NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 23, 2010

For much of the past decade, "declinism"-- the notion that America is heading toward a deadly denouement -- has largely been a philosophy of the political Left.  Some point to the predictions by Nobel Prize economist Robert Fogel that China's economy will be three times larger than that of the United States by 2040.  Rarely mentioned, however, is China's own aging problem, says Joel Kotkin, a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and an adjunct fellow at the Legatum Institute in London. 

For example: 

  • The population of the People's Republic will be considerably older than the United States' by 2050.
  • It also has far more boys than girls -- a rather insidious problem; among the younger generation there are already an estimated 24 million more men of marrying age than women.  

In the longer term demographic trends actually place the United States in a relatively strong position, says Kotkin:

  • By the end of the first half of the 21st century, the American population aged 15 to 64 -- essentially your economically active cohort -- are projected to grow by 42 percent; China's will shrink by 10 percent.
  • Comparisons with other competitors are even larger, with the European Union shrinking by 25 percent, Korea by 30 percent and Japan by a remarkable 44 percent. 

So given this history, why the current rise in declinism?  Certainly it's a view many in the wider public share.  Most Americans fear their children will not be able to live as well as they have.  A plurality think China will be the world's most powerful country in 20 years. 

To be sure there are some good reasons for pessimism.  The huge deficits, high unemployment, our leakage of industry not only to China but other developing countries are all worrisome trends.  Yet if the negative case is easier to make, it does not stand historical scrutiny, says Kotkin. 

Source: Joel Kotkin, "America on the Rise," Forbes, February 9, 2010. 

For text: 


Browse more articles on International Issues