The Big Picture

Here is a pictorial, charts and graphs presentation by Harvard, London School of Economics and global gadfly Niall Ferguson on “sovereign default”, its causes and consequences.  Particularly noteworthy is the claim that a curtailment of “discretionary military spending” is one of the signs of an imminent default on sovereign obligations, along with the assertion that the burden of sovereign default will be felt most deeply by the “politically weak groups”.

Coming to a theater near you.

Though for some reason it seems like ancient history, it is not that long ago that the Soviet Union’s demise was signaled by what seemed at the time like an abrupt halt to a lot of its military operations, especially the Soviet Navy.  Navies are very expensive to run.

Yet the handwriting was on the wall for a long time, for anyone who was paying attention.  As early as 1964, Stanley Kubrick’s satire “Dr. Strangelove” featured a character, the Soviet ambassador to the US, complaining that his country was going broke competing with the US in the “arms race, the space race, and the peace race”, while the Russian people grumbled for “more nylons and washing machines”:

Empires are very hard to sustain.  An unintended consequence of masses of people surrendering to your will is that their own initiative is squelched.  Their more normal desire to contribute to the society they live in is undermined by the resentment of the subjugated; the conqueror’s attempts at largess and noblesse oblige fall flat.  First stagnation and then decay set in. It seems to happen faster in the modern era.  The suddenness of the Soviet collapse took the western establishment by surprise.

So while it may seem expedient and advantageous to bend others to your will, be careful what you wish for.  Things often do not turn out the way you plan.

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