The American Empire is falling off a cliff.
Max Keiser and co-host, Stacy Herbert, look at gold’s standing ovation for the Obama-Boehner debt ceiling theater. In the second half of the show, Max talks to Stefan Molyneux about the Fed audit and the debt ceiling.
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WHY AND HOW AMERICA MUST COLLAPSE
by Kirk Brothers
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INTRODUCTION To anyone with a penchant for history, it is obvious that our once-great nation is dying--and the end will not be peaceful. The United States, like an aging star, must first collapse, and then explode, in a final burst of energy that will be awesome to behold. Alternatively, to pursue our astronomical metaphor for one more sentence, the United States might by that dreadful time have become so massive from the dead weight of political corruption that it will end as a black hole, from which nothing can escape. This grim prophetic view of our destiny will, of course, be laughed off by those who habitually refuse to see the truth even when it walks up and spits in their faces--but happily, I do not expect to live long enough to see the end, which is inevitable. The signs of our bleak future are to be seen everywhere, and it is our national tragedy that neither our alleged leaders nor the majority of the people are intelligent enough to recognize them. For what it is worth, this article will point out the facts, if only for the benefit of future generations who must pick up the pieces of rubble and try to decide what to do with our junk. It is my hope--albeit a forlorn one--that my articles may survive long enough to serve as documentary evidence of exactly who and what were to blame. THE ROOT CAUSES Let's begin with Malthus (1766-1834)--the Catholic Church disapproves of Malthus, which is reason enough to hold him in high esteem. And by way of introduction, let's recall for a moment the innumerable times you've heard some older person reminisce about "the good old days"--before you were born. Well, the good old days were pretty rotten in some ways, but on balance they were very good, indeed--for one reason. There weren't so damn many people overcrowding this planet! Malthus wrote in his classic economic work, AN ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION, that population increases much faster than the resources necessary to support them--so that as popula- tion goes up, the quality of life goes down. Let me give you a specific illustration from my own life span. I grew up in a little town in Massachusetts at a time when the country's population stood, fairly constant, at around 120 million people (the latest figure available estimates our numbers now at some 266 million). My home town numbered about three thousand, and there were a number of farms quite close to the center--which was marked by the Unitarian Church and a row of about a dozen small stores. Less than two blocks from our home on the main street stood a 60 acre dairy farm where we could buy raw milk. A mile further down the main street, a shallow river trickled through what we called a swamp, but would nowadays be termed a wetland (it sounds better). We could catch fish there in the summer, and skate on its ice in the winter. During summer vacations, school buses took us to Red Cross swimming lessons in Walden Pond--where Thoreau's cabin site was still marked--or we could drive to Revere Beach to swim in Boston Harbor. For a day of fun, there were steamships from Boston to Nantasket Beach for swimming or amusement rides. There were only 120 million people in the entire country then. Well, the old town has changed. The dairy farm was sold to make room for a large shopping mall. The wetlands were drained, and the river reduced to an underground pipeline, to make room for a second mall. Walden Pond has long been so polluted with human sewage that it is closed to swimming--the same is true of Boston Harbor beaches. The town's population is at least 15,000 nowadays, or about five times what it was in "the good old days". The point is that the land area remains the same size, but five times as many people try to live in the space we knew and loved as youngsters. And now here's an example of what Malthus was talking about, in a simple everyday example. Suppose you're having a family dinner and you've baked a pie for dessert. If there are six in the family, everybody gets a good slice. If a seventh person shows up unexpectedly, it's possible to do some tricky cutting and offer each diner a seventh instead of a sixth--a little skimpy, but still adequate. But suppose there are two extra people. In that case Mom says she isn't hungry or is on a diet or some such alibi, and cuts seven slices, going without dessert herself. We all had Moms who made such small sacrifices. Okay, now suppose you have thirty people for dinner--five times as many as you have food for. Figure it out for yourself. POPULATION PROBLEMS IN A NUTSHELL There are one billion people too many on this planet. The best figures available tend to show that two billion is the maximum number the Earth can sustain if the quality of life is to be acceptable. Yet in South America (Latins are predomi- nately Catholic and therefore opposed to birth control, abortion, or common sense like Malthus' observations) the population grows so rapidly that the vast tropical rain forest is being cut down at an alarming rate. Loss of the Amazon rain forest will alter the whole world's climate and ecosystems in a way that cannot be projected, much less prevented. The changes will be catastrophic --but try telling that to people who have too many children to feed and house, and are stupid enough to argue that "nobody needs a jungle". In brief, the human race is fornicating itself into extinc- tion, and nothing can possibly improve significantly until one person out of every three now alive dies without being replaced at the world food table. But just try telling that to the Pope. WHAT ELSE COULD BE WRONG? Very simple. It is an absolute and unquestionable fact that fully one half of the world's population is below average in intelligence. The figure is the same for each and every country, without exception. Okay, so I'll prove it--and here's the proof. What is the definition of the word "average"? It's a mathematical or statistical concept which determines the midpoint in any population--and if you calculate a midpoint, one half must fall above and one half below the average--obvious. Okay, what does that mean in the world of politics? It means that elections are decided by the stupid. It means that laws are made and enforced by and for the stupid. It means that intelligence counts for nothing, because the majority of those voting don't understand what the intelligent are talking about. And by intelligent, I mean those smart enough for college work--with IQs of 120 or higher. Let me give you an example. In the first three articles in this series, I proved that Social Security (and therefore that virtually every major government program) is blatantly unconsti- tutional--that our Federal Courts are so corrupted by party politics that Judges refuse to address that question--and, worst of all, that we have had no valid Constitution for at least 150 years. Suppose you want me to prove it here and now, in a half- dozen well-chosen sentences of less than ten words each. I can't --simply because it took about 30 pages, single spaced, to prove it there, and stupid people don't want to read 30 pages of anything except sex novels. They want the news in headlines with the important events summarized in 10-second sound bites, so as to have lots of time for the latest scores and sports action. Why? Because they're stupid. Who caters to the stupid? Well, our politicians--the mass media--the academic airheads who dictated the