America the great? How the decline of the US will affect Australian policy

Sep 13, 2022
Senate portico with Dome in rear - United States Capitol
Image: Flickr / Tim Evanson

Courtesy of the Financial Times early last year, we ran what I regarded as the graph of the first two decades of this century.

It might sound arcane, but the graph showed the compression of the ratio of Chinese wages to American wages. In 2000, American wages were 35 times Chinese wages. By 2018, that ratio was down to five and falling.

That single graph demonstrated (graphically, you might say) key megatrends shaping and testing the world. And the big-picture forecasts of the authors are proving “interesting”.

Today we have what might well be the graph of the next two decades.

Courtesy of an article in Quartz.com, it shows life expectancy in China is now higher than life expectancy in the US. That is a symptom of one great power in decline and another ascending.

life expectancy at birth China v America

As the Quartz article explains, US life expectancy is back where it was 26 years ago.

Statistically, young American parents today will live longer than their babies – a prospect that should be anathema to the concept of progress, of civilisation.

Sure, the biggest single factor in the sharp fall in US life expectancy over the past two years has been COVID-19 and China’s radical suppression of COVID infections might be putting off an eventual reckoning – but COVID still only accounts for half of the US dive.

(And the different attitudes to handling COVID, the prioritising of economic growth versus more than a million deaths, is an interesting contrast in its own right.)

American life expectancy peaked back in 2014. Its COVID failure exacerbated existing problems.

The Quartz graph was brought to my attention in a newsletter by fund manager (and Sinophobe) Mike Mangan. He has been almost as regular in pointing to the United States’ decline as he has to his fears of Chinese military threats.

Mr Mangan wrote that no other western country was suffering such falls in life expectancy, that if US life expectancy falling below that of China “doesn’t ring alarm bells in Washington, then nothing will – I’m guessing the latter”.

The fall in life expectancy has occurred across all American racial groups but is worst for African and Native Americans. Native Americans’ life expectancy has fallen from 71.8 in 2019 to 65.2 last year.

Mr Mangan blames America’s decline on a “dirty dozen” of overlapping policy failures over many decades. I’ve edited and added occasional explanations for his list:

    1. Trickle down economics. It never trickled down; it just boosted asset prices
    2. TBTF (too big to fail) Bailouts. Post-GFC response exacerbated inequality. If you keep your profits and socialise your losses, you have a magical business model
    3. Zero interest rates and QE. Central bankers have been saving speculators since the 1987 crash. These policies debase ‘fiat’ currency and also exacerbate inequality by favouring asset owners over wage earning plodders
    4. Unsanctioned market rigging: Since the GFC, investment banks paid nearly $US460 billion in fines and restitutions. They’ve pled guilty to involvement in the drugs trade, WMD, bribery, trading with the enemy and funding terrorism. They’ve been caught in more than 900 other cases where criminality couldn’t be proved beyond reasonable doubt, so fines and restitutions were the only sanctions. You could count on one hand the number of prison sentences handed down for this massive crime wave
    5. Gun violence. In 2022 America has averaged about two mass shootings a day
    6. Police violence. The cops average more than 1000 kills per annum
    7. Opioids. More than 100,000 lives lost per annum to opioids since COVID, roughly double the 2015 rate
    8. Alcohol. Deaths related to alcohol consumption spiked 25 to 40 per cent since COVID
    9. Mass incarceration: America’s two million convicts is one of the largest prison populations in the world. It’s also one of the largest in history. Nearly a quarter of Americans have a criminal record.Nearly a third have a relative touched by their prison system.
    10. Food insecurity. The richest country on Earth has more than 10 per cent of its population, or about 38 million Americans – including 12 million children, facing daily food insecurity1
    11. Negative net wealth. About 13 million American households or 40 to 50 million Americans live in households that owe more than they own2
    12. COVID failure. America has 4.5 per cent of the world’s population, but 15 per cent of official global COVID deaths.

“What is clear from all the above is that American policy makers simply don’t care,” Mr Mangan wrote.

“They don’t care how many die from their failed ‘hide behind the flag’, ‘hide behind the Constitution’, ‘hide behind Founding Fathers’ schtick.

“How many gunned-down school kids will it take for American policy makers to introduce sensible gun ownership policies?”

The answer to that question is when the US didn’t act after Sandy Hook, it was never going to act.

If we are capable of stepping back from our long-conditioned aping of America, we could see it is not measuring up as a civilised society. Much of the world has progressed, evolved, while the US has not.

Such is the state of the union that serious people are writing credible books about the prospect of the US sliding into civil war.

Xi Jinping is unfortunate, but for mine, the prospect of the Trump party regaining power in the US is a bigger threat to the world.

Heart has been taken recently that the approaching mid-term elections might not deliver Congress back to the Republicans after all.

The Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision may have backfired for Republicans by encouraging more women to vote, and some have cited the Alaskan special election that saw a Democrat defeat Sarah Palin as an omen.

But Alaska is a rare state in having instituted preferential voting. With voluntary, non-preferential voting, the extent of an agitated base remains crucial.

The Trumpists certainly have that – a radical, agitated and very dangerous base of well-armed people who range from the pig-ignorant and manipulated to the cynical and racist.

Given the Republicans’ capacity for self-delusion, losing the mid-terms could fuel the agitation with more lies about elections being stolen.

From an Australian point of view, continuing to surrender our foreign and defence policy to an increasingly unstable foreign power looks like madness.

A country that doesn’t care about its own people can’t be relied on to care about us. The powerful interests controlling American policy will remain self-interested.

Re published with permission from The New Daily.

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