Is The American Empire In Decline?

I suppose people who think (or hope) that it is will find ways to manipulate facts to prove this position. Conversely, people who believe (and hope) that it isn't will base their arguments similarly.

All I can say here is:

Be careful what you wish for.

Personally, I do not wish to see America falter.

I think people are failing to see the big picture. There seems to be a hint of belief that if America falls then the world will magically heal and get better. Its premise is based on the notion that the world is in bad shape because of American power.

If this is what is indeed believed, then I fear people are myopic and senseless.


  1. I wonder what prompted you to ask this question now? (Big Business is always, always myopic and senseless.)


  2. It's a question that periodically comes up every now and then.

    Wasn't thinking about big business but now that you mention it...

    I was thinking about it in its totality.

  3. Anonymous6/29/2008

    Personally I do not wish to see America falter neither, but this (well, at least economic) decline is likely in my view, whether we like it or not. American decline is a topic discussed - as your post also suggets - by many analysts, included American journalists etc.

    For example, as I wrote somewhere in my blog, the influential American columnist Fareed Zakaria (Newsweek, Feb 4 2008) thus argues:

    "Power is moving away from the traditional centres of the global economy – the Western nations – to the emerging markets. To put it more bluntly: the United States is in the beginning of a period of relative decline. It may not be steep or dramatic, but the fact that it’s happening is clear....This is not defeatism. It is math."

    Hope this will not upset you. As a consolation, also Europe will decline, I guess.


  4. Anonymous6/29/2008

    I do not think the world is in bad shape because of American power.
    As a European I sometimes though feel that American influence on culture (movies etc.) is sometimes lacking depth, being too concentrated on making money....

  5. Coming from Zakaria, I believe a neo-con scholar, that's big. He also considers anti-Americanism dangerous and destructive.

    Since many are fond of using Rome as an example, its empire/Republic lasted 1000 years.

    America is 232. Surely America has more gas left in the tank?

    Is this a fair comment? With your excellent grasp of such things, to say nothing of Roma, what are your thoughts on comparing the two?

  6. I am not as well-versed to discuss this as Roma appears to be, but to compare the US to the Roman Empire may only be possible if you take into consideration the exponentially accelerated tech advances that our culture has made. I.e., the math may not be simple.

    Perhaps it would be more predictive to look at the cycles of capitalism. I believe this country is more entrenched in capitalism than it is in any form of political system. I've come to believe that our government exists only to protect Big Business, as corporations have far more rights than the people.

    Yes, there is no doubt the US is declining, along with its value beyond the economy. Maybe a better comparison would be to England/Great Britain and their loss of hegemony.

  7. Interesting Teresa. That is certainly one angle to consider.

    America to Britain is of course a plausible comparison - perhaps even more appropriate as you suggest.

    In the 1990s, a professor brought out a statistic that argued where American power had eroded to 30% of the world's total power in 1993 down from 50% in the post-war era (1950s).

    So. If it's indeed in decline, can it be reversed?

  8. Anonymous6/29/2008

    Well, I also agree with Theresa that a better comparison would be with Great Britain. Yes, Rome lasted 1000 years but we have to say history is much accelerated now. For example, a message, at the times of the Romans, took months to reach the other corner of the Empire, while now we almost have lightspeed communication. Technology (and other factors) have changed things a lot. Non the less, some comparison I think could be made between Rome and the USA. But it would require some reflection ...

  9. Yes, we claimed world hegemony after WWII on the backs of the countries that were destroyed by supplying that seemingly unsaturateable market for produced goods. In retrospect, it appears that all the eggs in that one basket was a grievous mistake on our part.

    It's been 15 years since your professor came up with those percentages, and it would be interesting to see what he thinks now. My bet would be back at that 30%, if not lower. I "feel" we are at a major brink now with disaster ahead. I say that only as one who is forced to observe with little say in the matter.

    It'll be interesting to see what you deduce, Roma. Oh, if only we actually learned from history!

