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It appears...that the people of the United States prefer the Roman approach
February 6, 2007 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Chalmers Johnson whose Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic is out today, provides something the CIA won't: a National Intelligence Estimate for the United States.
posted by inoculatedcities (44 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The American people will be forced to learn what it means to be a far poorer nation and the attitudes and manners that go with it.

Good luck with that.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:20 PM on February 6, 2007


His analysis sounds about right to me... and our economic collapse will be extra fun, because most people don't have any access to fresh food other than from the rather complex and precarious supermarket system.
posted by vorfeed at 1:23 PM on February 6, 2007


Buy and stockpile guns, ammo, smokes, and booze.

And then you might want to prepare for this American Collapse thingy somehow, too.
posted by tkchrist at 2:14 PM on February 6, 2007


My problem with Chalmers is he pre-supposes it's possible to make historical analogies (he seems to like the "Roman Fall" model in particular). Those are fun discussions that can lead to some interesting perspectives but serious scholarship doesn't play loose with inductive reasoning cherry picking facts to fit a pre-conceived model - that is what a philosopher does :)
posted by stbalbach at 2:17 PM on February 6, 2007


I am stock-piling l'il psychic Martian dudes like in Total Recall. Them and baseball bats.
posted by Mister_A at 2:22 PM on February 6, 2007


Reads more like another anti-Bush screed than a serious attempt at analysis.
posted by acetonic at 2:26 PM on February 6, 2007


From the Information Clearing House article: "The United States remains, for the moment, the most powerful nation in history, but it faces a violent contradiction between its long republican tradition and its more recent imperial ambitions."

Huh? Somebody didn't learn that one of the main cases belli of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 was the Eastern colonies'/states' desire to expand into Appalachia and beyond, lands which had been reserved for the Native Americans by the British Crown. I learned this in 7th grade, in public school in Baltimore.
posted by davy at 2:28 PM on February 6, 2007


For the military voluntarily to move toward direct rule, however, its leaders would have to ignore their ties to civilian society, where the symbolic importance of constitutional legitimacy remains potent. Rebellious officers may well worry about how the American people would react to such a move.

Better dis-arm them first, then, just to be safe.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Those are fun discussions that can lead to some interesting perspectives but serious scholarship doesn't play loose with inductive reasoning cherry picking facts to fit a pre-conceived model

True, but two of the facts he's got (our embrace of Military Keynesianism to drive the domestic economy, and our accompanying crushing debt) don't really have a conclusion other than the one he has given (dollar devaluation and economic collapse, just as soon as either of our major creditors switch to another currency). Either we change our economic strategy to a more sustainable one, or we go down, because our constant borrowing to support military adventures simply can't go on forever. And his other points (the expanding power of the executive branch) make the change to a more sustainable system less likely, so... yeah. His reasoning seems sound enough to me, despite his facile comparison with the Romans.
posted by vorfeed at 2:43 PM on February 6, 2007


davy, first of all, that was never a major casus belli, for either war, second, the British were not known as even-handed allies (the French and Indian war was fought with French and Indians, as well as Indian allies), and third, expansionism is not the same as imperialism and Johnson certainly knows what he's talking about. He's not using the Howard Zinn definition, in short.

I believe he's very right about the crucial tipping point we're reaching, but I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that everything just suddenly, you know, tips and that's the end of all that. We've reached a point where Bush's war is unpopular even in Idaho and Utah, where his personal approval is getting down to the moonbat core, where the GOP is painting itself into a domestic political corner. I think all it will take is one good shove, like an economic crisis (we haven't had a serious one lately) -- say a Chinese bank fails and the renmimbi goes haywire and then, who knows, but US ARMs go through the roof and yadda yadda. Stuff that would make any president chill in his boots.

