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American Century Over?

The “American Century” reflects a judgment that the United States of America has been dominant economically, militarily, and politically in the world, preeminent among nations, for decades. The period of leadership, in my view, started in 1917 when the US entered World War I and tilted that conflict’s balance in favor of western Europe and and against Germany and its allies. The old, colonial order in Europe was in the process of committing suicide, and America, isolated by its oceans from many direct harms from WWI, emerged stronger, to some extent displacing the world’s 19th century’s leading nations.

The American economy’s dominance is reflected in this country’s out-of-proportion contribution to man’s wasting the planet to fit his immediate needs. From 1750 through the present, Americans have put into the skies about one quarter of man’s total additions of carbon dioxide to Earth’s atmosphere. American economic and political leaders, and its people, have followed man’s age-old behavior of using the Earth as a garbage dump and an infinite convenience store; we in effect invented the modern consumer society, and in that process burned massive amounts of hydrocarbons in automobiles, airplanes, air conditioning and so forth. The voters cheered at the gross national product’s growth, reflecting America’s economic vitality and the harnessing and consumption of natural resources to meet Americans’ wants and needs.

The election of Donald Trump arguable punctuates the end of the American Century. Politically other societies will be more careful in following the lead of a country led by an “America First” President, a President who regularly broadcasts his instability and also a range of insults to various slices of humanity, with dubious commitment to facts and truth.

I predict that Trump will not successfully implement his campaign promise to bring back the many jobs and economic activities which have left these shores. He will fail in part because of the decline, relative to China, India and other countries, of the productivity of the American work force. In a meeting with President Obama Steve Jobs told the story of the rollout of the first I phone. Jobs had been carrying around an iPhone for two weeks when he called his staff in and pointed out the scratches on the plastic cover of his model phone. He insisted that glass covers be substituted on the million iPhones scheduled to be released to world stores in a month.

Apple called a Chinese supplier, and at two am 5,000 Chinese workers came from sleep and started work making those glass covers, and the Million I phones rolled out on time with Chinese-made glass covers. Jobs told Obama, “Those jobs are not coming back” to American workers, who operate with different assumptions and tolerances.

Arguably American GNP will grow less rapidly, or perhaps shrink, under a Trump leadership which relies on alternate facts and alternate realities; his bullying and disregard for facts could negatively impact this economy. That is good news for the planet, somewhat balanced by the fact that Chinese and other economies are growing and putting out more CO2 and other planet-strangling waste products. Again, Mother Nature will be the decider.


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