Fly American – Unless You Know Better: Geopolitical Humor for the Oscar’s

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Up-in-the-air1.jpgThis is a guest note by Parag Khanna, a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and author of The Second World: How Emerging Powers are Redefining Global Competition in the 21st Century (Random House, 2009).
Fly American – Unless You Know Better: Geopolitical Humor for the Oscar’s
In “Up in the Air,” George Clooney portrays uber-frequent flier Ryan Bingham, who reaches ten million American Airlines miles–without ever leaving the United States. American Airlines is portrayed as the grand old silver lady of flying, and that’s precisely the problem. It’s certainly old, but far from grand. What does Clooney’s Oscar hit have to do with U.S. foreign policy?
Most Americans simply don’t realize just how “brand America” no longer carries much weight in the world unless you are looking for an iPhone or a Hollywood blockbuster.
Our cars, political system, and economic practices have become a joke, and the Obama glow wore off before his administration’s one-year mark. Our ignorance is best captured by the same American Airlines linked Mastercard’s apparent policy to block usage of the card as soon as you commit the crime of trying to use it in a foreign country. Yet we still think we’re the best because we don’t know much about the rest.
American Airlines is a great metaphor for America itself.
parag khanna ted twn.jpgA recognizable brand that provides plenty of connections, but whose value and quality of service is greatly diminished. Its 757 planes rattle like roller-coasters, the in-flight entertainment system constantly conks out, and it’s so loud in the cabin that Bose noise-cancelling headsets are no match. And try making a booking over the phone or online without the agent’s keyboard freezing or system crashing.
Meanwhile, emerging market airlines from the UAE’s Emirates and Etihad to India’s Jet Airways are providing better services at lower prices. Their flight attendants dress in style, their food is hot, and they arrive on time.
In Europe – yes, the same socialist sclerotic Europe conservatives love to bash – there are twice as many airlines as there are EU member countries. Following on the success of Ireland’s Ryan Air, imitators galore have sprung up, driving more connections at lower costs. Most of the price of any flight within Europe is taxes that maintain first-rate infrastructure, not airfare. And you don’t have to pay for peanuts.
One year into the Obama administration the very necessary debate about our national competitiveness is taking shape. We are falling behind in educating future innovators, meaning our economic edge is fading fast. In web-tech, we have Google, Amazon, and Twitter, but local preferences are gaining ground in Asia (a fact which lies at the heart of the Google vs. China face-off), where 4G speeds make American mobile operators look like the equivalent of a rotary dial.
In bio-tech, we’ve ended Bush-era bans on stem-cell research, but new patents are pouring in from India and Korea where researchers are going after mainstream health problems and not just specialty drugs. And in clean-tech, save for some promising pockets of experimentation with electric cars and smart grids, we are the world’s dirtiest per capita.
Globalization means that the gap between “Invented in America” and “Made in China” is shrinking rapidly. Technological know-how is spreading faster than ever–multinational corporations have to transfer the latest techniques and skills to foreign managers a condition of setting up shop overseas. It’s no surprise that China just debuted the fastest inter-city bullet-train in the world just a few years after German industrial giant Siemens build China its first one.
Feel-good rhetoric can’t reverse this greatest shift in geopolitical and geo-economic conditions: Globalization once extended America’s edge, now globalization accelerates its undoing. America’s share of the global economy is shrinking from close to an unnatural fifty percent at the end of World War II past the steady 25 percent mark held for about a decade towards a far more modest 20 percent.
We are not a big enough market to set global standards–instead we’re somewhere between Europe, which raises environmental and industrial quality control regulations, and China which undermines them.
If we want to re-capture global leadership for the sake of our economic competitiveness and national self-esteem, it starts by flying overseas and learning how the world’s new markets live: what they drive (smaller and cleaner), what they eat (organic and with trans-fat optional), and what their values are (not church vs. state but rather a community-based politico-economic-spiritual synthesis).
Today there are probably several thousand young and unemployed American MBAs making that trip to the booming Persian Gulf emirates, India, China, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and other emerging markets.
Maintaining America’s vaunted capacity for self-renewal hinges on them coming back with fresh ideas on how to make in America and sell in the rest of the world. Any American who can afford to should follow their lead.
But start the trip right: don’t fly American Airlines — unless perhaps you are trying to get from Tulsa to Texas.
— Parag Khanna

Comments

31 comments on “Fly American – Unless You Know Better: Geopolitical Humor for the Oscar’s

  1. Rolex Oyster says:

    If a person cares about that triple bypass
    surgery, that
    Sweetness mentions, and ensuring its availability,
    I certainly
    wouldn’t trust Dr. Emanuel to decide who gets one
    and when.
    He’s already stated, and written, that people in
    their sunset
    years should be given a pill instead. I find it
    hard to understand
    why the left is comfortable asserting that a
    younger woman has
    the right to terminate a fetus because the
    pregnancy is carried
    in her body (i.e., the sovereignty of her person
    trumps the life of
    the fetus), but that an elderly woman should not
    be able to
    decide when, where and how she medically treats
    her own body.

