To be an Empire or not to be?
Is the United States Ready to Become and Empire?
It’s June and the US Consumers are out! Recently we have seen the U.S. economy moderately improve. Its June, the weather is hot, people are out and about, and they do what comes naturally to them : they consume. Jobs are on the rebound, and the economy has added some 200,000 jobs a month, give or take a few thousand, on average for the past six or seven months. Since Barack Obama has taken office, the U.S. economy has recovered the vast majority of jobs lost after the Bush presidency. The general climate seems to be such that consumers are spending money, and money seems to be circulating. All of that is true, and good, however, there are still some big questions around.
One of these most important questions is how long will this economy go on rebounding? We can see that the present economic rebound, though somewhat sunny now at the beginning of summer, has really not been all that sunny overall for the past few months. The fact is that even as recently as last month the economy contracted. Not by much, only one one tenth of a percentage point, but still that is negative territory and in the wrong direction. So it is clear that our sunny day has come out of the darkness of winter. But leaving the weather aside, there are some very serious problems that affect the fundamental nature of our economy that will not go away any time soon.
There is a general problem with our thinking it seems. We hear the good reports about the economy, but we never hear anything about the problems that its facing. The US economy has some of the biggest debt in the world, and it’s growing ever bigger. Yet, there is little talk about it. Moreover, the economy is at full blast with credit spigots opened about as far they can possibly be opened. This is not normal in any way. In fact never before has the United States ever had to face an extraordinary situation so extreme as the one we’re in today. Do we intend to go on in this way? If we do, the problems facing us are going to be huge! The reason is that not only does the actual reality not suggest that we are ever going to normalize our economy, but the will to do so is obviously lacking. It’s as if we have really given up on ever becoming a normal economy again. No one is even talking about becoming a normal net exporter for example, or of ever really becoming debt free, or even ever trying. It’s as if somewhere in the power broker’s vast complexes of unbridled wealth, they have made the decision that this nation is never going back to a normal nation economically. As if we are going to stay in this all out credit boom forever, regardless of ever being able to pay anything back. There is even the suggestion that if need be, the Federal Reserve can always introduce another Quantitative Easing Cycle(which by the way it never really left), which only translates to even more borrowing, or a kind of Super-Credit that possibly goes on forever.
Foreign Affairs Seem Tipped For Nothing Less than Continued Unmitigated Expansion
There’s also the state of foreign affairs to consider. Recently the news around the world has not been good. But there is little in the news about ever having a peaceful world without violence. Rather it seems as if we are being groomed for a violent unstable world where we are lucky to get what we can. Where the only thing we can ever really look forward to is a nice sunny day once in awhile. Then the storms come back, and the climate change is upon us both as far as the weather is concerned, and as far as our economy, and general state of affairs are concerned.
As we mentioned before, the Ukrainian incident seemed a well planned move in a chess match that both the US and Russia understood would happen long before it actually did. Are we simply styling our foreign policy for an unbridled expansion, or the possible creation of the old “Spheres of Influence” where the most powerful nation’s get to control certain areas, and those areas are then fully absorbed by the controlling nation? It would seem that something like this is in works. Certainly it would make sense when considering the nature of our economy, and the way in which we have handled near foreign policy and distant foreign policy as in South America, and Asia for example.
Our posture in the Mid East is very well known, but there are disturbing signs that we might be preparing for an expansion into resource rich Africa as well. This will explain the increasing diplomatic activity in the Sudan and other areas of Africa for example. But all this will take a powerful, fully equipped and very expensive military force. But where’s the money to do this going to come from? Are we preparing an all powerful money making machine to make money available at the touch of a button-on credit of course? The Fed is just such a machine.
We seem to be heading towards an endless political and economic expansion, but is that what we really want, or is that what a few very powerful special interests want? Meanwhile, aside from the few at the top, the American people cannot be said to be prosperous in general. Most are in debt, with little savings and little incentive to save with rates being around zero.
Can we ever prosper under such a plan? Can we ever go back to being a normal prosperous nation without debts, without wars, without last minute congressional deals to save us from bankruptcy? A nation which lives in peace with other nations in a world that actually gets along. Can we ever see a real change of season where bright and sunny is an everyday occurrence, or at least the norm?
