February 01, 2005

Letter to the Paper XXXIX

Daniel Drezner gets an earful from me in comment to this story about the US' soft power problems.

Moravcsik recycles an awful lot of conventional wisdom. The last I checked, happiness surveys favored the US over most of Europe, not the other way around. The alternative models to the US one are as threatening as Japan Inc. was in the 1980s. People were absolutely convinced that Japan was going to take over everything. It didn't turn out that way because Japan had been cooking its books in a massive way that makes our current problems in that area seem puny.

Europe has similar problems. Their biggest problem is that they aren't making an awful lot of biological Europeans so they're going to have to import them and they're absolutely awful at assimilation.

A great deal of the statistics that are bad for the US are a problem in part or wholly because immigration, while ultimately (post assimilation) strengthening society with fresh blood, drive down all sorts of statistics of health and well-being. Until the mid-to-late '90s, every newly arrived Romanian I met had need of some pretty hefty dental work. Those repairs impacted US health statistics, though they were no reflection at all on the US system.

Right now, the US is going through a period of trial. Its model is being challenged and pretty much all of the challengers as well as the incumbent are at significant risk of crashing and falling as Japan did. These are pretty high stakes bets and the game won't get settled for at least the next couple of decades.

While I think that Moravcsik has his finger well placed on several US weaknesses, I don't think he really understands that the alternative systems have their own weaknesses. Every potential world hegemon has faced a moment when the world was groping toward an "everybody else" coalition that was devoted to knocking down the world beater. Until that coalition breaks apart because some or all of the alternate models prove unsustainable in reality, US soft power will weaken under that coalition assault. This one sided analysis means that Moravcsik's predictions are very far off from what is most likely to happen.

Moravcsik has a very out of date notion of the lag time between adopting seed corn eating social welfare policies and when the bad consequences of those policies start to hit the visible economy. The lag times for such things are long and Europe is only now starting to seriously feel the strain.

Other "charges" like his throwaway line about US "ugly racial tensions" are simply not credible. It isn't that the US doesn't have racial problems, but that Europe has them so much worse. When was the last time a black athlete was openly mocked for his skin color in the US? You'd measure that in decades. For Europe, you can measure that in days or weeks.

In the end, faults are only to be found in the american model. Failure is only an option for the US. The failure of the American Dream is something that is known a priori, apart from investigation. That makes the article just one more tiresome exercise in wish fulfillment.


Posted by TMLutas at February 1, 2005 02:39 AM