America’s Relative Decline: Should We Panic?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Zachery Zeck via The Diplomat,

Over at the Washington Post, Charles Kenny has a provocative op-ed arguing that China’s GDP will almost certainly soon surpass America’s in absolute terms, and this is to the United States’ benefit (the op-ed is based on Kenny’s new book, which can be purchased here).

Kenny’s first argument in support of this claim is that Americans’ quality of life will still be better than their Chinese counterparts, and that in fact “losing the title of largest economy doesn’t really matter much to Americans’ quality of life.” Fine.

Kenny next concedes that there may be some negative effects, but nonetheless argues that these are limited. For example, he notes that the dollar may no longer be the world’s reserve currency, but “businesses in the rest of the world still manage to export, even though they must go through the trouble of exchanging currencies.” Similarly, while having the largest GDP has allowed America to maintain the largest and most powerful military, “how much [has] the three-quarters increase in defense spending between 2000 and 2011 enhanced America’s well-being?” Thus, lower defense spending could be a net positive.

Kenny goes on to list a number of benefits America will receive from its relative economic decline. For example, this relative decline “is mainly a result of the developing economies becoming larger, healthier, more educated, more free and less violent. And there is little doubt the United States benefits from that,” such as through increased exports and being able to import the amazing new innovations these newly empowered countries will no doubt invent. Moreover, economic growth in the developing world “also means that there are more places for Americans to travel in security and comfort.”

There’s no doubt some truth to at least some of this. Most notably, China having a larger GDP will not equate to a better quality of life for Chinese people, and, I suppose, having more vacation spots to choose from also could bring some amount of joy to the top 1% of Americans who get bored of laying out on the same hundreds of beaches they currently feel safe to vacation in.

Still, China’s relative rise and the United States’ relative decline carries significant risks, for the rest of the world probably more so than for Americans. Odds are, the world will be worse off if China and especially others reach parity with the U.S. in the coming years.

This isn’t to say America is necessarily as benign a hegemon as some in the U.S. claim it to be. In the post-Cold War era, the U.S. has undoubtedly at times disregarded international laws or international opinions it disagreed with. It has also used military force with a frequency that would have been unthinkable during the Cold War or a multipolar era. Often this has been for humanitarian reasons, but even in some of these instances military action didn’t help. Most egregiously, the U.S. overrode the rest of the world’s veto in invading Iraq, only for its prewar claims to be proven false. Compounding the matter, it showed complete and utter negligence in planning for Iraq’s future, which allowed chaos to engulf the nation.

Still, on balance, the U.S. has been a positive force in the world, especially for a unipolar power. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine many other countries acting as benignly if they possessed the amount of relative power America had at the end of the Cold War. Indeed, the British were not nearly as powerful as the U.S. in the 19th Century and they incorporated most of the globe in their colonial empire. Even when it had to contend with another superpower, Russia occupied half a continent by brutally suppressing its populace. Had the U.S. collapsed and the Soviet Union emerged as the Cold War victor, Western Europe would likely be speaking Russian by now. It’s difficult to imagine China defending a rule-based, open international order if it were a unipolar power, much less making an effort to uphold a minimum level of human rights in the world.

Regardless of your opinion on U.S. global leadership over the last two decades, however, there is good reason to fear its relative decline compared with China and other emerging nations. To begin with, hegemonic transition periods have historically been the most destabilizing eras in history. This is not only because of the malign intentions of the rising and established power(s). Even if all the parties have benign, peaceful intentions, the rise of new global powers necessitates revisions to the “rules of the road.” This is nearly impossible to do in any organized fashion given the anarchic nature of the international system, where there is no central authority that can govern interactions between states.