What’s our heading right now? Where are we really going with all this? Can our economy ever fully recover to the point where interest rates are normal, and we can once again save some money for our retirement without having to risk life and limb in a volatile and dangerous stock market? Will we have normalcy sometime in the future or should we just get used to being forever at risk? And is war going to become an everyday part of our lives? Some signs seem to suggest that this might just be what we are heading for because this is what has been planned for the nation by those who actually have control of it, and that is not the majority of Americans. Meanwhile the American people are becoming increasingly agitated and uncertain, a little noted reality. There is an ever increasing existential doubt that has crept into the lives of all individual Americans and it is showing.
A Debtor Nation
The fact is we are a habitual debtor nation. We consume much more than we actually produce. This has been the case for so long that there is little reason to think that anything is going to change no matter what happens. Moreover, the general thinking is that we should actually remain a debtor nation. There are those who are convinced that the U.S. must entangle the world’s economy in order to be able to manipulate it to our advantage. Thus, instead of discharging our debts and attempting to rectify a serious problem, we have taken to globalization as the destined path. Which is the real reason why Japan and China are now holding some two trillion dollars of our debt as a result of their exports to our nation. This is actually the money we owe them for buying their products!
However, this destined path means we will have huge debts to pay for a very long time, and the only thing preventing our collapse is our military muscle. Indeed, to remain a debtor nation on this level, we do require military muscle. Imagine what would happen if we owed Japan and China two trillion dollars and did not have a military?But of course to have a military, you need even more money! To be a global debtor you need to have the muscle to stand up to your creditors.
This is the general thinking as we see it today. Borrow huge amounts of money, and give it out as needed to remain a global super power. And if we don’t have an interested lender, we can just print our way there, by lending infinite amounts of money to ourselves. We are a global super power, and we can do whatever we want. But is this really sane thinking?
“Dealing” with our debts.
After the crash of 2008 the plan had become to prevent any further recession by pro-actively stimulating the economy through government spending. At the time, the media experts insisted that the Japanese economy served as the model of what to do right in a crash and also what to do wrong. The economists making the network rounds , as well as those advising the president(many of whom were Bush Era holdovers) were blazing with insights into the Japanese calamity of the nineties and drew some comparisons between the US crisis and Japan’s and it was unanimously agreed that the Japanese had acted too late in their recession intervention process and this was the reason they were still in dull drums in 2008. And so the U.S. made the conscious decision that as a blossoming global empire our credit was now infinite and we would be right to simply borrow and inflate our way out of the crash as quickly, and as violently as possible-this even though we had already expanded the global economy to enormous proportions with wide open credit. Many economists of great renown were brilliantly pointing out that had Japan “printed” sooner, by this time she would have freed herself from the pesky recession which still haunts that nation’s economy today. The lending, borrowing, stimulating, and printing started in earnest and to a degree no one could ever have imagined. Even Allan Greenspan was left in awe after QE infinity came into vogue and Ben Bernanke kept his word that he would in any depression like situation drop helicopters full of money as a cure. Today the debts we have are absolutely enormous, and are never stated publicly. Yet after all this time, just last month the economy contracted again. We are creating money as fast as computers can keep accounts. But is this really going to work? Are we really going to avoid Japan’s fate of endless recession?
Consumption vs Containment : The US and Japan
A little note on the differences between America and Japan might be in order. Japan, and the United States are two fundamentally different nations. To be sure both are very creative, very able nations. Each one has a special gift, each one in its own way a great nation. But there are startling differences too. For one the Japanese are a far more conservative people. They, not having many natural resources, and under constant natural duress due to their volcanic inheritance, must depend on their labor productivity, and a net export surplus to stay solvent. The Japanese are alive today only because they have been able to produce far more than they consume. They are also savers. Even today, with zero interest the average Japanese family will try to save as much of their money as possible. This is why they are in fact net exporters. They want to be so on an individual level, because they feel they must be to survive as a nation, and as a people.
