Friday, June 4, 2010

America 2.0: What Happens After America's Decline and Fall?

I have a client in Shanghai, a landscape architect. Like many of his colleagues there, he works from 9 AM to midnight most days--virtually all their waking hours. To encourage that, the employer houses the workers on-site in one-room "apartments" (more like a dorm room) and feeds them cafeteria-style.

That reminds me of the extraordinary work ethic of the Asian students at my alma mater, U.C. Berkeley. As much as Berkeley students normally resist stereotyping, it's widely acknowledged that most of the Asian students work much harder than the other students.

Meanwhile, America, in its attempt to be a kind nation, is making decision after decision to redistribute resources from those with the greatest potential to create jobs and thereby stimulate the economy, to those with the least. For example, the government continues to take our tax dollars, print money, and borrow from China, endangering our children's and our nation's future, to pay for, for instance:
  • Extending unemployment payments, a not insubstantial amount (about $2,000 a month in large states), to a remarkable 99 weeks, which so encourages people to not look for jobs. (Nearly all my clients who are on unemployment say they wait until it's about to run out before they'll look for a job.) In responding to today's jobs report in which the private sector created almost no jobs (the job growth was mainly government temporary census workers) President Obama is calling for even more money to give to the unemployed.
  • Prop up companies that make inferior cars.
  • Wage wars and build nation-states in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Aid countless poor countries.
  • Not only condones but financially supports uncontrolled illegal immigration: largely poor, uneducated people from an agrarian society, unscreened for criminality, diseases, etc. For example, public schools are not allowed to ask parents whether they're here legally. The toll on the schools is tremendous: unprecedentedly large numbers of non-English-speaking students from poor backgrounds descending upon the schools, with their advocates insisting they be taught in the same classes as native speakers, which forces dumbing down of instruction. And the proposed "Dream Act," would enable illegal immigrants to attend our most prestigious public universities at in-state tuition. Because of reverse discrimination admission policies, that would mean that, for example, many legal residents of Arizona with an excellent high-school record and willing to pay the high out-of-state tuition, would likely be rejected from UCLA or Berkeley so an illegal with a worse high-school record could be admitted and allowed to pay only the low in-state tuition, and likely receive all sorts of scholarships and financial aid to boot. And now, when President Obama fulfills his promise of comprehensive immigration reform/amnesty, the illegals will qualify for ObamaCare and because most immigrants and their family members' income are low, they'll have their health care paid for by the taxpayer and will additionally overwhelm our health care system.
Ironic that America's kindness will be a major source of its demise.

Activists tout diversity as a strength. As I've seen it play out in workplaces and schools, it's a net weakness. Companies spend billions of dollars to manage diversity, this supposed strength. And among my career counseling clients, I almost never hear them discuss their workplace's diversity as a strength but often as a weakness: "All the Filipinos hang out by themselves and talk in Tagalog," The Black manager lets the Black employees get away with stuff they'd never let the white employees get away with." "I hate the Asians. They have no work-life balance and make us all look bad." "They don't speak English. I can't understand them and they can't understand me."

Perhaps the most powerful factor that will reduce America to third-world status is the gap between its middle 75% of its population versus that of countries like China and India. Those countries have a deep bench. Compare the Chinese or Indian average person, where hard work, science, technology, and entrepreneurship are core. Compare that with America's 225 million people in our middle 75%. I do not have statistics, but visits to average classes in average high schools and colleges and conversations with average people (for example, while waiting in line at supermarkets, the Department of Motor Vehicles, etc) let's just say, do not inspire optimism.

I am aware that America retains strengths, for example, it tends to value creativity, its women and minorities have opportunities, its universities produce top research (along with a lot of junk,) it offers strong consumer and worker protections. (Although the latter makes it very expensive to hire employees in the U.S., which encourages offshoring.) The U.S. still is the hub of the world's financial, biotechnology, and entertainment industries.

I am also aware of China''s and India's weaknesses, for example, an out-of-balance work ethic, an aging population, water supply problems, pollution, religious extremism (India), and a perhaps excessively conformist mindset.

But, net, I am convinced that we are seeing America's sunset and the Indo-China Empire's sunrise. All empires have their rise and fall: The Roman, The Ottoman, the British, and, I believe, now, the American.

