Magazine article The Christian Century

Still Exceptional?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Still Exceptional?

Article excerpt

What if the United States isn't just experiencing a deep recession but is entering a period of long-term economic decline? Analysts point out that in some ways the U.S. has already taken a backseat to China, which is the world's largest manufacturer and exporter. Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2027 China will have the world's largest economy. In Fortune's list of the largest companies in the world, three Chinese firms are in the top ten but only two American ones (Walmart and ExxonMobil). Meanwhile, China is financing the U.S. government's substantial and growing debt.

The narrative of inexorable economic decline is not entirely persuasive. The U.S. still has the finest set of universities in the world, which attract the best minds from all over the globe. Its entrepreneurial spirit and technological inventiveness are unmatched. The U.S. still dominates in what Joseph Nye has called "soft power"--the power of its ideas and culture, which much of the rest of the world still finds attractive. And it overwhelmingly has the world's most powerful military force.

Nevertheless, we're likely to enter a period in which the U.S. is simply one of a number of economic powers that challenge one another for dominance. Paul Kennedy, a historian of the rise and fall of empires, suggests that such a situation would represent a return to the norm in world affairs.

What will be interesting to watch is how American people and leaders adjust to new economic constraints and diminished expectations. …

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