Here are a couple of facts about the contemporary United States. U economy added 850,000 jobs in one month; a third of voters believe the last presidential election was held stolen. An unprecedented blockade in peacetime costs only 3.5 percent of national production; states as large as Georgia curbed the independence of election officials. At 7 percent, the projected economic growth this year is that of China in the mid-2000s; a twice-accused president is close to being preferred to get the next Republican nomination.
America’s economic and civic prospects could hardly be more divergent. The war against clichés stops me from reciting the first sentence of A tale of two cities. But Americans can truly claim to have “everything in front of us” and “nothing in front of us,” in order to enjoy spring and last the winter at once. His nation has come to a sort of rich dysfunction.
For a certain type of materialist, sure that the economy drives everything from individual crime to national politics, this is discordant stuff. It was bad enough that China’s enrichment would not make it a vast Netherlands of multiparty pluralism. How bad that even the US challenges the link that existed between economic and political progress. After an era in which he innovated Western Europe and Japan, he couldn’t pull off a bloodbath. power transfer.
The United States is now between a quarter and one third richer than in Britain. Which election in 2024 of which country gives you the most annoying feeling? The US has higher head injury than even Germany. To what democracy would you bet to be functional in the middle of the century?
Beyond a certain point, it seems, the civic returns of economic growth are zero or even negative. The left theory is that distribution counts for more than one crude scale of wealth or its rate of growth. Too much space between rich and poor proves resistance to the traction of their civic bond. There’s a darker explanation for the fun, though: that something of prosperity itself frees voters from playing with politics. We call it recreational extremism. In the queue to The end of the story is the last man, perhaps the most cited book that no one finishes, warns Francis Fukuyama.
Whatever its cause, America’s economic and civic decoupling is easy to turn around favorably. The story is not that a rich country is so politically divided but that a politically divided country is so rich. Thus, American decline misses the point. Weimar Germany and pre-Caesar Rome are among the fragile republics to which the US has made comparisons. In fact, its productive entropy suggests nothing more disturbing than post-war France.
Between 1945 and 1975, France had years of material gain that are still hailed as the “Glorious Thirty.” During this period, his political record included: a near-miss presidential assassination, a Algerian War which was officially a civil war, the Suez crisis, the detachment from a US-led west, the dissolution of the Fourth Republic, almost monarchical rule under Charles de Gaulle and, to animate a peaceful May, the worst. civil unrest in memory. France of good life and big projects it was France that banned it in part Pain and pity, a complete generation after the Nazi-French collusion he documented.
The lesson here is comforting or refreshing, depending on taste. A nation can prosper despite its politics. Beyond an institutional minimum – tax bureaucracy, incorruptible courts – it is possible to escape with almost savage dysfunctions. The United States has a large minority of people who are not getting into their reactionary paranoia. It also has a progressive fringe that sees color-blind liberalism as Oldthink.
Until a paramilitary right and trained on campus, theoretically spouting to the left, the picture of America as France of the mid-20th century holds. No less skillfully than the other republic, however, separates its public square cup from an economy that does only what it does. Seen from this angle, California is not a world in itself, but the miniature nation: a place where woe to politics and hardly credible dynamism coexists.
I don’t mention this resilience to praise her, at least not without fear. On balance, it should be an invitation to problems later. If flirting with crank, demagogues and nihilists have brought a material price, voters are flashing it. Which is, there was so little cost to these hallucinators that only a churl would blame them. As long as extremism is free, at least economically, what is the incentive for a wandering citizen to moderate? Only honor, perhaps, and the intuition that even a superpower can only ride luck so far.