Thursday, October 09, 2008

More U.S.-Soviet parallels

Odd Arne Westad's magisterial The Global Cold War presents the case that the battle between the United States and the Soviet Union was between two competing forms of modernist universalism, that in many respects shared similar visions of development as an Enlightenment project of progress. Dmitry Orlov's equally (though very differently) excellent Reinventing Collapse takes the comparison between the two Cold War hegemons to its logical conclusion and argues that the collapse of the Soviet version of modernity, which happened because of the fundamental lack of rational capacity of its financial and political elites, was merely the first phase of the total collapse of modernity. Orlov argues that the United States too will collapse because of the fundamental lack of rational capacity of its financial and political elites. 

The parallels between the Soviet Union's condition in the 1980s and the United States today are indeed eerie: ranging from the utterly corrupt and competely unhinged-from-reality politics of the ruling party to a fruitless, endless war in Afghanistan. And I for one think that the U.S. may indeed be on the verge of an economic collapse on the same scale as the one the Soviet Union experienced in the 1990s, with a double digit contraction of the economy and a bout of hyperinflation that essentially immiserates everyone without fixed assets.

I was mindful of this uncomfortable parallel upon reading a post today from Sullivan, who argues that, "With the exception of America's superb armed forces... the US is now a banana republic." That exception that Andrew wants to make, though, reminds me of Helmut Schmidt's famous observation about the Soviet Union in the 1970s, namely that it was "Upper Volta with missiles." Is the U.S. now on the verge of becoming Burkina Faso with missilies? 

One thing is for sure: if the American economy does collapse, then our military might will inevitably collapse along with it. I hope someone at the Pentagon is thinking hard about what a 30, 50, or 90% reduction in their budget would mean in terms of their strategic ambitions.

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