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The Myth of America's Decline - Politics, Economics, and a Half Century of False Prophecies Paperback – 16 Jan 2015

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; Reprint edition (16 Jan. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871408465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871408464
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.3 x 21.1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 709,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Brave and bracing. --Walter Russell Mead

About the Author

The author of Uberpower, Josef Joffe is the editor of Die Zeit. A Distinguished Fellow at the Freeman-Spogli Institute and an Abramowitz Fellow at the Hoover Institution, he lives in Hamburg.

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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
'America reigns supreme' says the author 15 Mar. 2014
By Raghu Nathan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
People living in robust democracies are used to being bombarded by their academic and political elite about how their societies are often dysfunctional and are falling behind its rivals, friends and enemies. There is a predictable pattern to this negativism. In India, where I come from, it happens every ten years and at times even in five years. It has to do with the National election cycle. A political dispensation rules for five years after winning an election. If the economy does well during those five years, then there is optimism amongst the people and so the opposition does not get far by painting a 'declinist' picture about the future. In such a case, often the same party returns to power. Then, even if it performs reasonably well in the next five years, the public generally gets fatigued by the lack of 'change' over ten years and so the situation is often ripe for negativism and polemics. The opposition seizes on this mood and paints a gloomy picture of the economy and the polity and manages to come to power. This starts the same cycle all over again. This book's thesis on the frequent talk about America's decline has echoes of this phenomena. The author says that such talk often follows downturns in the American economy. Unlike India, the US is a global power and so, the talk is not confined just to the economy but also encompasses the 'shortcomings' in military parity with its rivals, decline in Math skills among its young and the rapidly advancing capabilities of its rivals.

Prof. Joffe takes us historically through this 'Declinism', starting from the angst created by the USSR's Sputnik launch in 1957, followed by the despondency created by the defeat in the Vietnam War and the associated anti-war movements amongst the young, then the oil shocks of the 1970s, the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, the challenge of Japan in the 1980s and finally, the rise of China during the past two decades. Each of these events in history resulted in conclusions about the US losing ground and going into decline and its rivals like Japan or China eventually taking over a leadership role in the world. With solid quantitative data, the author debunks all these fears and shows how well-placed the US is in continuing its dominant position in the world, be it the economy or the military or in Science, Engineering and Technology or in innovation. He goes so far as to say that he doesn't see any rival overtaking the US. As one interested in history, he does say that empires do rise and fall, but believes that in the case of the US, it is only the US which can bring itself down.

Though I do not have any major disagreement with the author on his arguments regarding the US' superiority over its rivals in research and development, science and engineering, military prowess and dynamism of the economy, I feel that the book focusses only on these advantages and not in the many other issues that keep cropping up in our social discourse. Globalization has certainly increased the prosperity of Americans but it has rewarded skilled technology workers disproportionately more than the less-skilled working class. As a result, we see the gap widening between the top 20% of income earners and the bottom 20%. The top 20% now earn 8 times the income of the bottom 20% and it is one of the extremes in disparity amongst advanced induatrialized nations. Then, there is the ever-increasing national debt and the resultant dysfunction in Congress to deal with it. We hear about the crisis in maintaining social security payments and support of Medicare in future while we see the politicians simply kicking the can down the road without dealing with these problems effectively. We see that the low-end jobs are gradually vanishing from the US, making it necessary for our young to get higher education in order to be employable in this country. But then, higher education has become expensive and the bottom 20% is not able to afford it easily, thereby making it difficult for their children to reap the fruits of Globalization. Nor do the young people receive much support from the Corporations or the govt to afford higher education. Instead, the Corporations want to fill the gap through immigration and push the Govt for reform in this sphere. If you add issues like climate change, snooping of the NSA on law-abiding citizens and the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians by drones in allied nations to this mix, we would conclude that though the US is dominant, it also has pressing problems to address in order to maintain this dominance. Unfortunately, the book mostly takes a neo-conservative approach of talking about military, economic and scientific advantages while paying less attention to social issues.

The book is certainly a good medicine for Americans who feel despondent about our future but would like to be convinced otherwise. However, I would think that the majority of Americans do feel optimistic about the country's future without diluting the many problems that the country needs to work on in order to keep its promise to its own citizens. Though the book has substantial quantitative information to bolster its arguments, it does not do much for people who never doubted America's future prospects. While talking about the Asian economies like Japan, China and India, the author seems to rely mostly on the sanguine ideas of academics like Kishore Mahbubhani, Robert Fogel, Fareed Zakaria, Parag Khanna and so on. My own impression of the ordinary citizens in Asian countries is that they are quite critical of the dysfunction in their own govts, lack of transparency in their economies and the lack of importance to creative thinking in their education systems. Viewed from Asia, America looks hardly in decline to the average citizen.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant Critique of Declinism 6 Jan. 2014
By David S. Wellhauser - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A brilliant, detailed reading of Declinism [as in the West and the Rest read by Niall Ferguson] in the US and the West.

