The United States of America has changed a lot since World War II. Some changes were immediate, some changes took a generation or more to sink in. Military spending, my preferred empirical measure of empire, is the prime factor for almost all of these major changes in US society. All of my various models show that military spending has negligible or no benefit for the economy. It acts like lost capital investment, lost manufacturing, as the resources going into the military deplete civilian manufacturing elsewhere in America, especially depleting the Great Lakes industrial economy of the heartland. This last part is clearly shown by regional models. These economic changes then distort America in many ways, political, social, moral, sapping the energy and enthusiasm of all Americans as a whole. This is what I call the “social decay of empire.” It includes rising crime, rising income inequality, less social mobility, growing apathy, and rising anxiety and depression. Stagnation sets in economically first, then stagnation contributes to political gridlock over time. Fortunately empire decay is not inevitable, lowering military spending can reverse course. But many of the social time lags can persist generationally, even while economic growth changes annually.
The empire system is similar to two others: the medieval system and the third world system. All three systems are characterized by high military spending, high income inequality, and authoritarian power structures. The church and ideology gain strength in such systems while science and innovation suffer. Social mobility suffers as rigidity is favored in class based systems of power and opportunities. Crime, poor health, drugs, gambling, red tape and escapist entertainment rise under such systems, reflecting widespread alienation and apathy. Power and control are favored in such systems over achievement and individual merit.
Achievement is more evident than power as a prime motive of the emerging power of a challenger society. Left alone to develop or separated by large bodies of water, societies can grow more powerful and economically strong until they are ready to sneak up on the reigning hegemonic or empire society. Major wars of the 54 year cycle type are often between the number one economic power and the number two economic power. Note that the economic strength is usually more important than the military strength. Moving up the economic ladder of nations requires keeping the military low and minimal, a strategy that fits the “reduction of armies” clause in Alfred Nobel’s will as the second of three ways to earn a Nobel Peace Prize. This also fits the biblical verse of the Sermon on the Mount of “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth.” Aligning the motives of the powerful and the peacemakers is a great way to achieve world peace.
Engineering is important to an emerging society to meet its goals. Lawyering is important to the more stable empire society, because a slow growth society will naturally have more conflicts as boundaries are defined and defended. In the high growth society such boundary disputes look like a waste of time compared to pioneering the next great step forward. This leads to achievement, engineering, merit, and innovation being valued over power, control, position, and legal boundaries.
War is the easiest and quickest way to take away a large number of lives. The ultimate power is to take away another life. Valuing your friends over your enemies leads to a certain tolerance of civilian collateral damage in the process. This relative carelessness carries over into civilian life in an empire culture with a similar devaluing of “others” such as crime victims or other ethnic groups and genders. Alienation and separation from others makes crime more likely, just as economic stagnation makes some people more desperate. The fear based brain and the rational brain correspond to the power oriented and achievement oriented societies respectively. Violence crime and corruption are fellow travelers of the fear based brain empire societies. Doing whatever you can get away with under the law is a corruption of doing whatever is fair and best for everyone concerned. Thus it is no accident that the highest military spending per capita US states were the leaders in the corruption of mortgages that resulted in the Great Recession of 2008.
Economics is clearly the driving factor in empires, as changes in military spending change the economic growth rate in the same year. Great Recession data even suggests the military economic change shows up quarterly. The 1982 recession starts in July 1981 suggesting the anticipation of the fiscal year 1982 military buildup began then with congressional committee budget decisions essentially completed that month. Then defense contractors started hiring in July 1981 draining key talent away from civilian businesses to begin the recession as those civilian businesses start to collapse. On the other hand, crime rates dropping after the end of the Cold War in 1989-1991 suggest a five year delay between military spending changes and crime rate changes, suggesting that the formative years before age 18 are crucial to crime statistics. Elementary teachers can spot the at risk students immediately and criminal activity can begin before age 18, so maybe a 9 or 11 year moving average of military spending maybe better correlate with the crime changes. Likewise, crime does not move up immediately with the Iraq War bulge in US military spending. Still peaceful Germany lowers its crime rate about 20% relative to the US rate over than time period (2003-2011 inclusive) of the nine year US war. The end of Cold War military budget cuts were much deeper in Europe than in America dropping crime rates in Europe. Income inequality quadrupled in three decades and social mobility was made much worse over time after the 1981 Reagan tax cut dropped the top tax rate 60% (mainly affecting the top 1%) while only cutting the middle class tax rates 15%. The Yankee ingenuity confident America of its first two centuries seemed to dissipate after the Vietnam War while at the same time locking in the empire attitude with the two generation long Cold War. Trump shook up the international structure politically while preserving the empire economically with a military budget increase. Lowering the military budget after the Iraq War withdrawal in 2011 increased job growth for the last five Obama years. Trump’s military buildup stalled that job growth in 2017. Job growth in the last five Obama years was 25% higher than Trump’s first year, making that year 2017 the worst job growth of the last six years.
Findings and Special Claims over 33 years of military economy research:
Please cite this work as follows:
Reuschlein, Robert. (2018, August 14), “Militarism Distorts America”, Madison, WI: Real Economy Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.expertclick.com/NewsRelease/Militarism-Distorts-America,2018160716.aspx
Dr. Peace, Professor Robert Reuschlein, Real Economy Institute
Nominated Vetted for 2016, Given Odds for 2017 Nobel Peace Prize