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Why the 21st Century May Be More of An “American Century” Than the Mid-20th Was

Some random thoughts on a summer Friday…

What’s the rationale behind all of this talk of American declinism? Let’s look at some of the key drivers of the 21st century:

Communications Technology: American-based companies dominate the internet, especially the mobile internet. Smartphones run on Google or Apple technology. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn dominate social and professional networking. Whatsapp and Waze are now owned by American companies. Amazon may end up being the retailer of the globe.

Transportation and Energy: Solar’s gaining a lot of momentum. Elon Musk is almost single-handedly dragging the US into a post-hydrocarbon world. And if that turns out to be a pipe dream, we’ve got plenty of oil and natural gas in the Dakotas and Texas. Still plenty of coal too, as out of favor as that’s become. If ride-sharing really is a thing, we’ve got Uber and Lyft. Gen-X leaders are currently making our cities more walkable for rising Millennials who favor such things.

Diversity and Immigration: The US remains the country that the world wants to move to. The US’s megacities are as diverse and tolerant as they come, and the urban south is becoming a new immigrant hub with megacities becoming too pricey. Atlanta looks to become the South’s answer to Los Angeles. Legal same sex marriage in all 50 states may be less than 5-10 years away if SCOTUS rules that way.

Education: Lots of issues here at all levels, but increasingly cities are giving charter schools and other reform approaches more consideration. Elites from the developing world want to send their kids to get educated here in larger numbers. Whether they stay or not, they’ll form university-based diasporas throughout the world, creating benefits for Americans. If and when online education takes off, hard to think Silicon Valley and/or American universities won’t play a prominent role.

A Dynamic Economy: For all the talk about tax rates and regulations in the US, when it comes to corporate culture the US is blessed with dynamic and transparent shareholder-friendly companies. It’s a phenomenal place in which to be an investor. And with demographic trends turning, should be a better and better place to be a worker. Whether we’re going through a credit boom or credit bust, labor abundance or labor shortage, energy boom or technology boom, the US economy always manages to figure it out.

Demographics: Between birthrates and immigration, where else in the developed world is it better? And the US continues to be blessed with abundant land on which to build relative to its economic peers.

Institutional Strength: We’re going through a rough patch, but relative to Europe, China, and Russia, it’s hard to argue the US isn’t #1 by a mile. Japan is kind of a special case, but it seems willing to accept its demographic demise in order to maintain ethnic homogeneity and harmony.

Military Strength: The US remains blessed to have two enormous oceans to its east and west, a peaceful neighbor to the north and increasingly a cultural and economic sibling to its south. Technology should continue to gain preeminence relative to soldier labor, and if drone and cyber-warfare are the future who else would you want to bet on?

The period from the mid 1940’s to mid 1960’s are thought to be the golden age for American hegemony, but a careful read of that time showed just how much the country struggled with it. “The olds” at the time, and much of the heartland, wanted no part of wearing the crown, preferring its “mind our own business” attitude that prevailed until World War I. The US made a series of foreign policy and political gaffes as it adjusted to its new role.

Much of the “American declinist” talk is about the end of the American empire, but the American empire is at most 70 years old. That’d make it one of the shortest reigns in history. Surely one day the American empire will end, but would a duration of 200, 300, or 400 years be out of line with the Roman or British empires, to which the American empire is compared?

While I expect the world as a whole to be more prosperous in my golden years than it currently is, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if US power is even greater in the 2030’s and 2040’s than it was in my parents’ childhood.

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