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America Confounds Declinists…Again


George Mitchell was the son of a poor Greek goatherd who worked his way through college, graduated top of his class, and became known for his determination and vision. The Economist describes him as the father of fracking:

He did not discover shale gas and oil: geological surveys had revealed them decades before he started. He did not even invent fracking: it had been in use since the 1940s…. His greatness lay in a combination of vision and grit: he was convinced that technology could unlock the vast reserves of energy in the Barnett Shale beneath Dallas and Fort Worth, and he kept grappling with the unforgiving rock until it eventually surrendered its riches….

He left a fortune of more than $2 billion and a Texas landscape studded with examples of his philanthropy.

Mitchell, who died last month, “was a one-man refutation of the declinist hypothesis,” reads the Schumpeter column in this week’s Economist. He poked holes in the dry Texas land and over decades developed the technology that is transforming America’s energy landscape, and the world’s. Soon the US will be a net gas exporter. Influential petro-states like Saudi Arabia and Russia are finding their influence wane as cheap American natural gas draws in their former customers. Mitchell, an environmentalist as well as oil engineer, developed fracking and horizontal drilling techniques that helped reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions to a twenty-year low last year.

The declinists are fond of saying that the US, with its labyrinthine and inefficient government, its weak economy, struggling education system, and high unemployment, is destined for decline and that China will soon blow by on its way to becoming the world’s foremost superpower. But the declinists underestimate China’s problems and underestimate Americans’ capacity for reinvention and innovation. “No other country produces as many world-changing new companies in such a variety of industries: not just in the new economy of computers and the internet but also in the old economy of shopping, manufacturing and energy,” notes the Economist, which itself never seemed to put much stock in the declinist theory. “The pessimists are ignoring a mighty force pushing in the opposite direction: America’s extraordinary capacity to reinvent itself.”

[Oil rig image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Anthony

    Inclusive economic and political institutions undergird “America’s extraordinary capacity to reinvent itself.” George Mitchell’s life and innovative success exemplify virtuous circle. Institutional socio-economic patterns WRM provide basis to confound declinist (if they sincerely exist).

  • Nick M.

    “Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” -Dylan Thomas

    Which seems to be the essential US response to the Declinists.

  • Bruce

    The declinists can’t figure out how you get around a $17 trillion debt that is really $100 trillion when you count unfunded SS and Medicare liabilities. The declinists can’t figure out how you keep an economy vibrant when a private national bank with a history of horrible predictions is deciding how much un-backed money should be printed. At some point the debt and money printing changes everything – happy talk or no happy talk.

    • cubanbob

      To be blunt about it Medicare and Social Security obligations are not contractually real. Legally you have no property rights-contractual rights-to them. Hence in a legal sense they are not real obligations. This isn’t my opinion, its the opinion of the Supreme Court in Nestor.

      • Bruce

        Do you see the politicians have the courage to curtail them? Therefore, are you suggesting our debt problem is not severe? Severe enough to cause “decline?”

        • cubanbob

          In a word, yes. It’s called means-tested. That is how they will do it along with changing the COLA formula and the retirement age. By the way, do you see Congress rushing out to bail the Detroit pensioners? Canary in the coal mine indeed.

  • BrianFrankie

    Farewell to a true American entrepreneurial hero! Rest in peace, George Mitchell.
    One of the favourite books that left wing ideologues love to denigrate is Atlas Shrugged. Yet, every I meet or read about people like George Mitchell, a real life Ellis Wyatt, I am reminded about the uncanny parallels of that piece of fiction to the real world. One doesn’t have to be a Objectivist philosopher to understand that certain truths were described very well, and more people would do well to read and understand rather than disparage.

  • ljgude

    We have been too fat and happy too long – particularly our political and financial elites, but there is still that dangerous ability to reinvent ourselves. The declinists suffer from the Malthusian fallacy – that current conditions and trends will continue – and that is almost never the case. Things can get dramatically worse too – but they are almost always different than the self satisfied prophets of doom say they are. For example, Boron based Bussard Fusion, which is being quietly advanced somewhere in a desert out west could entirely change the world as we know it. Or not. It may never happen, but something else might. And it is Americans like Mitchell who, when they stand at a key nexus of opportunity and possibility, actually make things happen that otherwise might not.

  • erp617

    I guess he wasn’t the toady of the left as was his name sake in government.

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