World economies (part 4) - US power

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A quarter of the world's GDP is produced in the United States - despite the terrible crisis that cooled the giant's economy for several years. The US remains an economic, military and political power, positioning itself as the first global hegemon in history. Some researchers of international relations indicate that we are currently dealing with a unilateral system, that is, one in which only one player - the USA - deals cards on the diplomatic scene. What are the roots of this federal state's power? How did it happen that it was there, in the lands once inhabited by the Indians, that such a rich country was born?

Of the economic-shaping factors listed in the introductory chapter, in the case of the USA, geography, politics and cultural factors, resulting from the specific nature of this country, played the greatest role. Let's take a closer look at them.

United States geography

The natural resources in the US territories were (and still are) of great importance for the development of the country's economy. Surely everyone knows the great Gold Rush, which ignites the imaginations of thousands of daredevils who went into the unknown, counting on a great fortune. The deposits of the precious metal were discovered, among others in California and Alaska, which contributed to the settlement of these previously desolate areas. As telegraph technology began to develop, copper mining began en masse in the United States. When the first automobiles appeared in production, hundreds of Americans enriched themselves on the exploitation of oil fields. Uranium resources allowed for the implementation of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, which created nuclear bombs - and later also power plants using this type of energy. Huge herds of cattle graze on the endless expanses of America. Coal and iron are mined in the mines, which were the driving force behind rapid industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries. In short, the plethora of natural resources contributed remarkably to the flourishing of the American economy. By adding cavernous territories and rising demographic indicators, we get the perfect conditions for the emergence of a superpower.

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There is one more geographic aspect worth mentioning. Expanding in the nineteenth century, the territory of the United States stretched from one ocean to another. In this century, Admiral Mahan formulated his concept that he who rules the seas rules the world. He appreciated the importance of the possibility of fast water transport, allowing for strategic and tactical movement of troops. It indicated the need to build a canal connecting both oceans - which was fulfilled at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Panama Canal was built. His doctrine, later named after him, stood in opposition to geopolitical concepts that emphasized the strength of landlocked states with a strong ground army. The admiral was partly well-informed about his time, and partly ahead of it. He noticed the power of Great Britain that came from having a colony and an extensive navy and merchant fleet. On the other hand, he predicted the emergence of modern warships, the range, speed and capabilities of which are of great importance for the global balance of power. The Mahan Doctrine is used by the United States to this day - the country's military power is reflected in Aircraft Carrier Combat Groups, i.e. aircraft carriers and the accompanying armadas of submarines, cruisers and destroyers. Such a formation is an extremely strong opponent, capable of attacking the enemy from the air (planes and guided missiles), water (ship guns) and the ground (Marines landing units). Just as Admiral Mahan predicted - domination of the seas opens the way to domination of the land. The range of the weapons available on GBL allows for effective destruction of even the deepest areas in land.

Due to the geopolitical location of the United States, the last war to be fought on its territory was a fratricidal clash between the Confederates and the EU. The pacified (Mexico) and friendly (Canada) neighbors did not cause the States much trouble. The extremely devastating clashes in Europe (especially in its eastern part) did not affect the Americans in any way. Even Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) took place thousands of kilometers from the American continent. Neither the Japanese nor the Germans have ever had the slightest chance of a successful landing off the coast of the USA. It is worth noting that the war paradoxically helped the United States to become a global hegemon - this is what I write about later in the text.

Immigration and the founding myth of the USA

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, America was the Promised Land for Europeans. Ships with Irish, English, Scots, Chinese, Germans, Poles, Italians and representatives of many other nations landed on the US shores. Millions of people flocked there in search of a better existence.It is not surprising for them. Take, for example, England - crowded and dirty cities, poverty, financial disproportions, concreted political scene, cemented social structures ... America offered a chance for a new start - to gain wealth and achieve a position. It offered freedom and equality, but of course only for adult white men. The vast expanses of gradually annexed and colonized territories in the central and western parts of the continent tempted with the possibility of having your own piece of land. It was not economic freedom - as it was similar in nineteenth-century England - that opened up such prospects. The causative factor here was the "youth" of the state, taking advantage of the moment of its formation. In the countries of immigrants' origin, there was no replacement of elites (or it was happening very slowly) - in the nineteenth-century United States, elites were just being formed, although in a slightly different form than in the Old Continent.