The author does not suggest this is not occurring but places the idea within a historical context and then analyzes the different forms the declinist argument occurs and its unstated purposes. This is the most interesting part of the book.

With a contextualized understanding of the declinist ideology in hand, the author then proceeds to apply this to the idea of decline over the past 60 years, but with special emphasis on China which they spend some time comparing to the Asian Tigers [most notably Taiwan and South Korea (ROK)].

Mr. Joffe spends a considerable amount of time interrogating the BRICs and their rise.

All in all, the picture is fairly positive for the US at this time, but the author sees some clouds on the horizon, and although they disagree with the declinists Mr. Joffe does believe America could possible be the author of its own destruction [spending is of particular concern as well as trade imbalance]

This reader found Mr. Joffe's reading of the rise and limitations of China very interesting.

Highly Recommended for those worried about what the world may look like by 2050 [popular fiction date for the declinists].
A complex look at America 18 May 2015
By Troy - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is very interesting in many parts. The author has gone to great lengths to research and present a factual case supporting the title of the book. However, he often times gets so tied up in presenting his facts and statistics that it leaves my head spinning. It is sometimes very difficult to keep up with him and he too often uses overly complex or little known words in his writing. If you read this book, be sure you have a dictionary handy. I think this book needs a much simpler re-write that would still present the case but also be less taxing on the reader. Above all else, I am glad I read this book because it gave me a great deal of confidence and belief in the continuing strength of America. We are not even close to a decline as so many talking heads on news programs would have us believe. We are not going down the same path as Rome or Greece or other "empires". We are unique as a country and probably the only country in the world that has the unique strengths that we have and I believe in the final analysis, that after all is said and done, America will still be standing and strong. We may be one of only a small handful of countries left but we will still be there.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Enlightening and reinforcing............... 5 May 2014
By Todd Windyhill - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a good work to read if one seeks a refresher on why the US remains the world's most exceptional country as we move well-into the 21st Century; and as has been the case for the better part of the last century. The author takes a socio-economic angle on the Decline issue in general, largely refraining from political dogma and judgement.

The US has major challenges and flaws, but no moreso than in decades and generations past. Yet, it continues to have the substance, ingenuity, political structure, and physical and human capital to overcome almost any obstacle or crisis. This includes two declarations of war seeking its demise and a cold war seeking to "bury" it.

The measures of US exceptionalism are mature. This is not a cheerleading session or ego trip, but a discussion of many redeeming US values and characteristics that combine to form a country of last resort. Predictions of an imminent US decline have been consistently exaggerated because the fundamental strengths of the US, such as immigration and the education systems are overlooked and undervalued.

I recommend this work, especially for students of economics, demographics, and sociology, not those seeking a conversational, easy-flowing read. It touches on the many analytical and technical components comprising a country standing tall among all comers; not one in any form of decline by any empirical, global, or historical measure.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The predictions of our demise is an exaggeration 21 Aug. 2014
By George N. Wells - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As Samuel Clemens said "the report of my death was an exaggeration." Of course our government is flawed, in many ways more flawed than the traditional top-down form of governance. The "Declinists" argue that we are doomed, but as Joffe notes, they also have a solution which usually involves placing them in total control.

As I read the arguments that Joffe made, I had one big take-away - running government like a business is a really bad idea. Businesses are not democratic, they are autocratic. No, business leaders do not listen to "The Market" until they are forced to. That is usually after a long series of failures and loss of lots-and-lots of money. And then there are the crashes and bubbles that burst, all wreaking havoc on the general public.

Will the USA crumble? Perhaps, but not tomorrow, or anywhere in the foreseeable future. If we do it will be because We the People no longer want it to run. Our experiment in Democratic Republicanism is still in process and still adapting and evolving. Yes there are those who want to establish a Rousseau based society of non-government where each individual is a government unto himself (with an emphasis on eliminating taxation - actually you can keep the government as long as I don't pay taxes).

Churchill was right - this is a miserable form of government, except when you compare it to all the others. I think that We the People can resist the onslaught of those who want to remake our nation into something else other than the messy Democratic Republic that it is. What many see as our weakness (rule of We the People) is our strength.
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