  10. The day after you wrote this, the theme is echoed by Tom Friedman in the New York Times.

    We would seem to be entering an era where America experiencing the loss of global dominance that Britain did years before.

    The question is, Which nation(s) will dominate the world stage 10 - 15 years from now?

  11. Good question. I suppose the place to start is to define "power."

    For example, in terms of innovation and technology America remains a "power." In terms of immigration, it continues to be a prime destination. We all know about the military.

    Yet another professor of mine argued that no nation on earth has the tools and resources the U.S. has.

    Who can take their place? The EU seems reinvigorated but that's a collection of nations and I fear China is nowhere near capable of being a world power to lead anything. Same with Russia. India? At least it's a democracy but it too has its own issues.

    What if the U.S. reinvents itself? Recall that in the 1980s Japan was supposed to take over.

  12. My country of Canada, the 20th century was said to belong to it according to Prime Minister Laurier.

    Canada was a nation that was expected to take over the British Empire.

    So much for that.

  13. Would you consider the Middle East, primarily Egypt, to be in a position to take the crown of world power? They may not be militarily strong, but they do currently have the ability to freeze our militaries in their parking spaces.

    My thinking has always been that, since NAFTA and all the other "free trade" agreements, our resources have been stripped.

    I suppose we could redefine ourselves, we certainly have the brains here, but only if we shuttle all the politicians to another planet first. They get in the way of everything.

  14. I meant Saudi Arabia, not Egypt. Or, any of the OPEC countries, or OPEC itself.

  15. New site, Teresa?

    No, I don't consider the Middle-East. Way too fragmented to go along with the lack of legitimacy and transparency in its political process among endless other issues prevent the region from ever becoming a power - oil under their feet notwithstanding.

  16. Yes. I started "eyebald" at the beginning of June. I felt it best to try to separate my sarcasm from A Bumpy Path.

    I hope you're right about the Middle East. But, what is happening today is exactly what bin Laden said would happen, along with many other countries that have tried to edge their way into this country. They hit us in the pocket book.

    When I was growing up, in public schools, they had bomb shelters with a radioactive warning sign on the door to mark it, and we all had to practice climbing under our desks when the alarm sounded. In the 60's and the 70's, the USSR was the big fear for our country. It didn't make sense to me back then, and not much more sense now, in spite of all my education.

    The bottom line, however, is that our strength has always been our belief in our country. That is redefining itself daily - because it is not exactly patriotism, per se; instead it is the belief in the common every day people that is the majority of its citizenship.

  17. Anonymous6/30/2008

    Well, guys, I have not many doubts that Cindia (China + India) will take over, unless they make terrible mistakes. It is a question of size and (allow me lol) of history.

    SIZE. I agree, dear Commentator, that America in terms of innovation and technology is still the number one. But for how long? There are already some universities in India and China where young people all over the world try so hard to study at, and if they are not accepted, then, *as a second option*, they try at Harvard or Yale etc.
    It is a simple truth, you can check.

    Let us face it: these Far-eastern folks are starting to innovate a lot too and the number of engineers etc. they produce each year is enormous.

    Well, no wonder: they amount at 40% of the entire world population!!

    Japan would take over? It is only a small bunch of islands after all (forget the Middle East, in my view).
    The truth is something *huge* ahead is moving and the trend seems clear. This is the reason of Western possible decline.
    Foreseeing this global world balance change (economics and political power go together), what Bush (and Blair) after all meant to do but simply try to better position their chess pieces on the geopolitical chessboard with the aim of delaying this entire Western decline (but finally - and foolishly - screwing it all up, the process having thus been probably accelerated instead)?

