« How Many People Can Long Island Support | Main | Fiction »

Military Spending In the Infinite Horizon

Dean Baker's joking around of course, but it's actually a sort of important point about military spending. The policy goal of indefinite American military hegemony is simply incompatible with the goal of continued growth in Chinese and Indian prosperity. A policy of trying to deliberately perpetuate the impoverishment of 3 billion human beings would be morally problematic, as well as pragmatically hard to pull off. Thus, no indefinite American military hegemony. That's not something we need to worry about over the next five years, but we really should be spending the next five (and ten, and fifteen) years on trying to make sure that the global system is on a trajectory such that we can continue to be comfortable with that trajectory once we are no longer hegemonic. The British had the good fortune to see their former hegemony replaced not by Nazi or Communist hegemony, but by a world system dominated by a reasonably friendly, culturally and politically similar power.

Ideally, it would be good if our hegemony could fade away over the next several decades into some kind of amicable, cooperative framework in which no one country will dominate. The alternative is going to be a fairly frightening revival of great power competition or some such thing. Or maybe not. Maybe China will collapse. Maybe India will return to its formerly dismal growth pattern. Maybe Europe and Japan will reverse course and stop their recent trends toward trying to play a bigger role in the world. Then we get to keep dominating, but the resulting situation would be worse in many, many ways than the alternative of widespread cooperation and prosperity.

January 6, 2005 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345160fd69e200d834577ee869e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Military Spending In the Infinite Horizon:

» Brain drain from Universal Acid
U.S. dominance in science relies, in a certain way, on suppressing the scientific infrastructure of other countries - for example, by the brain drain. (Much as U.S. military dominance relies indirectly on the relative poverty of most other countries,... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 7, 2005 6:41:02 PM

» The End of American Hegemony from The Colossus
Matt Yglesias speculates on the future . . . Ideally, it would be good if our hegemony could fade away over the next several decades into some kind of amicable, cooperative framework in which no one country will dominate. The alternative is going to be... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 8, 2005 1:27:10 PM

» Unsceptred Isle from Sick Transit
Money is power, and hence it follows, as Yglesias points out, that American military hegemony cannot continue if East Asia grows economically as we hope it will. In the comments, Green Dem also makes a good point: There is the question of taxation, a... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 8, 2005 3:06:45 PM

Comments

OT: Boxer rocks my world!!!

Posted by: MattB | Jan 6, 2005 5:00:17 PM

Ideally, it would be good if our hegemony could fade away over the next several decades into some kind of amicable, cooperative framework in which no one country will dominate.

Why not in the next few months? This is something that would be real easy to achieve if the US elites wanted it. So easy and so impossible.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 6, 2005 5:22:35 PM

Entitlements or empire - that's the choice.

Even putting aside the question of legitimacy, and the world's willingness or lack of willingess to accept American military hegemony, there is the question of taxation, and just how much Americans will bear to be the dominant power.

To date, it has been largely possible to have our cake and eat it too, even if for the last couple of decades that has meant no longer being a creditor nation, but a debtor nation.

In a few short years, 77 million baby boomers will begin to retire, and the projected shortfall for boomer entitlements is expected to be more than 70 trillion, with most of that (62 trillion) going to medicare. If I'm a broken record on this matter, it is only because the depth of denial in Washington, the press, and among the American people is so staggering, and quite frankly insane.

At some point in the not too distant future, America will need to both raise taxes to levels never before seen in American history, but also dramatically cut spending in one or both of the places that matter, which is to say the military and entitlements. The coming crisis is likely to be exacerbated by the coming demographic implosion (you can't go from a generation of 77 million in their middle age peak spending years to a generation of 30-some million in their peak spending years without serious negative consequences for consumer spending, equities, real estate, etc), and does anyone really believe that we in the younger generations will be willing to pay European levels of taxation for American levels of services?

Its one thing to dramatically raise our taxes, giving us universal health care, generous pensions, world class schools, etc, and its quite another thing to dramatically raise our taxes so that only the elderly have decent benefits, and to sustain the ridiculous boondoggle that is American foreign policy. One of these things has to give - and soon - and if I was a boomer I sure the hell would make it clear to my elected officials which of the two (entitlements or empire) I was willing to give up.

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 6, 2005 5:24:36 PM

Green Dem-
Where did you get your numbers? Without more data, they don't make sense. I believe you are saying that now there are 77 million peak earners (say, 30-60 year olds), but in the near future, they will be retirees and will be replaced by only 30 million peak earners.
But there are 290 million people in this country. For your numbers to make sense, there would have to be 190 million people 0-30 years old, and only 30 million 30-60 years old (the other 70 million are the retiring baby boomers).
Since I don't know what the actual numbers are (or what specific age range you are referring to as 'peak earners') I'm not claiming you are wrong-but I would like to know more about the distribution of age in the US population from which your argument comes.

