More Forecasts – Part Two:
The Future of America.
Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today!
Follow-up to my Forecasts of November 2005

By Fabius Maximus

July 17, 2006


Forecast #3: the death of the US Constitution.

The Constitution was originally designed to specify the duties for each of America’s three branches and to limit their powers. Its ability to do the latter function has faded rapidly since the New Deal. Already most of the Bill of Rights remain de jure in force but are de facto void, as can be seen by a Lexis search of successful attempts to use them in litigation – you’ll find almost none.

At some point soon the Constitution will become a purely procedural document, much like that of the former Soviet Union, and equally effective at preserving our liberties. Our rights will exist only on the sufferance of our government and our ruling elites. This is already true in the UK, as the “unwritten constitution” protecting the “rights of Englishmen” has blown away like smoke in the wind.

One can see our future in the fracas over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Judicial outrage over the Bush administration bypassing of the Court of Review cannot result from concern over our civil liberties. The Court of Review apparently seldom if ever denied requests for government action. The Supremes’ horror is understandable, however, as this cut the judiciary out from a role in the rapidly expanding national security apparatus – an obvious violation of the balance of power among the three Branches.

Roman history shows how recognition of these things lags behind the facts. Generations passed before people recognized that the Republic was truly dead. America has violated the initial conditions the founders considered necessary for a republic.

  • A small government

  • A citizenry of farmers, self-employed craftsman, and business owners

  • An educated citizenry, knowledgeable about the republic’s history and operation

  • A people jealous of their liberties and willing to fight to preserve them.

We have traded liberty for promises of equality, security, and prosperity. The cost is our Constitution. Everything has a price.

The predominate reaction of the Romans to the death of the Republic was resignation, as seen in the popular philosophies of the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity.

How will Americans react when they realize that the Constitution has died?

Forecast #4: bankruptcy.

Perhaps only a crisis will catalyze America’s transition to a new form of government. There is no lack of candidates.

The last stone in the foundation of America’s greatness was laid by Alexander Hamilton, who as Secretary of the Treasury published the Report on the Public Credit in January 1790. He argued that America should – unlike most nations – pay its war debts. With the support of Washington, opposed by Jefferson and Madison, it was enacted through one of the great compromises that distinguish early American history.

Now we owe trillions to foreigners and plan to borrow trillions more – scurrilously – as we have neither the ability nor intention of paying back these loans. Worse, childishly, we hope our creditors will never demand repayment.

Look at our domestic balance sheet. Most American households have few savings – many lack even a 60-day emergency fund – and massive debts. The aggregate totals (so loved by economists) conceal this by including both Bill Gates and thousands of unemployed auto workers. It’s not an irrational way to see things, if Gates will donate money to pay off their debts and fund their retraining for well-paying jobs at Microsoft.

Our international balance sheet is equally frightening. Our massive foreign debts, accumulating at over $2 billion per day, spell the likely end of the US Dollar as the world’s reserve currency – and the end of the post-WWII economic regime and America’s role as the world’s hegemon. Without the unlimited ability to borrow in our own currency, America’s current economic condition becomes impossible to sustain.

This is, of course, old news. We’ve heard these warnings for many years.

On September 23 his fleet hove in sight, and all came safely to anchor in Pevensey Bay. There was no opposition to the landing. The local fyrd had been called out this year four times already to watch the coast, and having, in true English style, come to the conclusion that the danger was past because it had not yet arrived had gone back to their homes.

Description of William the Conqueror’s arrival,
from History of the English Speaking People by Winston S. Churchill

The list of agencies, experts and high officials who have warned us could fill many pages. I need not do so, as I believe we all at some level know we are on a course of near-certain self-destruction. A few references will suffice.

Since September 2003 David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, has acted as a modern Paul Revere. He’s crossed the nation giving extraordinarily blunt speeches warning of the fiscal catastrophe looming ahead. Didn’t you see the front-page stories about this?

Here are two of his recent presentations:

  • The Nation's Growing Fiscal Imbalance

  • Saving Our Future Requires Tough Choices Today.

Here is another wake-up call – you must have seen the special TV new bulletins when this was published!

Is the United States Bankrupt?
By Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Professor of Economics at Boston University
Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review
July/August 2006

Perhaps the Fed’s reputation for obfuscation is not deserved. Note the opening of the article’s abstract:

Is the United States bankrupt? Many would scoff at this notion. Others would argue that financial implosion is just around the corner. This paper explores these views from both partial and general equilibrium perspectives. It concludes that countries can go broke, that the United States is going broke, that remaining open to foreign investment can help stave off bankruptcy, but that radical reform of U.S. fiscal institutions is essential to secure the nation's economic future. …

Have you ever wondered at the total debt of US Government? Treasury Secretary O'Neil did, and asked some experts to compute the answer. Surprisingly, Bush fired him shortly afterwards. Our total liability was $44 trillion. Then. It’s much larger now, of course.

Fiscal and Generational Imbalances
By Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters

Not to bore my readers with so many dire warnings, but here are more from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin  and the International Monetary Fund.

