Similar trends are observable elsewhere. See James Kirchick’s The End of Europe and Michael Auslin’s The End of the Asian Century. Complacency, whether among the elite or the populace, breeds decline.
It’s a problem foreseen, 180 years ago, by Alexis de Tocqueville, whom Cowen quotes as saying, “My fear is that [America and other new societies] will end up by being too unalterably fixed with the same institutions, prejudices, and mores, so that mankind will stop progressing and will dig itself in.”
Cowen predicts that the complacent class “cannot hold” and that, yearning for stasis, it will be caught in a cycle of destabilizing change. We already have reason to understand how efforts to eliminate all risk turn out to be massively risky.
Policies designed to make almost everyone a wealth-accumulating homeowner resulted in mass foreclosures, financial collapse, and a nationwide recession. Anyone with arithmetic skills can see that pension and Social Security promises, supposedly guaranteeing income floors, will someday be broken.
Over time, success breeds failure and accomplishment breeds complacency. The question is whether a complacent nation can learn to take the risks necessary to achieve success once again.