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SUPER-IMPERIALISM: Shameful Legacy Of Liberal Democrats

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Message Carolyn Baker

It is a war against the globalization of the market, against the destruction of nature adn the confiscation of resources, against the termination of indigenous peoples and their lands, against the growing maldistribution of wealth and the consequent decline in standards of living for all but the rich.

Andrew Kopkind 

Professor Michael Hudson, an independent Wall St. financial economist, has written an extraordinary book entitled Super Imperialism: The Origins and Fundamentals Of U.S. World Dominance. I first heard of Michael Hudson when browsing Bonnie Faulkner's "Guns And Butter" website, and as I listened to him, I knew that I needed to read Super Imperialism for many reasons, not the least of which is that I am not an economist and am only beginning to educate myself on how the money works in the domestic and world economies. For this reason, I have been reluctant to write a review of Hudson's book; I am still learning, as are many of my readers, about dysfunctional and oppressive economic systems and how they work, as well as learning about how a healthy economy might function to meet the needs of its citizenry without harming them or the ecosystem. That said, as an historian, I believe that in order to fully appreciate the current tyranny of centralized financial systems, it is necessary to understand how they evolved within the past six decades. 

While reading Hudson's book I quickly realized that it is a crucial companion to Chalmers Johnson's trilogy of books on U.S. imperialism, namely, Blowback, The Sorrows Of Empire, and Nemesis. Johnson's emphasis is primarily on the military aspects of U.S. imperialism since the end of World War II, with much less focus on American economic imperialism during that era. 

In the current milieu of blatant neo-conservative world domination rhetoric and behavior, it is oh so tempting to believe that the Republican Party and political conservatism have been historically at the forefront of an imperialist foreign policy. What is crucial to understand is that from an historical perspective, the economic imperialism engineered by the United States was overwhelmingly the brain child of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.  

Bretton Woods 

Hudson takes us back to 1945 when the United States was the most powerful creditor nation on earth, having lent billions to other nations during and after World War II. Today, the U.S. is the most powerful debtor nation on earth, and Super Imperialism describes and documents superbly how such a stunning reversal of economic positioning occurred. 

Although corporations and centralized financial systems were the means by which economic imperialism was implemented, ...it is not to the corporate sector that one must look to find the roots of modern international economic relations as much as to U.S. Government pressure on central banks and on multilateral organizations such as the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization....At the root of this new form of imperialism is the exploitation of governments by a single government, that of the United States, via the central banks and multilateral control institutions of intergovernmental capital rather than via the activities of private corporations seeking profit. What has turned the older forms of imperialism into a super imperialism is that whereas prior to the 1960s the U.S. Government dominated international organizations by virtue of its preeminent creditor status, since that time it has done so by virtue of its debtor status. (23-24) 

The genesis of this re-positioning was the International Monetary and Financial Conference of 1944 held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire out of which was born the Bretton Woods System of "international monetary management for commercial and financial relations among the world's industrial states." It was there that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were established, and as Hudson notes, "The U.S. economy was enabled to draw the finances of other governments into an international cartel directed by its own policy-makers, dominated by U.S. officials and their appointees." (139) 

As I have noted in my recent book U.S.HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You, the ultimate "cure" for the Great Depression was not the New Deal and its economic programs, but World War II, out of which the U.S. emerged not only as the most powerful nation militarily, but economically as well. A number of modern historians have speculated that one reason Franklin Roosevelt's administration failed to intervene economically to undercut Hitler's rise to power was Roosevelt's ultimate dream: that the U.S. would emerge from war as the most powerful nation on earth economically and militarily, forever precluding, in Roosevelt's mind, the possibility of another Great Depression. FDR's dream was realized, making possible the economic supremacy of the United States during and subsequent to the Bretton Woods conference, without which the U.S. could never have achieved the commanding position it assumed at the momentous gathering of nations. 

Hudson seems unable to overemphasize the auspiciousness of America's post-war preeminence: 

What occurred after World War II was nothing less than an inversion of the law of nations as it had been evolving for centuries, at least on the part of Europe if not that of the United States. The most basic principle of international law is that nations are equals with regard to their rights and policy-making autonomy. In addition to this legal principle is a basic behavioral law of diplomacy: in a world of nation-states it is unnatural for any nation to abrogate its international position voluntarily....Europe demurred from pressing its self-interest at any point where this conflicted with that of the United States. Exhausted by war, it voluntarily abrogated what had been more than four centuries of imperial ambitions. (265) 

To American diplomats the United States simply was living up to its historic destiny as world leader when they formulated their plans for the postwar world at Bretton Woods. In their idealism they anticipated that the breakup of nationhood-at least on the part of foreign countries-would inaugurate a world economy of peaceful interdependence and perhaps even altruism. They did not ponder how alien this concept was to the basic principle of nationhood, that no nation can be expected to relinquish its independence with regard to economic policy-making. Nonetheless, American now asked, and received, European capitulation on every major point of postwar relations. (265) 

Pegging international currency to the dollar, backed by the gold standard, the U.S. continued to exert economic supremacy throughout the Cold War era. Although the Bretton Woods system "officially" collapsed in 1971 when the U.S. suspended convertibility from dollars to gold, America's economic dominance did not subside with abandonment of the gold standard.

In fact says Hudson, "The key to understanding today's dollar standard is to see that it has the form of gold bullion. While applying creditor-oriented rules against Third World countries and other debtors, the IMF pursues a double standard with regard to the United States. It has established rules to monetize the deficits the United States runs up as the world's leading debtor, above all by the U.S. government to foreign governments and their central banks." (35) 

Everyone got something as a result of Bretton Woods, but ultimately the cost was untenable. Europe received resources it could have never acquired otherwise and assistance in rebuilding after the World War II, but its war debts remained on the books. Developing nations, particularly the agriculturally backward ones, received resources as well, but the price they have paid has been nothing less than brutal. Hudson states that the United States "simply anticipated that these countries would increase their purchases of American farm products, which they could have produced for themselves if only they had set out to restructure their agricultural sectors." (186) The World Bank and IMF were "protectionist" in the sense that they protected U.S. investors against foreign commercial nationalism. Any movement by developing countries toward industrial and agricultural self-sufficiency was halted and reversed, leading to increased impoverishment of developing countries since World War II. (187)  

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Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is author of U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You. Her forthcoming book is SACRED DEMISE: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse. She also (more...)
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