American decline is a term used by various analysts to describe the diminishing power of the United States geopolitically, militarily, financially, economically, in health and the environment. There has been a debate between declinists, those who believe America is in decline, and exceptionalists, those who feel America is special.
Some analysts say that the U.S. was in decline long before Donald Trump ran for presidency; becoming the first presidential candidate to promote the idea that the U.S. was in decline. While others suggest the decline either stems from or has accelerated with Trump's foreign policy and the "country’s ongoing withdrawal from the global arena." According to Noam Chomsky, America’s decline started at the end of WWII, dismissing the "remarkable rhetoric of the several years of triumphalism in the 1990s" as "mostly self-delusion".
Gallup's pollsters recently reported that worldwide approval of U.S. leadership has plunged from 48% in 2016 to a record low of 30% in 2018, in part due to the increasingly isolationist stances of Donald Trump. This drop places the U.S. a notch below China's 31% and leaving Germany as the most popular power with an approval of 41%. Michael Hudson describes financial pillar as paramount, resulting from bank-created money with compound interest and the inbuilt refusal to forgive debts as the fatal flaw.
Comparison with earlier states
Many of America's "leading" commentators, since more than half a century, have consistently described the U.S. as "a weak, "bred out" basket case that will fall to stronger rivals as inevitably as Rome fell to the barbarians, or France to Henry V at Agincourt."
Michael Hudson points to debt forgiveness being necessary when individuals' debts to the state are too large. Rome put an end to this practice, whereas earlier empires (Assyrian) survived through periodic debt forgiveness, this practice ended with the Roman empire, resulting in impoverishment and dispossession of farmers, creating a growing lumpen proletariat. The same process contributed to the collapse of the British empire and continues today, with periodic financial crises (1930s, 2008) which are only relieved by government bailouts and/or war. Hudson adds that every time history repeats itself, the price goes up. I.e., the U.S. is being destroyed by bank debt with no forgiveness mechanism, making collapse inevitable.
The Roman Empire, Byzantium, the Tatar/Mongol Golden Horde, and the Ottoman Sublime Porte all provided two essential services—unhindered trade and security—in exchange for some amount of constant rapine and plunder and a few memorable incidents of genocide. The Tatar/Mongol Empire was by far the most streamlined: it simply demanded “yarlyk”—tribute—and smashed anyone who attempted to rise above a level at which they were easy to smash."
According to Dmitri Orlov, the American empire is "a bit more nuanced: it uses the US dollar as a weapon for periodically expropriating savings from around the world by exporting inflation while annihilating anyone who tries to wiggle out from under the US dollar system."
There were 38 large and medium-sized American facilities spread around the globe in 2005—mostly air and naval bases—approximately the same number as Britain's 36 naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial zenith in 1898. The Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required 37 major bases to police its realm from Britannia to Egypt, from Hispania to Armenia. Yale historian Paul Kennedy compares the U.S. situation to Great Britain's prior to World War I. He comments that the map of U.S. bases is similar to Great Britain's before World War I.
Kennedy argues that “British financial strength was the single most decisive factor in its victories over France during the 18th century. This chapter ends on the Napoleonic Wars and the fusion of British financial strength with a newfound industrial strength.” As the U.S. dollar loses its role as world currency, it will not be able to continue to have trade deficits to finance its military expenditures.
According to Richard Lachmann U.S. would last much longer if it, like Britain, could restrict particular families or elite control over offices and governmental powers.
Dmitry Orlov argues that the US is now in a rapid decline, "retracing the trajectory of the Soviet Union in the early 1980s toward national bankruptcy and political dissolution". Orlov argues that U.S. is bedeviled by "runaway debt, a shrinking economy, and environmental catastrophes to rival Chernobyl". He believes that there are some parallels with the U.S.: outsized military spending, growing international debts and trade deficits, unwieldy governments, rigid ideology, ecological crisis, resource decline.
U.S. hegemony has always been supported by three pillars: "economic strength, military might, and the soft power of cultural dominance."
Kennedy argues that continued deficit spending, especially on military build-up, is the single most important reason for decline of any great power. The costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now estimated to run as high as $4.4 trillion, which Kennedy deems a major victory for Osama bin Laden, whose announced goal was to bankrupt America by drawing it into a trap. By 2011 the U.S. military budget — almost matching that of the rest of the world combined — was higher in real terms than at any time since WWII.