Conventional Unwisdom that is leading our country to economic collapse--and our government-controlled schools--to start the list. In any rational society, laws would be made exclusively by the wise, leaders would be only the wisest men and women in the nation, there would be a mere handful of laws, based upon universal principles easy for all to understand, applied by Judges who are both wise and unprejudiced--and only those with IQs of at least 110 would have the right to vote. If these standards be reasonable, by which one of them does ours qualify as a rational society? FALLACIES OF THE STUPID The list is virtually endless, but let's look at just a few of the most important ones, because they impinge on our lives in the most nefarious ways each and every day. It should be common knowledge that most Americans (or other people worldwide) will choose a pleasant lie over an unpleasant truth. By making that choice, they believe they have done the right thing, and they don't want any intelligent person to point out their mistakes. They won't trouble their brains to read this article, but I'll point out some of them, anyway. I list them in no particu- lar order of importance--I believe they're all valid observa- tions. NOBODY WANTS EQUALITY We were all taught to respect the idea that we are all equal, at least under law. But nobody would be satisfied with that idea, even if it were true. Why? Because equality means you're exactly the same as your worst enemy. He has exactly the same rights you have, and you have no more political power than he does. Nobody wants to be equal to his worst enemy. And so Bible- belt fanatics persist in trying to shove Christianity into public schools by hook or by crook--heterosexual fanatics persist in passing laws to punish homosexuals--gun control fanatics persist in destroying the priceless right of the Second Amendment-- ignoramuses who view "drugs" as evil persist in passing more and more stupid laws to prevent even moderate use of substances which clearly have great medicinal value--and so on. Fanatics want to be "more equal" than the people they hate, for one reason or another. But a Libertarian (of which I am proud to be one) believes that government must adopt the princi- ple of laissez faire--letting people DO WHAT THEY WANT, as long as they do no injury to OTHERS (what injury they might do to themselves is their own fault, and society is NOT to blame!). Bad habits might be deplored, but to outlaw them is to put Mrs. Grundy in the driver's seat, where she is absolutely out of place. Mrs. Grundy wants to PROHIBIT things which many people like, simply because she feels superior for not liking the same things. She is stupid, and a bigot to boot. NOBODY IS SATISFIED, EVER I hold it to be self-evident that nobody is happy with what he already has (except for those rare individuals who have seen the fallacy in pursuing what erroneously passes for wealth). All too often a person says that if he could only make so much money he'd be satisfied. He goes on strike and gets the money he demanded. And then it's not enough. He strikes again to get more. Or a young man says that if he could get a new Ford he'd be happy. He gets a new Ford. And then he wants a Mercury instead. Or a newlywed couple say they'll be happy in a nice apartment. But don't worry--in a year they'll want a house. Perhaps because all their friends have houses, and they have to keep up with them. The love of money might not be the root of all evil, but it's at least the seed. The greed shown by many Americans indulging themselves in conspicuous overconsumption has unfortu- nately caused the peoples of underdeveloped nations to want the same things--increasing demand for more and more consumer goods at prices which are excessive to begin with, and are inflated even more by the increased demand. In "the good old days", a loaf of bread cost about ten cents if a supermarket brand, or fifteen cents if a "name" brand. Now a loaf of bread costs more than a dollar at a bakery thrift shop. Twenty cents used to buy a quart of milk, or a can of soup, or a gallon of gas. A new family car, of sturdy steel and easy to fix oneself, used to cost well under a thousand dollars. In what way are today's prices an indication of improvement in our economic well-being, according to the Conventional Mistakes of our lunatic economists? Only that people have more dollars to spend. But the dollar is worth less, so nobody bene- fits, except those who live on over-extended credit--of which our government is the prime example. And the more world population increases, the worse everything gets. Malthus understated his case. THE FALLACIES OF ECONOMICS Most Americans appear to be suckers for anyone with a degree in anything. A prime example of this is their gullibility for anything labeled "economic" in any terminology. The government issues monthly fiction called things like "cost of living index" or "consumer price index", etc., but they all boil down to hot air and wishful thinking. I submit as fact, which few will accept, that the so-called science of economics is 90% garbage which should be tossed in the garbage can. Here's why. There are basically two types of science: descriptive and experimental. Some sciences are both. A botanist like Luther Burbank, for example, first learns to classify and identify plants (descriptive), and then learns by experiment to develop new and/or improved varieties by selective reproduction techniques. But some sciences do not lend themselves to experimentation. Geology is one. A geologist describes earthquakes but does not try to control or cause one--he's lucky to be able to predict aftershocks from a major tremor. Similarly, a meteorologist describes hurricanes and tornadoes but cannot control them-- prediction is the best he can hope for. Economics is also a descriptive science--which applies useful terms to human behavior in acts of getting and spending money--and may lead to meaningful predictions. But it is of value only if it is studied in a context of conservative common sense (which is not common), or a practical application like business administration. Unfortunately for all of us, economists for more than 60 years have fooled Americans into believing that theirs is an experimental science, and that the economy can be controlled. That delusion has been so deeply ingrained in Americans' mind-set for 60 years that eradicating the error is a virtually impossible task. Nevertheless I'll give it a try. THE ECONOMY CANNOT BE CONTROLLED What is "the economy"? It's the sum total of each and every consensual contract between each and every person, in the course of doing business of any kind--from buying a hamburger at McDonald's to selling a thousand shares of blue chip stocks on Wall Street. There are literally millions of such transactions each and every day, and it is absolutely impossible to even list them, much less make decisions about their effect on other transactions. The fact is that the staggering number of economic transactions in a single day would surpass the capacity of the largest computer to extract and manipulate data. So economists do what they think is almost as good. They use statistics and propaganda. We used to joke that there are three grades of lies: little white lies, big black lies, and statistics--the joke being that statistics can be used to prove anything the statistician wants to prove. He simply "adjusts" his "data" and sets up the numbers to give him his desired results. Does this sound familiar? The government issues some damfool economic summary, predicting that next quarter will be much better or worse than this one. The prediction turns out to be wrong. So the government "revises" its index to "reflect" more "accurately". And millions of Americans (the stupid ones) smile in satisfaction at the wisdom of