A Philosopher's Blog

Is America’s Decline Inevitable?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 27, 2009

The recent economic disaster has raised the old questions about the fall of empires. Now, the questions are being asked about the United States. While the rise of China, India and other countries has left the US in a relatively less elevated position, we have actually be losing ground by declining. Signs of this include the obvious: a weaker economy, talk of moving away from the dollar as the world’s currency, less political clout and so on. Signs also include the less obvious: less brain drain from other countries to the US, less innovation in science and technology, and so on.

One reason for the decline of the US is that the US reached its height in the ruins of WWII. The other great industrial nations were in ruins or were at least badly damaged by the war. While the Soviets did present a challenge, they were (as history showed) burning bright by burning far too hot. The US, whose lands were not directly touched by war, was in a position to become a true superpower.

Now the world has recovered from WWII and the US is thus losing relative ground. Also, former empires such as China and India are reclaiming their former glory and power, thus returning to the world stage in force. These other countries are spending considerable resources on the future: education, research, energy and so forth.

Naturally, some folks might think that the signs are in place: the United States reached its peak and is now in a slow (or not so slow) fall.  It is quite reasonable to suspect that the US must fall. After all, all other empires have fallen and thus empires seem to be analogous to living things: they are born, reach their maturity and then perish.

Of course, while the history is accurate, the analogy is flawed. Living creatures do perish because they cannot replace their mortal flesh. But, an empire need never fall in this manner. Provided it can keep restoring its vigor and the basis for its success, it could be effectively immortal. The challenge is, of course, to pull of this seemingly imposisble task. Of course, it is not actually impossible-just rather difficult.

Even if the United States does decline, it need not become irrelevant nor need it stay down forever. After all, China was once a great empire that fell into a great decline. But China is on the rise and is a great nation once again. Interestlingly, China was rather easily defeated by the Japanese just a few decades ago. But now China is a giant looming over Japan. This, of course, may not last-as an empire rises again it can easily slide down the wheel of history and end up back on the ground.

Whether the United States declines or not is largely up to us. One factor that seems to be driving our decline now is the rot and corruption within our economic and political systems. Perhaps this will be the cancer that brings about our end, or perhaps it is but one disease among many infecting the political body.

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32 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on November 27, 2009 at 9:30 am

    To me, the perfect symbol of what has gone wrong with America is seeing Chelsea Clinton go to work for a hedge fund. She is rich, has the world at her feet, and all she can thing of doing with her life is to get even richer.

    • kernunos said, on November 27, 2009 at 1:32 pm

      70% of millionaires in the US started out in the middle class or lower. I think that symbolizes what is great about the US.

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 27, 2009 at 1:47 pm

        This is Peggy Noonan in 2005, long before the economy tanked:

        Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they’re living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they’re going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley’s off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.

        I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, “I got mine, you get yours.”

        http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110007460

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 28, 2009 at 1:26 pm

          This is a classic problem. Kant addresses this in his discussion of ethics in one his cases: a man is doing well and though he does no harm to others, he will not lift a finger to help anyone else. Kant, naturally enough, thinks this would be wrong. Of course, the idea of what we owe to others was raised long before Kant: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

          • PhilK said, on November 28, 2009 at 5:13 pm

            . . .which bears some relationship to the subject of “the general welfare”. . .

      • kernunos said, on November 27, 2009 at 6:31 pm

        I think she has one thing right. the elites are our politicians. That is the true nobility that works off of the backs of the peasants.

      • magus71 said, on November 30, 2009 at 2:44 am

        Peggy Noonan is a grasshopper, from the story of the grasshopper and the ant. Many of the people in New Orleans were grasshoppers, too, when Katrina hit.

        In America, you can be a grasshopper, because there are so many ants.

        Did you know that in any disaster, approximately 10% of the people moved into emergency housing will have to be forcibly removed from tha housing? Why? Becuase there’s a certain type of person that’s totally willing to sit on their ass and do nothing.

        In other words: Grasshoppers.

        “Where’s the gub’mint!! George Bush hates black people!!”