    Reply

  2. iPhone Application Developers says:

    Fly American – Unless You Know Better: Geopolitical Humor for the Oscar’s. In “Up in the Air,” George Clooney portrays uber-frequent flier Ryan Bingham, …work look excellent.Looking forward to hearing more from you!

    Reply

  3. Liz says:

    Drew,
    You remind me of the gentleman who set out to prove that anyone can eat healthy on $40 a week. He carefully scoured the various grocery ads on the internet. Planned his shopping route with care and drove to no less than three stores in his quest for a week of “healthy meals” from $40 worth of groceries.
    What he failed to understand and take into account is that those who have such a small amount (in a major U.S. city) for their food budget typically do not have internet service at home nor cars to drive to three different grocery stores or perhaps just not enough gas money.
    The well-to-do who so blithely pass judgment on those who are truly poor in this country are clueless about the depths of their ignorance.

    Reply

  4. Alan K says:

    I flew on American last night from Boston to SF and the experience was not as the writer described. There was an excellent movie: Up In The Air! The sound system was not bad: my noise cancelling headset made everything nice and quiet.
    So if the AA experience is to be used as a metaphor for America’s decline, I suggest that one’s experience can be variable, as can one’s view of America’s standing in world.

    Reply

  5. Sweetness says:

    n regard to your comments about my bad faith, it is a habit of
    people here to divert to personal innuendo, namecalling and ad
    hominem ‘insights’ into motivation, once they lose control of
    their logic or the facts don’t sustain their opinions. And that’s
    not a playground where I swing.
    SN: It’s not ad hominem, Drew. That would be if I attacked you.
    I’m attacking your method of argument. I guess you’re free to
    argue whatever you want, including that the sun revolves around
    the earth. But there’s so much evidence on the other side, it
    becomes pointless. If you think you can credibly put health care
    on par with a sailboat, then okay…I’ll check back with you when
    you need a bypass.
    But let’s play in your sandbox. If milk were going up as fast as
    health insurance is, there’d be riots, and no one would be
    content to let “the market” just work it all out. Even if Madison
    said so. Certainly not those who were hungry. Same is true of
    those who need medical care–which happens to be a lot of
    people.
    But again, the point you step over lightly is that the argument
    for health reform is NOT an argument for turning our economy
    into communist or socialist regime. Nor is the latter a necessary
    consequence of the former. This should be obvious from all the
    countries where there is socialized medicine, but no gulag. One
    just doesn’t follow from the other. It’s incumbent upon you to
    show that it does if you’re going to make your case convincingly.
    In regard to your last question, it sounds like you haven’t read
    the Constitution, which I recommend you do in the course of
    these discussions.
    SN: Okay…
    In introducing the Ninth Amendment, Madison said, “that all
    [rights] that are not granted by the constitution are retained;
    that the constitution is a bill of powers, the great residuum
    being the rights of the people; and, therefore, a bill of rights
    cannot be so necessary as if the residuum was thrown into the
    hands of the Government.”
    SN: What here prevents “the people” from deciding they want
    socialized medicine?
    What this means (aside from Madison’s ambivilence about the
    necessity of this enumerated powers amendment) is that any
    right not specifically assigned to the government is retained,
    under the Ninth Amendment, Bill of Rights, Constitution, by the
    great residuum of the people. And there is no right assigned by
    the Constitution to impose contractual obligations on citizens to
    buy this or that type of health insurance.
    SN: Again, why can’t “the people” decide they want socialized
    medicine? Just like they’ve decided they want socialized sewers
    and fire departments that everyone is required to pay for. And
    socialized stop lights that everyone is required to stop at?
    This immunity from Federal overreach, or tyranny, if you will, is
    one of the emerging major issues of our country. Once one
    leaves WaWaLand, one finds massively accumulating popular
    discontent (again, CNN polled Americans and 55% said the
    federal government was the greatest threat to their freedom),
    and you will find increasingly organized, state government
    resistence. The most popular book sold in the United States last
    year is an orginalist’s critique of the self-aggrandizing state.
    While I’m sure it is not on your reading list, its success describes
    its relevance.
    SN: Popular by what measure? Maybe you can give me the title.
    There are also a number of polls that say “the people” want
    single payer health care. Beyond this, though, did the Founders
    say we were going to make decisions like this through…polling?

