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Why The U.S. Remains The World’s Unchallenged Superpower

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The frequent chatter about the inevitable decline of the United States has become almost an unchallenged shibboleth. Every week more bad news about the United States seems to confirm this notion. The country seems ungovernable with a hyper-partisanized Congress, a 16-day government shutdown, the weak economic recovery and the vast NSA spy scandal. In an international study, Americans ranked 11th in happiness and a discouraging 24th in economy. Another study of 8th graders found only 7 percent of American students rated advanced in mathematics compared to 47 and 48 percent in Singapore and South Korea. Our President, according to a Forbes power rating, even comes in second behind Vladimir Putin.

Yet, the United States is the world leader and likely to remain there for decades. It has the greatest soft power in the world by far. The United States still receives far more immigrants each year (1 million) than any other country in the world. The United States leads the world in high technology (Silicon Valley), finance and business (Wall Street), the movies (Hollywood) and higher education (17 of the top 20 universities in the world in Shanghai’s Jaotong University survey). The United States has a First World trade profile (massive exports of consumer and technology goods and imports of natural resources).

It is still the world’s leader for FDI at 180 billion dollars, almost twice its nearest competitor. The United States, spending 560 billion dollars a year, has the most powerful military in the world. Its GDP (16 trillion dollars) is more than twice the size of China’s GDP. As the first new nation, it has the world’s longest functioning democracy in a world filled with semi-democratic or non-democratic countries. Its stock market, at an all time high, still reflects American leadership of the global economy.

Furthermore, who is going to challenge the United States for global leadership? The Europeans?  The Japanese? The Russians?  The EU today has 12 percent unemployment – reaching 26 percent in Greece and Spain – almost zero economic growth, a declining population in many of its member states. The Japanese are suffering from a declining and rapidly aging population, lack of immigration, a Nikkei Index that is still more than 20,000 points below the level of 1988 and debt that equals 240 percent of GNP.  Not to mention a weak economic growth in a last two decades.  While Russia may have grabbed the headlines for hosing the forthcoming Olympics and Edward Snowden, it’s no super power.  Russia has a  trade profile of a Third World country, a GNP the size of Canada, which is less than 15 percent of the United States GDP, no soft power, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street or highly rated universities.

What about China or India? While both have made great strides in the last several decades, they also suffer from serious problems. China has 650 million people in the often-impoverished countryside and a GDP/capita ($6,100) in 87th place in the world that is barely 12 percent of American GDP/capita. China suffers from massive official corruption, one party Communist rule, lack of creativity and grotesque social stratification. Its massive air, water and soil pollution problems kill 1.2 Chinese a year.  It will likely be 2050, as its leaders often admit, before China becomes a thoroughly modern country.

As for India, 830 million people (almost 70 percent of the population) live in the largely poor countryside where over 160 million people have no access to water, electricity or sanitation. India leads the world with the greatest number of illiterate individuals – 35 percent of all women are illiterate. No less than 25 percent of the population has no electricity. India has a weak infrastructure, GDP/capita ($1,500) at 138th place in the world that is barely 3 percent of the American figure and massive corruption. Finally, its rapid population growth (180 million people added in the last decade) bodes poorly for its future.

As the old political saying goes, you can’t beat someone with no one.  And, right now, there is no one on the horizon that will overtake or even seriously challenge the United States, however ailing, for at least the next decade or two.

Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.


15 Comments on "Why The U.S. Remains The World’s Unchallenged Superpower"

  1. J-Gav on Sun, 24th Nov 2013 11:03 pm 

    I don’t claim to be a fan of this particular professor but he does make a point. Which is why the U.S. has not long since been abandoned world-wide as some kind of phony ‘leading light.’ “A decade or two” however, is not a very long time is it? And, potentially, that time-frame could be further compressed.

  2. J-Gav on Sun, 24th Nov 2013 11:13 pm 

    I almost forgot to mention the real question at the heart of all this: Do we really need a ‘global hegemon’ to point people’s noses in the right direction or is humanity capable of growing up? We can only suppose that time will tell.

