Prof Nouriel Roubini describes “The Decline of the American Empire”
The hot dots in economics today are, in my opinion, David Rosenberg and Nouriel Roubini. Roubini is a professor of economics at NYU, noted expert in international finance, and founder of RGE Monitor(a aggregator of economics and finance articles, invaluable for anyone in those fields).
His forecasts are grim reading (by comparison with my longer-term views, he is a pollyanna). For a brief on his forecasts, see this interview in the current New York Times Magazine (15 August 2008) – aptly titled “Dr. Doom“. With free registration, you can read his reports in full at RGE Monitor (and also many posts from this site).
In Roubini’s latest report he comments on a subject familiar to readers of this site: “The Decline of the American Empire“, posted at RGE Monitor, 13 August 2008. Here are some excerpts; I recommend reading it in full.
Recent economic, financial and geopolitical events suggest that the decline of the American Empire has started. After the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a brief period where the world switched from a bipolar balance of two superpowers to a unipolar world with one economic, financial, geostrategic superpower, or better, hyperpower, i.e the United States. But by now three factors suggest that the US has squandered its unipolar moment and that the decline of the American Empire – as the US was in effect a global empire – has started.
Let us explain how and why.
First, the US squandered its power by relying excessively on its hard military power in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan and in its unilateralist foreign policy – including economic issues such as global warming – rather than relying more on its soft power of diplomacy and multilateralist approaches to global policy issues.
Second, regardless of mistaken US policies the rise of other economic and financial powers – the rise of China, the recent resurgence of Russia, the process of economic and political integration in the European Union, the emergence of India, and the rise of other regional powers such as Brazil, South Africa and Iran – implies that the relative economic, financial and geopolitical power of the US will be reduced over time. We are indeed slowly moving towards a multipolar world where there will be a balance of Great Powers rather than the hegemony of a single hyperpower.
… Third, and more important, the US squandered its economic and financial power by running reckless economic policies, especially its twin fiscal and current account deficits. … The trouble with these twin deficits is multi-fold.
First, superpowers and empires – like the British Empire at its peak – tend to be net lenders – i.e run current account surpluses – and be net creditors, not net debtors; The decline of the British Empire started in World War II when the British fiscal deficits in the war and the current account deficits turned that empire into a net borrower and a net debtor both in its public debt and external debt. That financial switch into an external debtor and borrower position was also the reason for the decline of the British pound as the leading reserve currency. And the British twin deficits were being financed by a rising economic and financial power that was a net lender and a net creditor, the US.
Second, the last time the US was running large twin deficits in the 1980s the main financers of these deficits were the friends and allies of the US, i.e Japan, Germany and Europe as the US external deficit was against these economies. Today instead the economic powers financing the US twin deficits are the strategic rivals of the US – China and Russia – and unstable petro-states, i.e Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and other shaky petro-states. This system of vendor financing – with these US creditors providing both the goods being imported and the financing of such deficits – has led to a balance of financial terror: if these creditors were to pull the plug on the financing of the US twin deficits the dollar would collapse and US interest rates would go through the roof.
Third, while it is unlikely that China, Russia and other powers would suddenly pull the rug from under the US feet – as such action would lead to a sharp appreciation of their currency and negatively affect their export led growth model – relying excessively on the kindness of strangers – especially that of your strategic rivals – is extremely risky. Since almost 100 percent of all US fiscal deficits since 2001 have been financed by non-residents – as US residents net holdings of US Treasuries have been flat since 2001 – by now the total stock of US Treasuries held by non-residents is getting close to 60 percent. And the foreign financing of the US current account deficits has also become more risky: less FDI and equity, more debt, more short term debt, more debt held by official political actors – central banks and sovereign wealth funds – , less debt held by foreign private investors, and more debt held by politicals rivals rather than allies of the US. This change makes the US vulnerable to such rivals using the financial terror weapon – dumping US assets and or reduicing their financing of the US twin deficits – in situations of geostrategic tension.
Fourth, the foreign creditors of the US are getting tired of financing the US in the form of low-yielding US Treasuries. Thus the switch of such reserve holdings to SWFs that are planning to make large equity investments possibly with actual control of corporate firms and financial institutions that are desperate for capital to recapitalize themselves. … a country that needs to borrow from abroad 700 to 800 billion dollar a year to finance its external deficit cannot afford to be too choosy on the ways – equity rather than debt – that its lenders and creditors want to finance those deficits.
… The ensuing decline of the US dollar as the main reserve currency will take time and will not occur overnight; but it is inexorable given the relative fall in US economic, financial and geopolitical power.
… All these changes in the economic, financial, reserve currency and geopolitical role and relative power of the US will not occur overnight. But the trend is clear. The rise of the BRICs and other emerging market economies; the continuation of the process of economic and political integration in Europe; the US policy mistakes in economic, financial and foreign policies will steadily erode the power of the American Empire. This process will not be sudden and will take a couple of decades.
But the trend is clear: the brief period of unipolar power of the American hyperpower is now over and a new age of balance of great powers is starting in the world. Also, the rise of non governmental actors – multinational corporations, NGOs, terrorist groups, non-nation state powers, failed and unstable states, non-traditional global players – will radically change the traditional balance of power as the power of nation states will shrink relative to that of other global players.
Whether the decline of an hegemonic power providing global public goods – security, free trade, freer mobility of capital and people, inducements to free markets and democracy, better environment, peace – will lead to a more stable world with many powers multilaterally cooperating on these global economic, financial and geopolitical issues; or whether the absence of such stable hegemonic power will lead to a more unstable world characterized by conflicts – economic, political and even military – among traditional nation states, great powers and non-traditional actors is an open and difficult issue. But it is certain that the decline of the American Empire has started.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information about the end of the post-WWII economic regime
A brief note on the US Dollar. Is this like August 1914? (8 November 2007) — How the current situation is as unstable financially as was Europe geopolitically in early 1914.
The post-WWII geopolitical regime is dying. Chapter One (21 November 2007) — Why the current geopolitical order is unstable, describing the policy choices that brought us here.
We have been warned. Death of the post-WWII geopolitical regime, Chapter II (28 November 2007) — A long list of the warnings we have ignored, from individual experts and major financial institutions (links included).
Death of the post-WWII geopolitical regime, III – death by debt (8 January 2008) – Origins of the long economic expansion from 1982 to 2006; why the down cycle will be so severe.
Geopolitical implications of the current economic downturn (24 January 2008) – How will this recession end? With re-balancing of the global economy, so that the US goods and services are again competitive. No more trade deficit, and we can pay out debts.
- A happy ending to the current economic recession (12 February 2008) – The political actions which might end this downturn, and their long-term implications.
- What will America look like after this recession? (18 March 208) — More forecasts. The recession might change so many things, from the distribution of wealth within the US to the ranking of global powers.
The most important story in this week’s newspapers (22 May 2008) — How solvent is the US government? They report the facts to us every year.
To see the all posts on this subject, go to the archive for The End of the Post-WWII Geopolitical Regime.