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If you are interested in a more detailed portrait of the shifts happening, this book is excellent. If the US loses its technological advantage and its reserve currency status, it is very difficult to know what will happen.


China's biggest problem will be demographics, second only to their political system.

US will likely due to tax / deficit issues, not so different than the French aristocrats who refused to pay taxes in run-up to the revolution.

America has a number of enduring advantages:

1. Its geography means it's impervious to conventional invasions.

2. Its embracing culture will attract more immigrants.

3. It is an offshoot of western civilization and therefore has natural allies in Europe.

China's advantages are:

1. It has a population that is 3-4 times the size of the US.

2. Its economy is still underdeveloped, therefore economic growth is a lot easier.

The easy growth is gone, though, now that the labor market in China is tightening up. A lot of countries have made it to the middle stage of development and then petered out on growth; that list includes Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey, etc, all of which rank higher either on GDP per capita or GNI per capita.

China is interesting in that its society is rapidly aging before it becomes a high income country, which is enough of a rough transition for high income countries.

That is all true. However I would say that the divisions within US society (black vs. white, guns vs. no guns, abortion vs no abortion, tax rich vs. tax no one,...) and the horrible public education system will be its biggest challenge going forward. At the end of the day, empires are build on economic / technological advantage - Roman army & aqueducts, British longbow, French knights, British steampower, US microprocessors,...

> 1. Its geography means it's impervious to conventional invasions.

You'd have to be insane to invade China, though. "Never get involved in a land war in Asia". Especially never get involved in a land war in Asia against someone with an army the size of China's.

> 2. Its embracing culture will attract more immigrants.

This advantage the current administration seems to be working as hard as possible to destroy. As far as I know, though, this is still an advantage for the US compared to China.

> 2. Its [China's] economy is still underdeveloped, therefore economic growth is a lot easier.

It's not nearly as underdeveloped as it used to be. Further growth will be significantly harder than past growth was. Can China keep it going? I don't know.

Nobody is capable of invading China, that is true. But American mainland is a lot more secure than China's. Any military conflict will be fought near China and have direct costs to China. For example, a blockage of the strait of Malacca will cripple China.

As to the economy, as long as China grows faster than 3%, it will gain relatively to the US.

Infrastructure destruction by missiles, terrorism and hacking (power grid, financial system, etc.) seem more dangerous at the moment and geography plays little to no role in any of those.

Also, weaponize space and all terrestrial advantages become mostly moot (no GPS, communications, etc.).

Actually, it isn't impossible.

You don't need to invade the entire land, you just need to bomb a few targets. A nice chunk of China's population and structure is distributed across China's shores. If you take a look at photos of China at night from space, you'll see that the shores are way way brighter than inland. Interesting enough, there are plenty US allies nearby which could be used as base to make bombing easier.

Edit:However, I, personally, don't think we'll see big dogs such as U.S and China fighting in any moment near future. We have developed tools so efficient to kill each other that the best ideia possible is to not use them. At these times, big wars are too costly for everyone, involved or not.

Yes, you'd have to be insane to invade China. Their massive army makes it mass suicide.

Maintaining that deterrence is the the actual disadvantage to China - not the risk of invasion, but the cost of preventing invasion.

I don't think they're actually concerned about that. I think their standing force is more about building national unity and pride.

Battles are rapidly migrating to the air (drones, missiles, etc.) and cyberspace.

You cannot fight in cyberspace when a foot soldier turns the server off.

The US would never need to invade China in the (horrific) event of a conflict. Simply cut off their access to oil by blocking the Strait of Malacca. Better yet do nothing and allow Japan do it for you.

Re #1 it isn't about conventional invasion at all Re #2 it currently is not embracing immigration Re#3 it is currently alienating its European patners

Political system is a huge one and could go either way.

1 party rule can make quick, bold changes for better or for worse.

In the US, we're stuck with slower change again for better or worse.

Pro.3 and pro.2 is being shot to pieces by Trump right now.

Pro.1 does also apply to China I would think.

I'm not sure con.1 is that much of an advantage. other than a larger national market.

Losing technological advantage will happen naturally as the gdp per capita increase in China and India.

More population= more scientists= more innovation

The reserve currency status is tough. Would not happen naturally without major world events.

Which may be why China is so lenient with bitcoin mining. If 51% of the hashpower of the new currency is within your border, it is not as good as being the reserve currency, but pretty close to it. And it gives a advantage if you ever want to impose a fork with rules that would being home some benefit.

>US will likely due to tax / deficit issues, not so different than the French aristocrats who refused to pay taxes in run-up to the revolution.

Or you could see it as being like the USSR which drove itself into the ground by spending everyone's money (trying to keep up with the US) faster than everyone could create it.

Tax/deficit problems can not be considered just tax problems or just spending problems because the amount of input is not meaningful except in relation to the amount of output. It's like how diet and exercise need to be considered together if you want to make a plan for meaningful weight loss. If we stopped playing world police (or just did it less) and made the government gravy train more efficient (i.e. less of a gravy train, which sounds easy but it's actually hard because nobody wants to stop pissing money away on their pet program/subsidy) we could probably have both good social safety nets and less taxes.

> being like the USSR which drove itself into the ground by spending everyone's money (trying to keep up with the US)

So US will spend their money on trying to keep up with... China? Russia? Japan? India?

> So US will spend their money on trying to keep up with... China? Russia? Japan? India?

