A SUPERPOWER IN DECLINE

Gabor Steingart | Spiegal Online International | Oct 24 2006

America’s Middle Class Has Become Globalization’s Loser

  At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States is still a superpower. But it’s a superpower facing competition from beyond its borders as well as internal difficulties. Its lower and middle classes are turning out to be the losers of globalization.

There are essentially three exclusive characteristics whose simultaneous development have served as the foundations of the United States’s success up until now — and they only appear in this particular combination in America. They are not only the country’s biggest strengths, but also its greatest weaknesses. It’s worth scrutinizing them more closely.

First, nowhere in the world can you find such a high concentration of optimism and daring. America is the country that strives hardest for what is new — not just since yesterday (like Eastern Europeans) and not just for the last three decades (like the Chinese); rather from the very instant settlers began arriving. Unabashed curiosity seems to be hardwired into the nation’s genetic code.

The steady influx of the adventurous and hard-working — which helped increase the country’s labor force by about 44 million people since 1980 alone and continues today — ensures a constant replenishment of daring. After all, it’s not just the additional people that make the difference. The mere addition of 17 million people into Germany following reunification in 1990 – newcomers more concerned with preserving their guaranteed rights than with making the extraordinary effort necessary for success – did nothing to foster the kind of daring you see in the United States. Indeed, the result was exactly the opposite, and it has been a painful lesson for Germany.

Second, the United States is radically global. Its very origins — in the rebellious citizens from every country in the world who assembled on the territory that is now the United States — mark its people as true children of the world. Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt calls the founding fathers of the United States a “vital elite,” one that continues to pass down its genes to this very day. Their language is dominant, having marginalized Spanish and French during the second half of the past century. Their everyday culture — from the T-shirt and rock ‘n’ roll to e-mail — has peacefully colonized half the world. And from the very beginning, US corporations were eager to venture abroad in order to trade and set up production sites in other countries. Multinational corporations may not have been a US invention, but they became its specialty.

Third, the United States is the only nation on earth that can do business globally in its own currency. Indeed, the dollar has established itself as the world’s currency. Whoever wants to own it has to purchase it in the United States. All important decisions about the quantity of cash that circulates or the setting of interest rates are made within the nation’s borders, which guarantees a maximum degree of national independence. It’s American blood that flows through the veins of the global economy. Almost half of all business deals are closed using dollars as the currency, and two-thirds of all currency reserves are held in dollars. Charles de Gaulle, who was president of France after World War II, admired this “exorbitant privilege” even then.

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