Basically, the way I see it, either the Democrats take the White House next time, or a very different Republican Party does.
posted by dhartung at 2:51 PM on February 6, 2007


I love how the conclusion kind of shuts the door on the reader's head. Especially if they're likely to be alive as it unfolds.
posted by Kikkoman at 2:55 PM on February 6, 2007


> Either we change our economic strategy to a more sustainable one, or we go down,

You (and he) could very well be right. We'll find out someday, nobody knows when.


> say a Chinese bank fails and the renmimbi goes haywire and then, who knows, but US ARMs go
> through the roof and yadda yadda. Stuff that would make any president chill in his boots.

I have no doubt some doomsday scenario will occur someday to somebody. It could happen soon. It could wait a hundred years. We'll know when it happens.
posted by jfuller at 3:06 PM on February 6, 2007


Interesting perspective. One factor which Johnson doesn't mention is that the US military is being stretched to the breaking point.

Johnson's analysis puts a lot of emphasis on military spending as crucial to the economy. I'm dubious; the American economy was able to adapt to the post-Cold-War reductions in military spending during the 1990s.

Johnson concludes with two scenarios:
With a new opposition party in the majority in the House, the country could begin a difficult withdrawal from military Keynesianism. Like the British after World War II, the United States could choose to keep its democracy by giving up its empire. ...

It appears for the moment, however, that the people of the United States prefer the Roman approach and so will abet their government in maintaining a facade of constitutional democracy until the nation drifts into bankruptcy.
Hmm.

I'm trying to think of a plausible argument for the former scenario being more likely than the latter, but on balance I think Johnson may be right. There's a lot of inertia built into the system. Without a clear decision to change direction, there's a tendency to drift--to continue current policy, even if it's obviously not working, simply because nobody can agree on a new one.

It won't be easy for the United States to bring its commitments back into balance with its capabilities.

The other thing I'm wondering is: is the American political process broken? How did Bush become President in the first place? Will the next President (whether Democrat or Republican) be as reckless and irresponsible as Bush has been?

Maybe not. Almost all recent Presidents except for Bush have been pragmatists, not ideologues; that includes Bush's own father. (Reagan was perhaps another exception--Hendrik Hertzberg describes him as a "child monarch"--but even he was flexible enough to reach an arms-control deal with Gorbachev.) So unless the United States is extremely unlucky, Bush will have been an exceptional case.
posted by russilwvong at 3:11 PM on February 6, 2007


I have no doubt some doomsday scenario will occur someday to somebody

How about radical climate change, the sort that hasn't been seen since the start of the Ice Age?

I bet that will upset a few economic calculations, comfortably within our lifetimes.
posted by solipse at 3:12 PM on February 6, 2007


...or a very different Republican Party does.
Yeahhhh...see...that very thought just scares the holy piss out of me.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:18 PM on February 6, 2007


Reads more like another anti-Bush screed than a serious attempt at analysis.

We've reached a point in history when an anti-Bush screed is a serious attempt at analysis. By definition.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:18 PM on February 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


the moonbat core

The scary thing for me is how seemingly huge that the moonbat core really is. When things start to go wrong, it's the moonbat core that starts going nuts. That's how you get from a tipping point to a collapse. The moonbat core scares me more then any foreign enemy.
posted by cell divide at 3:25 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reads more like another anti-Bush screed than a serious attempt at analysis.

I agree. The article is pretty lame, but its Harpers, is expected. I some of the points about the military-based economy aren't bad though, but could be presented in a more rigorous framework.

We've reached a point in history when an anti-Bush screed is a serious attempt at analysis. By definition.

Huh? I think someone is shooting at strawman...

The scary thing for me is how seemingly huge that the moonbat core really is. When things start to go wrong, it's the moonbat core that starts going nuts. That's how you get from a tipping point to a collapse. The moonbat core scares me more then any foreign enemy.

Again strawmen, but I understand it can feel good to bask in your hedonistic impulses. It's the same thing for the left bashing of the low-production value video examples of right-wing humor in another thread - equally strawmen.

