Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

We Are a Nation in Decline

On the eighth anniversary of 9/11, a professor of mine made a comment that caused a lot of soul-searching for me. He remarked, quite casually, that the United States is in decline.

Those words angered me. Nobody likes to hear their country characterized in that manner. But ever since then I’ve been considering that casual statement.

I think it accurately describes the state of our nation.

We are a nation in decline.

We are in decline for a variety of reasons, some more controllable and some less so. Economic weakness has something to do with it, as does the popularity of anti-Americanism (thank you, George Bush). Misadventures in the Middle East and the rise of China also play a participating role.

But enough about why we are in decline. What can be done to stop it?

Some proposals below.

There are two courses for the United States to take, both of which can somewhat alter its path of late. The first is to pay less attention to the Middle East. After the 9/11 attacks, that region of the world drew the undivided attention of the United States; to this day, it is still obsessed with Iraq and Iran and Israel and Afghanistan and on and on.

Most would agree that the United States has been hurt by this obsession. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have and continue to drain its energy and finances. America’s world image (and soft power) has been terribly damaged, strengthening those less friendly to it. Moreover, the Middle East has relatively little of value to offer, save for oil. And even that valuable resource does not justify excessive entanglements in a place that, more than any other part of the world, dislikes the concept of the United States.

The second bit of advice I have is to admit more immigrants. An immigrant is the best thing a nation can have. By definition, he (or she) is ambitious and hard-working enough to move thousands of miles, away from friends and family, to a place where he does not speak the language or know anybody. Very few people are motivated enough to do this.

Immigrants have created millions of jobs: the late 1990s technology boom was the product of Chinese and Indian immigrants who moved to Silicon Valley. Albert Einstein was an immigrant; Barack Obama is the son of an immigrant. For continued economic growth and national welfare, admitting more Albert Einsteins and Barack Obamas (the father, who had the same name as the president) is absolutely essential.

Every year the United States denies entry to an enormous amount of potential immigrants – the cream of the crop of humankind. Sadly, the immigration debate today is dominated by illegal immigration and nativist anger; it is unlikely that America’s doors will crack wider anytime soon. What cost appeasing anti-immigrant sentiment does to the well-being of the nation as a whole is unknown, but it is certainly great.

Admitting more immigrants might not reverse U.S. decline, nor might limiting U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Superpowers – whether they be Spain, Britain, America, or China – do not and cannot last forever; in the end they all fall. But perhaps, if these two suggestions are followed, the United States might just last longer than most.



  1. and I understand you used it as the title for just that reason.  My thoughts when I saw that were not good, and I was relieved to see that this wasn’t an ashes-and-sackcloth diary.

    Declining or not, we need to keep a competitive outlook.  How do we manage to be better than anyplace else?  What can we do to win in the competition of nations?  I can guarantee that no other nation is queasy about asking themselves those same questions – particularly no other nation likely to surpass the US in any given measure.

    Keep a fresh idea-pool (encourage immigration).

    Keep a productive creative environment (encourage innovation).

    Put your resources where it makes sense.

    I just read Super Freakonomics, and it lays out all sorts of mistakes we make in allocating resources.  Worrying too much about the Middle East is certainly right along those lines.

  2. Shaun Appleby

    Aren’t we actually caught up in a geopolitical competition for a vital resource that we consume disproportionately?  A competition which has arguably spilled over into immensely costly military action no matter what spin we put on it?  We are not going to be able to disengage from the Middle East without significantly altering our demand and reevaluating the sources of our prosperity.

    Whether that argues for or against our ‘decline’ I can’t say but it is a determining factor in our international policy and it widely regarded as such worldwide.  In the current domestic climate of anger, reaction and entitlement I wonder at our chances of altering this dynamic.

  3. The nation’s wealth continues to increase. The U.S. scores well on the Human Development Index (HDI) scoring a .956 for 13th place with Norway at the top with .971. The U.S. is still ranked first both militarily and technologically. Just because other countries are growing and improving faster than the U.S. does not mean the U.S. is in decline. It only means those countries have more room for improvement.

    This is not to say that we don’t have problems. All nations have problems at all times. We need to invest in infrastructure and education, end our foreign adventures, find a way to strengthen the middle-class, and fix our health care problems. All of these are manageable. If we fail to deal with these issues and we enter a period of flat GDP absent a temporary recession then you can talk about decline with a little more believability.

  4. In that, we can be certain. We are a nation in a debate with itself on issues of civil rights, on economic prosperity, on social justice, and religious freedom as well. That is an ongoing process.

    Folks tend to look at things through the lens of how things were when they got there. Be that Key West or Bar Harbor, or to the voting age. We tend to think of things when we get onto a scene as being the best.

    For me, I hit college in the late 80s, so for me, seeing Primus, Anthrax, and NWA on a single stage was AWESOME! Having smokes with Scott Ian after the show was even MOAR AWESOME–though the hanging out in a pre-gentrified Combat Zone next to The Orpheum was still a little nerve wracking thanks to the baseheads watching the bus. For others it may have been the Grateful Dead show a few years earlier was far better.

    In politics, we tend to see things as being in decline and the debate sliding away as we get older. We don’t have that shiny New Political Life smell after a bit. We see disappointments, we get cynical. We get disappointed more often. That is the accrual of years though.

    The fight and the debate remains the same. It waxes, it wanes, but our perception tends to skew.

    We have seen a further polarization over the last several years–Bush’s “Changing the tone” was a measured tactic–but that likewise waxes and wanes.

    We are making progress, but we do backslide and make odd side steps. That is part of the process. We don’t have a road map, and we tend to accrue our disappointments and missteps in our gut, but I can’t say that we are in decline, so much as making a side step, which is still part of the process.

    But, for our elders, it can be scary.

    The way I look at it: I have a ton of friends who are black, Hispanic, Asian. Of a kaleidoscope of faiths. I am a Japanse-Irish-German manager with a fairly high profile company, with a Polish-French ex-wife who is a Pagan, and raising our daughter a pagan, while I am a known Buddhist.

    The only thing my employer wants to know is where to send the check. That is progress since I was a boy even. I have faith in the country, and our people.  

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