Much of the global perception of America's long-term decline as the world's sole surviving superpower is in fact driven by our fiscal decline. That's why I was disturbed to hear Democrats so quickly dismiss GOP Sen. Paul Ryan's bold, if flawed, federal budget proposal on the grounds that it would "end Medicare as we know it." Frankly, arresting our decline means ending a lot of things "as we know them." That's simply what being on an unsustainable path forces you to do.
But as difficult as reforming federal entitlement programs will be, it is absolutely necessary, because a look at the century ahead suggests that America's days as an indispensable leader are far from over. Americans might not be in the mood to talk about assuming additional long-term responsibilities right now. But the ones we will be called upon to shoulder, like our difficult fiscal choices, are all about leaving our children a world in which they have a reasonable chance of enjoying the same or better standard of living than we've had -- taking care not to confuse consumption with standard of living. The U.S. most assuredly cannot maintain its current levels of consumption, given the rise of a global middle class that aspires to similar living standards. Indeed, more than anything else, the rise of that global middle class is the dynamic that will increasingly put an end to all sorts of things as we have known them.
Before dismissing that, we should recognize that a future where billions are allowed access to a better life is one worth creating and sustaining. That is what modern globalization can afford, and America's role in launching and defending it is, without a doubt, our greatest gift to this planet.