  3. Arthur on Sun, 24th Nov 2013 11:48 pm 

    Mr Adelman has a clear obsession with Israel, not difficult to guess why:

    His kind likes to juggle with concepts like ‘exceptional’ and ‘chosen’ until they finally start to believe their auto-suggestions. And then reality kicks in.

    The United States still receives far more immigrants each year (1 million) than any other country in the world.

    Sure, but not exactly the rocket scientists. When was the last time the US launched a rocket anyway? And we have seen from the examples like Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria what the usual fate is of ‘melting pots’ with zero internal cohesion: pressure cookers with a habit to explode and fall apart.

    The United States, spending 560 billion dollars a year, has the most powerful military in the world.

    Not exactly backed up by the track record (Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon). As late as 1986 the Soviets were merrily shooting Afghans from their helicopters, three years later they were thrown out and another 2 years later the Greatest Empire in the world seized to exist. Dream on Adelman.

    The EU today has 12 percent unemployment

    Yeah, that’s a real show stopper, end of story, case closed. Anything else?

    The United States leads the world in … finance

    Adelman forgets to mention that the US created more debt under Obama then in the rest of it’s history. You could call that a leadership of sorts. And he seems to think that the reserve currency status will last for ever.

  4. DC on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 12:36 am 

    Cheerleader for empire? Wall Street is a leader yes, in fraud that is-without equal. Talk about circular reasoning. The only reason Wall St is still ‘profitable’ is that whole 30-40 billion (per MONTH) in open-ended QE welfare for Wall St program, which in turn is created ex-nihilo by the US ‘fed’. The rest of the article is filled with more rubbish. Empires dont normally collapse over the weekend, and I dont expect the uS one to go quietly or quickly either. In fact, a great deal of the uS;s recent actions-are delaying actions. Almost everything you see on the ‘news’ are symptoms of the US trying to delay the inevitable.

  5. BillT on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 1:23 am 

    Forbes would not print the reality that the Us HAS been challenged by both Russia (Snowden) and China (“WE are going to stop buying US debt.”) recently. But the sheeple will not see that in their ‘news’. At least not without the Ministry of Propaganda spin. The Empire is dead, and only the Fed IV is keeping it alive. I doubt the dollar will survive until 2020 as the world’s trade currency. At least, I hope not.

  6. Keith_McClary on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 6:10 am 

    “The United States still receives far more immigrants each year (1 million) than any other country in the world.”
    Immigration as % of population is higher in many countries.

    “It is still the world’s leader for FDI at 180 billion dollars”
    Where else are those durn furriners gonna dump their greenbacks while they’re still worth sumpthin’ ?

    “The United States, spending 560 billion dollars a year, has the most powerful military in the world.”
    Nice they can afford that.

  7. ulenspiegel on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 8:08 am 

    IMHO a much a more realistic opinon is the arcticle of M. Mazarr “The Risks of Ignoring Strategic Insolvency”

    Mazarr understand that the a centerpiece of a long term strategy is sustainable economic performance, a point that has completely eluded J. Adelman, who BTW has a clear difficulty to understand the concept of investment efficiency: 560 billion vs. which results?

  8. DC on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 10:25 am 

    He didnt event get the 560 billion correct. The uS of War spends well over 1 Trillion(with a T) every year on war-making. Very little of that could be considered money well-spent. And it provided another reason to sneer at this article since the author under-states(intentionally imo), the amount wasted on war by a factor of 2. All of those resources being pissed away are NOT available to the so-called ‘civilian’ sector of the US economy. That is, if the word ‘civilian economy’ even has much meaning anymore to a war-state like the US.

    In any event, Rome bankrupted itself fighting a (real) enemy, and during it all, both the quality of the equipment declined, as did the discipline and level of logistical support the troops received. The US seems content to bankrupt itself fighting imaginary enemies that it created itself-the global war of terror, Iranian nukes, next it will be ‘contain China’ war.

