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The End of Empire?
September 9, 2002 11:44 AM   Subscribe

The End of Empire? "You can't sustain an empire from a debtor's weakening position--sooner or later the creditors pull the plug. That humiliating lesson was learned by Great Britain early in the last century, and the United States faces a similar reckoning ahead."
posted by homunculus (39 comments total)

 
Yeah it's a good thing the Republicans want to give any excess money back to the (very wealthy) taxpayer rather than paying down the debt. I mean, that's what any fiscally responsible person would do, right?
posted by callmejay at 11:55 AM on September 9, 2002


Doe anyone know if Shrub can play the violin?
posted by BentPenguin at 12:11 PM on September 9, 2002


Are you asking, "Is it time to burn down Washington again?" (",)

Actually, not funny, in the circumstances...
posted by dash_slot- at 12:21 PM on September 9, 2002


Every decade or so there's another intellectual movement predicting America's "decline". Generally backed by all manner of statistics. Usually pointing to debt, or foreign trade as the culprit. Usually when a Republican is in power. (One often gets the feeling that a good number of American liberals actually want to see America "humiliated"). Oddly, usually this "decline" is portrayed in curious terms - with either an implicit or explicit recommendation that the only way to stop the decline would be to (surprisingly enough) change current political policies to more in line with those favored by the author. Imagine that. Stunningly coincidental.

Strangely enough, despite these perpetual predictions of decline, America seems to get - if anything - more influential than ever as time passes.
posted by MidasMulligan at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2002


Thank Heavens for Hollywood! Without our celebrities, the world would have been sick of us long ago. ; )
posted by stifford at 12:37 PM on September 9, 2002


MidasMulligan: I agree with you about the chicken little syndrome here, but its not just the left that's guilty of it (eg: slouching towards Gomorrah).

Anyway, surely you're not suggesting America will remain the world's greatest power forever? That's a bit of hubris that history has taught us a thing or two about.

Left/right issues aside (i.e. its nobodies fault in particular), I feel like America is set for a decline sooner or later, because since the fall of the USSR there hasn't been much of a counter balance to the USA's power. Right or wrong, people like underdogs and hate the big guy who flexes his muscles.
posted by malphigian at 12:41 PM on September 9, 2002


If we continue on our unilateral path to everything, sooner or later, a force will rise up against us.
posted by quirked at 12:45 PM on September 9, 2002


since the fall of the USSR there hasn't been much of a counter balance to the USA's power.

Think that instead of a decline in the US, you will see another power (EU ?) rise to challenge it.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:48 PM on September 9, 2002


errrr... beat me to it quirked!
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:48 PM on September 9, 2002


The EU, rise? Someone's not up to date on Europe. It's doing pretty much everything but rising, in any field. Politically, the economy, you name it.
posted by dagny at 12:54 PM on September 9, 2002


I keep forgetting that old saying about Power and Absolute Power...my mind must be failing me...oh well, I am American after all....I'll just pay someone else to remember it for me...
posted by ruggles at 12:58 PM on September 9, 2002


How will Americans react when they discover that "U-S- A" is a lot less muscular than they were led to believe?

That's what this editorial is really about: the hoi polloi Greider saw at sporting event getting its comeuppance. I mean, what else could it be? If Greider thinks American politicians are "power-drunk" then he ought to be applauding the existence of this check on American power. Is he happy that the British were stopped in Egypt in 1956, or isn't he?
posted by coelecanth at 12:59 PM on September 9, 2002


MidasMulligan: Oddly, usually this "decline" is portrayed in curious terms - with either an implicit or explicit recommendation that the only way to stop the decline would be to (surprisingly enough) change current political policies to more in line with those favored by the author. Imagine that. Stunningly coincidental.

To me, this seems neither curious, odd, nor (as you seem to suggest) disingenuous. Suppose that the author favors these political policies precisely because he/she believes they would stop the decline.
posted by originalname37 at 1:22 PM on September 9, 2002


yes, a disasterous decline is looming, people. get your guns, it's gonna be hell in the streets! the hottentots are runnng amok! hide the women and liquor!
posted by aenemated at 1:25 PM on September 9, 2002


ruggles:
'Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely'
-Lord Acton
posted by escher at 1:51 PM on September 9, 2002


Greider writes:

> Despite occasional whining, Japan and Germany are not
> eager to claim a prominent share in global leadership
> (both once had a go at running the world and it ended
> badly). Far better to prop up the United States financially
> without forcing awareness of the shifting power.

