World to US: You are destroying yourself!

As the world watches the government shutdown and the debt ceiling debate, America's reputation sinks.

capitol dome and bills

It is a common psychological phenomenon that when you are outside your own country, you are inclined to defend your country more than you would at home. I am in Sweden as the U.S. may be on the brink of going over the debt cliff, and I have to say that this nightmare has challenged my own adherence to this phenomenon more than anything else of the many times I have traveled abroad. There's not much I can say to all those outside the United States who are watching this spectacle with amazement and horror other than that I share those reactions.

The 7 a.m. segment of the TV news on one of the three main channels was completely devoted today to America's debt ceiling crisis, featuring an interview with Sweden's Conservative Minister of Finance Anders Borg. "The U.S. economy is in the process of healing itself," he told viewers. "That makes all this even more unnecessary." He added that, even if a temporary stopgap agreement is reached at the last moment, "It is completely unacceptable for the world economy that these crises return every other year."

Borg – and again I note he represents the Swedish Conservative Party – was very clear about what he thought the problem was. "People in the U.S. realize this is serious. There are many responsible people in the U.S. In Sweden, we have Conservatives and Social Democrats on opposite sides. But people have a sense of responsibility for our country. In the U.S., there is an irrational and weird group, and I'm not sure the responsible people can control them."

Americans should pause for a minute and think about how this spectacle looks to anyone outside our country. Some may say they don't care, but in a globalized world, that is madness. Admiration for our culture – the so-called "soft power" of the U.S. – is one source of both our economic strength, because people are attracted to our products, and of our political strength. It's hard to feel admiration when reading today's headlines. We enjoy considerably lower interest rates, and hence a better economy, because of the U.S. dollar's status as a reserve currency and the attractiveness of our government debt. You can be sure that foreigners (the Chinese have said as much) are now actively looking for alternative ways to invest their cash.

The world looks at this, and it makes them think more and more of a declining nation that is eating itself up from within. It's bad enough to shoot yourself in the foot. Here, we seem to be coming closer to shooting ourselves in the heart.

NEXT STORY: Some inconvenient shutdown truths

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