Monday, January 03, 2005

Imperial Overreach

Noted historian Niall Ferguson, author of Colossus: The Price of America's Empire, considers The United States to be an imperial power, albeit with its modern ability to project force anywhere in the world relieving it of the need to occupy foreign lands as did the empires of the past.

He notes that the word "imperialism" was created as a perjorative, but rejects the notion that empires only oppress and exploit, contending they often expand the realm of order, security and prosperity. But empires also fail and fall.

In an interview in Worth magazine (January issue, not online) the subject turns to imperial overreach....

Q.: Like Great Britain in the early 1900s, does the United States suffer from overstretch?

I do not think that is true. If one goes back to 1904, the British Empire governed roughly 25% of the world's land surface and population at a time when Great Britain's economy was significantly less than 10% of world total output.

Today the United States accounts for one-quarter to one-third of world output, but the territory it controls is relatively small. So I do not see much sign of imperial overstretch.

In fiscal terms, the United States is comfortably able to afford occasional interventions against rogue regimes and in failed states.

If there is going to be a problem of overstretch, it will come from America's ailing system of Medicare and Social Security as the baby boomer generation retires. It will be the rising cost of welfare, not warfare, that ultimately causes overstretch