I worry, frequently, about what the world will look like when America collapses as a global power. Not that I think it's going to happen suddenly. I think it's in the process of happening, or preparing to happen. It's really sad to think about what will be lost, and terrifying to imagine what might replace it.
Not that being an ordinary nation is bad. Or that even a government collapsing is always bad – some people can get hurt but that's not always how it goes. Stability in general has a lot to recommend it, but unfortunately the details of the American legal tradition are much more valuable, and I think we might lose both.
The real issue, as far as I can tell, are two issues intertwined. The first is that something about government benefits programs has been weakening informed cooperation. And the second is that worldwide trust in America allowed it a largess to which it has become hopeless accustomed.
These feed into each other in extremely negative ways – the American government can sell bonds to finance deficit spending. But it can do this, seemingly far past the bounds that cautious experts recommend, and do so continuously for decades. And social program spending relies on it – without deficits, spending on all other things would have crashed to unthinkable lows. People don't wish to see the social safety net disappear, and some of the largest voting blocks in America protect it from closer examination.
Of course, these programs can accidentally get extremely expensive, like Social Security, and without honest cooperation it's hard to avoid a disaster. But now it seems neither major party wants a long-term reform for social programs which might have this ballooning cost issue. Informed cooperation is necessary, but even the abstract possibility of bipartisan tough choices is becoming unpopular. One of the few things that has become supported in both major parties are wars – which, aside from the human cost, continue to establish the US as a dominant world power, which helps lower the Treasury rates and further allow the budget deficits in general.
It's not totally hopeless. America isn't doomed – far from it. But there are a millions miles of persuasion between where the American people are today and the attitudes that might avert this catastrophe.
I frequently hear about the governments of other wealthy countries, and find myself frequently envying them. That politicians in Australia can get elected by promising not to spend more money than is prudent (and then deliver on that promise). Or Sweden understanding a crisis in its social safety net and actually following the advice of economists in order to solve it. I would envy them their other, more minor problems. But we cannot truly choose our country, not anymore. America used to be that place, and even that is lost.