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  • America's Decline: Not a Given

    Critics of America’s traditional style of leadership seem to have once again adopted a narrative of America’s inevitable decline. Drawn-out wars, China’s rising influence, and a crushing national debt are seen as kryptonite to the world’s sole superpower.

    The challenges these issues pose to American influence in the world is daunting, but America’s decline is not a foregone conclusion, as Heritage Vice President Kim Holmes argued in a recent Washington Times piece.

    During Ronald Reagan’s military buildup in the 1980s, Paul Kennedy of Yale argued that the United States suffered from an “imperial overstretch,” which would result in a decline in U.S. influence and prestige. Yet the vibrancy of the U.S. economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union presented a strong counterargument to his dire predictions.

    More recently, Michael Mandelbaum argues in his book The Frugal Superpower that the United States is facing “entitlement overstretch.” In other words, the weight of the U.S. government’s commitments to entitlement programs—most notably Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—is fueling America’s decline. He contends that the U.S. should reduce its global engagement and cut its defense budget.

    Holmes agrees with Mandelbaum’s assessment of the problem but not the solution. Entitlement programs are set to consume more and more of the runaway federal budget, which will in turn force an increase in government borrowing.

    But this can be fixed. Heritage expert Alison Fraser recently penned a broad proposal to rectify the federal budget and preserve America’s economic and military strength “by fully funding defense, keeping taxes low, fixing the budget process and reforming entitlements.” Reform will be neither easy nor painless, but it’s doable.

    Which is why, as Holmes concluded, “American decline is a choice. It’s not inevitable.”

    Scott Nason is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to America's Decline: Not a Given

    1. George Colgrove VA says:

      Never has federal spending been this high – granted. Moreover, as you say, the vast majority of the spending is in entitlements. However, ever in American history have we spent 42% of the total budget using debt! Never before has America accumulated a national debt equal to our GDP and poised to be greater than our GDP!

      So your antidotal comparisons may be good and could be loosely used to justify increasing DoD funding thereby funneling money to big campaign contributing defense contractors in sole-source contracts. But when you look at the totality of the problem, your analysis has holes you can fly a squadron of fully loaded B-1 bombers through.

      The federal government has already nuked the economic future of this country. So I guess I will say, go ahead, spend at will. Just buy every useless and unasked for weapon system you can dream up to make these defense contractors as much of our tax money and our future earnings as possible. Let us pay the federal workforce 4 times what we get. Let them grow by 2 and let them make our lives even more so difficult. Let us see if this country and our dollar can withstand a debt of 125% GDP – even higher. Heck, instead of debt spending, lets tax everyone 100% to pay for this (that still will not be enough – but lets try anyway) Better still let us just give each of the federal workers a blank and signed checks and then go on with our lives without ever looking back. Let us let those feds spend into a drunken stupor until they are breathless and laying on the floor.

      We are in a different world then when Reagan was in office. We cannot tax more and we cannot raise our debt level any more. The federal workforce slammed this country into the wall. Someday we will need to fund the recovery of our own mega-earthquake or tidal wave. At the point we are at, if we needed to come up with $180 billion to recover from an equivalent event as is happening in Japan right now, we will cause massive economic catastrophe as well as environmental.

      We need restraint – we need to cut we need to stop this madness. You at the Heritage are completely making it difficult for true conservatives to ask for cuts in non-defense areas of the government if you are demanding we rise defense spending! Why can you people be so right on 100% of everything else, but be so wrong on this one budget line item. I know defense is a primary responsibility of the country – to defend and protect. However, according to Mike Millen, the Chief of Joint staff of the DoD has declared the national debt is our number on threat. We have a defined defense objected spelled out for us. Let us get the debt under control before promoting increasing spending.

    2. George Colgrove VA says:

      To limit tax increases, pay the full interest on the national debt and to pay down the national debt by $300 billion each year (47 year payoff) this is what the budget could look like. Unless we end entitlements all together we will need to cut everything – or rather NOT increase anything.


      Reasonable income tax collection – $1.50 trillion (15% increase)

      Social insurance collection – $0.90 trillion (13% increase)

      Total Revenue – $2.4 trillion (14% increase)


      Social Insurance – $0.90 trillion (57% decrease)

      General government – $0.30 trillion (33% decrease)

      Full Interest – $0.50 trillion (313% increase)

      Principal – $0.30 trillion (New Item)

      Defense – $0.40 trillion (47% decrease)

      Total Expenses – $2.4 trillion (37% decrease)

      Balance : $0.00 (Zero Balance)

    3. Leon Lundquist, Dura says:

      How can we argue Medicare without noticing "The Cost of Medicine Is Too Damned High!" Has anybody noticed that the average American Grandparent has SEVEN prescriptions! Overmedicated, Junk Medicine, Human Experimentation, Overregulated, Over Tested, Hey! Everybody! It is ten times cheaper to Treat than it is to Diagnose! These are like gigantic Government Agencies cranking out Reports at huge expense that nobody Reads! Isn't there a pattern, how the Government comes in with hyper regulation and prices "necessarily Skyrocket!"

