American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century - Kevin Phillips Oil, religion and debt are fueling our decline. Phillips, a former Republican strategist, doesn’t necessarily cover new ground with his book, but makes compelling arguments for our global position. Published about a year before the housing market crash, the book is prophetic enough to see the undermining of the U.S. economy by such instruments as derivatives and credit default swaps.

Repeatedly, Phillips looks to 15th century Spain, the 17th century Dutch Republic, 19th century British Empire and, of course, Rome to draw historic parallels. American dependence on oil is compared to British reliance on coal and the Dutch innovations with wind. U.S. political maneuvering over the last half-century has subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, sought control of oil supplies to maintain the dominance of the dollar.

Given the increasing radical religious population, the GOP has harnessed the rhetoric of what used to be fringe religious groups. Political leaders supporting increasingly outdated powerbrokers are all too happy to encourage religious radicalism that ultimately results in an obsession on social issues that do not seek to upset the current power structure (abortion, school prayer, etc,). As Phillips aptly states:
The evangelical, fundamentalist, sectarian, and radical threads of American religion are being proclaimed openly and analyzed widely, even though bluntness is frequently muted by a pseudo-tolerance, the polite reluctance to criticize another’s religion. However, given the wider thrust of religion’s claims on public life, this hesitance falls somewhere between unfortunate and dangerous.” pg. 100
The hubris associated with religious zeal, combined with a misguided notion of American exceptionalism, leads down the same path as other once-dominant nations.

Finally, debt remains at the core of the impending implosion. Manufacturing and real services have exported during the financialization of the American economy. Again, similar trends existed in Spain, the Netherlands and Britain. The idea that creating financial instruments, and jobs that are needed for those instruments, can be a real substitute for creation of value is the penultimate economic failure. Such an economy yields massive gains for the few while middle class wages stagnant and decline. Comparisons to more balanced manufacturing and service economies such as Germany, Switzerland and Japan place our production in a dismal light.

There seems little doubt that American dominance is ended. Current political trends do not seem to embrace the need for innovation in alternative energy technologies. Furthermore, the reactionary Tea Party movement focuses more on mere fiscal austerity and dismantling government than changes to encourage manufacturing. Deregulation has led to private tyrannies much more oppressive than our current government. An excellent book which articulates the political forces at play in our decline.