Question: Is it a sound financial strategy for governments to “spend like there’s no tomorrow” if “tomorrow” is never going to come? In other words, why not accumulate massive debts if we know that there won’t be anyone left around to repay these debts to, or at least anyone who we’ll allow to try to collect them?
I’m not talking about a Christian-fundamentalist “end times” viewpoint which might inform government decision-making (although under former President Bush, and the debt he racked up, I could be). Instead, I’m referring to more of a "survival of the fittest" argument, one which favours the perpetuation of an American way of life. Or perhaps, more correctly stated, a way of life in which America will continue to be the dominant player.
I can not and will not succumb to the idea that our governments are foolish, and the policies which they are pursuing are not carefully thought out. You know, I wish very much that I could subscribe to that way of thinking, because it would be so much better for humanity if the actions of our governments were based merely on incompetence. But I don’t believe that those making the big decisions in our government, or in the government of the United States, are ill-informed at all. Instead, I think they know exactly what they are doing, and their decisions are leading in a direction which will prove to be problematic in the extreme for most of us.
The challenges facing our global community are not new. In fact, they’ve been predicted by many for quite some time now. Last year, I read journalist Gwyn Dyer's sobering “Climate Wars”, in which he details that national military forces are planning for the coming crisis. Governments are aware of these threats.
It's all been discussed for some time now: Peak oil and a looming energy crisis, climate change, food shortages, water shortages, overpopulation: We’ve been talking about these issues for decades now, and we’ve been decrying a lack of action on the part of our governments to do much of anything meaningful to address them.
But what if, instead of ignoring these perils looming on the horizon, our governments have instead been planning to meet these crises, only in such ways as to benefit and perpetuate the existing power base? What I mean here is that we have all seen how democracy has been co-opted by the powerful corporate elites, who are best able to finance the campaigns of decision-makers of whatever convenient political stripe. While there may be some suggestion that the Canadian version of democracy hasn’t been completely tainted by corporate buy-off, we need look only to the United States to show just how loudly money talks in the halls of their government.
My Personal Bias
I’ll lay my own cards on the table here: I sincerely believe that the George Bush Jr. bought the 2000 election out from under Al Gore. I would not go so far as to suggest that this was a coup of some sort, because Bush used the legal tools at his disposal to accomplish the result. What I will suggest is that it is quite clear to anyone who was paying attention (or even anyone who wants to know more about it now, 10 years after the fact) that the notion that “every vote counts” in American democracy was proved to be an outright lie. All of the votes were never counted. Bush made sure of that. And there are similarities in our Canadian system, of course, as Liberal voters in Alberta surely know (and Green voters everywhere!).
While buying an election is a pretty egregious action in my books, what’s even more problematic from a democratic standpoint is the corporate influence pedalling which the business elites engage in through the every-day lobbying and election financing of decision makers at all levels throughout the U.S. With financial support comes an expectation that a favour will be returned. I believe that many elected U.S. officials remain beholden to the interests of big business above those of the actual constituents which cast the ballots to put them into office. As elections become more like high school popularity contests, those with the best financed campaigns are going to be the winners. And with the U.S Supreme Court's decision to treat corporations as real persons for the purposes of election financing, we can only expect increased influence from corporations in U.S elections.
And finally, I fail to see much of a difference between the Republican and Democratic parties in terms of their overall pursuit of policies, especially on the big-ticket items. Successive governments of both stripes have continued to largely pursue the same goals, and where new initiatives are entered into by one Party, those initiatives are largely not scrapped with a change in government. To use an extreme example, for those of you who thought that Obama would become the President of Peace upon his election to the Oval Office, that he would lead the U.S. out of Iraq pronto, close down the prisons at Guantanamo and elsewhere, and lead Americans out of the darkness and into a period of enlightenment, well, I simply ask: how’s that working out for us all so far?
Yes, yes, there are checks and balances in play which prevent any American President from being truly transformative. Instead, incremental change must be the order of the day. Again, though, I have to ask, how is that working out for us, given the significant crises which we are looming on the horizon?
Well, while it all might not be working out for “us”, I would suggest that maybe things are working out quite well for the corporate power structure to which the U.S. government has become beholden.
If you haven’t already done this, try for a moment to change your way of thinking about democratic decision-making in the United States. Suspend your belief for a moment that decisions made by U.S. decision makers are altruistic, and for the benefit of the American people. It’s really not so easy for many of us to do, weaned as we have been on television which advertises a just “American” way of life. Americans, we believe, elect their governments to look out for the American people. Yes, we see that sometimes the U.S. government appears to be stepping into it big time on matters such as health care or oil drilling in the Arctic, but we continue to believe that the decision makers have what they believe to be the “best interests of Americans” at heart, even when making bone-headed decisions. We believe that they may be “misguided”. But deliberately making decisions which aren’t of benefit to the Americans who elected them? Does that make any sense?
I mean, why would they do this? Especially since they rely on voters to elect them periodically? How could they ever get away with it?
The answer here is, of course, the corporate interests who back their plays will do one of the following: provide enough financial support to ensure re-election, or, failing re-election, co-opt the new incumbent whose policy positions likely aren’t all that different from the old incumbents, at least not on the important questions. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
In Whose Interests are Decisions Made?
Back to the notion that decisions being made ostensibly for the benefit of the American people are not, in fact, actually for their benefit. If not for the people, then, for whose benefit? Why, the corporate elites who finance the campaigns.
Many of us take this to be self-evident, including Americans, who may cynically cast their ballots with the hopes that, in at least some small ways, their preferred candidate of choice might share some of the crumbs with the voters who sent him to Congress. Many more realize that the power structure in the U.S. is broken, and do not vote. Since their votes don’t really count anyway, and since there is little true difference between the two ruling parties, what’s the point?
