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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Global Supremacy: playing hot potato with W. 

George Soros likens America's foreign policy to a bubble in the financial markets in this month's Atlantic. Quoting from the September 2002 National Security Strategy, one contemporary worldview understands that there is "a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise." But Soros argues that there is no "single sustainable model" and further that the model of the United States cannot be duplicated because it is contingent upon our occupying a dominant position with the global capitalist system -- a position we will not willingly yield. His broader point is that the distance between the former worldview and reality creates distortions in our international attitudes and actions. The net result is a decrease of national and collective security. A distinction is drawn between leadership and supremacy.

It's worth wondering, I think, about the cost of this type of supremacy. As an example, our own agricultural subsidies are a huge expenditure -- a price we seem willing to pay in order to continue to force to the economic margins agricultural producers in developing countries. The likelihood is that this sort of marginalization has additional costs associated with it. For example, impoverished cotton farmers in Peru or Pakistan are more likely to pursue activities which will cost us militarily -- perhaps entering narco-trafficking or Al Queda. In that sense saving the farm subsidy money would forward the additional goal of creating sustainable economic conditions in developing countries as well as reduce the provoked national defense spending of antagonistic policies. Faith in markets would dictate that this savings would then spur investment in ways that are currently stymied by our unfortunate terrorist and/or supremacist debt. Our lose-lose might turn to win-win and this would surely be a good thing if we care about global security, not to mention human dignity.

The analogy to a financial bubble is the following: when expectations and actions take leave of reality, the impending correction can be a crushing bust or a soft landing. In this case, choosing the soft landing would entail recasting our worldview of national vindication enough to allow other states to access the fruits of comparative economic advantage. But to be clear: this is in our interest anyhow. On the other hand the bust will occur if, in continually refusing to yield specific dominance (as with farm subsidy), we marginalize other global actors into desperation rather than galvanize them into cooperation and participation.

-- Geoffrey
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