Our Imperialist Heritage

Caveat: This is a rant. I had to get it out of my system. Nothing very constructive here, I’m afraid.
Probably the biggest lie that we in the affluent nations tell ourselves is that those in the world’s struggling nations have the power, in their own hands, to establish traditions of constitutional liberalism, democracy and free market capitalism and hence join the ranks of the world’s affluent nations. It’s a variation of the same lie we tell the poor and powerless in our own countries — that they can accomplish anything if they work hard at it, and that their economic suffering is something they should be personally ashamed of, rather than angry about.

Imperialism is defined as “a policy of extending control or authority over foreign entities as a means of acquisition and/or maintenance of empires”. In practice it is as old as civilization, and has prevailed intermittently throughout most of the world since civilization began. Its basis is inequality of wealth and power, and the use of that wealth and power to amass more and to subjugate those who lack it. It is a form of continuous economic warfare, often accompanied by political warfare. We have been waging this war for a very long time.

I watched a documentary the other day that showed the front lines of this war. Two African boys, brothers age 10 and 12, described the life they live as mine workers. Six days a week, fourteen hours a day, they work with pickaxes breaking up rock and sifting it for tiny pieces of copper. Then they spend hours immersed waist-deep in toxic sludge sluicing the sediment to extract the ore. At the end of the day they are paid, not by the hour, but by how much copper their work has produced. On a good day they make enough to buy food from the mine’s store to feed their starving family. Most days they do not, and they walk home to tell their family the bad news and fall asleep, exhausted, until dawn starts another workday.

The mine is owned, through a convoluted series of numbered companies, by a huge Western mining conglomerate traded on the NYSE, whose executives earn salaries and bonuses in the millions of dollars per year. The copper the boys’ slave labour produces may well end up in the jewelery you are wearing, or in the computer equipment that allows you to read this.

The reality is that much of the area of the world’s struggling nations is an environmental holocaust: Horrific overpopulation relative to the carrying capacity of the land, soils depleted to baked clay and desert from overuse and misuse, toxic waste of every imaginable type, most of it the product of unconscionable and irresponsible practices by Western-owned corporations and massive, unregulated dumpsites for Western chemical and technological garbage, water degraded to the point it is undrinkable, corrosive and cancerous, air fouled by exhaust and dust-storms, forests razed for crops totally unsuited for the soils left behind.

These environmental atrocities were exported from our affluent nations. We discovered that the most ‘economical’ way to deal with environmental regulations and the pollution and waste from our industries was not to clean it up, but to shift it to struggling nations, away from the eyes of our own regulators and voters. We bribed the political and economic elite of these nations to take our poisons and to exploit their own people as slaves for our industries. We bought up all their best land — farmland and mineral-rich land — at fire-sale prices before the poor, ignorant and desperate owners had any idea of its economic value, and then milked it for all it was worth. All of the food and minerals were harvested to feed our needs, not those of the natives, who could not afford them anyway on what they were earning. Instead, we sold them our Western foods, government subsidized to the extent of $300 billion per year (paid for by taxes from our workers) — unhealthy, overpriced, overprocessed crap like (irony of ironies) baby-formula, the one product they need least of all. We sold them our Western drugs for the diseases that our pollution and waste had given them, and then shrugged when these drugs were unaffordable and ended up in black-markets making even more money for the corrupt local elites — elites that we had mostly installed in power because they allowed us to continue our imperialist exploitation.

And of course we sold them our Western weapons, trillions of dollars worth, vital to keep the peasants and dissidents suppressed. Despite this, there was opposition. We countered it by training ‘friendly’ governments how to subjugate, torture, terrorize and ‘disappear’ their opponents. We assassinated ‘unfriendly’ governments, and financed and organized their military overthrow.

We used the IMF and other international economic bodies to keep the ‘friendly’ governments in line. “You owe us billions for the armaments and other destructive and useless crap we’ve sold you, and if you dare cross us, or spend money on domestic infrastructure instead of buying more crap from us, we’ll call the loans and bankrupt you. Let us show you what happened to the last country this happened to…”

We used the WTO and GATT to institutionalize this theft and intimidation, bullying countries into signing ‘free trade’ agreements that prohibited governments from implementing or enforcing social or environmental regulations in their own countries if those regulations exceeded those of the most lax signatories.

