The United States - Bound to Lead or "Slouching to Gomorrah"?

As goes the American economy, so, to a large extent, goes the world's. The Shell Fellow of Economic Transformation Jonathan Story considers the health of the US commonwealth as George Bush's second term gets underway. After providing a pithy yet comprehensive history of the United States, the author looks into greater detail at the 20th Century transformation of the country from dogged isolationist to "leader of the free world", to sole superpower.

by Jonathan Story
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

As goes the American economy, so, to a large extent, goes the world's. The Shell Fellow of Economic Transformation Jonathan Story considers the health of the US commonwealth as George Bush's second term gets underway. After providing a pithy, yet comprehensive history of the United States, the author looks into greater detail at the 20th Century transformation of the country from dogged isolationist, to "leader of the free world", to sole superpower, (or as some prefer, "hyperpower").

Story then offers an overview of the gradual evolution of the American economic behemoth. While illustrating that waves of corporate mergers and consolidations are nothing new in the US, he concentrates on the major trends of the last quarter-century. He also analyses some of the more particular aspects of American socioeconomic philosophy, including the changing role adopted by "big government" over the last century - essentially one of laissez-faire to comparatively far greater direct intervention.

This changing role of federal authority has obviously had profound affect on the development of corporate cartels, agriculture, financial institutions including the Security and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve, and big business's relations with labour.

The author provides a brief discussion of the importance to world financial markets of the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944 which, although leading to the creation of the IMF and World Bank, soon proved largely unworkable while Europe remained impovershed. Bretton Woods did, however, lead to the supremacy of the US Dollar as the world's reserve currency of choice - a situation unthreatened until the 1999 launch of the Euro. Story also details the ever-changing nature of support for trade liberalisation by successive American governments.

The case concludes with a consideration of the most pressing economic and sociopolitical issues currently facing the United States. These include its spiralling federal trade deficit, medical services costs, and pension outlays; rising income inequality; continuing downsizing (especially in the US's top corporations); a failing public education system, and an ongoing and relentlessly fierce debate about social security and welfare reform, sometimes described as "the Middle East of domestic politics".

It also briefly considers a changing attitude among much of the American populace - that the nation is no longer willing and/or able to bear the burden of being the world's sole remaining superpower, and wants to evolve as a nation "first among equals".

INSEAD 2005

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