So what do I predict for America? That we will join the world of nations as just another country, with a lower standard of living. Like residents of most countries, we will live in small apartments, drive small cars or not drive, eat more basic food, wear more basic clothes. The America of $200 jeans, $4.00 cups of coffee, and widely held mini-mansions will be over. Maybe that's a good thing, and just maybe, that will reduce the enmity that foreign terrorist groups have for the U.S.

What's an American to do? Learn that living simply doesn't mean living badly. Expect that you'll likely have long periods of un- and underemployment. To keep feeling productive, find rewarding productive, non-paying work: tutor a kid, act in a play, clean up the dog poop on your block. Constantly be nice--look for every opportunity to make the lives of those around you, including strangers, better. You may end up more contented and maybe even America 2.0 will, net, be a better place to live.

Oh, and invest in FXI, the China equivalent of the Dow-Jones Industrial Average.


KML said...

Every great society does and will fall. As a Canadian I watch with fascination the policies Americans advocate to their own disadvantage. Willing to spend money on wars but not the health of its people, immigration problems, division of classes and sexes, etc. As bad as it may seem though China and India are no where near taking over. China's pollution problem and aging population are ticking time bombs. Most of the people are uneducated and off all the engineers they graduate in China few are up to American standards. As for India...Slumdog Millionaire sums up their country. The world still beats a path to your door, but Americans are too afraid of everything these days. The media hypes it, Republicans package it and the plebs eat it up. As for diversity, well its needed. Ask too close cousins how their offspring turned out.

Jeffrie said...

Well, I already do some of those things. I live in a small studio apartment (and I've lived in even smaller places, believe it or not). I don't drive, I wear basic clothes, and I eat mostly plain food. I own nothing of value, but I also have no debt.

Even with the little things that bother me about how & where I live, I know things can be worse for me because in my past, things WERE worse. So if your predictions come to pass, in some ways my life will not change much.

As for the rest of your post: I can't help but think of that phrase "Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime." Why on earth would our government keep on feeding mostly capable people for a day?

The people and companies who keep getting government handouts will not be able to know another way of existence, the longer they rely on those handouts. What would happen if they were forced to rely on themselves? Could they? Will they ever have to?

I've never had to be on welfare or unemployment, thankfully, but the more I hear about it, the more I believe that if I am ever faced with the situation, I'd need to find a way out as soon as possible. "Free" money is too tempting a trap.

Anonymous said...

I'm not too impressed with the level of public education in China. Their AIDS crisis was fueled by traveling blood transfusionists who were using nonsterile gear to do *elective* transfusions, claiming all manner of off-the-wall health benefits would accrue. If you're super rich, you waste money on (often fake) penis bone flakes.

I suspect if you went to a supermarket in most parts of China and struck up a conversation you'd find that hey - the world is, and always has been, filled everywhere with people who aren't as smart as you are.

Why are there so many Latinos staying on in the US? Because US consumers and business want them here. It's that simple. We want our stuff cheap, and we don't want produce rotting in the fields.
Lots of food takes poorly to mechanical harvest, and we like our food soft, cosmetically perfect and cheap.

Someone's gotta pick it.

And that work ethic you value so much overseas? Hate to break it to you, but that work is ethic is present in spades - in recent immigrants throughout our country's history.

The best way to be sure we topple over is to stop letting that energy (and those kids, vital to the growth of our economy) in the door.

Yes, it's getting more crowded here. Geometric expansion will do that.

Problem is, every model around for economic growth requires geometric expansion.

The upper classes have never been as fecund as the lower classes; people have predicted Bad Things Soon because of that since Malthus. The social darwinists were all over it. The Germans under the Reich heartily endorsed it.

And yet, the world hasn't come to an end and every generation puts folks like Gates and Brin on the map.

Is a change in power coming? Absolutely - and it was seen coming by de Tocqueville in the 1830s. It's hardly news. The Brits are doing fine for folks who gave up on being the hyperpower.

We would do well to try to understand how that worked out - not long ago, no one was hated like the Brits were hated. And with very good reason. They managed to transition out of the role after WWII - when they were damaged not by the colonies rising up, but by a partner in their own ethnic tradition turning against them.

There might be a lesson to be learned on that last score, too, about who our truly mortal enemies are likeliest to be.

Anonymous said...

I'd much rather America be a great place to live than the world's sole hyperpower.

To make that happen, we should strongly consider:

1. Backing out of being the world's global police force and focusing defense efforts on our homeland, especially our borders. The 9/11 terrorists didn't launch a missile at us from a stealth plane or storm the Jersey Shore, they took advantage of our lax immigration laws and porous borders, after all.