A great resource for left-of-center intellectual analysis is The New York Review of Books, and The Nation is often good. I enjoy The New York Times Magazine on occasion, although they are not so much intellectual analyses but rather interest pieces. Harper's panders to the farther left with its "screeds" and often displays a lot of inconsistency.
posted by bhouston at 3:38 PM on February 6, 2007


Huh? I think someone is shooting at strawman...

Or a joke.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:46 PM on February 6, 2007


"...the American economy was able to adapt to the post-Cold-War reductions in military spending during the 1990s"

Except the reductions weren't significant at all:

a) Average annual military spending during Cold War = $298.5 Billion. (source)

b) From today's news: "Bush today faced down a Senate vote on his Iraq war plan after he asked Congress for $US 624 billion for the Pentagon." (source)

Even when measured as a percentage of GDP (which I can't find at the moment) or adjusting the cold war average for 2007 dollars, it appears the spending was never reduced -- exactly the point Johnson is making. The cold war defense apparatus was never dismantled and the industries need to be fed.
posted by inoculatedcities at 3:48 PM on February 6, 2007


bask in hedonistic impulses? strawmen? Are you sure you know the definition of those words and phrases?

the "moonbat core" is not limited to one end of the political spectrum. If there is an economic collapse in America, I will expect both the Communists and the Fascists to make big comebacks, and those comebacks will start within the core diehards who are able to flourish in a society as open and disconnected as the US.
posted by cell divide at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2007


when he asked Congress for $US 624 billion for the Pentagon

when the President starts asking for Yen, Euro, or Renbei for the Pentagon budget then we'll REALLY be fuxxord.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:01 PM on February 6, 2007


oh, btw, raise your hand if you thought Bush would be able to DOUBLE the DOD budget by his second term. Mission Accomplished!
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:14 PM on February 6, 2007


Reads more like another anti-Bush screed than a serious attempt at analysis.

So the two are mutually exclusive?
posted by blucevalo at 4:25 PM on February 6, 2007


Johnson's analysis puts a lot of emphasis on military spending as crucial to the economy. I'm dubious; the American economy was able to adapt to the post-Cold-War reductions in military spending during the 1990s.

Yes, but during the 1990s we were operating under a much more sustainable form of Keynesianism. Keynes' idea was to take on debt and increase government spending to get the country through bad times, and then to cut spending and pay down that debt during good times. Clinton, in particular, was following this more traditional model. He cut spending during good times, thus paying down some of the debt we'd built up during the period of the Cold War.

The difference between traditional Keynesianism and military Keynesianism is that in the latter, you don't periodically cut back on spending and pay down the debt, because your economic philosophy itself is based on an over-reliance on the jobs that come with (borrowed) government spending on military adventure. The concept of cyclical debt and payment that's at the core of traditional Keynesianism is being ignored by the modern Republican party, and that's the immediate problem. For example: we invade Afghanistan, then Iraq, then we're rattling sabers at Syria and Iran, etc. etc. There is no hint of ever stopping, so there's no period in which we can rest on our military laurels and pay back our debts. And at the same time we were doing this, we've also allowed non-military manufacturing to suffer greatly, thus making the nation even more reliant on military production to stimulate the economy. Our reliance on the military-industrial complex has created a vicious cycle of borrowing and spending, without enough real earning behind it.

With no prospect of payback, our creditors may decide to stop buying dollars, and we cannot afford to keep up the value of the dollar without them!

On preview, inoculatedcities is very right -- the size of the military-industrial complex in terms of GDP has been about the same for decades. The thing you have to look at to understand the current problem is debt, not just spending.
posted by vorfeed at 4:31 PM on February 6, 2007


Not all anti-Bush screeds are serious attempts at analysis. However, any serious attempt at analysis will at least superficially resemble an anti-Bush screed.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:38 PM on February 6, 2007


the size of the military-industrial complex in terms of GDP

GDP itself is something of a fudged term of art, however, given the various hedonic & OER adjustments.