We are already starting to see the potential dangers of hegemonic transition periods in the Asia-Pacific (and arguably the Middle East). As China grows more economically and militarily powerful, it has unsurprisingly sought to expand its influence in East Asia. This necessarily has to come at the expense of other powers, which so far has primarily meant the U.S., Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Naturally, these powers have sought to resist Chinese encroachments on their territory and influence, and the situation grows more tense with each passing day. Should China eventually emerge as a global power, or should nations in other regions enjoy a similar rise as Kenny suggests, this situation will play itself out elsewhere in the years and decades ahead.

All of this highlights some of the advantages of a unipolar system. Namely, although the U.S. has asserted military force quite frequently in the post-Cold War era, it has only fought weak powers and thus its wars have been fairly limited in terms of the number of casualties involved. At the same time, America’s preponderance of power has prevented a great power war, and even restrained major regional powers from coming to blows. For instance, the past 25 years haven’t seen any conflicts on par with the Israeli-Arab or Iran-Iraq wars of the Cold War. As the unipolar era comes to a close, the possibility of great power conflict and especially major regional wars rises dramatically. The world will also have to contend with conventionally inferior powers like Japan acquiring nuclear weapons to protect their interests against their newly empowered rivals.

But even if the transitions caused by China’s and potentially other nations’ rises are managed successfully, there are still likely to be significant negative effects on international relations. In today’s “globalized” world, it is commonly asserted that many of the defining challenges of our era can only be solved through multilateral cooperation. Examples of this include climate change, health pandemics, organized crime and terrorism, global financial crises, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, among many others.

A unipolar system, for all its limitations, is uniquely suited for organizing effective global action on these transnational issues. This is because there is a clear global leader who can take the initiative and, to some degree, compel others to fall in line. In addition, the unipole’s preponderance of power lessens the intensity of competition among the global players involved. Thus, while there are no shortages of complaints about the limitations of global governance today, there is no question that global governance has been many times more effective in the last 25 years than it was during the Cold War.

The rise of China and potentially other powers will create a new bipolar or multipolar order. This, in turn, will make solving these transnational issues much more difficult. Despite the optimistic rhetoric that emanates from official U.S.-China meetings, the reality is that Sino-American competition is likely to overshadow an increasing number of global issues in the years ahead. If other countries like India, Turkey, and Brazil also become significant global powers, this will only further dampen the prospects for effective global governance.

Therefore, many of the benefits that Kenny predicts will accompany the rise of developing countries may not occur, at least in as dramatic a fashion as one might think. For instance, there’s no doubt that a richer developing world should result in more American exports. However, American exports might at the same time be constrained by a far less open global trade environment in a multipolar world. Things we take for granted today, such as freedom of navigation and airflight, could very well be much less assured in a bipolar or multipolar future. There’s also the possibility that the world will divide into spheres of influence, in which regional hegemonic powers demand highly preferential access to markets in their home regions. Similarly, the decline of the U.S. dollar and greater international competition could also result in far more unstable international financial markets that also inhibit trade.

In short, Kenny’s no doubt correct that China becoming the largest economy won’t be the doomsday that some in America predict. Indeed, there will almost certainly be some benefits that come with it. Still, the rise of China and the rest, should it continue, will also create new dangers and risks that the world would be wise not to neglect.


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razorthin's picture

I'm sorry, I can't laugh and panic at the same time.

Mr Pink's picture

Just wanted to get here early and downvote myself before the little shithead does

nmewn's picture

Well done Mr.Pink!

So, I see GDP still means something to economists & pundits to comment on, in spite of what Kuznets said it was and what it was not. Perhaps when they get it all the way up to 50% of double counting the very same metric, it will dawn on them.

But I doubt it.

Gankfest's picture

<--- Grabs Popcorn! :P


SafelyGraze's picture

super fun video about large-scale dairy farming

if you are a cow, the reason you are impregnated is so that you will produce milk

now eat your feed, cow, and shuffle over to the milking parlor

all three billion of you

the guests at davos 

ps - eat your vegetables!

mt paul's picture

cast iron cows


in the rain ...

GetZeeGold's picture



So we're transforming into what Russia was 40 years is this progress?


