Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Friday, January 13, 2006

More Thoughts on Imperial America

Michael Gersh responded to yesterday's post with the following comment. Now that I've had another day to think about it, my thoughts are crystallizing.

The overthrow of Mossadegh was the first point of entry for the people of the former Persian Empire to enjoy the fruits of modern civilization. Our involvement with the overthrow of Mossadegh was no more and no less than our (and President Carter's) involvement in the overthrow of the Shah - followed by the theocracy of Khomeini and the Ayatollahs - which also lies at our feet.

So, which is better - Eisenhower's support of the modern Iran, or Carter's support of the theocracy? At least the Shah made for a better environment for American interests to make some money. And what if you do not like either version - then you want to isolate the U.S. rather than staying involved in world geopolitics.

Whatever way we go, there will be winners, losers, and unintended consequences. Me, I'll take Eisenhower over Carter any day. And George W. Bush first of all. And, in case anyone wants to label any of this, support for the Shah, and opposition to Saddam, and the use of force to accomplish same, makes me a LIBERAL. Calls for withdrawal and leaving the Iraqi people to their own fate, makes you an isolationist conservative, supporting an imperialist fascist.

So much for labels

Fair enough; that has pretty much been my feeling about it for a long time, too, but the conclusion, I suspect, is based upon the flawed premise that our two options have always been either isolationism or coercive puppetmastering.

If Perkins is telling the truth, then ever since Teddy Roosevelt cited manifest destiny as the justification for the creation of the US-owned "canal zone" in Panama, the US has used economic coercion with the veiled threat of force to pull a dispicable bait and switch on some of the world's neediest people.

The bait is, on the one hand, the promise of prosperity for the general population of our "new ally" (the stated benefit), and on the other hand, great riches for the leaders (the real benefit, the one that matters most). The switch is the fact that only the latter comes true. Indeed, it usually turns out that, though the country's leaders do become quite wealthy and surrounded in the latest western comforts, the crushing debt that accumulates due to the massive loans from the World Bank and IMF (which are heavily, if not solely, influenced by the American government) are too much for the national economy to absorb. The result is the diseappearance of the middle class,which pretty much spells doom for any population. How does this work, you ask?

These poor people are simply being conned into buying more of "the good life" than they can afford. The wealthy Americans show up and convince the leaders that the solution to their problems is modernization. Once the country gets a modern infrastructure, including widespread (and I mean widespread) power distribution, roads, sewage and garbage management, telecommunications, and on and on, the pieces will be in place for the economy to really take off! Don't have the cash? No problem. Fucking finance it!

Because we're such nice folks, we offer to put together detailed plans for the build-out, and then offer to procure the loans from the "international" finance organizations, the ones we control. All we ask is that the plan be implemented by American engineering and constructions companies. (After all, who else can do such amazingly complex projects?) If that weren't enough gall, we then inflate the expected benefits of the modernization project, so as to inflate the size of the project, thus inflating the size of the loans.

There are two great benefits to this little gem of a plan. First, we (I mean a select few US corporations) get to do the biggest, most technologically advanced engineering projects in the world - any fix-it kid's dream - at a price that staggers the mind. Second, the enormous size of the loans all but ensures that they can't be repaid. This makes the leaders who signed up for them beholden to the good ole USA, and who doesn't like to have folks beholden to them?

As a simplistic metaphor, we get our patsies fired up about the idea of buying a basic boat (making life easier and more productive), but we end up selling them a cruise ship. They qualify for the loan because we know the guy at the bank, and we know that he'll take a pretty (and lengthy) report saying that the cruise industry is waiting to explode. Then, in what would seem to be a sign of things to come, we construct a walled compound complete with every luxury for the benefit of the ship builders. The patsies must be salivating at the glimpse of the kinds of prosperity they'll soon be enjoying when the cruise ship is done. Alas, this is not the case. Instead, the new "owners" are forced to operate the cruise ship on a shoestring budget - the payments on the ship are way beyond what they can handle. They default on the loan, but the guy at the bank doesn't care - as he has close ties to the US government which sees it as an investment. Our patsy is officially trapped. If he tries to resist our influences, we send our repo guys, and they don't play. And, to cap it all off, the ship builders, enjoying their new paradise, stay on in their walled compound area while the masses decline. This is pretty much how Panama went down. (Again, if we can believe John Perkins.) This, to me, is NOT the American way.

We are not about conning people. Our system doesn't require it in any way. As I said, the free market is about voluntary trade. People who knowingly con people are technically operating within their rights, but like lots of other "legal" behaviors, their behavior is frowned upon. People who take advantage of other people are generally driven out of the marketplace, or they are relegated to the gutters, where desperate folks will occasionally fall prey to their grift at a lower price. But here we are, the greatest country on the planet, going around like the worst kind of con man - taking the savings of little old ladies. It's fucking terrible!

