American decline. You hear about it everywhere, even if the United States remains the strongest economy among an underperforming set of peer nations.
Ordinary people sense the problem. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the nation is headed in the wrong direction. A surprisingly large portion of Americans believe (mistakenly) that China’s economy is more powerful than their own. Whether America’s best days are ahead or behind will be a recurring debate in the presidential race that’s just heating up.
To get to the bottom of it, we asked several business and political leaders at the recent Milken Institute annual conference in Los Angeles what makes them most pessimistic about the future of the United States. Concerns ranged from immediate economic risks to pernicious long-term trends nobody’s quite sure how to address. “I’m fearful of America’s leadership in the world,” former House majority leader Eric Cantor, now vice chairman at investment bank Moelis & Co., tells Yahoo Finance in the video above. “America’s influence is needed and we need to go out and continue to project that influence.”
Other concerns include worsening income inequality, elevated levels of debt in Washington, a rickety economy over-dependent on the Federal Reserve’s black magic, and subpar education. Even the wealthy may be at risk. “I’m most worried about American public education, for our most vulnerable students, but also our most elite,” Eva Moskowitz,CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City, told us.
Click on the video to hear what keeps the nation's leaders up at night.
There’s plenty of optimism to offset the gloominess. We also asked our interview subjects what’s going right in America, and got many reassuring answers. In short: Innovation is going strong, the tech industry is on fire, and there’s still a can-do spirit that enables the United States to bounce back from trouble. We're likely to need that in the future.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.