We used the huge multinationals to globalize the race to the bottom, forcing suppliers in struggling nations to lower their prices for what they were selling to us every year, despite the increasing cost as the resources began to get exhausted, or lose the contract to some even more destitute country that would.

We did a lot more than this, but you get the idea. The end-result is the story of the two African boys, multiplied by a billion. The end-result is that the struggling nations of the world no more have their fate in their own hands than the victim of a mugging stabbed and left for dead in an alley is to blame for not healing himself.

Our affluent cities are not sustainable. They produce a tiny fraction of what they consume. While some of that deficiency comes from our own horrific factory farms, our own soil-exhausted and oil-dependent grain and fruit and vegetable farms, our own increasingly-depleted forests, our own reckless and environmentally disastrous mining ventures, much of that deficiency in our brave new globalized world is made up by the people of the struggling nations, staggering under the impact of our heartless and ruthless imperialism. Its cost is their suffering, their grinding poverty and malnutrition and disease, the horrific despoilment and ruination of their land, air, food and water, the creation of suicidal anger and resentment among their people. The copper on your wrist and in your PC is only a billionth of what our imperialist heritage has wrought.

Just one more unsustainable deficit, looming larger every year, that the next generation and the generation after that will have to repay. Empires never last. They become harder and harder to keep together as the spoils run out and as more and more new lands must be subjugated to keep the fatherland in the lifestyle to which the rulers have become accustomed. And when empires come apart the result is usually not pretty.

Despite all of this, and despite the fact that we work to ensure that the people of struggling nations will never be sufficiently educated to understand what we have done to them, there are growing signs, at least in Latin America and the Mideast, that the people won’t tolerate it much longer. The empire can’t even afford to provide its puppet regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq with sufficient infrastructure to quell the unrest of their people. That cost would be at least two trillion dollars, and it will never be paid. The vast majority of their people are hostile to our empire, and will inevitably be ruled by governments, good or bad, that are hostile to our empire. This is no ‘clash of civilizations’, it’s a global insurrection, starting with those who have the least left to lose.

The empire is stretched too thin, and the breaking point is near. The elites know this, which is why they are pillaging and hollowing out the corporate and government treasuries they control, hoarding everything they can before the collapse. According to the EPI, executive compensation in the US is running at 250-300 times average worker compensation, an unprecedented level.

I am reminded of an old (and newly relevant again) cartoon that shows three immense jowled General Motors executives at a meeting of disgruntled shareholders and employees. The executives are beaming withself-satisfaction. Each wears a big ‘GM’ badge. The first reads GM: Grievous Misconduct. The second reads GM: Gross Mismanagement. The third reads GM: Got Mine!

That might be an appropriate epitaph for the Empire.

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7 Responses to Our Imperialist Heritage

  1. Dirk says:


  2. David Parkinson says:

    Your rants are very good. Thanks for this one. I’m sure you take some flak for these occasional clearings-of-the-pipes (maybe from the internal censorship board), but I find that HTStW consistently strikes a really great balance between thoughtful, poignant writing and the occasional blurt of agony or anger or depair. I like it here because it’s closer to real, unfiltered human life. Sometimes, despite our best efforts to stay centred and upbeat, we crumple in the face of the world’s pain. The defeats are temporary ones, though, and we’re able to stand up again. Right??

  3. MatthewJ says:

    Thanks Dave,That was called for.

  4. You have precipitated my response by confirming one of my greatest suspiscions. Namely, that if you tore down all of civilisation today to a pre agricultural level but left intact all the knowledge and history acquired thus far, you would end up in exactly the same place as we are today in a very short space of time (could be a mathematical law here – Ivor’s law?). I have been struggling with this inevitability scenario for some time now and cannot see an answer to it. How do you combat the cycle of greed and envy (the powerful have power because they are greedy for it)?