Now, I know the value of hindsight, and I know that cultural concepts such as manifest destiny were once powerful rationalizations for wholly unacceptable behavior. But we are now enlightened enough to know what's right and what isn't when it comes to dealing with other countries. We know that imperialism is not justified on any grounds. Were this not true, you can bet we'd be overtly pursuing an imperialist agenda - there's still good money in it. The problem is that this sordid history (and whatever its modern day equivalents may be) brings with it serious collateral damage - it sullies the good reputation of the rule of law combined with a free market.

It seems that just as a handful of human wackjobs have co-opted Islam to justify their murderous behavior, so have a handful of greedy soulless pirates co-opted American ideals for their own shortsighted and lecherous behavior. As I said earlier, I think the premise that we either influence heavily in international affairs or we isolate ourselves is flawed. It's just a matter of being clear about how we go about exercising our influence.

As I said before, the American system is not about the conjob. If we decide to assist a less developed country, we do it like a good business would do it - we come up a phased plan that eases them into things, being careful to make sure that the cost of the solution never outweighs the benefits. We set milestones to determine when we proceed from phase to phase. And just like a legitimate bank, we don't make loans that we think won't be repaid. In short, we operate in good faith, only selling what the buyer really wants. This is how above board, respectible business is done, and it's high time we took another step forward in the advancement of our species.

I recognize that this is how deals are done between modern countries and less developed countries these days - globalization, I think they call it. There's no question that we'll lose a great deal competitively-speaking in the world marketplace if we reject the conjob as a revenue stream. However, just as we were the first country in history to reject slavery on ethical grounds (even though it was the human capital basis of much of the US economy), it is now time to be the first wealthy nation to reject the vieled exploitation of less developed countries.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not about to say that doing this would end our PR problems in this world, that suddenly the America-haters around the world would embrace us. The fact is that whenever some humans have a lot and some humans have very little, there will always be animocity on the part of the latter toward the former. This is not some Clintonesque attempt at garnering popularity. I know that we'll never get a fair shake with everyone. What I will say is that we'll be in a much more credible position to influence foreign affairs in the interests of our security than we are today. Just imagine.

Imagine if our next president stood up on the world's stage and admitted that we have engaged for decades in a covert, but pernicious form of imperialism all over the world. That though we have in the past convinced ourselves that we were righteous in our actions because we believed that the prosperity afforded our people was something that all people should have, the fact is that we were often coercing more than helping. That we're sincerely sorry for the trouble that has been caused by the out-of-control greed of a few powerful people. Imagine if the president proclaimed that we have cleaned house, that these practices are not the American way and that they will no longer be tolerated by representatives of this country. This would instantly take the wind out of a multitude of our enemies' sails. We could reclaim the moral high ground - our system, when run ethically, is better than any other. It does offer the best hope for mankind. We just have to have the courage to publically reject corrupted capitalism. It's the only way.

I know I'm dreaming now. I know this is so far from the realm of the possible that it's almost childish to ponder it. It would take nothing short of a complete replacement of our government. But however implausible the right thing may be, there's still some value in pursuing it. It pains me to be disillusioned so, and so late into my political investigations - it's not like I just started studying politics, economics, history, and philosophy. To wake up and realize that things are much worse than I ever knew is tough, and for a guy like me, the only way to cope is to search for solutions. There has to be a way out of this. I mean it's nothing more than an international extension of the same plague we face domestically - the rule of the corrupt. But we're America.

Keep in mind that the American colonists in the mid-1700s were enjoying a quality of life that far exceeded that of much of Europe, but that wasn't good enough for them. Yes, they were prosperous, but they were under the yoke of the unjust, and that was simply unacceptable. They risked their comfort and their lives for the ideal that became the USA. I wonder if there are any more people like that in this country today. If so, this can be fixed. If not, pack your shit folks. It's gonna get uglier.


Blogger Michael Gersh said...

Caveman, the one thing missing from your hypothetical is the part where your little country goes and sells tickets to their cruises to citizens of other countries, and therefore create more wealth than would have otherwise been possible if Uncle Sam had not come along and taught this little country how to fish - for cruise passengers from elsewhere.

The whole point of IMF and other means of encouraging development is to encourage development. Of course American firms stand to benefit, but we are by no means the only ones in the running. The real reason we encourage development is that a rising tide lifts all boats, and by making our neighbors richer, we create a better world for everyone. That Haliburton and others make money is a part of the result, but is by no means the point of the exercise.

The problem with conspiracy theories in general, and the reason it is so much fun to debunk them, is that the world is entirely too large and chaotic for it to be amenable to control from any quarter. There are too many factors in the mix for any one sinister actor to call all the shots. Opportunity created for us is opportunity created for everyone.

Or, put another way, helping our neighbor to construct a bigger, better cave for his tribe will make him a better neighbor, and one less likely to attack our cave. We do not plan to attack his cave to seize his food or his women but, if some of his women get to know us, and choose to move into our cave, so much the better. If, on the other hand, their tribe gets stronger in their new digs, and later decides to attack us, we call it blowback, which is just as likely to happen as their becoming enslaved by us. But the most likely result is that they become a better friend, and a stronger trading partner. And a more prosperous neighbor is less likely to raid us, which is the point of the exercize in the first place.

