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The economist Dambisa Moyo (left) and the historian Niall Ferguson (Eliza Beveridge) 

Daniel Johnson: I want to start with something that happened exactly 100 years ago, in 1911. Oswald Spengler had the idea of writing The Decline of the West during the Agadir Crisis — a bit of gunboat diplomacy by the Kaiser which went wrong. Spengler decided this was an example of the West losing its nerve and he began this whole genre of literature about Western decline. He included the threat from Japan — "the Yellow Peril" — but now we talk about China. So is this something really new that we're talking about, or have we been here before? And how worried should we be?

Niall Ferguson: What's novel is that now nobody in their right mind believes history is a seasonal process, as Spengler did, and that we're somehow destined by some natural force to enter the winter of our civilisation's existence. 

DJ: But some people think the decline of the West is inevitable, don't they?

NF: That's right. They might have a different model from Spengler's, and there are lots of different ways of thinking about the historical process. Most people like to think of it as being cyclical — I think that's wrong actually, but that's why people keep coming back to this idea. We're all young enough — or should I say old enough? — to remember Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which said in the 1980s that the West was in trouble, and Japan and West Germany were going to overtake the United States. We've seen this movie more than once and it's a recurrent feature of the 20th century that somebody at some point is predicting the decline of the West. But what I think is different about today is that compared with 1911, there really is a very rapidly narrowing gap between the West and the rest, which there wasn't then. True, before 1911, one non-Western country — Japan — had begun the process of catching up but it was still miles behind. It had some industry, but by comparison to Britain or any of the major European powers, and particularly in comparison to the United States, it was tiny. We're in a different world now because if you use purchasing power parity as a measure, China's gross domestic product is close to 90 per cent that of the US. The Soviets never got that close. For the first time since 1872, there is the possibility of another economy being bigger than that of the US, and it could happen within the next ten years. 

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Planck
September 20th, 2011
9:09 PM
The US is undemocratic. Every problem DM cites arises from Campaign Finance, PACs, "money as speech", now Citizens' United which puts all the political power firmly in the hands of those companies profiting on that 25% of 85 million barrels a day. And, all their hangers on in military, autos, rubber, etc. I agree with her about the problems, but she leaves out the root causes quite conspicuously. The education system has failed the masses because taxes were capped for large land-owners in CA (oh yes it was all about the small property owners with their little houses on little plots), and top rate cuts in Fed taxes which started this curtailment of investment in public assets, unlike China as DM correctly asserts. Without Federal taxes there is no way to equalize education all across America where 98% of Americans without money live. But, this was the plan all along. The Middle Class had to be done in. Lewis Powell made that very clear in 1971. The ruling families are firmly in charge in the US and they are serving themselves with this end-game, just like ruling families everywhere. The Supreme Court does not provide the guarantee to equal rights protections and equal access to political rights that the Constitution requires. This is the root cause of the troubles in the USA!

Georg Sinclair
March 21st, 2011
7:03 PM
"...radical Islam is the question and Chimerica turns out to be the answer". That's the only one good thing that Islam may achieve in the long term. In the face of the perpetual absence of a tangible "alien" threat from outer space, this very man-made danger could instead unite all the great innovating civilizations of the planet: 1. The West (The USA, Europe, Israel, Canada, Australia, Latin-America) 2. The Orthodox Christian world (Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Greece etc.), 3 The Hindu-Buddhist world (India, Tibet, Indo-China, even [officially muslim] Indonesia), 4. East Asia (China, Japan, Korea), even 5. Ancient Persia (Iran), as it's likely to cast off the suppresive islamist regime. We are all facing the same threat now. And we all need each other badly in order to survive, more than ever, because alone we're all doomed to go under.

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