Nor is there much the United States can do to boost its share of global GDP. The U.S. fertility rate is below replacement, and yet even admitting enough immigrants to maintain population stability may be difficult, given the public backlash against mass immigration. Because of low labor-force growth, American GDP growth will be slower than in the past and determined largely by the pace of productivity growth. American hawks who propose cuts in entitlements for the elderly to fund higher defense spending are living in a dream world. In a budgetary showdown between American retirees and the Pentagon, the Pentagon will lose.
The overall picture is clear, even though details may turn out to be wrong. By the middle of this century, most of the world’s industry and military potential are likely to be concentrated in four places: China, India, Europe and the United States. In the emerging polycentric world, no single superpower like the late-twentieth-century United States will exist to provide global security and to promote a single set of economic rules. A multipolar world is likely to be a more fragmented world of regional spheres of influence and shifting security alliances reinforced by strategic trade and investment deals. Even if new cold wars are averted, the peace among major countries is likely to be not warm friendship, but a wary cold peace.
The United States will continue to be one of the Big Three or Four economic powers, and one of the Big Two or Three military powers, as far as the eye can see. But it will have to adjust to the loss of its status as the world’s largest economy and the world’s only superpower. Robert Kagan has written that superpowers can’t retire. But they can be forced to share the stage.
This is the sixth in a series of essays on the future of American primacy. You can read the previous essay, “American Power in an Age of Disorder” by Barry Gewen, here.
Michael Lind is a fellow at New America, a contributing editor of the National Interest, and author of The American Way of Strategy.
Image: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan with ammunition ship USNS Flint. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy.