Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Appropriate Response to Hype: Yawn

As we look to the end of the year and the close of the Oughts, writer Michael Lind challenges popular assumptions about America's status in the world.

His essay begins somewhat ominously, "The first decade of this century is likely to be remembered as the Decade From Hell."

But he quickly changes tone:
The lesson I take from [the last ten years] is that the distribution of power and wealth in the world is far more stable than you would think if you listened to our manic-depressive public discourse, where America is always either on the brink of catastrophic decline or unchallengeable global supremacy. The U.S. share of global GDP--a good proxy for power--has fluctuated around a quarter or a fifth since the early 1900s, with the exception of a temporary spike after World War II before the other industrial great powers recovered from it. The Soviet Union never came anywhere near challenging American primacy, and neither did Japan ...

Hyperbolic assertions about America's meteoric rise or meteoric decline are not the only kind of hype that pollutes public discourse. Academics and journalistic pundits alike are fond of drawing attention to themselves by declaring that we are on the verge of a radical transformation of the system of sovereign states that has existed in Europe since the Thirty Years' War and in the world since post-World War II decolonization. Once again, we see the fallacy of the straight-line extrapolation from a temporary trend to a cosmic transformation.

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