I vote we change yes we let's not.

icanhasbailout's picture

Closer to the truth is that we're transforming into what Germany was, 80 years ago. Same thing that fucked them is going to fuck us: what happens when all the reserve dollars the world no longer needs to hold come flooding back into the US economy all at once?

Occident Mortal's picture

I like the way how when America is #1 it's a unipolar world and as soon as China is #1 then it's a bipolar world.

China is a superpower NOW.

Their manufacturing base is 5 times bigger than the USA.

The only war to win a war against China is to nuke them within the first 15 minutes. Leave it any longer than that and they will be building targets faster than you can build missiles.

Oh regional Indian's picture

Relative Decline? Haaaaaahahahahahahahaaaaaahhhhhhh....


More like clumsy, long thud it looks like from here. I know, it's no laughing matter, but I'm writing from a pre-thudded nation. 

Such tripe could only issue from DC.

Unless relative decline is talking about the mysterious disappereances of OhMama's kenyan ants and uncles....thrice removed of course. That, now, is relative decine...or the decline in relativity....or some such...


I hope you are not "with me"...


Race Car Driver's picture

The time for panic was back in '08.

Now that we know for certain that this is all gonna come apart at the seems anyhow and the bulk of the populations will lose their livlihoods to automation in the not-too-distant future ... now is the time for learning new skills like growing and preserving food.

Food - it's the next Big Thing.

Headbanger's picture

BINGO!  Which is exactly why I bought a really nice 8mm Mauser 98k yesterday to go along with my Walther P38 9mm.

Gee... That just made me realize I don't have a nice old Walther PPK in 32 auto!!

Back to the gun shop!!

Dark_Horse's picture

...then civil war.

and for theupside ... 

asset backed-currencies were brought back starting in 1861.


TBT or not TBT's picture

At that point, get a 22. 9mm kurz (380 auto) is adequate, arguably, but 32ACP?

Headbanger's picture

You're an idiot about old guns.

And what are you?  Mister 1911 conceal carry ?

I bet you would love feeling my 8mm Mauser up your faggy ass!

Fuck off douche bag!

And I bet you own a fucking Glock too.

And yout think 7.62 x39 is an equation!

Fucking DUH!

And for you Glock-tards:

And part 2 you mooks:


But please rush out to buy a retarded Glock 42 so you can be a complete Glock-tard at your "with it" suburbanite gun range!

Do it now you girly man!

OceanX's picture

Did you also get: bandages, anti-biotecs, morphine, IV, sewing kit and amputation saw? 

I read a lot about the guns and ammos ya'll are buying. No one ever mentions the Medkit.  I guess you just envision yourself doing all the shooting and none of the bleeding...

SilverDOG's picture




Far more pertinent, the regression of Constitutional Laws.

Germany 1937 equivalent.

We ALL have been marked.

Currency tsunami will endow US govt the power to "HELP" the populace in distress.

By design.

Certainly 1939 is a short distance away.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Queue YouTube of walter sobchak with his 1911 against skinny's forehead, going ballistic about " doesnt anyone follow the fucking rules anymore".

In this case that would be Holder and Obama and Sebelius and so many others impeached and indicted for gross unconstitutional abuse of power. Enforcing the laws selectively and making up others.

CognacAndMencken's picture



Regrettably, one of the biggest factors contributing to the "decline of America" is the stupid South. Unemployment is higher in the South;disability claims are higher in the South; workers' compensation claims are higher; bankruptcy and foreclosure filings are higher in the South; Social Security outlays are higher; Medicare/caid outlays are higher - all of this, coupled with far less in tax revenue, both corporate and individual. Even the prison population is higher in the South.

Many have argued that Southerners are inherently lazy (swinging on the porch with lemonade), but I think the inequity runs deeper than that. Could it be biology? Compared to their northern counterparts, it has been proven that Southerners have a less developed frontal cortex (sloping, angular forehead) and, as a consequence, are less innovative, less intelligent, and more prone to conspiracy, superstition, bigotry, racism, black magic, and religious clownery.  

