mine you get yours.
    Market solutions to every problem in America rocketed under Ronald Reagan. It’s only one symptom of doing the same thing over and over by this regime. And are we to expect different outcomes?
    We don’t have a God of mercy, justice, and peace in this country. The God of money and profit trumps.

  4. For a dose of hope, see Doing what Detroit says is impossible over at DailyKos. It’s about a self-educated mechanic and inventor, who converts Hummers to run on bio-diesel, as well as creating hybrid versions (that include a jet turbine), which run circles around the offerings from Detroit.

  5. The universe of the wingnut is scarey. I actually had one guy sugest I needed to study the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”. I replied that if I had the time to study, it would be the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to try to counter the errosion of the civil rights that is happening in this country.

    But it’s all about getting everyone to sing a patriotic song while the powers-that-be trample on everything this country is supposed to stand for.

    Henry Ford is supposed to have answered the question ‘Why do you pay your workers so much?” with the answer “So they can afford to buy the cars they build.” Bil gates had the vision of the personal computer so cheap and popular it would be a staple in every home. But these visionaries are in scarce supply; business is all about exploiting labor (foreign & domestic) to the max.

    The result is the cliche ‘The rich get richer while the poor get poorer’ Except now it’s happening to a greater degree than I have EVER heard of. The 2 poles of rich and poor are taking off in opposite directins like rockets.

  6. George Carlin says we are CTD (circling the drain, as in a turd down a toilet). If things don’t change, and fast, he is correct.

  7. “The notion that America and Americans are intrinsically superior is so deeply ingrained on the Right that no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary is likely to flush it out….

    …We’re strangling ourselves with our own stinginess to each other.”

    Great blog. This supposition of superiority is nothing that comes from the tech or science communities. Some of the greatest advances are 1% inspiration and 99% slogging away. Chances of advancement are increased in proportion to the number invested in a given problem.

    These childish, ignorant myths certainly do not originate from anyone who is tech or science savvy.

    Isn’t it curious how the right would react with military force to even the slightest hint of a threat (1% doctrine?) yet cede entire high tech industries (electronics manufacturing and hybrid cars are just the tip of the iceberg) and pursue a policy of neglect with regard to education as opportunities for higher learning elude the middle class with nary a worry?

    These are traits of a ruling elite who’ve already got theirs. Things look just peachy from where they stand.

    Just how much farther do we let them go?

  8. mnpundit #1:

    “The success of the latter parts of the 20th Century for this country resulted in everyone thinking themselves rich enough to vote Republican.”

    That is why it had to get worse before it got better. People are not beginning to put 2+2 together and getting 4 (rather than 3) for the first time in quite a while. People are drawing lines and shouting “enough” as the witness abysmal failure, continued decline, and the lies the right trell about it. This has become clear enough even without clarity and objectivity from the MSM.

    It has started getting bad enough that large numbers of Americans are no longer able to sustain Walter Mitty-like fantasies about their own economic prosperity.

    I’m still groping for explanations for this surreal optimism myself but it might not be anything more than hopefulness, albeit self-centered and exploited by those whom the afflicted pine to become.

    U2’s Bono commented on this phenomenon with amusement, observing how American’s see a wealthy person’s beautiful house on a hill and say to themselves “If I work hard I might have one like it some day.” He added that the Irish see that same house on the hill and think “I’m going to get that sucker.”

    I’ll breathe a deep sigh of relief when we finally get the religious divisiveness behind us and return to the good old fashioned class struggles of yesteryear.

    Pual Krugman in his new book, the Conscience of a Liberal, disputes conventional wisdom which assumes the directly proportional relationship between economic disparity and political divisiveness has economic disparity as the progenitor. He compellingly argues that the causal effect runs in the opposite direction.

    There’s some hope in that for me.

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