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State of Play, 2014
Jesse Richman, 8/25/2014

    "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity." -- Yeats, 1919

We are at the dawn of a new and much more dangerous period of world history.  The last vestiges of the post-cold-war dominance the United States enjoyed are fading.  A multi-polar world is emerging in which several great powers compete for influence, and the old assumptions that had guided our thinking and complacency are fading away. 

History never ends.  And anyone who tells you it has is engaged in wishful thinking.  Would that it would cease to cycle when the more pleasant parts were being acted.  But it doesn't.  Challenges continue and what matters is how we respond to them.

The United States has squandered the victory in the Cold War in multiple ways.  But key among them was the failure to protect its industrial base and technological advantages.  Instead, accommodation with China's communist regime in pursuit of short-term profits and consumption headlined a policy of disinvestment.  In Crimea, Syria, Iran, the South China Sea, Berlin, and elsewhere, we now reap the whirlwind.  The invasion of Iraq also appears to have been an enormously bungled blunder, as was the withdrawl from Iraq. 

Like the Chinese Mandarins of the 15th century who were so confident in their wisdom and power that they destroyed China's navy, and ended China's inter-continental trade, America risks becoming insular and losing its technological edge.  

Our political system is straying from meritocracy toward plutocracy. To face the difficulties of spy scandals, wars, and international tensions in our most important international relationships, we often appoint campaign contributors who do not even speak the language of the country to which they travel, an embarassment that becomes enormously consequential when problems arise that require real diplomatic skill. 

We face several key challenges:

China -- appears to be 'revisionist' in the sense of wanting to change the post-cold-war international system.  For the most part China has pursued its goals in a patient and persistent way.  It is powerful and growing more so.  With power has come increasing expansion and agression.  Increasingly China appears not only mercantilist but militarist.

Russia -- also appears to be revisionist, and an opportunist.  While relatively weak and corrupt, Russia remains relatively powerful and dangerous.

Radical Islam is an ongoing threat.  Although internally divided between warring Shia and Suni factions, radial Islam is anti-American, and is a source of ongoing threat.

Our allies -- increasingly fractured, decreasingly loyal, increasingly concerned about U.S. intentions and sincerity.

Economic decline -- including diminished capabilities and capacities and degrading technological advantages threatens to erode U.S. capacity to influence and shape world affairs, and to degrade domestic peace and tranquility.

Government gridlock and shortsightedness -- a political system in which the facts have become far too politically fungible, and in which the capacity to take the long view seems to have been substantially degraded.

Key opportunities:

As the world become more multi-polar, there is increased potential for conflict among enemies that may win the US new allies.  The rise of the Islamic State is a case in point, arguably.  Tied with this is the potential for more burden sharing with allies.

There are enormous, but currently being missed, opportunities to tip the policy balance in Washington towards policies that would better serve the long term economic and political interests of the United States.  For instance we have the capacity (if not yet the will) to balance trade and reform the tax code.

Finally, the democratic system offers the opportunity to replace shortsighted and ideologically blinded leaders with leaders who are more effective -- who recognize the challenges and opportunities of the current moment, and craft effective responses. 

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  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

    Atlantic Economic Journal:

  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]