OK, those are the two biggest economic powers after the US. So if they don't want to play global leader, who'll we share power with? Argentina? Ireland? P.S. France surrenders...
posted by jfuller at 1:59 PM on September 9, 2002


Anyway, surely you're not suggesting America will remain the world's greatest power forever? That's a bit of hubris that history has taught us a thing or two about.

Forever? No. But forever is a pretty long time, and I wouldn't bet on the eclipse of the US as the world's superpower any time in (say) the next 50 years.

escher: "Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat." -- John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy, 1981-1987.
posted by jaek at 2:00 PM on September 9, 2002


The decline isn't obvious, although it is happening... It's more like a silent decline loomin' towards a whimper-like implosion. The US economy is like the Enrons and Worldcoms; success built on hype, marketing, and ambiguous accounting. The US presidents keep avoiding this issue 'cause it won't get them re-elected. The US government's propaganda machine is hard at work selling the image of security. The fa├žade will hold, but it's only a matter of time. As soon as the world finds alternatives to dealing (both politically and economically) with the US, things will get rather pathetic for the US in an Orwellian kinda way. Think media polls claiming American satisfaction and economy is at an all-time high.
posted by freakystyley at 2:03 PM on September 9, 2002


dagny: Sorry you're right, China would have been a better example.

And with that; What about China. Billion people, Has Nuke, Dosn't like the US.... They aren't a SuperPower?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:20 PM on September 9, 2002


Ah jeezuz. Now Midas thinks the CIA is a liberal conspiracy set out to humiliate the indomitable USA.

"Think that instead of a decline in the US, you will see another power (EU ?) rise to challenge it."

No sir, the days of imperialism are over. The days of global Empire have arrived. Countries will bubble up and down in the framework of Empire according to the needs and desires of collective capital, unless and until a a movement dedicated to the global soverignty of people takes shape.
posted by raaka at 2:42 PM on September 9, 2002


"US ambitions to run the world, in other words, are heavily mortgaged."

I think that's true, but it's no big surprise, if you know what I mean. Almost everybody's "ambitions to run" anything are "heavily mortgaged," and it usually works out. But yes, inasmuch as it means that we will have less leverage globally, this is a somewhat telling statistic.

{sarcasm}I, for one, welcome our ThirdWorldian Conquerors!{/sarcasm}
posted by zekinskia at 2:42 PM on September 9, 2002


To me, this seems neither curious, odd, nor (as you seem to suggest) disingenuous. Suppose that the author favors these political policies precisely because he/she believes they would stop the decline.

This isn't the case however. He is delibrately framing his statistics in a way that points to a particular end, and not explaining the context ... that would tend to argue against his case. For instance, he makes quite a deal out of the Saudi's pulling money out, blaming it of Bush's "hawkish" attitude ... and then quotes an investment consultant in Ridyah to make his case (despite the fact that you can get an "investment consultant" somewhere that will back virtually any case you want to make) ...

" ... but US finance is currently getting a small taste of what it would feel like. Saudi Arabia (not the government but its wealthy private investors) has pulled as much as $200 billion out of US financial markets in recent months, perhaps to diversify holdings but clearly provoked by the Bush hawks, who are demonizing the Saudis as the "kernel of evil" behind Islamist terrorism. An investment consultant in Riyadh told the Financial Times, "People no longer have any confidence in the US economy or in United States foreign policy."

At least in this instance, (having worked for one of the big Wall Street houses from which those wealthy Saudis actually pulled money) - there is no mystery where the money has gone and why ... in fact virtually everyone on Wall Street knows what this is about. Shortly after 9/11, the accounts of several prominant Saudis that were custodied at US firms were temporarily frozen, while allegations of involvement with terrorism were investigated. This frightened a lot of the large investors. Note that all money has not left ... guys worth multiple billions of dollars are generally quite dispassionate about investing - it is a straight income vs. risk calculation. The chance that the US might sieze funds in the future simply means that there is an additional risk (that they have fully quantified) inherent in US investment. This made some other investments more attractive.

Further, the Patriot Act is about to trigger (October 2002), and US firms will be required to exert far more scrutiny on suspicious transactions.

Greider knows all of this - knows exactly why the Saudi money has gone, and knows full well it is a very special case. He does not, however, place it in context, rather, he immediately goes on to say: "If Asian money or Europe's were to undertake a similar exit ..." (something, by the way, which there is absolutely no reason to believe will happen anytime soon) " ... the financial quake would send damaging tremors through virtually every dimension of US economic life. If severe and sustained, it could shut down economic growth and lead to a lower standard of living."

