Late Stage Imperialism, Class, and the Environment
Also sponsored by Earth Pendant at PeacefulJewelry
"Like a poor beggar, raileth on the rich.
I was an infant in the late 1950's, and in the early 60's I was sure the world was about to end. I lived in Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis. If that were not bad enough, I was still a pre-teen when I heard predictions that even if there were no nuclear war, there would be an ecological crisis that would surely destroy civilization.
Half a century later the nuclear weapons are still at the ready. The world's population has climbed, species have disappeared, and global warming has been added to the potential ingredients for catastrophe.
In the seventies I hoped for a political revolution in the U.S. with the working class coming out on top, but not led by a dictator. When I graduated from college the world was deep in recession. Jobs were hard to come by, so I took ones that no one else in their right mind wanted. I sure as hell would rather have starved as a bum than move back in with my parents. But even at minimum wage, even at part time, I could get by on my own, often living in a group house with a bunch of roommates.
For a few years it has been obvious that the U.S. economy is in trouble, and with a kind of trouble that no political party wants to admit to. The trouble is in history itself, and history cannot be changed, nor can politicians or most citizens face it honestly. The trouble is complex, but not so complex that it cannot be outlined in this essay. The solutions offered by the main political parties (and the wings within these parties) are not going to work, because they refuse to admit to the essential features of the problems facing us. I include here the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Green Party, and Libertarian Party.
Let's just suppose you want to know what is going on, even though you won't be able to do anything about it, because 300 million of your fellow American citizens are wandering around a circus of mirrors, wondering why good times are getting scarcer no matter how hard they pray to Jesus, Keynes, Ayn Rand or Rachel Carson.
Most Americans today think Brits are a cutely accented people with a very sweet Queen leading them in High Tea. But from roughly 1500 until shortly after World War II the Brits ran the largest, most brutal, most barbaric empire in global history. Which brings us to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR.
Imbued with schooling in the Latin classics, even before the American Revolution some members of our ruling class longed to be the center of a new, global empire. FDR today is beloved by Democrats and hated by Republicans for New Deal economic policies and bureaucracies that never die, but that was and is a side show. FDR's true importance was that he fulfilled the imperialist dreams of the founding fathers.
FDR was quite clever. He had learned much from his uncle, former President Teddy Roosevelt, and from the architect of modern American and global racism, President Woodrow Wilson. FDR served as Wilson's Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1913 to 1920), which traditionally was the front-line post for U.S. imperialist plotting. From uncle Teddy he learned how to prepare to take advantage of a situation, and from uncle Woodrow he learned how to wait until other imperialist powers were exhausted fighting each other before committing American troops.
Hence, Britain, Germany, and Russia bombed each other's factories pretty well before Japan finally recognized a war that already existed (American soldiers were fighting Japanese soldiers in China before Pearl Harbor) and forced FDR's hand. FDR had already been building a vast armada to invade China and Japan, but much of it was sunk at the Battle of Pearl Harbor. With ten times the industrial capacity of Japan and with Communist Russia having already stopped the German advance, it was mainly a matter of time and willingness to spill blood to capture Germany, China and Japan before the Red Army could.
Russia did pretty well during World War II, but the British Empire collapsed. So did the Dutch Empire (did you even know the Netherlands had a empire, also know for its cruelty to natives?) and the French Empire. But in all the world only one nation had not lost a single factory to bombs. It was the United States of America. Thank you FDR.
In 1946 everyone wanted American food and other aid, and so no one could afford to set protective tariff barriers against U.S. goods. U.S. factories and corporations went wild. We took over French and British colonial puppet governments by offering them higher bribes than their old oppressors could. We lost China and Eastern Europe to communism, but by 1950 the effective American Empire was larger than the British Empire had ever been.
Working class Americans benefited. Corporations could be generous to newly-recognized unions because profits were flooding in from all over the world. Still remembering the Depression, workers and business people alike worked hard to push Prosperity to greater heights. Almost everyone (except for some oppressed minority groups) could own a suburban home, a car or two, a television, telephone, stereo, lawnmower, and the usual furnishings. College education became the rule, not the exception.
