John Gast, American Progress (and other titles), 1872, most frequently seen in chromolithograph form inside cigar boxes.
Walter Russell Mead starts a new insightful essay which argues that the Progressive, Blue State-politics ideas revolving around suburbia, a manufacturing economy, a constantly-expanding regulatory regime and welfare state pertain to rapidly vanishing world, destined to follow the Indians and the buffalo, and the family farm and homestead into America’s past.
The frustration and bitterness that fills American politics these days reflects the failure of our current social, political and economic institutions and practices to deliver the results that Americans want and expect. It’s comparable to the frustration and fear that swept through the country in the late 19th and early 20th century as the first American dream – that every family could prosper on its own farm – gradually died….
Our political battles today reflect the same kinds of frustrations we saw in the old populist era. Many cannot fathom another and “higher” form of the American Dream beyond the old crabgrass utopia. They want to turn back the clock and restore the old system because they don’t know of anything else that will work. ...
It is, of course, a very similar situation today. The forces ripping up our old social model are too powerful to beat. That is not because the rich bankers or global multinationals are engaged in a conscious conspiracy of rip-offs and oppression (though, frankly speaking, big business does sometimes engage in exactly that). It is because the forces ripping up the social model are deeply implanted in the nature of the economic system — and that system is a reflection of the propensities in human nature which we cannot and perhaps should not overcome.
There is another important similarity, one often overlooked in the pessimism, anger and anxiety provoked by the inexorable decline of the “blue social model” that shaped America in the 20th century — just as it was overlooked 100 years ago.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, View of Paestum from L’ancienne Ville de Pesto, 1778
The Wall Street Journal reported that the end of the era of New York City and the United States as the world’s leading center of finance is not just imminent, it is here right now.
After 219 years as the citadel of American capitalism, the New York Stock Exchange was near an agreement to be acquired by Deutsche Börse AG in a deal that would create the world’s largest financial exchange.
With the parent of the New York Stock Exchange and Germany’s Deutsche Borse in advanced talks to merge, Aaron Lucchetti and Dennis Berman look at the likely impact on Wall Street as the financial capital of the world.
If a deal is reached and regulators approve, the combined company would trade more stocks and futures than any rival in the world and more options than any U.S. exchange. The takeover would culminate a decade of tie-ups by exchanges around the world eager to find new sources of growth and catch up with smaller rivals that have been quicker to embrace new and lucrative kinds of trading.
For New York, the move is symbolic of the city’s fading dominance on the world stage as other countries are drawing investors directly to their markets. The move also is a recognition that securities trading today goes on at all hours and in all time zones, making the actual bricks and mortar of Wall Street far less important than before.
“New York is going to be important, but it’s not the financial center. Capital markets are everywhere now,” said Michael LaBranche, CEO of LaBranche & Co, the family-run firm that traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for 87 years before it sold that part of its business to Britain’s Barclays Capital in 2010. ...
The exchanges, which are presenting the deal as a merger of equals, said the combination would leave 60% of the company in the hands of Deutsche Börse shareholders, with NYSE Euronext shareholders holding the remaining 40%. The combined company, with a putative market capitalization of some $25 billion as of Wednesday, would be incorporated in the Netherlands and split its headquarters between Frankfurt and New York.
To put all this into perspective, take this little news item into account.
The U.S. budget deficit grew in January, heading for an expected record in 2011 amid warnings about the nation’s burgeoning debt and wrangling over government spending.
The Treasury Department’s regular monthly statement, released Thursday, showed the U.S. spent $49.80 billion more than it collected last month.
That’s right. In one single month, your government spent an amount of money in excess of its actual income totaling twice what it would cost to buy the combination of the New York Stock Exchange and the German Deutsche Börse, the largest merged securities trading entity in the world.
Liberal policies are not only tremendously economically destructive. Their impact is far more rapid than is commonly recognized. New York City’s financial industry has been been propping up not only New York’s tremendously misgoverned city and state for decades, but the entire region. Picture the financial district of New York before long coming to resemble the manufacturing districts of the Northeast. Then picture the US in the position of post-WWII Britain, obliged to dismantle its military and retreat from its traditional role of world leadership permanently, because it just cannot afford military power or a major international role.
