Empires come and go. Some, like Alexander's, last less than a generation. This, among history's lessons, is third in importance only to the consistency of human nature and the fact that the past actually never repeats itself. When George Santayana (1863-1952) said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," the subject is "Those," not history or "the past." History doesn't repeat itself; but--true enough--human beings often fail to learn from the stories of other people and other tribes, including those who have come before. Jonathan Marcus' six-part "Age of Empire" series on BBC World Service online is a must-read. In the final installment, Marcus wonders if debt will do in the American empire.
[Excerpt] But economist Will Hutton told me [Marcus] of what he calls "the dark underside of the United States economy" - the condition of its international accounts.
Put bluntly it owes the rest of the world $3trn dollars, and that is debt which is increasing by $500bn a year.
This is, I suppose, perfectly fine if the debt is a smart investment, if it is buying infrastructure and appreciable assets. But is it? What if it's buying all terribly short-term things?
The debt's also not an issue as long as no one comes collecting. A world divided between Communist-leaning and Capitalist-leaning prevented that. However,
Veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger told me [Marcus] that anti-Americanism was not new, but he said he was deeply troubled by the extent and intensity of the contemporary phenomenon. This, he feared, was leading to a decline in America's legitimacy.
Commentator Fareed Zakaria shared some of these concerns. His worry was that if things continue as they are, then America could end up being, as he put it, "not only the most powerful country in the world but also the most distrusted country in the world".
Are we, largely due to the Bush regime's unilateralism, at risk of uniting the rest of the world against us? I don't evoke here armed conflict, but economic conflict that forces America to a more equal status with a united Europe and other economic entities.
Here's some news. For the first time in history, the European Union has hit us with sanctions.