Shifts in the world economy and trade deals have had a large impact on everyday Americans.
Many people think the US is in decline because it has not benefited from shifts in economics and government policy. A prime example are coal workers and those who work in the manufacturing industry. Trade has shifted that type of work away from the United States and nothing has replaced it. In broad strokes, the United States is benefitting from these changes in trade, but for every winner in these deals, there are losers. People feel forgotten.
I talked to a worker named Jerry Nowadzky, who was laid off from an Iowa factory that made printing presses in the 1990s. He and dozens of other factory workers went to a class where they were retrained to repair computers, he told me. But after the yearlong course, there were no jobs, he said. Nowadzky, his certification in hand, went to work stocking shelves in a grocery store at night. He might have been able to find a job had he gone to another city or state, he told me, but “we were in our 50s, and you can’t really pick up and move with all the roots you have.”
But by the numbers, the United States is not falling apart. In fact, America is still on the rise. Here are a few excerpts that explain why:
The unemployment rate has fallen to just over 7 percent from an October 2009 peak of 10 percent. By contrast, euro-zone unemployment remains stuck at around 12 percent.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the annual budget deficit will drop below $650 billion in 2013, the smallest shortfall since 2008 and approximately half the size it was in 2011. Meanwhile, the dollar remains the world’s top reserve currency.
Even more transformative, the United States is experiencing an energy revolution that the McKinsey Global Institute estimates could add as much as 4 percent to annual GDP and create up to 1.7 million new jobs by 2020.
In terms of hard power, the U.S. military is at the forefront of next-generation technologies, including unmanned systems, robotics and lasers.
Through hard-nosed diplomacy, economic pressure and the specter of military action, Washington has retained its ability to marshal effective multinational coalitions, bringing down Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, getting weapons inspectors on the ground in Syria and embarking on serious negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. You can quibble with process and style, but it’s hard to argue that any of these would have happened without the United States.
People have often forecasted American decline but it hasn't happened. Keep in mind this is from 2012.
But how real is it? Much of the commentary on American decline these days rests on rather loose analysis, on impressions that the United States has lost its way, that it has abandoned the virtues that made it successful in the past, that it lacks the will to address the problems it faces. Americans look at other nations whose economies are now in better shape than their own, and seem to have the dynamism that America once had, and they lament, as in the title of Thomas Friedman’s latest book, that “that used to be us.”
But that's not to say that everything is perfect, either.
Perhaps the greatest concern underlying the declinist mood at large in the country today is not really whether the United States can afford to continue playing its role in the world. It is whether the Americans are capable of solving any of their most pressing economic and social problems. As many statesmen and commentators have asked, can Americans do what needs to be done to compete effectively in the twenty-first-century world? The only honest answer is, who knows?