our leaders. There would be another problem if economics were a truly experimental science: the only way one could control the economy would be to regulate EVERYTHING (and don't think they're not trying it already)! That would mean tinkering in everybody's business, laying down thousands of laws and rules governing how one runs his company--and punishing people who either don't know all the rules, or have the attitude that our stinking, lousy, meddling government should get the hell off our backs and LEAVE US ALONE! Economists are the greatest (worst) meddlers in the world, and the tragedy is they meddle in order to "prove" a theory that by the rules of logic cannot be proved. Economists appear to believe that a free market is not to be trusted. Libertarians hold that ONLY a free market is to be trusted--not self-serving, empire-building bureaucrats on a power trip. Laissez faire again. WHAT ECONOMISTS NEVER TELL YOU Every true science has laws which can be demonstrated time and again by students anywhere at any time. For example, in physics a student performs simple experiments (in the beginning) to prove the laws of magnetism or gravity. Economics has no "hands on" test for anything it preaches, but presumes its laws to be carved in stone by the finger of God. And many courses in economics omit facts which should be common knowledge to anyone interested in his personal economic security. Here's one such example. Let's assume you had a million dollars to spend last year, so you invested it in an original Picasso oil. Art experts appraised the work as worth more than two million--but you got a bargain. Your original Picasso is hanging on your dining-room wall so you can admire it, and you are so happy with it you aren't at all interested in selling it. It's given you a million dollars' worth of pleasure so far, perhaps. Question: how much is your Picasso worth now? Answer: not a dime. Why? Because you don't want to sell it. The value of anything is determined only when it is traded, and its value is exactly what the seller will take and the buyer will pay. As a matter of fact, art values are totally fictitious --because collectors are notorious for putting an art work such as a Picasso on the auction block every few years, bidding the price up above others at the sale, and buying it back. There's a commission on the sale price, but that's all it costs them. In return, it is now a matter of record that the painting increased in value by so many thousands of dollars between auctions. That proves it's a good investment, right? Well, is it? Here's a well-known anecdote reputed to be a true-life story. After the Communist revolution in Russia, many of the old wealthy families (who could not leave the Soviet Union and take their wealth with them) were down on their uppers, and in a bad way for basic things like food. So one day a man of prior wealth decided to sacrifice part of it, by bartering his beautiful Faberge egg--an artifact for which the Age of the Tsars was noted. It was hand-painted, decorated with precious gems, and had cost a fortune in the old days. The man covered his priceless egg in a protective cloth and carefully took it by horse and buggy to a farm on the outskirts of Moscow where he hoped to exchange it for food. When he told the farmer what he wanted and what he offered, the farmer sneered and offered a sack of potatoes. The former nobleman was shocked at the offer--until the farmer beckoned his customer to the door of an adjoining room. The table, the shelves, and the floor of the next room were littered with a vast collection of Faberge china--all beautiful, and all useless to the farmer, who could not sell them any more than the nobleman could. The nobleman took the sack of potatoes. And you think you have security because you've invested in comic books--having paid, perhaps, a hundred dollars for a copy of the first Batman story in "new" condition? Well, the person who paid ten cents for it, and kept it carefully for future collectors, made a killing on his investment--but as a general rule most art collectors are loaded with expensive, yet worth- less, items they can never recoup their investment on. One man I met has a collection of miniature elephants in many sizes, materials, and poses. He honestly believes them to be worth what he paid for them, plus a profit. But if a Faberge egg could be worth a sack of potatoes, how much could an elephant statue demand? Think about it. There is an excellent paperback book called "Economics in One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt, a journalist like myself, whose style and illustrative examples are a pleasure to read. I will not steal his thunder, but I should like to give him credit for two points which I must re-argue in my own discussion. To paraphrase Hazlitt, economists are prone to "prove" their theories by showing you only one side of a two-faced coin--the side favorable to their theory, and the only one they want you to think about. In that way they are like magicians who show the audience an impressive box of sturdy construction, which they open to show full of money--but fail to show that the box has no bottom, and the money is on a spring inside a special table the box is set upon. In arguments over various hare-brained proposals, economists like to show you the "heads" of a coin--namely, WHO GETS WHAT-- and argue, using every propaganda trick in the book, to show how "good" their proposal is. But they never show you the "tails" side, which is WHO LOSES. The true science of mathematics is based upon the law that you cannot get something for nothing--but the pseudo-science economics pretends you can. During the hard times of the 1930's, truth-telling mathematics offered only unpleasant reality, but New Deal economics promised pie in the sky--something for nothing--a pleasant lie. So stupid people chose the pleasant lie, and voted for Franklin Delano Rooselvelt four times. And here we are now, seeing what was on the other side of the New Deal coin. Economists occasionally "prove" their wisdom by the propa- ganda fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc (meaning "after that, therefore because of that"). For example, say that three months ago the "Fed" lowered interest rates, and the economy improved. "Hooray!" they say, "lowering the interest rates caused the improvement". First, and in passing, let's stop to think if we really give a damn about the Fed's raising or lowering of the interest rate. What the hell has it ever meant to you? Only what you heard somebody say on the news, I'll bet. When the news tells you everything is great, do you really believe it? If so, what's your IQ? But let's get back to the fallacy of "after that, therefore because of that". The fallacy is to leave out all other events and facts that might indicate the true cause. An example more easily seen as a fallacy is that of a superstitious farmer who plants corn after the new moon and before the full moon. If he gets a good crop, he says it's because he planted his seed after the new moon and before the full moon (ignoring weather, fertili- zing, etc.). The economic fallacy of concern to us is the failure of our government to admit the obvious fact that if something is "free" to some people, it's being paid for by others. Or, as a simple variation, it will be paid for in the future by the next genera- tions. Social Security, as shown in the first article in this series, was "sold" by Franklin Delano Roosevelt by golden rheto- ric dwelling on its short-term "benefits". Roosevelt himself ignored the real (long run) cost of those "benefits", and the final price will be the total economic collapse of the United States in a few decades or less. OTHER OMISSIONS IN ECONOMICS Economics mentions barter more or less in passing, and quickly dismisses it as irrelevant--a