Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on March 25, 2021

(Long overdue!) Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

{ 29 comments }

1

George Michaelson 03.25.21 at 8:01 am

How awful is it to point out how jobs and economybosting, building the post flood reconstruction will be? Is this one of those “too soon” moments?

2

Tm 03.25.21 at 9:36 am

[Just for info, after the thread https://crookedtimber.org/2021/03/13/what-was-the-is-trump-a-fascist-debate-ultimately-about/ closed, some overlooked comments were added.]

3

CasparC 03.25.21 at 7:06 pm

How is Biden getting on? What have people liked? What has been disappointing? What should he do about the Mexican border?

4

Bob 03.26.21 at 6:04 pm

The US spends a enormous amount of money projecting military strength around the world. There is often talk of “American imperialism.” But I question what the US actually gets out of it. In the old days of empire, the imperial power gained captive markets and captive sources of raw materials, and could force colonies to “ally” themselves with its interests internationally. But for all the US spends on the Middle East, for example, American citizens and businesses still pay the world price for oil, and Iraq (occupied by the US until relatively recently, and with , I think, a significant number of “advisors” still there) enjoys excellent relations with the US’s arch-enemy Iran. Then there’s Pakistan: a supposed US ally, who still receives billions in aid, but does anyone really believe that no one in the government knew that Osama Bin Laden was there? Other people may think of other examples. But you see where I am going. Far from being an imperial power in the traditional sense, the Americans seem like the world’s biggest patsies, spending lavishly, for no return.

5

Hidari 03.26.21 at 7:48 pm

@4 ‘I question what the US actually gets out of it. ‘

Well, someone wrote a book explaining precisely what the US gets out of its global Empire, let’s not forget, the largest in world history.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Super-Imperialism-Origin-Fundamentals-Dominance/dp/0745319890

Rest assured, the US Empire is very much, ultimately, a financial empire, run to benefit the US (and only the US).

(if you prefer e-readers, the entire book is available for free here https://michael-hudson.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/superimperialism.pdf)

6

MisterMr 03.26.21 at 11:09 pm

@Bob 4

It might be that the USA is projecting power abroad without having an equivalent return, it is arguable that this happened to the UK after WW1.

But on the other hand, the USA still have one of the higest average incomes in the world. Is the USA really all that more productive than anyone else? Why?

It is difficult to say. Maybe prices for oil would be higer if the USA acted differently, something that would change our evaluation of USA productivity big time. Maybe something else would happen.

It is difficult to say because we don’t have a different world where the USA isn’t power projecting to see the differences.

7

LFC 03.27.21 at 2:02 am

Bob @4
Iraq was not occupied by the U.S. “until relatively recently.” The period that might be considered a formal occupation, when the country was run by the Coalition Provisional Authority, lasted only about a year. (To be clear, I think the 2003 invasion was a bad mistake, not to mention being a violation of int’l law.) As for the rest of your comment, I began to try to address it, but found I couldn’t really do so in a concise comment.

8

nastywoman 03.27.21 at 5:32 am

and about:
@2
”[Just for info, after the thread https://crookedtimber.org/2021/03/13/what-was-the-is-trump-a-fascist-debate-ultimately-about/ closed, some overlooked comments were added.]”

and as these additional comments were kind of… of…?
”critical” of the OP – and as we have… witnessed that…
sometimes? –
comments who aren’t… let’s say: ”very… happy about what the writer wrote…
that such comment seem to have a bit of a… difficult time to appear –

WHASSUP with that?

Is that a… a ”age problem”?

9

Hidari 03.27.21 at 9:34 am

@7.

No. Iraq has been under Western control for almost the entire 20th century. The Ottoman Empire controlled it before WW1 (and despite what everyone says, the Ottoman Empire was quite definitely a European Empire….Turkey has always been part of Europe).

Then it was under the control of the British Empire (the Iraqi mandate). This put Iraq under British.control until 1932.

HOWEVER.

