The coming collapse of U.S. power

The United States is the world’s dominant superpower.   This is not sustainable.    I believe the collapse is likely to come suddenly, like the fall of the Soviet Union.

American geopolitical dominance is based on:

  1.  A world-wide network of military bases that give it the power to use military force in remote parts of the world.
  2.   Covert action agencies that work to subvert governments that resist U.S. power.
  3.   The dollar as the world’s medium of exchange, which gives the U.S. the power to control the world’s banking system.

The material basis for this dominance was U.S. industrial power, which once was supreme, but no longer is.

U.S. government is dominated by two factions with contradictory policies.   One is what I call the neoconservatives, who think the United States can make itself secure by crushing any nation that resists U.S. dominance.   The other is what I call the neoliberals, who think the United States can make itself prosperous by subordinating policy to the needs of U.S. corporations.

The problem is that executives of the largest U.S. corporations think of the world in global terms, not national terms.   They don’t regard themselves as responsible for maintaining U.S. geopolitical and military power.   Neoliberalism saps national economic strength that neoconservatives count on to support military intervention.


After the First World War, the United States was the world’s leading industrial power.  Mass production and mass consumption gave us the world’s highest material standard of living.  European industry was devastated by the war, but we emerged more prosperous than ever.

The United States was the world’s leading overall exporter, and an exporter of oil and grain.   We had a huge trade surplus.   The world was in our debt.  We were the world’s leading creditor nation.

After the Second World War, the United States was still the world’s leading industrial power, leading exporter of manufactured and raw materials, and leading creditor nation.   Unlike Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Japan, we emerged from the war more prosperous than ever.

We were as close as any nation can be to being self-sufficient.   We worried about the “dollar shortage”—stemming from the fact that the rest of the world produced so little than the United States wanted to buy, and therefore was unable to buy the products of American industry.

Our military was strong and undefeated, and leaders of the other capitalist industrial nations looked to the USA to protect them from Communism and the Soviet Union.   The Central Intelligence Agency undermined anti-American governments.

Today, seventy years later, many of these pillars of strength are gone.   Our industry has been hollowed out, and China is overtaking us as an industrial power.   We have gone from being world’s largest creditor nation to being the world’s largest debtor nation.   We depend on imports not only of raw materials, but of critical military and industrial electronic components.

We import more than we export, we borrow more than we save and we consume more than we produce.   This cannot go on forever.

We support the world’s most expensive military.  It is unequaled in its power to wreak fire and fury, but that the last war in which the United States won a clear victory was the Second World War.

A few allies—in eastern Ukraine, the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary and elsewhere—who look to the United States for protection.    Mostly, though, the U.S. demands its allies support U.S. interests even when they run counter to their own.   They will not put up with this forever.

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America great again,” recognized that there is a problem.   But his top officials are generals and bankers, and so far he follows neoconservative foreign policy and neoliberal economic policy.   Unless he changes direction, he is likely to speed up decline, not reverse it.

Our chief rival, China is projecting and increasing its power not by military intervention, but by building infrastructure, while we Americans can’t even maintain our national infrastructure at home.   Chinese leaders seem content to quietly make their nation stronger and stronger and watch the USA self-destruct.

American geopolitical power continues partly because of inertia.   Few nations want to defy the United States and become the target of U.S. sanctions, like Venezuela and Iran.   Few nations want to defy international banking institutions and leave the dollar zone.

My prediction is that when they do turn against us, they will do so all at once.   I think it will be like falling dominoes, like the fall of Communism in eastern Europe.   Once nations start to abandon the dollar, no nation will want to be the last to do so.   U.S. decline, now slow, will become fast.


We have abused the patriotism of men and women in the U.S. military by sending them into harm’s way for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting the homeland.

But if and when the world turns against us, our nation will face real perils, not imaginary ones.  Patriotism then will become a necessity for survival.

I don’t believe any of this is inevitable.   G.K. Chesterton wrote somewhere that he did not believe in the doom that overtakes you no matter what you do, but he did believe in the doom that overtakes you if you do nothing.

I hope and believe we Americans have it in us to change our thinking, replace our bad leaders, give up the dream of domination and rebuild our country.   We have it in us to be independent, prosperous and free, and that’s all we need.


Illustrations via Reformed Libertarian; Pew Research.


3 Responses to “The coming collapse of U.S. power”

  1. whungerford Says:

    Great Britain might be a historical precedent; We can prosper without dominating if we act wisely.


  2. Edward Says:

    I wonder when the turning point was? The assassination of JFK and Vietnam?


    • philebersole Says:

      I don’t know if there was any single turning point. Maybe it was the end of the Cold War.

      The Cold War was in many ways an endurance contest, which the USSR lost but left the USA exhausted and weak. Rather than taking advantage of victory to retrench and rebuild, the US government chose t dissipate our strength in pointless military interventions.


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