  5. Chris the Improver says:

    While I agree with some of the criticisms expressed, I have to disagree with others.Less of the world is poor now that 20 years ago. This is a fact, borne out by many studies. Why? India, China, and many smaller nations got richer. Why? They opened their economies to less state control, and more free enterprise. Free as in Freedom. Other areas haven’t improved as much, but the fact remains: The People of The World Are Better Off. Less people starving, less people in horrible straights. Somehow this happened while multinationals and globalization were on the rise. Oh, but wait. Didn’t most new wealth in the world get created with the help of those evil forces? Hm….Copper boys do help feed their families. Some days not as much as they’d like, but not others. If the company wasn’t there providing that opportunity, maybe they’d just be starving. This is the distinction that seems rarely drawn: that these people chose to work under these conditions, because it’s an improvement over the alternatives they know. Who are we to tell them they can’t make that choice. In cases like these, it’s easy to blame the corporation, but if they weren’t present maybe they’d just be starving out of the public eye. Better? Not really.Overpopulation. The fault of Western society and globalization? No. More likely caused by cheap drugs like penicillin (supplied by the west) which dramatically reduced childhood mortalitiy, without matching local cultural and economic progress. Whose fault is it? Oops, bad question. Why does every bad thing need to lead to blame? Sometimes good intentions lead to bad results, so you work at it and you fix it.Soils depleted? Forests razed? Because of overpopulation.Diseases. Made by our pollution and waste? Some. The vast majority though are HIV, malaria, tubercolis, dysentary, and the like. Vast.Overpriced drugs. Why are they so expensive? Because drug companies are rapacious profit mongers? Nope. The FDA’s (and other governmental agencies) impose rules that mean drug companies need to spend $500 million to get ONE new drug approved for the market. All to keep us from having to make informed choices for ourselves. If the drug companies spent more than they made (e.g. no profit) they’d quickly go out of business and there any new drugs would go. You can argue that they should sell cheap to the poor, but inevitably those drugs will be rerouted back to the rich who should pay more (should they?), and this would destroy the economic basis of their company. It’s a hard problem. If it weren’t, then if for no other reason than good public relations these companies would have donated loads of low-incremental-cost drugs to poorer countries. In fact, in some cases they have.Subsidized food production. A good thing for those looking for cheaper food today. I agree it’s a bad thing, because it hurts the economies of poorer nations even more than ours. (Side note: ‘$300 billion, paid for by our own workers’. The majority of taxes are paid by the top 20% of income earners. Are these the ‘workers’ referred to? Somehow that use seemed to imply a downtrodden, squeezed-dry mass of peasantry…)”Oil-dependent grain and fruit and vegetable farms.” True, fuel is used for fertilizer, pesticides, and to fuel the machines of production. But this is only a few percent of the total use of oil in society. Oil prices going up isn’t going to affect food availability here.”Our own increasingly depleted forests.” Really? Actually in North America there’s much more forest now than earlier in the century. Why? We learned from our mistakes.”Affluent cities not sustainable.” It’s city-living that’s most energy and environmentally efficient. It uses far less space and energy than the equivalent number of people spread out in the countryside. Yes, they mostly don’t produce the raw materials that they use. But their people combining in a million glorious combinations (industries) are what turn those raw materials into wealth. Oh, and at ever-greater efficiency (energy and resource intensity per unit of GDP in western countries has been falling for a long time).”Suppliers forced to lower their prices for what they are selling every year.” Actually, commodity prices have sky-rocketed over the last 3 years, due to increased demand from rapidly growing economies like China and India. Prices aren’t ‘forced up’ and ‘forced down’. The multinationals might like to be able to do that, and even try, but they’re generally not successful. Really it just comes down to one company having a choice to buy from supplier A or B. If A has a lower price than B, then they buy from A, and the other way around. If A and B have more buyers at price X than they have product, and some are willing to pay more, then they sell to those willing to pay more. This is how prices go up and down. Pretty simple really, and what makes the world go round. People’s freedom to make the choice to do what’s best for themselves and those they care about. (This includes charity, by the way, which the people of America lead the world at, by a large margin.)Is environmental change critically important? Yes. Bad things will happen otherwise.Collapse? There’s two big reasons stated for a coming collapse. Peak Oil and Environmental degradation.The premise of Peak Oil is ridiculous. One part is that our economy will crash if it can’t get 1% more oil every year. True, it will slow its expansion, but amount of energy needed per unit GDP decreased 20% between 1990 and 2001. The economy will keep growing.The other Peak Oil premise is that we won’t find alternatives. Simply false. A huge flowering of alternative energy is happening, because of the attractive profits of high energy costs (see how freedom to chose results in growth?). These new options, along with improved efficiency, better energy storage, and hopefully some more clean, comparitively zero-polluting nuclear energy will fill that gap. Almost unfortunately, there are options like tar sands and coal-to-oil that at today’s oil prices very economically can produce oil for the next 200 years.Environmental degradation is the big threat. Global warming could shut down the gulf stream, cooling Europe by 10 degrees, and raise sea levels. The cause, CO2, is acidifying the oceans, which could have massive consequences.Some say the solution is to beat up on corporations because they’re the big evil. I say freedom, including economic freedom, is the source of nearly all innovation and wealth in this world.CO2 is the biggest issue, but I believe the solution, while difficult, is simple.Step 1. Together decide that anyone who releases a ton of CO2 is responsible to capture and store an equivalent amount (maybe a little bit more).Step 2. Create a worldwide open market for carbon sequestration. (e.g. I buy a candle, and get charged 1 pound of carbon, which I must offset. Through an internet market, I pay a farmer in Namibia to grow and permanently sequester a pound of hemp.)This would have to be phased in. It would probably be expensive at the beginning, but innovation would occur to drive the prices down, especially if you open up the opportunity to every farmer and company in the world. Governments would need to do just two things: track those whole release CO2, and ensure that those selling carbon sequestration are actually doing it.So, finally, does the world have problems? Yes. Are they the ones in the rant? In some cases, but in many cases not. What should we do about them? I argue give people freedom but hold them accountable.The world is not doomed, and there are many ways to “Save the World”.-Chris