    HISTORY. Theresa writes: “If only we actually learned from history!”. Well, being a history-addicted I cannot but agree lol. From a long-period perspective (thousands of years), history can teach us a lot. What strikes me most is how so many people in Europe and America are surprised about this sudden success of India and China. Well, seen from a long period angle (and globally), it is not so surprising after all. Let us see: these Far-eastern folks were at the top of the world in science, philosophy, technology and wealth for….2000 years? More? I have to check that better. Ok, they went down for 200 (250?) years due to the British industrial revolution, who helped the Anglo-Saxons (and the nations they created) to take the lead. But what are even 250 years? Only 10 generations, if we consider 1 generation = 25 years. Very little indeed.
    So now they are back. Yes, they are back. Unless they make tremendous mistakes, they cannot but be back.

    All the best
    From this side of the West

  18. MOR, I agree that Asia (education and technology is indeed on the rise) is the next logical spot but I think they have much to iron out. China is still, for all intents and purposes a closed society with a poor track record on human rights and faces major environmental issues (given the rampant industrialization). India for its part has deep poverty. Notice how we haven't mentioned Brazil!

    Wait until the world discovers Africa as an untapped market!

    So, that you believe China may once again rule, are you suggesting history is circular?

  19. Teresa, nice last paragraph on the last post.

    When confronted with a security issue and not much was known about an enemy, it's not surprising the U.S. fell on the side of (excessive?) caution. The Soviets were expansive in their designs. To what degree and how committed is a debate among scholars I suppose.

    Ever watch Blast from the Past?

    This discussion reminds me of Randy Newman's "Political Science"

    "No one likes us, heaven knows we try. We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
    But all around, even our old friends put us down
    Let's drop the big one and see what happens..."

  20. Dear Commentator,

    Your question is interesting. I am not sure I can add anything of import to this very engaging discussion. Really, there are too many factors to consider; I do think, like others here, that if America does decline, a major factor will be the dissolution of the country's manufacturing base -- a major wealth-generating asset -- because of the broad fiscal gains of outsourcing labor. Of course, much outsourcing is a response to the burdensomeness of America's labor unions, but that is another story.

    If America could free itself from the grip of foreign energy; if it could live "off the grid," so to speak, and if it could thrive there, then American influence may become greater than ever. Influences are both direct and indirect; there are many lesser countries on the world stage passively and actively influencing the world. But a truly growing and yet independent America, insofar as energy is concerned, would be the envy and inspiration of many ... without America acting imperiously.

    Moreover, the very geography and topography of America lends itself to success, and continued dominance. It has deep-water ports, massive farmlands, huge in-land water ways, and abundant natural resources. It has the Great Lakes, the Colorado River, and thriving woodlands. And it is well-located for a truly (western) hemispheric market.

    (Someone asked here whether the Mid-East could become the next seat of power. I think it could; I surely think it wants to become the new New York. One look at what is happening in Dubai proves this; it also proves the influence of America, as Dubai is clearly one part New York, one part Las Vegas, one part Disney World and one part the Florida Keys. Dubai is an architectural paean to America; and while America may decline, its influence on the world will be recognizable for centuries.)

    Not mentioned in this discussion is the military might of America. With all things being equal, American military might is astounding. No country has such a massive navy that can stay on the seas for years without refueling; no country is flying armed drones 8,000 miles from a remote control booth at Langley. B-52s strafing the hillsides of Afghanistan with bunker-busters fly out of the American mid-west, refueling in mid-flight. No other nation, really, has shown this sort of power.

    I mention this because most leftists in America see American influence as a function of American military strength, and that is why they generally support reductions in the nation's military.

    Again, there is far too much to consider regarding the topic at hand. Is the American "empire" in decline? Probably.

    Be well.

    B Gnade

  21. Anonymous6/30/2008

    Dear Commentator, my new post was inspired by this discussion (well, at the time of my writing Bill Gnade interesting comment was not there yet). It has been a great discussion, and I thank you for your stimuli.

    History can be circular? I do not know, I believe great civilizations tend not to die easily and they have ups and downs.

