Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Going Nowhere?

When the media in the UK and probably in much of Europe look over the Atlantic to the USA it is usually to New York, California or Washington DCFlorida has a number of mentions, especially in the hurricane season, when it is active.  For the rest it is only when some disaster, dreadful crime or particular human interest story happens.

Our ideas about the rest are more or less conditioned by TV programmes, films and the stereotypes derived from an America of the past and still too often put over as somehow the present.  But when you look at the detail a different country emerges.

The Burning Platform is a web site of a commentator who writes long posts where he tries to make sense of what is going on there in the economy.  This time round he gives a personal take on a very practical experience.

He takes his son across the State of Pennsylvania to his University to begin the next semester (term) and describes the America he sees in a journey of 200 miles each way.  There are a few rude words and the nature of his comments in some cases will not be to the liking of many.

But this is not the America we see in our media and it is difficult to see how it fits with all our preconceptions.  Obviously, this is just one small part of the whole so the question is what about the rest of it?  As the web is trawled for news and views around America how does this fit?

It may be that it fits all too often and the picture of a USA as a once major power about to go into a period of rapid decline is a true one.  Can a country go on like that for long after its authority and riches have been dissipated?

Historically, yes it can.  The British Empire staggered on in one form or another for decades during which it went bust during the Second World War.  The old Ottoman Empire was the Sick Man Of Europe for a century.  The Tsarist regime in Russia hung on for at least fifty years in decline.  Imperial China took a lot longer.

In all those places there were elites resolute in failing to admit that the game was up and both their allies and their enemies did not understand the realities and extent of the declines.  As the USA became one of or the biggest and richest political entities in world history the effects of its decline and the rapidity of it will be all the greater.

The figures are beginning to look bad again and population increase far outstrips real economic growth.  A great deal of the growth that is reported is simply money being sloshed around in extreme consumerism and patching and mending, never mind that given over to propping up the political and banking structure.

While this is going on there is another Presidential election where the opponents are each trying to persuade the people that one or other of the America’s they imagine is a reality when they are just illusions. 

To put into footballing terms, the home squad is now forced back into its last quarter and the opposition has brought on its big hitters.  Survival is all you can hope for.  But out there in the sticks hope is a diminishing asset.

What sort of Thanksgiving will it be this year?


  1. The area he is talking about has been mostly sliding for a long time. If you follow Kunstler, he talks about similar areas in Upstate New York.

    The Southern United States, a lower cost provider, has been draining off the jobs that don't go overseas. So you will see selected areas that are doing O.K.

    Add to this that rural America is seeing the same loss of jobs that the inner city did in the late 1960s, and many of the same problems, and you have islands of prosperity surrounded by a lot of slow decay. So long as you stay within the islands (and they are of a decent size) you probably won't realize how bad things are sinking. Since the media coverage in the declining areas is sparse, even most Americans don't realize the situation. Even when they live in a declining area they may not realize the decline (it has been going on for decadeds, so it isn't fast), or they may think there area has exceptionally hard luck.

  2. The America that Europe sees is a Disneyesque facade of wealth, power and bravado paid for by the squeezing and bleeding of its former middle classes. As of now, the professional technocrats can still afford to move about the country -- in some cases the globe -- like so many locusts following their food supply.

    The swarm gets imperceptibly smaller every year as the windfalls upon which they pounce become less and less filling.

    A collapse in this dynamic would lift a heavy burden from most Americans, as it would no longer be necessary to incessantly flog them to maintain support of the swarm's massive home base.