Mandelbaum ‘5 (Michael, Professor and Director of the American Foreign Policy Program at Johns Hopkins, The Case for Goliath: How America Acts As the World’s Government in the Twenty-First Century, p. 192-195)
Although the spread of nuclear weapons, with the corresponding increase in the likelihood that a nuclear shot would be fired in anger somewhere in the world, counted as the most serious potential consequence of the abandonment by the United States of its role as the world's government, it was not the only one. In the previous period of American international reticence, the 1920s and 1930s, the global economy suffered serious damage that a more active American role might have mitigated. A twenty-first-century American retreat could have similarly adverse international economic consequences. The economic collapse of the 1930s caused extensive hardship throughout the world and led indirectly to World War II by paving the way for the people who started it to gain power in Germany and Japan. In retrospect, the Great Depression is widely believed to have been caused by a series of errors in public policy that made an economic downturn far worse than it would have been had governments responded to it in appropriate fashion. Since the 1930s, acting on the lessons drawn from that experience by professional economists, governments have taken steps that have helped to prevent a recurrence of the disasters of that decade.' In the face of reduced demand, for example, governments have increased rather than cut spending. Fiscal and monetary crises have evoked rescue efforts rather than a studied indifference based on the assumption that market forces will readily reestablish a desirable economic equilibrium. In contrast to the widespread practice of the 1930s, political authorities now understand that putting up barriers to imports in an attempt to revive domestic production will in fact worsen economic conditions everywhere. Still, a serious, prolonged failure of the international economy, inflicting the kind of hardship the world experienced in the 1930s (which some Asian countries also suffered as a result of their fiscal crises in the 1990s) does not lie beyond the realm of possibility. Market economies remain subject to cyclical downturns, which public policy can limit but has not found a way to eliminate entirely. Markets also have an inherent tendency to form bubbles, excessive values for particular assets, whether seventeenth century Dutch tulips or twentieth century Japanese real estate and Thai currency, that cause economic harm when the bubble bursts and prices plunge. In responding to these events, governments can make errors. They can act too slowly, or fail to implement the proper policies, or implement improper ones. Moreover, the global economy and the national economies that comprise it, like a living organism, change constantly and sometimes rapidly: Capital flows across sovereign borders, for instance, far more rapidly and in much greater volume in the early twenty-first century than ever before. This means that measures that successfully address economic malfunctions at one time may have less effect at another, just as medical science must cope with the appearance of new strains of influenza against which existing vaccines are not effective. Most importantly, since the Great Depression, an active American international economic role has been crucial both in fortifying the conditions for global economic well-being and in coping with the problems that have occurred, especially periodic recessions and currency crises, by applying the lessons of the past. The absence of such a role could weaken those conditions and aggravate those problems. The overall American role in the world since World War II therefore has something in common with the theme of the Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life, in which the angel Clarence, played by Henry Travers, shows James Stewart, playing the bank clerk George Bailey, who believes his existence to have been worthless, how life in his small town of Bedford Falls would have unfolded had he never been born. George Bailey learns that people he knows and loves turn out to be far worse off without him. So it is with the United States and its role as the world's government. Without that role, the world very likely would have been in the past, and would become in the future, a less secure and less prosperous place. The abdication by the United States of some or all of the responsibilities for international security that it had come to bear in the first decade of the twenty-first century would deprive the international system of one of its principal safety features, which keeps countries from smashing into each other, as they are historically prone to do. In this sense, a world without America would be the equivalent of a freeway full of cars without brakes. Similarly, should the American government abandon some or all of the ways in which it had, at the dawn of the new century, come to support global economic activity, the world economy would function less effectively and might even suffer a severe and costly breakdown. A world without the United States would in this way resemble a fleet of cars without gasoline.