If the US goes into full decline, what were the main causes?

In a number of threads on the dope, the topic of the US’ relative status comes up, usually in the context of whether the US is still the A Number 1 bestest country (and, my opinion remains that US hegemony was only ever going to be temporary, and it’s inevitable that the US will become just one powerful nation among several).

But, events like the Covid pandemic, where the US has done objectively worse than the rest of the developed world, with hundreds of thousands dying, and yet many americans are in denial about it, show there is something very “special” about the US right now. Examples like this may suggest an actual decline is on the cards, not merely other nations joining the superpower club.

Let’s say the US goes into full decline; that it eventually ends up something like Russia today, with a powerful military and bags of national pride, but an under-achiever in almost every other respect.

What will have been the primary causes?

Of course Trump is the proximate cause right now. But many other issues with the US e.g. healthcare, gun violence, misinformation etc, predate him. And of course, Trump has needed a political party, other branches of government, and at least a third of the electorate behind him to enable him to do everything that he has.

The “chicken little effect”.
Average citizens who panic and cause runs on banks and consumer goods.
Public officials who overreact and impose draconian measures.

Too much greed from the 1 percenters. They upset the balance too much.

Russia is a terrible example. It was always an economic basket case because it spent all its money on military might and spying. It never was even an equal in any other way.

There is no realistic pathway to the U.S. following that example. We are so far ahead of the rest of the world in most basic economic ways that decline would only be possible through an actual collapse from the equivalent of a meteor strike. Nor would our decline help the rest of the world get ahead; we are so dominant that any decline on our part would create similar or worse declines in most other economies. Not to mention that any reading about the problems occurring in other nations makes a forceful case that they have problems as bad or worse than ours and no better solutions.

China is perhaps an exception. Even so, its per capita GDP is about one/fourth of ours. China won’t surpass us for decades. And that’s assuming that China can keep up its extraordinary streak of success. Many forecasters have been saying for years that China is due for catastrophic failures along some economic lines.

The world as a whole may decline because of the trillions of dollars needed to rework society because of global warming. But it’s absurd to believe that the U.S. will be the only country not to battle it. I’m sure people, being creative as they are, can come up with scenarios of American decline. But check to see whether they include the realities of the rest of the world and their relative positioning and why and how they escape without failure. I’m betting that no good case can be made if all the factors are included.

Huge tax breaks for the rich, coupled with massive military spending, leading to damning deficits and debt.

(God damn Ronald Reagan!)


Yeah I struggled to think of a good example. In terms of fallen economic juggernauts in the modern world, there’s only really the UK, but that would have brought objections about it being a much smaller country.

I would disagree both that the US is so far ahead, and that there is no plausible mechanism for a decline. I’m not saying a decline is the most likely thing to happen, but it’s certainly plausible if the US continues a descent into a denying reality and fails to address things like the impact of climate change, infrastructure, health of the citizens etc.

I agree also, but I’d add an attitude of anti-science and anti-intellectualism that lets other countries get ahead of us in various areas. We’ve fought this so far thanks to robust immigration, but if we get nationalistic we’re in deep shit.

Tax cuts and other related economic policies that lead to the pooling of wealth lead to income and wealth inequality. Over time, inequality isn’t just an economic problem; it’s a political problem. The wealthy are faced with an irresistible urge to influence the political system to give themselves even more wealth and more power. These differences in class become harder to ignore and the masses finally wake up to it and become angry about it, though blame gets scattered in different directions. Regardless of whether people figure out who’s to blame, the inequality continues to have a corrosive and deleterious impact on the social contract.

Anti-science and anti-intellectualism are funded by the plutocrats because middle classes and underclasses that are educated are dangerous to the wealthy and those in power.

I disagree. Some rich people, like those in Silicon Valley, need an educated population. However right wing plutocrats and politicians, and fundamentalist religious leaders, can’t stand critical thinking and will do anything they can to hurt it.
For the ultra-religious especially science threatens their belief system.

Silicon Valley gets an educated population: they import it – well, they do until right wing demagogues that for years tolerated the practice suddenly see educated immigrants as something that can be exploited for political gain.

But for the most part, conservatives have profited from the ignorance of the masses.

If the U.S. goes into decline, it will probably be from failure to address the problem of technological unemployment in a socially beneficial way, leading to an ever-growing desperate and unemployable class.

3 letters: GOP

I remember when the fear was that, in a democracy, “the many and the poor” would be the ones voting themselves largesse from the public treasury. In the end, it is “the few and the rich” who are giving themselves the nation’s wealth.

The Southern Strategy.

You can draw a straight line from that to every evil that the GOP has invited into its house in the last 60 years.

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

― Warren Buffet

Fear, stupidity, ignorance, and racism.

I think I’m loosely in agreement with Exapno_Mapcase. A decline is certainly plausible, but a relative decline vis-a-vis the rest of the world is unlikely to be transformational.

If the U.S. keeps ignoring climate change, everyone is going to get it - the climate is pan-global. If anything the size and geographic diversity of the U.S. might allow it to muddle through a tad better overall.

Infrastructure decay is surely an issue, but it is not like U.S. infrastructure sucks relative to the rest of the world on average. U.S. healthcare is worse than most Western democracies in terms of universal access and cost, but scores high in general quality for those covered.

Basically the US is huge in area, natural resources, population, economy, entertainment (bread and circuses!), technology, higher education and most every other advanced metric. It’s not that it is #1 in most of these, but cumulatively it doesn’t need to be. That Denmark might have a better-functioning society is neither here nor there relative to American hegemony. A massive advantage in quantity that’s “good enough” easily swamps out boutique quality. There just aren’t many nations big enough that can replace it. A more unified EU or China are on the very short list. Maybe Brazil if Viagens Interplanetarias gets off their ass.

If the US declines to a Russia-style shell it is either going to be very slow and a long, long time from now or because the nation catastrophically fractures. Which I think is marginally more likely now than in 2015, but still phenomenally unlikely this generation or next. Millions or tens of millions may be under extreme stress, but a couple hundred million more are muddling through and inertia is a gigantic force in a society this large.

Well, I have noticed a tremendous reduction in flying insects this summer. That is a very bad thing, probably brought on by heavy use of insecticides to increase crop yields. And I am not the only one to notice (though I freely concede that It could be confirmation bias to some extent). Our food supply is precarious. One bad year could easily upend this country’s social stability, and there is simply no realistic way for us to tech our way out of it.

Add to that the fact that industry and retail have trained Americans out of the capability to make stuff. The US does not currently have the capability to make a nuclear reactor core, because we have farmed everything out to over there. We have become conditioned to want to be consumers and not so much producers or craftsmen.

We buy junk because it is cheap and we can just plunk down a few bucks for a new one when this one breaks. This is exacerbated by the disconnect that has been conditioned into us: fighting a phone menu maze for hours so that we can talk to a barely understandable Pakistani who does not give a shit about a problem he cannot realistically help us with is more of a struggle than just eating the loss and buying a replacement.

We have become trained into preferring disconnection to sources and waste streams. Those are SEP. anything beyond our small life-horizon is SEP and we would just rather not know about it. Where is Azerbaijan? Who fucking cares? That is an attitude that will bite us in the ass.

America will fall because Americans are overweight, apathetic, spoiled and soft. We will be done in by “first-world problems”.