The Hashemites ran Iraq de jury, but not de facto. The British pulled the strings behind the scenes as was well understood on the ground. The ‘Anglo-Iraqi Treaty’ ensure that the British ‘really’ had the power, and of course, the British re-invaded in 1941, restoring Iraq to the British Empire. In 1945 Iraq was liberated, but this was again de jure not de facto. What Wikipedia coyly refers to as the ‘pro-Western leanings’ of the government showed who really had the whiphand. It was only in 1958 that the Iraqis genuinely achieved liberation. This lasted until 1963 when the American Empire (the successor Empire, so to speak, to the British) overthrew the state and installed the Ba’ath Party. After this Iraq was almost always under open or covert American control until it was invaded and so to speak, re-integrated into the American Empire.

Recently the Iraqi parliament voted to kick the Yanks out and were, quite rightly, told to go fuck themselves*. The Americans run Iraq for the Americans, why should the Iraqis get a say? This is Empire, this is imperialism.

*If you are looking for a reason to hate Trump, as opposed to the made up ones the DNC came up with, it was the Trump regime responsible for this.

Iraq has been free of Western domination for, count ’em, 5 years, between 1958 and 1963.

10

Hidari 03.27.21 at 10:27 am

You missed out some key words. The full sentence should have read: ‘some (deservedly) overlooked comments were added (for some reason)’.

Happy to help!

11

LFC 03.27.21 at 11:53 am

Hidari @9

The word “occupation” has a specific meaning in the lingo/discourse of intl politics and intl law. It is not a synonym for “dominance” or even “control.”

12

Bob 03.27.21 at 2:00 pm

OK, so, so far at least, no obvious, straightforward, concrete examples of how the US benefits from its empire. Maybe I can help prime the pump.

During the British control of India, a German who wanted to buy Indian goods from Indian manufacturers had to deliver gold to the Bank of England or the British Treasury in exchange for “Council Bills,” a form of currency that the German was required to use in order to buy Indian goods. The trick was that when the Indian manufacturers in turn exchanged their Council Bills for rupees, they were paid with rupees that the British authorities had raised from tax receipts in India. Essentially, it was as if the British had confiscated a chunk of domestic Indian production, and then sold it for gold to people outside India.

This is just one mechanism of imperial profiteering, of course, but its the kind of thing I’m looking for in the case of the US.

Finally, just to be clear, I’m not saying that the US influence around the world is benign. I just don’t understand what the US gets out of it. It seems like a negative sum game–bad for everyone.

13

J-D 03.28.21 at 3:01 am

… There is often talk of “American imperialism.” But I question what the US actually gets out of it. …

OK, so, so far at least, no obvious, straightforward, concrete examples of how the US benefits from its empire. … Finally, just to be clear, I’m not saying that the US influence around the world is benign. I just don’t understand what the US gets out of it. …

I don’t have a definite answer to your question, but I have two points that I would suggest might be worth considering.

One is that it’s possible that some people in the US derive benefits from US international activities while other people in the US, maybe many people, or even most people in the US are deriving no benefit or even (at least some of them) actually worse off as a result.

The other is that it’s possible that there might be some kinds of benefit which fit within a broader definition of ‘benefit’ than you have considered so far: for example, there might be psychological benefits, in the sense that the exercise of US power might make people in the US feel good (maybe some of them; maybe lots of them), or there might be political benefits, in the sense that the people who actually make the decisions about exercise of US power are basing them on calculations about their position in relation to their (US) political rivals.

14

LFC 03.28.21 at 3:35 am

Bob,
Since you’re looking for concrete examples of what the U.S. gets out of its “empire,” here’s some. Having 700 or so military bases scattered around the world means that the U.S. is in a position to project military power in order to, e.g., protect its (and others’) commerce from piracy or similar threats to free navigation, to deploy mil. forces in humanitarian roles thereby attempting to strengthen the U.S. image as a benign and concerned global citizen, to fire missiles at alleged or actual sites of terrorist activity, to use special operations forces to conduct operations (e.g., vs. al-Shabab in Somalia, against Boko Haram or similar groups in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, also in Iraq and Afghanistan etc. etc), to use drones when its military thinks it is called for, etc. (Presumably a Marxian analysis, like that linked by Hidari @5, wd argue that there are economic benefits tied to a contemporary “imperial” role, but I’ll let others argue about that.)

