Hope Is From America

Why does the "hope" factor, even on a global scale, remain tied to the United States?

March 6, 2009

Why does the "hope" factor, even on a global scale, remain tied to the United States?

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was roundly criticized by some for peddling hope and optimism. Soon after he arrived in the Oval Office, amid economic meltdown, he abandoned that kind of talk — and converted himself into a rather stern taskmaster. This also drew criticism.

Whatever the dynamic of U.S. politics, it is amazing to realize just how much the "hope" factor, even on a global scale, remains tied to the United States.

For all the talk about multiple centers of economic gravity, on the psychological front at least, too much of the basic economic drive remains tied to the United States.

To be sure, that kind of passive, compliant attitude on the part of other major nations serves U.S. interests and predilections. That is true whether one looks at it in terms of Americans enjoying being viewed as the world's leading nation – or, more plainly, in terms of financing the current account deficit.

When the U.S. economy started to stall, in large part due to the over-indebtedness of consumers, the paucity of other (i.e., non-American) investment leitmotifs became blatantly apparent.

The emerging market story, to be sure, is an appealing alternate vision of future sources of global economic growth. However, it has lost much of its appeal more recently and will still not be powerful enough to replace the American consumer for some time yet.

The alternative vision that has been bandied about in much of Western Europe is to find hope — read: future economic growth — by embracing a kind of environmental Keynesianism.

Stimulating economic activity while protecting the environment certainly sounds very attractive — but doubts persist as to how job-creating that switch may be.

This underscores how difficult it is to come up with a powerful vision that is widely accepted as creating sustainable economic value, via GDP growth and jobs.

These difficulties also explain why, over the past decade, other economic cultures were so eager to embrace the hope-mongering offered up so willingly by the United States.

From past experience, the world knows about the narrow boundary between American hope and American hype. But what has muted the blame game vis-à-vis the United States at the current stage is that this hope- (or hype-) mongering is not at all just of the Americans' making.

The reason why the crisis spread with such rapidity therefore is not just due to the inner workings of the interlinked global economy.

Rather, it is a tacit admission by the economic elites of other countries just how much, and how blindly and passively, they have tended to rely on the impulses of the United States.

When it became apparent the last time around that much of the American boom was built on financial quicksand, the shock was very much felt everywhere.

As a logical result, the steady beat of global economic interaction came to a sudden stop. The entire world economy, it turned out, had relied too much just on one major player's heartbeat — which got weaker and weaker and ultimately triggered an outright calamity.

But all the many critics of the American penchant for hype need to come to terms with the urgent realization that hope cannot just come from America.

Editor’s note: This essay was published on March 6, 2009 and was updated by the author on June 8, 2014.

Takeaways

From past experience, the world knows about the narrow boundary between American hope and American hype.

What has muted the blame game vis-à-vis the United States is that this hope- (or hype-) mongering is not at all just of the Americans' making.

Whatever the dynamic of U.S. politics, it is amazing to realize just how much the "hope" factor, even on a global scale, remains tied to the United States.

For all the talk about multiple centers of economic gravity, too much of that basic economic energy was put at the feet of the United States.

When the U.S. economy started to stall, the paucity of other (i.e., non-American) investment leitmotifs became blatantly apparent.