I am reading Emmanuel Todd’s “After the Empire,”:amazon which talks about the increasing fragility of the American hegemony. This isn’t entirely new territory — think of Paul Kennedy — but it’s covered with elegance, insight, and a clear grasp of demographics and economy. As a further advantage, Todd is a philo-American and conscious that the American hegemony was almost entirely beneficial for the world for many decades.
The argument is complex; amongst other things, he believes that liberal democracy is being replaced — not just in America — by oligarchies based on extreme inequality. This is worrying if you believe that democracies don’t start wars.
But his central point is economic: that the USA can’t afford and hasn’t in fact got the military power to back up its illusory mastery of the world. Picking on second-rate countries like Iraq is the utmost exertion that the American army can manage. (He has, by contrast a high view of the air force and the Navy but their use is limited.)
In this context, he compares America with previous empires, particularly Athens and Rome. Rome, he points out, became oligarchical as a function of acquiring an empire. The vast majority of citizens became economically redundant, and the powerful minority unimaginably rich. All this was a result of the army having seized a whole lot of foreigners’ loot and made it their own.
But the American Empire, he goes on to say, hasn’t worked in that way. The direct transfer of wealth and material from conquered peoples, as practised by the Romans, the British, and even the Russians after 1945, just hasn’t happened. It’s true that the Germans and the Japanese got to pay for their occupying armies. But they also got Marshall Aid, or the equivalent.
What we have instead is the extraordinary willingness of foreigners to tolerate huge American trade deficits: to export goods to America without getting anything but dollars in return, yet to continue to regard these dollars as valuable. “The way in which the United States manages to go on taking without giving is bizarre, mysterious, and dangerous.”
In this context, the movement towards monetarising intellectual property all around the world makes perfect sense. It is a way to set up a perpetual global tax system for the benefit of imperial oligarchs.