mere holdover from primi- tive times in economic history. The fact is that barter is still the basis for every transaction, but most people don't bother to perform the rituals of asking price, offered price, and negotia- tion--in fact, they've never tried "dickering" over the price, or think it's not dignified. Barter demands aggressiveness which we regard as antisocial, but is absolutely necessary if and when money is worthless. When is that? Well, in Australia today there are some tribes in the Outback who still don't use money. They exchange goods or services for goods or services, by mutual agreement. People from "civilization" who go into the Outback and may need to obtain food while there are well advised to have trading goods, like the Dutch who bought Manhattan Island for 24 dollars' worth of jewelry. BUTTER AND GUNS One of the classic illustrations used in economics is the real (practical) problem of striking a bargain between parties in a barter system--the usual example being that of exchanging butter for guns. In a barter economy, a gunsmith who needs butter for his kitchen, and a dairy farmer who needs a shotgun to shoot crows, must somehow meet face to face to agree on how much butter is a fair trade for one gun. Obviously, if a gunsmith doesn't need butter or a farmer doesn't need a gun, they can't do business. In the dim past, when communities were isolated and trading was done by traveling merchants, the problems of doing business were greatly eased by the mercantile invention of money. It was the merchant, acting as a go-between, who offered the gunsmith or the farmer so much symbolic paper or coinage for each man's goods, and sold each customer what he needed in a monetary exchange. The barter was limited to how much money was agreeable in each separate transaction, not how many pounds of butter for a gun. Money is truly one of the great human inventions, but it was not the work of a political bureaucracy! It was only later that politicians saw the enormous potential in controlling the money used, and governmental control of money has been universal ever since. That control is the power, and the weakness, of economics-- for if a government collapses, the money in circulation becomes trash. It happened in the South after the Civil War, with the demise of the Confederacy and therefore Confederate money. It happened in Germany after World War I, when a wheelbarrow-full of paper money might be needed for a loaf of bread. As part of economists' meddling in matters they do not understand--like the Sorcerer's Apprentice who conjured a broom to carry water--they seek to control both the supply of money and the value of money. Basically, they want inflation. Inflation is good for debtors (which is most of the people), and bad for creditors (who are held to deserve a little loss, by the morality of Robin Hood). Deflation, which nobody really wants to see, would be a bonanza for creditors and the final straw for debtors --they would have to pay back more real value than what they borrowed, rather than less. In any rational society, money would be absolutely rock hard and absolutely beyond the power of any political scheme to change it a hair. If one were to borrow ten dollars now, he would have to pay back the full value of ten dollars, plus agreed interest for the time borrowed. If you think that's unfair because you borrow money, how would you feel if you were the lender? There is one, and only one, way I can see that could create such a rock-hard, non-manipulable monetary system--and it has been suggested by a number of theoreticians with common sense, who were therefore called crackpots. That is, to establish a money system in which the minimum unit of coinage (one cent, for example) would be deemed equal to exactly one minute of time spent at minimal labor. Obviously, there can never be one second more or one second less than sixty minutes in an hour. Therefore in this system, the minimum wage would be sixty cents per hour, and all higher units of money and all contracts would be negotiated in terms of money at that rate of exchange. All market prices would be nego- tiated using this system of hard money as its basis, so that a person earning the minimum wage could afford a modest lifestyle (my first job paid me fifteen cents an hour). Of course, some people would want to borrow an hour's worth of work time, and pay it back with fifteen minutes--that's inflation. But the short answer to all demands of that nature must be NO. WALL STREET Stock markets are the biggest gambling casinos in the world. That's not their public-relations image, but it's the truth. Wall Streeters like to pretend they're doing a profound and patriotic service in helping little Americans buy a piece of the nation in stocks and bonds. I submit that such claims are an earthenware container of organic fertilizer. Wall Street is a complex mechanism for manipulating wealth-- in the form of symbolic paper--and its attraction for high financiers is the lure of a quick killing by buying low and selling high. If financiers guess wrong they may jump out windows--or take a flight out of jurisdiction with embezzled funds to evade criminal prosecution. The little Americans who lose their shirts when the market crashes never know what hit them. It happened in 1929, and is due to happen again--despite the best efforts of economic "experts" to keep it from happening by more and more controls. The fact is that Wall Street is a bubble perilously close to bursting. Our economists can't control Wall Street, so how the hell can they pretend to control anything else? I'll tell you how--by bluff and bluster. We all know that Social Security will be bankrupt in about thirty years, and Medicare in about ten, and that our economists created the mess by meddling in the free market system instead of letting banking and insurance institutions offer retirement pensions by consensual contracts. Now our "experts" admit that Social Security is in trouble, and their God-given superiority has advised them exactly how to prop it up. Invest in Wall Street--the world's biggest gambling casino! And stupid Americans continue to trust them! How long can their brains hibernate before they wake up and smell the coffee? SUMMARIZING FOR THIS TIME The Medicare Program will go bankrupt in perhaps ten years, and Social Security will go down the tubes perhaps twenty years later--if we're lucky. These blatant swindles are the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and for proof of this statement please read my previous articles in this series. The collapse of our country will be the result of numerous interlocking factors, which I have here tried to separate for individual consideration by thoughtful readers. The factors are: 1) The overpopulation of the planet, by about 50% of what it should be. 2) The domination of politics by a two-thirds majority of people below IQ 120, who are the least qualified to make intelligent political decisions. 3) The facts (few) and fallacies (many) in the so-called science of economics which have contributed to, and continue to maintain a moribund national economy which gets worse as time passes. 