As long as U.S. intelligence agencies are hell-bent on spying on Germany, why can’t they turn up some truly useful secrets? For instance, how to have an economy that bolsters a nation’s power and fosters a vibrant middle class.
The latest edition of the CIA’s World Factbook spells out how Germany succeeds and the United States fails at these crucial tasks. The book ranks the planet’s 193 countries by their current account balances (that is, their trade balances) in 2013.
Germany comes in first, with a surplus of $257 billion. The United States is last, with a deficit of $361 billion. The composition of the top and bottom 20 nations on the list provides an even more illuminating picture. Three kinds of nations dominate the top 20: oil exporters (Saudi Arabia ranks third), East Asian manufacturers-for-export (China ranks second) and Northern European industrial and social democracies (not just Germany but also Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway — the last, swimming in North Sea oil, an energy exporter as well).
The most striking aspect of the bottom 20, by contrast, is the prevalence of English-speaking nations. Not only does the United States finish 193rd, but Britain comes in at 192, Canada at 189, Australia at 186 and New Zealand at 173.
Does using English condemn a nation to producing less at home and buying more abroad? Probably not — especially since Britain and the United States once boasted huge export surpluses.
But something has driven a wedge between the Anglo and the Saxon economies — and that something is the divergent evolutions of their respective forms of capitalism.
Anglophone economies are characterized by lower levels of regulation and worker rights than their Northern European counterparts, and most crucially, particularly in the United States and Britain, they have become dominated by finance.
As Wall Street and “the City” (Britain’s financial sector) have waxed, their nations’ manufacturing sectors have waned. Crucial to this evolution (or devolution) has been an embrace of shareholder capitalism: the doctrine, first propounded by Milton Friedman, that corporations’ sole mission is to reward their shareholders.
In the United States, boosting a company’s share value has become the be-all and end-all of corporate purpose — and as the average length of time that a shareholder holds a stock has dropped precipitously in recent decades, raising short-term profits has come at the expense of other corporate activities. Corporations have shuttered factories and shipped jobs abroad.
They have abandoned apprenticeship programs (and, in the spirit of parricides complaining that they’re orphans, bemoaned the lack of adequately trained U.S. workers).