  2. magus71 said, on November 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Ok. Please, please, please–let’s put the China is/will be great thing to rest. They’ve been trumpeted since the 70s–and they’re not great. They’re economy is still about one fifth that ofthe US’. As of 2003, its economy was about as big as Claifornia’s Many of its citizens are poor farmers with no access to technology. The government is riddled with corruption, and no nation that squashes freedom could be as powerful as America.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8363000/8363789.stm

    http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/10/29/is_china_a_new_ideological_superpower_dont_bet_on_it

    China must still resort to stealing most of its military advances from others. It doesn’t do much creating.

    Myth. Myth. Myth.

    Ok–done with that rant and on to another.

    The West as a whole is committing a slow cultural suicide, but believe it or not, America is killing itself more slowly than Europe. We’re killing ourselves by trying to copy inferior versions of ourselves–Germany, France and England. The President can have little effect on the economy–except to do it harm, and this one’s done more than his fair share in only a year. Bravo.

    Nothing’s inevitable. So, first I must state that the rumors of America’s demise are greatly exagerrated, and that only we can make ourselves decline at this point.

    I ask this: Is it the Leftist agenda that made America great in the first place? Or was it as Machiavelli pointed out: A great application of force and prudence?

    I encourage people to read The Suicide of the West.

    http://www.amazon.com/Suicide-West-Richard-Koch/dp/0826497616/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1259340029&sr=1-2

    This little book greatly influenced my thoughts on the matter.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 27, 2009 at 1:39 pm

      While I am not a China scholar, I have this vague inclination to suspect that the myth of China is on par with the myth of the USSR. That is, China is far less than what people claim it is. This is not to say that China isn’t a major player.

      I don’t think it is cultural suicide that is bringing us down-or at least it is not the primary factor. One key factor is the economic system that is based on the delusion of wealth (magic math money). Another key factor is the decline in innovation. A third factor is that we are falling into the classic imperialist pattern of overreach. We should have learned more from the British.

      • kernunos said, on November 27, 2009 at 6:35 pm

        I think you are so wrong of the economic system Mike. At least as far as the system itself is concerned. At how much people can manipulate it based on the Cloward-Piven strategy, well that is another subject entirely. I do agree that our money should be based on a gold standard but it was Progressives that changed that also. The system is great. It is fine and stable until people start manipulating the rules and regulations.

      • kernunos said, on November 27, 2009 at 6:36 pm

        I’m curious as to what economic system you think would be better? Please do tell.

      • kernunos said, on November 27, 2009 at 6:37 pm

        If Capitalism is being undermined then so will innovation. Can you see that the greatness in our country has the two so intertwined. Am I supposed to invent something just because I will be honored by the state? How did that work for Russia?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 28, 2009 at 1:31 pm

          Based on my own experience, many innovations in the US are developed by underpaid grad students and underpaid workers. Much of the great engine of innovation is built, as you might say, on the backs of the peasants.

          • magus71 said, on November 30, 2009 at 2:32 am

            That’s a terribly cynical view.

            Few people who are trying to be creative or innovative think like that. For instance, no matter how fine of an analyst I am, I ge paid the same. Perhaps I should sit at my desk, and as I’m writing a brilliant intelligence analysis on Iran’s nuclear intentions, stop my writing and consider: “No–I don’t get paid t do a Warrant Officer’s work. I’m not going to write this great piece because I’m worth more than what I’m geting.”

            No–the system requires that I prove myself–then it rewards me. Not the other way around. So yes–let the grad students innovate. Obviously they have some kind of motivation. The rewards will come.

            Who are these underpaid workers with all the innovations? Are they coming up with better ways to flip burgers?

            America holds 50% of all the world’s Nobel Prizes. 80% of all patents are applied for in the US.

            We’re doing well, despite Marxian cynicism.

            It’s funny that when we apply Marx’ “maxim” of:
            “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, we find that no one has any abilities any more.

            “I need me my gub’mint check!”

            • kernunos said, on November 30, 2009 at 3:16 am

              I can see all of the people rushing out to slave away at 8-12 years of scooling to become a brain surgeon when they can make just as much bagging groceries.

            • kernunos said, on November 30, 2009 at 3:17 am

              schooling that is. Damn cold fingers!

          • kernunos said, on November 30, 2009 at 3:14 am

            You have experienced many of the great innovations in the country taking place?