4) A bit about the psychology of the American people, and the propaganda tricks which are used to deceive them. HOW AMERICA WILL COLLAPSE There are two options--neither one desirable--but I cannot say with certainty which will prevail because I broke my crystal ball last week, and my Tarot cards are out for repair. One possibility is that political revolution will come first, if apathetic Americans can be galvanized to take decisive action to force reconstruction of our corrupt bureaucracy at all levels. A proposal for the first step is a Constitutional amendment to bring the American people back into the political process in a meaningful way. See THE TIME BOMB IN OUR CONSTITU- TION for details on our plan to restore freedom and civil rights in a country which is shown to be a de facto police state, though not recognized by the mentally retarded majority. The second possibility is more likely, in my opinion-- namely, that Americans are too cowardly to take action until economic collapse becomes a reality. That collapse will come with the end of Social Security and the sudden termination of all welfare programs which bleed all Americans to support the present corrupt regime. With the collapse of government programs and, therefore, the entire government, the so-called "Domino Effect" will cause a remorseless chain reaction worldwide. First, American money will instantly become as worthless as Faberge eggs, and Wall Street must crash almost immediately. With the collapse of Wall Street, all foreign exchanges must follow as the panic spreads, and our so-called leaders--a pack of congenital idiots--look, for the first time, for lifeboats on the S.S. Titanic. There aren't any, because the Titanic is unsinkable, right? So, must we all sing hymns as the ragtime band plays "Nearer, My God, to Thee"? BUT WAIT! IS THAT A SHIP ON THE HORIZON?! CAN WE BE SAVED?! Maybe. It's the U.S. Congress, and if the crew is intelligent enough to see what needs to be done--and has the courage and integrity to do it--they might yet be able to keep us afloat and tow us to shore safely. The problem is that the crew of the U.S. Congress has been on a binge for sixty years, getting drunk with power--that's always been our problem. Will there be any heroes on board the Congress who'll sober up in a hurry and do what has to be done? I'll have the script for our eleventh-hour rescue in my next article. But will anybody in Washington read it? Kirk Brothers
How America will collapse (by 2025)
Four scenarios that could spell the end of the United States as we know it — in the very near future
By Alfred McCoy
A soft landing for America 40 years from now? Don’t bet on it. The demise of the United States as the global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines. If Washington is dreaming of 2040 or 2050 as the end of the American Century, a more realistic assessment of domestic and global trends suggests that in 2025, just 15 years from now, it could all be over except for the shouting.
Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.
Future historians are likely to identify the Bush administration’s rash invasion of Iraq in that year as the start of America’s downfall. However, instead of the bloodshed that marked the end of so many past empires, with cities burning and civilians slaughtered, this twenty-first century imperial collapse could come relatively quietly through the invisible tendrils of economic collapse or cyberwarfare.
But have no doubt: when Washington’s global dominion finally ends, there will be painful daily reminders of what such a loss of power means for Americans in every walk of life. As a half-dozen European nations have discovered, imperial decline tends to have a remarkably demoralizing impact on a society, regularly bringing at least a generation of economic privation. As the economy cools, political temperatures rise, often sparking serious domestic unrest.
Available economic, educational, and military data indicate that, when it comes to U.S. global power, negative trends will aggregate rapidly by 2020 and are likely to reach a critical mass no later than 2030. The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, will be tattered and fading by 2025, its eighth decade, and could be history by 2030.
Significantly, in 2008, the U.S. National Intelligence Council admitted for the first time that America’s global power was indeed on a declining trajectory. In one of its periodic futuristic reports, Global Trends 2025, the Council cited “the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way, roughly from West to East” and “without precedent in modern history,” as the primary factor in the decline of the “United States’ relative strength — even in the military realm.” Like many in Washington, however, the Council’s analysts anticipated a very long, very soft landing for American global preeminence, and harbored the hope that somehow the U.S. would long “retain unique military capabilities… to project military power globally” for decades to come.
No such luck. Under current projections, the United States will find itself in second place behind China (already the world’s second largest economy) in economic output around 2026, and behind India by 2050. Similarly, Chinese innovation is on a trajectory toward world leadership in applied science and military technology sometime between 2020 and 2030, just as America’s current supply of brilliant scientists and engineers retires, without adequate replacement by an ill-educated younger generation.
By 2020, according to current plans, the Pentagon will throw a military Hail Mary pass for a dying empire. It will launch a lethal triple canopy of advanced aerospace robotics that represents Washington’s last best hope of retaining global power despite its waning economic influence. By that year, however, China’s global network of communications satellites, backed by the world’s most powerful supercomputers, will also be fully operational, providing Beijing with an independent platform for the weaponization of space and a powerful communications system for missile- or cyber-strikes into every quadrant of the globe.
Wrapped in imperial hubris, like Whitehall or Quai d’Orsay before it, the White House still seems to imagine that American decline will be gradual, gentle, and partial. In his State of the Union address last January, President Obama offered the reassurance that “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.” A few days later, Vice President Biden ridiculed the very idea that “we are destined to fulfill [historian Paul] Kennedy’s prophecy that we are going to be a great nation that has failed because we lost control of our economy and overextended.” Similarly, writing in the November issue of the establishment journal Foreign Affairs, neo-liberal foreign policy guru Joseph Nye waved away talk of China’s economic and military rise, dismissing “misleading metaphors of organic decline” and denying that any deterioration in U.S. global power was underway.
Ordinary Americans, watching their jobs head overseas, have a more realistic view than their cosseted leaders. An opinion poll in August 2010 found that 65 percent of Americans believed the country was now “in a state of decline.” Already, Australia and Turkey, traditional U.S. military allies, are using their American-manufactured weapons for joint air and naval maneuvers with China. Already, America’s closest economic partners are backing away from Washington’s opposition to China’s rigged currency rates. As the president flew back from his Asian tour last month, a gloomy New York Times headline summed the moment up this way: “Obama’s Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage, China, Britain and Germany Challenge U.S., Trade Talks With Seoul Fail, Too.”
Viewed historically, the question is not whether the United States will lose its unchallenged global power, but just how precipitous and wrenching the decline will be. In place of Washington’s wishful thinking, let’s use the National Intelligence Council’s own futuristic methodology to suggest four realistic scenarios for how, whether with a bang or a whimper, U.S. global power could reach its end in the 2020s (along with four accompanying assessments of just where we are today). The future scenarios include: economic decline, oil shock, military misadventure, and World War III. While these are hardly the only possibilities when it comes to American decline or even collapse, they offer a window into an onrushing future.
