I saw several articles recently that illustrate thoughts that I have had for some time now:
First, it seems that Mexico is having problems with eco-terrorists attacking its nanotechnology research institutes. This is not the Mexico of my parents' generation. This is a rich-country problem.
Seond, Brazilian researchers have stated that their goal is to have the opening kick of the 2014 World Cup be made by a paralyzed teenager in a thought-controlled exoskeleton. This is not the Brazil of my parents' generation. This is a rich-country of big hairy audacious goal.
Third, there is a vibrant system of online learning in Asia, with the result that people in Africa are getting online degrees from Asian Universities. This is not the Africa and Asia of my parents' generation. This is the kind of thing that will propel these countries to wealth and prosperity
If you pay attention to the long-term trends of international affairs and scientific research, you can see many more things like this. The rest of the world is an interesting, dynamic, flourishing place. So many things are happening. The last two decades have, worldwide, generated more wealth and human well-being than any time in history. Over a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, and a billion more have moved from moderate poverty to something resembling a middle-class lifestyle.
My conclusion is this: If things go well, The world will never again need the United States.
For most of our history, the world needed us. From the 1790's to the 1990's, the world would have been much worse off if the United States fell apart. When our nation was founded, we were the only free republic in a world of kings and despots. Then, we were the only place that millions of immigrants could go to to secure a better life. Then, our military and political power were vital to protect the world from fascism and communism. And for almost all of this time, we were one of the primary engines of economic, technological, and social progress.
For two hundred years, we were the beacon of liberty, the shining city on the hill, the promised land, Zion. For the past several generations, it has been embedded in our national consciousness that we were the center of the world. Where we went, the world followed. If we were to collapse into ruin or a dystopia, then we assumed that the rest of the world would inevitably share the same fate.
But now, things have changed. The rest of the world is full of countries who are getting richer, freer, and more successful each year. They are finding their own way to prosperity, learning from and trading with each other rather than being dependent on a superpower.
If something horrible happened to the United States, then the fate of mankind would not be affected very much. There would certainy be some nasty economic consequences, possibly some geopolitical problems, and probably a masty speed bump for technological progress. But in the long term, nothing would really change. The rest of the world would grow, and develop, and adjust, and adapt, making itself better and richer.
If the collapse was slow and gradual, taking place over decades, then the rest of the world would not care at all. Most of our scientific minds would move to other countries and continue their work in their universities. Businesses would relocate, taking the skilled and important workers with them.
I hope that the world never again returns to a condition where the United States is important. I look forward to a future where we are but one nation among equals, where the engines of human progress are spread across the globe, and all people have the chance to live in rich free countries.