a bitter melon

Rumors of American demise greatly exaggerated

The dominance and global reach of the American Empire is readily apparent. Yet the architects of the Empire insist that it is forever threatened. Most recently by the dirt-poor nation of North Korea, which has an annual GDP that is about one-twelth of the annual revenue of Apple.

It is doubtful that NK has the capability to launch a nuclear attack against the US. Even if they do, it is certain that the NK regime will not survive the repercussions. NK simply does not represent a credible threat to the US.

But it is in the interests of the Empire-builders to make it seem like there is. This justifies further strengthening the war machine.

Greg Afinogenov in n+1:

n+1 -- Remote Diagnoses (Aug 9, 2017)

ON TUESDAY, yet another Trumpian foreign policy crisis produced widespread panic on Twitter. Speaking at his New Jersey golf club, the President menaced North Korea with “fire and fury” if it continued to make threats against the United States; the DPRK leadership responded by announcing that it was “seriously considering” a strike against the island of Guam. Little of substance appeared to distinguish this from a long history of blustery reaffirmations of the peninsular status quo, but for a few hours everyone seemed convinced that nuclear war was imminent—a fantasy cherished despite, or perhaps because of, the way it shuts down coherent thinking about America’s role in the world. For some liberals, the golf-club outburst was further proof that Trump should be removed in favor of a more stable, realistic Republican alternative. [...]

Instead it is American foreign policy doctrine that continues to divide the world into rational actors, typically NATO countries, and irrational ones, typically not long for this world: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, the Kims. In this worldview it is not a set of threats or behaviors that makes a leader a madman—it is the determination to maintain independence from American empire, often through the pursuit of nuclear weapons. In such a framework it is always the advocates of continual pressure, threats, and sanctions that appear the most rational, for they are the ones that maintain vigilance against uncontrollable madmen.

It's a similar story every single time. Whether it's the threat of fundamentalist islamists imposing Sharia law, or Saddam Hussein unleashing his weapons of mass destruction, or Russians readying to re-establish the Warsaw Pact, the Empire is never at peace.

But it is not always a military story. It can be an economic story as well.

Such as the story that China will soon eclipse the US economically. It is certainly true that China's economy has grown at a prodigious rate. It is also true that China has surpassed the US in terms of trade exports.

But that obscures the fact that the US continues to dominate in virtually every other category: in terms of raw GDP, in terms of GDP per capita, in terms of the total share of the world economy (Bloomberg has charts).

It's important to keep in mind that Chinese success stories like Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer of Apple products, still only receives a fraction of the profit that Apple gets on every iPhone sold.

The US' share of the world economy may have declined, but the control of US-based corporations in key economic sectors remains virtually unchallenged. And the measure of power is who wields control.

Sean Starrs in 2014:

Politico -- America Didn’t Decline. It Went Global. (Feb 2014)

Once we analyze the world’s top transnationals, a startling picture of economic power emerges. For one thing, national accounts seriously underestimate American power, and seriously overestimate Chinese power.

New Left Review -- The chimera of global convergence (June 2014)

The findings presented above illuminate three aspects of today’s global capitalist system: the continued dominance of the US, the extraordinary rise of the Rest (China in particular), and the tight correlation between that rise and the raw materials price index. Most commentary focuses on the second aspect, wrongly assuming that it comes at the expense of the first. Yet American companies have the leading profit-shares among the world’s top 2,000 firms in eighteen of twenty-five sectors, and a dominant position in ten—especially those at the technological frontier. In a reflection of this global hegemony, two-fifths of the world’s millionaire households are American. The declining US share of global GDP—from 40 per cent in the 1950s to 22 per cent in 2012—would not have led us to anticipate such figures. It is therefore essential to move beyond national accounts and study the world’s top corporations in order to get a sense of where economic power is really concentrated.