  22. Earlier, when I said that our resources are stipped, I meant that literally. NAFTA opened the door for outsourcing and moving production to third world countries where workers are paid per week what American workers were earning per hour, no environmental protection controls, no employee protection controls, no benefits to pay, no taxes, etc. I tend to think that this broke our infrastructure down incredibly. With the latest economic downturn, the result of the polarization/stratification of the distribution of weath that resulted from the destruction of the walls holding in Big Business is now becoming painfully clear.

    Cynical to the core, I also think that "spread democracy" and "fight for human rights" are PR smoke screens to passify the masses that, incidentally, make up our military forces. It is a self-serving manipulation of the goodness of the American people.

    This is the reason that I have to pit against the idea that China wouldn't be able to rise to the top of the heap because of a rotten human rights track record. I really don't think human rights have ever been any sort of real reason for any political or military effort. If it was, there would be no such thing as genocide, the US would've stopped Hitler years earlier, and gone in to prevent China from destroying Tibet.

  23. Mr. G proposes an interesting concept - of America becoming and modeling self-sufficiency. Standing alone, bringing the books back to 0 would be a good way to regain strength. Strength does not have to mean dominance!

  24. Strength shouldn't include dominance by design indeed.

    Good point on China but it doesn't treat its citizens as fairly. Surely, that must count for something on the way to becoming a power. Of course, how China defines that power and how it chooses to wield it can be something different from how Americans or Europeans of the past viewed it.

    Ooo, the cynical streak in Teresa is finding its voice!

  25. As usual, Bill, quite intriguing. Thanks.

  26. A very interesting debate, dear Commentator, about a huge issue. Yet, not that I want to elude the core of the question, I would ask: but America (can be) is an empire? In other words, can a democracy be an empire and still remain a democracy? Athens wrestled (and lost) with this problem. And Rome wasn’t a democracy anymore (at least) after Augustus emerged victorious from the battle of Actium, and this is why, perhaps, her empire lasted 1000 years. However, I agree with you and don’t wish to see America falter … because if America cries Europe doesn’t laugh …

  27. P.S. But, as a famous Italian historician wrote, Caesar was a "democrat dictator," and Augustus was his faithful disciple ;-)

  28. Rob, that's been a debate among some: is America indeed an Empire? Not in the classic definition it isn't I would surmise. Again, it raises the question: in addition to defining power how do you define and determine if a country is an empire?

    In terms of financial power and pop culture, it is indeed an empire. Does having bases across the world qualify?

    If Europe doesn't cry, imagine what CANADA FEELS!

  29. Anonymous6/30/2008

    I think there is a direct relationship between the spiritual decline of the American Empire and the rise of Barak Obama. I recently read his brilliant analysis of the relationship between religious belief and public policy..

    Also just back from Unity, New Hampshire, where I got to shake his hand. He' a winner.

  30. Neil, so good of you to take the time and join us. My uncle says something similar. He feels the day Americans lost its true Christian values was the day it began to falter.

    I notice you used spiritual as opposed to Christian. Either way...it makes the same point I think.

  31. I know of two teenage girls currently in middle school. Both say that it is pounded into their head to do only what they are told. They say they are penalized for doing more, going above and beyond, if they choose and are more than obviously capable of.

    I have no way of knowing if this is the norm, but I think it would be much more a reason for our decline than the lack of spirituality. How can anyone be spiritual if they are squashed into sheep-hood so thoroughly?

    And, I wonder in what way you mean "spiritual"? As soon as organized religion becomes political - and therefore dogmatic - it loses the meaning and value of its teaching.

  32. Theresa, I've been spelling your name in the Italian version without the "H." My apologies.

    We do slow down for the weakest link now. I know a few educators who will admit that now it's not about excelling but ensuring no one gets left behind.

    Are egalitarianism, populism and political correctness affecting education? In terms of religion, some may even argue that it's the far-right who represent an even greater threat.