Economic Decline: Present Situation
Today, three main threats exist to America’s dominant position in the global economy: loss of economic clout thanks to a shrinking share of world trade, the decline of American technological innovation, and the end of the dollar’s privileged status as the global reserve currency.
By 2008, the United States had already fallen to number three in global merchandise exports, with just 11 percent of them compared to 12 percent for China and 16 percent for the European Union. There is no reason to believe that this trend will reverse itself.
Similarly, American leadership in technological innovation is on the wane. In 2008, the U.S. was still number two behind Japan in worldwide patent applications with 232,000, but China was closing fast at 195,000, thanks to a blistering 400 percent increase since 2000. A harbinger of further decline: in 2009 the U.S. hit rock bottom in ranking among the 40 nations surveyed by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation when it came to “change” in “global innovation-based competitiveness” during the previous decade. Adding substance to these statistics, in October China’s Defense Ministry unveiled the world’s fastest supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A, so powerful, said one U.S. expert, that it “blows away the existing No. 1 machine” in America.
Add to this clear evidence that the U.S. education system, that source of future scientists and innovators, has been falling behind its competitors. After leading the world for decades in 25- to 34-year-olds with university degrees, the country sank to 12th place in 2010. The World Economic Forum ranked the United States at a mediocre 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly half of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are now foreigners, most of whom will be heading home, not staying here as once would have happened. By 2025, in other words, the United States is likely to face a critical shortage of talented scientists.
Such negative trends are encouraging increasingly sharp criticism of the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency. “Other countries are no longer willing to buy into the idea that the U.S. knows best on economic policy,” observed Kenneth S. Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. In mid-2009, with the world’s central banks holding an astronomical $4 trillion in U.S. Treasury notes, Russian president Dimitri Medvedev insisted that it was time to end “the artificially maintained unipolar system” based on “one formerly strong reserve currency.”
Simultaneously, China’s central bank governor suggested that the future might lie with a global reserve currency “disconnected from individual nations” (that is, the U.S. dollar). Take these as signposts of a world to come, and of a possible attempt, as economist Michael Hudson has argued, “to hasten the bankruptcy of the U.S. financial-military world order.”
Economic Decline: Scenario 2020
After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2020, as long expected, the U.S. dollar finally loses its special status as the world’s reserve currency. Suddenly, the cost of imports soars. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget. Under pressure at home and abroad, Washington slowly pulls U.S. forces back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter. By now, however, it is far too late.
Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying the bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers, great and regional, provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace. Meanwhile, amid soaring prices, ever-rising unemployment, and a continuing decline in real wages, domestic divisions widen into violent clashes and divisive debates, often over remarkably irrelevant issues. Riding a political tide of disillusionment and despair, a far-right patriot captures the presidency with thundering rhetoric, demanding respect for American authority and threatening military retaliation or economic reprisal. The world pays next to no attention as the American Century ends in silence.
Oil Shock: Present Situation
One casualty of America’s waning economic power has been its lock on global oil supplies. Speeding by America’s gas-guzzling economy in the passing lane, China became the world’s number one energy consumer this summer, a position the U.S. had held for over a century. Energy specialist Michael Klare has argued that this change means China will “set the pace in shaping our global future.”
By 2025, Iran and Russia will control almost half of the world’s natural gas supply, which will potentially give them enormous leverage over energy-starved Europe. Add petroleum reserves to the mix and, as the National Intelligence Council has warned, in just 15 years two countries, Russia and Iran, could “emerge as energy kingpins.”
Despite remarkable ingenuity, the major oil powers are now draining the big basins of petroleum reserves that are amenable to easy, cheap extraction. The real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was not BP’s sloppy safety standards, but the simple fact everyone saw on “spillcam”: one of the corporate energy giants had little choice but to search for what Klare calls “tough oil” miles beneath the surface of the ocean to keep its profits up.
Compounding the problem, the Chinese and Indians have suddenly become far heavier energy consumers. Even if fossil fuel supplies were to remain constant (which they won’t), demand, and so costs, are almost certain to rise — and sharply at that. Other developed nations are meeting this threat aggressively by plunging into experimental programs to develop alternative energy sources. The United States has taken a different path, doing far too little to develop alternative sources while, in the last three decades, doubling its dependence on foreign oil imports. Between 1973 and 2007, oil imports have risen from 36 percent of energy consumed in the U.S. to 66 percent.
Oil Shock: Scenario 2025
The United States remains so dependent upon foreign oil that a few adverse developments in the global energy market in 2025 spark an oil shock. By comparison, it makes the 1973 oil shock (when prices quadrupled in just months) look like the proverbial molehill. Angered at the dollar’s plummeting value, OPEC oil ministers, meeting in Riyadh, demand future energy payments in a “basket” of Yen, Yuan, and Euros. That only hikes the cost of U.S. oil imports further. At the same moment, while signing a new series of long-term delivery contracts with China, the Saudis stabilize their own foreign exchange reserves by switching to the Yuan. Meanwhile, China pours countless billions into building a massive trans-Asia pipeline and funding Iran’s exploitation of the world largest percent natural gas field at South Pars in the Persian Gulf.
Concerned that the U.S. Navy might no longer be able to protect the oil tankers traveling from the Persian Gulf to fuel East Asia, a coalition of Tehran, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi form an unexpected new Gulf alliance and affirm that China’s new fleet of swift aircraft carriers will henceforth patrol the Persian Gulf from a base on the Gulf of Oman. Under heavy economic pressure, London agrees to cancel the U.S. lease on its Indian Ocean island base of Diego Garcia, while Canberra, pressured by the Chinese, informs Washington that the Seventh Fleet is no longer welcome to use Fremantle as a homeport, effectively evicting the U.S. Navy from the Indian Ocean.