The American people, on the other hand, have been conditioned to think differently over the past thirty years, especially after the “trickle down” theories of the eighties. The American people have been groomed to be credit bound consumers who will do whatever they want to do for as long as they can get the money, and this is constantly encouraged and reinforced by both media and government as if it were a matter of national security. The average American, no matter their status, is in the end a net consumer rather than a producer. In part this is because the general economic philosophy has come to be that we must essentially consume the world in order to remain on top of it. With our military power, and our economic consumption, the going philosophy is such that we give other nations a great incentive to cooperate with our global plan. On the way we encourage other nations to be exactly like us, when in Rome do as the Romans, where our way of being ultimate consumers is the way to be for all nations. A decade ago there were numerous fantastic calls for the Japanese to consume more and that the real problem with our own economy was that the Japanese were not consuming enough, as if they could really ever afford to. But is any of this sane, much less sustainable?
There is little doubt that the American people are the most versatile people on Earth. Their inventiveness, their industrious nature, and will to win is not doubted by anyone anywhere on Earth. However, the time has come to admit that they may have been misled into believing certain ideas that are not possible. The United States is the most powerful nation on Earth. There is little doubt about this. Overall our military is matched by none. We have more weapons, of a greater caliber and capability than anyone on Earth and there is going to be a long period before anyone can match that capability or surpass it. Of this there is no doubt. We are also the world’s greatest economy. We have a GDP that far exceeds the world’s second best. We are a resource rich, intelligent, able and versatile nation of great size and strength that has no peer. There is not anyone who will doubt this on consideration. But this does not mean we don’t have limitations. The reality is that our limitations are everywhere apparent even if we never hear about them in the Main Stream Corporate Media. When we look at the situation carefully we see a nation at risk in many ways.
That we are a great nation with unmatched abilities no one can doubt. But we are not an Empire and we are not Rome, nor Britain as they were in their heyday. When the Romans were in their heyday they were like us, the most powerful nation of Earth militarily. There were a supremely organized city state which had managed to appropriate gigantic resources through military superiority, political order, and sheer brutality when necessary. The Romans would march into a city, slay all those who opposed mercilessly, then round up all women and children, and any others who did not fight or surrender that turn them to slaves, literally into property to be possessed and used by her citizens as they wished. Those who were captured during the military conquest were in effect turned into a resource. Thus defeating an enemy back then meant that Rome had just managed to acquire extra resources and turn those resources to actual wealth. There was no mercy, no kindness, no misunderstanding. The purpose was to destroy an enemy absolutely and take their resources absolutely leaving nothing behind. But this is what being an empire really meant. To have absolute authority over the vanquished.
Similarly the British, though often perceived as a genial people with a smile always at the ready, were for all that fearsome warriors in their days of empire. Though the British did not use the same direct implementations of social order as the Romans in that Europe had from the start looked down on outright slavery, and human property, the reality was that the British had taken slavery to a new dimension. In those days the British empire fully made use of the captured human resource, and though it added all kinds of devices, and classifications to human slavery, nonetheless the empire fully absorbed all foreign captives and usually in the form of bonded slaves. Though never to be designated as slaves, all those subdued under British rule were given a choice. They would either do as they were told to the letter, or face starvation, imprisonment, or annihilation. After a week of being denied resources, and a British subject being forced to witness his family do without food or shelter, the captured subject would usually be willing to do exactly as he was commanded to do. Of this there should be no question. When at times rebellions would flare the British empire would retaliate absolutely with little in the way of mercy. The rebels were defeated absolutely and without compromise. In effect the British had acquired the Immoral Authority of an Empire. They believed themselves to be absolutely powerful, and would, if questioned do whatever was needed to extinguish any opposition.
Yet as time went by, and human rights began to take form on the European continent and in Britain itself, the moral burden of having an Empire began to weigh heavily on the British. And so slowly other devices were needed such as the construction of local governments for the occupied, to at least give some kind of representation to the captured people’s. In the end it seemed more efficient to do so anyway as the yield was far greater for an ordered subject state than for a disordered one. But there should be no mistake made here, though efficiency made it clear that attaining your captured people’s good will would be more profitable in the long run, there was no question about who would have the final authority in the British Empire. So it was only through a great deal of violence, or else disobedience(as in the case of India’s Gandhi) that freedom from the Empire was ever attained. And in fact, if not for the damage done during the second world war, it is not likely that Britain would ever have surrendered her captured property willingly but would probably have elected to manipulate her Immoral Authority in whatever way necessary to maintain her spoils.
