Declinists Be Damned: Bet on America

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BetOnAmerica398x239 100th Illustration by Thomas James

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

America owes $6 trillion to China, our sprawling military complex often appears helpless against disparate threats abroad, and the War on Terror has stripped us of the moral high ground. Washington is paralyzed by bitter partisanship, our children are falling behind their international peers, and our middle class is no longer the world’s most affluent. But we’ve been warned about America’s decline before. Remember Sputnik? Yes, times are tough, but America is recovering from the Great Recession faster than almost any other advanced country, an energy boom could add billions to the GDP, we’re still a leader in technological innovation, and our military strength and geopolitical advantages remain unrivaled. Are our best days behind us, or should the world still bet on America?

  • JoffeOfficial90px


    Josef Joffe

    Senior Fellow, Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute & Publisher-Editor, Die Zeit

  • Zeihan 90x90


    Peter Zeihan

    Geopolitical Strategist & Author, The Accidental Superpower

  • Freeland 90x90


    Chrystia Freeland

    Member, Parliament of Canada & Journalist

  • Rickards 90x90


    James Rickards

    Economist, Investment Banker & Author, The Death of Money

    • Moderator Image


      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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For The Motion

Josef Joffe

Senior Fellow, Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute & Publisher-Editor, Die Zeit

Josef Joffe is the publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit and a senior fellow of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. A visiting professor of political science at Stanford and a fellow of the Hoover Institution, he has also taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Munich. In 2005, he co-founded the foreign policy journal The American Interest with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Francis Fukuyama. Joffe’s articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, International Security, and Foreign Policy as well as in professional journals in Germany, Britain, and France; his essays and reviews have appeared in New York Review of Books, Commentary, New Republic, and Weekly Standard; and, he is a regular contributor to the op-ed pages of Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and others. Previously he was a columnist and editorial page editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung. His most recent book is The Myth of America’s Decline: Politics, Economics, and a Half Century of False Prophecies (2014).

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Zeihan 90x90

For The Motion

Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist & Author, The Accidental Superpower

Peter Zeihan is a geopolitical strategist who has lived in the world of international affairs throughout his career. After stints with the Center for Political Strategic Studies under Susan Eisenhower and the State Department in Australia, Zeihan was part of the core team that built Stratfor into a geopolitical consultancy and publishing house, ultimately serving as the firm’s vice president of analysis. He launched his own firm, Zeihan on Geopolitics, in 2012, in order to specialize in customized executive briefings. With a mix of insight and irreverence, he helps them see their businesses and industries from a new point of view, so that they can prepare for a now-more-understandable future. Zeihan’s first independent book, The Accidental Superpower, was published in November 2014.

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Against The Motion

Chrystia Freeland

Member, Parliament of Canada & Journalist

Chrystia Freeland is the Canadian Member of Parliament for the riding of Toronto Centre. After starting as a Ukraine-based stringer for the Financial Times, Washington Post, and The Economist, she went on to do many jobs at FT, including deputy editor, UK news editor, Moscow bureau chief, Eastern Europe correspondent, editor of its weekend edition, editor of, and US managing editor. From 1999 to 2001, she was deputy editor of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper. In 2010, Freeland joined as editor-at-large for Thomson Reuters, where she most recently worked as managing director and editor of consumer news. She is the author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012), a New York Times bestseller which won the National Business Book Award and the Lionel Gelber Prize in 2013. She is a co-chair of the Liberal Party’s Economic Advisory Council and the Party’s critic for International Trade.

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Against The Motion

James Rickards

Economist, Investment Banker & Author, The Death of Money

James Rickards is chief global strategist at the West Shore Funds, editor of Strategic Intelligence, a monthly newsletter, and director of The James Rickards Project, an inquiry into the complex dynamics of geopolitics and global capital. He is the author of New York Times bestseller, The Death of Money (2014), and national bestseller, Currency Wars (2011). A portfolio manager, lawyer, and economist, he has held senior positions at Citibank, Long-Term Capital Management, and Caxton Associates. His clients include institutional investors and government directorates. He is an op-ed contributor to the Financial Times, Evening Standard, New York Times and Washington Post. Rickards is a visiting lecturer in globalization at the Johns Hopkins University and the School of Advanced International Studies, and has delivered papers on risk at various institutions. He is an advisor on capital markets to the U.S. intelligence community and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

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Declared Winner: For The Motion

Online Voting

Voting Breakdown:

52% voted the same way in BOTH pre- and post-debate votes (37% voted FOR twice, 10% voted AGAINST twice, 5% voted UNDECIDED twice). 48% changed their minds (8% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 3% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 11% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 3% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 16% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 7% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST) | Breakdown Graphic

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    • Comment Link JWill Monday, 09 November 2015 16:15 posted by JWill

      Anyone willing to address James Rickards comment below? I'm revisiting this debate and don't believe I fully grasp his statement. Would appreciate some insight.