The Unions attributed prosperity to their forcing the Bosses to pay higher wages; they did not want to look at imperialism. The Business guys (this was pre-feminism) attributed prosperity to the Free Markets and their own cleverness. They did not want to look at imperialism. The Democratic Party and Republican Parties did not want to look at imperialism's effects on the American economy, they just wanted credit for prosperity. Within the U.S. everyone could agree that U.S. global dominance was a kind, protective sort of dominance. Our dictators were good men who were protecting their people from the horrors of Communism. We sent aid packages to show our benevolence. Anything said to the contrary was Communist propaganda.
The only people who talked about imperialism were the American Communists. Until around 1960 they were almost all in the Communist Party U.S.A., a pro-Stalin organization, and few people listened to them. In the 1960's a bunch of smaller communist, anarchist, and socialist groups thrived for a while, but they mostly collapsed after the end of the Vietnam War, and with them any analysis of imperialism.
Meanwhile, due to improvements in medicine and agricultural science, the human population of the world mounted rapidly. It was great for business. Each newly added human was a consumer and potential worker.
New trends emerged between 1970 and 2010 that gradually changed the global balance of power. The U.S., although defeated in Vietnam, maintained much of its economic empire and military clout, but was unable and uninterested in overtly conquering the entire world even after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and its allied regimes. But the most important trend was re-industrialization both inside and outside the Empire, and a coincidental relative de-industrialization of the U.S. It was simple: producing profits became easier outside the U.S. than within as each decade passed.
Global industrialism, including mechanization of agriculture, has led to the degradation of the environment almost everywhere, but most notably in China. With China now trying hard to clean up its own environment, and labor costs rising, the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy is already slowing down. Other nations will absorb most new factories that are built to serve the global economy.
Neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party is willing to tax our non-American subjects to pay for the costs of imperialism. The U.S. federal budget is now in perpetual deficit, yet domestic government services are rapidly disintegrating. Almost all union workers now are government employees. Even the agricultural sector is under constant attack by drought, roundup-ready weeds, global warming, and symptoms like honeybee colony collapse.
The problem is not just that the Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked in Congress, resulting in a do-nothing government. The problem is that even if one party had its way, its solutions would not work. None of the solutions on the table are designed to work to revive a late-stage imperialist economy. Just like nothing the British did could revive their economy as their empire collapsed between 1945 and 1960. The world went on, and eventually the British adjusted, but they were no longer the world's richest rich people with the world's best paid workers.
The first real decision to be made is whether to maintain the empire, downsize it, or abandon it. From a purely economic viewpoint, each option has its merits. Maintaining the empire would work if we admitted we run an empire and imposed substantial taxes on our foreign subjects. Downsizing would work if we could shuck the most expensive and indefensible subjects, but even with a smaller military we would still need impose taxes. If nations rebelled against the taxes, we would probably have to abandon them.
Abandoning the entire empire would likely work out best in the long run, but it also abandons the easy fix of taxing our subjects. Today we still have very significant industrial, agricultural, and educational capacity in the 50 states (I am assuming Puerto Rican independence is an economic no-brainer). As bad as our natural environment is, it is in better shape than that of many other nations. Yet in international competition we have few advantages because of the stupidity of our business class and legacy costs of imperialism (the national debt).
We would still need to either decide on a national course. How can every person capable of work be given a productive role in a post-imperialist scenario? I don't think the welfare-state model, in which more of the pie is doled out to the indolent, can lead to anything but further decline. The goal of full and productive (as opposed to make-work) employment could be achieved within a democratic and largely free-market framework if the government would show a bit of backbone when necessary. Local, State, and federal government should be free to set up businesses as needed to address needs underserved by existing businesses. After an incubation period the ownership of such businesses should be transferred to the employees of the businesses.
It is absolutely essential, however, that the U.S. reduce its population. There cannot be prosperity for all on a limited supply of natural resources when the population keeps climbing, or even at the current level. This policy would doubtless include economic guidance. I would advocate free public education only for 2 children per family, and no tax deductions beyond the 2nd child either. If only a few people have more than 2 children, enough women will have no or only one children, and the population should trend to long-term sustainable levels.
Of course, I know this won't happen. The working class of the U.S. is as infected with fantasies as the capitalist class and the middle class. The leaders of the working class, middle class, and capitalist class are clueless. They were deceived by the easy fruits of imperialism. Those fruits are disappearing. Instead of waking up and learning how to plant an orchard, Americans demand that the fruit just keep appearing on the table. And politicians give them what they demand: pipe dreams.
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