American Decline: Seven Factors and Seven Solutions

Published January 24, 2018

From world wars to economic turmoil, Americans have not cowered in times of peril. The very notion of America is rooted in struggle and grit. Tenacity and determination have been central to the American ethos since the founding of the nation. How else did a ragtag militia defeat the mighty British military?

In 2018, the United States does not face one existential crisis, but rather a series of internal problems that may foster its decline from superpower status. In The 7 Factors Turning America From a Great Nation Into an Also-Ran, John Hawkins identifies the most critical issues that plague the United States. Hawkins’ piece is especially pertinent when one considers that internal decline has led to the fall of many great empires throughout history.

Below are the seven factors that most threaten the United States, according to Hawkins. Because each factor is self-induced, a simple solution that can reverse the negative trend and rectify the problem is also included.

Ronald Reagan said “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” As Hawkins points out, the future of American freedom and greatness is in jeopardy, and it will be up to future Americans whether the United States remains a great nation or turns into an also-ran.

1. Debt: America is more than 20 trillion dollars in debt and this year is on pace to add more than 400 billion dollars to that number. Our debt, which we have no intention of ever fully paying, is now the equivalent of about 25% of the world’s GDP. That number is massive; the CBO estimates that by 2040, 58% of all our spending will be nothing but interest payments on the debt. How much are we going to be able to spend on our military then? If you think our infrastructure is bad now, what do you think it will look like then? What happens when we have large, unexpected expenses, like another 9/11? Our debt is just as big a threat to our future as the Brits and Axis once were.

This colossal debt is unsustainable and will ruin the prospects of future generations. How can it to be solved? Americans must wake-up to the harsh reality that their political leaders have made promises they cannot keep. Voters must force politicians to balance the budget and reform the massive entitlement programs that engulf nearly 70 percent of the current budget. Until entitlement reform takes place, the fiscal outlook of the United States remains bleak.

2. The Lack Of Production Capacity: America was the decisive factor in WWII, not just because of our excellent military, but because our massive production capabilities enabled us to send enormous amounts of military equipment to our allies. Just as an example, we sent Russia roughly a third of its fuel and half its trucks while the Brits received about a quarter of their munitions and aircraft from our country. Could we do that again? Not even close. That leaves us vulnerable, not just if there’s another world war, but if our own military were to suffer some sort of disastrous setback. In other words, if there were a Pearl Harbor 2, we might ultimately end up on the wrong side of the war.

Since WWII, America has transformed from a manufacturing to a service economy. A similar shift took place when the economy moved from agriculture to industry. What’s the difference? We didn’t abandon (or outsource) food production, we simply became more efficient in our farming methods. The same principle should apply to American manufacturing in the twenty-first century. The United States should lead the world in cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and reclaim its position as a leader in production capacity.

3. Immigration: Because of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, there is no comparison between how much immigration may have helped America in the past versus how much it helps us now. Furthermore, our unwillingness to secure our borders has created a lot of problems with illegal immigrants. Currently 57% of families headed by a legal or illegal immigrant are receiving some form of welfare. It doesn’t help America at all to bring people here who are uneducated,  work menial jobs and don’t pay income taxes, who don’t assimilate or who end up on some form of welfare. As jobs and wealth in America have increasingly moved toward more educated citizens, our broken and outdated immigration system has not kept up. Contrary to what you often hear, our current immigration system is making America WEAKER, not STRONGER.  Immigration could once again be a source of strength for America, but stopping it altogether would be better than continuing with it under the current system.

Historically, immigration policy has been tied to economic circumstances. During the booming industrial days of the late nineteenth century, millions of immigrants were admitted (legally) and found immediate work in factories. In 2018, the economic situation is far different. It is imperative that future immigration policy be tailored to meet the present and future workforce demands.

4. Cultural Degradation: Americans tend to think that EVERYTHING gets better as time goes along, but pretty clearly the character of Americans has changed for the worse over the last few decades. Christianity is on the decline while tribalism, something that goes against our nation’s motto, “E pluribus unum,” is on the rise. The mainstream media has become so dishonest and partisan that there’s not much difference between it and the sort of propaganda that Pravda puts out. We’ve stopped treating people who became rich and successful as role models and started looking at them as people who somehow “cheated” at the game. There have always been sleazy politicians that lied to us, but as the public has become more partisan, we no longer treat poor character and dishonesty as defects that should keep someone out of office. We’ve moved from admiring wisdom to applauding snark and outrage. Instead of trying to bring people together, our “leaders” try to exacerbate differences to fire up their base. We are in a state of advanced cultural rot and it shows in every facet of our society.