We cannot say that we were not warned.

This precarious load of debt can totter and fall at even a small disturbance.

  • Inflation: rising interest rates are lethal to millions of households with adjustable mortgages and floating-rate consumer loans.

  • Deflation: a recession that generates unemployment, cutting US consumer spending (an incredible 20% of global GDP) and creating layoffs, which can easily spiral out of control.

The already high deficits of the federal government, during the peak of the up phase – the large number of two-worker, high debt, no savings households – and many other factors make our economy far more vulnerable than at any time since WWII. Anything that destabilizes our economy could spark foreclosures and bankruptcies at levels not seen since the 1930s.

For what will have traded our greatness, our very solvency?

We’ll have spent billions on weapons, welfare, and granite countertops. Only the debts will remain.

Forecast #5: the next cycle begins.

There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.

Marcus Aurelius, in the movie Gladiator

This coming crisis might test America more than anything in our past, including the Revolutionary and Civil wars. This forecast says that America will lose both what defines it and what we hold most dear: our Constitution, our wealth, and our role as global hegemon.

Al-Qa'ida, Iran, Russia, and others prepare for a larger role in the New World Order.

This transition is like a singularity in astrophysics, a point where the rules breakdown – and beyond which we cannot see.

It’s a commonplace event in history. Consider 1942 Russia. Ruled by a madman. Their government having betrayed the hopes of the revolution, killed tens of millions, and reduced the nation to poverty. Many of their generals dead, their armies in full retreat, vast areas under the control of ruthless invader.

The mark of a great people is to carry on when all is lost, including hope. We can learn much from the Russian people, and their experience in such frightful times.

I doubt we will fall so far into such peril. But our situation might be far more complex, with no clear enemy to unify us.

People, Ideas, and Hardware. "In that order!"

the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences

Our wealth is just hardware, an inheritance from past generations. What we lose we can work to replace.

Our Constitution is just an idea, inherited from the founders. We created it, and the failure of the first version just gives us experience to do better with the second.

Our culture is a collection of discordant ideas, despised (perhaps rightly in some respects) by much of the world – an easily understood disgust to anyone watching certain of our TV shows and movies, or listening to some of our popular music.

The people are America. We are strong because of our ability to act together, to produce and follow leaders. We are strong due to our openness to other cultures and ability to assimilate their best aspects. We are strong due to our ability to adapt to new circumstances, to roll with defeat and carry on.

We will be what we want to be. The coming years will reveal what that is.

There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius.

Maximus Decimus Meridius, in the movie Gladiator

About the series of articles “Lessons on Grand Strategy – and the Fate of America”

There are few comprehensive proposals for a Grand Strategy for America in the Revolution in Military Affairs or 4th Generation War literature. This series presents an alternative to Barnett's "Pax America" vision. It is based on, and in a sense starts from, William Lind’s “Strategic Defense Initiative” originally published in The American Conservative, November 22, 2004.

The current article is an intermission in this series, based on the parts 1 – 3 and foreshadowing the next few chapters.

Link to Lind’s article:

Chapter One: “The Myth of Grand Strategy”

This describes the reasons why a developed State should choose a “humble” Grand Strategy, not an “ambitious” one

Chapter Two: “The Fate of Israel”

This demonstrates the difficulty of distinguishing strong from weak in 4GW, and that choosing a wrong grand strategy can be terminal for a state.

“An Interruption – “Top Secret US Government Documents about Iraq”

Comparisons of Vietnam and Iraq suggest that US Government institutions have become dysfunctional, incapable of faithfully and competently executing any Grand Strategy.

Chapter Three: “America’s Most Dangerous Enemy”

Why we must remain cool and careful when assessing threats to America. Our worst enemy is not whom you think it is.

Watch DNI for the new few chapters proposing A Grand Strategy for America.

The US is weak in several vital dimensions. From this it follows that a strategy focused on defense is best, so we can conserve our strength and rebuild while we adapt to a this new era.

Who was Fabius Maximus?

Fabius Maximus was the Roman leader who saved Rome from Hannibal by recognizing its weakness, the need to conserve and regenerate. He turned from the easy path of macho “boldness” to the long, difficult path of rebuilding Rome’s strength and greatness. His life holds profound lessons for 21st Century America.

Qualifications of the Author? Read Fabius Maximus’ other articles.

A work of intellectual analysis stands on its own logic, supported by the author’s track record.

More Forecasts - Part One.

"Forecasts for the American Expedition to Iraq – the Sequel"

“Lessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq”

“Forecasts for the American Expedition to Iraq”

“Women Warriors”

“The Rioting in France and the Decline of the State”

“The Plame Affair and the Decline of The State”

“Militia: the dominant defensive force in 21st Century 4GW?”

“Scorecard #4: War in Iraq: New developments & implications”, November 22, 2003

“Scorecard #3: A look at the Coalition’s Progress in Iraq”, November 9, 2003

“Scorecard #2: an Iraq Update”, October 31, 2003

“Scorecard #1: How well are we doing in Iraq?” September 22, 2003