      Let's talk about Defensive Medicine! Let's talk about Drugging All The Smart Kids, putting them all on Crack? Let's talk about Junk Medicine, how less effective Medicines are preferred. The Cost Of Medicare is the Cost Of JUNK Science in Medicine! And big junk, the Government is Stealing From the American Consumer with its Fines, Fees and Penalties. Then there is the Cost of Government Interference! Add it all together it is as Judge Vinson characterized it! Noblesse Oblige, yeah like getting felt up at airports and being denied Capital Formation.

      I am not fooled! It is the work of Progressives Infiltrating American Institutions and destroying them from within! Yes! Intentionally. No! Progressive Socialists are not Loyal Americans! Judge Vinson says they are pursuing Totalitarian Government, Powers no Loyal American President could want! Nor should want! High Crimes People can't see!

    4. Lloyd Scallan (New O says:

      If we don't get Obama and the Dems out of Washington, along with the old Repb

      leftovers, our American way of life does not stand a chance to survive.

    5. Pragmatic in Texas says:

      George in VA: Stop whining about federal employees and the DOD. The national deficit happened for lots of other reasons also. Like Obama printing his own money, calling it "stimulus funding" then turning around and giving it to his union buddies.

      Ponzi Schemes like SS also is a huge contributor. They could go a long way towards balancing this monstrosity if they stop giving our tax dollars to non citizens who never worked a day in this country. I shudder to think of the billions we pay to these people. No wonder there isn't any money for the boomer generation.

    6. Bobbie says:

      Excellent points. It's important to recognize all areas of government spending of overpay.

      Leon, you make a good point that needs public address:

      The costs of prescription medicines has been a promise of governments to reduce. Now their adding more drugs at no reduced pay.

      My father is on 9 pills. My father in-law is on 17 (and he's younger.) Whatever the problem that use to heal itself, there's a pill for. 1/2 the pills given are to avoid the effects of the other half. I'm being a bit facetious? Dangerous to the body in general but even more so effecting the immune system. And I thought all these pills made news to say these pills are toxic to the environment. So they come up with more????????

    7. George Colgrove VA says:

      Pragmatic in Texas,

      I would feel fine if defense spending was within 550 billion. Historically, Defense spending has been about $450 billion in today’s dollars, with spikes for war. I am saying that 100 billion more is far more than what is necessary for field operations. China has spent less than that modernizing their entire military as well as paying their military and for day to day operations. Why we need 7 to 8 times that does escape me since our miltiary is smaller than theirs AND we are canceling program after program for modernization. I have no idea where $600 to $700 (plus) billion is going. I do not get it!

      That being said SS/MC/MC has dedicated funding. Since 2001 (10 years) the feds collected 8.8 trillion and spent 10.0 trillion (a net difference of 1.2 trillion in the hole). The DoD has spent a total of $7 trillion in those same years in total defense spending. With deficit spending ranging from 20% up to 42% in that period, you can see social programs have contributed far less to the national debt than the DoD.

      I want the SS/MC/MC cut deep and meaningful. But please understand, this is politics. We won’t get one cent from DHHS if the DoD’s budget goes up or vice versa. If these two massive drains on the American future are not dealt with intelligently, it will not matter. Our debt will consume us and soon we will be waving red flags with hammers and sickles. It is how nations like ours go. We could learn from the past and stop the madness or plunge ahead to our doom. Take your choice.

      I apologize if my opinions hurt, but I, personally do not see a positive future coming from he feds while they are stealing from it.

    8. Mitchell, San Jose, says:

      Whew! The Luddites are out in full force today.

      If our debt is 125% of GDP (and that is long tern unsustainable) then there are two ways to fix that (obviously). Lower the debt … lot's of noise about that today and/OR raise the GDP. Then somebody will say "Mitchell, there are only so many hours in the day …". OK, how about good old fashioned entrepreneurship … innovation?

      The Luddites will whine and wring their hands about our myriad problems. The true entrepreneur says "problems exist to be solved … thanks for the OPPORTUNITIES". Social Security is a problem because we are throwing people away too soon … calling them "elderly" … I'm 79 and still full of piss and vinegar working in my own computer business. We're throwing people away too soon by not curing their ills … accepting degradation because of advancing age. Hey to the 20 somethings … "knock it off". The entrepreneur looks at the cancer epidemic, the diabetes epidemic, the obesity epidemic, etc. and say "goody, problems to be solved" … p.s. this entrepreneur is doing exactly that with some new ideas!

      Luddites … be gone! That's what Ronald Reagan was about!!! I was there.

    9. Bobbie says:

      You're awesome, Mitchell!

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