According to a 98-page report by National Defense Strategy Commission, "America's longstanding military advantages have diminished", and "The country's strategic margin for error has become distressingly small. Doubts about America's ability to deter and, if necessary, defeat opponents and honor its global commitments have proliferated." The report cited "political dysfunction" and "budget caps" as factors restraining the government from keeping pace with threats in what the report described as "a crisis of national security." The report wrote that, to neutralize American strength, China and Russia were trying to achieve "regional hegemony" and were developing "aggressive military buildups". In 2018, air Force General Frank Gorenc said that the United States airpower advantage over Russia and China was shrinking. According to Forbes, the military's decline began when defense secretary Dick Cheney stopped a hundred major weapons programs 25 years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed.
American culture is in decline, according to Allan Bloom, E. D. Hirsch and Russel Jacoby. Samuel P. Huntington also believes that the American culture and politics had been in a constant decline since the late 1950s, coming in several distinct waves, namely in reaction to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik; to the Vietnam War; to the oil shock of 1973; to Soviet aggression in the late 1970s; and to the general unease that accompanied the end of the Cold War. The rise of postmodernism since WWII has contributed to the decline of American culture, according to Goldfrab. Bloom observes that "instead of the pursuit of truth, there is an adolescent certainty that all is uncertain." He criticizes his students for their relativism, narcissism and the decadence of love and friendship, pointing to such cultural icons as Mick Jagger, who portrays himself as a nihilistic rebel, both hetero and homosexual, embracing drugs and "the rock ideal of universal classless society founded on love." Because youth bond with such decadent anti-heroes, they miss embracing the positive heroes of the past, never achieving a deep love for culture.
William J. Bennett argues that America’s cultural decline is signaling "a shift in the public’s attitudes and beliefs". The rate of maternal mortality has more than doubled in the U.S. since the late 1980s in stark contrast to other developed nations. According to the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, published in 1993, statistically portraiting the moral, social and behavioral conditions of modern American society, often described as 'values', America’s cultural condition was in decline with respect to the situations of 30 years ago, 1963. The index showed that there has been an increase in violent crime by more than 6 times , illegitimate births by more than 5 times, the divorce rate by 5 times, the percentage of children living in single-parent homes by four times, and the teenage suicide rate by three times during the 30-year period. By 2015, around half of American children were born to an unmarried mother.
According to Kenneth Weisbrode, though statistics point to American decline (increased death rate, political paralysis, increased crime), "Americans have had a low culture for a very long time, and have long promoted it". He thinks that the obsession with decline is not something new, as something dating back to the Puritans. "Cultural decline, in other words, is as American as apple pie," Weisbrode argues. Weisbrode likens pre-revolutionary France and present-day America for their vulgarity, which he argues is "an almost natural extension or outcome of all that is civilized: a glorification of ego."
By 1970 U.S. share of world production had fallen from 40% to 25%, While economist Jeffrey Sachs observed the US share of world income was 24.6% in 1980 falling to 19.1% in 2011. The ratio of average CEO earnings to average workers’ pay in U.S. went from 24:1 in 1965 to 262:1 in 2005. A survey carried out by Pew Research Center shows that a majority of American predicted the U.S. economy to be weaker in 2050. Also, the survey says, a majority of the people thought the U.S. would be "a country with a burgeoning national debt, a wider gap between the rich and the poor and a workforce threatened by automation."
Most right wingers and some centrists believe that the American fiscal crisis stems from the rising expenditures on social programs or alternatively from the increases in military spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, both of which would lead to decline. However, Richard Lachmann argues that If none of military or overall spending are pressuring the U.S. economy, they would not contribute to U.S. decline. Lachmann describes the real problem as "the misallocation of government revenue and expenditure, resulting in resources being diverted from the tasks vital to maintain economic or geo-political dominance." Kennedy argues that as military expenses grow, this reduces investments in economic growth, which eventually "leads to the downward spiral of slower growth, heavier taxes, deepening domestic splits over spending priorities, and weakening capacity to bear the burdens of defense."
The U.S. placed 35th in a 2019 ranking of countries on health, vs Canada's 16th-place. "Life expectancy in the U.S. has been trending lower due to deaths from drug overdoses and suicides."
- American imperialism
- The Decline of the West
- Managed decline
- Political stagnation
- State collapse
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