Recent Medicare and Social Security trustee reports revealed that the two entitlement services would reach insolvency within the next fifteen years. The entitlement crisis has more than just economic implications – George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen predicts an unpromising future as Americans retreat from their troop deployments abroad to cover these costs.
He argues that Americans will likely sacrifice the security of a peaceful world to continue a comfortable lifestyle within our borders. But hiding behind an “American Fortress” breeds passivity, and passivity breeds a national security crisis. Writing in Commentary, Noah Rothman summarizes Cowen’s prediction:
Neither major American party is committed to addressing the crisis before it hits, so it is incumbent on forecasters to do the gloomy work of identifying how American lawmakers will respond when it is upon us. To his credit, George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen has done just that.
In an op-ed for Bloomberg, Cowen frames the oncoming crisis as a series of choices. Americans have chosen insolvency, and they are now faced with the inevitable realities associated with mitigating the damage that choice will produce. Ultimately, he notes, Americans will choose to avoid the prospect of politically untenable pain associated with mandatory cuts to entitlement benefits. Instead, American elected officials are most likely to offset the non-discretionary costs of America’s ballooning entitlement state by forcing the United States into retreat from its commitments abroad. Since forward deployments are among the most expensive aspects of the defense budget, policymakers will be forced to accept retrenchment.
Cowen paints a bleak portrait of the circumstances that this power vacuum would create. China will become more belligerent and revanchist, possibly culminating in the annexation of Taiwan. Nuclear weapons will proliferate across the Middle East. North American political and economic integration will deteriorate and tensions will rise. Russia will continue to test the inviolability of the borders in states constituting the “near abroad,” potentially instigating a crisis with a NATO-aligned state like Latvia or Estonia.
Rothman’s only criticism of Cowen is that his predictions aren’t quite bleak enough.