The End of Empire

Are we headed in the same direction?

These days I spend a fair amount of time in England.

The fate of Britain never ceases to amaze me.

For more than 200 years, this tiny island quite literally ran the world.

It was the capitol of nearly one fourth of the planet’s inhabitants.  It was on the cutting edge of technology, literature, business, art. Just about everything. Then, in an instant, really, it all came to an end.

This happened almost overnight.  My wife’s father lived most of his life under the banner of a British Empire whose doman stretched from Australia through India across East Africa.  Today, Britain is reduced to its tiny island a few remanant pieces of rock around the world.

What happened?

I recently read The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire by Peter Clarke.  It is an excellent history of the final death throes of what was once the largest empire in the world.

In short, the Empire went broke.  They over-extended themselves and when it came time to pay up, they came up short. They had to give up just about everything and in an instant were transformed from the global superpower of more than two centuries to a small but pleasant European state. Astonishing.

Looking at the current global fiscal melt-down, I cannot help but wonder if we are not watching the last thousand days of the American Empire.  An Empire built on financial strength as opposed to colonial land mass but an Empire none the less.

Our power was always predicated on our enormous financial engine. But increasingly it seems that that financial engine has been nothing less than a house of cards – a world built on debt.  The near bankruptcy (and it’s not over yet) of GM and Ford bear testimony to our having lost the edge in industry.  Instead of doing the hard work required to maintain a global position of leadership we have, for the past 30 years, opted for the easier fakers way out – debt and borrowing to maintain a lifestyle that our economic base could not support.

This is not a failure of ‘Wall Street’, as the GOP fearmongers would have you believe, but rather a failure of Main Street.  I see it in my own family.  People who made milions of dollars a year (literally) went out and spent even more than they made. Instead of saving they went deeper into debt in the sure and steady knowlege that the economy and real estate values would continue to grow. Well they didn’t, and now it is time to pay the piper all across the boards. You can’t keep borrowing forever, and for the past 30 years America has had the lowest savings rate in the Western World – negative numbers.

The demise of Britain came awfully fast.  The Empire was in the end, but a house of cards that was unsustainable.  The industrial base of the Empire was hollowed out over years of over-extension.

I wonder if we are now about to discover the same truth about ourselves.

Britain accepted the End of Empire with a measure of civility commensurate with their culture. There was no rioting in the streets – no turn to far right wing fanatics; no witch hunt for ‘who lost the Empire’.

I wonder if we will be as civilized when our own end comes.


9 responses to “The End of Empire

  1. I wonder if we will be as civilized when our own end comes.

    If the Republican campaign stops are any indication – I doubt it.

  2. While you make some good points, and pose deep questions, it is ridiculous to hear Republicans being blamed for every single mess. It takes whatever intellectual point you make, then evaporates it into a whisp of B.S. I hate to sound so critical, but seriously, don’t try to pass this “American” crisis as caused by republicans.

    It was caused by Wall Street greed. They are the corporate folks who bundled bad mortgages and sold them. Wall Street investment banks bought them. Foolishly. And also, it was main street as well. Both Dems and Republicans over extended themselves into high risk debt. The government, both Dems and Republicans did not work together for the country to protect the people.

    It wasn’t a party platform of the Republicans. Democrats were equally (aware of, participants of, elected for, and President’s of the time,) responsible for this financial mentality.

    Of course this is Michaels blog and Cliff can rant about republican campaigns. But I am invited to respond. So I write.

    If you want intellegent discourse, then cut the partisan B.S. because that is part of the problem as well, in my opinion. No wonder people cannot do “the right thing.” It’s because they are to lazy to take off their filtered glasses (rosey or smokey) and see things clearly. Once we all do that, it becomes easier to see the truth.

    Is socialism the answer? Is a mixture of capitalism and socialism? Certainly, governments have now taken stock and control. This temporary fix will keep the wheels spinning. We will see if that is a temporary fix until regulators and lawmakes make serious adjustments.

    Perhaps the huge investor “capitalists” have removed their money from the market… because they see who is leading in the polls? That might be a factor? A candidate who will tax more of their money and reduce their potential returnss/ capital worthiness of America? In otherwords, is the market reacting to the possibility that Obama may win? Just a thought… but every single election the stock market reacts before the election towards who is leading.

    There are many things happening.

    Meanwhile, CBS stock is at $8. Redstone had to sell to pay off debt. Is he a republican or a democrat?

  3. I missed one:

    Michael writes about the GOP “fearmongers”

    Yet at the same time writes about the coming end of America.

    Wow. Who is the fear monger?

    Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the post and the debate. I did not take Michael’s post as “fear mongering.” I read it as it was presented… a look at history and what may lie ahead. Those are facts, and opinion.

    I just (again) find it ironic that he brings up Republicans and far right wing fanatics as “fear mongers”…. while he is writing about the death of a great country. That would seem to be intended to instill fear, no?

    Also, if you really know what the “right wing” of the GOP stands for…. it is smaller sized government, lower taxes, more state and local control.

    What is happening now… (the problems in America) are in fact the cause of an out of control Federal government. I think history will prove that. The size and scope of the “U.S.” federal government and the power the Federal goverment is wielding is really at the root of the problems. It was supposed to be (and will return to at some point) a federation of STATES.

