Editorial: The State of the union

These are not the best of times for the United States. Whether you are a hostile Islamicist who believes Americans are part of an evil empire that needs attacking at all corners of the earth, or from the school that regards the superpower as essentially benign - if sometimes cack-handed when exerting its will - most are agreed that Uncle Sam is probably now past the height of his political and economic power and influence.

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

How will the long, slow decline pan out? As Stefan Stern points out in his cover feature, if one looks at the example of the fall of the Roman Empire, the likelihood is that we are in for an uncomfortable few decades. In the medium term, US decline will lead to uncertainty and a power vacuum. And vacuums beg to be filled. There is no shortage of global contenders who wouldn't mind being the biggest kid on the block. With an economy due to overtake the US in 30 years, the Chinese are the obvious contenders, although who knows how India and a resurgent Russia will play things?

One thing is sure, if the good folk of the 50 states of the Union don't approve of the individual who leads them they can openly discuss his or her shortcomings and vote them out. The same does not apply to the Politburo that runs the show from Beijing.

The US may have run out of steam on the imperial front but it remains the source of much that is imaginative and innovative. A good example is management thinking. We've secured an exclusive extract from the new book by one of the foremost business thinkers around - Gary Hamel. In The Future of Management, Hamel argues that 'the machinery of modern management gets fractious, opinionated and free-spirited human beings to conform to standards and rules but it squanders prodigious quantities of human imagination and initiative. It brings discipline to operations but imperils adaptability. It helps to multiply the world's purchasing power but it also enslaves millions in quasi-feudal, top-down organisations.'

Two other novelties this month. We've signed up a new car reviewer, Sathnam Sanghera, one of the UK's most entertaining business writers. Sanghera has just emerged like Rip Van Winkle from a year off writing a book and cannot believe how the once confident car world has changed into one with its front wheels spinning in a mire of green anxiety. And, finally, lest you think I never change it, the editor's got a new shirt.

Most are agreed Uncle Sam is probably now past the height of his power and influence.

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