Contention of the Woche – The Desperate States of Amerika

The Desperate States of America - A Nation Loses its Optimism - Poor America

Good night, America: Die Amerikaner träumten einen Traum, der sie zur Nation machte, den Traum von Aufstieg und Reichtum für alle. Nun müssen die USA erkennen, wie fragil ihr System ist und wie bitter die Realität – die Supermacht findet keinen Weg aus der Krise und gefährdet die Weltwirtschaft.

Good night, America.  The Americans dreamed a dream that made them into a nation, the dream of opportunity and wealth for everyone.  The USA must now confront the fragility of its system, and a bitter reality:  The Superpower has no way out of its crisis, and it is endangering the world economy.

Cover story in brief
DER SPIEGEL, 10/30/2010


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16 comments on “Contention of the Woche – The Desperate States of Amerika

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  1. The tone of the international edition fo the article seems less, what I don’t even know what the word is, and provides as good (altho blander) a summary of things as I’ve seen.

    In fact the tone of the IE is so bland as to be bizzarre juxtposed with the German cover.

    What’s the point of feeling superior if you keep it to yourself? Doesn’t a certain confidence come with it, a swagger. Swaggering at home in front of the mirror seems, well, not a pretty picture.

  2. Having read close to two pages from bob’s link, it looks like the same story of doom that gets re-invented every dozen years.
    I read this story in the mid-sixties, after Nixon, toward the end of the Jimmy Carter admin . . .

  3. Thanks for the link. I thought the compressed version – the cover plus the various captions and the article summary – made for punchier copy, but I think if you re-read the full English-language lead article, it still offers some pretty strong stuff:

    The Desperate States of America are loud and distressed. The country has always been a little paranoid, but now it’s also despondent, hopeless and pessimistic. Americans have always believed in the country’s capacity for regeneration, that a new awakening is possible at any time. Now, 63 percent of Americans don’t believe that they will be able to maintain their current standard of living.

    and

    The fall of America doesn’t have to be a complete collapse — it is, after all, a country that has managed to reinvent itself many times before. But today it’s no longer certain — or even likely — that everything will turn out fine in the end. The United States of 2010 is dysfunctional, but in new ways. The entire interplay of taxes and investments is out of joint because a 16,000-page tax code allows for far too many loopholes and because solidarity is no longer part of the way Americans think. The political system, plagued by lobbyism and stark hatred, is incapable of reaching consistent or even quick decisions.

    The country is reacting strangely irrationally to the loss of its importance — it is a reaction characterized primarily by rage. Significant portions of America simply want to return to a supposedly idyllic past. They devote almost no effort to reflection, and they condemn cleverness and intellect as elitist and un-American, as if people who hunt bears could seriously be expected to lead a world power. Demagogues stir up hatred and rage on television stations like Fox News. These parts of America, majorities in many states, ignorant of globalization and the international labor market, can do nothing but shout. They hate everything that is new and foreign to them.

    But will the US wake up? Or is it already much too late?

    I think it accurately sums up a leftist-statist view, even I would say a Hegelian view, of what has gone wrong in America and was always destined to go wrong in America. It’s as though, from this Germanic perspective, the history that went wrong last century is finally correcting itself – the superior German idea, which should have dominated the 20th Century but was waylaid by American technology and productivity, realizing itself now that the sheer preponderance of the New World’s material productivity has lost its ability to save America from itself.

  4. @ fuster:
    Agreed – except: Maybe the idea was as true then as it is now, but world-historical processes of this sort take much longer to work themselves out than can be contained in the time horizons of journalism and popular culture. A generation here or there is nothing in the lives of nations.

    We attained a moment of unrivaled “hyperpower” status 20 years ago, but it may have been illusory. Maybe it was a less a victory of our system over theirs, than the Soviets succumbing to entropy first. Maybe we weren’t wrong in the ’60s-’70s, we were just early. We may be in the early phases of a much more severe crisis, more severe because the economic, political, and cultural reserves we spent getting out of the “malaise” have by now been spent and overspent.

  5. Oh, in case “Desperate States of America” seems a bit much, in German the United States of America is “Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika.” So it’s a mild play on words on the level of roots, “verzweifelten” for “vereinigten.” It’s a little bit better than it looks because the German word for “desperate” is, quite Germanically, an amplified “doubt,” and, like the word “doubt,” “Zweifel” connotes a state of being “twofold” (doubt -> doubled -> eventually to the Latin for uncertain, having to choose between two things). Vereinig means unified (made one, “einig/eins”). Eins (one) -> Zwei (two).

