Not to sound blunt or un-American, but… Americans tend to be rather self centered. Not in a personal or moral way, but in the way that America as a whole tends to be somewhat dismissive and ignorant towards the affairs and needs of other countries. I didn’t really realize the full extent of this until I tried out for Team USA, an American debate team that participates in international tournaments against teams from all around the world. After every round, all of us got the same comment: stop talking so much about the United States and focus more on the world! I then realized how little I actually knew about what was going on in the world, and, more importantly, how little media coverage we really get about international affairs. News overwhelmingly covers domestic issues; international issues are almost exclusively covered if and only if they affect America, whether it be that China’s malicious currency manipulation is hurting our businesses or whether or not we should militarily intervene in a Middle Eastern country and force our form of democracy and free market upon them. In a poll done by the Economist and YouGov only 15% of respondents placed foreign policy as one of their top three priorities. Perhaps it is selfish… but is America unnaturally so?
One thing I’ve found interesting throughout the course of the election and discussions about the state of the economy is that no one ever discusses the state of the global economy. Is it really possible for America to perform well if the rest of the world is collapsing? The Eurozone is obviously having its own problems, with economies like Greece and Spain doing so poorly. China’s and Japan’s growth rates are slowing and India’s faulty infrastructure is becoming increasingly more obvious. South Africa’s economy is sliding backwards and even Sweden, widely considered the most economically equal country in the world, is beginning to shift. I tried to search how the world economy affects America’s, but the only results I got were about how America affects the rest of the world, not the other way around. This perhaps proves my point further.
In America, we tend to see outsourcing of jobs as a bad thing. Companies send their labor elsewhere, and so there are fewer jobs for Americans. Companies do not contribute as much to America’s economy as they should be, and that is seen as negative. Regardless of the fact that outsourcing of jobs helps us since we get goods for cheaper if they are not made in the United States, the outsourcing of companies is actually very beneficial to the countries they go to. When so many American companies outsource to China, migrant Chinese workers are given jobs and opportunities they would not have had otherwise. In my eyes at least, these people are important too, and shouldn’t necessarily be seen as so much less important than American workers. China’s success helps us, too. According to a study by Nicholas Bloom, Paul Romer, and John Van Reenen, increased competition with China can actually boost innovation, and innovation really is one of the most valuable things we can have. They showed that direct competition from China has already generated faster technical change in firms in Europe and the United States through both reallocation and firm innovation, something that is definitely valuable to the United States, which is a country itself built on innovation and ideas.
Then there’s the issue of terrorism. The American government has made it a priority to stomp out terrorism and assure the safety of its citizens… but perhaps the way we go about it is actually more harmful than helpful to our foreign relations: for example, the drone strikes in many areas in the Middle East. Many support drone strikes on the basis that it will make America safer, and often such displays of military prowess are seen as very effective and as a way of asserting America’s power. But is such violence really the best way to accomplish this? From an American perspective, economically it seems to be the best option, and it brings the most immediate gratification. But from a foreign perspective, it is not necessarily the best thing to do. When we use drone strikes, it is inevitable at this point that we will kill civilians. (Keep in mind that while the site I linked makes it appear that many more militants than civilians are killed, militants are often just classified as men over fighting age. There are also many conflicting sources, some even claiming that drones only have a 2% sucess rate. More graphs and statistics can be seen in the slideshow at the bottom of this post.) Aside from the fact that killing civilians is a bad thing in general, it also ignites even more anti-American sentiment. In many areas of the Middle East, though the people hate the Taliban, they hate America even more. This breeds more and more terrorism as the desperate and impoverished turn to extremist beliefs and begin to blame their problems on America. Drone strikes and other such violent attacks on the Middle East may even serve to anger Middle Easterners already in the United States further, who certainly cannot be targeted by drones. Perhaps it would help to address the more structural problems in these countries, such as poverty, or even something more drastic like government reformation, but the approach most cost effective and easy for the United States is certainly not always the one best for the rest of the world or even for itself.
I could go on with more examples, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Aside from potential benefits to other countries, their economies, their governments, and their citizens, there are potential benefits to America for having a more global perspective. It would likely help us with diplomacy – when countries understand that we have their interests in mind at least to some extent, they are more willing to negotiate with us. I’m not asking for America to completely set aside its own interest, for obviously the wellbeing of its own citizens as well as its own success is very important to the people and to the global market – I only hope that America can become more global in its perspective and factor the rest of the world into its decisions and outlooks more. Next time you hear a politician talk about how we must maintain our position as the most powerful country in the world, or how we must make sure we stay ahead of other economies, or how dreadful it is that American jobs are being outsourced and the income that should be going to us is going elsewhere… I encourage you to question why that’s so important.