The cover of Time magazine's March 14 issue features a piece by Fareed Zakaria, entitled "Yes, America Is In Decline." The inside story carries a less emphatic title: "Are America's Best Days Behind Us?" The article demonstrates how far Zakaria has come since his book (The Post American World) and mine (The End of the American Century) were first published in 2008. At that time, Zakaria viewed global changes as mostly coming from "The Rise of the Rest" rather than American decline. My book focussed on domestic American decline as the root of the problem, in combination with the rise of other global powers. I pointed out our differences at the time in a posting here on "Zakaria's Optimism."
Zakaria's story is accompanied by a graphic design (by Joe Magee) depicting the US flag falling apart--remarkably similar, I must say, to the cover design of my own book, with the U.S. flag in a vortex.
One can hardly call Zakaria's latest essay optimistic. That issue of Time presents a host of statistics and rankings, showing how poorly the US fares compared to both our past, and to other countries. The US ranks #10 in the world on the "Prosperity Index." We rank 6th in higher education enrollment; 11th in R&D spending; 27th in life expectancy; 31st in "Adequate food and shelter;" and 84th in the world on the domestic savings rate. (My book showed that, even in 2008, the US was falling behind on all of these measures).
Zakaria finds it especially unsettling that "Americans seem unable to grasp the magnitude of the challenges that face us. Despite the hyped talk of China's rise, most Americans operate on the assumption that the U.S. is still No. 1."
He concludes with the observation that we have to recognize our problems before we can adequately address them.
"For most of our history, we have become rich while remaining restless. Rather than resting on our laurels, we have feared getting fat and lazy. And that has been our greatest strength. In the past, worrying about decline has helped us avert that very condition. Let's hope it does so today."This was the same overall message of my book.
The same issue of Time also includes a counterpoint article called "Don't Bet Against the United States."