Monday, October 19, 2009

Decline Is a Choice

Charles Krauthammer wrote an article for the Weekly Standard called Decline Is a Choice. As the title suggests, Krauthammer believed America had a choice as to whether or not it would maintain its current position in the world. Needless to say, Krauthammer wanted America to maintain its current position.

“The international arena remains a Hobbesian state of nature in which countries naturally strive for power,” said Krauthammer. “If we voluntarily renounce much of ours, others will not follow suit. They will fill the vacuum.”

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? I guess we’d better choose not to decline.

Change the tone

Krauthammer disagreed with the actions taken by President Obama, saying that those actions would lead to American decline. Krauthammer referred to President Obama’s philosophy as the “New Liberalism.” According to this doctrine, America would no longer try to impose its will over the world. Instead, it would allow international institutions, such as the United Nations, to take over the responsibility for running the world. In fact, President Obama never had any intention of allowing international institutions to take over. America will not allow international institutions to make decisions for it. I am sure most other countries feel the same way. Instead, President Obama simply paid lip service to those institutions, instead of denigrating them like President Bush. That was the true philosophy behind the so-called New Liberals. They believed that the Bush administration failed to gain the cooperation of other countries because of “American arrogance, unilateralism, and dismissiveness.” They thought that if America changed the tone, if America had a new spokesman and a new, more polite way of talking to the world, that the rest of the world will be more cooperative. As Krauthammer notes, this strategy has not been successful in gaining the cooperation of North Korea, Iran, the Middle East, and Europe. But Krauthammer fails to mention that America did not gain their cooperation during the Bush administration either. The tone America puts forward doesn’t mean all that much. What is important is what America offers. Other countries won’t help us unless we help them. Simply changing appearances doesn’t mean much. Countries care about things like the exchange rate between the dollar and the yuan, the level of tariffs America imposes on their exports, etc. Unless we offer other countries something concrete, they will not offer us anything concrete.

Defense spending

To avoid decline, he said America should obey following advice, “Don’t do what you are doing now.” Ironically, instead of calling for changes, Krauthammer pretty much calls for maintaining the status quo of the Bush administration. According to him, America should not reduce its military spending, America should deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, America should send more troops to Afghanistan, and America should continue to believe that the West was “in a global mortal struggle with jihadism.” Apparently, Krauthammer believed that the decline just started in the Obama administration. Before that, everything was fine.

Krauthammer notes that America had a choice. It could either spend its money on its military, or it could spend its money on things like health care and education. In the Bush and Obama administrations, America decided to put more emphasis on military spending while Europe chose to put more emphasis on health care and education. Krauthammer acknowledged there were some benefits to spending more money on education and health care, as such a system had more decency and equality. On the other hand, Krauthammer said that America would suffer from “diminished social mobility, higher unemployment, less innovation, less dynamism and creative destruction, less overall economic growth” if it adopted that system. Unfortunately, Krauthammer never explains why spending more money on education and health care leads to lower social mobility, higher unemployment, and lower economic growth. Perhaps he just made that up.

America spends close to $1 trillion on its defense. That’s ridiculous. America does not need to spend nearly that much money to defend itself. We have nuclear weapons. As long as we retain that deterrent, other countries will be very reluctant to attack us. I would rather spend more money on things like infrastructure. I don’t think we need to spend more money on health care or education. We already spend enough on education and we spend too much on health care.

Krauthammer says many other countries “welcome our presence” as a “guarantor of their freedom.” Of course they do. They’re smart. They like having us pay for their defense.

“For the Europeans there really is a peace dividend, because we provide the peace,” said Krauthammer. “But for America it’s different. If we choose the life of ease, who stands guard for us?”

For some reason, Krauthammer seems perfectly happy with the idea that America should provide for the defense for Europe. Personally, I wonder why Krauthammer is so concerned in the welfare of Europe. While they get to spend their money on health care and education, we have to spend more of our money on our military to defend them. This is a great deal for Europe. I’m not sure why this is so great for America. The interesting thing is that Krauthammer is Jewish. I thought Jews were supposed to be angry with Europe after the Holocaust. Perhaps Krauthammer doesn’t believe that the Holocaust really happened.

Deficits

In fairness to Krauthammer, he does have some new ideas, or at least some ideas that weren’t tried during the Bush administration. He argued that America should reduce its budget deficit and its trade deficit. To reduce the trade deficit, Krauthammer suggested that we reduce the amount of oil we import, as oil imports account for 66% of our trade deficit. To reduce the amount of oil we use, he said we should impose a gas tax. Ironically, that is an idea that most liberals would approve of. On the other hand, he also wants to expand offshore drilling. That is not an idea that liberals would agree with. For the record, on this issue, I agree with Krauthammer, although I am more optimistic about extracting natural gas and oil from shale rock than I am about the offshore drilling. Expanding domestic sources of oil and gas production would provide jobs, boost tax revenue, and reduce our trade deficit. America desperately needs those three things now.

