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10/05/2005 Archived Entry: "Bill Bonner on expansion and collapse of empires"

BILL BONNER SAYS FISH GOTTA SWIM and empires gotta fall:

But we're not complaining. A true empire cannot help itself. It must engage in such extravagant "imperial overstretch" that it can no longer pay the costs. Even the primitive Mongol empire had to reward its troops and pay its administrators. It did so by stealing the wealth of conquered peoples and demanding tribute from them. This forced the Mongols to undertake ever more distant and more ambitions campaigns because they had already robbed the cities under their control.

The Anglo-Saxon empire is a commercial enterprise, rather than a larcenous one. The Romans had their armies and engineers as the source of their hegemonic power. The Mongols had their horses and bowmen. The Anglo-Saxons had factories originally, those in England and New England. But every imperial advantage is eventually dulled, worn out, emulated or rendered obsolete. Eventually, the empire expands until reaches beyond its limits...then, it either goes broke, is defeated, or both.

The Anglo-Saxon industrial advantage exhausted itself first in England and then in America. England's economy reached its competitive peak before the end of the 19th century. Then, America took the lead, and was able to compete effectively for most of the next century, achieving a positive trade balance until the 1970s. It has been downhill since then, financed no longer by commerce, but by debt. American men earn hardly a penny more, in real terms, per hour, than they did in 1971. They feel richer, but only because they owe more, work longer hours, and put their wives to work.

Posted by Claire @ 06:34 AM CST

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