Self-Interest and the Economics of Empire

The US empire, like all those before it, can only continue its reign with, at the very least, the implicit consent of its subjects. Serious challenges to US foreign policy would thus cease to be “off-limits” in mainstream political discourse if more Americans explicitly rejected the war machine.

The problem is that most Americans aren’t fundamentally opposed to the wars. Even as a majority of our fellow citizens disapprove of the War in Afghanistan, the withdrawal argument is usually based on cost-benefit analysis, bereft of deep moral import. The demand for a real antiwar movement and peace candidates is far and few between.

This ankle-deep opposition amounts to implicit consent to an endless war machine. While this is not acceptable, it is perhaps more understandable when one realizes how few Americans are bearing the cost of the wars. When only about 1% of Americans serve in the military, politicians can easily reduce war to a distant, romantic abstraction, even in the eyes of skeptical citizens.

Americans aren’t shoving war into the back-burner of their mind because they’re callous, but because they’re human. Everyone cares about themselves and their loved ones more than strangers. It is not that the average American mother doesn’t care when she hears on the evening news about American soldiers killed by IEDs, but there can be no doubt that she cares more about her son’s failure to make the 6th grade honor roll.

The only good news for the antiwar movement  is that Americans may soon be acquiring a vested interest in peace, even if their loved ones aren’t in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the bright spot of the coming economic crisis; our supposedly “benevolent” empire which wraps itself around the flag and so-called “public good,” will prove economically harmful to average citizens.

If Europe’s current economic woes have taught us anything, it’s that big government spending and deficits, whether for welfare or warfare, aren’t sustainable. The EU would undoubtedly like to spend its way out of the current crisis, but realize they couldn’t withstand the resultant inflation and debt, given current deficits and a devalued euro.

Likewise, the US empire’s deficit grows at an accelerating rate, even in April, when the budget is typically balanced. while it may be able to pressure weaker, dependent states into buying – and thus solidifying – its dollar, this too is rapidly coming to an end.

Therein lies the vested interest of the average American:  The empire’s spending is unsustainable, and can only continue to be funded at the expense of the average person. When this dichotomy becomes more apparent and costly to regular Americans, then we will have the populist peace movement we desire.

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