1. Archive


The negative employment report on Feb. 1 was another sign the U.S. economy is on the ropes. Increasingly, this downswing is being portrayed as more than just a cyclical phenomenon. The United States used to be the envy of the world, the story goes, and soon it will be just another nation.

The question no longer seems to be whether the United States will recede into the pack, but who is to blame. The New York Times explored that question with a provocative cover piece in its Sunday magazine by Parag Khanna, "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony."

But has the U.S. position in the world really changed?

In terms of gross domestic product, the United States has been a colossus for a long time, and continues to be so. Angus Maddison writes in his book, The World Economy: a Millennial Perspective, that America's share of world GDP peaked at almost 28 percent in 1951, up from 1.8 percent in 1820, 8.8 percent in 1870 and 18.9 percent in 1913.

The U.S. share of world income then declined until 1975, when it accounted for 21 percent of world GDP. It has been roughly the same since. Maddison, who has compiled national-income data for the world from 1 A.D. to 2001, estimates the U.S. share of world GDP was 21.4 percent in 2001.

Since then, growth outside the United States has picked up, while U.S. expansion has slowed. According to the International Monetary Fund, which offers more recent statistics, the United States accounted for 21.0 percent of world income in 2001 (close enough to Maddison's estimate to allow one to draw on both); it declined to 20.0 percent in 2005.

Such a minor deterioration may just be cyclical, and is hardly magazine-cover material.

The U.S. economy continues to be awe-inspiring. The value of U.S. imports in 2006 was roughly the same as the entire GDP of France. The United States is the world's largest exporter; if U.S. exporters banded together and seceded from the country, they would have the eighth-largest GDP in the world.

The economy of Brazil is about the size of the Texas'. The economy of India is about the size of the Plains states'. The economy of Venezuela is about the size of Alabama's. The United States is still the place that foreign capital wants to be and is the largest receiver of foreign direct investment.

Looking ahead, the United States has relatively high immigration and fertility. My colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, Nicholas Eberstadt, summed up the conventional wisdom on these trends as follows: "In 2005, Europeans outnumbered Americans in virtually every age group, exceeding Americans by 37 percent among people of prime working age, between 35 and 49 years old. By 2030, however, there will be nearly as many Americans as Western Europeans in the 35-to-49-year-old category and many more Americans under the age of 30." With regard to Europe, the U.S. footprint will inevitably increase.

While China's growth has been impressive, a recent study found it may be at least 50 years before it catches up to the United States.

America stands out another way. Among developed nations, it is by far the most committed to national defense. Its defense spending in 2006 was greater than the combined national incomes of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar.

Looking at the economic and the military facts, one can only conclude that the United States is a singular nation, and will likely be so for a long, long time.