Saturday, May 8, 2021

What the World Thinks of US



With all the world embattled in pandemic crises, and so much of the United States population lost to Alice in Wonderland tea party thinking, I thought I might be interesting to write about how the world now perceives US to be.

So, I began reading through foreign news articles, hoping to pick up on the pulse of foreign attitudes, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but an opinion piece published a week ago in, Greece’s newspaper of record, Kathimerini.  It succinctly set out the writer’s opinion on the state of the US today.

The article is titled, “A paradigm shift in the making,” and its author, George Pagoulatos, is a professor of European Politics and Economy at the Athens University of Economics and Business, and a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Bruges. He is also the Director General of the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, and sits on the Governing Board of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre. 

 Here is Professor Pagoulatos’ opinion set out in haec verba. It is one I think you’ll find interesting regardless of your political bent.

Every 30 to 40 years, the pendulum that defines the balance between the state and the market will start to swing in one direction or the other, starting in the US. Under President Joe Biden, the US is currently experiencing its largest shift in recent decades toward state intervention.

The New Deal policies of the 1930s shaped much of the modern state in the US (FDIC, SEC, Social Security etc). In 1964-65, Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” led to the last major increase in social programs and funding (Medicare, Medicaid), the cost of which was added to the large budget deficits stemming from a catastrophic war in Vietnam.

In 1980, the reverse process of reducing state intervention began with Ronald Reagan’s “conservative [or neoliberal by European terminology] revolution,” which marked the start of an era of suppressed social and investment spending in the US. From 4% in 1967, taxation on corporate profits as a share of GDP has remained below the OECD average since 1980, and collapsed from 2% to 1% of GDP under Trump.

Interestingly, the biggest shift of the American pendulum toward liberal – in the American sense – policies has been led by an elderly president who has spent his long political life in the moderate center.

This also indicates the pragmatic rather than ideological nature of this shift, in response to the urgent necessities facing America; to defuse the division and polarization and bridge the huge income inequalities of the last four decades; to stimulate with investment areas that are falling into decline and poverty; to reintegrate the radicalized blacks and marginalized, low-educated whites whose social subsidence has left them susceptible to the demagoguery of Trumpism; to allow the US to regain its global leadership role in digital technology, challenged by China’s dynamic advances in artificial intelligence; to return America to a leadership role in the green transformation of the economy, responding to a long-standing demand of its allies; and, finally, to strengthen the health system and protect lower-income groups from the largest pandemic of the last 100 years.

To do all this, Biden has adopted the heaviest spending programs since the days of Lyndon Johnson, with a plan to increase the tax rate for businesses and higher-income groups, bringing them close not to the levels of the 1960s (when the top rate reached 90%), but to modern European levels. In a momentous initiative, as announced by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the US will support the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its efforts to establish a uniform minimum corporate tax rate of 21%.

That would allow the US and European governments to raise revenue from large multinationals, such as digital technology companies, which have exploited global tax competition to the extent that some pay no taxes at all.

These are developments of momentous implications for Europe and for Greece. The US is converging toward a “European” model of public spending and progressive taxation. For Greece, in particular, whose level of public debt precludes the possibility of a radical reduction in tax rates, the Biden initiative to establish an international minimum corporate tax rate could reduce the competitive pressure from countries with very low tax rates.

The European Union’s efforts to coordinate taxation weakens the negotiating position of tax havens such as Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and countries in Eastern Europe. It also puts pressure on Europe to implement a still more generous public investment program in the wake of its major recovery package, which now pales in comparison with Biden’s 2.8 trillion USD (to which another 2.2 trillion USD for the next eight years should be added).

An exciting footnote of this historical shift is the story of a grassroots movement launched by a courageous African-American woman. When Stacey Abrams lost the gubernatorial elections in Georgia, she started a massive door-to-door campaign to mobilize thousands of black voters to register to vote. Georgia is a conservative white state with a high concentration of blacks in Atlanta.

The great mobilization of black voters allowed Georgia to replace its two Republicans with two Democratic senators in the November 2020 elections, one of them African American. Thanks to them, the Democrats leveled out the Senate (50–50), giving Vice President Kamala Harris the casting vote. Without this narrow majority, President Biden would have been unable to get anything meaningful through Congress.

Of course, it is too early for statements of account. The overall impact of Biden’s initiatives on the economy remains to be seen. But if anyone tells you citizens’ votes don’t count, tell them about Georgia.


PS.  A Big Happy Birthday to my Beautiful Granddaughter Gavi.


  1. Happy birthday, Gavi! But I still fear for your future. While Biden and the Democrats have knocked the pendulum back a bit, it's still uncertain which way it's going to finish its swing, and what price our society is going to have to pay, in the end, before our country becomes less divisive. For your sake, I hope for a positive and progressive outcome.

    1. On behalf of Gavi, and all the children of our world, I thank you for that wished hope, EvKa.

  2. Interesting, Bro. Insightful. Revealing. But I wouldn’t call it “How the World Sees Us.” It is after all, one white European’s opinion. As I said, insightful. The kids who are showing up at our Southern border, looking for safety from chaos and violence, have a totally different point of view. There are millions of opinions out there.

    1. Hm, Sis (and Michael), perhaps I should have highlighted this part of my intro in bold, "It succinctly set out the writer’s opinion on the state of the US today...It is one I think you’ll find interesting regardless of your political bent."

      By the way, I think you're way off on the number of opinions out there. A million different opinions can be found just in Manhattan

  3. Quite true, Annamaria. From a South African perspective - and I'd guess most of the rest of the world - there's a huge collective sigh of relief about the new administration. It's not a question of its policies. Everyone accepts that policies change and perspectives evolve. It's the feeling that we are back to an administration that can be trusted to do what it says, is open to argument and negotiation, and will take the lead on big international issues.
    I guess the rest of the world got used to that sort of leadership since the second world war. That's why the last four years was such a shock. The hope is that it was just an outlier.

    1. Michael, I think anxieties will only build the closer we get to the 2022 midterm elections, and should they go as they historically do, the world will be holding its breath for what comes in 2024.

  4. This one man's outlook caused me to reflect on the many layers of world opinion that exist about the state of the US. The change in the head of our government and control of our federal legislature, the pressures that outside forces bring to bear as from China and Russia, the changes wrought by the pandemic in import/export, tourism, and employment, our continuing immigration issues, and more, all resonate with people in different ways depending on their individual positions in the world.
    It's interesting to reflect on these issues, but we can really only try to affect our own little corner of the world and be good ambassadors for the US. Much of the past four years has undermined our standing in the world, and I believe we have a lot to repair.

    1. Dave, I'd change your last sentence only in so far as to modify "the past four years" to read "the past four years and first six days of January 2021...."

  5. Yes. I agree with a lot of this, including a big Happy Birthday to your granddaughter, Gavi, who already looks like she will make a mark in this world.
    I'm glad you added the first six days of January. What happened in the Capitol on Jan. 6 shocked most people here and many globally. Those groups are not going away. This is one case where I believe in long prison terms for all perpetrators.
    But I do think one current issue is harming views of the U.S. and EU countries: not sharing the Covid vaccines, raw materials and waiving the patents to all poorer countries. Let's see what happens, but I hope enough pressure is mounted to force it. Right now it's estimated poor countries won't have their populations vaccinated until 2024. Biden has to make good on his pledges, which he did make until much pressure was mounted. Making sure life improves for millions here, especially those still without jobs, health care, food, housing from the pandemic is crucial; so it aiding poorer countries.