Ferguson speaks of the great divergence being over. In other words the rest of the world has copied stuff from the West and is catching up. He sees a global win-loss game taking place. The West he believes is losing its predominance. Western civilization he says has always lived on the edge of chaos. The West is in a death spiral. The West, can pull out of it, but, as he confirmed to comedian Steven Colbert, it is unlikely that it will.
It's too much. He knows that institutional changes is part of what has made societies what they are today. Societies with well established democratic institutions have been most stable. What might happen to Britain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France or the United States that sends them into institutional chaos? There was a death spiral in antiquity's democratic Athens that came with the Peloponnesian War and defeat by Sparta and its allies and its dominance by Macedonia. There was the break up of the Roman Empire doing what empire's often did – unable to hold its conquered peoples together under its centralized rule. The Roman Empire splintered because it was not nation of united and patriotic people. What kind of chaos is going to overtake various countries in the West? Might the rest of the world function with the West rather than attempt to push it into some kind of spiral downward – unlike the separation from the West which Japan tried in the 1930s? That kind of world ended in the first half of the 1940s.
The West has its problems, but a death cycle that they cannot pull themselves out of? In the 1300s the plague came and wiped out a third of its population, but people pushed on with the business of surviving, growing food and other necessary activities. And, with fewer workers in the labor market, those who survived were better able to bargain for improved compensation. The West might suffer a pandemic this century, but would it be likely to end its democratic institutions. Argentina suffered an economic crisis in the 1980s. It defaulted on its debt. But people continued to labor, and today Argentina is doing okay.
The world was in fairly bad condition at the end of World War II, with the U.S. national debt around 120% of GDP – worse than today. But there was no "death spiral." Instead, economic progress followed.
There will be surprises down the road. There are always surprises. But don't look for China launching world conquest or military men overthrowing Denmark's democratic institutions, and don't look for that to happen in the United States. We live in a post-World War II world. In the United States people will continue to rise in the morning to make themselves useful in some way to others. Nations will continue to cooperate with other nations to benefit themselves economically – unlike Japan did vis-a-vis the West in the 1930s.
Death spiral? It's more sensationalism that attracts attention but lacks substance.
Copyright © 2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.