Sinking ships? Liberal theorists on the American economy
In the Asia-Pacific region, the conditions and consequences of East Asian success have understandably attracted more attention than the causes and implications of North American failure. In the American case, any failure must be relative when the US remains a bloc-sized market and the only surviving superpower. Thus, for Asians the US figures economically as an export opportunity and socially, for puritans like Lee Kuan Yew, as a warning about decadence. The discussion among Americans is altogether more interesting. This article analyses the debate about national competitiveness among American liberal democrats like Magaziner, Reich, Tyson and Krugman and looks behind the differences of position that separate these protagonists, with two conclusions. First, as the old 1980s problem of national uncompetitiveness is jettisoned in the 1990s; all the liberals now agree that Americans are no longer in the same boat, that while some are becoming increasingly successful, others are sinking fast. Second; the protagonists have moved from an industrial policy fix in the 1980s to an end of policy era in the 1990s where the question for American liberals is whether and how the political system can absorb the stresses created by increasing inequality.