I'm no macroeconomist, but there's also the issue of mortgage equity withdrawal over the 2002-2006 period that is distorting the GDP picture (making it look a LOT better than it really is).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:51 PM on February 6, 2007


Debt won't get the US. Wikipedia has a list of countries and their debts as a percentage of GDP.

The US isn't in such a bad position. Note that several European countries, including Germany are in a worse position. The US's budget problems could also be fixed fairly easily. A reversal of the Bush tax cut, a withdrawal from Iraq and a reduction of US military spending from 3.9% of GDP to something like 3% would immediately do this, let alone a reduction of military spending to European levels, i.e. around 2% of GDP.

In addition, the demographic projections for the US look much better than the European ones. The US's higher birth rate and higher migration mean that the American population probably won't age like many of the European countries.
posted by sien at 4:57 PM on February 6, 2007


A reversal of the Bush tax cut

And watch the over-leveraged middle-class's mortgages go NOD in 6-9 months. Fun!

a withdrawal from Iraq and a reduction of US military spending from 3.9% of GDP to something like 3%

hmm, 0.9% of $13.8T is . . . about 1.2M jobs that go bye-bye, assuming $100k of DOD spending funds 1 job.

No sweat!
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:06 PM on February 6, 2007


Heywood, you're definitely right about the questionable numbers that go into figuring the GDP. That said, even when not compared to GDP, the debt improved under Clinton, and has gone crazy during the Bush years.

sien: The US's budget problems could also be fixed fairly easily.

Well, yes. Johnson says this flat-out in the article. The only problem is, saying "a reversal of the Bush tax cut, a withdrawal from Iraq and a reduction of US military spending from 3.9% of GDP to something like 3% would immediately do this" is, in the current American political climate, a lot like saying "the entire Republican Party sprouting beautiful golden wings, flying to the Moon, and returning with half the GDP's worth of green cheese would immediately do this".

The problem isn't the debt itself, it's that we have no intention of paying it down during the foreseeable future, partly because we're already in a situation where the kind of cuts you're talking about would put a major squeeze on the domestic economy. And we have, unfortunately, decided that any squeeze is too much, thus setting ourselves up for a crash.
posted by vorfeed at 5:22 PM on February 6, 2007


I have been a huge fan of Chalmers Johnson ever since he accurately predicted the rise of our Japanese overloads with their superior industrial policy. Nani?

Seriously, he has written three or four books just like this in rapid succession during the last three years. At this point, it is more dictation than scholarship. If you want to read about decline through imperial overstretch (because you are into that sort of thing, not because it is any more likely to be correct than any other set of guesses), then read Paul Kennedy or Robert Doran or somebody else who managed not to be so wrong so recently.
posted by Slap Factory at 5:43 PM on February 6, 2007


inoculatedcities: Even when measured as a percentage of GDP (which I can't find at the moment) or adjusting the cold war average for 2007 dollars, it appears the spending was never reduced--

Afraid this isn't true. See here. Graph 1 isn't that useful, but Table 1 shows that military spending was 5.6% of GDP in 1989 and 3% in 1999. That translates into roughly 3M jobs (using Heywood Mogroot's numbers) over the course of ten years. The US economy is surprisingly adaptable.

sien: the us's budget problems could also be fixed fairly easily. a reversal of the bush tax cut, a withdrawal from iraq and a reduction of us military spending from 3.9% of gdp to something like 3% would immediately do this, let alone a reduction of military spending to european levels, i.e. around 2% of gdp.

Agreed. The policies that are needed are obvious. The difficulty is political: until there's a clear decision to change course, the US is going to continue drifting along with its current, failed policies. And the US political system doesn't make it easy for elected officials to act in the service of the national interest, rather than in the service of special interests (which provide money for the hideously expensive cost of election campaigning). Bush is only the most obvious example.

