Sunday, October 26, 2014

America's Future

            Many articles expound the hypothesis that just as the 19th century was Britain’s and the 20th America’s, the future century will be China’s; perhaps, but there are significant flaws in the theory.  Consider this:  Beginning with the Magna Charta in 1215 a new concept paralleled the development of the English speaking world, no human being is supreme, not even the King.  This concept grew and spread within English culture.  In 1588 Sir Walter Drake defeated the Spanish Invincible Armada ending a century of Spanish domination and gradually English hegemony spread over the entire globe.  His sovereign Elizabeth I discouraged religious persecution and in 1689 The English Bill of Rights was enacted: all human beings had certain rights.  By 1700 the sun never set on the British Empire.  However in 1775 that empire had begun to fragment.  Distant colonies became restless and many separated politically, but not culturally from Mother England.  Although England no longer dominates the planet, her collective progeny do.  Of the G20 countries, which account for 85% of the words economy, 4 are English speaking, 7 count English as an official or national language.  English is widely spoken in nearly all 20!  Of the G7 3, 42% are English speaking.  English is an official or national language of 53 countries. English is the most widely spoken language in history and is the predominant language of science, engineering, commerce and navigation. Worldwide air and marine traffic control is conducted in English.  The 23 language EU is considering having all patents in English only.  More people may grow up speaking Mandarin, but they almost all live in China.  English language newspapers, the BBC and CNN influence opinion everywhere. Al Jazeera, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and even Pravda have an English edition.

              Basic concepts of personal freedom as embodied in The English Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence (1776) and US Bill of rights (1791) get spread everywhere.  They in turn have lead to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).  Internet and cable television bombard the world with English language entertainment, values, and culture such as it is. Even though the films may be made in Nigeria
            Where a language goes the culture goes.  Just as the English language is very flexible in absorbing words from other languages the Anglo-American culture absorbs and redistributes customs: Just Another American Saturday Night (Brad Paisley). Fourteen of the G20 countries are multi ethnic with rights assured in the Anglo American tradition.  Only 1 lacks a representative government (two of them do it poorly).  In America you can find traces of almost every language or culture from Athabascan to Zulu, and almost every religion from Zoroastrian to Atheist.  Almost all of them tempered with mainstream American “I don’t agree with you, but I’ll pray for you” attitude.

America, with only 5% of the world’s population, controls about 75% of its television programs. Combined with the influence of brands and products such as Hollywood, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, jeans and Coca-Cola, American culture has permeated almost the entire world.

            China may rise in many ways, but no matter whose economy may be judged temporarily foremost the cultural values that started in England and flourished in America and other colonies have so pervaded the world that one might say “There will always be an England.”  It’s just that the capital Anglo-American culture is no longer political, or a physical location.   

            China’s ultimate limitation is one party rule, oligarchy.  Oligarchy historically has led to excesses that bring down governments.  With no opposition, national priorities get skewed and political energy is diverted from the greatest good to someone’s obsession; like the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the Crusades or Fascism.  Even in America when one party has had too much control of the government progress stalls and excesses like McCarthy hearings, the USA Patriot act or the internment of Japanese Americans get priority.  The system of checks and balances ultimately works.  In Democracies the populations have leveled without political coercion and remain gender balanced.  In China the party holds veto power over any decision or activity.  The party panicked by fear of overpopulation, implemented by force a one-child policy.  Soon China will have a superannuated population, with hundreds of millions of young males for whom there are no women available.  The party is understandably afraid of the masses and so has created a multi class society where the urbanites have rights denied the rural peasants, but not as many as party members. Position not merit determines who gets what. 

            Like a Medieval monarch the party cannot tolerate political dissent, because that would tarnish its self image of infallibility.  When dissent occurs an oligarchy inevitably responds by tightening its grip.  Oligarchies like China may seem more stable than messy democracy, but they are not immune to failure, in fact they are susceptible to abrupt revolution often leading to total chaos.  Does anyone remember the USSR, The Qing Dynasty, the Shah, Hosni Mubarak.

            China is churning out college graduates in prodigious numbers, but the best Universities in the world are not in China they are mostly in America.  Top leaders from all over the planet (even China) send their offspring to America, England or Europe, in that order, to learn.  Those people are forever imbued with western concepts of human worth, and the long term value of free expression.  While China is training repeaters, America is training world leaders the American way.
            America took the leadership from Europe in part by prolific inventing.  Our free culture attracted the best, the brightest and the dissatisfied from around the world.  Americans still secure about half the patents and half the Nobel Prizes worldwide.  Name a modern Chinese invention?  China cannot copy its way to technological leadership no matter how much they revere the clever copyist.  Like Japan, someday they will produce truly innovative products, but it hasn’t happened yet.   Even when it does China will find itself sharing center stage with free cultures like America, Australia, Canada, India, United Kingdom, and all of  the economies that are growing even if not as fast as China. 

When you are the first to reach the top of a mountain you notice that the other climbers are catching up, that does not mean you are falling behind.

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