America’s Future: Economic Hub or Hermit Kingdom?

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The Consummation of Empire from Thomas Cole’s five-part series The Course of Empire

When we study some of the great civilizations of the past, we are treated to a retrospective view of their successes and failures, their assent to greatness and then their eventual decline. It makes me wonder where we are in our arc of power and influence. We undoubtedly rank amongst the most powerful nations in the history of human civilizations.

Our style of world leadership has been a unique blend, much of it borrowed from the Romans and even the United Kingdom. A unique difference, I think, is how much the world has changed since the founding of this nation. There were huge advancements in engineering and science in the past but nothing compares to the type of growth and evolution the United States has seen.

Another thing that sets us apart is the different way acquisition of wealth occurs. Gone are the days where legions of armed men invade a country and lay hold of its land and resources. While countries still invest (sometimes quite forcefully) in regions like Africa and the Middle East for their oil, earth elements, and precious metals and gems, the days of all out conquering are past. Diplomacy is more necessary than it was before. There is no longer one dominant society that rules among a rabble of barbarians. The playing field is becoming more equalized.

Part of this is due to the technological advancement we were talking about. Even countries that aren’t major players on the world scene have the ability to obliterate a large portion of the planet. The development of the atomic bomb during World War II is one of the large suspects. The ascending problem seems to be hacking and an increasingly connected world. Hackers in China have shut down major news sites, tampered with nuclear plants, and stolen technology from some of the biggest American countries, all from an ocean away. This has, in a sense, led to more checks and balances. It has also led to an obligatory sense of responsibility. The cards that can be played are part of an ultra-high stakes game.

All of this means that countries are all more or less boxed in geographically. Mass land conquests are no longer on the table, baring drastic circumstances. This means that the traditional problem of overextension is not as much of an issue. Instead, I see economics being the main issue. Monetary overextension is still very much on the table and the consequences are equally high. When the United States created the bubble that burst in 2008, the ripples were felt around the world.

We are still dealing with a lackluster economy and we are now saddled with the debt of multiple wars fought abroad. Unlike the World Wars, the wars since then have not resulted in economic benefit for the country. They have resulted, instead, in colossal mounds of debt and a negative attitude towards military action. We must turn our attention now to strengthening our monetary foundation through smarter spending and a stronger export economy.

It is the unknown result of these factors that has me curious. What will the United States look like in 10 to 15 years? By necessity I think we will become more concerned about domestic issues and less involved in foreign conflicts. I wonder, though, whether we will become the Hermit Kingdom or something else?

Given the dynamics of the world today, I’m not sure that seclusion is a viable option. Economies are more linked than ever. We can no longer live within our own bubble. Our fate and the fates of nearly every other region in the world are interdependent.

It seems that military threats are also becoming more globalized. When governments rise and fall, their information and weapons hang in the balance and the weapons at stake can affect the United States and its allies. It would be irresponsible and unrealistic to think that we can withdraw all of our military presence and not suffer for it. The type of instability left in the wake of an action like that has been abundantly clear in Fallujah.

The bottom line is that some of the emerging countries like China and Russia must shoulder more responsibility. It’s only fair that those partaking in the benefits of relative stability would contribute to sustaining it. The question is, can the United States learn to be comfortable with that? And perhaps more importantly, should we be more comfortable with that?

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