Brand America is Fragile

Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institute has authored a new book entitled “Why The World Needs America”.  Robert is an expert on Egypt, the Middle East, U.S. national security and U.S.- E.U. relations. He is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institute. I read an article he recently authored for the Wall street Journal that highlights the main premise of his new book.

I decided to blog about it because Robert reminds me we need to be collectively vigilant if we aspire to have our grandchildren and great-grandchildren realize the promise of Brand America. Robert does not necessarily view the demise of Brand America as inevitable. But, he does force the reader to consider the implications of what such a scenario might mean if we continue to take Brand America for granted.

Selected Quotes

His logic is straight forward and, in my opinion, and not without merit. Here are some quotes from the WSJ article that outline Robert’s argument.

“Would the end of the present American-dominated order have less dire consequences? A surprising number of American intellectuals, politicians and policy makers greet the prospect with equanimity.”

“If all of this sounds to good to be true, it is. The present world order was largely shaped by American power and reflects American interests and preferences. If the balance of power shifts in the direction of other nations, the world order will change to suit their interests and preferences.”

“For several decades, the balance of power in the world has favored democratic governments. In a genuinely post-American world, the balance would shift toward the great power autocracies.”

“People assume that China and other rising powers that have benefited so much from the present system would have a stake in preserving it.”

“The creation and survival of a liberal economic order has depended, historically, on great powers that are both willing and able to support open trade and free markets, often with navel power. If a declining America is unable to maintain its long-standing hegemony on the high-seas, would other nations take on the high seas, would other nations take on the burdens and expense of sustaining navies to fill in the gaps?”

“The Chinese economy soon may become the largest in the world, but it will be far from the richest. Its size is a product of the country’s enormous population, but in per capita terms, China remains relatively poor.”

“China’s per capita GDP by 2030 would still only be half that of the U.S. putting it roughly where Slovenia and Greece are today.”

“China’s leaders. Presiding over a poorer and still developing country may prove less willing to open their economy.”

“American economic dominance has been welcomed by much of the world because … the U.S. has always made money for its partners. Chinese economic dominance may get a different reception.”

“China’s form of capitalism is heavily dominated by the state, with the ultimate goal of preserving the rule of the Communist Party.”

“The government amasses wealth in order to secure its continued rule and to pay for its armies and navies to compete with other great powers.”

“Americans certainly like to believe that our preferred order survives because it is right and just – not only for us but for everyone.”

“International order is not an evolution; it is an imposition. It is the domination of one vision over others – in America’s case, the domination of free-market and democratic principles, together with an international system that supports them. The present order will last only as long as those who favor it retain the will and capacity to defend it.”

“If and when American power declines, the institutions and norms that American power has supported will decline too. Or more likely, if history is a guide, they may collapse altogether as we make the transition to another kind of world order, or to disorder.”

Discussion

I believe that we need to begin strengthening the global competitiveness of Brand America now, before our nation is in a crisis that may not be recoverable. We have challenges on authenticity of the Brand America promise for many of Americans. If the promise is unattainable for the majority of Americans then the core premise for the American Dream is at risk. We also have challenges in competing successfully in a new interdependent world that need to be addressed. My work with the Nemacolin Energy Institute has increased my personal sensitivity to the importance of having a national energy policy and moving our nation toward energy independence. A crisis in access to energy sources would certainly be big enough to potentially threaten the current world order. And, based on what I have read, it is a crisis we can avoid with a reasonable amount of proactive statesmanship.

I’d like to suggest that the economic development profession could play a key role in Strengthening Brand America by strengthening the competitiveness of local communities for capital investment. The better choices we make locally around asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform, in aggregate our nation becomes stronger. I am hopeful that the Strengthening Brand America Project can, in a small way, provide actionable insights that enable those better local choices to be made.

What Are Your Thoughts?

What do you see as the things that we need to address in order to improve the authenticity of Brand America’s promise? Do you think the scenario Robert Kaplan describes is plausible? What can, or should, our Nation do better?

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2 Comments so far

  1. Laima Rastikis

    February 16, 2012

    I have not read Kagan’s book, so I don’t know if he addresses education as a pillar of the “American Dream.” Communities need to focus on providing high-quality education, which leads to career readiness, which leads to a skilled workforce, which leads to economic development, which leads to community prosperity. To me, it’s heartbreaking to think of the many young people who are being short-changed by sub-standard school systems that simply aren’t getting the job done. How bad is it? The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment revealed that, among their peers in developed countries, US students came in 17th in science literacy and 25th in mathematics literacy.

    My company has recently completed some writing projects for Learn to Earn Dayton, an organization that focuses on cradle-to-career education strategies. The idea behind it is to make sure Dayton will be able to satisfy employers’ increasing needs for tech-savvy “knowledge workers” who possess post-graduate degrees or credentials and are career-ready. (Believe it or not, this education process starts with preschoolers being ready for kindergarten!) The bottom line is, if our community can’t offer a skilled workforce, businesses will expand or locate in a place that can. Through my work for Learn to Earn Dayton, I’ve come to know that education is more than a means to individual self-fulfillment: It’s a community’s lifeline to economic survival and the quality of life that underpins the “American Dream.”

  2. Miki Ellsworth

    February 20, 2012

    The American Dream is the greatest brand promise in the world. As a place brand, nowhere else compares. It lingers in the hearts and minds of the multitudes worldwide. Understandably so, it may have lost its luster for Americans with diminished expectations and lowered outlooks on prosperity, but it is still alluring to the remainder of the world. 
    I can’t speak to the quantification of the dream in monetary terms by pegging it to the dollar, I can only suggest measuring the brand’s ideology on its own.
    I believe the international perception of this brand is much higher than the domestic one.
    Here is my perspective.

    Thoughts on the American Dream

    The American Dream’s value is in Freedom. The freedom to choose any path, or the freedom of not choosing any path at all and leaving your own trail instead. The freedom to leave the well trodden path and go down a daunting or forbidden other. 

    The American Dream  does not question who your parents are. It does not care where you come from.
    It does not ponder why you are here or where you are going.  The American Dream asks only who you want to be and tells you only that you have the freedom to be or the right to do anything you desire.

    That is the American Dream, and its value is aspirational, not monetized by a finite number.

    I love that the American Dream is about being brave.
    Thank you America for teaching individuals that they can be brave too.

    I love that the American Dream is about being strong.
    Thank you America for rousing communities of the  world to stand and be strong with you.

    I love that the American Dream is about being free.
    Thank you America for stirring nations of the world to be free like you.

    I love that the true definition of the American Dream is the freedom to 
    live in a world where we can define ourselves.

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