Is America really not so great any more? Course not but it could be greater


america is a rich countryToday, the Glorious Fourth, is a good day to consider the idea of American greatness. Only an ignoramus or Donald Trump (but I repeat myself) can say that America is not great right now.

I don’t mean that it is the greatest nation on earth. I don’t mean American exceptionalism. And I certainly don’t mean that America doesn’t have its share of huge and pressing domestic problems – racism, misogyny, a broken system of government, occasionally bad media and information systems, over-priced medical drugs, addictions of all sorts, not least opioids, food, drink, guns.

I also don’t mean that America is great (or has acted in a great way) towards many parts of the world. It has often behaved in an unacceptably arrogant, ill-judged and short-sighted manner with other countries.

And yet, America is in a great position right now. Just consider the enormous leverage and strength of its current situation. Even when others – China, other developing countries – contribute more than they ever did to the world economy, America remains the richest nation on earth.

Fareed Zakaria recently quoted scholars Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth, who said that China is the closest the US has to a rising rival but only on one measure, gross domestic product.

The academics argued that a better measure would be “inclusive wealth,” which is the sum of a nation’s “manufactured capital (roads, buildings, machines and equipment), human capital (skills, education, health) and natural capital (sub-soil resources, ecosystems, the atmosphere).”

So, how does the US do that count?

In 2010, America’s inclusive wealth was nearly $144 trillion. China’s was $32 trillion.

Add to that, there is America’s military greatness. As I have written before, in The National, for all the talk of China’s rising might, America is still the world’s only superpower. It dominates the world’s economic and political systems and has an unrivalled military. The US currently has 12 aircraft carriers; China and Russia have just one each.

America has economic and military control of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the most used trade routes in the world, and its massive navy means it has the ability to effectively blockade other nations. It is entrenched in a position of authority in major international banking institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, thus ensuring its crucial importance in the modern-day economic system. Its cultural dominance – and influence – remains unquestionable.

That’s why America is great enough right now. It could be greater still, of course, if it were to behave in a way that matched its ideals with its actions.