Niall Ferguson is touring Australia warning that the end of American dominance may be imminent and sudden. Somehow the ideas in Codevilla’s essay are popping up everywhere, whether people have read it or not. Ferguson describes how rapidly empires can fall.
The Bourbon monarchy in France passed from triumph to terror with astonishing rapidity. The sun set on the British Empire almost as suddenly. The Suez crisis in 1956 proved that Britain could not act in defiance of the US in the Middle East, setting the seal on the end of empire.
But those things happen only to the denizens of history. People who live in the today usually think they are different. So despite evidence of dramatic change, people who have spent their whole lives among the policy certainties of the postwar period find it difficult to accept they may have to build a world of their own from first principles. Ferguson asks his audience: “what would you do in a world without America? Has the question even crossed your mind?”
Australia’s post-war foreign policy has been, in essence, to be a committed ally of the US. But what if the sudden waning of American power that I fear brings to an abrupt end the era of US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region? Are we ready for such a dramatic change in the global balance of power? Judging by what I have heard here since I arrived last Friday, the answer is no. Australians are simply not thinking about such things.
But if the Australians are not thinking about it, the Chinese are certainly preparing for it. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that Beijing objected to the right of US naval vessels to exercise in the Yellow Sea, despite the fact that they are international waters. At least they used to be. Waters are only international if kept so by a powerful navy committed to the freedom of the seas. People sometimes forget that treaties reflect realities rather than create them, no matter what the European Union may think. ...
[Caroline Glick observes that] “[j]ust as US bureaucrats, journalists, politicians and domestic policy wonks tend to combine forces to perpetuate and expand the sclerotic and increasingly bankrupt welfare state, so their foreign policy counterparts tend to collaborate to perpetuate failed foreign policy paradigms that have become writs of faith for American and Western elites.” In other words, when it comes down to funding politics or funding defense, fund politics. Ferguson made the same point more starkly: “it is quite likely that the US could be spending more on interest payments than on defense within the next decade.”
If the love of money is the root of all evil, the lack of it is the cause of the fall of empires. Ferguson gave some examples:
Think of Spain in the 17th century: already by 1543 nearly two-thirds of ordinary revenue was going on interest on the juros, the loans by which the Habsburg monarchy financed itself.
Or think of France in the 18th century: between 1751 and 1788, the eve of Revolution, interest and amortisation payments rose from just over a quarter of tax revenue to 62 per cent.
Finally, consider Britain in the 20th century. Its real problems came after 1945, when a substantial proportion of its now immense debt burden was in foreign hands. Of the pound stg. 21 billion national debt at the end of the war, about pound stg. 3.4bn was owed to foreign creditors, equivalent to about a third of gross domestic product.
Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed in Washington, as the US contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $US1.47 trillion ($1.64 trillion), about 10 per cent of GDP, for the second year running.
But alarm bells aren’t ringing in Washington. The entire alarm system has been disabled, disconnected, perhaps scrapped. Anyone who wants to turn it back on will have to root through the dumpster to see if any usable parts can still be retrieved. No better symptom of the absence of alarms is the genuine astonishment of Charles Rangel that it is illegal to break the law. Almost as a matter of course he concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, used Congressional letterhead to solicit donations for private causes, took four rent controlled apartments for himself. Innocently. He probably didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. Things had been so sweet, so long that even after he was offered the chance to negotiate his way out of 13 separate violations of House rules and federal statutes he simply refused to believe it was happening.
Like Brecht’s fictional Atlantean who “the night the seas rushed in … still bellowed for their slaves,” the members of what Codevilla called the “ruling class” can’t believe it is happening. They still want their last dollar, their last perk. Literally, no matter what. “Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank caused a scene when he demanded a $1 senior discount on his ferry fare to Fire Island’s popular gay haunt, The Pines, last Friday. Frank was turned down by ticket clerks at the dock in Sayville because he didn’t have the required Suffolk County Senior Citizens ID. A witness reports, ‘Frank made such a drama over the senior rate that I contemplated offering him the dollar to cool down the situation.’”
The worst thing about the ferry incident is the possibility that if the witness had really offered Frank the dollar he might actually have taken it. Automatically; out of conditioning, like a Pavlovian dog. The culture in which the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee rose to power is one in which it is OK to blithely borrow more money than the entire defense budget can service and yet refuse to spend one whole dollar of his own money. The ethos of that world can be captured in one phrase: “don’t you know who I am?”