    Reply

  6. TEBB says:

    Using a credit card out of the country: before I leave the US I always call the toll free numbers on the back of the cards and tell them where I’m going. I’ve not had any problems using my credit cards this way, though I don’t have a Citicorp Advantage card so perhaps it would be different.

    Reply

  7. questions says:

    If the pill is made in one state and sold in another, or transported across state lines in any way at all, if the ingredients in the pill are moved across state lines, if the pill makes you psycho and you cross state lines to kill someone…. And yeah, probably oil change is interstate too. So the quality of the oil and it’s grading and the disposal of the oil…all regulated by Congress.
    Ain’t life grand!
    Now try that pill w/o some kind of congressional oversight — is your state really up to making sure it’s not a poison pill? Is your state up to making sure it doesn’t make you psycho and kill your family or someone else’s?
    Coordination of behavior is far more important than you, and many conservatives, seem to realize. Information is not traded equally, and while there’s something of a correction for this problem once a bunch of people die from the problem, the point of civil society is to prevent those deaths, so yeah, interstate commerce is a big one.
    Ain’t life grand!
    If you really want to live without civil government, I recommend giving a careful read to Hobbes’s Leviathan. It presents a nice clear picture of what we face when we don’t have a government. Think about the things you’d lose, and not within a fantasy of being able to tough it out. My guess is that most of us wouldn’t make it long.

    Reply

  8. Drew says:

    I look forward to reading the brief that states that putting a pill in
    my own body is an act of interstate commerce. By that standard,
    changing the oil in my car is an act of interstate commerce.

    Reply

  9. questions says:

    drew,
    Interstate commerce?
    Necessary and proper?
    Texts are funny things!

    Reply

  10. drew says:

    In regard to your comments about my bad faith, it is a habit of
    people here to divert to personal innuendo, namecalling and ad
    hominem ‘insights’ into motivation, once they lose control of
    their logic or the facts don’t sustain their opinions. And that’s
    not a playground where I swing.
    In regard to your last question, it sounds like you haven’t read
    the Constitution, which I recommend you do in the course of
    these discussions.
    In introducing the Ninth Amendment, Madison said, “that all
    [rights] that are not granted by the constitution are retained;
    that the constitution is a bill of powers, the great residuum
    being the rights of the people; and, therefore, a bill of rights
    cannot be so necessary as if the residuum was thrown into the
    hands of the Government.”
    What this means (aside from Madison’s ambivilence about the
    necessity of this enumerated powers amendment) is that any
    right not specifically assigned to the government is retained,
    under the Ninth Amendment, Bill of Rights, Constitution, by the
    great residuum of the people. And there is no right assigned by
    the Constitution to impose contractual obligations on citizens to
    buy this or that type of health insurance.
    This immunity from Federal overreach, or tyranny, if you will, is
    one of the emerging major issues of our country. Once one
    leaves WaWaLand, one finds massively accumulating popular
    discontent (again, CNN polled Americans and 55% said the
    federal government was the greatest threat to their freedom),
    and you will find increasingly organized, state government
    resistence. The most popular book sold in the United States last
    year is an orginalist’s critique of the self-aggrandizing state.
    While I’m sure it is not on your reading list, its success describes
    its relevance.

    Reply

  11. Sweetness says:

    Drew: Sweetness, I don’t see health insurance as being any more
    critical than food (milk) or shelter (plywood). I would say, in fact,
    that in my hierarchy of needs food, water and oxygen are more
    important than my Blue Cross Blue Shield cover. Why do you? I
    can live a lot longer without health insurance than I can food.
    SN: This already shows you’re not arguing in good faith. WHEN
    YOU NEED health care, it is often a critical need and much more
    important than milk (which is also far less expensive). This is
    obvious. My aunt’s going in for a valve replacement and bypass
    tomorrow, as it happens, and it’s a matter of life or death.
    (Housing is much more expensive than milk, but you don’t
    approve of giving people help with housing, I assume. So what’s
    your point? That because we shouldn’t help people with housing
    or food, we should also not help them with health care? Where’s
    the logic in this?)
    Moreover, the argument is NOT about replacing the free market
    system with a centralized economy, as you imply. It is about
    health care in particular. And since the current plan being put
    forward still has insurance companies providing all the
    coverage, it’s not even about “government run health care.”
    Some things are well provided under free enterprise system.
    Other things, like the sewers, roads, and fire protection, are not.
    So the argument is about whether health care is more like the
    former or the latter. Not about communism or socialism.
    Drew: If a person cares about that triple bypass surgery, that
    Sweetness mentions, and ensuring its availability, I certainly
    wouldn’t trust Dr. Emanuel to decide who gets one and when.
    He’s already stated, and written, that people in their sunset
    years should be given a pill instead.
    SN: This shows again that you’re not arguing in good faith.
    Emmanuel won’t be running the health care system and isn’t.
    Putting him forward is a straw man.
    Secondly, insurance companies now make the very same
    decisions you’re decrying based on private and profit-based
    criteria. And, if you get a bad decision from your insurance
    company, you are NOT free to shop around with your pre-
    existing condition. So it’s not even a free enterprise situation
    where the customer can exert pressure on business by taking
    their business elsewhere. This, too, is obvious.
    Third, I used to sell private health insurance in the UK. Even
    when the government is actually providing the care itself, people
    are free to buy their own insurance, or pay cash to their Harley
    Street doctor, and get whatever they want. Same would be true
    here. Money always talks.
    Drew: I find it hard to understand why the left is comfortable
    asserting that a younger woman has the right to terminate a
    fetus because the pregnancy is carried in her body (i.e., the
    sovereignty of her person trumps the life of the fetus), but that
    an elderly woman should not be able to decide when, where and
    how she medically treats her own body.
    SN: There is nothing in the bills that says this woman won’t be
    able to medically treat her own body as she wishes. Certainly no
    poison pill provisions a la Emmanuel. Some treatment is
    ALWAYS disallowed under ANY system and we have that now in
    spades. So what are you even talking about? Beyond this, it will
    always be up to the person whether to accept a given treatment
    or not. I don’t see any contradiction here.
    And lastly, per your response to sdemetri, perhaps you can point
    to the parts in the Constitution where it specifies the type of
    economic arrangements that must be followed in this country.

    Reply

  12. drew says:

    “…That is lacking in this country struggling under the ideology
    that you are responsible for yourself …”
    That’s extremely flattering, sdemetri, to me but I do believe that
    I would grant larger credit to, say Madison, Jefferson and the
    other drafters and exponents of the American Constitution.
    There, for some reason (my own limitations?), I can’t find
    anything referencing this latest assault on my person.
    I guess most Americans are similarly disadvantaged, inasmuch
    as somewhere between two out of three, and three out four, do
    not want this health bill passed. And 55% (CNN poll) now
    consider the federal government to be a direct threat to their
    liberties. Obviously we should all just pipe down and listen to
    our betters and honor their wishes. It’s not like this is a
    representative republic, or anything.
    While we have labored mightily under the burden of this
    Constitution for lo these 220 years or so, while obviously
    superior forms of government have lapped us in this human
    race, and while we have been saved in war and commerce, time
    and time again by stronger, more humanitarian regimes from
    Asia and Europe, I am hopeful that we will prevail and, in the
    end, turn the Constitution into something that it is not.

    Reply

  13. sdemetri says:

    As if insurance companies don’t ration care now by selective
    denial of claims, limiting access to physicians, dictating terms of
    payments.
    The lack of compassion of the “for profit” system is in the
    fundamental need for profit and shareholder satisfaction. It is a
    (relatively) fine system for food, or plywood, so long as the
    cheats, crooks, and speculators are kept at bay and aren’t allow
    to game the system for their own benefits. But for health care…?
    Pregnant teenagers may get their care, but at greater expense to
    society, not them personally. A compassionate system educates
    and advices to avoid those costs. That is lacking in this country
    struggling under the ideology that you are responsible for
    yourself, when the truth is, no, that teenager is paid for by all
    the rest of us at a much higher cost than is necessary. She IS
    responsible for herself, but under the ideology that marginalizes
    her for her economic status, that is not an easy thing to do.
    An elderly woman, Drew, without resources may get care but
    under the same conditions often as the teenager… at a higher
    cost to society. And as sweetness says, care is often not
    optional. Deaths have resulted because your market system has
    rationed, and decided to deny coverage.