      (20:07:35) The other side of that trade is if you're JPMorgan and you're Jamie Dimon, you're paying zero for your cost of funds. You can go out and buy some ten year notes [unintelligible] 10 to one and make 20 percent returns on equity. That is a $400 billion per year wealth transfer from everyday Americans to the power elite to the richest bankers. That's America today. So we have no markets left.

    • Comment Link Powerlurker Thursday, 05 March 2015 10:33 posted by Powerlurker

      My interpretation of the motion is that it wasn't just asking the question, "Is America in decline?" but also coupling that with the question, "Should one still bet on America?" It's quite possible to answer the second question "yes" even if the first one is answered "no" and thus support the motion as a whole. This is where the for side focused their efforts. Even if you accept the premises and arguements of the Against side, they didn't present a more compelling alternative. If you don't bet on America, who would you bet on?

    • Comment Link Susan Carlsen Sunday, 22 February 2015 20:04 posted by Susan Carlsen

      The flaw in this debate is obvious from the start. It seems the audience accepted Joe's definition of decline and his definition of being on top -- strongest money, strongest military. Which says something about the decline of values in our society.

      I didn't see that the for side won in terms of debate, but they did win in terms of entertainment and speaking to the minimal attention span.

      The against side saw decline from many more angles, health care, education, i.e. how we treat other human beings.

      Finally, if the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, how is it not decline if we are just getting there more slowly?

    • Comment Link james Howard Kunstler Saturday, 21 February 2015 17:03 posted by james Howard Kunstler

      The outcome of this debate proves the continuing credulity of the American public, lost in raptures of techno-narcissism. The arguments of Joffe and Zeihan were transparently fatuous and sentimental. Rickards, on the other hand, was magnificent.

    • Comment Link Chad Friday, 20 February 2015 14:15 posted by Chad

      This is the first time in any debate I've listened to that I would give Donvan a low score .... his argument with Josef Joffe was terrible moderation on his part. He should have let him finish, then call him out of dodging the question if he didn't work it back in by the end.

    • Comment Link kybkh Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:35 posted by kybkh

      The whole debate was a mess.

      There was no clear indicator for what represents "decline".

      Moral decline? Economic decline? Military decline?

      Anyone who suggest we are as high atop the mountain as Nov 9, 1989 is being willfully ignorant. We have fallen from our lofty perch through Wars of Choice, Relegated Responsibilities and Moral Hazard Safety Nets.

      How we recover the decent paying, production line jobs that Baby Boomers used to buy homes which tripled in value via the Housing Boom is by no means apparent.

      Gen X-ers are not likely to see their houses triple in value.

    • Comment Link Dave Smith Friday, 13 February 2015 10:11 posted by Dave Smith

      Having James Rickards in this debate was fascinating, and a bit unfair. He is a man of real vision, studying the physics of complex systems and adapting them to our economic model which is entirely complex.
      His study of how a 3% drop in one area of our economy can start a deluge in other parts is eye opening.
      This was like 3, 7th grade students discussing economic decline with a 60 year old who has studied economics his whole life.
      C'mon Joe...15 cent hamburgers and cheap milk shakes is what made America great? Read "Currency Wars" and "The Death of Money" by Mr. Rickards. There is your insight.

    • Comment Link Cameron Stewart Wednesday, 11 February 2015 20:49 posted by Cameron Stewart

      I also think the "for" team was too focused on proving that America was/is the best country in the world rather than disproving the evidence of decline being theorized by the "against" team

    • Comment Link Cameron Stewart Wednesday, 11 February 2015 20:43 posted by Cameron Stewart

      Wow, I certainly didn't see this debate unfold the same way the crowd voted - especially to the tune of a 15% vote swing. I thought James Rickards was by far the best debater and his points were heavier and more truthful than anyone else's. Simply saying "America is resilient" is not enough to disregard what those with real economic and political power are doing with this country's capital (both human and financial)

    • Comment Link Edw. Tomchin Wednesday, 11 February 2015 19:01 posted by Edw. Tomchin