Much has been said of the cultural decline that has taken place in America since the 1950s. Self-indulgence and instant gratification have replaced self-responsibility and temperance. Reversing the alarming trends that have taken place will not be easy.

A cultural renaissance needs to occur. A new crop of leaders must emerge and begin an effort to revitalize a decaying culture with the values and philosophies that made this country great in the first place. It’s unlikely the mainstream media would promote a message of cultural rebirth. As social media has revolutionized the speed and scope of communications, it just might be the platform that allows political and religious figures to circumvent the mainstream media and reach a new and willing audience.

5. Our Refusal to Take Nuclear Proliferation Seriously: Could America stop a nuclear bomb snuck over our border or even identify where it came from? Doubtful. Could we survive as a major power after an EMP is detonated above us? Given that some estimates put the number of deaths via starvation in that situation as high as 90% of our population, we’d have to be very fortunate to hold it together. In a world where a handful of successful states have nuclear weapons, those scenarios are unlikely. However, in a world where basket-case nations like Pakistan and North Korea have nukes and a new nuclear arms race is likely to start in the Middle East because of Iran, the chances of a nuclear weapon being used against us either by radical Islamists or a narcissistic dictator are much higher than they were even at the height of the Cold War.

During the Cold War, the United States was well aware of the cataclysmic danger posed by rogue nations attaining nuclear weapons. For decades, the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of a tin-pot dictator remained a distant nightmare. Yet in the last twenty years, the odds of terrorist groups and unstable regimes possessing weapons of mass destruction have increased exponentially. Some of this is due to technological innovations and secret arms production. Partly is also a dereliction by the U.S. military in policing the proliferation of these weapons. A joint venture of preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction while maintaining missile defense systems will be a boon for international security.

6. A Broken Political System: America’s political system is nearly non-functional. The only things Republicans and Democrats ever seem to be able to come together and agree on are more spending and poorly thought-out, often counterproductive legislation passed in the midst of a crisis. There are a number of reasons for that. For one thing, both parties have become much more partisan and simply don’t agree with each other on much of anything. In addition, neither party feels compelled to keep its word to the other. In other words, a deal cut today doesn’t mean anything next year. So, realistically, only short term deals are even possible under the best of circumstances. No form of organization — including a nation — that’s run like this can succeed over the long haul and America will not be an exception to that.

The political divide in America is striking, and it is tearing us apart at the seams. Both parties are guilty of raw partisanship. Both parties are more concerned with power than with governing. America has experienced this phenomenon before, and political leaders have risen above petty partisanship to bridge the divide. Our political leaders ought to put aside the staunch partisanship. The nation is facing problems that require compromise on both sides of the political aisle.

7. Out of Control Government: The older America gets, the more the federal government seems to expand into every nook and corner of American life. Worse yet, the bigger government gets, the less competent it seems to become. It’s all a result of circular reasoning. Americans find a problem and demand that the government address it. The government does and usually creates some new problem that’s nearly as bad as the problem it set out to solve. Then, there are demands that we give the government even more power to fix the problem it created trying to fix the first problem. Rinse and repeat and many of our biggest problems today can be directly traced in some form or fashion to government involvement. It doesn’t matter if our politicians handcuff our military, can’t secure our borders or simply can’t explain how they spent billions of dollars’ worth of our tax money, the push is always to give them more power and control. The federal government is a tick and the bigger it gets, the less blood there is for the American people and less chance our nation has of succeeding over the long haul.

The problem of government creep is an especially odious and vexing problem. Big government is antithetical to the founding principles of America. Overtime, it erodes personal responsibility and stifles the entrepreneurial spirit that has fueled American prosperity.

Shrinking government is a difficult task. Special interest groups will fight tooth and nail to maintain the status-quo. But if there is a ray of hope, it might be the transcendent power of technology. The Millennial generation is the first-ever “digital native” cohort to grow-up in an environment enmeshed in the Information Age. As a result, most Millennials expect a level of efficiency and performance akin to the technological devices they use on an everyday basis.

Needless to say, big government will fall woefully short of their desires and expectations. The question therefore becomes, will Millennials demand accountability and results that only a limited and local government can deliver? If this is the case, the dark days of big government and American decline will be numbered, and the future of America will shine brighter than ever.