“THE greatest nation on earth—the greatest nation on earth—cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. We can’t do it,” fulminated Barack Obama last month. The crisis of the moment, the “sequester” (a package of budget cuts designed to be so ghastly that Congress would pass a better version), duly came into effect on March 1st. Unless Congress agrees on an extension to its budget, the government will start to shut down on March 28th. In May the greatest nation will hit its debt ceiling; unless it is raised, Uncle Sam will soon start defaulting on his bills.
This is the America that China’s leaders laugh at, and the rest of the democratic world despairs of. Its debt is rising, its population is ageing in a budget-threatening way, its schools are mediocre by international standards, its infrastructure rickety, its regulations dense, its tax code byzantine, its immigration system hare-brained—and it has fallen from first position in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings to seventh in just four years. Last year both Mr Obama and his election opponent, Mitt Romney, complained about the American dream slipping away. Today, the country’s main businesses sit on nearly $2 trillion in cash, afraid to invest in part because corporate bosses cannot imagine any of Washington’s feuding partisans fixing anything.