… Then who, or what, fills the resulting vacuum in world leadership?
Europe — sclerotic, bureaucratized and social-democratized — has for decades enjoyed the protection, inventions and security afforded by its more laissez-fair, strapping, and exuberant cousin across the Pond, the United States. America, with its free markets, its market incentives, and its relatively large private sector, has been the engine of global growth. America’s system, based fundamentally on individual risk and responsibility, has been the great incubator of innovations that have become the staples of the modern age — from medical advances, to computers, to the internet and beyond. Around the world, people have benefited in ways beyond measure.
All that energy poured into progress is likely to fade, as America devolves into a nation of carbon-capped civil servants, tending to a much-shrunken private sector, and a growing line of people on the dole. However high-flying President Obama’s rhetoric, he can’t re-engineer human nature. If you tax and subsidize Americans more, they will — like anyone else — produce and create less. In many realms, there will be fewer gains from trade. In the middle of every transaction will be the taxman, or the government regulator. For the dramatic reshaping on which Obama has embarked, the cost will be paid not only in taxes, but in a pervasive souring of climate (and I am not talking about hocus-pocus with the weather).
In short, where there was America the superpower — with its almost bottomless pockets and limitless drive — there will be a shabbier America, quite likely more self-absorbed. There will be a growing vacuum on the world scene. If, a generation into the post-Soviet New World Order, that shift is already underway, we can now expect it to accelerate. Since World War II, America’s capitalist system has allowed it to stand as a bulwark of democracy, provider of security and font of commerce and creativity for the world. Europe has had America at its back. There is no candidate right now to replace America in that role.
There are candidates of a somewhat different character, who may see this as a opportunity. There are despotisms, such as China, and resurgently aggressive Russia. There are the totalitarian Islamists of Iran, with their visions, shared by both rivals and collaborators within the Muslim world, of a global caliphate. There are blocs which can be glimpsed in miniature in the doings of the UN General Assembly, where some of the world’s more swaggering dictatorships enjoy pride of place. We do not know how these forces might play out as America transforms itself into Europe — but there’s a chilling likelihood that we will all pay for this, in ways not mentioned in the multi-trillion dollar spending plans now emanating from Washington.