Don't Rush to Declare the U.S. Done
- By Alexei Bayer
- Dec. 01 2008 00:00
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Bitter anti-U.S. rhetoric from the Kremlin has been seen as a symptom of Russia's return to its Soviet past. But while the words may be similar, the gist of today's anti-Americanism in Russia could not be more different. In the doddering years of communism, Soviet ideology grew hollow, and official predictions of the imminent demise of capitalism could not disguise popular fascination with the United States and its movies, clothes, music, cigarettes and general way of life.
Now there is genuine hatred of the United States among ordinary Russians. The Internet brims with harangues and complaints about pindosy, the dismissive slang term for Americans. In a recent New York Times op-ed aptly titled "From Russia with Loathing," Cathy Young noted that 43 percent of Russians believe that Washington's goal is to destroy Russia.
Early in the current financial crisis, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared that it marked the end of the United States as a global economic leader. President Dmitry Medvedev has called for a new financial system and even proposed the ruble as a "regional" reserve currency.
In their criticism of Washington, Russian leaders are actually far more restrained than a large portion of their people. Even on reputable Internet forums, participants' Schadenfreude can be summed up as follows: "The pindosy got what they deserved, and the sooner their economic bubble bursts and their dollar goes to hell the better."
The optimal scenario of a post-dollar world, it seems, would be a partnership between Russia and China. I'd be a rich man if I got a penny for every web posting I have read describing an idyllic world where Russia provides raw materials for humming Chinese factories and imports Chinese goods.
This, of course, is a pipe dream. The United States remains by far the world's largest economy, comprising a quarter of global GDP and an even larger share of demand. U.S. multinationals dominate their industries. The country's scientific prowess and technological innovation are unmatched; one indicator of this is the number of U.S. Nobel Prize laureates and pioneering high-tech businesses. Moreover, it has the world's strongest military. Despite the crisis, the United States will surely remain the leader of the global economic and political system for many decades.
To be sure, the presidency of George W. Bush has been very bad for the United States. Under Bush, the country has violated many of its own laws, but it remains one of the world's first democracies, its Constitution is a model for other nations and its republican form of government has spread worldwide over the past two centuries. Most of the world has welcomed the election of the first African-American as U.S. president, and there is a good chance that Barack Obama will be able to take advantage of this international goodwill to strengthen the United States as a global leader.
China's government, meanwhile, does not aspire to democracy or liberty. It is the same Communist Party that executed and starved tens of millions of its own citizens. The party maintains tight controls at home, but its nervous reaction to dissent raises doubt about long-term stability. It was not a wise economic leader until the 1990s, and the current crisis will test its competence.
Moreover, China's foreign policy is blatantly nationalistic. The Chinese drive a hard bargain. China has little concern for foreigners and no respect for Russia. A Beijing-dominated world would not be a pleasant place for its northern neighbor.
If they wish, Russia and China could easily abandon the U.S.-dominated economic and political system and set up shop on their own. They did so once, after the Communist victory in China in 1949. The period was marked by poverty and repression, and in the end the two partners nearly came to blows. Few Chinese want to see those days return.
Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, is a New York-based economist.