It is fashionable to prophesy the doom of the USA.
It is fashionable to be disenfranchised, it is fashionable to point out the faults in the American government, economy, and character:
Americans are undereducated, warmongering gluttons who react to the slow decay of their empire with a combination of willful ignorance and wild lashings-out.
But to prophesy, and even revel in, this supposedly enlightened world view is, at its core, a desperate attempt to cram today's world into a middleschool understanding of how the world works, and has worked for a while now.
The United States of America - pay attention! - is not the Roman Empire, nor is the Roman Empire a very good model for understanding what's happening to the US of A or the world at large.
Nor is the British Empire, on which the sun never set. The US is not, and has never been, an empire.
The US is not a cultural empire, nor a political or military one. Please, reject this limited and flawed understanding of world power and instead, direct your attention instead to the hegemony.
If we look at the great powers of history, we find that after the fall of the Roman Empire, the great powers have been those who hold hegemonies on energy. First the Dutch with their wind-powered fleets, then the British in the coal-fired steam age, and then the United States with her vast waterworks, and oil and gas reserves for the industrial revolution and mechanized era. It is only in relatively recent history that the Mid-East was found to be a great reservoir of energy, and they're STILL playing catch-up to what the US was able to do from scratch in about 80 years. The head-start really was that huge!
A great illustration of this is post-Soviet Russia. (1)They are actively trying to cultivate an energy hegemony in their neck of the woods, and not only is it not working out so well... They're also about sixty years too late with their strategy to achieve world dominance. The world is moving away from the oil age, and moving into the "alternative age".
On the macro scale, the US is poised to continue its hegemony. Between the (2)IMMENSE solar power available in the American Southwest, the hydroelectric potential of the several major rivers, the wind potential of several regions, the uranium reserves for nuclear power, and the thousands upon thousands of miles of coastline available to leverage for tidal generation, the US is poised to maintain and perhaps even increase its hegemony over energy well into the alternative age. Are we in a shaky period right now? Sure. All transitional periods are, but once that part is figured out, the amount of energy available to this single nation is going to be, on a world scale, staggering.
Concentrating on tiny areas like fractions of federal debt held by foreign powers, or outsourced manufacturing capacity, or other relatively short-term socioeconomic factors is missing the forest for the trees. Financial regulations change, political climates change, diplomatic relationships change, cheap labor isn't forever, and currency valuations are not the forecast for the long-term survival of a civilization.
To address a few of the trivialities that doom-criers tend to single out:
The knowledge of how to build factories and make stuff isn't going anywhere. It's not as if we can't still make our own things. We aren't RIGHT NOW, but many people fail to realize that that doesn't mean we can't start doing it again.
We aren't producing the majority of our own raw materials because for now, it's cheaper to let other people mine them. As theirs get harder to get to, ours get comparatively cheaper to get to.
Foreign debt is only as good as the paper it's printed on. And if you actually do some research into that paper, you'll be surprised to find out that of the (3)entire public debt, only 25% of it is foreign-held... With the government of China holding less than Japan, as of 2011, and the UK holding 2/3 of what China does.
I'm quibbling in details here, which was not the point of this writeup. The point is: energy is key, and America is the current and future holder of that key. You'll notice that two of the three major "America is dying" talking points listed above will hinge upon the availability of cheap energy, and one is a bogeyman borne largely by misunderstood statistics and media hype.
America will be beyond energy independent, more than likely selling electricity to anybody who wants to run the cables. The thinking that America is an empire in decline fails to take into account the basic fact that it is not an Empire and will not evolve like one. It is indeed set to be the first of the energy hegemonies that bridges a gap, the one we are sitting in, and maintains its world dominance between ages, from oil to alternative.
1: An excellent read on the region is: Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia
, Ahmed Rashid, ISBN 0-14-200260-7, particularly chapters 9-11 which discuss the former Soviet satellite states and their current political turmoil as a result of the position that Russia has put them in. Essentially, "gas for military aid". Of course there is the usual amount of despotism for the region, but I digress.
2: Anywhere from 8-10 KwH per square meter per day over 20% of the continental US, which is part of 5-10 KwH per m^2 per day over 40% of the CONUS. See: http://www.nationalatlas.gov/articles/people/a_energy.html#three for a great visual representation.
3: Numbers for national debt culled from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17424874/ns/business-answer_desk/
After the flurry of comments this has attracted, I would like to make a few things more clear that perhaps I should have from the beginning. My brief treatment of the Dutch and British hegemonies was intentional. They are not the focus of this writeup. Secondly, while the British did
have an actual empire, with colonies and holdings and subjugation, it was built on the back of their hegemony and they slowly lost their grip on it as A) their hegemony faded and their global power slowly petered, and B) people got tired of being subjugated (what's up, India?). Lastly, one point that I do wish I had made directly, is that while America has the ability to be very easily energy independent in the alternative age, China, like Russia, does not. They do not have the hydro capacity, nor the tidal or wind potential, nor anywhere near the solar capacity that the US does.
I also considered adding in comparisons of arable land and food production capacity, but did not. But, for your edification, a quick check on the CIA World Factbook confirms that the US has more arable land by area, and that the US uses a tiny fraction of its total area (less than .2% after accounting for food exports) to feed its population versus almost 15% of China's total area currently in use to do the same thing.
In any case, comments both negative and positive lead me to believe that I've done what I wanted to do - get people to at least consider a different view of the big scary things happening in the world around them.