The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]
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04-16-2012, 04:46 PM
Join Date: Apr 2002
The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]
The Ethics of Empire
(Note: I am fully aware that most SD regulars will not be able to keep up with this)
Three part thesis
Defining “American Empire”
Descriptions and reflections on the current debates over the proper course of the empire
Prescription as to the proper course of action for a citizen of the empire to take
The ability to pursue interests in ways that supersede the interests of other nations
Particularly the use of the dollar in international systems of finance and payment
The influence of threat power
The ability to maintain control and sway decisions with fear
“a common power holding all in awe” - Hobbes
The ability to make threats credible
The ability to forcibly gain resources at other’s expense
Special prerogatives and economics
Although I concedes that the utility of a dominant currency in the global market (i.e., the dollar), the primacy of the U.S. dollar nevertheless creates an environment in which particular courses of conduct are more feasible for the U.S. than courses of action that would otherwise favor non-U.S. interests. The U.S. can finance vast budget and trade deficits year after year with U.S. Treasury bills in foreign exchange reserves and the continued in-flow of investment funds. Additionally, foreign investors now hold about two-fifths of the federal debt in private hands and have claims on roughly $8 trillion of U.S. assets. This $8 trillion represents four-fifths of the size of the current gross national income. The exercise of these borrowing prerogatives makes it harder for sovereignties outside of the U.S. to obtain investment funds and to buy imports. Because the majority of the loans necessary to compensate for this inequity are also given in U.S. dollars, sovereignties attempting to ‘borrow their way’ to an even playing field will be affected by federal interest rates and the appreciation or depreciation of the dollar. These economically structured advantages provide the U.S. with the ability to significantly impact the capacity of various sovereignties to be subordinant (or dominant) amongst other nations to advance their own national and economic interests.
The American empire and the threat of power
Simply put, the U.S. has significant power to influence lives elsewhere because people have a reason to fear what it will do if it doesn’t get it’s interests met.
On every issue, the U.S. can stir up trouble. Miller uses the example of the Uruguay Round to make his point. This was a policy change during the Clinton Administration that retroactively changed copyright laws such that material that was formerly international public domain would once again fall under U.S. Copyright law. We can see similar (and more relevant) examples of this in the recently proposed SOPA, ACTA, TTP, and CISPA legislation, which were all aimed to censor and control the flow of information on the internet. You can also see the breath of U.S. influence in the structure of the internet itself. U.S. based sites are simply labeled “.com”, whereas every other country on earth requires a geographical designation “.co.uk” and so forth. You can also see this in the global application of U.S. drug policies. The U.S. has given itself the right to usurp other nation’s domestic laws in cases in which it deems activities as a threat to U.S. drug laws. This same structure is now been broadened to include “terrorism”, allowing the U.S. to usurp other sovereignties if they consider a particular activity or group to be a threat to U.S. interest in rather vaguely defined ways.
The strongest arguments against those who would make the claim that this advantage that the U.S. holds is to the advantage of humanity as a whole. It would take considerable bigotry to suppose that the positions of France, Germany, Britian, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, and India have reflected their respective interests while that of the United States alone reflected, instead, impartial concern for moral values. To suppose that the United States was the sole participant immune from the tendency of normative beliefs to adapt to the justification of self-interested conduct would, again, require considerable bigotry, as well as ignorance of a vast literature on the reduction of cognitive dissonance (largely derived from experiments in the United States.
The American empire and destructive power
This capacity not only justifies the threat of power, but allows the increase of U.S. interests by destroying resources on which others’ contrary threat power depends.
This, in turn, serves as part of the process of forcibly gaining resources at other’s expense. Taking over Iraq was an advantageous exercise of destructive power in all three ways:
Instilling a heightened level of fear of costs imposed by the U.S.
Destroying Saddam Hussein’s contrary threat power in an important region
Gaining access to oil reserves, markets, and investment opportunities
If one includes the effects of arming of foreign groups engaging in imposing costs, such as the contras, the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan, the Israel Defense Force, then the U.S. has exercised destructive force abroad much more extensively than any other country since the end of WWII. Look below for further data.
These three forms of power are mutually reinforcing
The ability to borrow and shape rates of foreign exchange due to the dollar’s dominance in international trade and finance are, in turn, a basis for the credibility of threats by which the U.S. shapes trade agreements. This makes possible the borrowing that sustains large deficits entailed by exercises of destructive power, as was the case in Iraq.
Further, it is my belief that this structure (dominance of the American dollar, threat of power, etc) allows America to more easily absorb foreign powers into its empire without the need to take over or occupy them.
I have created an image to better illustrate this. Look below.
This territorial influence is not universal, but is nevertheless a very important dynamic when analyzing the structure of American hegemony.
The course of the empire
What I am contending-
“Shared political arrangements are just only if everyone living under them has adequate reason [to] willingly …support them in appropriate ways, not just self-interested reasons to acquiesce” - Unknown author
He argues, from this observation, that domestic measure to ensure and protect against economic inequality could (and should) be applied in the international arena as well. One can make analogies between the economic stability of Tivland (Nigeria) and the Colonial British empire, demonstrating how they were co-dependent and that the recognition of this co-dependency by the British was key in sustaining the relationship.
“The more exclusive and extensive the domineering influence of a person or group throughout a territory, the more demanding the responsibility to take care of the basic needs of vulnerable people in the territory.” - unknown author
"It follows that no morally responsible U.S. citizen can fail to support measures in the interests of needy people in developing countries, most of which are in the U.S. territorial empire…profoundly affected by U.S. domineering influence.” - unknown author
(I use quotes without knowing the authors because I wrote down many quotes in the past but for some reason never wrote down the names. Most likely they are Herman Miller quotes)
Nevertheless, in areas where American domineering influence is deep, American responsiveness to deprivation is shallow.
The other side of the argument is that this boldness will advance the interests of humanity, not just the U.S., by establishing more just regimes and more open economies, as well as spreading fear among dangerous tyrants. Many respond to this by saying it is irrational, foolishly destroying resources of goodwill and trust that are needed to sustain American world power.
Note: this is an ongoing personal research "project" - feel free to add to it or to point out inaccuracies.
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