Friday, October 31, 2008


Cochin, 10/Oct /2008

In my previous post, I had talked about “the gambler’s prejudice” and why it is likely to cost Barack Obama the elections. I believe there is another force at work that will also serve to deny the presidency to Obama. This is the tendency of those who have set out (knowingly or unknowingly) on a path of self-destruction to reject the shot at redemption.

In a stock market prices fluctuate everyday. Yet, there are many traders who manage to make money out of the ups and downs. However, even as you enter the market to trade on the fluctuations, it is necessary to have a slightly longer term view about the direction where the market is headed for. And so it is when making predictions these days about the US presidential elections. After all, this is also a prediction about the future direction of that country.

I’ll begin with my long term view. The United States, even as it continues its reign for now as the sole superpower of the world, is in irreversible and terminal decline. Its days as the richest and most powerful country in the world are numbered.

Now, whenever there is a discussion about whether America is indeed in terminal decline, a lot of sensible people have made the point that America has recovered or ‘bounced’ back so often in the past that it would be premature to write it off. I have a different point of view. We all have heard stories about people who have a near-fatal accident or who fall victim to a serious illness and then go on to make a remarkable recovery. But, just because at the age of 35 or 40 years you recover completely, does not mean that if you were to go through the same ordeal at the age of 65, you would still bounce back in exactly the same fashion. America recovered from the trauma of Vietnam and went on to defeat the Soviet Union. But this is an older America facing challenges that are qualitatively different. And this time, in what amounts to a crucial difference, its leading challenger is not handicapped by a faith in a patently absurd economic system. The past, therefore, is not a reliable predictor of the future.

For a long time, this was a relative decline that began about 30 years ago when the Chinese economy commenced its trajectory of double digit growth. In a race, you may be far ahead of the pack but if someone at the back accelerates and runs faster than you, he begins to gain steadily on you. Of course, for a long time the Chinese were so far behind that the relative decline of the US did not matter because the absolute positions were still vastly different. In fact, even now, i.e. 30 years down the line, the Chinese economy is significantly behind that of the US. However, what has changed dramatically in recent years is that the relative decline has now turned into one of absolute decline.

Going back to the analogy of the race, you continue to be far ahead, but instead of running full speed ahead, you slow down. You spend too much time looking over your shoulder and, because you are tired, you often pause to catch your breath. And then, in just about the worst thing you can possibly do in distance running, you lose focus and forget what your basic mission is. Someone from the crowd has hit you with a stone and shouted out an obscenity. You are furious. You are the star athlete at the meet and for millions across the world, you are a legend in your lifetime. How dare someone do that to you!

You are so angry that all that you really want to do now is to find out who the culprit is so that you can grab him by the throat and punch him hard in the face.

Surely, this analogy needs no further explanation as to how it applies to America, China and to America’s war on terror.

When you enter a process of absolute decline, anecdotal evidence (as indeed, my gut feeling) suggests that you do not generally reach out for and grab that chance at redemption that may come your way.

So, what does this imply for the US presidential elections?

One of the catastrophic failures of the Bush administration has been the way it has conducted itself on the international stage (I’m assuming the economy does not tank any further). It is fair to say that America’s standing in the eyes of the world has suffered greatly in the aftermath of the war on terror, and with the two unseemly, unending wars on hand. The decline has been so precipitous that what was unimaginable even a few years back, has actually come to be true. In Western Europe, defended against Soviet expansion for so many years by American soldiers, more people think of the United States as the greatest threat to world peace than any other country. Clearly, under Bush, America has made too many enemies and the costs are now beginning to tell.

To a country faced with this surge in its unpopularity, and which is actually beginning to hurt from it, Barack Obama should represent hope in a real, tangible sense. Today, in country after country, across continents, across the world, he has become one of the most popular American politicians ever. I have no doubt that merely by electing Barack Obama as president, Americans will generate a groundswell of goodwill and sympathy for their country. Those who have traditionally regarded themselves as friends of America and who are troubled and disillusioned by the recent turn this country has taken, will find themselves confronting fresh evidence that American idealism and leadership is actually worth believing in once again. As for America’s implacable foes, they will surely continue to be as hostile as ever, but with a difference. Soon, they will find themselves preaching their poisoned message to an ever-dwindling crowd.

Of course, it can well be pointed out that right after 9/11, there was an upsurge in sympathy and support for the US from all over the world. It did not take very long thereafter for all of it to be frittered away and replaced by downright hostility. Yes, a bit of caution does seem sensible and warranted. All the same, keep in mind the evidence that Barack Obama will walk into the Whitehouse with an armoury of grey cells far in excess of what George Bush could ever command. There is an old saying “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Therefore, what Bush did with all that support and sympathy in the wake of 9/11 (and the ‘political capital’ he talked about during his second inauguration) was entirely predictable, almost like night following day.

With such credentials then, what makes it likely that Obama will lose rather than win? As I said at the beginning, America as a nation and as a superpower is in decline. One of the surest ways in which you ensure that the downhill journey you have begun continues uninterrupted is by rejecting the golden chance to mend your ways and to redeem yourself. This should not be hard to understand. If you are a drunkard drinking yourself to a slow death, it is highly unlikely that you would jump with joy just because someone you know has offered to take you to a rehab clinic. And so it is with America and its increasingly troubled equation with Barack Obama.

At the risk of oversimplifying, one of the reasons why the Roman empire declined is that it had emperors like Nero who “fiddled while Rome burned”. I may add that America is in decline because it has large numbers of people with the right to vote who prefer to fiddle even as the underpinnings of their great country continue to unravel. When a sizeable section of people with the right to vote believe that what matters most is your stance on abortion, gun control, gay marriage, school prayers, creationism vs. evolution etc. (or the race of the candidate), then what they will hold in their hands as they head towards the ballot box on election day, is a fiddle nominally called a ballot paper. It cannot be long, therefore, before America goes the way the Roman empire finally went.

Into the dust.