With just a few strokes of the pen and some terse announcements, the “Carter Doctrine,” by which U.S. military power was to eternally protect the Persian Gulf, is laid to rest in 2025. All the elements that long assured the United States limitless supplies of low-cost oil from that region — logistics, exchange rates, and naval power — evaporate. At this point, the U.S. can still cover only an insignificant 12 percent of its energy needs from its nascent alternative energy industry, and remains dependent on imported oil for half of its energy consumption.
The oil shock that follows hits the country like a hurricane, sending prices to startling heights, making travel a staggeringly expensive proposition, putting real wages (which had long been declining) into freefall, and rendering non-competitive whatever American exports remained. With thermostats dropping, gas prices climbing through the roof, and dollars flowing overseas in return for costly oil, the American economy is paralyzed. With long-fraying alliances at an end and fiscal pressures mounting, U.S. military forces finally begin a staged withdrawal from their overseas bases.
Within a few years, the U.S. is functionally bankrupt and the clock is ticking toward midnight on the American Century.
Military Misadventure: Present Situation
Counterintuitively, as their power wanes, empires often plunge into ill-advised military misadventures. This phenomenon is known among historians of empire as “micro-militarism” and seems to involve psychologically compensatory efforts to salve the sting of retreat or defeat by occupying new territories, however briefly and catastrophically. These operations, irrational even from an imperial point of view, often yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the loss of power.
Embattled empires through the ages suffer an arrogance that drives them to plunge ever deeper into military misadventures until defeat becomes debacle. In 413 BCE, a weakened Athens sent 200 ships to be slaughtered in Sicily. In 1921, a dying imperial Spain dispatched 20,000 soldiers to be massacred by Berber guerrillas in Morocco. In 1956, a fading British Empire destroyed its prestige by attacking Suez. And in 2001 and 2003, the U.S. occupied Afghanistan and invaded Iraq. With the hubris that marks empires over the millennia, Washington has increased its troops in Afghanistan to 100,000, expanded the war into Pakistan, and extended its commitment to 2014 and beyond, courting disasters large and small in this guerilla-infested, nuclear-armed graveyard of empires.
Military Misadventure: Scenario 2014
So irrational, so unpredictable is “micro-militarism” that seemingly fanciful scenarios are soon outdone by actual events. With the U.S. military stretched thin from Somalia to the Philippines and tensions rising in Israel, Iran, and Korea, possible combinations for a disastrous military crisis abroad are multifold.
It’s mid-summer 2014 and a drawn-down U.S. garrison in embattled Kandahar in southern Afghanistan is suddenly, unexpectedly overrun by Taliban guerrillas, while U.S. aircraft are grounded by a blinding sandstorm. Heavy loses are taken and in retaliation, an embarrassed American war commander looses B-1 bombers and F-16 fighters to demolish whole neighborhoods of the city that are believed to be under Taliban control, while AC-130U “Spooky” gunships rake the rubble with devastating cannon fire.
Soon, mullahs are preaching jihad from mosques throughout the region, and Afghan Army units, long trained by American forces to turn the tide of the war, begin to desert en masse. Taliban fighters then launch a series of remarkably sophisticated strikes aimed at U.S. garrisons across the country, sending American casualties soaring. In scenes reminiscent of Saigon in 1975, U.S. helicopters rescue American soldiers and civilians from rooftops in Kabul and Kandahar.
Meanwhile, angry at the endless, decades-long stalemate over Palestine, OPEC’s leaders impose a new oil embargo on the U.S. to protest its backing of Israel as well as the killing of untold numbers of Muslim civilians in its ongoing wars across the Greater Middle East. With gas prices soaring and refineries running dry, Washington makes its move, sending in Special Operations forces to seize oil ports in the Persian Gulf. This, in turn, sparks a rash of suicide attacks and the sabotage of pipelines and oil wells. As black clouds billow skyward and diplomats rise at the U.N. to bitterly denounce American actions, commentators worldwide reach back into history to brand this “America’s Suez,” a telling reference to the 1956 debacle that marked the end of the British Empire.
World War III: Present Situation
In the summer of 2010, military tensions between the U.S. and China began to rise in the western Pacific, once considered an American “lake.” Even a year earlier no one would have predicted such a development. As Washington played upon its alliance with London to appropriate much of Britain’s global power after World War II, so China is now using the profits from its export trade with the U.S. to fund what is likely to become a military challenge to American dominion over the waterways of Asia and the Pacific.
With its growing resources, Beijing is claiming a vast maritime arc from Korea to Indonesia long dominated by the U.S. Navy. In August, after Washington expressed a “national interest” in the South China Sea and conducted naval exercises there to reinforce that claim, Beijing’s official Global Times responded angrily, saying, “The U.S.-China wrestling match over the South China Sea issue has raised the stakes in deciding who the real future ruler of the planet will be.”
Amid growing tensions, the Pentagon reported that Beijing now holds “the capability to attack… [U.S.] aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean” and target “nuclear forces throughout… the continental United States.” By developing “offensive nuclear, space, and cyber warfare capabilities,” China seems determined to vie for dominance of what the Pentagon calls “the information spectrum in all dimensions of the modern battlespace.” With ongoing development of the powerful Long March V booster rocket, as well as the launch of two satellites in January 2010 and another in July, for a total of five, Beijing signaled that the country was making rapid strides toward an “independent” network of 35 satellites for global positioning, communications, and reconnaissance capabilities by 2020.
To check China and extend its military position globally, Washington is intent on building a new digital network of air and space robotics, advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and electronic surveillance. Military planners expect this integrated system to envelop the Earth in a cyber-grid capable of blinding entire armies on the battlefield or taking out a single terrorist in field or favela. By 2020, if all goes according to plan, the Pentagon will launch a three-tiered shield of space drones — reaching from stratosphere to exosphere, armed with agile missiles, linked by a resilient modular satellite system, and operated through total telescopic surveillance.
Last April, the Pentagon made history. It extended drone operations into the exosphere by quietly launching the X-37B unmanned space shuttle into a low orbit 255 miles above the planet. The X-37B is the first in a new generation of unmanned vehicles that will mark the full weaponization of space, creating an arena for future warfare unlike anything that has gone before.