Of course since the U.S. is not the precisely the same kind of “imperial” power that imperial Britain was, it’s not going to benefit in the precisely the ways that Britain did, and to compare the two in that sense is comparing somewhat dissimilar phenomena. The end of formal empire, i.e. decolonization, did have important effects on a range of things, including making it close to impossible for any country today to benefit in the extremely crude, very blatant, completely overt way that Britain benefited from having India as a colony (or whatever its technical status was after Disraeli made Victoria “empress of India” in 1876).

Not totally unlike Victorian Britain, however, the U.S., or at least some of its elites, see it as having an obligation, if not a mission, to proselytize for its values around the world. Having an “empire” of sorts facilitates this.

Another thing the U.S. get from its “empire” is that some of its elites, and some of its non-elites as well, derive psychic satisfaction from being able to tell themselves that the U.S. is exercising “global leadership” and fighting for “democratic values.” That such leadership does not seem to have prevented the revival of autocratic regimes and of autocracy as an apparently viable (for certain senses of that word) alternative to democracy may be an embarrassment, but it’s not the kind of embarrassment that undermines the psychic satisfaction of being the leader of “the free world.” And if you don’t think this kind of psychic satisfaction counts as a benefit of “empire” then, to be blunt, you probably don’t know a great deal about psychology.

In sum, the suggestion that the U.S. gets nothing out of its “empire” is incorrect, but that of course doesn’t nec. mean that what it gets is worth the cost, or that its “empire” is an objectively good thing.

15

LFC 03.28.21 at 3:39 am

P.s. apologies for the typos in my comment above (extra “the” twice in beginning of second paragraph).

16

Gorgonzola Petrovna 03.28.21 at 9:45 am

In this modern world, the main purpose of US militarily is not to benefit the US. It’s there, within the framework of international division of labor, to maintain the global world order.

17

Jim Buck 03.28.21 at 11:37 am

“despite what everyone says, the Ottoman Empire was quite definitely a European Empire….Turkey has always been part of Europe”

You ever been to Turkey? Despite what you say, I’ll stick with ‘what everyone says’.

18

nastywoman 03.28.21 at 2:06 pm

and if ”trump” (successfully) ended ”THE US EMPIRE” –
why are still this US Empire talk?

Haven’t you guys noticed –
yet? –
that there isn’t a US Empire anymore?
(I mean – if even Australians are joking – that the have become ”The GREATER Island”)

19

Wee Rab 03.29.21 at 9:41 am

You might ask the question slightly differently. Not what the USA gains, but what it avoids. Let’s say the USA withdraws entirely over the next 10 years. Would there be full utopian equality among countries, or would it create a power or influence vacuum in world affairs? Would anyone fill that vacuum? Not Europe. Not an economically weak Russia. A possible outcome is that China tries to develop even more influence than it already has in Africa, in South America, in the rest of Asia. Would it matter if Thailand and the Philippines became vassal states of China, as Cambodia almost is now? Would it matter if rare earth materials needed for electronics & robotics went from Malaysia to China instead of the west? Would it matter if there was a steady increase in Chinese influence over Mexico, or the city council in Vancouver? Posters here might have a different view than those in power in the USA, who presumably prefer to avoid even the risk of this scenario.

20

Trader Joe 03.29.21 at 3:51 pm

I think there are somewhere around $22 Trillion ways the US benefits from projecting military power.

The one who can do that best gets to have the world’s reserve currency. Its sorta nice to be the only government in the world that can print (create, replicate, hypothecate) the currency that the vast majority of the world’s trade and all of its major commodities are denominated in.

Recall that challenging this monetary dominance was one reason for the creation of the Euro – they just forgot about the projecting force part that goes along with it.

21

A dog with a keyboard 03.29.21 at 6:33 pm

Bob @4,

In addition to the more substantive responses already offered, I would like to add a simpler explanation for the seemingly bad cost/benefit profile of American imperialism:

The American state is not an instrument of the American people. They just live under it.

22

MisterMr 03.29.21 at 7:54 pm

@Trader Joe 20

“Recall that challenging this monetary dominance was one reason for the creation of the Euro”

To have the Euro as a reserve currency the EU should become a net importer, EU austerian policies push the EU into being a net exporter.

The problem isn’t power projection, is that the EU doesn’t really really want to be the issuer of the global currency.

