Is This The End of the American Century?

This site features updates, analysis, discussion and comments related to the theme of my book published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008 (hardbound) and 2009 (paperbound).

The Book

The End of the American Century documents the interrelated dimensions of American social, economic, political and international decline, marking the end of a period of economic affluence and world dominance that began with World War II. The war on terror and the Iraq War exacerbated American domestic weakness and malaise, and its image and stature in the world community. Dynamic economic and political powers like China and the European Union are steadily challenging and eroding US global influence. This global shift will require substantial adjustments for U.S. citizens and leaders alike.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"The End of the American Century" Sparks Interest in China

A Chinese translation of The End of the American Century was published in China in April, just five months after the book appeared in the United States (see earlier post on publication details). The editors at Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House told me that they translated and produced the book in record time, because they considered it a "hot topic." At the National Book Fair in Jinan, according to the publisher, the book attracted a good deal of interest, and reached #3 on the publisher's sales ranking.

A conference related to the book's title was held at the Shanghai Exhibition Center on May 9, and I was invited to give the opening address, along with a number of prominent Chinese academics. The event was held in the Center's "Friendship Hall" (see photo) which seated over 1000 people. But the turnout was unexpectedly large, and a separate room, with sound piped in, was set up for the spillover. The organizers estimated the total audience at over 1300. While some of the audience were students and professors, most were businesspeople, investors and clients of a financial securities company that was one of the sponsors of the event. So they were especially interested in the U.S. and global financial crisis, and how that will affect the U.S., China, and Sino-U.S. relations.

From questions posed by the audience, and in conversations I had with academics, journalists and financiers, the reactions to my thesis of U.S. decline was decidedly mixed, and surprisingly similar to the range of responses here in the U.S. Some agreed that the U.S. was in serious straits. Others felt that the U.S. would remain (or even should remain) the world's dominant power. Some felt that it was China's turn to take a more prominent role in global politics and economics.

Shanghai itself provides a stunning example of how far and fast China has grown. I last visited the city 20 years ago, when most of the street traffic was bicycles, and before any of the magnificent skyscrapers had risen on the other side of the river from the Bund. Now the city center is as gleaming and modern as any I have seen anywhere in the world. The many downtown shopping malls, modern and airy, are filled with outlets of the most popular (and most expensive!) Western chains. The city's two airports are modern, efficient architectural beauties. The subways and trains are clean, comfortable and efficient. The world's first commercially operating "Maglev" train (magnetic levitation) connects Pudong airport to the city center, reaching a mind-blowing speed of 250 mph. The only real problem in the city, to my mind, is the street traffic, with the chaotic and dangerous competition of taxis, cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians (more on this in a later post).

In later posts, I will post more information on the Shanghai conference, with the text of my own lecture there, and information about the other presenters at the meeting.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Welcome Spotlight on Women's Welfare

Caleb Hamman

When President Barack Obama spoke at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony Sunday, much of his focus was devoted to women. In the weeks before his arrival, there had been considerable upheaval at the Catholic university due to Obama’s support for abortion rights, a position opposed by the Church.

The abortion debate aside, in a time when gender inequality continues to plague the United States, it is reassuring to see attention being given to women’s issues. Currently, the United Nations ranks U.S. gender development 16th in the world—a ranking exacerbated by George W. Bush’s eight years in office. His administration’s first attacks on women began early and abroad.

Immediately after coming to Washington, the Bush administration instituted a “global gag rule” on foreign organizations receiving U.S. aid. Under threat of defunding, the order explicitly forbade clinics from providing women with abortion counseling or operations, even if they wished to use their own money for the services.

The next summer, the Bush administration halted potential U.S. ratification of the Convention of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Although 185 countries have ratified the treaty, the United States—like Iran, Sudan and Somalia—is not one of them.

Soon after, the Bush administration cut off $34 million from a U.N. fund providing women around the world with birth control, sex education and maternal health care. It also began a fierce attack against the newly formed International criminal court—an organization promising historical gains in holding war criminals accountable for sex crimes against women.

The previous eight years also saw a decline in the welfare of women within the United States. In Dec. 2008, a national crime report was released revealing that the latter years of the Bush administration oversaw a 25 percent increase in sexual violence and a 42 percent increase in domestic violence. Soon after the report’s release, the White House imposed a new rule on Health and Human services making it more difficult for women to obtain basic healthcare or birth control.

Because women in the United States are disproportionately poor, the Bush administration’s unceasing attacks on social programs and progressive taxes effectively constituted an assualt on women's economic welfare. Accompanying Bush’s policy programs were overt threats to veto any sort of equal pay for equal work legislation.

Throughout its eight years in office, the Bush administration showed clear disdain for its campaign promise that “W stands for women.” As a result, the welfare of women in the U.S. has stagnated relative to that of other advanced, industrialized societies.

The Obama administration has taken some valuable steps to put the U.S. back on track toward gender equality. In January, Obama rescinded Bush’s “global gag” policy. A few days later, he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which advanced the campaign for ending gender discrimination in income.

Although efforts such as those of the Obama administration are valuable, they will need to be sustained and furthered if gender inequality is to be removed from the vortex of U.S. decline.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Immobility Furthering Decline

Caleb Hamman

In a time of financial turmoil and drastic inequality, one would hope the American Dream to be functioning well. This notion, that hard work will bring success to anyone in the United States, has always been central to America’s ideological fabric. Despite such tradition, recent research suggests a need to reevaluate the accuracy of the American Dream.
Ongoing work at the Economic Mobility Project (EMP) has been attempting to do just that. A nonpartisan effort funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, EMP has been conducting the most detailed research of U.S. economic mobility to date. Its findings, thoroughly concerning, strongly reinforce the arguments of The End of the American Century.
Using longitudinal income data, EMP researchers find the United States to be a more class stratified society than commonly believed. Despite the popularity of “rags to riches” notions, the EMP finds that, on average, children born into the poorest fifth of households have only a 6 percent chance of making it to the top income quintile. Conversely, 42 percent will remain in the poorest group. More than six in ten of these impoverished children never become even middleclass.
Similar mobility barriers exist at the top. While 39 percent of children born into the richest income quintile will remain there, only 9 percent will fall to the bottom. EMP finds remnants of mobility remains in the middleclass, although even these children are more likely to fall into poverty than they are to rise to wealth.
The project’s findings are particularly disturbing in the areas of gender and race. Women, already suffering multifaceted disparity with men, are also less mobile than their male counterparts. Compared to these, it is considerably harder for women born into poor families to become wealthy. Similarly, it is also easier for wealthy women to become poor.
The racial contrast is even starker. Black children are half as likely as their white counterparts to move from extreme poverty to extreme wealth. Simultaneously, black children born into the bottom income bracket are almost twice as likely as white children to remain there. Incredibly, EMP finds that nearly three in four middleclass black children will fall into poverty—a condition tremendously difficult for them to escape.
As such findings suggest, the American Dream is not as dynamic as many believe it to be. In fact, U.S. mobility levels are actually lower than those of many developed countries. As the EMP reports, the two major international comparisons to date have placed U.S. mobility levels either last or second-to-last among nations analyzed (which have included mostly Western Europe and Scandinavia). As EMP’s authors put, “the view that America is ‘the land of opportunity’ doesn’t entirely square with the facts.”
In light of the numerous economic, political, and social issues contributing to U.S. decline, the discovery of immobility is particularly troubling. As Americans become more economically and politically unequal, the stakes of socioeconomic outcomes continue to rise. That these outcomes are out of the hands of many is more than a contributor to The End of the American Century—it is an issue of fundamental fairness and a contradiction of one of America’s most cherished ideals.

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