Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Geriatrics of U.S. Primacy

Mark Haas has a pathbreaking article on the demographics of America's global preponderance (pdf) in the current issue of International Security.

Haas discusses how global democraphic dynamics will alter the international distribution of capabilities. States with increasingly elderly populations will enjoy less robust economic growth, and larger shares of gross domestic product will be devoted to social welfare programs for the aged. These states will be less likely to mount aggressive foreign policies, and the traditional balancing dynamic in great power politics will be attenuated.

America is not immune from the burdens of a growing population, yet demographic trends in the U.S. imply less geriatric overload than is true of other advanced industrial democracies. This situation should bode well for the perpetuation of American hegemony, although there will be the likelihood of some retrenchment in U.S. foreign policy:

Aging populations are likely to result in the slowdown of states’ economic growth at the same time that governments face substantial pressure to pay for massive new expenditures for elderly care. This double economic dilemma will create such an austere fiscal environment that the otther great powers will lack the resources necessary to overtake the United States’ huge power lead. Investments designed to improve overall economic growth and purchases of military weaponry will be crowded out. Compounding these difficulties, although the United States is growing older, it is doing so to a lesser extent and less quickly than all the other great powers. Consequently, the economic and fiscal costs for the United States created by social aging (although staggering, especially for health care) will be signifcantly lower for it than for potential competitors. Global aging is therefore not only likely to extend U.S. hegemony (because the other major powers will lack the resources necessary to overtake the United States’ economic and military power lead), but deepen it as these others states are likely to fall even farther behind the United States. Thus despite much recent discussion in the international relations literature and some policymaking circles about the likelihood of China (and to a lesser extent the European Union) balancing U.S. power in coming decades, the realities of social aging and its economic and military effects make such an outcome unlikely.
I really like this article, especially Haas' discussion of comparatively high rates of fertility and immigration in the U.S. There's much mention in press punditry about how immigration helps sustain America's entitlement system, but there's less attention to how America's open, assimilationist immigration policies in fact sustain American global leadership.

I've argued a number of times here against the renewed "declinism" thesis that has seeped into discussions about America's global leadership role. We will face some important retrenchments in the years after the Bush administration, but a future of continued U.S. global primacy looks likely for some time to come.

See here,
here, here, here, and here, for some of my earlier posts on U.S. hegemony.

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