Sadly, there isn’t any point. The U.S. system is lost to the U.S. voter. The notion upon which the United States was founded upon, that all men are created equal and should be allowed equality under the law to pursue life, liberty and happiness, doesn't work when there are no real alternative choices to choose from. This, one of the most noble ideals ever advanced by humanity, is quite lacking on the implementation side of the ledger.
U.S. Decision Makers Not Incompetent
Getting back to these significant crises I mentioned earlier, and my notion that the U.S. government has not been incompetent in its approaches to dealing with them. Remember, these are the same people who successfully navigated the geopolitical land mines of the Cold War and emerged victorious against an opponent armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. The fact that they did so in a very machiavellian manner should not detract from their successes. And the fact that they did so while at the same time enriching themselves in the effort should not come as a surprise, either, given the very nature of the capitalist system which they were defending.
So, if the U.S. government knows, and has known for a while now, about the coming energy shortages, food shortages, water shortages, and human catastrophes to be brought on by these shortages and exacerbated by climate change, why haven’t they been doing a whole lot to address these issues? If they’re so smart, why have they been so reluctant to start planning for the future?
I believe that the U.S. government has been planning for the future for quite some time now, and that they have been doing so carefully, and perhaps even on terms which will be favorable to many Americans, although likely not to all. They’ve just been making plans which you and I might not agree with (well, I know that I don’t like what I’m seeing; I can’t really speak for you, though, but since you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you also might not like where the future takes us).
Knowing that these crises are out there on the horizon, and knowing that these crises are going to be a threat to the established system, I sincerely believe that our governments have been engaged in planning to address these issues. Recall the success experienced by America with regards to the Cold War, particularly under Reagan. Many believed that the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was brought on because the Soviets simply could not keep up with U.S. military spending, especially after Reagan announced the “Star Wars” strategic defence initiative. In one very real sense, winning the Cold War amounted to the U.S. outlasting its opponent.
The Outlast Strategy
Might it be that the U.S. is continuing to employ this strategy of outlasting its opponents in the face of the coming global crises? By “outlast” I don't just mean holding tight and waiting for others to fall victim to the crises, so that when the time comes, America can somehow claim victory. No, not quite like that. Instead, America would want to create terms favorable for its continued economic dominance in the new order which might emerge after a collapse. And rest assured, collapse is inevitable, because the Earth can not sustain our current population without inexpensive energy resources.
Knowing that collapse is inevitable, then, and that goal of the game is emerge from a collapse in a dominant position vis a vis any other opponents, what might the U.S have to do? What strategies might it employ in an effort to “outlast” the opposition? Clearly, the protection of powerful corporations which will continue to generate wealth, which in turn leads to the projection of power on a global scale, needs to be a priority. Therefore, at all costs, the government must protect the economic system and the major players of that system if it is going to emerge on-top.
Even in a world beset by global crises, there will be opportunities for the biggest corporations to grow, mainly by picking off smaller competitors and exerting their dominance further. If things go bad in Europe, say, what's to stop a well-financed American-based multi-national from picking up a few new companies there, and start calling the shots from headquarters in New York or Boston, rather than from London or Paris? Such assets will continue to generate wealth for America, whether they are in Europe, the Middle East or elsewhere.
The outlasting strategy may be how global domination is ultimately achieved. Not through international co-operation, but instead through the domination of foreign states and peoples who may have found themselves in a reduced state of readiness to fend off corporate and cultural take-overs. In short, the U.S .may again try to outspend its competition. Certainly, America's past investments in military might have given it a pretty big stick with which to wield influence.
Emerging From Collapse
If the goal is ultimately to emerge from a global collapse in a better situation than one's opponents, what might it matter now how much debt is accumulated now, given the inevitability of a global collapse occurring? Isn't it more important to spend money now, in order to corner the market on valuable resources which are about to be in very short supply? Isn't it better to invest in security forces in order to provide protection for one's assets across the globe, to ensure that the resources are available for your use, in preference to that of your competitors?
Yes, certainly in this scenario, the U.S. will experience its own issues internally, as it will still be impacted by a global collapse, but if those effects can be minimized, the current economic system has a very good chance of staying in place, and those who currently wield power will continue to do so. In fact, there will likely be significant opportunities for future growth once the collapse plays itself out, if things go as planned and America emerges in a position of increased hegemony.
What This Might Mean For Us In the Coming Long Emergency
What does this mean for us? Again, I'll put my cards on the table: I believe that a general collapse is likely inevitable, as our global economy is structured on the exploitation of cheap energy resources. Currently, there are no viable replacement options for fossil fuels, and we are entering the time of peak oil. The next decade is likely to be a very unstable one for nations and individuals, as states compete for increasingly expensive scarce resources. This will lead to human problems on a significant scale: unemployment, hunger, war, famine. Of course, not all will be affected equally, but there is a very good chance that even in Canada, most of us will experience a continued reduction in the quality of life which we had come to expect in the earlier parts of the Oil Age.
U.S decision makers know what the future holds. They are already planning for it. For them, it is a sound financial strategy to spend like there's no tomorrow, because for most of the world, there likely won't be much of a tomorrow. What we can do as individuals is try to best prepare ourselves and our communities for the upcoming era of instability, what author Howard Kuntsler referred to as “The Long Emergency”. The gains we have made in human rights, and the advances we have made in so many areas, these are things which we must struggle to preserve as best we can. We must try to influence the outcomes in a constructive way, and take back our democracy from those corporate players which are looking towards the coming collapse as a further opportunity for exploitation of the environment, scarce resources, capital and labour.