    When the U.S. collapses… the local governments and states will take back control. That’s my prediction. So you are right, Michael, that the U.S. as we know it might end.

    It will either move towards socialistic France. Or it will move back towards it’s constitutional framework of individual states.

    Anyway, not to go into those issues too much… I just wanted to make the point that the GOP and the far right fanatics are not to blame. They are the heart and soul of rural America. You know, the ones who cling to guns and religion. And the ones who are probably not in debt up to their ears. The ones who work hard and have small businesses. Do you think they will survive or fail in the long run?

    Food for thought…. at your table.

  4. Dear Eb,
    Personally, having lived in socialist France (as well as socialist Sweden and now socialist England) I would gladly opt for the former, and hope that America may now move in that direction. Denmark, Sweden, France, Norway, Holland. These are lovely countries in which to live. And while I pay 50% tax both in the US and England (having mailed my checks today, I am sorely aware); at least in Europe that 50% buys me free education through grad school, free health care, free day care, free child care, free hospice, clean streets, safe streets, free museums and a host of other benefits. What exactly does my 50% contribution buy me in the US? Nothing close.

  5. From what I understand about France (I’m not an expert) France elected a new leader who wanted his country to back away from their path of socialism, and move towards more capitalism. I may be wrong, but I don’t think there are a lot of people who say France’s budget, government and economy are strong.

    That was, of course, the mentality before the recent collapse of the U.S. financial infrastructure. I did hear Sarkozy recently criticizing capitalism.

    So it works both ways, when either economy is weak or strong.

    Different world views. Certainly, I would love a more laid back, socialistic existence at times. The U.S. does seem a bit intense compared to Europe. I wouldn’t know. I am from a rural North Dakota town and haven’t the world experience you have. But I obviously believe the U.S. structure of states control is being taken over by a federal government control.

    That only has partially to do with economics. And that is still quite important to the rural people and states in America. They don’t want to pay %50 taxes. They want smaller government. And that is what has been changing.

  6. It’s always a balancing act between tapping into the engine of human greed and trying to serve the higher cause of the public good. In France, Sarkozy is certainly more conservative than Segolen Royal, his opponent. However, there is no way in the world Sarkozy could have run for President in the US on his platform. He would have been derided as Socialist or Communist.

    I cannot understand how Socialism in the US got such a bad reputation – particularly amongst the working classes who stand to benefit the most from it. This is the genius of the rich in America, that they made decent,hard working Americans fearful of their best shot at a good life.

    Public education, which I think we all like and support, is purely socialist. It is free. The state pays. Fire Departments, police departments, public libraries, public parks – all of these are ‘socialist’. Not so terrible, hmmm.

  7. eb – tisk tisk – I’ve been on both sides of the political spectrum. The Repugs lost their way a long time ago. I view my position as the lesser of two evils .

    Michael said:

    …that 50% (taxation) buys me free education through grad school, free health care, free day care, free child care, free hospice, clean streets, safe streets, free museums and a host of other benefits. What exactly does my 50% contribution buy me in the US? Nothing close.

    So, the quality of life is better in those countries that provide this with a higher tax rate, yet here in the USA, supposedly the most powerful nation in the world, we have homelessness, greed run rampant on Wall Street, an educational system that is lack-luster at best, wars started under the premise of terrorism which is really around protecting our addiction to oil… – I could go on and on. And then the Repugs use their position as being so called “Patriotic Americans” – Oh please…

    eb – I agree with you on states rights, although I prefer a mixture of democratic/socialist policies that best serve those who are the true backbone of this country – the middle class. The states rights issue won’t happen due to how the country has been managed by the village idiot in the white house for the past 8 years, which will preclude us from thinking this way for the foreseeable future.

    Personally – I’m more of the position to break this country into what Joel Garreau termed “The Nine Nations Of North America” – I happen to live in the region called Ecotopia – which is a great book to read by Ernst Callenbach – and does give a compelling reason for this region to take control of it’s own destiny based upon a stable state philosophy for government.

    “Now Go Away or I Will Taunt You a Second Time.”

  8. Only recently – since the 60s – has the education been sub par. In the U.S. hey day – education was great. That is true.

    The same with innovation, creativity, the markets, giving to the poor, etc…

    The U.S. provides a great deal of relief and charity for the poor and poor countries.

    Yes, we do have socialistic public schools. And private schools do better, no?

    The debate can and will go on about the pros and cons of socialism. So, I will end mine here.

    But to put all blame of the current financial crisis on the GOP is simply untrue and unfair. Although stronger leadership is always something that is needed to ward off catastrophes. That’s what we do need. We can agree on that. We need someone to take the bull by the horns and lead us towards financial strength and whirled peas. (more food for thought.)

    I am skipping the debate tonight. Had enough of the political pablum for a while.

  9. rosenblumtv said:

    “Public education, which I think we all like and support, is purely socialist. It is free. The state pays. Fire Departments, police departments, public libraries, public parks – all of these are ’socialist’. Not so terrible, hmmm.”

    Sorry, the last time I checked, these things are NOT FREE!! They are paid for by the taxpayers. That means you and me!!

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