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We, mostly Americans but with much international collaboration, built this Empire out of immediate and temporary needs, some of them in service of public interests, some of them in service of vested private interests. For the good of the Republic, it is long past time to tear it down.

There's a really good, imaginative new novel out about the whole collapse of the American Empire idea by Gary Shteyngart: A Super Sad, True Love Story.

But I think we also have to ask whether although there are plenty of bad things about the American Empire, does that really add up to a reason to seek its undoing without first building the foundations for a better way of organizing the world? For example, I think it can be argued pretty well that globalization (or the latest term for the post-globalized world, "globality") is almost entirely dependent upon existing within a polity we derogatively call the American Empire. And therefore, without such a polity, or an immediate replacement for it, truly catastrophic things might happen without it.  I think we may see a drastic decrease in transnational relationships of all kinds -- from Internet communications, trade, investment, migration, knowledge sharing, extreme levels of urbanization etc. And to the extent that a large part of many, especially less developed countries', recent increases in economic prosperity and population may depend almost entirely upon the continuation of such relationships, a collapse of the American Empire at this time could cause tragedy on scales unheard of before. Maybe a billion people could die quickly if we take a back-of-the-envelope calculation that about a billion people today live at the Malthusian margin of life and death.  And almost none of them would likely be Americans or Europeans or Japanese.  

Political scientist Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in economics last year for her work showing that everything we do, and particularly life-supporting economic relationships of trade and individual exchanges, are dependent upon larger institutional infrastructures of rules, narratives, and the power involved in creating and maintaining such institutions.  The implication is that if you dismantle the institutions, you also might destroy the human relationships that the institutions allowed to prosper with possibly catastrophic consequences.  This argument challenges the basic neoclassical vision of society where human relationships are naturally existing first, and the rules are imposed afterward by governmental predators. Since we don't really believe the neoclassical vision of society here at ET, I think we should also be critical of arguments that assume that most of the good things we enjoy from a globalized world would be able to continue at all if the principal institutional sponsor of that world were to suddenly collapse.

by santiago on Mon Nov 22nd, 2010 at 01:47:40 PM EST

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