First aired on Q (08/22/2011)
Everywhere you look are headlines and news reports featuring doom and gloom prognostications about the fragile state of the United States. The American economy, once the undisputed envy of the world, is struggling with slow growth and the country narrowly missed defaulting on its national debt obligations this summer.
But economist Charles Kenny, author of Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding and How We Can Improve the World Even More, sees a silver lining to America's declining fortunes.
If the U.S. accepts that it's no longer the pre-eminent global superpower and tightens its purse strings over its military spending, Kenny says it could lead to a cultural and social renaissance not unlike Britain's swinging 1960s.
"When you stop trying to be top nation, you can start thinking about other things, like the quality of life at home," Kenny said during a recent interview with Q. "Britain went through a period of being top nation even after it just didn't have the economic muscle any more to do it and that led to a pretty grim decade in the years after the Second World War."
Kenny points out that things improved when Britain changed course. "But pretty much as soon as Britain give up on those ambitions and gave up on empire it entered into a period of not just pretty strong economic growth, but cultural renewal and social renewal...we got the Beatles and we got free love. It was really quite a fun decade, the '60s."
The U.S. spends more on its military than any other country in the world. Its 2010 military budget was $698 billion — more than six times what China, its nearest competitor in this department, allocated.
Committing so much to defence spending and military engagements has taken away resources from programs that would be of more benefit to Americans socially, Kenny said. The U.S., for example, is the only wealthy, industrialized country to not have universal health care.
"There's all sort of things that the U.S. is giving up by this sort of martial mindset and spending huge amounts on trying to remain top nation not just in economic terms but also militarily."
If the U.S. were to change its mindset and no longer seek to assert its global position, Kenny said it could lead to a new age of co-operation and collaboration. He says the U.S. would be wise to learn from how Britain transitioned from the world's greatest superpower into a more equal player.
"As [Britain] gave up on that kind of superior attitude and actually joined the European Union, for all the union's problems, it's been a great benefit to Britain to be an equal country," he said, adding that the U.S. should come to the realization "earlier rather than later that the world is changing."
Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding and How We Can Improve the World Even More
by Charles KennyBuy this book at:
Kenny shows how the spread of cheap technologies, such as
vaccines and bed nets, and ideas, such as political rights, has
transformed the world. He also shows that by understanding this
transformation, we can make the world an even better place to
live.As the income gap between developed and developing nations
grows, so grows the cacophony of voices claiming that the quest to
find a simple recipe for economic growth has failed. Getting
Better, in sharp contrast, reports the good news about global
Read more at Basic Books