Popular Culture: America’s Global Revenge

August 14th, 2012

By Dr. Jim Taylor

american_cultureThere is much talk these days about how America is in decline (think Roman Empire) because it has gotten complacent, lazy, and soft. Americans, it is argued, have lost their drive and their edge because life is just too easy for us; we are no longer hungry, literally or metaphorically.

In turn, many global observers see China and India in an ascendency suggesting that these two countries will become the dominant international players in the next hundred years. Both nations are driven by huge populations, massive economic engines, and aspirations toward the wealth and comfort that made America the world leader for the past 75 years.

There is certainly evidence to support these views. The GDPs of China and India are growing steadily, while America’s has slowed or stagnated. The middle class in these countries is growing exponentially, while ours is shrinking. Education standards are rising significantly in the two nations, while ours are declining.

China and India are also taking full advantage of everything that America has to offer in this supposed crossing of the ascending and descending lines on the graph of world domination. Their students are being educated in American universities. They are leveraging their cheap labor with the move of manufacturing from America to abroad and by accepting outsourced services. These countries are enticing their citizenry with aspirational visions of houses, cars, and technology. In the meantime, all of these advances abroad are taking their toll on America’s economy and its citizens’ morale.

Yet, does the future look as dismal as it appears? I would suggest not for several reasons.

First, though America will continue to struggle with extreme income inequality that will cause it to lose immense human capital from its poorer citizens, the middle- and upper-classes (about 40 percent of all public-school students) will continue to turn out well-educated and capable students (recent international test scores that separate out socioeconomic status show America’s more affluent students to be at or near the top).

Second, our educational, economic, and military institutions will continue to foster creativity and innovation, particularly in the technology sector, that will likely remain unchallenged for many years to come.

But the reason why I’m not overly concerned about our country losing its supremacy (or at least getting it back) is what I call “America’s Global Revenge.” The fact is that the world loves what America represents: freedom, wealth, popular culture, and materialism. Most of the world wants what we have. And, by gosh, we’re going to give it to them, the good, bad, and the ugly, whether they like it or not.

I’ve already mentioned many of the good things America is exporting including liberty, education, and jobs. But America is like a two-sided coin and the rest of the world can’t have the good (heads) without also taking the bad and the ugly (tails).

What is this bad and ugly I am referring to? Let’s start with poor health. For example, while tobacco use in the U.S. has declined in recent decades, its use in China and India has soared with an estimated more than 500 million smokers combined. Cigarettes were, for many years, a symbol of American style, sophistication, masculinity, and femininity, and these countries want to emulate this image, however outdated and unhealthy it is.

America is also exporting obesity to these nations. With the rise of their middle classes and newly realized disposable income in a combined population of more than 2.5 billion people, fast-food chains, such as McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, and Pizza Hut, are steadily reshaping the traditional fare of China and India and changing the shapes of their citizens. Both countries are seeing a dramatic rise in obesity, most noticeably among children. Interestingly, whereas fast food is consumed mostly by lower-income Americans, it is a pride-inducing statement of socioeconomic status in India and China.

As these countries’ economies get bigger and their citizens have more money to spend, the aspirations to live the American lifestyle is also causing the Chinese and Indians to import our materialism and conspicuous consumption. The simple reality is that they want more stuff just like we Americans. Known as nations with historically low levels of personal debt, both are seeing signs of American-style financial irresponsibility and extravagance with, for example, credit-card debt and defaults rising dramatically in recent years.

Perhaps most damning, and certainly the root cause of America’s Global Revenge, is the exporting of our country’s most abhorrent and destructive values. Why has America been struggling in recent decades? In my view, it’s because we’ve lost touch with the values that made our country great: respect, responsibility, discipline, hard work, integrity, fairness, community, humility, and compassion, just to name a few. In exchange, much of America has embraced the values of wealth, status, celebrity, appearance, selfishness, greed, certitude, indifference, exclusion, profligacy, and arrogance, just to name a few.

Sadly for China and India, but good for America, their adoption of our worst values, as they pursue the much-coveted and exported American Dream, will cause their societal and economic decline in the not-to-distant future just as we may very well hit rock bottom very soon.

So, India and China, you can be smug in your belief that you will be taking over the world in a few decades. But, as the saying go, “Pride cometh before the fall,” and, thanks to America’s Global Revenge, your fall, like ours, will come.

(This article was also posted at Dr. Jim Taylor’s Blog.)

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