If I had to pick just one thinker as a guide to our era, it would probably be the historian Adam Tooze. Tooze is a writer of extraordinary breadth - somehow he has written the definitive books on the economics of Nazi Germany
, the global financial crisis
and, now, the coronavirus response
. In recent weeks, he’s turned his attention to the future of American power in this must-read essay
in the New Statesman. Tooze rejects the idea that the Afghanistan debacle means we’re entering a post-American era. Instead, he says, the US is changing tack as it watches China rise: it now seeks to use its technological dominance to decouple raw economic output from geopolitical power.
The core challenge is that historically GDP has been a close proxy for military supremacy - and China’s sheer size means that the US will inevitably fall behind on this metric. Tooze argues that what we’re seeing is the “militarisation of US economic policy” in policies like restrictions on the semiconductor supply chain and large investments in AI. The goal is maintaining American dominance even as its share of global GDP (likely) falls. This is no small challenge, but, as Tooze says:
For American strategic planners it is easier to imagine reorganising the global high-tech economy than it is to contemplate the US losing its status as undisputed hegemon
Will it work? If I were to pick a second thinker to complement Tooze it would be the political theorist-turned-politician-turned-commentator Bruno Maçães (who, it happens, also has a new book out
). Maçães doesn’t doubt the strategy, but questions the US’s competence
to execute on it. Maçães’s Twitter feed of late
has been a brutal evisceration of the competence of the American foreign policy establishment - a theme he elaborates on in this excellent podcast episode
(see also this piece
, via Tooze). Perhaps they are both are correct. Tooze says that “At times, the US army can seem like a management consultancy in jackboots” - another group sometimes critiqued for being rather stronger in PowerPoint than in implementation*.
*I know, I know: not all management consultants