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Another proposed “new grand strategy” for the US

January 16, 2013

Patrick Doherty is the director of the “Smart Strategy Initative” at the New America Foundation, a left leaning US think tank.  Doherty takes to the pages of Foreign Policy this week to lay out his proposal for a new American grand strategy for the 21st century.  Doherty’s grand strategy is really a set of domestic policies dressed up as foreign policy – a grab bag of center-left policy preferences ranging from urban densification to sustainable (read, non-carbon) energy.

Now, the US does need to recognize its role in a changing world and to craft a grand strategy accordingly, and some of Doherty’s more broadly stated goals (e.g., to create a more widely shared global prosperity) are indeed critical to sustaining US hegemony, but I don’t believe that his specifics can get it done.   The key to economic prosperity is using energy to convert raw materials into goods and services.   The more potent and efficient the energy source, the greater the prosperity.  This is called biophysical economics.   Unless there is a completely unforeseen technological revolution, the roster of sustainable energy choices on Doherty’s menu will not be capable of the increased productivity and prosperity that he sees as necessary.  The only two foreseeable technological options are (1) nuclear and (2) enhanced efficiencies in fossil fuels.  I happen to think that the latter, in the form of a methanol economy that captures the CO2 waste product and converts it to an additional energy source is the more logical choice, and that the nation that succeeds in doing so will be the next global leader.

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