Saturday, January 22, 2011

The fall of the American Empire?

A college buddy of mine responded to a Facebook message I placed on my wall. He was asking me why was I commenting on America all of a sudden? However, when the President of China, Hu Jintao, visited Washington DC in the month of January he and American counterpart, Barack Obama, commentators wondered what will America do about a seemingly, increasing, threat, China poses to US interests. I explained to my buddy that international news is what I comment on and not to take it too personal. But it did lead me to think: is the sun setting on the American Empire?

I must say that America has been our greatest ally- even taking into consideration the Chinese assistance with many projects in the Bahamas- and it's a relationship I truly treasure as a Caribbean individual.

The American media went into overdrive for President Hu's trip, from talking about a full scale attack on Chinese technology and military systems, to the milder, trade and commercial based sanctions and measures to curb Chinese exports and the undervalued Chinese currency. Whatever it is, it has to be said that China has the world's largest standing army and has the second largest economy in the world and growing at a rapid pace while the American economy is in a decline.

The first point that people notice is the huge military build up of arms that the US has not been able to persuade the Chinese not to build. Reports from the Pentagon estimate that the Chinese nuclear arsenal has increased some 25 percent since 2006. The People's Liberation Army of China has a standing army of over 2.5 million men and another 500,000 on reserve. The United States has just under a 1.5 million standing army with about the same amount of official reservists.

While that total seems startling, especially considering China's population, but the way warfare has changed and weaponry has developed since the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima, a country like the United States, doesn't have to engage in an "on the ground" invasion. With a military expenditure of over $680 billion dollars (with a Republican congress promising to increase this amount), with much of that spending going towards satellites, surveillance systems, long range missiles, anti-ballistic missiles (like the Patriot missile) and sea to air combat vehicles, the Unites States seems more fortified than China.

But, there is more to having military power than size or advanced technology alone. You need the universal, intellectual right, to use your moral authority to get the job done, as we have seen with the invasion of Iraq with America and the inability of China to persuade North Korea, or anyone else for that matter, to put their aggressions aside.

The second issue is that US economic power seems to have faded. The Free Market ideology has flaws and the salience of its subscriptions has been severely challenged in the international arena. The market system has been criticized by Chinese officials, of all things, as well by other emerging economies such as Brazil’s former President, Lula da Silva.

America has not kept captive the imagination of the rest of the world through the philosophical underpinnings of the capitalist free market ideology. One has only to look at the mess the global banking sector has gotten the rest of the world in and you can understand why there needs to be a better way of doing business. Massive worldwide unemployment and business closures, led to massive protests and instability.

While some proponents of the free market system feel that this is just a blip on the radar and that this system is the best way to transfer wealth to the economically under-served, they believe that by increasing the amount of wealth and money to be dispersed without government interference should increase income equality. Opponents on the other hand would argue that if this were the case, the American financial system and automobile sector would not need government bail-outs or government facilities for housing in the US (Fannie and Freddie Mac) nor other regulations that work to ensure that wealth is not concentrated into the hands of the few, would not be necessary now or ever.

Slate Magazine's Tim Noah estimates that income inequality is a major issue in America as the top fifth of Americans, who earn more than $100,000 a year, received nearly 50 percent of all income in the U.S., while the bottom 20 percent received just 3 percent. However, income inequality in China is a growing problem as well, with a Socialist system. A report from China's Ministry of Labour and Social Security estimate that 20 percent of China's population at the poverty level accounts for only 4.7 percent of the total income or consumption and 20 percent of China's population at the affluent level accounts for 50 percent of the total income or consumption and the gap is widening.

One can say that the demonstrations in China in 2008 and 2009 indicated that the Chinese people were clamouring for more reform to their system. Conversely, Tea Party protests in America, while a little milder and somewhat more civil, has brought about threats of political assassinations and actual attempted assassinations , with protestors brandishing semi-automatic weapons at the rallies doesn't quite bode well for America either. (I have to add that the French and Greeks take to the streets with more fervour and animosity than China and America combined)

China's export driven economic model, to China's credit, is changing towards an inward, domestic spending and consumption pattern of growth, isn't exactly socialist either. In fact, China is exactly where the Western world was back in the 1700's with a "beggar they neighbour" mindset and Mercantilist practices. China, now the largest exporter in the world, surpassing Germany in 2009 and now the second larger economy surpassing Japan in 2010- has the economic might to make demands on global interests worldwide, with or without fully subscribing to any ideology moving forward.

America has other internal challenges as well. Their media is on steroids with the 24 hour news cycle model that accelerates the velocity of political and negative social rhetoric at record speed while breeding social discontent. Their congress has bottlenecks as well, with it always in deadlock with threat of filibuster, made worse by a large gap with regard to the transformation of policy information to the masses about how the American economy and society works with a democratic system and congress.

China doesn't have those internal problems as they have a strong check on the information that flows through China, and as a one party democratic system, makes decisions more quickly than the American two or, multi-party, system.

Which country will self destruct, artificially inflate their economy and over extend their reach without the influence to back it up, first, or who has the resilience to overcome those obstacles to attaining ultimate global power over the next 100 years? America appears to have the lead!
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