      I guess it's the global change that has folks wrapped up in a knot of fear because the fight/flight reaction is all I see around us. Truth is, the entire world is about ready to create the greatest amount of wealth that's ever existed. Look at what the West did with less than a billion people. We built a $80 trillion dollar economy. So, we've had a few crashes. We're not perfect and we do have an leaning toward corruption. One thing history teaches us is that we have managed to get ourselves into some pretty dismal jackpots over the course of our recorded history. It also teaches us that we rise up out of them like the Phoenix and are the better for it. Well, if less than a billion created an $80 trillion economy, think what 7 billion will create. Every human being on the face of the earth is capital, each with their own value who adds more to the global economy that it costs them to live.

      Making money may be our forté above all others.

    • Comment Link badconduct Wednesday, 11 February 2015 17:51 posted by badconduct

      Between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, America lost this generation. They don't trust the Government and they don't trust the media. It's this distrust between Government, Media and the citizens that is causing most of Americans problems. It's up to American media to fix this relationship and American Government to keep America stable.
      Once this generation moves on, the American Empire will flourish again.

    • Comment Link badconduct Wednesday, 11 February 2015 16:32 posted by badconduct

      Between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, America lost this generation. They don't trust the Government and they don't trust the media. It's this distrust between Government, Media and the citizens that is causing most of Americans problems. It's up to American media to fix this relationship and American Government to keep America stable.
      Once this generation moves on, the American Empire will flourish again.

    • Comment Link Jim Dugan Tuesday, 10 February 2015 20:15 posted by Jim Dugan

      Unless I was in lockstep with J.R. I would not want to be on any forum in a debate with J.R. The guy is bullet proof.

    • Comment Link jdgalt Monday, 09 February 2015 17:15 posted by jdgalt

      Political paralysis is a good thing, both because it indicates the dominant side is changing back to the right and because it prevents Congress from enacting more laws and spending more money, which are exactly the things we need them to stop doing.

    • Comment Link John DeJohn Sunday, 08 February 2015 23:25 posted by John DeJohn

      James Rickards and Chrystina Freeland will win the debate, depending on your logic. James Rickards has written two outstanding books, " Currency Wars", and "The Death of Money". Their relevance in todays world and our country is spot on. If you like Economics there a must read!

    • Comment Link rick Tuesday, 03 February 2015 15:58 posted by rick

      Surely, the question is a little loaded, but maybe that's a good thing. It allows for humor. Of all the comments made here, the doomsdayers and positivists all make interesting points, but few answers are offered as the question asks for none. As our economy is now growing some of the panelists might think our future is rosey...ha! The world's population is growing rapidly as is global climate change. To overlook a discussion of how these two major issues affect our economy would be very short sighted! To understand US foreign imperialistic attitudes over the past decades might help us all understand from a global perspective how America could be a better world leader economically and altruistically.

    • Comment Link phil davis Saturday, 31 January 2015 15:10 posted by phil davis

      Mr. Rickards et al will win this debate. I believe he will prove our monetary system under the Federal Reserve is the main culprit for a failing America.

    • Comment Link James Harrold Friday, 30 January 2015 11:10 posted by James Harrold

      Rumors of the demise are exaggerated. Will the nation-state structure, overall, survive? Perhaps that is the larger question. The United States has been a leader within this structural paradigm. The structure will continue to evolve, and it is nearly impossible to talk about the U.S. role without discussion of the entire paradigm. Going forward, it is difficult to imagine that the U.S. will not continue to play a role in world events.

    • Comment Link Bob Thursday, 29 January 2015 23:10 posted by Bob

      Poorly worded question for a debate as opposing side are made in the statement. Which point is against and which for?

      Hazarding a quest, Mr. Richards is betting America is in decline?

    • Comment Link Peter Thursday, 29 January 2015 18:15 posted by Peter

      The U.S. hasn't been a "force for good in the world", or even to its own people, since in the aftermath of WWII. The bone we throw a cause or country here or there is nothing compared to the fundamental, structural creep back to traditional feudalism, oligarchy and militant authoritarianism, just as the founders predicted and futile tried to avoid.

      The only way this country this country is going to turn around again is through armed revolution and a significant reduction in population on both sides, enough to remind the survivors how important it is to avoid bipolar political dichotomies and geopolitical chess and get along well enough to work together at distancing our culture from its savage and barbaric tendencies. The nuclear and biological horrors of World War Three cannot come fast enough, to teach these people a lesson.

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