The founding myth of the USA was the dream of a new country where there is no rigid social hierarchy. In my opinion, there was a lot of truth to this myth - but only during the first several dozen (40? 50?) Years of the state's existence. Later, an equality society did not emerge at all - fresh structures fossilized, creating new divisions. The capital held has become the main axis that divides people into better and worse - replacing the issues of high or low birth. New elites began to form around the party - it is enough to pay attention to the famous political clans, as well as to the established voting patterns in individual states. Here, too, capital is the most important - in the modern United States, winning the mandate of a congressman or (even more so) senator is strictly dependent on personal wealth and business support.

When discussing the mental underpinnings of the US economic success, the role of the Protestant ethos must not be overlooked. The first settlers on the mainland were from England and were Puritans, extremely religiously fervent people. They believed (and still do) in predestination - that every human being is predestined by God to be either saved or condemned. This rather bizarre concept, which, according to many (including myself), is in contradiction with the basic principles of Christianity, had a huge impact on the development of the hard work ethos. In Puritanism (and Calvinism), the grace given by God (and therefore destiny for salvation) is already visible on Earth - it is to be revealed by the wealth of a given man. Fortune, then, is a visible sign of Heaven's favor.

Puritans have worked hard to multiply money, which can be described as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And why does such a concept conflict with the foundations of Christianity? First of all, because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, who died on it for the sins of all people - thus saving them. So if a person's actions do not matter, because all are predestined, the sacrifice of Jesus makes no sense. Moving on, there is also a glitch about who the Savior surrounded Himself. Were they rich? Not. Christ himself was a poor carpenter, surrounding himself with social outcasts (tax collector, fisherman, etc.) and glorifying the poor.

It should also be mentioned that the influence on the American mentality was not limited only to the Puritan concepts - the fact of a large number of immigrants from Germany is also of great importance, in which capitalism was basically born, based on the Protestant praise of hard, conscientious and honest work. It is worth knowing that thanks to this mass immigration, the USA has become a country with the world's first political nation - formed not by blood and culture ties, but around a specific idea. It is the internalization of the so-called American values ​​made an Englishman, Pole or Chinese citizen of the United States. And it was, among other things, the energy of these people that built an economic power practically from scratch. Among other things - because there were other equally important factors.

Politics and history

It is worth paying attention to the moment in history when the United States took the first place in the race of world economies. This happened over the thirty years between the start of World War I in 1914 and the Bretton Woods conference in 1944. Two terrible wars devastated the Old Continent, thus pushing Great Britain from the position of a leader in the global economy. It is worth noting that none of these hecatombs took place on US territory. During World War II, the United States perfectly took advantage of the moment of the weakening of its economic rival, i.e. Great Britain. Even in the 1930s, the pound was the world currency and the British Empire controlled global trade. How did the English lose so much?

It started with the defeat in France in 1940, when the British Expeditionary Force evacuated from Dunkirk, leaving tons of military equipment on the beaches. As the Kriegsmarine grew in the eyes, it began to threaten the Royal Navy, which was heavily dispersed guarding the colony. The British urgently needed reinforcement - planes, rifles, warships. The US was neutral at that time, and therefore could not sell weapons to any state in a state of war through official channels, as this would mean taking one side of the conflict. President Roosevelt, however, allowed cash and go transactions, which the British financed with rapidly declining gold reserves. It was a very clever thing to do. On the one hand, FDR knew that depriving the British of gold would undermine their position in international trade, on the other, he did not forget how the (very late) US intervention in World War I boosted domestic industry. And he needed it very much, as the country was still suffering from the consequences of the Great Depression. Roosevelt tried his best to push the United States into WWII while lying to the public about not being able to send "our boys" to Europe. The British powerlessness was also used during the destroyers pact for the bases - the Americans in exchange for old and dilapidated ships received valuable bases in colonial territories.

Japan solved the president's problem - on December 7, 1941, it attacked and severely demolished the American base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This opened the way for Roosevelt to lead to unfettered business with Great Britain and the rest of the countries involved. This is how the Lend Lease Act was created, providing enormous military and industrial aid - in the form of a loan. On the one hand, this agreement allowed the British to win the war, and on the other, it put the country in debt for decades. Her Majesty's government paid the last installment ... on December 26, 2006. The shipments of massive amounts of military equipment - as Roosevelt had predicted - heated the US economy. In this context, it is not surprising that the USA, together with the USSR, came up with the concept of a war of unconditional surrender. Stalin was obsessed with the fact that the Allies could get along behind his back with Hitler. Roosevelt, on the other hand, did not want to end the war prematurely because America's arms industry was just getting started.

