The Reasons for America's Potential Decline

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In today's Wash Times, Tech Central Station grand conductor (and occasional Reason contributor) James K. Glassman looks through a crystal ball, darkly, and names some looming problems for the U.S. After noting that standards of living have gone up consistently over the past couple of hundred years, he throws out three possible trip wires: a "science gap" that may shift innovation off our shores, a stifling of what Keynes called the "animal spirits" that drive growth and change in an economy, and Social Security's worker-retiree ratio shift, which will almost certainly mean cutting benefits or raising taxes under the current plan.

What's frightening about these three dangers is that they may ultimately shock the stock and bond markets. For example, if investors believed the United States would have to borrow heavily and depreciate its currency in order to meet the needs of Baby Boomer retirees, then interest rates on 30-year bonds would today be sky-high; instead, they're just 4.8 percent.

Markets seem to believe that the United States will come out fine in the end, and maybe they're right. Productive immigrants hold the key to solving all three problems, and at least one threat is being addressed with Mr. Bush's intention to replace part of Social Security with private accounts, so that Americans own more of their own retirement assets, rather than counting on younger workers who may never show up.

The other two dangers, however, are mainly cultural and social -- the result of a decline in striving, a lack of striving, a softness that has afflicted every other great nation in history. Call it American decadence -- our own version of what happened to the Roman Empire.

Whole thing here.