World War III: Scenario 2025
The technology of space and cyberwarfare is so new and untested that even the most outlandish scenarios may soon be superseded by a reality still hard to conceive. If we simply employ the sort of scenarios that the Air Force itself used in its 2009 Future Capabilities Game, however, we can gain “a better understanding of how air, space and cyberspace overlap in warfare,” and so begin to imagine how the next world war might actually be fought.
It’s 11:59 p.m. on Thanksgiving Thursday in 2025. While cyber-shoppers pound the portals of Best Buy for deep discounts on the latest home electronics from China, U.S. Air Force technicians at the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) on Maui choke on their coffee as their panoramic screens suddenly blip to black. Thousands of miles away at the U.S. CyberCommand’s operations center in Texas, cyberwarriors soon detect malicious binaries that, though fired anonymously, show the distinctive digital fingerprints of China’s People’s Liberation Army.
The first overt strike is one nobody predicted. Chinese “malware” seizes control of the robotics aboard an unmanned solar-powered U.S. “Vulture” drone as it flies at 70,000 feet over the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan. It suddenly fires all the rocket pods beneath its enormous 400-foot wingspan, sending dozens of lethal missiles plunging harmlessly into the Yellow Sea, effectively disarming this formidable weapon.
Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike. Confident that its F-6 “Fractionated, Free-Flying” satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to the flotilla of X-37B space drones orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, ordering them to launch their “Triple Terminator” missiles at China’s 35 satellites. Zero response. In near panic, the Air Force launches its Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle into an arc 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and then, just 20 minutes later, sends the computer codes to fire missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby orbits. The launch codes are suddenly inoperative.
As the Chinese virus spreads uncontrollably through the F-6 satellite architecture, while those second-rate U.S. supercomputers fail to crack the malware’s devilishly complex code, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of U.S. ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised. Carrier fleets begin steaming in circles in the mid-Pacific. Fighter squadrons are grounded. Reaper drones fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. Suddenly, the United States loses what the U.S. Air Force has long called “the ultimate high ground”: space. Within hours, the military power that had dominated the globe for nearly a century has been defeated in World War III without a single human casualty.
A New World Order?
Even if future events prove duller than these four scenarios suggest, every significant trend points toward a far more striking decline in American global power by 2025 than anything Washington now seems to be envisioning.
As allies worldwide begin to realign their policies to take cognizance of rising Asian powers, the cost of maintaining 800 or more overseas military bases will simply become unsustainable, finally forcing a staged withdrawal on a still-unwilling Washington. With both the U.S. and China in a race to weaponize space and cyberspace, tensions between the two powers are bound to rise, making military conflict by 2025 at least feasible, if hardly guaranteed.
Complicating matters even more, the economic, military, and technological trends outlined above will not operate in tidy isolation. As happened to European empires after World War II, such negative forces will undoubtedly prove synergistic. They will combine in thoroughly unexpected ways, create crises for which Americans are remarkably unprepared, and threaten to spin the economy into a sudden downward spiral, consigning this country to a generation or more of economic misery.
As U.S. power recedes, the past offers a spectrum of possibilities for a future world order. At one end of this spectrum, the rise of a new global superpower, however unlikely, cannot be ruled out. Yet both China and Russia evince self-referential cultures, recondite non-roman scripts, regional defense strategies, and underdeveloped legal systems, denying them key instruments for global dominion. At the moment then, no single superpower seems to be on the horizon likely to succeed the U.S.
In a dark, dystopian version of our global future, a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral forces like NATO, and an international financial elite could conceivably forge a single, possibly unstable, supra-national nexus that would make it no longer meaningful to speak of national empires at all. While denationalized corporations and multinational elites would assumedly rule such a world from secure urban enclaves, the multitudes would be relegated to urban and rural wastelands.
In “Planet of Slums,” Mike Davis offers at least a partial vision of such a world from the bottom up. He argues that the billion people already packed into fetid favela-style slums worldwide (rising to two billion by 2030) will make “the ‘feral, failed cities’ of the Third World… the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century.” As darkness settles over some future super-favela, “the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression” as “hornet-like helicopter gun-ships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts… Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions.”
At a midpoint on the spectrum of possible futures, a new global oligopoly might emerge between 2020 and 2040, with rising powers China, Russia, India, and Brazil collaborating with receding powers like Britain, Germany, Japan, and the United States to enforce an ad hoc global dominion, akin to the loose alliance of European empires that ruled half of humanity circa 1900.
Another possibility: the rise of regional hegemons in a return to something reminiscent of the international system that operated before modern empires took shape. In this neo-Westphalian world order, with its endless vistas of micro-violence and unchecked exploitation, each hegemon would dominate its immediate region — Brasilia in South America, Washington in North America, Pretoria in southern Africa, and so on. Space, cyberspace, and the maritime deeps, removed from the control of the former planetary “policeman,” the United States, might even become a new global commons, controlled through an expanded U.N. Security Council or some ad hoc body.
All of these scenarios extrapolate existing trends into the future on the assumption that Americans, blinded by the arrogance of decades of historically unparalleled power, cannot or will not take steps to manage the unchecked erosion of their global position.
If America’s decline is in fact on a 22-year trajectory from 2003 to 2025, then we have already frittered away most of the first decade of that decline with wars that distracted us from long-term problems and, like water tossed onto desert sands, wasted trillions of desperately needed dollars.
If only 15 years remain, the odds of frittering them all away still remain high. Congress and the president are now in gridlock; the American system is flooded with corporate money meant to jam up the works; and there is little suggestion that any issues of significance, including our wars, our bloated national security state, our starved education system, and our antiquated energy supplies, will be addressed with sufficient seriousness to assure the sort of soft landing that might maximize our country’s role and prosperity in a changing world.
Europe’s empires are gone and America’s imperium is going. It seems increasingly doubtful that the United States will have anything like Britain’s success in shaping a succeeding world order that protects its interests, preserves its prosperity, and bears the imprint of its best values.