The recent mass shooting in Colorado has prompted many observers to claim it is only a symptom of serious problems in American society. The United States has been the strongest and most powerful nation in the last century, a beacon of progress and the good life for the world, but that view is becoming suspect. While predictions have been made before about the decline of America, there is good evidence now that makes the prediction more valid.
Great nations and empires have risen and fallen before. Alfred McCoy, writing in The Nation, contends, “Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.”
What is the evidence for the decline, if there is one? Here are some very convincing facts that come from the United Nations, the OECD, The Legatum Institute, The U.S. National Intelligence Council, Congress, the CIA, business publications and other respected institutions and organizations:
- The U.S. is the number one arms dealer in the world, selling military weapons to a variety of countries.
- The U.S. currently has (depending on the source of information) somewhere between 800 and 1,000 military bases in over 50 countries, and still regards itself as the world’s police force.
- The U.S. has the highest poverty levels of all countries in the OECD.
- The U.S. has the highest levels of income equality of all Western nations and ranks the 42nd worst in the world according the CIA Factbook.
- U.S. adult life expectancy ranks 44th in the world, and worst among all Western nations. In the Legatum study, the U.S. ranks 27th for the health of its citizens; life expectancy is below average compared to 30 advanced countries measured by the OECD and obesity is the highest in the U.S. among all those countries.
- The U.S. ranks 34th of all countries in terms of child mortality.
- The U.S. ranks #1 of all Western countries in terms of violent crime. The U.S. is responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns—and that doesn’t count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000.
- After leading the world for decades in 25-34 year olds with university degrees, the U.S. is now in 12th place. The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52ndamong 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly 50% of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are foreigners, most of whom will be returning to their home countries.
- According te the OECD 15-year-olds in the U.S. rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. The U.S. ranks 12th among developed countries in college graduation, and 79th in elementary-school enrollment.
- The U.S. ranks 23rd in the world in terms of infrastructure, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. The American Society of Civil Engineers prepared a report card on the state of America’s infrastructure-roads, bridges, dams etc. In the latest version the overall “GPA’ for the U.S. was a “D,” and the cost of bringing all systems up to adequacy, (not an “A”) was estimated at $2.2 trillion.
- In 2008, the U.S. had fallen from first to third in global merchandise exports. The U.S. trails Japan for worldwide patent applications, but China will soon bypass both. In 2009, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation reports that the U.S. ranks last among the 49 nations survey when it came to “change” in “global innovation-based competitiveness” in the last decade.
- The Legatum Institute, a London-based research firm publishes an annual “prosperity index” and ranks the U.S. 9th, five notches lower than last year.
- The U.S. ranks 13th in terms of well being according to the United Nations Human Development Index, and ranks 11th in the OECD’s measure of “life satisfaction.
- Ten years ago the U.S. was ranked first in terms of average wealth per adult. In 2010, it fell to 7th
- In 2001 the U.S. ranked 4th in the world in per capita broadband Internet use. Today it ranks 15th.
- The U.S. has lost over 40,000 factories since 2001 and has lost 32% of all its manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.
- Manufacturing employment in the computer industry in the U.S. is at the same level in 2010 that it was in 1975.
- According to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, if the U.S. trade deficit with China continues to increase at is current rate, the U.S. economy will lose over 500,000 jobs in one year; between 2000 and 2009 America’s trade deficit with China increased nearly 300%.
- The Congressional Budget Office is projecting that U.S. government public debt will hit 716% of GDP by the year 2080.
- 25-30 percent of the U.S. federal budget is spent on the military. The cost for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is now creeping up to $10 trillion.
- Fortune magazine’s ranking of the world’s largest companies has only two American firms in the top 10--Wal-Mart at No. 1 and ExxonMobil at No. 3. And there are already three Chinese companies in the top 10.
- In their book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, present data taken from multiple credible sources that show the gap between the poor and rich the greatest in the U.S. among all developed nations; child wellfare being the worst in the U.S. among all developed nations; and levels of trust among people in the U.S. among the worst of all developed nations.
The Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the U.S. Congress’ House Committee on Foreign Affairs stated, after examining the issue of the U.S.’s declining image abroad, “the decline in international approval of U.S. leadership is caused largely by opposition to the invasion of Iraq, U.S. support for dictators, and practices such as torture and rendition. They testified that this opposition is strengthened by the perception that our decisions are made unilaterally and without constraint by international law or standards—and that our rhetoric about democracy and human rights is hypocritical.”
What conclusions should we come to about this information?
In an article in The Nation, Alfred McCoy argues that “the demise of the United States as a global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines,” suggesting it will be complete by 2025. The U.S. National Intelligence Council admitted in 2008 that America’s global power was declining. A Global Trends 2025 report said, “the transfer of global wealth and economic power is under way from West to East,” without precedent. Citing an opinion poll, McCoy reports that in August 2010, 65% of Americans believed the country was “in a state of decline.”
McCoy argues that a big contributor to the U.S.’s decline is militarism; specifically what he calls “micro-militarism,” which has plagued previous empires. These are foreign military adventures, which are not full blown “wars” that end up costing horrendous amounts of money or end in defeats. He says, as “allies worldwide begin to realign their politics to take cognizance of rising Asian powers, the cost of maintain 800 or more overseas military bases will simply become unsustainable, finally forcing a staged withdrawal on a still-unwilling Washington.”
In his book, America’s Engineered Decline, William Norman Grigg, editor of the New American, contends that America’s decline has occurred because it is exhibiting the same characteristics of poverty, crime, and illiteracy and ill health that are found in third world countries. Grigg cites a quote by Mahatma Gandhi who said the roots of conflict and violence within a nation are “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle.”
Gideon Rachman, writing in the prestigious journal, Foreign Policy, comments in the new economic and political order which is witnessing America’s decline: “Britain, France, Italy, even Germany—are slipping down the economic ranks. India, Brazil, Turkey are on the rise. They each have their own foreign-policy preferences which collectively constrain American’s ability to shape the world.” He concludes, “America will never again experience the global dominance it enjoyed in the 17 years between the Soviet Union’s collapses in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008. Those days are over.”
Economists J. Bradford DeLong and Stephen Cohen of the University of California write in their new book, The End of Influence, “it [influence] is gone and it is not likely to return in the foreseeable future...The American standard of living will decline relative to the rest of the industrialized and industrializing world...The United States will lose power and influence.”
James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic magazine, says, “our government is old and broken and dysfunctional and may even be beyond repair....it will make a difference if we improvise and strive to make the best of the path through our time—and our children’s, and their grandchildren’s,” rather than stay on the current path.
Whatever the causes, the decline of America as a dominant world power, with serious internal economic and social issues, has already begun, and is not likely to be reversed, without substantial political, economic and social changes The current situation presents monumental challenges to political and social leaders to create the kind of country and culture that’s desired, a path that is unlikely given the wide divide in perspectives that currently exist.