|Print | Back||June 18, 2013|
The Dismal ScienceA Country's Greatness
by Adam Smith
I am currently almost done with reading William Manchester and Paul Reid’s three-volume biography on Winston Churchill titled The Last Lion. During Churchill’s life, the British Empire reached its zenith in terms of size and also was almost completely gone by the time he died in the 1960s.
The biography is fascinating because it not only follows the life of Churchill which is incredible (did you know that Churchill was also a major player in the first world war and was a semi-celebrity in England for his heroics in the Boer War), but you also get a feel for what caused the fall of the British Empire (I mean besides the Nazis and Japan).
As I have been reading the book, I contemplated the question, “What makes a nation become great/powerful?”
When people talk about what makes America great you can hear all different kinds of answers. A common answer is that the people, our diversity, and our “can do” attitude make America great.
Since this is a business and economic column you can guess what my answer is to the question, it is the country’s economy (derived from our freedoms).
The citizens in all great empires, and I include America in that group, gain a belief that the there is something special about their race, religion, or other grouping, that makes the country great. The English people thought that there was actually something inherently superior about being English.
The great thing about history is that it gives you clarity about some issues. There was never anything special about the English, Romans, Assyrians, Babylonians or Chinese people. They all had great spheres of influence, and each has fallen.
What they each had were great economies for their time. They were also were great at economic trade.
The Romans kept the sea lanes and overland routes open for trade. This trade, as it always does, caused the economy of the Roman Empire to expand. The expanded economy made the Romans rich and allowed them to spend more on their military. When the wealth was squandered and disease decimated its population, the Western part of the empire could no longer keep the trade routes open and the economy collapsed.
This pattern is followed again and again in the history of men, from the ancients until today. The old great empires had vast trading routes that extended far beyond their boundaries. This created wealth not only in the empire but in all the smaller countries or regions where they traded. A small decline in the empire for various reasons (stupid wars) and the trade routes become exploited by pirates and the trade stops and the economy collapses along with the empire.
The seeds of decline for the English Empire were already being sown prior to the great wars of the 20th century. Trade was being restricted by decree of Parliament. Churchill fought against this trend, knowing that restricting trade inflates prices and hurts the poor. England also was beginning to spend its wealth on social causes and not on its military because everyone knew that after the horrors of WWI nobody wanted war anymore. This continued through the 1930s as Hitler rose to power and assembled his massive army.
When war came to England, they were not ready. Between the German U-boats and the Japanese navy, the trade routes for England were gone and the economy collapsed as did the empire. Same story, just different millennia.
So what makes America great? We have a great economy. There has never been one like it. We have changed our attitude from very isolationist (prior to WWII) to reluctant protector of trade. We spend more on our military than almost everyone else in the world combined.
What can cause our fall? Pride. The Book of Mormon applies to nations and individuals. When we have increased our pride enough as a country to believe it is all about the people and not our freedoms (divinely inspired) and economy, we will be ripe for destruction.
The signs we are getting ripe for destruction will be easy to see. We will see our country following the path of all the other great empires that have fallen. We will reduce our spending on protecting trade routes to make sure the routes stay open, we will squander the vast wealth created by our empire and we will ignore rising threats from other nations. When the challenge then comes, we also will not be ready and trade will be interrupted.
When our trade routes are gone we will collapse. Think about all the goods you purchase made in other countries. The food, clothes, cars, the trinkets. Once the trade routes are gone, nothing will be left on the shelf from other countries in 60 days. How empty the stores will be.
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