2. Make some real health care reforms, especially decoupling health coverage from employment, which no longer makes sense. We should also look at how heavily health care is regulated and pare back where it makes sense; for example, giving more latitude to nurses, physician assistants, and other non-doctors. As far as government involvement, the approach that makes the most sense is "health stamps" that can be used at the patient's choice.

3. Transition away from fossil fuels towards nuclear for generating electricity. Use the coal and natural gas we save to produce synthetic fuels for our vehicles.

4. Privatize as many government services as possible.

5. On that same note, get federal and state government out of education. Give parents more choices in education. Provide school tax relief/exemptions for using private schools or homeschooling. Follow Marty's K-grad school plans for fixing schools.

6. Scrap income taxes in favor of a 20% across the board sales tax. Some items, such as gas-guzzling cars, tobacco and alcohol, and imported luxury items, could be taxed more to cover the costs they impose on society.

7. Reform Social Security by means testing benefits, selling off unused Federal assets to private owners, and eventually phase it out for all but the poorest.

Yes, I know that the likelihood of these being implemented is not great...but why not take a shot.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, most recent Anonymous, for a thought-provoking comment.

Anonymous said...

Why in the original post, and at other times in your writing, is the choice for the United States (not America, btw) either / or with the choices

a) World hegemon
b) Third-world status

Are Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Greece or Italy in the third world? They were all, at one time, huge powers in the world. Now, they're places people live, with advanced infrastructure, good schools and some even have great cuisine.

Marty Nemko said...

Most recent Anonymous, I believe that much of Western Europe IS descending toward third-world status but that we will do so more rapidly because of our "kindness" and our ever more challenging population.

Anonymous said...

Marty, from this and previous posts I know you have much respect for the Chinese culture. For my part, I'm annoyed that we've unknowingly accepted products from China that contain high levels of lead and other toxic material. China's air quality is so bad that the pollution is visible on clothing.

As far as willingness to work hard, I'm currently working at a startup in the Bay Area. I'm not Asian and most of my colleagues aren't. We're putting in 12hr days and have a high level of commitment to make this startup work. I've seen this same level of commitment from other startups where I've had the privilege of working.

I agree that in the U.S. we don't do everything correctly. But I haven't given up hope just yet.

Thank you for listening.

Anonymous said...


Good post, but it's not the "kindness" of Americans that have reduced us to rubble, it is the gullibility.

The average American is simply a clueless rube who will believe anything his opinion making elite tell him. He's not "kind" to the marching, Marxist masses from Mexico, he's just in too much of a mental, physical, and moral torpor to lift a finger about it.

To a modern American, "problem solving" means whining for the government to "do something." This has become a nation of whining invalids.

To even hold a job in the modern U.S. culture, a man has to be a total wimp. Our feminized corporate culture means that only effeminate men really blend in. Any male who is not sufficiently effeminate is marginalized in society.

Education has been at the vanguard of this transition. Instead of producing minds that grasp math and quantitative thinking, we churn out millions of slack-jawed, iPod wearing dolts with sociology degrees. We're stuck with petulant, narcissistic little popinjays who know NOTHING and yet have great delusions of adequacy.

Having worked in China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, I will tell you this: We can't compete.

America is falling, and can't recover. I have bought real estate overseas, and am moving myself, my family, and my business to Asia, splitting my time between Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Mark Wethman said...

"Are Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Greece or Italy in the third world? They were all, at one time, huge powers in the world. Now, they're places people live, with advanced infrastructure, good schools and some even have great cuisine."

And no children. Well, that's an exaggeration, but I think it's worth noting that in Germany, Greece, Spain and Italy, at least, fertility rates are far below replacement, among the lowest the world has ever recorded, and have been for some time. Certainly countries and cultures have endured drops in population before, but these drops were always associated with war, famine, plague, high levels of emigration etc... in other words, specific events that interrupted the natural demographic flow, but passed naturally and allowed for a rebound. Now, people are choosing not to have children, and it's difficult to see why this should change.

Anyway, it's hard for me to see a culture as particularly successful if each generation is half the size of the one preceding it. Eventually, that will become a real problem.

Marty Nemko said...

Mark, key to a country's future success is is culture(s), values, and political-economic biases. Given my calculus, the U.S will, long-term do worse than the countries you mention and much worse than India and especially China.