Unrivaled | Michael Beckley

Summary of: Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs)
By: Michael Beckley


In ‘Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower’, Michael Beckley delves into the notion that the United States will maintain its status as the dominant global power, standing above potential rivals like China. The author examines vital themes, such as national wealth, military capabilities, GDP per capita, human capital, geopolitical issues, balance of power theory, and domestic policies, all while offering a fresh perspective. The introduction will provide an easy-to-understand snapshot of these concepts and set the stage for the informative journey you are about to embark upon.

The Future of US Global Power

In his book, Michael Beckley challenges the belief that China will surpass the US as the world’s most powerful nation. Through astute analysis, Beckley shows that the US will maintain its position as the premier global power due to its wealth and military capabilities. However, Beckley warns that the “America-first” ideology poses a significant risk to both the US’s position and the world order. Beckley’s unique perspective, which is not always predictable, makes for an engaging and enlightening read.

Rethinking GDP as a measure of power

According to Beckley, while Gross Domestic Product (GDP) may determine a nation’s wealth, it fails to account for factors such as welfare, production costs, and security costs. The World Bank and the United Nations measure productivity, human capital, and natural resources to gauge a country’s “net resources,” but to measure overall power, Beckley prefers GDP per capita, which shows the output per person. Beckley acknowledges that China’s GDP is larger than the US’s, but the US is much wealthier, and any wealth China creates goes straight into caring for its vast population.

The United States and China: A Comparison

The United States has a significantly higher human capital than China due to the productivity of American workers. Although the US has the highest incarceration rate globally, it still outperforms China in various aspects. China, on the other hand, has invested significantly in infrastructure, but their investments have not been profitable, and their debt has risen tremendously. China needs to increase its innovation in the tech industry to boost productivity and efficiency, but it may need to outspend the US for years to come to catch up militarily. While China’s military is the world’s largest, it lacks combat experience and faces corruption issues. If left unchecked, China may become the hegemon of East Asia and expand its military power into other regions.

Maintaining US Hegemony

The balance of power theory suggests that weaker states can unite against a great power to bring it down. However, weaker states lack the resources for a sustained challenge to the United States. According to Beckley, weakening US power can only be achieved through internal balancing, external balancing, or soft balancing, which includes diplomacy, economic tools, and cyber warfare. But due to US alliances worldwide, it is unlikely that external balancing will occur. Additionally, few countries are willing to impose economic sanctions on the United States. As a result, none of these approaches appear capable of threatening America’s hegemony.

American Education Woes

The United States boasts favorable trading locations, navigable rivers, and energy independence due to accessible shale oil and natural gas. However, it lags behind other countries’ education systems. American students score lower on international tests, and teacher recruitment and training are not as rigorous. The author warns that without significant improvements in education, the United States may lose its dominance in the global economy. Even though America enjoys low tax revenue and government spending, which favors entrepreneurship, Beckley believes education is key to maintaining America’s competitive edge.

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