Why The Fall of the American Empire Will Come by 2030

Historian Alfred McCoy explains why American power is coming to an end and lays out his vision for the new global order.

Why The Fall of the American Empire Will Come by 2030
credit: Pixabay


Living in such tense and mercurial times, it’s easy to see that most Americans do not have a strong confidence in their country’s future, with about 60% thinking it’s headed in the wrong direction, according to the polling data from RealClear Politics. They are sharply divided by politics, by the role America should play in the world, by how to utilize science and education. All such sentiment is not only warranted but indicates the reality that the American Empire is in its last years, if you believe the prediction of the noted historian Alfred McCoy. He laid out his vision for the monumental transformation of the global order in the near future in an interview with The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill.  

McCoy sees the election of Donald Trump to Presidency as a defining moment. He does not think Trump himself is the cause of the waning American power, but rather a symptom of it. Nonetheless, McCoy regards Trump as likely to hasten the downward trajectory. 

The historian writes that all negative trends that are plaguing America now are likely to get much worse, growing rapidly by 2020, and would “reach a critical mass no later than 2030.”

“The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be tattered and fading by 2025 and, except for the finger pointing, could be over by 2030,” writes McCoy.

A lifelong observer of America's trajectory, in 1972, McCoy wrote “The Politics of Heroin,” a seminal book on the CIA involvement in the heroin trade during the Vietnam War. His new book In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power” is coming out in September. He currently teaches history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  

He describes the coming 2020s as a “demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness.” He blames decades of growing deficits on “incessant warfare in distant lands”. By 2030, the U.S. dollar will lose its status as the world’s dominant reserve currency, marking the empire’s loss of influence.  

This change will prompt dramatic price increases for American imports. Costs on overseas travel for tourists and troops will increase as well. Washington will be forced to slash its budget, causing a pullback and shrinking of American forces. Like a “fading superpower incapable of paying its bills,” America will then be continuously challenged by powers like China, Russia, Iran and others for control over “ the oceans, space, and cyberspace.” 

Domestically, the changes in America’s power will lead to a worsening of the standard of living, with skyrocketing prices and tensions that will lead to a “major rewriting of the American social contract,” according to McCoy. 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters after his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

What role will Donald Trump play in this scenario? McCoy sees the new President as setting out to demolish “the essential pillars of U.S. global power”. Namely, weakening alliances with NATO and Asian partners, as well as cutting back on scientific research that has for a long time given the edge to the U.S., its military industrial complex, in particular. He also cites other examples of U.S. being withdrawing from global leadership, like its new stance on the Paris Climate Accord and the TPP. 

McCoy acknowledges that the U.S. has already reached a point where it’s no longer the dominant global power, with its share of the global economy getting smaller. Indeed, the U.S. portion of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has declined from 40% in 1960 to 22% today. Essentially, America’s economic role is nearly half of what it used to be. By 2030, China will jump ahead and become the world’s preeminent economic superpower. 

The historian also thinks that while some presidents like George H.W. Bush worked to expand the U.S. influence around the world, Trump is pursuing the opposite agenda. 

I think he’s accelerating perhaps markedly, even precipitously, the U.S. decline,” says McCoy.

He also singles out the importance of supporting research, alarmed by Trump’s current policies. 

“What Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that there’s a close relationship between basic research, like research in artificial intelligence, and your capacity to come up with the next new thing that will give the United States a leading edge in military technology. And that’s what he doesn’t understand, that’s the one way he’s damaging the whole complex,” argues McCoy.

Besides the geopolitical changes, McCoy points to the growing failures within the “intellectual infrastructure of the country” as being responsible for America’s downturn.  He makes the argument that maybe we should pay attention to all the statistics we often hear about, like the disturbing PISA rankings that have American students coming in 41st in math and 25th in science on the global scale. Students from countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and, China are in the top 5 in all categories.  It’s not hard to imagine that by 2030, these students will be “super smart scientists and engineers that are coming up with the cutting edge technology,” says McCoy.


And if you think this only concerns gadgetry, McCoy sees this “erosion” of educational standards in the U.S. leading to “very serious implications for our military technology.” The American military might will suffer greatly as well. 

“The technological and educational shifts coming together means that there are all kinds of ways for the U.S. to lose power. Either with a bang or a whimper. But by 2030, it’s pretty much over for our global dominion,” predicts McCoy. 

Lest you think America’s got it coming and it’s about time it loses its world status, McCoy warns that whoever will take its place will not wield power in the “comparatively benign and beneficent” way that the U.S. has. For all its faults, America’s great experiment has brought worldwide advancements in women’s rights, gay rights, democracy and human progress in general.  

You can listen to the full podcast interview with Alfred McCoy here.

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7 most notorious and excessive Roman Emperors

These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

Nero's Torches. A group of early Christian martyrs about to be burned alive during the reign of emperor Nero in 64 AD.

1876. Painted by Henryk Siemiradzki.
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  • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
  • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
  • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

1. Caligula

Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he slept with whomever he wanted, brazenly taking other men's wives (even on their wedding nights) and publicly talking about it.

He also had an insatiable blood thirst, killing for mere amusement. Once, as reports historian Suetonius, when the bridge across the sea at Puteoli was being blessed, he had a number of spectators who were there to inspect it thrown off into the water. When some tried to cling to the ships' rudders, Caligula had them dislodged with hooks and oars so they would drown. On another occasion, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

Suetonius relayed further atrocities of the mad emperor's character, writing that Caligula "frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself; and kept an expert headsman in readiness to decapitate the prisoners brought in from gaol." One particular form of torture associated with Caligula involved having people sawed in half.

He caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

2. Nero

Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others burned at the stake.

He died by suicide.

Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

3. Commodus

Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

The burning desire to kill living creatures as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

4. Elagabalus

Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a cone-like fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

5. Vitellius

Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

6. Caracalla

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

7. Tiberius

As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

"Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

After he died, Tiberius was fittingly succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula.

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