America, the fragile empire

Niall Ferguson writes:

If empires are complex systems that sooner or later succumb to sudden and catastrophic malfunctions, what are the implications for the United States today? First, debating the stages of decline may be a waste of time — it is a precipitous and unexpected fall that should most concern policymakers and citizens. Second, most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises. Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed as the United States contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $1.5 trillion — about 11% of GDP, the biggest since World War II.

These numbers are bad, but in the realm of political entities, the role of perception is just as crucial. In imperial crises, it is not the material underpinnings of power that really matter but expectations about future power. The fiscal numbers cited above cannot erode U.S. strength on their own, but they can work to weaken a long-assumed faith in the United States’ ability to weather any crisis.

One day, a seemingly random piece of bad news — perhaps a negative report by a rating agency — will make the headlines during an otherwise quiet news cycle. Suddenly, it will be not just a few policy wonks who worry about the sustainability of U.S. fiscal policy but the public at large, not to mention investors abroad. It is this shift that is crucial: A complex adaptive system is in big trouble when its component parts lose faith in its viability.

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3 thoughts on “America, the fragile empire

  1. John Merryman

    The tipping point has already been passed. What is happening now is that every possible asset value which can be accessed is being incorporated into the larger bubble to brake the fall, in order to preserve the status quo. The problem is falling out the window, but the pain is when you hit the sidewalk. We are somewhere inbetween.

  2. David R. Evans

    Right you are, John Merryman, and with our failing empire that is over-extending its reach in resource acquisition (i.e., military adventurism for oil and pipelines), it is my fervent hope that the rest of the World pursues a just Israeli/Palestinian peace by forcing Israel to comply with international law. Scores of UN Resolutions against Israel have been blocked by U.S. veto at the Security Council. The UN Goldstone Report documrnted in 565 pages numerous Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel in its unwarranted attack on Gaza last winter. Israel illegally continues colony building on Palestinian lands, including on graveyards and holy sites, and purposefully starves and denies medicines and fuel and electricity and even window glass to replace the bombed-out windows of thousands of homes still standing but damaged in last winter’s attack on innocent people. Gaza is just the latest in a 62 year history of atrocities that Israel has committed, all with impunity and almost total U.S. support. So when our U.S. empires hits concrete, Israel will lose its sole supporter and with that loss, much animosity towards the West; And the world will be a better place.

  3. Ian Arbuckle

    Right you both are John and David, but I think the economic financial and corporate gangsterism is just a sign of a failing empire, as the elite become liquid and heads for their exit. The coup d’état which brought in the powers behind the apparent democratic oligarchs happened a long time ago. Now as the US regime becomes more instable those powers behind the thrown and their militarist fascist global agenda, which gives no shrift to international legality or human justice, will become apparent even to the most rose spectacled idealist dreamers of society.

    But not to worry at least we are now seeing the timeframe for the fiscal and economic collapse which is approaching later this year and which should be the harbinger of the more dramatic events which may follow, as the US faces insolvency even by its own rules, while having foresaken any possibility to further borrow its way out and being left with its last and only tool in the box, the hammer. I thought you too would find the following article in this respect was most enlightening, although definitely not likely to be reproduced in the WSJ or NYTimes:

    Usa: Asia: This year, US public debt could reach end game

    Once the shock has hit, whether in London, Tel Aviv, New York or Tokyo, how fast will they be rushing to embrace that which Paxton wrote that fascism is:

    “a form of political behaviour marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion”

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