The USA is losing its image as a superpower. By 2020 China will almost have caught up with the USA in the eyes of the international public. In the meantime, according to international perception, Russia too will be seen increasingly as an international power. At the same time, awareness of the threats facing the environment has grown enormously in the past years. By 2020 the destruction of the environment and climate change will be considered internationally as the biggest threat to mankind. These are the findings of a current international opinion poll carried out by the German foundation, the Bertelsmann Stiftung, about the role and the challenges facing world powers.
When asked which countries are regarded as world powers today, 81% name the USA and only 50% China. Thereafter follow Russia with 39%, Japan with 35% and the EU equal with The United Kingdom, on 34%. In comparison with a corresponding survey two years ago, China has experienced an increase of 5%. The largest leap recorded is however for Russia, which was named as a world power by 12% more people than in 2005.
The United States has very unfavorable demographic trends. In a nutshell, the workforce is dumbing down. Whites are a declining fraction of the population and the big rising groups do poorly in school and at work, earning much less. But Russia has even bigger problems. It has a smaller and much more rapidly shrinking population. When Russian oil production starts declining (and this point might be very close) that combined with the population decline will make Russia into a basket case.
Over the past two decades, a growing share of the public has come to the view that American society is divided into two groups, the "haves" and the "have-nots." Today, Americans are split evenly on the two-class question with as many saying the country is divided along economic lines as say this is not the case (48% each). In sharp contrast, in 1988, 71% rejected this notion, while just 26% saw a divided nation.
Of equal importance, the number of Americans who see themselves among the "have-nots" of society has doubled over the past two decades, from 17% in 1988 to 34% today. In 1988, far more Americans said that, if they had to choose, they probably were among the "haves" (59%) than the "have-nots" (17%). Today, this gap is far narrower (45% "haves" vs. 34% "have-nots").
Growth in belief in the divide has grown more among Democrats (from 32% to 63%) than Republicans (from 19% to 33%) or Independents (from 26% to 46%). Also, people with less than a college education see a bigger divide than those with a college education. Also, upper income people see less of a divide than middle and lower income people. So those on top are less unhappy and see less in the way of problems. No surprise there.
The absolute most curious result from this poll is the decline in the portion of the population that considers itself as part of the "Haves" and the growth in the portion that considers itself "Have Nots". Here's the weird part: Even the upper income category (the top third of the population in income) saw a shift in that portion that considers itself "Haves" from 82% in 1988 to 66% in 2007. Rising inequality makes more people feel like losers. Economists who think that greater amounts of production are the key to happiness have no solution to offer for the human desire for higher relative status.
Will the rising feeling of being part of the "Have Nots" group translate into greater support for taxes on those with higher incomes? Also, will it translate into greater opposition to free trade and less trust in basic institutions of society?
Has anyone aside from me noticed the growth in availability of signals for demonstrating much higher income and status? For example, there was a time in American society when Cadillacs were the highest status cars (excepting rare Rolls Royces) but not any more. The distance from a Chevrolet price and a Cadillac price was substantial but not enormous. But we have witnessed a proliferation of pricier cars for even higher income people. The $100,000+ cars of today telegraph a level of discretionary income that basically sends a message to most other drivers that they really are members of the "Have Not" group. In our daily lives it seems to me that we are reminded of much greater wealth disparities than we would have been reminded of a few decades ago.
America is stuck in a stupid foolish war. We have huge unfunded old age pension liabilities. The world's running out of oil. The American population is aging and dumbing down. Oh, and population growth has driven up housing costs for a rising percentage of the population. Is it any wonder that an increasing portion of the likely voters think America's best days are behind us?
Confirming a growing trend of pessimism, only 33% of likely voters across the United States believe the country's best days are ahead of us. That figure is down from 41% last November and 48% in January 2004.
Forty-three percent (43%) now believe that the country’s best days have come and gone (see history).
Women are far more pessimistic than men. Just 25% of women believe the nation’s best days are ahead of us. Forty-four percent (44%) of men share that assessment.
Younger Americans are less optimistic than their elders. Just 22% of those under 30 believe the USA has better days ahead.
Republicans are evenly divided on the question—40% say the best days are in the future while 42% believe they were in the past. Among Democrats, just 30% hold the optimistic view while 48% are pessimistic on this question.
I can understand the higher levels of pessimism of younger generations. After all, the pyramid schemes that form the foundation of government-funded old age retirement programs can't last and in a major intergenerational shafting people who are now under age 50 are going to foot the bill. Also, oil and some other natural resources are getting depleted. Plus, population growth from immigration will dumb down and swell the population, increasing crime and housing costs as people compete harder for land in the safer and more desirable locales. The future certainly has some big downsides.
But the future holds out some amazing promises. Most notably, the youngsters need to know - failing a total breakdown of civilization - that by the time they get old full body rejuvenation will become possible. 20 year olds today will turn 70 in the year 2057. Their life expectancies at that point might be measured in the thousands of years.