But do we, here in the United States, have such an Immoral Authority in us? Over the past fifty years after the Second World War civilization has evolved to look down on empires and their modus operandi. Human Rights Issues have now taken global form and it is not acceptable for nations to enslave one another. Certainly democracy as an entity is fundamentally opposed to enslavement of any kind and inherently supports individual freedom, and rights. In multi cultural, multi ethnic, multi racial democracies these differences are not a standard of inherent supremacy in our times. The so called “white man’s burden” is not an acceptable notion to serve as a doctrine for the attainment of empire. We would think that the United States is least inclined to this kind of doctrine as a nation which has recently elected its first black president. It would seem incongruous for a nation like the United States to ever seek to develop the underlying philosophy required to ever justify the erection of a true empire.
Yet as we see today, we have in fact regressed somewhat. There are a number of examples where we can point to the United States and its allies engaging in discriminatory subjection of foreign nations. Though in Afghanistan and in Iraq the United States has for example managed to build a democracy of sorts on its way out of those nations, the reality is undoubtedly that those nation’s democracies are valid only in so far as they meet our political needs, and the second they fail to meet our needs, and demands, they will cease to be valid democracies, as happened even in Egypt a year in 2012 where the Muslim dominated presidential administration was overthrown by the Egyptian army, which by the way receives some two billion dollars a year from the United States in aid every year. There are also other cases of democracies not being valid unless they meet certain criteria which we demand they must.
But in the end, it is not going to be easy for us to develop the Immoral Authority of Empire. And if we do, even if more and more we see a tendency towards discrimination in the media and government, and a general tendency towards less individual rights than more, it is without doubt that such a trend would ultimately destroy the United States as we know it. It is doubtful that we will ever be able to develop the coarse nature required to attain a true Empire for it would in all probability destroy our own democratic identity.
So we can conclude that we are not like the British, or the Romans, or the Turks, or the Mongols who had in place an Immoral Authority which gave them the undisputed right to disregard any issues of their captives human rights. And it’s not probable that we will ever attain such an authority democratically. And if ever we did, it would probably mean the end of our society as we know it. The same degeneration of morality needed to maintain an empire would usually be sufficient to destroy the social fabric of the Imperialist state itself.
We are not the nation we were in 1945
So it is without doubt that we don’t have the same attributes as the Roman’s or the British and so we are really not able to maintain an Empire in the way they were. But of course the United States was never an Empire and never did it aspire to be one. Our present attitudes stem from the history of the Second World war and most of the foreign policy we have today is deeply embedded in the aftermath of that war. But the reality is that we are not the nation we were back in 1945 just after the war. We are not the nation we were in 1939 before the war. For back then we were a lean, mean, efficient power house nation whose natural defenses had yet to be breached and with resources more plentiful and superior to any other nation on Earth at the time, and with few real debts that we could not overcome easily at the flex of our muscle. Even the Japanese, at the height of their military power, could only touch us briefly, and then pay a terrible price for that insolence as we were nearly invincible at that point in time, with the technology available at that time. But today, we are vulnerable. Today we do not have the same kind of military superiority we had then and worse yet, we can’t even afford to fight a war like we did then! As great a nation as we are, we are not what we once used to be, and we should admit this quickly, and take the proper action to protect ourselves against any misunderstanding and the possible misstep that we leave ourselves liable for.
In 1939 we had virtually no debt, and an entire continent of untapped resources and few global obligations. We had less than one hundred fifty million people, the nation was of a much simpler more efficient order easily able to add another hundred million people before reaching its resource limits. Today we are a too complex, too inefficient nation, with not enough resources for our own consumption, a burgeoning population, and gigantic burdens and obligations that we really cannot fulfill. This is reality, not the fantasy some would like to dream up and chase down with a martini. Yes we have a great deal of technology, but we have the costs of that technology too, and others have the same technology. We are not the same nation were in 1939, and certainly not the nation were in 1945 when we came out virtually unscathed from a world war with nothing but a monetary debt that we could easily overcome in a decade. Our people too were quite different. This should not be underestimated either. They were a simpler more direct people with far less demands, and far more likely to conserve some of their abundance than we are today. If we are not the same nation as we were in 1945, why do we think and act as if we are?