As an example:  [1] most UFO sightings occur in the South; [2] most faith healers and snake handling occur in the South; [3] the KKK originated in the South; [4] several high-ranking Southern government representatives have argued that women can turn "off" their vaginas (holy cow!); [5] because America elected its first black president, many Southern senators and representatives have blatantly refused to legislate and have even threatened to shut the government down;  [6] many Southerners think that "rich" people are conspiring to create a one-world government and currency (wtf?); [7] Southerners often have child-like obsessions with guns and trucks and Camaros and shiny metals; [8] many Southerners don't even believe in the moon landing (wtf??). 

etc. etc.  

Of course, all of this has social implications as well..... Sort of like wild animals, Southerners won't mix with groups that look/act/believe anything different than they do, which leads to an extremely divided society that doesn't produce and cooperate well together.  For decades, the North has been forced to "carry" them, and now all this Southern baggage is not only bankrupting the country, but pushing the rest of the civilized world away.  

I know this might be difficult for many Southerners to read (those that actually do read), but the first step to fixing the problem is acknowledging it.  Perhaps it's time to consider secession, but where would they go?  Outer space?  The core of the Earth?  One drawback to a Southern secession would be the loss of slave labor that many corporations enjoy in the American South.  Many international companies (Toyota, BMW, Mercedes) have opened production plants in the South because there are literally entire states full of unskilled, unemployed people who are willing to work for far less than the northern country.  State officials in the South lure foreign companies with extreme tax advantages just so their constituents can finally get off the porch-swing, work and assimilate into society like a real, productive person.  A little tax revenue is better than none, I suppose.  This potential loss of American slave-workers will have to be ironed-out, but otherwise I think it's time for the North to gradually push the South out.


Yenbot's picture

You Sir (scratch the "Sir") are lower than Fonestar, a carpetbagger, and not worth the powder and shot required to blow you to Hell.

Four chan's picture

its simply a matter of lower iqs, blacks and mexicans are one standard deviation

lower than even an average european (and we know how dumb the average white is)

look at any concentrated area of these morons (the clinical term of 80 iq and below)

or the prison population and is clear who and what is the problem that has no solution.

prains's picture how do you explain your moronic comments then within the context you've so "cogently" explained to all

NidStyles's picture

Oddly enough I am pleased to see that you can grace us with your divine wisdom and great intellect. So much so that I could recommend you take part in ritual suicide in a bunker with your whore of a wife to make the circle complete...

new game's picture

i would say to anybody with iq 100 or above; it is the monetary system (stupid)."

once to the core, root, real causation, you will understand where all social injustices eminate.

just trying to be civil and spread understanding. if a civil unrest monts it will be a result of this lack of knowledge.

and the red/blue will turn on each other b/4 dealing with the money changers...

this understandingputs us in an extreme minority, unfortanatly...


SilverDOG's picture

Money yes, or the power derived.

Why else would the destruction of our inhabitable planet be ignored.

This is not 1492 anymore. No "New World" remains.


Four chan's picture

the root of all americas evils in the modern day are the

caused by the fiat money supply and its owners. on this all we agree.. i think.

ich1baN's picture

1chan short of 4chan

Actually the global average white IQ is above 100 and the average american white is 105. The average IQ of america is 98. Do the equation yourself

98 = .45(87) + .55(x)

x = 105 


45% of the population is latino, mestizo, or black. You have to remember that FBI stats includes latinos and mestizos into the white population category for most of its statistics. 

55% of america is considered truly white.

Average IQ of whites in America is on par with East Asia, but a little lower than Germany's 108 average.

I guess you too went to a government funded school that didn't teach this little tidbit?

Regardless, I think using IQ as the ONLY measure is a terrible way of identifying trends. There are far more important indicators such as culture and "grit" or "perserverance" that are far better predictors of success and likelihood to commit crimes.

It has been proven that IQ is not a good predictor of success and that "grit" is the single best predictor of success.


Also, culture and moral values are a much better predictor of how likely one is to commit a crime. If you are filling your head with the garbage the Hip Hop industry puts out day in and day out and follow them religiously like the puppets their fans are, falling into the illuminati's strategy of divide and conquer or make them dull to moral truths and docile, then it is no wonder when you go outside in any northern city, like Washington DC, New York, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, or Detroit and you find gangs, drugs, death, violence, and kids wearing their pants down around their ankles. 

Space Animatoltipap's picture

People that thrive on stereotypes are not very intelligent. btw It's not very difficult to create some on the NY/Boston/Washington citizens. They are megalomane, atheistic and unscientific, have a disturbed "1984" mentality, promote diseased public porn and are drug junkies. Just to name a few ...

chindit13's picture

Here's a funny little fact about Massachusetts...

If Mass was an independent country, its students would score in the top three in the world (with Singapore and Finland IIRC) in math and science test scores.  Since the US is far from top three, some states are dragging down the country.

Space Animatoltipap's picture

The level of math and phenomenal science a person has acquired doesn't say anything about the person's actual knowledge of the world. Factually many of these people are mentally handicapped autistic nitwits excessively focused on just one aspect of the relative world. 

chindit13's picture

Damn that Pythagoras!  Blaise Pascal, too.  I knew they were no good.

TBT or not TBT's picture

They're Sheldon Coopers? Not in my experience but ok.

reader2010's picture

“Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them: for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested….Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”

-Francis Bacon, Of Studies, 1625

Aguila2011's picture

Why give Mass. all the credit for smart genes.? I hear they take students not only from all over the country but from around the world.  And that makes Mass so damn smart?  Give me a fucking break!  But the citizens who live there and vote elect clowns like Kennedy, Kerry, and that dingbat, whatshisname, Barney Fife, over and over and over again.  Really smart.

Four chan's picture

actually in fact european jews are highest, which might explain the money

system that so cleverly enslaved a free people.

and asians come in second in iq, with european whites third globally.

hate me hate the facts but the facts are just that. and evolution/society has always

sprang out of the access to iq and away from mystical "witchdoctory" and superstition. 

TBT or not TBT's picture

There is a bell curve, or similar distribution, in just about anything you may go out and measure in animal or human population, but my God man (/Leonard McCoy voice) dont you understand not at all in mental aptitude measures!

Ask Larry summers, who correctly (in the science sense not the political sense) pointed out that the wider distribution in math and 3D reasoning within the male human population, which has a very slightly higher mean than for the narrower female human population distribution on those reasoning measures, means you have much fatter tails far out on the high end of the distribution in the male population. QED it's not reflective of discrimination that males seem(at first glance) to be highly over represented on the faculties of math and science dertments of the worlds top institutions. Math IS hard at that level, and there are five or ten times as many XY chromosome people at that reasoning level in the population as XX chromosome people. Also ashkenazi Jews have genetic inheritances that both increase IQ and give higher incidence of certain diseases. And drum roll, the people descended from subsaharan bantus have fatter tails and different means than, say, those from Japanese or esquimo stock in all sorts of physical and performance measures.

Reality is out there!

ich1baN's picture

Again, you are wrong. 

It is Jews of European Ancestry that live ONLY in AMERICA and the UK that come in first at 115. Jews anywhere else do not even compare to their IQs.

The Sephardic Jews in Israel have an average of 89 IQ, while the Ashkenazis in Israel have less than 100 IQ. There is a huge difference in what your statement actually means.

Also, adult Germans have the #1 IQ in the world at 108.

And on your point about Asian IQ. You specifically just mean South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. Other than those countries Asian IQ is vastly lower than most places. Bhutan is around a 79 average. Phillipines is around an 87 average. China is supposedly at 100 average, but keep in mind, you can't trust their statistics considering they use Shanghai test scores to represent their whole country in standardized testing results. 

