Wikinvest Wire

A prozac nation in decline

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The contest for editorial of the week was no contest at all last week as Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America, shook up the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal with The World Will Miss Our Heyday, a melancholy contemplation of a post-American world where some may look back longingly at this period.

It's almost like nothing has changed. We don't talk about it unless someone brings it up -- but even then everyone would prefer to discuss the latest on Sarah Palin, or laugh about Tina Fey's portrayal of her, or to speculate about whether the movie "W" will be accurate or merely comical. So while the economy is hardly an unmentionable, it still is discussed in hushed tones or worse, with forced smiles, like this isn't really happening. We can't really be in freefall. Capitalism, at least as we know it, can't be over.
But the scary thing is not what will happen to individuals -- although a jobless, miserable mass is a very sullen thought -- but what this economic crash says about America. Anyone who is not too drunk with despair (or drink) right now knows that this all signals a bigger realignment, that our place -- our significance -- in the world is diminishing. Eight years of this wastrel, spendthrift administration has bankrupted us of our standing and our capital -- it's all gone. Apparently on Wall Street, the bankers now have a saying: "Dubai, Shanghai, Mumbai or goodbye." The future is no longer here.

This is a state of affairs that ought to leave not just us, but the entire world, deeply stricken with grief. In the history of empire -- or superpower or hyperpower -- no country has ever wielded its dominance as gently and judiciously as the United States has. Even those abroad and afar who feel they suffered as a result of American foreign policy ought to know that this planet as a whole will fare far worse under China or whatever country comes next, and would have suffered greatly had the Soviets won the Cold War. The American century from World War II on -- really only about 60 years old -- has been a very good time for everybody. The world is about to be a much sorrier place.
It is well worth reading in its entirety.

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little larry sellers said...

I disagree with the author's sentiment in this piece. Since the US become the world's sole superpower in 1991, it has NOT wielded its power wisely. We wouldn't be in this position if that was the case.

If capitalism has taught us one thing, it should be the monopolies should be avoided. We've been led by people, economically and politically, who think that their immense power makes failure impossible. Planning and risk analysis have gone by the wayside. Cronyism is rampant.

Sure, the world is going to face some serious pain in the aftermath of this crisis, but no matter who's at the helm from now on, things could definitely improve. Maybe if countries don't have the luxury of military and economic dominance it will force them to be more cautious. A multi-polar world could serve as a de facto system of checks and balances. Maybe we can learn from this crisis and acknowledge the dangers of fiat currency using the printing press as a cure all. That alone would make any short term agony worthwhile.

Lastly, I've made too many friends from around the world to think we are in sole possession of "goodness" or any such thing. It's this kind of black-and-white thinking that got us into trouble in the first place. What purpose does exceptionalism serve, other than to pad egos and dull reasoning?

Anonymous said...

i read the article in the journal last nite, i think. i thought to myself, wow, liberal manhattanites really are the navel-gazing, elitist self-centered breed they have been charicatured as. not that she doesn't make some good points, but in flyover country we would say 'gee, suck it up, dear'

Silly Boy said...

She's obviously read way too much Paul Kennedy and Kevin Phillips --- all that nonsense about financial economies run amok signaling the end of empires........zzzzzz

dearieme said...

You can achieve rather a lot with prestige that otherwise could be achieved only by bribery, coercion or downright aggression. A loss of prestige should not be taken lightly. You'll know it's bad when the world's whingers stop complaining about Those Evil Americans and start jeering at Those Pathetic Americans. Mind you, Slick Willie and W may have pre-disposed them to that.

staghounds said...

I fully agree that the world we've protected since 1945 will miss us when we're not doing that job, as it missed the British in the 1920s and 30s.

But I'm not writing us off just yet either. This supposed crisis, as you point out, hasn't even started to bite yet. I can remember the 1991 recession, which was much worse than this so far.

If we have genuinely hard times, we'll make it even if no one else does. The United States still controls: the seas; telecommunications; banking; and much of the importable food supply.

What it doesn't control of these, it can destroy or deny to others.

Just for example, what level of unemployment and voter anger do you think it would take for Congress or the President to impose a $100 per ton "sea patrol and satnav fee" on all oil shipments not destined for the U.S.?

Or all foreign shipping?

What level of oil price would cause us to confiscate the gulf states' sovereign wealth funds?

It might take us ten years to get cheap oil out of ANWR, but the Navy can get it for us in a month.

And what level of internal distress would cause us to vote for politicians who promised- and intended- to do this sort of thing?

People have forgotten since Manzanar and Tokyo and Hamburg and Nagasaki that we're not so gentle when angry or threatened.
If only one man in the group has a rifle, he won't starve while the others eat.

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