Elections Sunday in France and Greece prove once and for all that the European Union is headed off the cliff, and its voters don’t care.

In the short term, that’s going to mean some heartburn in US markets and global financial centers.  No one likes to watch a major portion of the world’s industrialized economies, commit suicide. But in the long term, the death of Europe offers a huge opportunity for the United States—and a vindication of our free market system.

By “Europe” I don’t mean the collection of nation-states which were once the driving engines of Western civilization, and home to our own culture and science.  I mean the great socialist empire known as the European Union which the Maastricht Treaty created in 1992, at the end of the Cold War–another war, by the way America won for Western Europe, and which it did nothing to bring out.

Well, no great empire has ever collapsed as swiftly and decisively as this one.

President Obama was probably too busy doing his victory laps on the anniversary of the killing of Usama bin Laden to notice, but the centralized Europe he and other American liberals saw as a model for transforming the United States, is in a state of free fall.

The great hope of the EU was that by giving up the “outdated” idea of national sovereignty and submitting to the rule of faceless bureaucrats, Europe would emerge as a united federation as strong as the United States, but with a “progressive” central government more like the old Soviet Union: one that would guide society toward greater vistas of prosperity, equality, and justice.

It didn’t work out that way.  Instead, it buried Europeans under an avalanche of rules, regulations, state spending, and mounting debt, while doing nothing about an out-of-control Third World immigration problem. The debt crisis in Greece is just the most visible crack in a system that’s proved increasingly unpopular and increasingly ineffective, killing individual liberty and jobs and stunting growth.

In 2002 many Europeans tried  to shore up a crumbling EU by abandoning their own national currencies and throwing in with the euro.  That’s only ensured that when one economy goes off the cliff–first Greece, with Spain and Italy to follow–it will pull the rest down with them, like Alpine climbers on a rope.

The contrast with our situation couldn’t be more stark.

Yes, we have our own mountain of debt and reckless spending, and sputtering private sector growth.  But while Europe’s economies stare into the abyss, we’re poised to become the world’s new center for energy (thanks to shale oil and gas),  advanced manufacturing, and wireless and high tech innovation. Even with Wall Street’s hands fettered by the rules imposed by Congress’s Dodd-Frank legislation, look for a capital flight from Europe to America.  Once a Republican president and Congress repeal Dodd-Frank as well as ObamaCare, don’t be surprised if that flight becomes a flood.

With Europe collapsing, China stumbling, and India and Brazil retreating from full free market reform, we’re the last stable, pro-growth economy left.

The new American century is coming–and Europe, and the rest of the world, had better get ready for it.

Arthur Herman is a visiting scholar at AEI and author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist book "Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age" (Bantam, 2008).  Dr. Herman's new book is " Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War Two," which is released by Random House today.