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.It is well worth reading in its entirety.
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.