  6. @ CK MacLeod:

    We attained a moment of unrivaled “hyperpower” status 20 years ago, but it may have been illusory.

    The power was as real and as illusory as power ever gets. Just as the crisis will take years to play out, the power, even if diminished, has and will take years to play out. The time scale of all this may be unimaginable given the exponential increase accelerating technolgy gives mundane venality.

  7. No surprise, I’m going almost entirely by feel here, but from a political perspective, the one thing that I know CK is aware of, but I think continues to under appreciate in general is the obvious fact that there has for a long time been a very small percentage of Americans in control of almost all the wealth. I tried to get some new statistics on the percentage of wealth held by the top one-percent of wealthy Americans, but failed. Suffice it to say that it is staggeringly huge and getting huger. This is to be me, the main issue. I fail to understand how any political discussion is relevant outside of it. I fail to see how people consider the U.S. to be the U.S. in respect to power. Can one percent of something make for a country? That one percent is not rising and falling. It doesn’t fall. It just keeps taking a bigger and bigger portion of things, using every economic downturn to buy more of the things that poor Americans once owned. Doomsday predictions are unnecessary. Eventually, the lowest 99 percent won’t own anything. I know how you guys feel about Michael Moore, but his book didn’t go far enough. It should have been called, “Dude, this was always their country.”

  8. @ Scott Miller: IIRC, the concentration of wealth was great at the end of the 19th century, and became less concentrated until the last quarter of the 20th, when it again tightened.

    (no hard data, just gaswork and frayed memory on offer here).

  9. I also think that CK’s Marxist background has something to do with his present day disregarding of the issue. When a highly intelligent person has seen things from one perspective for awhile, he or she eventually stops doing that and since he or she continues to sense the intellectual residue of what they did for so long, they think it’s always somehow there in what they express in the present. But it’s not.

  10. http://politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/oct/01/michael-moore/moore-says-top-1-percent-owns-more-financial-wealt/

    To cut to the chase, Moore claimed in CAPITALISM A LOVE STORY that the top 1% was wealthier than the entire bottom 95%. Politi-Fact analyzes the claim somewhat exhaustively, and concludes that it’s mostly true.

    I agree with Scott (and with the late Tony Judt, incidentally) that income/wealth inequality is a huge and easily underestimated and under-appreciated problem, not just because it’s inherently unfair and because it corresponds with grave inequality in power, but because it’s corrosive to society. A nearly buried statement in the Spiegel article is “solidarity is no longer part of the way Americans think.” That’s both the flip side, and simultaneous cause and result. If Obama or any “mainstream” American politician spoke insistently about social solidarity and “sharing the wealth,” he would be branded as a socialist. It may someday relatively soon be possible for those politicians to say, “so?” It might require Palinism (with or without Palin) to get its “shot” and be deemed insufficient. Or it might take other events. One thing that’s very likely is that, because social solidarity is an essential human impulse, the more thoroughly it’s repressed, the more certain it is to undergo a dramatic revival in some form or another. The Tea Party is a dim and twisted foreshadowing of such a revival: Social solidarity against itself. Beckism-Palinism’s full realization would amount to the destruction of the United States as a coherent social-political entity.

  11. …and though I agree with Scott overall, his gloss on the numbers is exaggerated. The facts are “extreme” enough without needing to be taken to “1% has almost all” and “99% with nothing.” You can get the best-evidenced current figures at the link above.

  12. @ Scott Miller:
    Yeah – fyi – when you’re looking for statistics like that one, all you usually have to do is what I did: put the well-formed sentence in your favorite search engine (Google, Bing, Blekko is the new one), then scan the results. The Moore article is third from the top on a Google search of “percentage of wealth held by the top one-percent of wealthy Americans.”

  13. Wiith the Frnch, Brtish and even Germans, actually showing a bigger tolerance for fiscal discipline, the demonization of the TP seems out of proportion, then again, it doesn’t surprise, how Krugman, around 2002, told Spiegel, that he thought Bush was like Marcos, and he would end up at Gitmo, one of those ‘silenced by the chillwind’ that Tim Robbins
    kept nattering on about.

    Their pigheaded analysis doesn’t surprise me, because of this;
    http://medienkritik.typepad.com/

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