Furthermore, the whole education system in most asian countries is designed around IQ testing and standardized rote memorization tests. This says nothing of their creativity and the fact that 99.99% of all major inventions the last 500 years including 99.99% of Nobel Prizes have come specifically from 1 of 4 groups. Germans, Britains, Americans, and Ashkenazi Jews (From Britain or the US).



401K of Dooom's picture

Oh no they are not!  They are not that intelligent!  The successful students you are talking about are of two kinds.  The first kind of successful students that are in Massachusetts are foreign born immigrants.  They are from countries that have competitive education systems and their families will beat them to death if they do not maintain a high grade point average.  The second group are the Ivy-League.  They are the also known as Brahmins in Boston and run the state from their social connections and old money wealth.  You may see minorities and Irish/Italians in high positions but they are there just as show pieces.  The horrible reality is that the state is full of screwed up kids.  The majority will have their parents run to their side in any disputes with the school districts or the teachers.  The majority of the students are drug-addled failures who are kpt in check by blaming the "Vast-Right_Wing-Conspiracy" In order to allow the Ivy LEague to keep power.  If you do not believe me, go and become a teacher in Massachusetts.  Oh and just take a look at the number of private, non-religious schools in Massachusetts.  They may say they are for the children, but when it comes to THEIR KIDS  you children will be left in the garbage!!!

Dugald's picture

I seem to recall there was a large French influence in the South in the early days, food for thought........

SilverDOG's picture



We bought it.

And then exploited the South after destroying it.

Are we not continuing this globally?


This comes from the North, where our pillaging and destruction will come home.

Deservedly so.



ManWithaPlan's picture

The South, with it's ignorance, stood against the Federal Governement..even though it was in the name of enslavement and oppresion. None the less, it still stood against an encroaching governement. So who is to say what was right as equality did not come to blacks, women, and every other lesser folk for another hundred years. What was the purpose? Who are you? Who am I? Did i drink to much?? Probably...I porbably should have just gone up to that black asian girl at the bar and said something to the tune of "you know, we could make some beautiful babbies you and i"

Adahy's picture

5.5/10 on the trollometer.  You can do better.

gwar5's picture

Sounds like your expertise on the South comes from your father forcing you to watch Deliverance every time he hate-raped you in the ass as a child. 

You haven't even been on ZH for 8 weeks and every day you're already forensically leaking TMI about yourself. Can't wait 'til tomorrow.

BandGap's picture

The KKK started in Hobart Indiana. Not exactly "the south".

You're a moron.

TBT or not TBT's picture

And was 100% democrat, or close to it.

Cloud9.5's picture

This may come as a surprise to you enlightened northerners who wish to come down here and teach us how to tie our shoes, but before you invaded us, killed us and burned us out, there were more individuals holding college degrees in the south than in the north.  The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were both written by southerners.  And, the Library of Congress was started by the donation of a southerner’s library.


Our prosperity was intentionally destroyed by a northern railroad lawyer and we were turned into a colony of the industrial north. So, what you see down here is in no small part the consequence of the actions of your enlightened forbearers.  Please do me a favor.  Take yourself and a hundred of your friends and go home.

reader2010's picture

Behind the secession of the South from the Union, after Lincoln was elected President in the fall of 1860 as candidate of the new Republican party, was a long series of policy clashes between South and North. The clash was not over slavery as a moral institution-most northerners did not care enough about slavery to make sacrifices for it, certainly not the sacrifice of war. It was not a clash of peoples (most northern whites were not economically favored, not politically powerful; most southern whites were poor farmers, not decision-makers) but of elites. The northern elite wanted economic expansion-free land, free labor, a free market, a high protective tariff for manufacturers, a bank of the United States. The slave interests opposed all that; they saw Lincoln and the Republicans as making continuation of their pleasant and prosperous way of life impossible in the future.

- A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn