Is America really in serious decline?

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear someone say so. Even President Obama captured this anxiety in his inaugural speech, pointing to a “nagging fear” that America’s “decline is inevitable.” Of course, America’s problems — from banking and debt crises to foreign security threats — are very serious. But, as bad as things are, America’s starring role on the world stage isn’t over.

The United States still has the most competitive economy in the world. Despite the recession, the United States still has the greatest potential for cutting-edge economic growth. It ranks atop the World Economic Forum’s latest global competitiveness study. And its companies remain the best. According to the most recent Fortune Global 500 report, the US hosts more of the world’s major companies (153, to be exact) than any other country. Even Japan lags way behind with just 64, while China is home to a meager 29.

Data crunching reveals that in 1992, US companies accounted for about 27

per cent of the Global 500. That figure rose to 30 per cent in 1995, 35 per cent

in 2005, and steadied at 34 per cent in 2008.

The US is still a major international power broker. It continues to lead organisations that it spearheaded at the end of World War II: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation. And that critical role enables it to capitalise on globalisation better than can most major countries. The American military is without parallel. To be sure, it has been stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it remains the strongest fighting force in the world. As just one indicator of its high-tech advantage, it has mastered stealth flight, while the Russians and Chinese are still in the theoretical planning stages for such technology.

American ideals are becoming universal. Slowly but surely, self-government, free enterprise, and individual liberty are gaining ground around the world. The United States attracts the world’s best workforce. With global birthrates down, competition for the most educated workers has become more important. Many of the globe’s best and brightest still seek to learn, work, and live here, creating a wellspring of American renewal.

Of course, America’s economic growth has been overtaken by India and China in recent years. If China’s economy maintains its torrid pace, it will eclipse the United States in size by 2035, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Yet, China has enormous domestic problems, and no country in history has been able to grow at double-digit rates for so long.

Economic output, in any case, is just one sign of power — the US has multiple sources. And if America and its big market really decline, China and the rest of the world will suffer, too. Witness the current global crisis. China needs to cooperate with, rather than supplant, America to secure a better future for the world. We’ve heard predictions of US decline before.

Recall that Japan was heralded as the new power in the 1980s, with some wanting to write America’s epitaph. Then Japan faced massive economic crisis in the 1990s, and the US

reasserted itself, as the Soviet Union fell. To paraphrase Mark Twain’s joke about

his own reported death, news of America’s inevitable decline is greatly exagge-rated. — The Christian Science Monitor