The New Rules: U.S. Must Get Back in Touch With Its True Exceptionalism

The New Rules: U.S. Must Get Back in Touch With Its True Exceptionalism

This month's debt-ceiling deal in Washington did little to quell the growing chorus of complaints around the world concerning America's continued inability to live within its means. As those complaints invariably translate into corporate hedging, government self-defense strategies, credit rating drops -- Standard and Poor's is already in the bag -- and market short-selling, the U.S. will most assuredly be made to feel the world's mounting angst. This is both right and good, even as it is unlikely to change our path anytime soon: Until some internal political rebalancing occurs, America will invariably stick to its current cluster of painfully outdated strategic assumptions.

The first of these is that we have somehow "lost" the post-Cold War competition by focusing too much on running the world and not enough on our own competitiveness vis-à-vis rising powers. In truth, we have simply arrived at the conclusion of a long-sought global victory: We spent the past seven decades constructing, expanding and defending a global system that encourages the peaceful, economic rise of great powers. In doing so, we proved beyond all doubt the exceptionalism of American power, both hard and soft.

But the price of that victory is now difficult for us to accept. Despite the ongoing -- but slowly declining -- fiscal exceptionalism afforded us by the dollar's role as the world's leading reserve currency, in broader economic terms, we have become anything but exceptional. We can label that reality a "flat world" and fear it, but compared to the future of an ever-widening "have vs. have-not" divide that we long feared, this is a brilliant outcome. I for one feel much better about leaving that world to my kids and their generation than the horribly unjust one we long assumed we would bequeath them.

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