Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:59 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:59 | SYDNEY

America democracy


Sam Roggeveen


31 January 2008 16:28

Michael Lind has a refreshing essay in Prospect about three myths of American decline. He says America is not suffering a growing racial divide, it does not have a growing religious divide, and it is not in substantial economic distress. Yesterday I blogged about another long article, this one by Parag Khanna in the New York Times, concerning the end of America's unipolar moment and the coming multipolar order.

Despite superficial appearances, these two essays complement rather than contradict each other. That's because Khanna's argument does not, I think, assume America is in decline. Rather, it assumes that the economies of China, India, Brazil and other developing countries will simply grow faster than the mature American economy can. That's a safe assumption on the US side, though there are real concerns the developing countries will hit big speed bumps.

The two essays have something else in common. Lind says in closing that although America is not really suffering from the three ills most people worry about, it does have another problem:

class lines in the US are hardening; there is now less social mobility in the US than in Europe. The US is not in danger of becoming a theocracy, but it is in danger of becoming a plutocracy.

Khanna makes a related point:

Many poor regions of the world have realized that they want the European dream, not the American dream...Activists in the Middle East want parliamentary democracy like Europe’s, not American-style presidential strongman rule.

An Obama presidency might confound this sentiment, but a Hillary or McCain win would probably strengthen it. And the rot is pretty deep. To give one example: it isn't much talked about here, but it is nonetheless astonishing that the practice of gerrymandering is commonplace in the US. It perverts voter sentiment, ensures very low turn-over in the House of Representatives and Senate, and essentially games the system in favour of a privileged few. America is one of the freest countries on earth, but there are legitimate questions to be asked about the health of its democracy.