D. Dowd Muska


America Does Not Live by GDP Alone

April 28, 2011

Here’s an offer: Make a few simple sacrifices, and your annual income will double.

You’ll give up the right to own guns. Internet access won’t be eliminated, but controlled by politicians and bureaucrats who deem what content is “appropriate.” Due process, trial by jury, guaranteed legal representation? They’ll have to go, as well as your ability to “throw the bums out” (and put new bums in) every election day. You’ll be allowed to procreate, but the government will determine how many times. Finally, religious activities are permitted, but only if they do “not infringe upon the interests of the state.”

So, are you willing to make the switch?

Probably not, and it’s isn’t a real offer, of course. But it is a useful thought experiment to run at a time of scaremongering over China’s economic prowess.

Since the Soviets’ development of nuclear weapons, the “bomber gap,” the “missile gap,” and Yuri Gagarin, the fear that we may no longer be “#1” has gripped effete elites and red-blooded commoners alike. The American Century was barely at its midpoint when the U.S.S.R. forever crippled the cocksure attitude that the Land of the Free was, and always would be, the best in everything.

In time, the Soviet Union would be exposed as little more than a Third World gangster state with nukes and a space program. But by then, our military/technological inferiority complex had given way to persistent economic hand-wringing. In the 1970s, OPEC assumed a villainous role. (The cartel’s currently making a bit of a comeback.) Then came Japan, which had a lengthy tenure as the inevitable, imminent destructor of U.S. dominance. Two rather miserable decades in the Land of the Rising Sun have debunked consultant Sheridan M. Tatsuno’s 1990 description of the Japanese as “the ‘new Americans’ -- pioneering at the edge, fueled by their self-confidence and enormous wealth.”

Today, the “enemy” is China. A plurality of the population believe that it is “the world’s leading economic power”. The International Monetary Fund’s finding that the “Age of America” will end in 2016 surely compounded such ignorance.

Lucid voices are doing the spadework needed to refute the notion that China will soon bestride the world as its economic colossus. According to Investor’s Business Daily, “Per-capita GDP in the U.S. is $42,517 in 2005 dollars. In China, it's about $2,802. Even by 2030, China doesn’t get close to U.S. per-person output, not even at current growth rates.”

The Heritage Foundation weighed in with some revealing trade data: “China is the world’s second-largest oil importer, the biggest coal importer, the biggest soybean importer, and accounts for two-thirds of global iron ore trade by itself. The same kind of results hold for many metals, and corn could be next.”

Good points. But seen from a larger perspective, metrics like economic growth and resource “dependence” are no more determinative of a nation’s true condition that its inventory of ICBMs.

It’s for good reason that the founding documents of the United States are bereft of references to agricultural production, stock markets, luxury goods, and globe-spanning military might. The United States is an adventure in self-determination, not a technocracy charged with keeping up with the planet’s Joneses.

At a time when NASA had put just four men in orbit, William F. Buckley wandered off the neoconservative reservation, and advised the Kennedy administration to abandon the “space race.” The founder of National Review recommended that the White House tell the Kremlin: “Very well, you have reached the moon, but meanwhile here in America we have been trying, however clumsily, to spread freedom and justice.”

What was true during the my-aerospace-socialism-can-beat-your-aerospace-socialism spectacle of the 1960s is true of the country’s challenges in a globalized economy in 2011. It’s not affluence, nor nifty consumer electronics, nor a peerless military-industrial complex that makes our nation singular. It’s liberty. And liberty is the answer to undeniably severe tax, spending, regulatory, and monetary problems.

Get over the fact that China might one day have a larger economy than America’s. Let Japan and South Korea be proud of their faster Internet connections. And Europeans will probably continue to work fewer hours and weigh less than stressed-out, donut-scarfing Yankees.

A stellar standard of living, conveniences too numerous to count, and firearm ownership so widespread that it makes us immune from invasion and occupation are ancillary products of a society founded on limited government and the sovereignty of the individual. Preserve that foundation, and what foreigners do -- grow wealthy, wallow in stagnation, or butcher each other -- is of no importance.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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