    Reply

  14. drew says:

    Sweetness, I don’t see health insurance as being any more
    critical than food (milk) or shelter (plywood). I would say, in fact,
    that in my hierarchy of needs food, water and oxygen are more
    important than my Blue Cross Blue Shield cover. Why do you? I
    can live a lot longer without health insurance than I can food.
    As a compassionate society we already gift food (food stamps)
    and shelter (housing subsidies) to the least fortunate amongst
    us, as we do health care.
    In 2001 46 million Americans and legally resident aliens received
    the ‘free’ health care that we call Medicaid.
    Millions of Americans, permanent residents, and illegal aliens
    receive ‘free’ health care, in addition to those covered by
    Medicaid, merely by showing up at emergency rooms. The costs
    of doing so today are shifted to people like us who do have
    insurance, and that’s why it cost me $1300 last fall to have my
    elbow irrigated and stitched up last fall. I had three stitches, an
    antibiotic bath, spent a 45 minutes on the table, got a bill for
    $1300. (And this was not at a fancy urban hospital, this was in
    rural Iowa.) I had to pay for the people who don’t pay — the
    people receiving de facto ‘free’ care — again because we are a
    compassionate society.
    Perhaps you have never spent time in a society where things
    such as food, shelter and medical care were or are rationed by
    government officials instead of markets. Because as soon as
    something is rationed, or, worse, becomes ‘free’, there isn’t
    enough of it. My business partner, for example, used to line up
    for two or three days to buy sugar or shoes. That was because
    he lived in society in which government officials controlled the
    supply of food and clothing.
    Let’s hope that if TR Reid plans to tell his anecdote about the
    unwed teenage mother (dilated 10 cm, etc.) arriving untreated at
    an emergency room in order to give birth, that beforehand
    someone advises him of this thing called Medicaid, which an
    unwed teenage mother lacking financial resources may elect to
    receive. That way he won’t make a fool of himself with his
    incorrect second-hand anecdote (in the service of his ideology, I
    presume).
    If a person cares about that triple bypass surgery, that
    Sweetness mentions, and ensuring its availability, I certainly
    wouldn’t trust Dr. Emanuel to decide who gets one and when.
    He’s already stated, and written, that people in their sunset
    years should be given a pill instead. I find it hard to understand
    why the left is comfortable asserting that a younger woman has
    the right to terminate a fetus because the pregnancy is carried
    in her body (i.e., the sovereignty of her person trumps the life of
    the fetus), but that an elderly woman should not be able to
    decide when, where and how she medically treats her own body.

    Reply

  15. Perry says:

    I have flown AA and also some of the small airlines in Europe. That part of the essay is grossly exaggerated, so I assume the rest of it is too.
    If you try to fly a smaller airline out of London Heathrow you are advised that it will take you 30 minutes to get from check-in to your airline gate and they aren’t kidding. Small European airlines cancel your flights because they are no longer flying routes, not because they are consolidating passengers. They charge you a fee to pick a seat. It isn’t only AA that has problems.

    Reply

  16. Linda says:

    T. R. Reid was mentioned above regarding comparisons of our health care non-system to those of other countries. He will be interviewed on “In Depth” on C-Span for three hours tomorrow and probably will talk about that and as well as U.S. in comparison to other nations. He spent years living in both London and Tokyo as WaPo’s bureau chief.

    Reply

  17. Sweetness says:

    Drew says: “I am extremely pleased that health care, like milk or plywood or sailboats, is priced in a manner “directly tied to the amount one is willing to pay.” That way there is some of it available when I want to consume some of it. But that’s a market thing and perhaps it is unclear.”
    Comparing health care to milk, plywood or sailboats is simply astonishing. Buying health care is NOTHING like buying those other items. For one thing, when you need it, you can’t walk away if, say, the price isn’t right.
    Your phrase “there is some of it when I want to consume some of it” is along the same lines. True; people don’t have to have triple by-pass operations when they need them, but 99% of folks don’t think of them in any way as optional.
    It’s not that they “want” the operation; it’s that they will die if they don’t have the operation. And that’s true of a lot of health care. One reason why unfettered market principles are unsuited to the health care arena.

