The political gap between America and the rest of the world is widening

The political gap between America and the rest of the world is widening

March 20, 2012 ( - You may not think it matters. You might even believe that some level of conflict between countries is good. And sometimes it is. But not always. Sometimes there is a need for cooperation between nation states, even when you are as big and powerful as America. Cooperation is especially important when there are vital issues at stake, like the revival of the American economy.

It can be ruinous, at such times, if other countries are unwilling to play along.

Yet that is the risk for America right now. When those of us in the rest of the world read about the battles to lead the Republican party or about many of the legislative plans in Washington, we worry. How can we find common ground when America’s political direction is increasingly alien to us?

I live an odd life. Part in Asia, part in Europe, sometimes in the US. And I see gradual change taking place in the world. I see a world dividing. A world where there is a greater need for global agreement on important topics but where views are becoming ever more polarised. A world where tolerance and openness are losing ground to short-sighted self interest.

Those are big alarm bells I hear ringing.

In Asia, and particularly in China, many US politicians – Democrat as well as Republican- are increasingly seen as threatening and misguided. They demand sanctions against China for manipulating its currency. But they also encourage the Fed to print money, purposefully lowering the value of the dollar. They tell China to hold fair and free elections, but support opposition groups, destroying the chance of them being fair or free. They accuse Chinese firms of competing unfairly, but block many of China’s biggest companies from investing in America.

If Washington is angry with Beijing, the feelings are now balanced by an equal level of fury on the other side.

Unless they understand the rising sense of injustice in Asia, many of those with political influence in America risk starting a trade war, or worse. While their talk might make good newscast sound-bites, and may even bring back some jobs to the Midwest, a trade battle would be hugely damaging for America. Tariffs, like some of those being proposed now, were also introduced in the 1930s, and they greatly deepened the Great Depression.

In Europe, the concerns are different but no less troubling.

Many of the views held by America’s Republican Presidential candidates are seen not just as faintly mad by most Europeans, but dangerous. While many US politicians choose to take a strong and unequivocal line on gay marriage, gun control, Middle Eastern politics and the right to life, Europeans see all these issues in a much hazier way. They see shades of grey, not because they are weak minded but because they believe that there are arguments which should be listened to on both sides. Little in life is ever black and white in Europe. Nor is it red, as many US politicians like to believe.

This is important because there are many crucial topics where Asia, Europe and America need to be in agreement. In dealing with Iran, in keeping world trade flowing, in addressing the ongoing banking crisis, there needs to be a meeting of minds. It is not that the days of America being able to act unilaterally are over, it is that there are issues where America acting alone is simply not enough. The US may still have the biggest economy in the world, but it accounts for less than 25% of the whole. Even being the biggest military power is sometimes not enough.

So Europeans and Asians fret. They see Mitt Romney talk about introducing tariffs and see the risk of a global trade war. They hear Ron Paul’s plans to withdraw from NATO and the UN and they worry about global security.

They see other US politicians opposing tax rises, even when the increase is only the cancellation of an expensive and market distorting perk. They cannot understand how America’s debts will ever be repaid. And they hear about plans to abolish the EPA, about policies to keep 46 million Americans out of the healthcare net or threats to close the Department of Education, and they cannot understand how any society will survive united for very long with such an approach. They see the climate change debate hijacked by US corporates, threatening the survival of our species.

Americans, Europeans and Asians need to find common ground at times. And right now, that common ground is being dug up. There is less and less to share.

Contact Details:

Name: Graeme Maxton
Position: Economist
Company: Graeme Maxtom & Co
Country: Singapore
Contact No.: +65-6300-2495