Is America in decline?

Is America's decline inevitable? Edward Luce's well-researched new study is a 'call to thinking', says Matthew Partridge.


The debate as to whether America's days as sole global superpower are numbered is "seemingly endless", says Bernd Debusmann on Reuters. However, Edward Luce's "deeply researched" book makes a convincing case that those who doubt that the US is in decline are "holding an intellectual ostrich position'".

Luce, a Financial Times columnist, is "not the first to allude to the nature, or extent, of the problems facing" America, notes The Daily Telegraph's Walter Ellis. But "his argument is cogent, stylishly written and persuasive". He has two "principal concerns".

The first is "education and the torpor of a demoralised and deskilled labour force. The other is what has become known as the 1%/99% divide." In short, state education is failing, and social mobility has collapsed.

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So what lies behind the problem? Luce lays much of the blame at the feet of politicians, "who seem to have forgotten why they were elected". The Republicans in particular "block legislation aimed at reform while promoting the interests of the wealthy, themselves included".

"If you believe the fantasy that America's economic success derives from having had a government that stayed out of the way, then gridlock and vetocracy are just fine," notes Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. "But if you have a proper understanding of US history so you know that government played a vital role in generating growth then a vetocracy becomes a very dangerous thing."

The "fountain of declinist literature" shows no signs of abating, says The Economist. Yet "anyone who prefers their glass half-full can find grounds for optimism". With a young workforce, world-beating universities, and huge reserves of natural gas, America "still has plenty of grounds to hope for a better future, no matter who wins the election".

Yet a shift is inevitable, says John Gray in The Guardian. While "China is unlikely to replace the US as the world's leading power", the gradual rise of other nations means "America's relative economic position is bound to decline". Pundits who see this as "a choice" rather than a fact "are closing their minds".

The real issue is "how the US will adjust to a descent from primacy that cannot be stopped". This book is a "call to thinking". What may prove to be America's "greatest weakness is the adamant insistence that it can defy the normal course of history".

Time To Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline, by Edward Luce. Published by Little, Brown, £20.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri