31 January 2011 ~ 0 Comentarios

The decadence of the United States

By Carlos Alberto Montaner
President Obama is worried about a perceived decadence of the United States. He said so, elegantly, in his annual address to Congress. He believes that the quality of education has notably deteriorated. He fears that this phenomenon will slow down the innovative pace of society and that, as a consequence, his country will lose the worldwide hegemony it has enjoyed for a century, ever since World War One. He feels that the Chinese are approaching at a fast pace, with the Indians right behind. One of every three world dwellers is Chinese or Indian. Only one of every 23 is a U.S. citizen.
It is possible that Obama is partly right, but what’s peculiar is that this is an almost universal plaint. I’ve heard it throughout Europe. In Italy, the percentage of functional illiterates (people who cannot follow complex written instructions) is extremely high. One half of Spain is convinced that the young generations are worse educated than their parents.
France ceased to be the center of the world’s haute culture more than a century ago, and every day that goes by moves farther away from the position of dominance it once held. Its current literature is internationally unknown. Its cinema has vanished. Its theater and music ceased to be interesting many years ago.
Something similar, although with lesser intensity, occurs with Germany and Britain. Even Finland, which has the world’s best-prepared students (according to the PISA tests), has reason to feel uneasy: 50 percent of its GDP is generated by Nokia, the big telephone company. One slip and the catastrophe would be enormous.
On the other hand, it is absurd to grow alarmed and complain that the Chinese and the Indians are rapidly transforming into economic powers. The United States, from its foundation more than two centuries ago, tends to become, voluntarily and involuntarily, the paradigm for the other nations.
The Chinese post-Mao and the Indians post-Gandhi – the latter didn’t believe in the virtues of progress or in the advantages of consumerism – discovered that copying the essential features of the American productive model generates, in fact, a vigorous development. In a way, the success of those countries is an homage to U.S. civilization.
It is not a question that the United States is losing steam but that other nations, when they really do things in the American style (which, in turn, is a variant of the British model, the father and mother of modern civilization), obtain similar results.
If the United States had wished to preserve its supremacy, instead of opening its businesses, universities and research centers, it should have kept them under wraps, the way the Spaniards hid the prodigious seeds of cocoa and the manufacture of chocolate for more than a century.
In any case, the three basic foundations upon which rests the fabulous productive system of the United States do not seem exhausted for now. The institutions of law are strong and society mostly submits to the rules. The institutions and modus operandi of the economic sector (credit, the mechanisms of transaction, marketing and management, the sales networks, the commercial habits) continue to foster the conversion of innovations and scientific findings into new goods and services that swiftly reach the market.
What’s prodigious is not that four young men in a garage invent Microsoft, Apple or Facebook, but that means exist to instantaneously transform this creativity into hugely lucrative enterprises. And third: with all its deficiencies, the U.S. educational system, at least in the hundred best universities and research centers in the country, continues to be at the head of the planet.
Where, really, is the greatest danger? President Obama pointed that out, too, but I fear that he’s not doing enough to conjure it. If the U.S. does not put an end to the fiscal disorder and does not watch over the value of money, preventing inflation, it will be unable to avoid a serious upheaval in the long range.
We should never forget that what sustains the vigor of the U.S. civilization is its productive apparatus, which, to function adequately, needs the national accounts to be in order and the currency to preserve its purchasing power. It that fails, everything falls apart.

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