1/17/2006 12:02:00 PM

Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

OK, so let me fill in the missing pieces.

The cruise ship owners start selling tickets on their kick-ass new cruise ship. And because their ship is the shiniest and bestest in their area of the world, they sell out for every cruise. Awesome, right? Yes, they're running a great business. Oh, but that's not the case. They have costs that *far exceed* what they can make selling tickets - due to the fact that, though the market is interested in riding on a nice cruise ship, they simply can't afford to pay what it *really* costs to ride on it. That, more than anything else, is the problem with the scenario. That's what I meant by saying that they are conned into buying more of the good life than they can afford.

I agree that our efforts to develop less developed places are ethically justifiable. However, the actions taken by people like John Perkins and the other Economic Hit Men are nothing more than a massive con. That is not justifiable, and that is exactly what is causing many of problems internationally.

Oh, but this is just a conspiracy, right? Maybe. I'm willing to accept that this is just an elaborate fabrication designed to support the "it's all about oil and Halliburton" argument that comes from the left. However, the details in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man are perfectly plausible, given what I know about how humans and third-world countries.

The connections are far from the large and chaotic scenario you propose. You have a set of companies that specialize in massive infrastructure development projects in foreign lands. These exist; we all know that. Then, you have economists working in these firms who are tasked with creating demand for their services. They go to places like Panama and spend insane amounts of money buddying up to the government leaders. They then con them into buying way more than they need or can pay back - all by providing them with great wealth and the bulletproof, time-tested rationalization that they are helping their people. They do this with the help of American-run organizations like the World Bank and the IMF.

The connection between these organizations and the US government are patently obvious. Look at Wolfowitz and the World Bank. And it goes back for decades - the three pillars of what Perkins calls the "corporatocracy" - the US Government, these select corporations, and the International Financial Organizations. The incest between these three groups is easily verified. Secretaries of Defense and State serving as heads of companies like Bechtel and Halliburton. High level US political operatives running international finance organzations. This is not fantasy dot-connecting. It's fact, so saying that these relationships are not driving a very specific agenda is saying that powerful people operating in secret do not have a tendency to collude with one another for personal gain. I can't really get there.

So, though it comes off an a conspiracy, I have yet to hear an argument that makes me feel better about all this, and I've been harassing my conservative friends for days now. So help me out here.

1. Are you arguing that guys like Perkins are off the reservation, doing their own things for their own wallets?
2. Are you suggesting that the personnel shuffle between high-level US political positions and leadership in companies like Halliburton and Bechtel as well as international finance orgs like the World Bank and IMF are merely coincidences? That there's nothing going on there?
3. Are you arguing that the economists of the aforementioned firms were not purposefully inflating projections of the development projects to drive the size to unmanageable, so as to gain beholden international leaders?

I am completely on board with the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. I'm even OK with the idea that no international good deed will ever go unpunished, regardless of how altruistic it is. I know better than to seek popularity on the world's stage. What I'm afraid of, however, is that those of us who have defended against liberal attacks have been duped. What if things really are as solacious as Perkins claims? It's not even close to implausible along the classic "too many moving parts" to be possible argument. There are very few moving parts. Just lots and lots of money - one thing we have.

1/17/2006 02:12:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh--"just as we were the first to abolish slavery on ethical grounds." On Aug 1st 1838 slavery was abolished in the British Empire. It was the outcome of a long, and yes, ethical struggle. The slave trade was banned by the British Empire in 1807. The "importation of negroes into the United States" was forbidden in 1809 as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution(twenty years after the ratification of this document.)

1/17/2006 10:03:00 PM

Blogger Maxine Montale (a.k.a. Digital Femme) said...

M.G. takes a heartful and courageous stand on 'seeing the bigger picture' amidst a somewhat ordered chaos. Altruistic as it may seem, this thinking CAN stand on its own although obviously, mankind has a long way to go in being comfortable with arriving and trusting this state of mind.

Someone has to believe in a greater good E.C. I know you do. Groups of people with the 'greater good' in mind have to find a way to hold on to that bit of TRUTH that they intuitively know exists - however intangible it may seem.

As much as Man's creativity can benefit the world the reality is, on the flip side, it can also be used to destroy that which they create. I suppose it boils down to the battle between good and evil.

I for one hold on to the idea of a better world. A world where peace CAN exist. I am not ignorant to the fact that we definitely have a lot of deprogramming work to do with our egoic mind. I believe that baby steps are necessary to achieve this state. The scary thought is - how long DO we have before mankind completely destroys that which sustains their existence.

Am I an idealist? Maybe. Realistic more likely. But just because my realistic thoughts may never get to fruition in my lifetime .. nonetheless, that thought energy IS OUT THERE .. and therefore it does exist - even if only in my own realm!

Hey, let this count as the Yin approach. You more than make up the Yang! Crap, did I have that backwards? Go figure.

So ... the points you brought up, I see as caveman'ish thinking. A highly evolved caveman that is. Isn't your purpose to become more enlightened?

I thought so.

Time to switch to another type of lightbulb. :o)

1/21/2006 05:55:00 AM


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