Maybe the root problem is that the whole intellectual and moral climate of the United States has undercut the idea of acting for the common good, as opposed to one's personal interests. I often wonder whether lobbyists for particular special interests (e.g. the lobby to repeal the estate tax) have lost all shame, or if they're simply incapable of understanding the dilemma.
posted by russilwvong at 5:46 PM on February 6, 2007


"I have been a huge fan of Chalmers Johnson ever since he accurately predicted the rise of our Japanese overloads with their superior industrial policy."

...and he wasn't the only one making such predictions.

"Seriously, he has written three or four books just like this in rapid succession during the last three years."


Yeah, I think that's why he's referred to the books as a trilogy.

russilwvong: You're right that there is a reported drop of 2.2% between 1990 and 2000, but also notice the increase from 2000 to 2003 (as far as your data goes). It's obviously only taken off from there -- see point b) of my last comment.

...plus we seem to be forgetting that it's really all irrelevant considering we'll never know how much money is included in the black budget.
posted by inoculatedcities at 6:10 PM on February 6, 2007


I would also point to this disturbing diagram.
posted by inoculatedcities at 6:41 PM on February 6, 2007


inoculatedcities: also notice the increase from 2000 to 2003 (as far as your data goes)--

Of course: the US is currently fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

...plus we seem to be forgetting that it's really all irrelevant considering we'll never know how much money is included in the black budget.

There's an inverse correlation between size and secrecy: the larger a program is, the harder it'll be to keep secret. So it's unlikely that "black-budget" programs would be large in relation to overall military spending.
posted by russilwvong at 8:40 PM on February 6, 2007


Somewhat parallel scenario on Google Video: Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (BBC)
posted by rumbles at 3:38 AM on February 7, 2007


russilwvong: I take your point, but the issue is larger than the size of the appropriations, which to all reasonable observers are massive. The mere existence of black budget programs is in direct violation of the first article of the constitution; 40 percent of the defense budget is black. All of the intelligence services' budgets are black. They don't even have congressional oversight. So we are in agreement on the fundamental point regarding the confluence of the 'defense' establishment and the billion dollar industries that subsist on its machinations:

"...The whole intellectual and moral climate of the United States has undercut the idea of acting for the common good..."
as you rightly state.
posted by inoculatedcities at 7:51 AM on February 7, 2007


I wrote Mr. Johnson regarding some of the points raised in the thread and this is part of his reply:

"I tried to answer these questions at some length in the last chapter of my new book (Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic*), particularly on pp. 276 ff concerning the deliberately misleading nature of American defense statistics. If you do not know the size of the "defense budget," it is meaningless to keep on tracking it as a percent of GDP, something that Rumsfeld loved to do. I recommend that you take a look at my treatment in Nemesis, where the argument and the documentation is marshalled in an orderly manner."


I can't address his argument until my copy of the book arrives but I suspect he and others here are right re: defense spending as a percentage of GDP being a faulty measure (e.g., GDP increases along with defense spending and the percentage records no change or, alternatively, GDP increases and spending stays the same and the percentage falls).

*link and plug are mine, not his.
posted by inoculatedcities at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


inoculatedcities: thanks for writing to Johnson, it's great that he took the time to reply. I'll see if I can find the book.
posted by russilwvong at 12:24 PM on February 7, 2007


The US should cut the defense budget by 50%. That would still leave us spending more than the rest of the world put together, but we could have universal health care, complete and comprehensive public education, and no poverty, without spending more than we do now.

But then I'm weak on defense and love terrorists.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:30 PM on February 7, 2007


Crisis of 2020 anyone?
posted by quite unimportant at 1:43 PM on February 7, 2007


National Intelligence Estimate for the United States.

I know it used to be about 100 IQ points, back in the day, but it seems to have plummeted to circa low 70s.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:02 PM on February 7, 2007


Mr Johnson is interviewed on this is hell tomorrow
posted by hortense at 10:35 AM on February 9, 2007


Interview with Chalmers Johnson on Democracy Now.
posted by homunculus at 12:45 PM on February 27, 2007


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