China | August 4, 2017

Dark Shadows

The team at


The rumblings of a trade war with China sent us looking for scenarios for how things may play out by, say, 2030.

A particularly dire forecast comes from historian Alfred McCoy, whose new book, “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,” is due out next month.

By 2030, China is likely to surpass U.S., economically and militarily, says the professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “For the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness. After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2030 the U.S. dollar eventually loses its special status as the world’s dominant reserve currency.”

“Suddenly, there are punitive price increases for American imports ranging from clothing to computers. And the costs for all overseas activity surges as well, making travel for both tourists and troops prohibitive. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget. Under pressure at home and abroad, its forces begin to pull back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter. Such a desperate move, however, comes too late. Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying its bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace.”

The seeds of American decline were planted long before the Trump administration, McCoy told The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill in a podcast interview. But current events are bearing out his thesis, he says, from weakened alliances, through withdrawal from global agreements, to cutbacks in scientific research — and he doesn’t even mention the looming brinksmanship over the national debt limit. China, meanwhile, is investing trillions in its “One Belt, One Road” strategy to integrate Eurasia with railroads, ports and pipelines.

“There will be lots of tensions that are going to occur in the society from what will be a major rewriting of the American social contract,” McCoy said. “This will not be pleasant.”