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"Economics of Empire"

By       Message Alan MacDonald     Permalink
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The pathology of Empire really has more to do at its core with economics than with politics.  All traditional empires have been at heart a project of economic advantage only affected by political rationalization, and ultimately the military power to carry out the seminal goal of economic advantaged status. 

The reason for economics being the leading factor of the ‘will to empire’ is simply that empire itself as a system is leveraged and dependent on a concept, one might say, even a love of elitism, and thus must support the underpinnings of a highly skewed hierarchy of privilege, wealth, status, and power, which can only be accomplished and maintained with an ever larger scale of economic advantages that come from broadening economic exploitation ---- both within one society and extending to ultimately all societies.

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While the realms of political power and military fame can and are motivators of expanded personal exploits, and can frequently lead to personal advantage and fame, it is only through the conscious acquisition of expanding economic resources that an entire social, political, and particularly military system can expand and sustain itself beyond the scope of its own society or nation-state.   By definition an empire is self-referential and must be composed of those within the empire’s identity, and those without --- who are more thoroughly exploited for the advantage of the empire’s members. 

Some, within any society regardless of its form of political economic structure and rule, may achieve stature, wealth, power and elite status within the community or society itself.  But such fame or elite status within the society, whether sought or given, is relative within the community, and thus places an upper limit on both the scale and the steepness of any elitist hierarchy.  Therefore the great political leader or the great general can be renowned within the society but not too visibly to the detriment of the whole society, and this limiting factor places a constraint on the essentially limitless lust, elitism and hubris of some with lesser real talents but with lust for stature.  While social reverence for political or military leadership by members of the society may often be enough to satisfy leaders with such genuine skills, the possession of an infinitely expandable and symbolic representation of greatness in the form of wealth creates the basis and mechanism of institutionalizing an elitist grasp for hierarchy beyond that demonstrated by genuine personal qualities of leadership within one society.

Empire entails the conscious design and development of the methodology to exploit ‘outsider’ societies in order to support an elitist hierarchy which is larger, steeper, more robust, defensible and satisfying than could be supported within one’s own society alone.

How many times have we heard the statement about the Iraq war, “the war can not be won militarily alone, but must be won politically”?  However, the real and deeper truth is that wars are not won militarily OR politically, but only economically.

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Economics, not politics or some vague patriotic reference to geopolitics, is the basis and driver for all “wars of aggression” ----- and the “economics of empire” is foundational to the support of the elitist concept and reality of all empire.

Karl von Clausewitz famously said, “War is merely politics by other means”. But what he failed to describe is that, “politics is merely economics by other means”.

So what we have (by transitive property) is that, if war = politics (by other means), and politics = economics (by other means), then war = economics (by disguised means). This, in fact, we might more generally term; the fundamental property of Economic Empire.

Historically, aggressive wars to achieve or expand Economic Empire were driven by the will to power of militaristic elite, and could be easily impressed on a non-elite population through either the promise of ‘war booty’, conscription,  or the fear of summary execution by the ruling-elite.  This early ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ approach to imperial war campaigns was very effective down through the ages, and continued to be effective (with minor allusions to patriotism and ‘national destiny’) right up through WWII.  After all, it must be remembered that well delivered speeches, albeit from a master orator, were more than sufficient to enlist the modern and sophisticated populations of Germany with promises and justifiable ‘rights’ of needed Lebensraum ("living space") and  ethnic pride.

During the claimed ‘post-imperial’ era beyond WWII, and with the economic collapse of the British Empire and most others, the two remaining empires (one an acknowledged empire and one not) briefly jousted in a so-called cold-war, which seemed to neither’s economic advantage.  However, with the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the ascendance of a singular empire which prefers to be termed a ‘liberal capitalist democracy’, wars of aggression have had to be disguising as moral necessities.  After all, fighting a war against another empire to achieve economic hegemony can always be prettified in ideological terms, but a unitive super-power empire should not be seen in our politically correct times as merely perpetrating ‘smash and grab’ heists on other sovereign states.  Thus America, or more accurately the global corporate Empire disguising itself behind the façade of “Vichy America”, has had to utilize the political and military power of this former nation-state to appear to be acting in “humanitarian interests” when it launches preemptive, and economic wars of empire.

The need for increasing niceties and guile in launching modern wars of aggression to support the economics of empire is not the only consideration for the world’s remaining empire.  All empires, once they become dependent on the resources of other societies for their own economic growth, face the need to grow and bring in even more resources and wealth in order to support their own ever expanding elite hierarchy.  In this sense, all empires are very much akin to the false economy of a Ponzi scheme --- which requires more and more input to provide profitable returns to the earlier and favored investors.

The old adage that “it required half the globe to support the British Empire” is more than doubly true for today’s global corporate/financial Empire which operates under the guise of “Vichy America”.  However, the greatest amount of economic wealth gleaned from the globe is, through the modern alchemy of hedge and private equity funds monetized not out of lead, but out of pure air, by stripping and scooping up real assets and replacing them with fiat currency.  This sweeping up of the globe’s real asset wealth is highly efficient with modern imperial finance capitalism, in which the global Empire is ‘the house’ and controls the only rules of globalization, namely rules that favor investors.

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By the most recognized measure of wealth inequality (GINI Index .85), the richest 1 percent of people in the world control as much wealth as the bottom 57 percent.  While the true ruling-elite, who are actively engaged in the global corporate Empire are considerably less than .01%, all of the upper tiers of the wealth pyramid, even as low as 20%, must be satisfied with some pay out ---- and this naturally differs considerably by antiquated nation-state identities, with the US coming first, and demanding the most resources and energy for its pyramid.   

The GINI Index, whether applied to inequality of wealth or income, is 0 if distribution is perfectly equitable and 1.0 if one person has all the wealth or income.  For example the GINI income index is .45 for the US, while it is a far more equitable (.25 to .35) for all other modern industrialized countries.  This represents a problem for the global corporate Empire centered in “Vichy America” because their own CIA cautions that any country with a GINI Index about .40, and particularly climbing like the US, is in danger of “social unrest”.

The scope of imperial arguments as to why a significant degree of inequality is essential is beyond hypocrisy --- ranging from the absurdly fallacious and historical favorite, “because God deemed it that way”, to the appearance of modern technical economic propaganda, “because the level of investment to insure capitalistic growth requires a level of savings and accumulation that can only be assured with high levels of inequality.”  However, all of these justifications, from the stupid to the sophisticated, as to why inequality must remain high are beginning to be viewed very suspiciously and angrily by the local US ‘working class’ population, and as the CIA advise about our high domestic GINI Index and John Edwards warns, “there are increasingly two different and unfair Americas”.  Thus the global corporate Empire hiding behind their façade of a “Vichy America” is becoming increasingly concerned that they need to keep consumer satisfaction and life style up or they risk going down, themselves in angry revolt.  The global Empire can not look to exploit the American citizenry much more ---- particularly since American citizens (whether they know it or not) are the only people in the world who’s slim remaining voting rights could actually bring down the global Empire.

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Retired Director of Product Strategy NEC now teaching HS part time.

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