      • kernunos said, on November 27, 2009 at 6:39 pm

        “A third factor is that we are falling into the classic imperialist pattern of overreach. We should have learned more from the British.”

        I guess Obama and his administration should have done some more reading then. They are about to reach into my pants pockets all the way to my ‘taint’.

      • magus71 said, on November 28, 2009 at 1:41 am

        Britain’s overreach was made worse by problems we don’t have: A lack of man power and industrial might.

        I just don’t see our decline except that we keep telling orselves that we’re declining–and thus acting like we’re declining.

      • kernunos said, on November 28, 2009 at 11:55 am

        Very interesting Magus which reminds me that King George tried to use our labor for the Brittish Empire because of the reason you gave. Now that we have regulated and taxed our businesses into oblivion we are throwing that resource away. While we have the best labor force in the world we choose not to use it and get our products and services elsewhere.

  3. magus71 said, on November 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Last comment is awaiting moderation…

    • kernunos said, on November 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm

      It must have had the word ‘pantaloon’ in it or the praise of George Bush. Those are the only two things I get moderated for. :)

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 27, 2009 at 1:39 pm

      Released into the wild.

  4. kernunos said, on November 27, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Liberals at the wheel with the economy and we will end up in some third world ditch.

  5. Arnab Das said, on November 28, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    I am from India and as you would expect I do have a firm belief that India will resurface as a world leader in the not so distant future,

    But here’s the thing. China, although is apparently a communist state, has long given up its communist values. What we see in China is pure capitalism. Also, the fact is, China is really not an ideal democracy. There are often reports in the news about the Chinese govt. suppressing/crushing opposition movements and all. The media in China is totally and completely govt controlled. Frankly speaking although these may be ideal conditions for unhampered growth, these arent ideal conditions for holistic development of the country. And under these fragile conditions, one really cant count China as a stable superpower.

    India on the other hand, has its issues as well. Here corruption is rampant (although things are starting to change, its still far from perfection). The governments in India are formed by coalition of various political parties and not a single party. As a result, coming to a consensus on controversial issues is almost an impossibility. As for the brain drain, it has indeed decreased. Students here are more inclined to look for job opportunities in their home country than seeking for an opportunity to settle down in the US.

    Finally coming to the present superpower the US. Well lets face it, the US has been a huge example of strength and character for than half a century now. Although its ‘decline’ seems inevitable considering the fact that it was the country which was hit the worst by the economic crisis, I doubt if the US would ever lose relevance in the world scene.

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 28, 2009 at 4:05 pm

      I frankly see a strong India-U.S. alliance in the cards.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 30, 2009 at 3:25 pm

        Could be. We have a lot in common, plus strong personal ties between Americans and Indians might be enough to build towards an alliance. Also, they seem to be getting beyond the third world view they used to cultivate as a political tool.

  6. magus71 said, on November 29, 2009 at 2:33 am

    As TJ says, a strong India;/US relationship isnot only likely, but a good thing for the world–especially since we’re two of the only countries that seem to acknowledge extreme Islam as a real problem.

    But yes, India has problems much like that of China.

    There’s a leftist agenda against capitalism that will always boggle my mind. The gleeful snickering at our economy’s suffering was akin to the hatred for George Bush–like someone who enjoys taking a hammer to their own fingers.

    Dumb.

  7. Guest said, on January 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    America’s decline is inevitable. Most of the engineering works are currently done by chinese and indians. The whole family system of America is on the brink of extinction, thanks to the feminist policies.No measures taken by government can compensate for lack of moral and ethical values.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 9, 2010 at 6:18 pm

      But, we might be able to save ourselves.

      • magus71 said, on January 10, 2010 at 2:24 am

        We can’t because thse in power are spineless careerists.

        If you’re gonna be a careerist, at least have some balls.

  8. Ron said, on October 31, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Corruption in politics and in Wall Street is our only problems. Signing treaties to send our industry overseas for some cash reward for the politician and cheap labor for the manufacturer is our financial problem.
    Letting the liars on Wall Street and MSNBC and others operate without liability: Example they keep pushing stocks when 3148 to 1 insiders are selling. Have you heard that from any financial pun dent.
    We have not practiced true capitalism here for 50 years, and we let a private corporation make monetary policy for us.
    If these things continue to happen for another year or two we will not recover for generations.


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