Linguist Noam Chomsky says the decline in American power has been "increasingly self-inflicted" in recent decades.
In the first part of a two-part column for TomDispatch, the political activist argues that America's decline is very real.
To make the point that the damage has been self-inflicted, Chomsky cites a recent issue of Foreign Affairs that asks "Is America Over?"
"The title article calls for 'retrenchment' in the 'humanitarian missions' abroad that are consuming the country’s wealth, so as to arrest the American decline that is a major theme of international affairs discourse, usually accompanied by the corollary that power is shifting to the East, to China and (maybe) India," he writes.
"American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster. Despite the piteous laments, the U.S. remains the world dominant power by a large margin, and no competitor is in sight, not only in the military dimension, in which of course the U.S. reigns supreme."
The MIT professor points out that elites believe American power began to wane when China declared independence in 1949, something that is commonly referred to as "the loss of China" in the U.S.
"The terminology is revealing," he explains. "It is only possible to lose something that one owns. The tacit assumption was that the U.S. owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed."
As the U.S. share of world wealth dropped to 25 percent in 1970, the country entered a phase of "conscious self-inflicted decline," according to Chomsky.
"From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the U.S. economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing," he remarks. "These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on."
"In parallel, the political system has been increasingly shredded as both parties are driven deeper into corporate pockets with the escalating cost of elections, the Republicans to the level of farce, the Democrats (now largely the former 'moderate Republicans') not far behind."