Steve

OT: I assume you are referring to Boxer's challenge of the Ohio results. Since this is clearly irrational behavior on her part, I am wondering what is really going on. Perhaps the Democrats are engaged in a nonsensical challenge in order to weaken a future (legitimate) challenge by Republicans to the Washington Governor's election results?

Posted by: Steve | Jan 6, 2005 5:37:45 PM

"The policy goal of indefinite American military hegemony is simply incompatible with the goal of continued growth in Chinese and Indian prosperity."

Hmm. Counterexample. EU.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Jan 6, 2005 5:40:02 PM

In re international relations, far better to cooperate than to attempt dominance. Military spending is a waste if you use and a waste if you don't. In re the so oft misconstrued 'survival of the fittest' model, even in nature species are seldom foolish enough to waste time and energy fighting for dominance over another species.

Posted by: Ken Melvin | Jan 6, 2005 5:48:17 PM

"I assume you are referring to Boxer's challenge of the Ohio results. Since this is clearly irrational behavior on her part, I am wondering what is really going on."

Not irrational at all. She was properly bringing to light the fact the Republican leadership of Ohio sought to deliberately depress turnout in heavily Democratic precincts by creating multi-hour long lines.

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, voter suppression should be condemned.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 5:49:14 PM

Sebastien Holsclaw nails it. Matthew is simply wrong. He assumes that continued Chinese and Indian growth will have concomitant expansion of Chinese and Indian military power. As the EU example shows, this is not necessarily true.

Posted by: Al | Jan 6, 2005 6:11:00 PM

"Where did you get your numbers? Without more data, they don't make sense. I believe you are saying that now there are 77 million peak earners (say, 30-60 year olds), but in the near future, they will be retirees and will be replaced by only 30 million peak earners."

You're right about one thing, which is that the 30-some million should have been 40-some million, but that was a typo. Fundamentally it doesn't change much. There are 77 million baby boomers, born between the mid-ish 1940s and the early 1960s. That there was a precipitous drop in birth rates following the baby boom in the 1960s and 1970s - a baby bust, or generation x - is hardly secret knowledge. And while the generation that is coming of age now is considerably larger than generation x, one must bear in mind that the boomers will not be the only generation in retirement over the next couple of decades. A rather sizeable portion of the interwar generation is still and will continue to be alive and collecting entitlement benefits, and both they and the boomers will be living much longer than previous generations. Furthermore, the larger younger generation (born in the 1980s and 1990s) will not yet be in their peak earning years for some time to come.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/09/12/MNG2S8NOI21.DTL

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 6, 2005 6:12:45 PM

Yeah, because an EU composed of a bunch of countries exhausted by two world wars has so much in common with China and India-- rapidly growing nations which see themselves as rightfully being great powers.

Posted by: Hank Scorpio | Jan 6, 2005 6:19:34 PM

"Sebastien Holsclaw nails it. Matthew is simply wrong. He assumes that continued Chinese and Indian growth will have concomitant expansion of Chinese and Indian military power. As the EU example shows, this is not necessarily true."

The EU is not an effective counterweight to American hegemony because it is not a single, unified nation state but a collection of states with different agendas and a populace and leadership that is unwilling to cut entitlement benefits to pay for increased military spending. India and especially China are of course single nation states with clear ambitions to be major geopolitical players, and one suspects that even if the Chinese people in particular objected to their government spending a considerable portion of their tax dollars on the military they wouldn't particularly care.

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 6, 2005 6:19:57 PM

As the EU example shows, this is not necessarily true.

I think you need to read Matt's post again. If we are getting along with China, she will be less likely to build up her military. If we choose to swagger around, hanging it out like John Holmes, then we can expect a rival.

Posted by: def | Jan 6, 2005 6:23:16 PM

Entitlements or empire - that's the choice.

As long as empire is good for business it'll be the empire. They don't care about your entitlements.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 6, 2005 6:26:44 PM

For a simple and coherent explanation of what the coming demographic bust will do to consumer spending, equities, and the broader economy read this:

http://www.thegreatbustahead.com/pi_article_feb2004.pdf#search='consumer%20spending%20decline%20boomers%20retire'

The hard choices are coming, like it or not.