At the moment the US is outspending everyone combined. As they catch up and economically and technologically it gets exponentially harder for the US to maintain their current dominance. China also gets more bang for it's buck, it's only trying to assert dominance of a small area but the US is spread globally.

A better analogy might be pre-WW1 Britain that tried to maintain a navy at least the size of the next world powers combined.

One of China's biggest demographic and economic problems is that it employs a million people to mine coal and steel. http://fortune.com/2016/03/22/mounting-debts-china/

>> US loses its technological advantage and its reserve currency status it is very difficult to know what will happen

Not really... WWIII and likely the end of human civilization will happen.

If the US Falls it is unlikely it will fall silently with out using its massive military to bring down everyone.

Their Geography is not better either they do not have direct access to Pacific, their energy dependence on ME oil is very evident and of course 17 bordering states with numerous disputes.

If US goes down (that's a big If and very unlikely event) then Pacific will be Japanese playground not Chinas and India will tie-up with the biggest maritime power to check them in India Ocean.

Its really hard to be a super power at least in the near term without being a first grade naval power.

The publication is some times called Washington Compost, a very hard earned nick name for their BS vending!

Japan does not have the capability to compete with Chinese naval power. Why do you think it’s unlikely that the US will go down? What time frame are you attributing this unlikelihood to take place in? I’m assuming you mean in the next few decades and not meaning a much larger time frame.

I have no expertise but it appears from my perspective that the US is in a state of imperial decline. I think this will accelerate in the coming decades. For me the canary in the coal mine event was Gulf War 1 when the US went around asking other countries to help pay for our war. Mercenary nation. There are lots of other signs of imperial decline as I see things but that event was very telling.

> For me the canary in the coal mine event was Gulf War 1 when the US went around asking other countries to help pay for our war.

On the contrary I would say Gulf War 1 was the last example of the US empire operating as designed: a large coalition of westernized nations implicitly following the leadership in the US, in a network of institutions and alliances entirely built around the assumption of US supremacy.

IMO the second Gulf War was the first blow to the US-centric international system... and it was the US themselves who dealt that blow.

It's one thing asking allies to help fight a war and quite another asking them to pay for it. Japan famously was asked to pay $10 billion. It was disconcerting to see this as an American. Allegedly the war was worth fighting for America but I guess not worth America paying for it. We were willing to spill our blood but not open our wallets.

Ah, I didn’t remember that part of it. Added to my research list, thank you.

There are definitely signs of decline; I'm with you there. The problem is that there have been signs of decline before - leading up to the Civil War, the Great Depression, Vietnam. The question is, is this negative derivative at the moment the start of the Big Decline, or is it just a temporary downtrend?

I also fear that it's the start of the Big Decline, but I'm far from certain of that...

From my perspective the decline has been going on since the end of the Reagan administration. There are a number of reasons for my belief but I think it has been steadily going on for 30 years now. Prior the Civil War Alexis de Tocqueville famously predicted the rise of America. After the war our dominance in the Western Hemisphere was solidified and at the beginning of the 20th century it was clear that resource rich America with its vast land mass was able to achieve scales of economy that no other nation could match. It was clear that we were still a rising power at that time.

The “Big Decline” will be a Great Filter event, but the timeframe for that event is still uncertain. It is still inevitable, however.

I mean, china has nukes, a larger and more experienced army and navy, and a geographical advantage. The largest mountain range in the world borders them on one side, Siberia and the steppe on the other, a huge ass desert in between, tropical rainforest and mountains to the south east.

The geographic isolation isn't as strong as the us', but it's much stronger than any other country in the region. Taiwan/japan/south korea off their border is the biggest issue

I am curious who is the analog to the french aristocrats. With 95% of the tax burdened by those earning more than $50k, it is crucial to define this. The median income is roughly about this value as well, so basically nearly all the tax is burdened by the top 50% earning populace. If you raise the bar further ($200k), its still nearly 60% of the taxes being paid by 5-10% of the populace. So I am not sure I buy that the "aristocrats" are "refusing" to pay their taxes. Maybe we could oversimplify to just politicians?

I suspect this is a disingenuous question, given that almost anyone who has the above statistics also knows that they are misleading, and even false, in the context. The minutes old account age is also suspect.

High income earners pay a vanishingly low percentage of their income as tax, and it is almost all discretionary income, not income they need to merely subsist.

Low income earners pay an increasingly higher proportion of their income as tax (which is not predominantly income tax, rather things like sales, property (directly or indirectly), or ad valorum taxes.

The analog to the French aristocrats are those incredibly wealthy people who, like the former aristocracy, receive enormous income from rents and other unearned sources. That's dead simple obvious to anyone who isn't trying to live out some kind of fantasy-based ideology.

Another take on these statistics ..

from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/why-its-a-myth-that-the-rich-ar... ...

Who pays most of the country's taxes -- the rich, poor or middle class? If you add up it all up, including federal income, payroll, excise (such as for gas), and state and local taxes, it's pretty even. Each group's share of total taxes is roughly equivalent to their income.

In other words, concludes Washington advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice, the U.S. tax system is only marginally progresssive, meaning that people at the top hardly pay any more than folks lower down the income ladder.

The 95% / 20% is just income tax. Total tax burden is quite different considering at least payroll taxes and the fact that a lot of the top earners simply do not pay income tax at all.

Read Capital in the 21st century and histories of the French Revolution.

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