In other words, Greider is not telling what he knows to be the truth, he is delibrately being very selective and anecdotal about his use of statistics, and drawing implications from these anecdotes that have no basis in fact. (His followers simply eat the stuff up without questioning it). He's got a political case to make, and is being quite disingenuous.

Will America decline sooner or later? Sure. Is there anyone on the horizon right now that is likely to challenge its influence? Not really.
posted by MidasMulligan at 3:14 PM on September 9, 2002


As the world leader, the US certainly has a large current and even large looming issue in terms of being a debtor nation, but Europe actually has large issues in store for it as well (ageing population, lack of a capable defence infrastructure, gov'ts and economies that may not be as flexible as they need to). The largest up-and-comer is certainly China. What that holds is anyone's guess... The thing to worry about is not the "humiliation" of the US, but if someone does challenge it and wins, how will they handle the reigns?
posted by npost at 3:21 PM on September 9, 2002


maybe we should start learning Mandarin? : >
Ne ho ma?
posted by amberglow at 3:26 PM on September 9, 2002


Pathetic article for the simple reason that it has been written so many times before. Stopped clocks are eventually right, but so what. The reality is that, for better or worse, Europe is getting weaker and more decadent. China's an American/European entrepot, and Russia's still a joke. I think the author noams nothing.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:31 PM on September 9, 2002


Will America decline sooner or later? Sure. Is there anyone on the horizon right now that is likely to challenge its influence? Not really.

That's sort of beside the point. Paul Kennedy's argument, though out of fashion, is that empires aren't actually defeated by other empires, but collapse from 'overstretch'. The Vandals and their cohorts weren't in a position to challenge the influence of the moribund Roman Empire, but they were in a position to chip away at it.
posted by riviera at 3:42 PM on September 9, 2002


Europe is getting weaker and more decadent

More decadent than what? Its past? No. America? Certainly not.
posted by Summer at 4:12 PM on September 9, 2002


Midas is spot on regarding Greider: it's a polemic, propped up by sleight-of-hand.

In the long run I expect a post-national 'world order' to emerge. I don't see the Chinese model appealing to the feeling-their-oats Asian tigers. An emergent rivalry needs a leader.

callmejay: Budget deficits are not the same thing as trade deficits. Thanks for playing!

riviera: It took, depending on how you slice, 400 to 800 years for the Roman Empire to fully dissipate. Even then its primacy continued in other ways, either as the seat of Christendom, or in the body of successor civilizations such as the Holy Roman or Byzantine Empires. And much of that 'chipping away' took place with surprising cooperation from the 'empire' itself, and through poor understanding of macroeconomics and management of population movements. Anyway, please tell me you aren't rooting for Beijing, no matter how deliciously you'd revel in our collapse.
posted by dhartung at 5:09 PM on September 9, 2002


dhartung: I disagree with your idea that Greider's article is an unsupported polemic. I have read his book, "One World, Ready or Not", in which he can and does support what he says. I tend to respect your comments, even when I disagree, but I think you're a little out on a limb this time.

Summer: Oscar Wilde said that America was the only country that had gone from barbarism to decadence with no civilization in between. Of course, he stole the line from George Clemenceau, but who knew better than Wilde that the secret to originality is concealing one's sources?
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 5:42 PM on September 9, 2002


China and America are far too dependent upon one another to risk trading partner status, and that doesn't seem too likely to change. The EU is a joke and even if they weren't, they are most certainly in bed with the USA's one-world-government plan (WTO/WIPO/World Bank/UN/etc., etc., ad nauseam).

It is quite possible that capitalism - even the protectionist oligarchy version we play here in the US - may cease to be a rational model long before any force rises to challenge us as a superpower. I'll let that thought hang, and visit just one possibility of many.

Nanotechnology, properly developed, would certainly suffice if one were to make certain assumptions (like the current projected timeline being less than an order of magnitude too little). How does one prepare for a world where the only currency is matter and configuration thereof becomes largely irrelevant?

Or where any sufficiently-resourced madman can wipe out literally all of Earth's population with the press of a button? The Grey Goo scenario is one of the most basic and obvious applications of nanotechnology.

There aren't any obvious answers to these questions nor the questions posed by other, even more likely (but none so drastic) scenarios - environmental collapse, energy reserves crisis, etc. - but the end result is the same. America is perfectly suited to its environment, and will continue to be the dominant species - consuming other organisms and spitting out copies of itself via 'nation-building' - until the environment in which it exists radically changes.