  6. This is evident in current attitudes toward illegal immigrants in my country, where it amazes me that the very rich can convince the middle-income to poor that those even poorer are to blame for all our problems, and cost us too much money.

  7. Hello all,Now for the worst part of this horrendous equation.Bush, Cheney, and the NeoCons are Vatican operatives hell bent on impoverishing and indebting the USA. Looks like their plans have worked like a charm while the brain-dead American public remains deluded and addicted to money, religion, and politics. Who says you can’t fool most of the people, most of the time…Pay close attention, profundity knocks at the door, listen for the key. Be Aware! Scoffing causes blindness…Humanity has long been deceived and deluded into thinking that money is a positive means to manage life, societies and civilizations. Chapter 2 of Revelations from the Apocalypse, Volume 1: Here is Wisdom thoroughly exposes the foundational deceptions associated with the concept of money and how it is actually a severe hardship on every aspect of life and every endeavor that must bear the burden of its unnecessary overhead and resulting stifling complexity. Money severely impedes the quality of life, society, and civilization by spawning myriad horrendous side effects (poverty, crime, wars, pollution, waste, greed, stress, etc.) which are all traced directly to its presence, purposeful shortage, and imposed requirement.Here’s a real hot potato! Eat it up, digest it, and then feed it’s bones to the hungry…Money was conceived millennia ago by the priesthood of ancient Babylon to subvert the resources and energies of entire populations for the benefit of a rich and powerful few. Chapter 2 further pierces the ages-old smoke and mirrors surrounding the scourge of money, banking and credit (usury) by exposing their core logic and common denominator math. It exposes the purposeful and well-sculpted math and logic trap imposed upon humanity by the Vatican, its ancient predecessors, and their secret-society cohorts.It is abundantly clear that imposing money upon the entire world and then forcing people to participate in usury, pay taxes, compounding interest on national debts, and then to struggle their lives away for the sake of money, is extortion and great injustice on a grand scale. To cause suffering and despair for profit on such a grand scale can only be described as abominably evil. The time has finally arrived to demand a full accounting from the Papacy, Vatican, and all of their cohorts and chief supporters. They have no right to cause such overwhelming despair and suffering for millennia. They have no right to deceive practically everyone on such a grand scale. Why do our national leaders conspire with them and participate in such great evil while pretending to serve the Creator? Why do people still have blind faith in such obvious deceivers and their deceptions while they continue perpetrating such widespread and horrendous evil and abominations? The time has come to wake-up and prove to these duplicitous scoundrels that you are only temporary marks and dupes.Money: The Greatest Lie Ever Told

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