If “America, the Has-Been” were a TV series, it would now be in its fifth season, notes Stanford University’s Josef Joffe:
The first, Decline 1.0, opened in the 1950s, after the Soviets launched their Sputnik. ….Decline 2.0 swept the nation during the Vietnam War, and once more the U.S.’s best days were over, intoned a chorus of pundits and politicos…. Decline 3.0 was initiated in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter when he moaned in his so-called malaise speech that the U.S. was beset by “a crisis of confidence,” one “that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our nation.” ….
Decline 4.0 cast Japan as the next No. 1. Having failed in Pearl Harbor with their bombers, these super-samurais would now triumph with their Toyotas and Sonys. ….Now it is Decline 5.0, starring China as the master of the universe. The World Bank should have looked at history. As early as 1984, China’s growth peaked at 15 percent. Now, the rate is down to one-half that. The sluggish world economy plays a part, but the underlying reasons are structural.
Authoritarian modernization — call it “modernitarianism” — runs up against its built-in limits, as did the Soviet Union’s. Frenzied industrialization under the knout of the party is easy, but the knowledge economy takes its cues from the markets. The watchword is “freedom” — for entrepreneurs and capital, ideas and innovation. There is no Silicon Valley in China’s future.
Josef Joffe, the editor-publisher of Die Zeit, teaches American foreign policy at Stanford University where he is also a fellow at the Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution. He is author of “The Myth of America’s Decline.”