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Is America Headed for a Soviet-Style Collapse?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Hey, did you see U.S. President Barack Obama yukking it up on "The Colbert Report" this week, reminding Americans how much fun he'd be to have a beer with to help forget all the challenges being fumbled by his administration? Sorry to be such a killjoy, but according to the International Monetary Fund, China just quietly overtook the United States as the world's largest economy -- an honor the U.S. had held since 1872, when it bested Britain. Better make that beer a strong one.

In 1983, Yuri Bezmenov, a former KGB propaganda agent who had also worked for the Soviet news agency RIA Novosti before defecting to Canada in the 1970s, gave a speech in Los Angeles in which he outlined the various ways by which a free society could force its own collapse simply by allowing itself to be subverted. Bezmenov explained how it could happen without an external enemy even firing a shot, as a nation could rot from within as a result of the insidious undermining of free-market and democratic principles.

Recall why the Soviet Union imploded. Military industrialization during the Cold War arms race with America had cost the state too much money, and there wasn't much opportunity for any other kind of industrialization within the country. The massive welfare state (a fiscal burden that China has never had) further contributed to the bleeding. Corruption and cronyism were institutionalized, while protectionism and central control straitjacketed the economy. Sound familiar? It should.

American manufacturing and industrial jobs are being offshored to Asia. While U.S. unemployment appears to be dropping, it's largely because many workers are removing themselves from the statistics by giving up on the job hunt altogether. As with the former Soviet Union, the opportunities for American workers to contribute in a productive capacity are shrinking.

One solution is to do everything possible to help independent workers and entrepreneurs thrive. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin knows this, as he demonstrated last week in his annual address to parliament. Having evidently learned something from living through the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin announced tax breaks for small businesses. As it is, the maximum corporate income tax rate in Russia is just 20 percent, while the U.S. has the third-highest top marginal corporate income tax rate in the world at 39.1 percent.

Forget lowering taxes -- get rid of them altogether for anyone trying to operate an independent business. If you don't, entrepreneurs will be tempted to leave for a place where they can operate with more economic freedom, even if it means moving to a country with less political freedom -- like Russia. A lot of entrepreneurs don't care where they live, as long as their income isn't under constant siege by the state. Many of them "live" in Seat 12B of some airplane anyway, and stay connected with the world via technology.

While Obama is granting amnesty to foreign nationals in America, Putin is granting amnesty, too -- to mega-wealthy tax dodgers, who are now being invited to repatriate their fortunes without penalty.

Other events are symptomatic of internal U.S. collapse, as per Bezmenov's warnings. Without rehashing the details of the recent cases involving controversial police actions and subsequent mass protests, the overall effect is the devaluation of the rule of law and its enforcement. Bezmenov described it as "a slow substitution of basic moral principles where a criminal is not a criminal -- he's a defendant." Similarly, some Americans cheer Edward Snowden, computer criminals and other lawbreakers who style themselves as champions of freedom when they're essentially just appointing themselves the gatekeepers of sensitive information and the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong.

Citizens tend to take matters into their own hands as the result of a breakdown in trust between the people and their government. Bezmenov warned that unelected special-interest groups can control their elected representatives, leading to subversion of a democracy's power structure. Corruption helped kill the Soviet Union, and it will help kill America if special-interest groups continue to exercise their own subversive agendas through elected officials who are far too easily seduced. Curbing corruption once it takes hold is nearly impossible.

Recognizing the signs of a political or economic collapse is the first step toward avoiding one. That may require tuning out less serious forms of entertainment -- like the president attempting to inoculate against his administration's failures through self-mockery on a comedy show.

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