    Reply

  18. charlie says:

    I think Parag needs to actually fly some more of these non-US
    airlines. Trying booking on a website with them. Or using
    frequent flyer miles to get an upgrade or ticket. Or use
    competitive pricing engines to find the cheapest fare. Or call
    them on their 1-800 lines overseas.
    The point being, sure, service on US airlines sucks. It has since
    1978 when pricing, rather than service, became the way airlines
    sell themselves.
    So, the real upside is certain service sectors (having hot girls
    serve you food on airlines) sucks, while others, often connected
    with technology and/or automation are world class.
    AA’s mastercard is actually run by Citibank, and as an agent of
    the US government, works quite nicely overseas.

    Reply

  19. Drew says:

    Bruce, the sparkling streets, new houses and pumping churning
    factories still exist.
    However they, and many of their citizens, are now relocated to
    places like Texas, Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. (Tennesee,
    Alabama …) New York state destroyed its manufacturing base
    through punitive rules, regulations and taxes, and ushered them
    out of town. It’s a passive-aggressive way of saying to industry
    and working people, “Get out or die.”
    Neither American nor foreign investment capital chooses
    disadvantaged locales for new development, and why would
    they?
    Businesspeople seek to maximize an economic objective
    function, so they go where they’re wanted, not where they are
    punished.
    US manufacturing output has more than tripled since 1960; NY
    state chose not to ride the train. Other states were very pleased
    to fill the need. Now we’re going through the same thing on a
    national scale, as companies like Intel can’t justify building their
    next multi-billion dollar fab in the USA, because to do so is to
    incur worst-in-class tax and regulatory regimes.

    Reply

  20. questions says:

    One key to “restoring American competitiveness” which really is a phrase to pause at and think about is a rewriting of risk issues. Health reform makes certain kinds of risks easier to bear, some income redistribution would do the same. Super entrenched too-big-to-fail too comfortable to want to try anymore businesses also have risk issues. Too big to fail means you take on too much foolish risk, too comfortable means you take on no risk, and when they come together you end up with a whole class of people for whom massive ridiculous risk coupled with compensation no matter what leads to a distortion of epic size. They waste and they stay comfortable. It’s rational from Goldman’s point of view, but not from anyone else’s.
    But aside from trying both to mitigate risk where it should be mitigated, and to use it better as a threat where we need that, we should really rethink the kind of hubris, damage, stupidity and hegemony that all come from American competitiveness. We haven’t been kind in our worldly rule, and I’m not sure a re-emergent ethnocentrism with the accompanying chants of USA-USA-USA is what we should want.
    Note that Medvedev is deeply worried about how the Russian Olympians did in Vancouver. Maybe we don’t want to go there? So the way that American Airlines flight attendants dress should not be part of American industrial policy?
    And as for ‘Brand America,’ just remember ‘Brand Toyota.’ Any company, any brand, is subject to Lady Fortuna much of the time. Software or chip glitches (I’m leaning towards software personally) and there goes the car up a snowbank and there goes the stock prince down a mountainside along with market share and reputation. Suddenly Ford looks not so awful.
    So how do you help Ford? Universal single payer health care, pension reform, support for alternative energy sources, transit that makes a seamless web between home, local parking and trains or buses. Basic physical and socio/economic infrastructure will make risk easier to bear and should be part of a reasonable industrial policy.
    And remember that wonderful innovations like, say, iPods (designed in the US, built by child labor) come with downsides as well. Apple pretty much owns the music market now. E-books seem to be less monopoly-ruled temporarily, but who knows for how long. We may not always do well by doing better.

    Reply

  21. larry birnbaum says:

    Curmudgeon… yuck.
    Look, provocative is good. But there’s provoking and then there’s engaging after the provocation. It’s inevitable that China and India will rise and that’s good because it means the Chinese and Indian people will be seizing the opportunities that everyone should have to add value in this world. That doesn’t mean we won’t have significant heft and more importantly it doesn’t mean our values won’t have significant heft.
    One key is to build international institutions that reflect those values and are for that reason valuable to everybody because they make the world work better. Which is why it’s so frustrating to see the UN et al. abused and used as mickey-mouse kabuki theaters in which our European allies indulge 3rd world tyrants and nutjobs to act out in the cynical belief that they’re just contained playgrounds for problem children to blow off steam. Of course it’s our fault too for not trying to make them work and for not spending political capital to get our allies to help.
    Finally, I don’t think “brand” or “image” are the issues. Reality is the issue. There are some obvious but difficult things we need to do that will significantly improve our lives and the world generally. Energy is probably the most important. If we tackle these challenges well our brand will take care of itself.
    At 220+ years we are the oldest and longest-lived Republic in history and one of the oldest continuously-operating national governments currently in existence. In that time transitory systems and governments have come and gone all around the world, even the developed world. This is not to lay out some laurels for us to rest on but to point out a fact which demands and commands genuine respect.

