I have spent the holidays writing a book on smart power and America's future. Looking back a decade, it is difficult to recapture the optimism at the century's beginning. We had a booming economy, a fiscal surplus and were at peace. Now we have the great recession, huge deficits and two wars. Polls show that a large number of Americans believe that China has surpassed the United States. Although this is contrary to fact, it gives an indication of our national mood.
Americans are going through another bout of "declinism" such as we experienced in the '50s after Sputnik, in the '70s after the oil shock, in the '80s when Japan was declared to be number one. The 1930s were once described as "a low dishonest decade," and we could apply the term to the past ten years. Will the 2010s continue a slide or see a recovery? One bright sign is that polls show a recovery of our soft power in many parts of the world, but much will depend on whether our economy follows suit. The World Economic Forum still ranks us near the top of economic competitiveness (just behind Switzerland), but much will depend on our ability to remain an open and innovative society. I place a countercyclical bet on modest optimism. See me in 2020 to pay or collect. In the meantime, happy new year, and happy new decade.