Why is a country as rich as the United States tearing itself apart?
To a certain type of materialist who believes that the economy runs everything from individual crime to national politics, this is shocking.
It was bad enough that China’s enrichment did not make it a vast Netherlands of multi-party pluralism. How much worse than even the United States defies the link that has ever existed between economic and political progress.
After a time when it outperformed Western Europe and Japan in innovation, it could not achieve a bloodshed transfer of power.
The United States is now between a quarter and a third wealthier than Britain. In which country the 2024 elections make you feel sick the most? The United States has a higher per capita income than even Germany. Which democracy would you bet on to be functional by the middle of the century?
Beyond a certain point, it seems, civic feedback on economic growth is nil or even negative. The theory of the left is that distribution matters for more than the gross scale of wealth or its rate of growth. Too large a gap between rich and poor tests the tensile strength of their civic bond.
There is a darker explanation to be entertained, however: that something about prosperity itself frees voters from playing with politics. Call it recreational extremism.
In the coda at The end of the story and the last man, perhaps the most cited book that no one completes, warned Francis Fukuyama.
Whatever the cause, America’s economic and civic decoupling is easy to turn for the better. The story is not that a rich country is so politically broken, but that a politically broken country is so rich.
As such, American declinism misses the point. Weimar Germany and pre-Caesar Rome are among the fragile republics that the United States has drawn a comparison with. In fact, its productive entropy suggests nothing more disturbing than postwar France.
Between 1945 and 1975, France experienced years of material gains that are still called the âTrente Glorieusesâ. Over this period, his political record includes: a quasi-presidential assassination, an Algerian war which was officially a civil war, the Suez crisis, a semi-detachment of a West led by the United States, the dissolution of the Fourth Republic, a quasi-monarchical regime. under Charles de Gaulle and, to brighten up a quiet month of May, the worst civil unrest in memory.
France of good living and big projects was France that partially banned Sorrow and pity, a full generation after the Nazi-French collusion he documented.
The lesson here is consoling or chilling, depending on your taste. A nation can prosper despite its policies. Beyond an institutional minimum – tax bureaucracy, incorruptible courts – it is possible to get away with an almost savage dysfunction.
The United States has a large minority of unapproachable people in its reactionary paranoia. It also has a progressive fringe who views colorblind liberalism as Oldthink.
Right down to a paramilitary right and a left formed on campus and in theory, the portrait of America as mid-20th century France presents itself. No less skillfully than this other republic, however, it isolates its grim public square from an economy that does exactly what it does.
Seen from this angle, California is not a world in itself but a nation in miniature: a place where lamentable politics and barely believable dynamism coexist.
I do not mention this resilience to praise it, at least not without scruples. All in all, this must be an invitation to further trouble.
If flirting with eccentrics, demagogues and nihilists came at a material price, voters would back down. As it stands, these onlookers cost so little that only a spiel would blame them.
As long as extremism is free, at least economically, what does a wandering citizen encourage to moderate? Just honor, perhaps, and the intuition that even a superpower can only take a chance so far.