We may in error go too far
The fact is that as the United States feels the pressure and burden of trying to maintain global order, as a nascent empire, there is the possibility of going too far in some venture or other. If for example we were to assume control of a foreign situation only to find the control we thought we had was no longer existent, the possibility exists for the start of a proxy war where third parties are armed with the intent of striking any possible target, even domestic targets. Thus if the United States were to assume that it had the political and military control of a given area, say Iran, but in fact Iran were to be decisively supported by say China only because the Chinese no longer accept the authority of the United States, then such a situation could easily spill over into a worldwide proxy war that could very well involve domestic targets inside the domestic boundaries of both nations. There is no more a dangerous eventuality than either the United States or China, or Russia making the mistake that they are able to control a particular situation when in fact they cannot.
Today the Ukraine is a situation exactly like this. The Russians have long assumed that they had control of the area. But, as it has turned out the United States seems to be contesting this. The United States has made the assumption that it can influence political and military outcomes in Russia’s own backyard. This assumption of course stems from the general Bush-Cheney assumption that the United States is now an unfettered global super power which should no longer be bound by anyone else. Not even by a nation with obvious military power on a level that at least in some ways approaches our own. In the past decade the United States has often acted as if it were invincible, but this a very dangerous way to act, especially since we are not. Again, the question is should we continue along this path? Is this the way to find our successful self-fulfillment in the long run? In the end, this way is probably not even profitable in the short run. Example: Afghanistan. We can say we took control of Iraq’s oil for awhile. But what have we attained in Afghanistan? Nothing as far as we can tell, unless someone had some control of the opium trade, for that was just about the only profitable commodity that Afghanistan seems to have. In the end that war was not profitable, not even in the short run. Our thinking, was erroneous, and we paid for it.
Asia is also a situation of very similar regional strategic power characteristics as the Ukraine. The Chinese have long believed that they have dominance over the Korean Peninsula, at least as having control of North Korea. The United States under Bush seemed inclined to challenge this. With the unilateral invasion of Iraq a global message was sent to all that in fact the United States would be willing to go it alone, far from home, even if public opinion abroad was against them. This ultimately resulted in North Korea obtaining the bomb. The Chinese fearing that the United States might move against the North Koreans concluded most probably that it would be safer to allow the North Koreans to build a bomb and thus prevent any possibility of incursion into their space from the United States. Was this another case of overreaching foreign policy and is this what the plan is drawing us toward even now in Asia? Are we planning to overreach our actual authority and our actual abilities? As can be seen, every mistake we make will have a price tag to it.
The United States has painted itself as a global super power dominant in both the financial and strategic areas and has continued to draw on all its resources, and all its abilities to prepare itself for global dominance. But there is very little to justify this philosophy. We are today far from invincible. We do not have even the power that we had in 1939 let alone the power that was once ours in 1950 where this global supremacy doctrine was born. We are not the same nation as we were in 1950 and yet we act as if still think we are. Worse yet we seem inclined to condition our people to think in some ways as if we are the destined airs to the world. We ask our people to consume infinitely, regardless of cost, regardless of credit on the assumption that our credit as super power must be infinite. But in reality it just isn’t. Too many far weaker nations are now doing exactly what we are doing. Simply putting it on their tab. Not only are we overreaching, we seem to be giving the wrong idea to our own people, and even to those nations that actually take us as a role model and would have us be their leader.
Empires Need Money
To maintain this global minded philosophy requires a great deal of money. As they say, no money, no honey. In order for our allies and friends to remain our allies and friends we have to sweeten their taste buds with our money. That is one reason to remain a consumer nation. But in fact, we don’t have such money, nor do we have any way of ever getting such money. For all the oil in Iraq, in the end even Iraq was a losing gambit which left us with huge debts and great troubles, and it is only a matter of a decade or two before Iraq becomes the same problem it was when Saddam Hussein was in power. It’s improbable that any of the nations that we supposedly cleansed of old un-American ways is going to remain that way. Neither Libya, nor Iraq, and certainly not Iran are likely to remain problem free. Even Egypt and Turkey require huge amounts of money to remain pro-American. How long do we have before we can’t afford to pay for the pleasure of leading? We have wasted huge amounts of money on causes that are temporary benefits at best. In the process we have made terrible enemies of billions of people who will not really cooperate with us except under the gun, or with the surrender of a check made to cash. Therefore the lesson is that we can perhaps make a point with our military capabilities, and money, but we cannot sustain that point for very long. In the end, we can’t afford it.