    Reply

  22. Josh M. says:

    Parag’s piece is provocative, though I wouldn’t
    make a huge issue out of the drop from 50 percent
    of global output to 25 percent. Most of that is
    just due to other economies actually getting their
    respective acts together.
    American innovation definitely does need to be
    reimagined, and the notion of borrowing and
    altering innovations from the developing world has
    a lot of merit. Still though, it’s every place has
    its sore spots. It would be nice to have European
    healthcare, but a quick look at the Greek debt
    crisis and the problem (socially and in security
    terms) of discrimination against Muslims leaves
    much to be desired. Sure, fast trains in China are
    nice, but let’s not forget the GDP per-capita
    figures, which are often remembered but rarely
    seemingly conceptualized in the American press.
    Inequality in China is only exacerbating, and
    anyone that has seen poverty in China will likely
    never forget it. It’s horrifying, if only because
    one would legitimately wonder what all of the
    hullabaloo about China’s economic growth really
    means. Beijing looks like a space city and China
    is now the greatest market for high-end goods, but
    that’s not necessarily the sign of a great China –
    – Parag’s piece only continues to push the
    assumption that profligacy needs to be embedded in
    the American mindset regarding the purpose of U.S.
    foreign policy and the most important measure of
    national power — that is, how much crap can a
    population consume? Whoever consumes the most and
    then builds the fastest stuff is then the most
    powerful — I’d like to see more prescient
    analysis of a GNH index as applied to America.
    Anyway though…
    Oh, and lastly, Parag cheers on the flight
    attendants at Jet Airways, but what the layman
    might not realize is that a significant portion of
    those women are also marketed as prostitutes.
    Indeed, the grass is always greener on the other
    side.

    Reply

  23. Bruce Rich says:

    Parag’s piece is on target…though it’s important to remember that in some areas as Dan Kervick points out we are still greatly admired. And it’s certainly not too late, if the country would wake up. Moreover history tends to surprise just when we are most certain about extrapolating trends of the past, in the late 80s everyone was predicting, extrapolating the trends of of the previous two decades, that Japan was the emerging economic superpower and would soon leave the U.S. in the dust. That being said, for me the saddest part of our current situation is that along with the decline of infrastructure, competitiveness in many industries etc. is not just that inequality has grown among income levels, but also regionally on a depressing scale. Whole areas of the country have undergone a creeping Appalachianization…e.g. upstate New York and Pennsylvania, the cities and interior of the Great Lakes states, the Great Plains etc. The contrast between the Canadian side of the border at Buffalo and Detroit with the American side is embarrassing and makes one feel ashamed….you feel like you’re going from a well run modern industrialized nation to a place that’s second rate, shabby, in places almost Third World, or rather to what might be called an “undeveloping country.” Every year I drive several times from DC to Buffalo to visit family, often taking different routes. It’s truly poignant and at times almost pathetic to pass through all the declining small towns in Pennsylvania and upstate New York that were more prosperous a half century and even a century ago (my Grandfather, long deceased, grew up in one of them, Cattaraugus, New York) the main streets all lined with American flags. The omnipresence of the flags is something I’ve never seen in any other country. It’s as if the people don’t have much left to feel proud about. Thanks Steve for a great blog, Bruce Rich

    Reply

  24. sdemetri says:

    TR Reid has mentioned a very good example of the “compassion”
    difference:
    A British doc working in Baltimore remarked to him that in Britain
    he had never, ever, in years of emergency room care met a young,
    pregnant woman, dilated to 10cm coming into an emergency room
    having never had any medical care given to her. The reason for this
    is the Brit’s preemptive care… a deliberate and extensive effort
    educating people early to avoid the costs of later problems through
    lack of care.
    In contrast, he sees that very thing on a regular basis in Baltimore.
    10cm dilated, never received any prenatal advice, likely to have a
    poor (expensive) outcome, and tough job caring for a sick kid later
    on… expensive and unavoidable.

