Do We Need a New Vision that Will Better Fit the Reduced Global Level of American Power and Influence?
If our government’s financial resources are strained to the point where the government periodically faces a possible shutdown, the government needs to change our priorities! The first step is for the US to give up its role of being the global policeman. This means reviewing the military defense budget that accounts for 54% of all federal discretionary spending. According to the Peter G Peterson Foundation, the US spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined. This awareness has prompted President Donald Trump to insist that other allies and nations share more of the defense burden.
According to Ron Paul, the US military "is in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world." This made sense during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was trying to bring every country into its camp and US and Soviet conflict could take place anywhere in the world. Today the US needs far fewer than 900 bases in 130 countries. Wars will be fought in the future in new ways, including robots instead of soldiers, drones in the sky, and artificial intelligence centers in the US setting the foreign bombing targets.
Some US military leaders have been complaining about excessive increases in defense expenditures. The US Navy did not ask for more anti-aircraft carriers but Congress decided that the US Navy should have more carriers. The US has more nuclear weapons and produces more munitions and military equipment that it needs for itself and to sell abroad. The cruel fact is that Congress had authorized military manufacturing sites in all 50 states. Each member of Congress can claim a good record of bringing more jobs into his or her state. Once these facilities are established, they have to be fed with continuous orders coming from our allies abroad. The U.S. economy depends on being run as a military/industrial complex; President Eisenhower did his best to warn against this.
The solution is clear. Let us stop being the world’s policeman. Let us cut down on our production of guns and munitions. Take the same money out of defense and put the money into fixing our deteriorated infrastructure, and fixing our inadequate health and public education system, and improving the living level of our poor and low-income families. This amounts to repeating “Let’s Make America Great Again” but giving it an entirely new meaning, not just more jobs but better lives for more people.
What should America’s foreign policy be after it reduces its overly broad presence around the world? The answer is to focus on improving the lives of the one billion people living in the Americas. The Americas comprise the continents of North and South America, usually thought of as the Earth’s Western Hemisphere or the New World. People living in the Americas share Christianity and much of Western European background and ideas. The Americas contain must wealth and the US can gain much by pushing Inter-Americas trade further. The US should maintain a second focus on Europe hoping to increase trade between European and Americas’ nations. Europe is the cultural homeland of America and should be viewed now as its second homeland.
As for the rest of the world – the Asian Pacific, Russia, China, the Middle East, and Africa – the US needs to carry on normal trade relations. US brands hopefully will continue their strength in most other nations.
This scenario, of the US deciding to get out of global policing, and reallocating its budget from defense to improving the American economy, and focusing foreign development mostly on the other Americas, and secondarily in Europe – constitute an alternative vision of where the US should put its values and future energy.
Can We Restore a Liberal Vision for America?
As an alternative, we can try to recapture and reinstate America’s global role prior to Trump but with some new awareness and discipline. We played too big and costly a role in defending the rest of the world and now we must get our allies to share more of the defense costs. If we succeed, our defense budget can be cut and the government can use the money to make a better life for more Americans.
The US would continue to promote democracy and human rights around the world. It would continue to be a melting pot of different cultures and applaud diversity and its benefits. It would work closely with the United Nations, the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union and other major world organizations.
Is There an Alternative Libertarian Vision for the US?
The Duke University historian Nancy MacLean recently published a scholarly study called Democracy in Chains. Her thesis describes a 60 year-old radical right’s stealth plot to change the character of America’s Democracy. It starts with James Buchanan who won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Economic Science. Buchanan had been a student in the University of Chicago’s economics program. He entered as a “Libertarian socialist” but after taking a course with U of C’s famous professor Frank Knight, Buchanan converted into a “free market” economist. Buchanan believed that all people, including elected government officials, operate out of self-interest. When political candidates run for election, they will promise many things to get elected. And they will promise more to keep elected. The result is that government grows bigger, deficits increase, and taxes increase to prevent further deficits. Meanwhile taxes are seen by the wealthy class as confiscating their wealth so that government officials decide, not wealth owners, what to do with their money.
Buchanan’s work was later noticed by the wealthy rightest Koch brothers who then chose to finance the cause of keeping government small and taxes low. Democracy in Chains documents the 60 year history to turn our democracy into a libertarian paradise where freedom reigns for the rich, income inequality continues to grow, and the income and social needs of average citizens remain at low levels. This Libertarian vision has already been sold to Trump’s followers, and many elected officials in the Republican Party. One only has to note that in recent years, President George W Bush and now Paul Ryan have tried to dismantle our Medicare and Social Security programs.
Where do we Stand?
Our democracy today stands at a crossroad. We have already abandoned one vision that we should return to a country welcoming the world’s poor. There are four other visions to consider. We cannot just apply Yogi Berra’s quip, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Consider the following four competing visions:
1. “Make America Great Again” with its emphasis on creating jobs, dealing toughly with other countries, building a Wall to keep out Mexicans and using immigration law to keep out Muslims and other “undesirables” who come from “shit-hole” poor countries. Get our allies to share more of the defense cost burden. Cancel or drastically revise badly made past agreements such as NAFTA, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Welcome mostly wealthy or well-educated people into our country.
2. Stop playing the role of the world’s policeman and cut the number of our military bases and countries, lower our defense budget and use the money to improve our infrastructure, health care system, public education system, and social benefits and programs that benefit poor and low income citizens. Turn our focus away from world affairs and focus on improving trade, conditions and wealth in the Americas, with a secondary focus on the well-being of European countries.
3. Restore the Liberal role that America has traditionally played in the world of promoting democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. The US needs to support the aims of major global institutions such as the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and European Union.
4. Move the country’s values toward a Libertarian model of small government, low deficits and taxes, and the full freedom of individuals and families to make their own financial decisions rather than leave so many decisions in the hands of the government.
Which fork in the road do we take? It is really too early to choose. Each vision needs further refinement not only about its underlying beliefs, values and preferences but also for the implications on how different groups will fare under each system. The need now is to encourage more informal and formal public discussions of these alternative visions. We need to encourage high level public debates about the advantages and disadvantages of each vision. We need our two political parties to debate the merits of different visions. Hopefully a major consensus will eventually emerge for one of these visions and rise to prominence and conviction.
(This is concluding part of a two part series)
Read the first part here…
(Dr Philip Kotler is the SC Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Chicago. He is hailed by Management Centre Europe as "the world's foremost expert on the strategic practice of marketing.")