Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Death of the American Empire.

I have often stated in the past that the US, which currently appropriates around 40% of the worlds natural resources every year (including oil), can't keep expecting to use that much.  We only have 5% of the world's population.  We are therefore only entitled to 5% of the world's natural resources.

Republicans, in particular, are having a great deal of difficulty grasping this concept, calling American lifestyle of excessive consumption "non-negotiable."  As this chart shows, however, not only is it negotiable, we are increasingly less able to outbid our competitors in developing nations from buying those resources.



The people in the exploited part of the world are starting to demand their fair share - and get it.  We, on the other hand, don't "get it."  The myth of progress is the founding philosophy of America - the future must always be better than the past.   It's a myth we need to get over, quickly, because now that we make nothing of significant value, have 50 million uninsured and 40+ million un-or-under-employed, we just don't have the assets or the money to bid against rapidly developing nations for oil or anything else for that matter.  And even if we did, the nations we have exploited in the past do not have to sell us their resources.  They can sell to whomever they please, and the countries harboring the transnational corporations that have been exploiting them may just not be on that list, regardless of how many devalued dollars they can bring to the table.  In the American idea of a "free market," an item always goes to the person with the most money.  Out here in real life land, people can and do refuse to sell or buy for reasons that are purely ideological, religious, or political.  Americans think money can buy anything.  American dollars, increasingly, cannot.

Going from using 40% of the world's resources to using only 5% or so represents an 80% reduction in our usage of resources.  Some might say that's an 80% reduction in our standard of living.  It's hard to argue with that logic, since American wages and benefits are being ground down slowly but surely to match those of our exploited "trade partners."  However, the chart above shows their wages and benefits are rising slightly as they begin to demand sufficient income to live in a "western" style.  So maybe we'll get lucky and only have to lower our standard of living 50% or so.

That means having 50% less gasoline, for starters.  When it was recently reported that the US became a net exporter of petroleum products, dumb Republicans acted as if this was a good thing.


As you can see, we have in fact increased our exports. Yeah?  Ummm, no.  Refining capacity has remained essentially unchanged since the 1960s and production of US crude oil went into terminal decline in the 1970s. Our population has increased by some 30 million annually, mostly due to immigration.  So we have more people but the same refining capacity.  In other words, our use of petroleum products should have gone up.  But it hasn't. 



Improvements in technology have barely increased production since the mid-2000s, as you can see.  Worse, increasing production from existing wells simply depletes them faster.  It doesn't make more oil actually appear.  But I digress.  As we saw above, use of oil in the US, Europe and Japan is declining.  In Europe and Japan it is declining due to development of high-speed rail and other advanced public transportation systems, integrated from individual neighborhoods all the way to cross-continent, in Europe's case, and a similar available-to-nearly-all approach has been taken in Japan.  But we KNOW that hasn't happened here in the US.

The ugly truth is that Americans are slowly but surely being priced out of the gasoline market.  The US increased exports not because we had more production capacity than ever but because we had fewer people than ever able to financially afford buy the petroleum products produced in our refineries, despite having increased population. 

Republicans also keep saying we need to return to "growth" - in fact, even some Democrats say that.  No one is saying the obvious.  There isn't going to be any growth in a country of diminishing ability to compete on the world market for natural resources (except for those we are taking by force at gunpoint).  There isn't going to be any growth in a country whose business is increasingly unwelcome in the nations we have been exploiting.  And there isn't going to be any growth in a country that can't outbid other nations for the resources we need to maintain our excessive consumption.  China has secured petroleum contracts for decades worth of future oil production.  Our current suppliers eye us with mistrust and a very public wish to rid themselves of us and our influence.  And as our standard of living continues to fall toward our third world competitors, there is simply no way ordinary families can keep up the excessive consumption that would be required for "growth" in our economy.  It just ain't gonna happen.

But we keep pretending things will go back to "normal" - refusing to understand that "normal" was anything but.  The old "normal" was predicated on us being able to exploit other nations and take far more than our fair share of everything.  That "normal" is never coming back, class.  Never.  Oh, sure, the US will no doubt embark on further resource wars, but it will be to no avail.  The only thing that will accomplish is to bankrupt our government and make US dollars more worthless faster.

The smart thing to do would be to start acknowledging that the whole myth of progress paradigm no longer functions in a world of resource depletion and start living within our means, personally and as a nation.  But that isn't going to happen, either.  It's clear from all the idiocy coming from our current crop of political candidates that no one is willing to face the truth, no matter how many charts and graphs, books and articles, blogs and coffee-table conversations are out here.  The people in the US are simply not interested in a 50% reduction in their excessive consumption way of life, and they'd rather collapse the economy than do it.  It's that simple.

This path only has one end - the death of the American empire, with possibly the death of the republic itself as an unavoidable side effect.  Greed and selfishness has killed America.  We're a dead man walking.  The only question now is when we will finally fall down.  The sad part is that this will be a good thing for the rest of the world.  With us no longer greedily sucking the life out of their exploited peoples, they will do much better.  And if we were a moral people, we would be ok with everyone having their fair share.  But we're not - even as more and more Americans fall into a lower and lower standard of living, Republicans are striving to make sure they stay there, with more lies about "progress" and "growth" and a return to "normal" right around the corner.  After all, the 1% has theirs, they vote Republican, and that's all that matters to them.  As for the rest of us, "let them eat cake."

Unfortunately, the cake is a lie.