    Reply

  25. sdemetri says:

    The doctors in the US are the best trained, have the best
    equipment, work in state of the art facilities, are innovative, and
    able to export that innovation elsewhere. They are an “American”
    thing to be proud of.
    Our system of delivery and payment for health care is broken,
    and not just broken, but obscenely so. Medical bankruptcies are
    unheard of elsewhere in the industrialized world. Denial of
    claims leading to suffering, and even death are thought to be
    brutal by other industrialized societies. Not here. The cold hand
    of the market has no compassion whatsoever.
    And that is not to say that Canada, Britain, Europe, Taiwan, or
    Japan are Nirvana when it comes to health care. But they have
    systems that exhibit a greater degree of compassion than our
    “for profit” system.

    Reply

  26. Drew says:

    Steve, suggesting that the fate of Xerox or GM defines the
    current American trajectory is like wondering why the US Army
    no longer issues M-1 carbines. (They’ve been replaced by better
    things, in this case, scanners and Fords.) The American system
    is supposed to consume and destroy decrepit, obsolete
    enterprises, and recent interventions aside, normally does. I
    care about Xerox like I care about who was Commerce secretary
    under LBJ. They’ve both had their day.
    Even saying that, one should note Buick is an extremely popular,
    successful and profitable line of cars … in China.
    If Mr. Khanna gave any indication that he had ever carried a bag
    and actually attempted to develop and sell an American product
    in another country, or better, started and built an American
    subsidiary in another country, I think his thesis would be longer
    on observations and shorter on the cultural condescension.
    Unless the condescension is the point, I can’t find a point. .
    SDEMETRI:
    I am extremely pleased that health care, like milk or plywood or
    sailboats, is priced in a manner “directly tied to the amount one
    is willing to pay.” That way there is some of it available when I
    want to consume some of it. But that’s a market thing and
    perhaps it is unclear.
    Speaking of which, and the American brand, which health care
    system does the premier of Newfoundland prefer when faced
    with heart surgery?

    Reply

  27. sdemetri says:

    The fruits of the anti-tax, anti-government movement are in full
    flower. The upward flow of wealth has served those in gated
    communities well, with their private jet co-leasing programs, tax
    shelters, and premier investment opportunities. Not that all of that
    is entirely unwarranted, just that infrastructure is failing, schools
    even in many wealthy communities are struggling to keep up, and
    health care is unavailable, or overpriced, or directly tied to the
    amount one is willing to pay. And medical bankruptcy is not the
    obscenity it is in nearly every other industrialized country.
    There are not a few of us having a self-esteem crisis with this state
    of affairs. Good piece, Parag.

    Reply

  28. Dan Kervick says:

    I’m all for boosting US competitiveness and US exports, and I’m all for learning from the great innovations and systems that have been developed elsewhere, and copying them here: particularly in the areas of health care and transportation.
    But before we start generalizing and throwing around untutored personal opinions about the US brand, let’s see some actual empirical research. I don’t know much about this area, but here is one tidbit:
    http://www.gfk.com/group/press_information/press_releases/004734/index.en.html
    Surely, when we dig a little bit we will find that the US brand is very strong for some products and services, and weak in others.
    The general idea of doing more to encourage Americans to travel abroad – whether physically or even through the use of books and other media and communications technologies – is something I strongly supports. Americans are, on the whole, clever, opportunistic and innovative people. But they are also culturally introverted, and the positive capacities cannot find full expression if our people are wandering in the hall of mirrors of the American landscape, which provides them only with indulgent and misleading reassurance and cultural reaffirmation.

    Reply

  29. erichwwk says:

    I liked the piece as well, although i also find the fall of America sad, rather than funny.
    For an important aspect of “why it fell”, larry try this:
    http://fora.tv/2010/02/10/Garry_Wills_Bomb_Power

    Reply

  30. Steve Clemons says:

    Hi Larry — I disagree. I think the American brand is in trouble
    abroad and needs to be rejuvenated, rewired. Seeing strengths in
    America — which I do — does not mean that America today is
    driving the marginal edge of change. China is. That needs to be
    rectified. GM and Xerox have great strengths and assets — but
    they are not driving change or capturing the world’s imagination.
    I liked Parag’s piece — which is provocative.
    You could try to lighten up here a bit — and even when you
    disagree — try just a bit to engage the issues on their merits
    without being such a grumpy curmudgeon (though I have to admit
    that I often play that role in real life) 🙂
    all best, steve clemons

    Reply

  31. larry birnbaum says:

    The notion that our economic, technical, cultural, and political strengths are a “joke” is the left-wing equivalent of wingnut beliefs that Europe is some kind of socialist hellhole. And the appeal to “national self-esteem” is bizarrely juvenile.
    And it isn’t even funny.

    Reply

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