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The newly acquired US economic domination was sealed by the Bretton Woods system. As part of it, the International Monetary Fund was established and global trade was heavily regulated. The dollar, backed in gold, became de facto world money. In later years, a large stream of dollars was sent to the Old Continent for the reconstruction of countries destroyed by the war. The Marshall Plan was an unprecedented act in world history - very helpful, but not altruistic. Stout heads in the US (including General Marshall, an excellent military commander and great politician) saw that a strong America needed a rebuilt and peaceful Europe. The aid - partially returnable - fueled the economies of Germany, France, Great Britain and other war-stricken nations, and prolonged the economic prosperity in the US that relied on exorbitant industrial and military production.

The influence of the left wing on the USA

Interestingly, the left has never gained power in the United States. True, some insist on calling America's Democrats leftists, but I don't think that is a deserved label. The Democratic Party is actually a center-left organization - with an emphasis on the “center” element. Within its framework, there are "truly" socialist factions, but they do not matter much in the mainstream discourse. This is due to the American oversensitivity to communism. During the Cold War, there was widespread fear of spies from the USSR. The performance of the McCarthy Commission was written in language as Maccartism - a synonym for fanatical suspicion.

On the other hand, there was a certain grain of truth in the "witch hunt". For several years, reports have come to light about the spies (or agents of influence) surrounding President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was probably because of them that the US authorities were so sympathetic to Stalin on key issues. For this reason, for many Americans solutions that in Europe are a standard accepted even by conservatives - we are talking here, inter alia, on the minimum wage and on social security - they are "communist" or "socialist". This is favored by the so-called patriotic rhetoric that puts individualism, freedom (understood as no interference) on a pedestal, and mythical opportunities for wealth for everyone. This - already greatly rotten - ethos "from shoe polisher to millionaire" contributed to many years of suppressing the demands of supporters of pro-social solutions. The myth of flowing America with milk and honey, giving everyone a chance, should collapse with the end of the conquest of the so-called Wild west. It went on and on, however, telling people at the bottom of the wage ladder that they would someday be as rich as their boss, who pays them a pittance.

Despite the unfavorable climate, the ephemeral left-wing formations managed to significantly change the American reality. Characteristically, they never did so directly, because not once - in over two hundred years of US history - did they rule the country. Their postulates - repeated for decades - repeatedly entered the party's mainstream programs. Usually when the authorities of the latter suited it. This was the case with the abolition of slavery - the slogans of the abolitionists were taken over by the Republican Party in order to weaken the influence of the conservative South. And now, strongly emphasizing the ideals of racial equality, the Democratic Party in the late 1800s looked reluctantly at African Americans in the provinces, fighting for the rights of white workers in the big cities. The same happened with suffragette movements, ignored by big parties for decades. Women gained the right to vote only in 1920, two years after the Second Polish Republic, which was found on its foundations - in the program of the Lublin government of Ignacy Daszyński, and a month later in the pre-election decree of Józef Piłsudski.

The American economy today

For years, the USA has been the first in the ranking of the richest countries in the world according to the Gross Domestic Product with the result of over 16 trillion dollars. The US is ahead of China (twice as low), Japan (10 trillion less) and Germany (almost 5 times less). Americans rank ninth in terms of GDP per capita - in 2013 it amounted to 51.7 thousand dollars. The US is slowly recovering from the great crisis that stunted its economy for a good few years. The GDP growth for the previous year amounted to 1.9%, which is a result much lower than the jump recorded in 2012 by 2.8%. Nevertheless, these indicators are already well above zero and there are many indications that they will continue to increase in the coming years.

When it comes to fiscal policy, the US budget has been in the red for years. This is the result of the government's intervention in the economic machine, which was necessary during the crisis. The year 2013 ended with a stormy debate around the budget act. A group of extremists from the Tea Party (the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party) led to a deadlock in the negotiations, which resulted in the so-called Government Shutdown. Thousands of offices and institutions belonging to the federal government (including, for example, the Statue of Liberty) ceased to function, and masses of public sector employees went on compulsory holidays. Similar events also took place during the presidency of Bill Clinton - interestingly, they never had a negative impact on the federal administration. The US society - quite rightly - tends to blame the perpetrators of the posting, that is, the Republicans who sever the talks.


The United States is an extraordinary country. Its history is quite short, but it is full of momentous events that have shaped its character. For decades, the US has attracted people looking for a better life. Today - despite the crisis and great social inequalities - America continues to delude many with the prospect of wealth. It remains a point of reference for other countries, an unmatched model and guide in the economic world.

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