This film is interesting because it has all the superficial appeal of FEBL conspiracy theory junk, but is actually pretty good. The charts are genuinely illustrative and the infomation density reasonable and logical. The premise – that debt is America’s biggest problem is plausible, and logically argued.
It took me ages to figure out what the nagging problem I have with it is, and unfortunately I can’t sum it up in a sound bite. The train of objection goes something like this:
Film says: America has culture which creates debt.
Film says: America’s debt burden will reach levels where it has no control over its destiny.
Film says: America’s creditors are not natural allies.
Film says: US creditors can dictate what America does by threatening to dump dollar.
Film says: America dumped pound to dictate what UK and France did in Suez.
Film says: America needs leadership.
The last point is the fallacy. I would argue that ironically what America actually needs is weak leadership.
Here is the problem.
Like a scientific experiment which seeks a particular outcome, there will always be a train of thought that leads, seemingly rationally to an apocalyptic scenario if you look for it.
America’s creditors will not let it run up a $50 trillion debt – the margin call will happen sooner, and may already have happened.
Decline of Empire tends to be long and drawn out, and quite often the society left is tolerable and intact.
America will likely be the cultural center of the world for a while after it has ceased to be the economic one (It will all be over before while fat lady still sings, if you like).
In other words it will be bad, but not that bad, unless…
America ends up in a large conflict.
History suggests America will go to war, jingoistically and come back capitulated. This is what happened to Europe in WW1 and WW2. This would have to be a much larger war than Iraq and Afghanistan, although if it happens, it will undoubtedly take place in the Middle East.
I would argue, that strong leadership will more likely lead America into war, what America needs is weak leadership so that it can naturally decentralize and the more successful areas survive while it transitions into a different country. America’s biggest danger is not the people or the place, but the idea.
Films like this assume that all that a country has to do is find a sustainable model of existence and everything will work out fine. Empires do not need to be sustainable – they profit from other poorer parts of the world. You cannot have the kind of lifestyle that America has and it be sustainable, it is pointless to look for it. The distribution of wealth will never be flat, but a bell curve and what will happen is that someone else will sit on the right of the bell curve.
Interestingly this implies that China will never have the kind of dominant middle class culture that America has, unless it is geographically specific, because there are too many Chinese to fit into the right hand of the bell curve.