The American Decline IV: Where We Stand and What We Can Do
I think the election of 2004 will go down in history as the watershed where a bare majority of the American voting public put their seal of approval on ending the American Dream of a better life for all of us, and, consequently, the American Dream died.
When I read virtually every policy goal of the current Administration, I can see only one reliable long-term result: the further enrichment of the top 20% of American society at the greater or lesser expense of the 80% who are left. A majority of American voters have made it clear that they simply do not care, as long as we are "fighting terrorism" and making a statement (if not actually changing anything) in favor of "moral values".
Those of us who do care about the decline may be able to halt this particular policy initiative, or that particular policy decision of the Bush Administration. And we must make our best efforts to do so, for the sake of America's future. But even were we to halt them all, the process of the long-term impoverishment of most of America would likely continue under its own steam. It is driven by our energy dependence and the disappearance of our competitive economic base. The dominant economic power of the early 21st century clearly will be China.
We would have to become energy independent to even stabilize the general levels of poverty and quality of life in this country. This would require commitment of national will and the setting of a specific goal for an end date of independence. If we started today, a realistic goal would be 2025.
If we did achieve such energy independence, it would require weaning ourselves off of crude oil. The fact that the major sources of crude supply and demand are abroad, and subject to a competitive consumption market in which we have less and less influence, are not the only reasons for this. There are strong indications that an absolute decline in crude oil and gas supplies, and of energy generation as a whole, may be coming within our lifetime.
The only way to forestall the consequences of this would be a massive public commitment to achieve a profitable hydrogen fusion reactor, since this is the sole possible technology that could return America to the absolutely stable energy prices of 1947 to 1974, and make a renewal of American manufacturing possible. All other energy sources, both individually and collectively, appear to have resource limits far lower than continued American, or World, economic growth can tolerate. Only hydrogen is in large enough supply for such growth.
Europe and Japan have led the way in fusion research, and, as matters now stand, they will be the first to reap any benefits if it comes to fruition. The economic advantages to any country who achieves it first will be enormous. Such a country is likely to become the dominant economic power of the middle 21st Century. This will probably not be us.
Moreover, the inelastic need for vehicular transport in America ultimately implies hydrogen fueled cars, which are already on the horizon, for exactly the same reason: hydrogen supply. This research would have to be dramatically and substantially expanded, with strong public financial incentives for all segments of the automotive market--producers, consumers, energy companies, and retailers--to convert completely to hydrogen.
Finally, both the long term production of hydrogen, and the short term non-transportation energy needs, in the interval between now and the achievement of profitable hydrogen fusion, would probably need to be met by coal gasification, with this technology also encouraged with public incentives.
The other social and economic problems leading to concentration of American wealth, such as exurban sprawl and housing debt, would just have to take care of themselves in the years before the achievement of profitable hydrogen fusion.
In the absence of coalescence of national will, and intelligent policy, to reverse the American decline, America will still remain America, but it will never again be the America of equal economic opportunity in which I passed my childhood and youth.