If we are to believe Mayan lore and a recent John Cusack movie, the world will end in 2012. But even if it doesn’t there are plenty of people set to declare that if humanity manages to survive the year, the United States won’t last the decade as the planet’s dominant economic and military power.
“According to the latest IMF official forecasts, China’s economy will surpass that of America in real terms in 2016 — just five years from now,” Marketwatch reported last year. At that point, the “Age of America” will purportedly end.
Maybe. But even some who’ve set out to chart the decline of the United States have ended up highlighting why we actually have an excellent chance of succeeding in the long run. If we can rededicate ourselves to free markets.
For example, consider the book Civilization, by British historian Niall Ferguson. “It is only by identifying the causes of Western ascendancy that we can hope to estimate with any degree of accuracy the imminence of our fall,” Ferguson says. “My conclusion is that we are already living through the twilight of Western predominance. But that is not just because most of the Rest have now downloaded all or nearly all of our killer apps. It is also because we ourselves have lost faith in our own civilization.”
Again, maybe. China may overwhelm the U.S., as another historian once predicted Japan would. But have a closer look at what Ferguson called the “Killer Apps” that have allowed western society to dominate the entire planet for hundreds of years:
• COMPETITION Western societies divided into competing factions, leading to progressive improvements.
• THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION Breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology.
• THE RULE OF LAW Representative government based on private-property rights and democratic elections.
• MODERN MEDICINE 19th- and 20th-century advances in germ theory, antibiotics, and anesthesia.
• THE CONSUMER SOCIETY Leaps in productivity combined with widespread demand for more, better, and cheaper goods.