More Forecasts – Part Two:
July 17, 2006
Forecast #3: the death of the US Constitution.
The Constitution was originally designed to specify the duties for each of America’s three branches and to limit their powers. Its ability to do the latter function has faded rapidly since the New Deal. Already most of the Bill of Rights remain de jure in force but are de facto void, as can be seen by a Lexis search of successful attempts to use them in litigation – you’ll find almost none.
At some point soon the Constitution will become a purely procedural document, much like that of the former Soviet Union, and equally effective at preserving our liberties. Our rights will exist only on the sufferance of our government and our ruling elites. This is already true in the UK, as the “unwritten constitution” protecting the “rights of Englishmen” has blown away like smoke in the wind.
One can see our future in the fracas over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Judicial outrage over the Bush administration bypassing of the Court of Review cannot result from concern over our civil liberties. The Court of Review apparently seldom if ever denied requests for government action. The Supremes’ horror is understandable, however, as this cut the judiciary out from a role in the rapidly expanding national security apparatus – an obvious violation of the balance of power among the three Branches.
Roman history shows how recognition of these things lags behind the facts. Generations passed before people recognized that the Republic was truly dead. America has violated the initial conditions the founders considered necessary for a republic.
We have traded liberty for promises of equality, security, and prosperity. The cost is our Constitution. Everything has a price.
The predominate reaction of the Romans to the death of the Republic was resignation, as seen in the popular philosophies of the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity.
How will Americans react when they realize that the Constitution has died?
Forecast #4: bankruptcy.
Perhaps only a crisis will catalyze America’s transition to a new form of government. There is no lack of candidates.
The last stone in the foundation of America’s greatness was laid by Alexander Hamilton, who as Secretary of the Treasury published the Report on the Public Credit in January 1790. He argued that America should – unlike most nations – pay its war debts. With the support of Washington, opposed by Jefferson and Madison, it was enacted through one of the great compromises that distinguish early American history.
Now we owe trillions to foreigners and plan to borrow trillions more – scurrilously – as we have neither the ability nor intention of paying back these loans. Worse, childishly, we hope our creditors will never demand repayment.
Look at our domestic balance sheet. Most American households have few savings – many lack even a 60-day emergency fund – and massive debts. The aggregate totals (so loved by economists) conceal this by including both Bill Gates and thousands of unemployed auto workers. It’s not an irrational way to see things, if Gates will donate money to pay off their debts and fund their retraining for well-paying jobs at Microsoft.
Our international balance sheet is equally frightening. Our massive foreign debts, accumulating at over $2 billion per day, spell the likely end of the US Dollar as the world’s reserve currency – and the end of the post-WWII economic regime and America’s role as the world’s hegemon. Without the unlimited ability to borrow in our own currency, America’s current economic condition becomes impossible to sustain.
This is, of course, old news. We’ve heard these warnings for many years.
The list of agencies, experts and high officials who have warned us could fill many pages. I need not do so, as I believe we all at some level know we are on a course of near-certain self-destruction. A few references will suffice.
Since September 2003 David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, has acted as a modern Paul Revere. He’s crossed the nation giving extraordinarily blunt speeches warning of the fiscal catastrophe looming ahead. Didn’t you see the front-page stories about this?
Here are two of his recent presentations:
Here is another wake-up call – you must have seen the special TV new bulletins when this was published!
Perhaps the Fed’s reputation for obfuscation is not deserved. Note the opening of the article’s abstract:
Have you ever wondered at the total debt of US Government? Treasury Secretary O'Neil did, and asked some experts to compute the answer. Surprisingly, Bush fired him shortly afterwards. Our total liability was $44 trillion. Then. It’s much larger now, of course.
Not to bore my readers with so many dire warnings, but here are more from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and the International Monetary Fund.
We cannot say that we were not warned.
This precarious load of debt can totter and fall at even a small disturbance.
The already high deficits of the federal government, during the peak of the up phase – the large number of two-worker, high debt, no savings households – and many other factors make our economy far more vulnerable than at any time since WWII. Anything that destabilizes our economy could spark foreclosures and bankruptcies at levels not seen since the 1930s.
For what will have traded our greatness, our very solvency?
We’ll have spent billions on weapons, welfare, and granite countertops. Only the debts will remain.
Forecast #5: the next cycle begins.
This coming crisis might test America more than anything in our past, including the Revolutionary and Civil wars. This forecast says that America will lose both what defines it and what we hold most dear: our Constitution, our wealth, and our role as global hegemon.
Al-Qa'ida, Iran, Russia, and others prepare for a larger role in the New World Order.
This transition is like a singularity in astrophysics, a point where the rules breakdown – and beyond which we cannot see.
It’s a commonplace event in history. Consider 1942 Russia. Ruled by a madman. Their government having betrayed the hopes of the revolution, killed tens of millions, and reduced the nation to poverty. Many of their generals dead, their armies in full retreat, vast areas under the control of ruthless invader.
The mark of a great people is to carry on when all is lost, including hope. We can learn much from the Russian people, and their experience in such frightful times.
I doubt we will fall so far into such peril. But our situation might be far more complex, with no clear enemy to unify us.
Our wealth is just hardware, an inheritance from past generations. What we lose we can work to replace.
Our Constitution is just an idea, inherited from the founders. We created it, and the failure of the first version just gives us experience to do better with the second.
Our culture is a collection of discordant ideas, despised (perhaps rightly in some respects) by much of the world – an easily understood disgust to anyone watching certain of our TV shows and movies, or listening to some of our popular music.
The people are America. We are strong because of our ability to act together, to produce and follow leaders. We are strong due to our openness to other cultures and ability to assimilate their best aspects. We are strong due to our ability to adapt to new circumstances, to roll with defeat and carry on.
We will be what we want to be. The coming years will reveal what that is.
About the series of articles “Lessons on Grand Strategy – and the Fate of America”
There are few comprehensive proposals for a Grand Strategy for America in the Revolution in Military Affairs or 4th Generation War literature. This series presents an alternative to Barnett's "Pax America" vision. It is based on, and in a sense starts from, William Lind’s “Strategic Defense Initiative” originally published in The American Conservative, November 22, 2004.
The current article is an intermission in this series, based on the parts 1 – 3 and foreshadowing the next few chapters.
Link to Lind’s article: http://d-n-i.net/lind/lind_strategic_defense.htm
Watch DNI for the new few chapters proposing A Grand Strategy for America.
The US is weak in several vital dimensions. From this it follows that a strategy focused on defense is best, so we can conserve our strength and rebuild while we adapt to a this new era.
Who was Fabius Maximus?
Fabius Maximus was the Roman leader who saved Rome from Hannibal by recognizing its weakness, the need to conserve and regenerate. He turned from the easy path of macho “boldness” to the long, difficult path of rebuilding Rome’s strength and greatness. His life holds profound lessons for 21st Century America.
Qualifications of the Author? Read Fabius Maximus’ other articles.
A work of intellectual analysis stands on its own logic, supported by the author’s track record.