By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Fareed Zakaria
Narration by: Fareed Zakaria
Fareed Zakaria suggests America suffers from national arrogance more than decline. Zakaria argues that the American Dream is not dead but is being hollowed out by society’s inequity and political grid-lock. Zakaria acknowledges America is the richest and most powerful nation on earth. However, like former world hegemons, America is trending toward hubris. Zakaria suggests America must come to grips with the economic, political, and social circumstances of the modern world; i.e. America needs to replace today’s hegemonic arrogance with international collaboration.
America has elected Donald Trump as President of the United States. Executive orders to deny immigrant access to America, dissing of international trade agreements, saber rattling against the Middle East, and cabinet’ nominations of billionaires suggest more arrogance is in the offing. Trump seems willing to burn the house down to enrich the rich.
In “The Post-American World 2.0” Zakaria agrees with those who answer the question –“what is wrong with America?” by inferring it is “jobs, jobs, jobs”. Technology and labor cost are hollowing out the American Dream by increasing production efficiency and exporting labor to countries like China and Mexico. Labor costs are lower in other countries; partly because of technology but largely because of lower wages. Middle and lower-income groups in America are most immediately affected. The rich become richer because they control the companies that benefit from lower production costs. Exported manufacturing jobs increases income and profits for stock market mavens, corporations, and upper management. All of which reduces American middle class employment and widens the gap between America’s rich and poor.
Trump’s solution is to pander to the rich by taking America back in time when women were housewives, minorities were servants, health care was a privilege, and McCarthy was a patriot.
Increasing the gap between rich and poor aggravates social inequity. Loss of jobs pierces the heart of the American Dream. Without a job, Americans lose their identity and feelings of self-worth. It is a spiral into hell that begins with an unemployment check, and a welfare check. It ends in beggary, disillusion, and homelessness.
Sadly, the political response in America has been gridlock. American government and private enterprise refuse to adjust to modern capitalism. Both the private and public sectors need to come to an agreement on government and private policies that address fundamental changes of an interconnected capitalist world.
Zakaria is not suggesting there are any easy answers. Extreme right and left factions of government have to compromise. Policies need to be passed that recognize America is part of a world economy. Free trade is an unstoppable freight train. Fighting free trade with tariffs and government regulations will only accelerate economic decline. American jobs are facing a two-headed dragon. One is technological innovation and the other is job flight.
America, like all nations, has strengths and weaknesses. What America must do is capitalize on its strengths and build around its weaknesses. Zakaria suggests one of America’s strengths is creativity. (Ironically, Vladimir Putin said the same thing about America in his “60 Minutes” interview last week.)
Zakaria sees education as part of America’s great strength. He suggests lower grades in math and sciences for American students are misleading. Zakaria argues that low performance is related to socio-economic status; not innate American capability. Low performing students are a consequence of lack of funding for equal education. Those families with money have children that are well-educated. Those families with little money live in poorer school districts that are inadequately staffed and provisioned. The poor are as likely to view school as childcare service as an educational opportunity. It is not that financially strapped parents do not care about education. Poor parents are as likely to care about their children’s education as the rich, but they must work to have enough money for food, housing, and clothing. Education becomes a secondary priority because, as logic suggests, if they can make it without a high school diploma or college education, so can their children. That may have been true in an agricultural or industrial economy but not so much in the modern world.
Zakaria notes that colleges in America are the most highly regarded in the world. America benefits from Americans that use that education system. However, those American’ users are more likely from wealthier rather than poorer families. Poorer families’ children are less well prepared for higher education because of early education inequities. The rich remain rich while the poor depend on luck or a child’s extraordinary innate ability. Many foreign students come to America for college; some stay because of America’s wealth, while others return home to become business or political leaders in their own countries.
Zakaria also suggests strength in America is demographic. The number of retired citizens is being counterbalanced by young Americans and immigrants who wish to live in the “land of milk and honey”. Unlike Japan, China, and some European countries with aging populations that either do, or will outnumber the young–America has youth on its side.
Noting America’s weaknesses, Zakaria writes that too much of the electoral process is influenced by money. Income inequality creates a circumstance where those who are rich pull the ladder up behind them and leave everyone else behind. Those high income earners see the benefit of supporting fringe groups of the electoral process because their lives are secure. They have no incentive to change and refuse to believe Americans have any less opportunity today than they had when they were young.. Environmental degradation is a myth to the no-change group. To this do-nothing’ group, what worked in the past will work for the present and future. Rich corporations and individuals who have so deeply benefited from favorable taxes and government regulation often condemn any meaningful policy changes.
Liberals do not escape Zakaria’s assessment of American weaknesses. Zakaria infers there is a “no-change” attitude on the other side of the aisle that argues debt is of no concern if it supports public education, social security, or other mandated tax benefits. Additionally, liberals feed from the same money trough as all elected officials. Being re-elected requires money and big industry is willing to supply it. There is little incentive for either side of the aisle to change the status qua. No one seems willing to compromise. The consequence is a do-nothing congress. Growing debt and a declining job market are threats to America’s future with legislative solutions mired in the self-interest of pachyderms and jackasses.
One may draw a number of conclusions from Zakaria’s book. The influence of money on elections needs to be more transparent and regulated. Public education is an essential service of government that has created one of the great strengths of America. However, socioeconomic inequality needs to be legislatively addressed to offer an equivalent education to all Americans. Public debt reduction and private savings need to be prioritized by government and encouraged legislatively. Unilateral action, except in a case of a threat to American sovereignty, should never be taken by America in the affairs of other countries. America should lead by example; not by fiat.
Jobs are being lost and many American citizens will be out of work for some period of time. However, America has more resources than any other nation on earth. New jobs can be created based on cleaning the environment, creating new sources of energy, caring for the sick and elderly, and working for non-profits that provide the necessities of life-like medical service, food, and housing. Employees are needed by non-profit organizations; e.g. hospitals, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Goodwill, and other eleemosynary organizations. As Peter Drucker once noted, “Profit is not the purpose of business and the concept of profit maximization is not only meaningless, but dangerous.”
Technology and the reality of an interdependent world have disrupted the American economy. America is a great place to live but it is not an island of self-sufficiency. America cannot remain a superpower as an arrogant participant in world affairs because it is as dependent on the good will of other countries as it is on the goodwill of its own electors and electees.
America and all post-industrial nations depend on a world economy. Building a wall between countries, unilaterally invading sovereign nations, creating tariffs on foreign goods, denying corporations’ rights to relocate are all examples of bad ideas in the modern world. A do-nothing government is a formula for American failure. There is no room for any nation’s hegemonic arrogance in world affairs. Equally, there is no justification for standing still on American’ domestic issues.