Decline, but Not Inevitable Decline
The U.S. is in deep but not irreversible trouble.


Conrad Black

For decades, I have been a militant anti-declinist in terms of America’s place in the world. The United States is a proud, determined, hard-working, talented, patriotic nation and people, and it is not over-extended in the manner of empires of the past that took over the lands of others and eventually collapsed under the weight of the over-ambitious hegemon. Thus came the twilight of all previous empires, from the Persian to the Russian, including several versions of the Chinese, and even the astounding nautical and commercial empire of Holland, built on the acumen and enterprise in the 17th century of scarcely a million avaricious and seafaring Dutch.


But the United States merely uprooted the native Americans (to make way for imported slaves, initially) and then swamped, thinned, or drove them into Canada before the riptide of settlers moving west. It had no interest in hanging on to Cuba, unfortunately for the Cubans, or the Philippines; President Cleveland was opposed even to accepting Hawaii as a territory; and the acquisition of Alaska by Pres. Andrew Johnson was seen as a “folly” for decades. There is no immutable or irresistible force of history ringing down the curtain on America. Yet the country is in decline. It is not logical and is certainly not irreversible, but that is not entirely relevant, because it is happening anyway.


The half-century from 1939 to 1989 was a golden American strategic age, though the execution deteriorated after the early Sixties. The defeat of the Nazis and Japanese imperialists — with the Russians taking most of the casualties; Germany, France, Italy, and Japan joining the West as flourishing democratic allies; and the Soviets being compensated with rather second-rate and restive strategic acquests — was followed by the containment of Communism, which caused the Soviet Union to implode and encouraged China to become a teeming hive of state capitalism, with no fire exchanged between the major protagonists.


As this was happening, the seeds of future problems were being scattered. The U.S. — dragging, by its magnetic influence, the whole Western world behind it — became a service economy, where comparatively little that was useful was actually produced or done, and a trillion dollars was spent annually in legal fees. Millions of unskilled laborers were allowed to enter the country illegally as millions of low-skilled jobs were outsourced. Trillions were borrowed from China and Japan to buy cheap manufactures from China, luxury goods from Japan and Western Europe, and oil at ever-rising prices and in steadily larger quantities, much of it from the chief sponsors of terrorism. Respected Federal Reserve chairmen and Treasury secretaries put the U.S economy into a power dive, as the annual current-account deficit topped $800 billion, the oil price bracketed $100, gold (the canary in the mineshaft) shot over $1,000, and, in pursuit of increased family homeownership, interest rates were brought and held down, saving eliminated, and trillions of dollars of worthless mortgage-related debt were issued, rated as investment grade, and peddled all over the world in an orgiastic St. Vitus’s Dance.


The great U.S. economy, a stupefying engine of productivity and applied talent, became a mighty Ponzi scheme, as the whole nation, addicted to debt-paid instant gratification, spent the future on consumption and non-durable assets. Except for a few academic flakes, no one — business, government, academia, the financial press — saw what was coming. And so there is no obvious body of vindicated opinion to take over now; it is a terrible and vacuous crisis of leadership. And courage fled, arm-in-arm, with official judgment. The Congress and successive administrations ignored illegal immigration until border-state frictions made it an explosive issue, and have failed to address it seriously since. They ignored abortion, leaving it to the ill-qualified bench to determine when the unborn attain the rights of a person. They ignored income disparity, until the recession stared to shrink the disparity by reducing everyone’s net worth, and they ignore the debt bomb. Annual increases of $750 billion to $1.4 trillion in the money supply stretching forward a decade will destroy the currency and Weimarize America, and there is not a hint of an official preventive response. The Keynesian injection of spending has been shot, in a hare-brained stimulus package designed by cynical Democratic congressional-committee chairmen. The recession is still here, and most tax increases and spending reductions are hazardous to economic growth. No one leads and no one knows.