Jul

27

 We left off Sunday with a speculation about whether or not the Chinese would find collecting the rewards from their contractor imperialism as frustrating as the European nations did. But, as a long-suffering Mets fan reminded me after his team went down in extra innings against the Giants for the 3rd time in 4 days, shouldn't the question be whether military might can ever be sustained without the profits from foreign lending and direct investment?

It is worth considering.

In spite of the truly awful carnage of the Great War, none of the European imperial powers questioned the profitability of imperialism itself. The Versailles Treaty "failed" not because of German reparations but because half of the winners were excluded from what they considered their fair share of the spoils. Of the 6 Allied nations who fought against the German, Austrian and Ottoman Empires, 3 received no substantial rewards from the redrawing of the world's map in the name of ending all war: Italy, Japan and Russia. Their various responses to having been "badly cheated" are the preconditions without which no Second World War could have occurred. Whether empire was ever, in fact, going to be profitable for Italy, Japan, Russia or Germany is the perfect kind of question for academic debate. It ignores the central fact: no country after 1918 thought its currency could resume being freely exchanged in international trade and finance without having the rewards that came from imperial commerce.

I doubt very much that Donald Trump knows this history; yet he seems to have hit upon the policy that the British Empire used before World War I with great success. Even before his election, Donald Trump was asking why American imperialism had failed to achieve similar success. Since taking office, his one consistent foreign policy has been to have America's "allies" place more defense orders with U.S. manufacturers. In the industries that it chose to support - civilian and military shipbuilding, shipping and the finance that went with it - Britain was #1 for much more than a century. As late as 1914 a third of all world trade was carried on British ships, built in British yards and insured by Lloyds. Britain's naval construction program was an essential component of that system; it was, along with railroad construction, the base for British industry. For Britain the achievements of "free trade" were, in fact, the rewards of military dominance; and the "strength" (sic) of the pound sterling was Britain's ability to collect, by fair means and foul.


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