What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline - The Week
"Why did the Ming allow itself to become isolationist, stagnant, and
backward-looking? Historians are divided, but the leading explanation is
what historian Ian Morris calls the "paradox of development," and Mark
Elvin calls the "high-level equilibrium trap." Simply put, when a
country thinks it's in a golden age, it stops focusing on progress.
America shows signs of falling into this trap. We tell ourselves
robotically that we have "the best health-care system in the world,"
when in fact it underperforms most other rich countries. We gape and
gawk when we first travel to Japan or Switzerland and find that all the
trains run perfectly on time — not to mention the fact that there are
trains in the first place. We ignore our sky-high infrastructure costs
and grumble about potholed roads, never pausing to wonder why West
Europe and East Asia don't have these problems. We tell ourselves that
we're the "land of the free," ignoring the fact that in Japan you can
drink a beer in the park without getting arrested. We say that anyone in
America can get rich, ignoring the fact that economic mobility is lower
here than in almost any other rich country."