What will America look like in a post-American world? The National Intelligence Council, with its just-released Global 2030 forecast, has become the latest voice to join the chorus of those who see U.S. hegemony giving way to a leading but less-dominant position. It is worth considering what the loss of hegemony is likely to mean for America in terms of its trade, influence, reach and voice in international forums. What impact will these and any other consequences have on the way America engages with the world, as well as on its ability to provide the kinds of leadership that make it a hegemon? And how will all this affect the ways Americans live?
Examinations of hegemonic decline have historically focused on the world beyond the imperial center. The barbarian invaders get most of the glory and attention, with the subjects of historical empires who lived in what is called the “metropole,” that is, the imperial center or “homeland,” as understudied as the nature of these places following a hegemonic collapse. In fact, the fate of some more-recent metropoles has been relatively positive over the long run. Austria, Turkey, Britain and even Russia continue to survive as viable countries. Some of them even thrive and may offer useful lessons. Austria, for example, is a small, prosperous, secure and mainly conservative imperial successor state. So is Japan. The question is how Americans will cope with such a changed condition.
A loss of hegemony generally means a loss of access to markets and resources. In the case of the U.S., that would include the loss of global reserve status for the dollar, with implications for trade, government borrowing and interest rates. It will cost Americans more to get what they want, and, at the same time, they will have less to spend. As a result, they will have to do much more to live within their means.