    The amerikan empire likely wont fall because of ‘barbarians’ crossing the borders at will, since this go around the amerikans ARE the barbarians. Rather the collapse will only come when the rest of the world stops buying amerikan debt. Debt the US turns around and uses to pay for garrisoning the world, against its wishes and certainly not to its benefit.

  9. bobinget on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 1:02 pm 

    Egypt BANNED demonstrations as of today.
    Perhaps this was a condition laid down by Saudi Arabia in order to receive its second shipments of four billion dollars in OIL.

    China,Japan, Vietnam,Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines are all about to choose up sides to war over a few China Sea outcroppings.

    Both China and Japan heavyweights are arming to the teeth.(In No News Reports
    is the ‘OIL’ word used).Repeat: OIL is never mentioned, I’ve looked,don’t believe me, look for yourself.. BBC comes closest, mentioning, as a side bar,’natural resources’.

    Besides the two crisis above, several Hot ‘oil’ wars are raging in this world.

    In the US prices for oil are falling.
    Despite obstructionist Tea Baggers,the US economy is coming back. WE are not fighting Mexico and Canada for oil and gas rights. Instead, Americans are developing new ways of salvaging hydrocarbons once thought unobtainable.

    If a person is poor in a poor country the only industrial ‘fallout’ are garbage discards.

    In America, we recycle newspapers and discard old computers.In a year of scrounging in Seattle I was able to build a new house, passing building inspections, from materials tossed out by Boeing, large window manufactures,
    plumbing and electrical materials from
    teardowns of nice houses to build bigger, fancier homes.IOW’s “industrial fall-out”.

  10. Arthur on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 1:14 pm 

    Uilenspiegel, this Mazarr guy is yet another jewish international relations and empire apologist chap, who is indeed remarkable in that he is willing to contemplate the possibility of a US decline on the global stage, but wants to see that process managed. Fine with me, but he has zero feelers for the geopolitical implications of resource depletion, let alone race relations. This is think tank, read: ivory tower material. I am reminded of a brilliant Soviet strategist, Georgy Arbatov. He also was willing to contemplate reform of the USSR and fervently defended his views in the western media until his precious bolshevik system reformed allright, as in: evaporated.

  11. Northwest Resident on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 6:13 pm 

    A shameless display of primative breast-beating and manly braying by Forbes, targeted directly at those masses of MotleyFool suckers who want nothing more than to believe that their nostalgic vision of American “greatness” is unchallenged and gauranteed far into the future. Let’s just leave out all the evidence that the platform which American “greatness” rests upon is crumbling at every pillar and foundation, turning to dust, collapsing under our very feet. What. A. Joke.

  12. HARM on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 10:22 pm 

    “…almost zero economic growth, a declining population in many of its member states. The Japanese are suffering from a declining and rapidly aging population, lack of immigration…”

    I love the attempt at equating stable or declining population with a bad economy. Gosh, I suppose we should all try to be more like Somalia, Nigeria or Afghanistan. With their sky-high birth rates (and weak to nonexistent central government), they must be Libertarian paradises.

  13. Bernd1964 on Tue, 26th Nov 2013 10:34 am 

    The United States of America in its present form is NOT a democratic republic by the people for the people but a corrupt corporate state. The US was overtaken by an offshore banking cartel with the ‘Act of 1871’ (= US became a corporation) and the implementation of the private central bank ‘FED’ in 1913 with the intention to rule the world by special interests.

    The US has owners and they are not the people but a dominant insane minority (DIM), they are robbing the people all over the world with private central banking fraud and creation of wars. I predict that this evil corporate empire will fall faster than any other empire before, because it is built on spreading debt and death – a combination which can only survive in a growing presence of tyranny and lies. The majority of the world doesn’t like this very much.

  14. Bob Owens on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 12:46 am 

    I’m sure there were people in Russia that thought they were the world’s superpower right up to the end. Just like Rome and a thousand other “Empires” that are no more.

  15. Arthur on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 4:00 pm 

    The US has owners and they are not the people but a dominant insane minority (DIM), they are robbing the people all over the world with private central banking fraud and creation of wars.

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