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 6, 2005 6:40:18 PM

"If we choose to swagger around, hanging it out like John Holmes"

Gonna have to watch the video of "Mission Accomplished" on the carrier again

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 6, 2005 7:23:31 PM

Speaking as an American whose parents came from the India, not everything is about America. India and China are going to build up their militaries as they become more prosperous because they have plenty of military concerns (not the least of which is each other, not to mention Pakistan and so on). To the extent that a military buildup means that they can also challenge US global hegemony that is a plus, I imagine, but I don't think it is an important part of their calculations.

I think the EU is not an accurate counterexample for two reasons:

1. During the cold war, the US took the lead in protecting them from external military threats (neither India nor China have such a protector).

2. Today, the carrot of EU membership is becoming increasing attractive and has turned into a security asset in its own right (which is an asset that India and China do not have).

Posted by: Ravi | Jan 6, 2005 7:33:49 PM

one suspects that even if the Chinese people in particular objected to their government spending a considerable portion of their tax dollars on the military they wouldn't particularly care.


You are assuming that the Chinese style of government stays static for the entire time period until China and India have grown sufficiently to challenge American hegemony. I doubt it. Heck, the Chinese have had three differnt types of governments in the last century alone. Who knows what type of government they'll have by the time they would have grown enough to challenge our hegemony.

Posted by: Al | Jan 6, 2005 7:37:59 PM

If we are getting along with China, she will be less likely to build up her military. If we choose to swagger around, hanging it out like John Holmes, then we can expect a rival.


We're swaggering around now and the EU isn't exactly trying to compete with our military might.

Posted by: Al | Jan 6, 2005 7:40:10 PM

"You are assuming that the Chinese style of government stays static for the entire time period until China and India have grown sufficiently to challenge American hegemony. I doubt it. Heck, the Chinese have had three differnt types of governments in the last century alone. Who knows what type of government they'll have by the time they would have grown enough to challenge our hegemony."

Actually, I don't assume that China will remain whatever it is today (some form of authoritarianism, I guess, that still speaks the language of marxism but looks more fascist than communist), or even that China will be a threat, only that she will eventually have a larger and equally or more advanced military capacity than America.

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 6, 2005 7:48:17 PM

Since there aren't any comments where you wrote the "Desperation" piece I'll comment here.

Desperation Watch

You know, there's a whole great big world of blogs with lots of good stuff in them that the top 20 bloggers on the left could use if they'd just for once pull their heads out of each other's ass and have a look around.

Posted by: Robert McClelland | Jan 6, 2005 7:54:38 PM

"We're swaggering around now and the EU isn't exactly trying to compete with our military might."

The real threat to American geo-strategic hegemony isn't the EU, whose schtick is to bitch and complain as much as possible about American foreign policy, but do little of substance to challenge or undermine it, because that would require actually investing in their militaries, which they're disinclined to do. But neither is the real threat China or some other potential emerging superpower. It seems doubtful that the 3rd infantry of the red army is going be landing on Zuma beach in Malibu anytime soon.

The real threat to American hegemony is economic. America can't afford her current domestic and foreign policy commitments, and when the coming demographic implosion takes consumer spending down with it (likely in the first half of the 20-teens) our Chinese banker friends are going to be a whole lot less inclined to keep buying up greenbacks (they do it out of self-interest, after all, because we keep buying their junk) and bankrolling our debt. That's when the proverbial you-know-what is going to hit the fan.

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 6, 2005 7:56:02 PM

Heck, the Chinese have had three differnt types of governments in the last century alone. Who knows what type of government they'll have by the time they would have grown enough to challenge our hegemony.

shorter Al = ignore the problem, hope it goes away

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Jan 6, 2005 7:57:18 PM

because an EU composed of a bunch of countries exhausted by two world wars

Do you know anything about Chinese history? Not only did the 20th Century in China see decades of civil war and conflict among the communists, the KMT and various warlords, but it also saw the Chinese fight with the Japanese, Indians, Vietnamese, as well as with us and the South Koreans. Not to mention tremendous upheaval during the Cultural Revolution, Great Leap Forward, etc.

If anyone deserves to be exhausted, it is the Chinese.

Posted by: Al | Jan 6, 2005 8:01:00 PM

No screwyrabbit, Shorter Al = out of all the problems in this country, worrying about China's challenging our hegemony rates about #1,583,903.

Posted by: Al | Jan 6, 2005 8:02:35 PM

No screwyrabbit, Shorter Al = out of all the problems in this country, worrying about China's challenging our hegemony rates about #1,583,903.

Watch it, they'll take away your Weekly Standard Neocon Club Card. And the decoder ring!

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Jan 6, 2005 8:07:01 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.