Ferguson's fractured future history

DR readers have caught excerpts this week from Niall Ferguson’s cover story for the 9/11 issue of Time Magazine, "The Nation that Fell to Earth," written from the standpoint of 30 years after the attacks.

Now far be it from me to dis a fellow DR reader, but it’s worth noting Ferguson is an unabashed advocate of American Imperium, albeit one who has a grasp of the Bush Administration’s exceptionally ham-fisted approach to it, and the massive debt that threatens to undo it.  Remarkable, then, that the scenario he spins for the next few years is so benign.  Yes, America is no longer the world’s sole superpower as China, Russia, and Iran extend their spheres of influence, but…

With the rise of these rivals came one benefit: as time passed, the once hated Great Satan was no longer everybody's favorite whipping boy. Since the U.S. presence in the Middle East had wound down after 2008, it was no longer obvious why Islamist terrorists would expend their energies attacking American cities. That was why, by the 30th anniversary of 9/11, many younger Americans looked back on that event as a strange aberration.

Yet reports of America's decline proved to be premature. In 2012 President [Mark] Warner's successor surprised the foes of the U.S. with a bold reinvention of America. The reform of Medicare and Social Security, combined with a radical overhaul of the federal tax system, had quite dramatic consequences. Growth surged. So did productivity.

Americans stopped investing exclusively in real estate and got back to the serious business of technological innovation. Congress passed a low-cost, universal health-care system and a new federal sales tax, which allowed a drastic reduction in income tax without the huge deficits that had plagued the Bush years…

And so the Great War of Democracy ended–not with the catastrophic bang that so many had feared but with the imperceptible hum of a technological revolution.

This is a remarkable turnabout for someone who wrote the following just two years ago:

Critics of U.S. global dominance should pause and consider the alternative. If the United States retreats from its hegemonic role, who would supplant it? Not Europe, not China, not the Muslim world—and certainly not the United Nations. Unfortunately, the alternative to a single superpower is not a multilateral utopia but the anarchic nightmare of a new Dark Age.

I leave it to others to sort out the contradictions.  The value in Ferguson’s Time article is the insight it offers into how an influential thinker among the power elite sees the next few years playing out.  I plan to reread it from time to time, comparing the scenario to the reality.  I have no more insight into the future than anyone else, but I imagine I will laugh with Mogambo-like hysterics at the notion of an American disengagement from the Middle East after 2008, and a successful "reform" of Medicare and Social Security after 2012.