By Michael Hertfield
On Thursday 22nd September, The Henry Jackson Society welcomed Todd Buchholz to discuss his book ‘The Price of Prosperity: Why Rich Nations Fail and How to Renew Them’. With reference to the Ottoman Empire, Buchholz began by arguing that polities are as likely to unravel after periods of prosperity as they are after periods of destitution. Buchholz highlighted that many forces are responsible for this – globalisation, debt, the corrosive effect prosperity has on a nation’s work ethic, demographic change, and the retreat of patriotism.
Buchholz began with globalisation. For Buchholz, this phenomenon has resulted in a world in which large companies no longer ‘wave our flags’. Buchholz referenced the new Boeing jet as an example of this – only 40 percent of the jet is made in the USA, the remainder being outsourced to foreign production lines. The ‘age of anxiety’ – an era marked by narcissism and its embodiment, Donald Trump – was a recurring theme in Buchholz’s talk and was seen by Buchholz as a response to free trade and consequent globalisation.
Buchholz then went on to discuss America’s burgeoning public debt, comparing the US unfavourably to Mexico. The fact that life expectancy and the number of Americans not economically active is increasing presents a related threat, as the proportion of Americans paying income tax has fallen to historic lows.
Continuing on this theme, Buchholz claimed that prosperity has a corrosive effect on a nation’s work ethic. The US has, argued Buchholz, given up on the idea of teenagers and young adults working summer jobs. As a consequence of prosperity, they are no longer an economic necessity for most families. American youth have therefore missed out on the positive life lessons such jobs offer. Studies, Buchholz claimed, show that those who work summer jobs are less likely to abuse drugs and more likely to go to university.
Buchholz then turned to patriotism. Buchholz argued that the loss of patriotism not only leads to widespread narcissism but that patriotism in in and of itself a good thing, and that civic nationalism is unfairly criticised. The emergence of ISIS was testament to this, as strong nation-states are a bulwark against the former.
Buchholz also briefly spoke about misconceptions surrounding the Chinese economy. Despite being praised as the new leading economic power, when one considers its GDP per capita and the demographic problems arising from its one-child policy, a very different picture is painted. Buchholz argued that the twin demographic challenges of an ageing population and a greater number of young men than women (a consequence of infanticide relating to the one-child policy) would prevent China becoming the world’s predominant economic superpower. However, for Buchholz, China’s political ambition was something that should be treated with upmost caution. Buchholz ended the discussion on Russia. Buchholz talked about Putin being a ‘one trick pony’ with regards to the economy but being a strong leader in comparison to Obama. For Buchholz, Obama’s foreign policy being bereft of integrity has resulted in Putin being allowed to fill the power vacuum in the Middle East.