We can continue to print of course, create money at the push of a button, but it’s only a matter of time before others will simply do the same. Then the obvious consequence of extreme inflation will become a global problem which none will be able to overcome.
Has the time come to change course? Has the time come to give up on this idea of global domination and gigantic debt loads that we obviously cannot ever pay back? Is it time to downsize our expectations, and just give up on the notion that we are still the nation we were in 1950?
Sail a New Course?
If we decide that in fact we are no longer able to sustain this global network of power and money because it is simply a losing investment, then we must begin facing the realities at hand. The time has come to unwind these debts and obligations and instead try to build a world based on real democratic principles. We must begin to think of a system of mutual trust that rewards nations and people not on their ability to cheat and to get their particular wish but on their ability to live in a principled society. We must destroy the present system of corrupt wheels and deals and start thinking about setting down the foundations of a genuine global society that will survive the next one or two hundred years. To be sure this is no liberal plan. This kind of decision will require some hardnosed decisions and some real honesty and a great deal of sacrifice and pain. But the philosophy must change from the top down and from the bottom up if it’s to have a chance.
We must begin to see the American people become savers, and spendthrifts rather than all out consumers. We need to start asking how we might become net exporters and not to remain net importers forever. We must begin to encourage order, and an adherence to fundamental principles and not continue to encourage wild lurid dreams that have no chance of ever becoming a reality, worse yet to become a genuine liability. The time has come for us to turn back to a real conservatism that encourages upright behavior and principled existence instead of what we have now. If indeed the present strategy is not viable, the time has come to start thinking differently before it’s too late. Before we have completely run out of money and authority save but our ability to strike violence against particular targets. For if we come to that point, if we are not already there as evidenced by Iraq, the danger is absolute, and the possible losses limitless. We will be very close to a point of overstepping our abilities both military and political with horrendous consequences looming. The consequences of underestimating our vulnerabilities will be global in nature, and quite possibly result to open violent conflict with those nations which are near in ability to our own. In fact there is the possibility that by behaving erratically we actually encourage other nations to do the same. The final outcome cannot be anything but absolutely destructive.
Again, the time has come for a rethink of our priorities, but more importantly a reassessment of our fundamental way of being. We have today allowed too many special interests to attain too much leverage and power and we have done nothing to balance this out. Although competition among groups is a good thing, as it is among individuals, in the end the game must remain sacrosanct and principled for competition to be productive. We have reached the point where the fundamental order of our society is in question. This would explain the calls by some, like Ron Paul for example, to return to the constitution which sought at least to put all people an equal footing on conception. Today, there are great imbalances in our society which allow some to drive this nation to attain their most sensational desires no matter how incongruous and unbalanced these desires might be. In the end it is the nation as a whole that must survive and prosper and not a few people here or there. But whatever the details may be, we should be certain that they will require more order, more adherence to principles than less. If we attempt to simply unify our world without strict, well reasoned laws of interaction and governance, there can be nothing but failure in the wings. To a degree this is what is happening to Europe today. While it’s true that most Europeans wanted unity, they wanted a unity with a highly principled order, not a Hodge Podge of loose legislation that only served the interests of the few who had the most to gain at the moment.
If we are to avoid disaster, the time may have come to press the reset button. The time may have come to start anew towards a more highly ordered world that is both capable and honest, and free, and certainly not debt ridden to the point of collapse. In the end, when we put away the fantasies, only the state can grant the rights of individual freedom. In order to have individual freedom, we need a well ordered principled state that is able to create the existential environment required for the true attainment of human freedom. If the state itself is disordered, or unstable, or corrupt the only certainty is that one day a degeneration of individual freedom will evolve as no one will ever want to be part of an ugly fundamentally corrupt state.