  33. Anonymous7/02/2008

    Dear Commentator,

    I’ll add just a few elements to this very stimulating conversation.

    “Asia – you say - is the next logical spot but I think they have much to iron out.”

    True, but when analysts say that Cindia will take over, they in fact consider just trends. At present these countries - I agree - still have many flaws (you mentioned vast areas of poverty in India etc.) and China itself at the moment, if I am not wrong, has a GNP which is only a little bit greater than the UK's (or California’s).
    A poor track record on human rights, on the contrary, can be a competitive advantage, I am afraid (and in this I agree with 'the cynical streak in Teresa').

    Of course also Brazil is another good spot, although its population is not to be compared to the 2.5 billion of Cindia (size in human resources matters, I believe).

    Bill Gnade is right. Some elements of the American power are astounding and this could slow down political decline. Plus America is more flexible than Europe, thence it might better face the dissolution of her manufacturing base (a common problem to all of us).

    In brief, while European decline could be swifter, America's decline will probably be more genteel.

    All the best

    Man of Roma

  34. America's positives outnumber its negatives - though as Teresa points out, it's neck and neck these days. I can't say for sure sitting from afar.

    But you hit a key word: flexibility.

    It was this flexibility (and agility) that gave it the edge to overcome the Japanese take-over "scare" of the 80s.

    I'm wondering if they still have something up their sleeves.

  35. Anonymous7/02/2008

    I do not much understand you Canadian people's position. Do you feel you are on your own? Or do you feel as a part of this American empire? And if you feel a part of it, do you perceive you are on the outskirts of it, or into it?
    You know, seen from the Old World, the New World is extremely fascinating but not so easy to understand at times.

  36. Hello everyone. Great discussion! I don't wish to add a lot at the moment because so much has already been said.

    I will however say that the political climate in America has certainly shifted (especially) after 9/11. One of the most recent examples of this is Barack Obama's reversal of position in support of the FISA bill that will give retroactive immunity to telecom companies that spied on Americans in violation of the Constitution. Obama was largely viewed in the media as "moving to the center" in order to appeal to "middle" of America. If giving immunity to companies who violated the law is "moving to the center" then I think it is quite clear that the entire political climate has shifted to the right.

    I see this political climate shift as a symptom of a larger problem of a government that has chipped off civil liberties, expanded hegemony, and has an overall more authoritarian rule than it did even just eight years ago. I think it is relevant to also mention the focus on the expansion of the Empire. With so much money being spent militarily we continue to see glaring examples of a lack of funding and of priority domestically. Hurricane Katrina being the prime example here.

    I mentioned money above and it is also necessary to look at the amount of money that America is both spending and borrowing when dealing with this quesiton. America is spending such high levels of money, yet still has problems with the infrastructure of the country. This is not a sign of a country that has its priorities in line.

    I most certainly think America is in decline and would add the footnote that America is shifting its priorities and politics in a direction that can only have negative effects for democracy.

    I am going to add this blog to my "favorites" list on my blog and I wouldn't argue if you return the favor...haha.

    I hope to participate in more discussions with you all.

  37. Chris, i will most certainly oblige and thanks for your thoughts. I think democracy as a whole is under stress these days.

    MOR, that's the perfect question that needs more debating. The answer is that nationalists would obviously claim Canada is independent (and for the most part it is) but if you're in business, certain realities set in and you see that we're intricately tied to the American world.

    Some days our independence feels fleeting but the truth is that we've always been caught between the will of the British empire and the United States. Between 1945-1970 Canada's "Golden Age" meant we punched above our weight and stake our claim on the world stage but for the most part we're as Homer Simpson put it, America jr.

    It's not an easy quesiton to answer and one I'm afraid that require further thinking than what I just wrote off the top of my head.

    The New World has its own complexities as you can tell and it's made all the more complicated because the USA towers above Canada and Mexico.

  38. Anonymous7/03/2008

    Very difficult topic, you say, but you have already shed some light. Thanks


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