Darwinism applies to everything: animals, business, ideas, politics, religions, and even socioeconomics. I think it's best to keep that fully in mind when making long-term projections on America's place in the world. What killed the dinosaurs will kill everything else in time.
posted by Ryvar at 3:25 AM on September 10, 2002


It took, depending on how you slice, 400 to 800 years for the Roman Empire to fully dissipate.

It doesn't just depend on how you slice, but what animal you're slicing: the eastern Empire was barely 'Roman', if your upper limit refers to the fall of Constantinople; and the Holy Roman Empire was, as the cliche goes, neither holy, Roman, or an empire. You might as well argue that the USA (or India/Pakistan) is the last vestige of British colonialism. The shark metaphor applies: once you stop moving, the game's up.

Anyway, please tell me you aren't rooting for Beijing, no matter how deliciously you'd revel in our collapse.

Again, a fetching man of straw. Like you, I don't see an imperial nation challenger, and to try and create one creates a false opposition. Since China appears to be the first example of a mature fascist state, I don't expect to be digging out the party hats and bunting, although China's own corporate mass may assert itself on the political system, once, and only when, it's expedient. It may turn out to be a sad-but-interesting proof of concept against the WTO model of building a mature economy. But why should I revel at wasted opportunities, when 'tall poppy syndrome' brings such short-lived satisfaction?
posted by riviera at 5:32 AM on September 10, 2002


I'm surprised that Ozymandias hasn't yet come up. If there's anything to learn from history it's that evern the grandest civilisations eventaully decline and fall. The USA is currently the top dog, it won't be forever. It's as simple as that. Moreover, the analogy with the British situation is illegitimate; memes about ThirdWorldian overlords aside, Riviera's right - there is no nascent superpower challenging US hegemony as there was for the British post World War II

Greider's argument can be reduced to a chicken game. While economies less developed than America's can chose to divest funds in order to provide a check on Bush's adventurism, it's not going to happen because of the domestic implications for any country which does so. In game theory, this situation is referred to as Nash Equilibrium. Back in the real world this means status quo and (oil) business as usual.
posted by dmt at 6:08 AM on September 10, 2002


While economies less developed than America's can chose to divest funds in order to provide a check on Bush's adventurism,* it's not going to happen because of while the domestic implications for any country which does so outweigh the implications of not doing so.

*Or whoever's whatever. Greider isn't necessarily suggesting that this will happen during Bush's reign.
posted by rory at 2:29 AM on September 11, 2002


Greider isn't necessarily suggesting that this will happen during Bush's reign.

It's one thing to posit theory. But once you start incorporating proper nouns into that theory, you need to commit to a timetable. Sounds like Ravi Batra to me
posted by ParisParamus at 4:29 AM on September 11, 2002


.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:29 AM on September 11, 2002


you need to commit to a timetable

Why? So that people have an easy way to dismiss the broader argument, since guessing specific dates is about as accurate as guessing the number of jelly-beans in a jar?
posted by rory at 4:47 AM on September 11, 2002


Rory: you need a timetable because no one is disputing that countries, empires don't last forever (my guess is that the US is safe for at least two or three hundred more years). Also, there's an implication that when something is in the Nation, and when an article's first sentence refers to a recent event, there's some timeline, and a relatively short one at issue.

Sorry, but this article has desperation written all over it. One is perfectly entitled not to like the United States and/or find it very flawed. But this article fails on its own terms.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:04 AM on September 11, 2002


Greider was National Affairs editor at Rolling Stone for almost two decades; it would be hard to maintain your enthusiasm for such a job if you disliked its subject. And his article doesn't suggest a dislike of the US to me; the last few paragraphs, for example:

Assuming Americans do not really yearn to become latter-day Roman legions, many people may be relieved to learn the truth. Stripped of imperial illusions, this country could concentrate on building a different, more promising society at home.

If Greider had been an Englishman writing in 1945 that the British Empire had essentially ten years left to run, I imagine that people would have scoffed then, too.

this article has desperation written all over it.

All he's saying is that if one's standard of living is being propped up by loans, it's at risk if you antagonise your creditors. What's so 'desperate' about that? He isn't saying the US would be plunged into third-world poverty if the financiers pulled the plug. The UK hasn't been.
posted by rory at 6:01 AM on September 11, 2002


The thing is, the US isn't an empire. It's all, largely consentual. And the US, unlike the UK or the Roman Empire, is set up to evolve. And will.

So don't buy any Euros or Yuan(?) just yet.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:30 AM on September 11, 2002


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