Type the words “Decline of America” into Google and it produces 103 million results. Authors, classical historians, international economists, European allies, Chinese generals, and the wider blogosphere pronounce and repeat the idea. Some welcome it, others express deep concern, but -- contrary to a wave of fashionable pessimism at home and abroad -- there is nothing inevitable about American decline.
The U.S. remains a populous, rich, and powerful country with a unique capacity for innovation and renewal. Despite the lagging recovery and stubbornly high level of unemployment, our economy remains twice the size of China’s (in terms of GDP at market exchange rates – the preferred indicator for international comparisons according to the IMF). We hold major advantages in the scale of our financial markets, in scientific research and technology, and in competitiveness.
America’s armed forces, and military power projection are unmatched by any other actor. Despite sustaining 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, the cost of the defense budget, at 4.7% of GDP, remains well below the proportion during any of the Cold War decades.
The U.S. retains a unique attractiveness for talented immigrants. It has a favorable
birthrate, a growing population (the world’s third largest), and a demographic balance better not only than those of Europe, Russia, or Japan, but even of China, which will grow old before it gets rich. And not to be forgotten are America’s immense natural resources, including
an extraordinary renaissance in the production and recoverable reserves of oil and natural gas.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his 1830s work, Democracy in America, that the virtue of Americans lay not in being more enlightened than others, “but in being able to repair the faults they commit.” These words point to a fundamental characteristic of the United States – its unique flexibility and adaptability. Throughout its history, the country has repeatedly faced and overcome daunting challenges. Whether America will avoid serious decline is not a question of whether we can afford to do so. Our future is a matter of the choices we make, of policy, leadership and will.