Friday, December 05, 2008

Empires don't work anymore

Empires don't seem to work anymore. The tide of history has been running against them for some time. Whether we're talking about political empires, which are about land, or business empires, which are about money that knows no borders, it seems the strategy of domination by being gargantuan and far-flung has gotten to be too expensive.

Much of the turmoil in the most dangerous regions of the world still stems in great part from the collapse of empires and the anarchy that followed. In some cases we're talking about empires that shattered whole lifetimes ago. Too many former colonies are still being ruled by strongmen, if they are being ruled at all.

Now we are watching business empires collapsing -- the super banks, Detroit's auto makers, etc. and we now look with trepidation at the financial flux that trend might be spawning.

Remember how we all grew up hearing there could never ever be another Great Depression, like what happened in the 1930s? Who believes that rather absurd assertion now?

When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unraveling of the USSR, almost 20 years ago, America pounded its chest and declared itself the winner of the battle of empires. Ronald Reagan was given credit for bankrupting the Soviets by out-spending them on defense.

Yet, since that so-called victory the USA has continued to maintain an expensive military presence in foreign countries all over the world. Why American taxpayers have been forced to support policing most of the planet since the Cold War ended probably won't make much sense when its looked back on.

Then again, 20 years is a drop in the bucket of history. So, today I'm wondering if 20 years from now, scholars will be saying neither side won the Cold War. One day the historians may conclude that one side just flew to pieces from its domination strategy's overreaching sooner than did the other.

4 comments:

Scott said...

It will be interesting to see if the U.S. decentralizes due to the depression.

The best way for us to untangle is to recreate self-suufficiency and get off foreign oil.

One thing to look out for is nuclear terrorism, which could have disastrous effects no matter how involved we are with the rest of the world.

F.T. Rea said...

The value of everything is up in the air right now. Nobody knows what a house or a barrel of oil will be worth tomorrow.

Nobody knows what that uncertainty is going to cause, if it goes on for months, years.

Yet, it's easy enough to see that in such an environment being nimble is important. If we're going to be in a time of a unsettled values for a while -- a few years -- then the culture of big multinational, far-flung and soulless corporations may be about to get the harsh day of reckoning it has been earning for decades.

And, I expect the giant media merger trend is about to reverse itself, too.

For Media General to survive it has to figure out what it is actually good at and let the rest go.

Big networks? Wire services? Who can afford to have a team of foreign correspondents, anymore?

Moreover, I think large countries all over the world are going to continue to fracture, and have breakaway provinces, because there are so many little countries inside them.

The empires are going to keep crumbling.

Whether this will be a good thing in the long run, I don't know. But I can only hope so, because it's what I see coming.

Paul H said...

I agree with you analysis about the detritus of political empires. I think it could be argued that the collapse of the British Empire is the most disastrous event of the 20th century, inevitable though it may have been. After millions of deaths in the partition of India, 1/2 dozen out and out wars in the meantime, we are faced the most dangerous nuclear stand off on the planet.

I also think a fair argument could be made that not a single African nation is better off than it was under colonial rule. Zimbabwe, Kenya, Somalia, Congo, Rawanda, Uganda, Sudan, Liberia and on and on. It makes for a sad list. The people there deserved better from both their former masters and their current rulers.

Scott said...

Development politics is an interesting subject. Cameroon is one African state that has managed to do well, despite horrible colonization by at least three different European powers. One party rule and trade barriers have kept it from the chaos that other African states have suffered.