23

Tm 03.30.21 at 4:46 pm

This review by Erik Baker of Thomas Frank’s latest book is long and deep and worth reading if you care about US centric economic and political history:
https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/the-people-it-depends/

Frank was mentioned in a recent thread when I called him a “regressive leftist” (https://crookedtimber.org/2021/02/23/twigs-and-branches-5/). Baker no doubt provides a far more substantial critique, although his treatment of Frank’s actual writing is more cursory than I would have liked. The essay really goes into depth examining US class history and I won’t try to summarize it, that wouldn’t do it justice, but here’s Erik Loomis:

“The basic problem with Frank is that he’s simply wrong about his fundamental premise: that there’s this underlying left populism dying to come out if only Democrats would message by his own precise personal preferences. To read this back into American history is beyond ridiculous. It requires so much half-truths, squinting at facts one could perhaps interpret in a certain way, and forgetting about inconvenient realities to be absurd as a serious way of thinking. … In short, Thomas Frank is just another writer whose vision of the world is Politics Without Politics.
https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/03/whats-the-matter-with-thomas-frank-2

24

hix 03.30.21 at 6:51 pm

“You ever been to Turkey? Despite what you say, I’ll stick with ‘what everyone says’.”
I´ve been to Turkey. The old ruins were indistinguishable from the ones on the Greek part of the trip. Europe is a pretty random concept. The folklore typically associates it with Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. So why not consider the Ottoman empire as a descendent of the east Roman Empire? Same capital and all that. What makes you so sure Turkey is not European? That the skin is getting somewhat darker? Islam? All pretty random. Even the EU did accept Turkey as a membership candidate, but did turn down Morocco. Looking forward to doing another trip to Turkey once the pandemic situation is tolerable. Should be a very economical one this time thanks to Erdoğan stunts.

25

Gorgonzola Petrovna 03.30.21 at 7:12 pm

“To have the Euro as a reserve currency the EU should become a net importer…”

Isn’t it the opposite cause-effect logic: once your currency becomes a reserve currency, it becomes overvalued, which is likely to cause you to become a net importer?

26

J-D 03.31.21 at 4:22 am

I´ve been to Turkey. The old ruins were indistinguishable from the ones on the Greek part of the trip. Europe is a pretty random concept. The folklore typically associates it with Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

The concept of Europe is partly arbitrary, but it’s not wholly arbitrary. There are parts of the world which are European in all senses, parts which are European in most senses, parts which are European in some senses, and parts which are European in no senses. One sensible answer to the question ‘Is Turkey part of Europe?’ is ‘It depends on your purpose in asking the question’.

The cities on the western coast of Turkey were all or nearly all founded by people who spoke Greek and considered themselves Greek, and until 1923 were inhabited mostly by people who spoke Greek and considered themselves Greek. Then most of those people were driven out (when Greece was defeated by Turkey in the Greco-Turkish war), and the area was mostly repopulated with people who spoke Turkish and considered themselves Turkish. So it’s to be expected that the ruins there resemble the ruins in Greece. When the area was repopulated in 1923, did that make it any less European than it was before? Well, yes in some ways, no in others.

27

Jim Buck 03.31.21 at 6:30 am

“I’ll stick with ‘what everyone says’

A clue may be in the name: Asia Minor. Agreed: Europe is a random concept, and the Greek ruins are indistinguishable. Yet, when I go to Spain, a lot of the architecture there looks North African to me.

28

Tm 03.31.21 at 10:41 am

hix 23: “Europe” is indeed a concept that can mean many things and without further clarification, a statement like “Turkey is (not) part of Europe” is just meaningless. But the present discussion doesn’t come free of context. Here is the context:

“Iraq has been under Western control for almost the entire 20th century. The Ottoman Empire controlled it before WW1 (and despite what everyone says, the Ottoman Empire was quite definitely a European Empire….Turkey has always been part of Europe).”

So the question is whether it makes sense to say that Iraq remained under “Western control”, as if nothing important changed, when it passed from Ottoman to British domination. I don’t think so but I also think that the way the whole question was framed by Hidari is useless.

29

Tm 04.01.21 at 8:41 am

@JQ Is there anything wrong with my comment about the Thomas Frank review? Took me some effort to write and I don’t have a copy, I would really appreciate it published. Something odd happened, but I think both versions are up now. Check the Golden Age thread, it should be @61 and Twigs and Branches @29 JQ

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