Multipolarity

After the Cold War ended, Krauthammer famously declared the beginning of a new era of American dominance in world affairs. He referred to this era as our unipolar moment. Unfortunately, we haven’t done so well in this era. There is a reason why Krauthammer, and a bunch of other people, are writing articles about the decline of America. This is all very scary for Krauthammer.

“Do we really want to live under unknown, untested, shifting multipolarity?” he asked.

Like it or not, we are already living in a multipolar world. Despite Krauthammer’s protestations to the contrary, the rest of the world has already begun to form alliances to protect themselves against America. Of course, America isn’t the only reason why they are forming these alliances. They are also forming alliances to protect themselves against other hostile actors, such as Europe. They just haven’t formed military alliances, at least not yet.

They haven’t formed military alliances because they don’t need to. The circumstances in the world have changed since the dawn of the nuclear era. Going to war against a country with nuclear weapons does not make sense. Even ignoring nuclear weapons, the costs of conventional warfare has become prohibitive (it’s too bad our policymakers haven’t realized this). In addition, the success of the insurgency tactics (for example, during the Vietnam War) also provides a deterrent against aggression (again, it’s really too bad our policymakers haven’t realized this).

Countries have learned that it is better to form alliances without making it explicit. Remember, as long as Japan can convince us that it is our ally, America will provide for its defense. But it’s not just Japan and Europe that want us to spend too much money on defense. China also wants us to spend too much money on defense. That is why China has been doing all sorts of provocative things lately. In response to these provocations, Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia claim to be shocked and demand that America maintain its military presence in East Asia. China and Japan are working together against us because American military spending benefits China too.

There is nothing China wants more than to increase the amount of goods it exports. American military spending does this. Military spending is the ultimate fiscal stimulus because it boosts demand without boosting supply. Remember that the American economy did not recover from the Great Depression until World War II when, you guessed it, America had to spend all that money on its military. Higher U.S. military spending boosts domestic demand in America without competing against Chinese exports. Of course, this is why Europe, Japan, and Southeast Asia like America to spend a lot of money of its military. Military spending does not compete against their exports either. By contrast, if America were to spend more money on making its citizens smarter (education) or if America were to spend more money on making its infrastructure better (which would improve the competitiveness of its companies), Europe, China, and Japan would like that a lot less. While military spending boosts your economy in the short term, in the long term your economy will become a lot less competitive. Again, there is a reason why America is in decline.

Instead of forming a military alliance against us, other countries are forming economic and cultural alliances. For example, East Asia has already managed to construct its own regional production network. Japan produces parts, materials, and production machinery while other countries, such as China, assemble those items into finished goods. They are also working together to merge their cultures. For example, over the past few years, Japan has taken an interest in South Korean music and TV shows. In the meantime, fewer and fewer Japanese students are coming to America to study.

Built on Bullshit

In his article, Krauthammer argued that America should not apologize or talk about its mistakes. According to him, doing so would “undermine any moral claim that America might have to world leadership, as well as the moral confidence that any nation needs to have in order to justify to itself and to others its position of leadership.”

Talking about our mistakes may undermine our confidence, but not talking about our mistakes leads to a much bigger problem. We keep doing the same dumbass things over and over again. In fact, the Bush and Obama administrations is what happens when you run a country based on bullshit.

You would think America would have learned something after the Vietnam War, but you would be wrong. Instead, we are now spending $120 billion per year fighting a war in Afghanistan. In total, we will have spent $4 trillion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 10,000 Afghans died. One hundred fifty thousand Iraqis died. You would think we would have learned our lesson after that. But amazingly, President Obama just recently decided to start bombing Libya. And the American public approved of that decision. This is amazing.

To pay for these wars, we have apparently decided to pressure other countries – like Japan – into bailing us out. That is why our government decided to go after Toyota. Of course, this strategy didn’t work. Instead, it merely gave Japan an excuse to draw closer to China. In the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan, Japanese has been relocating some of its production capacity overseas. Instead of relocating that production in America, Japan has been investing in China, South Korea, and Southeast Asia.

In another bizarre set of policy decisions, America has decided to use its citizens, like me, against our will, to disclose information that other countries would rather keep quiet. For some reason, our policymakers thought that other countries would bow down before us if we did this. Needless to say, it didn’t work. But in order to get me to do this, America had to drug me and do all sorts of other things to me (they can apparently both read my thoughts and inject new thoughts into my mind). And to prevent me from learning too much, my government had to drug me even more. Now, other countries who know about me are using what America has done to me to extort America into doing what they want.

America is not in decline – it is imploding.

The way things are going now, we won’t have to worry about living through a long era of multipolarity. The era of East Asian unipolarity will soon be upon us.

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