By Shreya Deora
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
The general idea when it comes to Imperialism is that it has long been substituted by other forms of economic systems. The classic example of Imperialist dominance is the British control over various colonies around the globe, specifically India. But instead of the Marxist ideology of more efficient and superior systems replacing the old ones, we still find traces of Imperialism mixed with the hyper globalization and capitalism phase that the world is currently in. In the modern day world, imperialism may not occur with the tell tale signs of a heavily stationed foreign army, but is still in place by means of economic, financial and cultural hegemony; with a showcase of a strong military force. The United States of America is one such modern day imperialist.
It’s no secret that the United States has a strong and extensive military, with its military budget exceeding that of the next fifteen countries combined. The American- led wars in Vietnam, Korea, Iran, and Afghanistan were not a response to any real direct threat; but rather have been to subdue other nations to its desires. There have been wars for ‘defence of its interests’ rather than ‘defence’ itself.
Unites States was not drawn into the inter-imperialist rivalry that sparked World War I. In the end, US emerged as a loan creditor to Britain and France, as it exported capital to such states to help them finance their wars. Instead of being the war ally it eventually bled out their finances for the repayment of the loans. This saw the flow of capital from around the world to one increasingly powerful country.
The Nixon administration further played a very strong political move by abandoning the Bretton Woods and fixed exchange system, daring the world to run on the dollar. Nixon calculated that the dollar hegemony was too big to fail and true to his prediction, the rest of the world followed. This also set the opportunities for the United States to take advantage of the crisis that followed currency speculation across markets, enabling them to penetrate countries with IMF and its conditional emergency loans.
With the US’s depleting control over the oil network reserves, it comes as no surprise that the US focuses heavily on Iran which has the world’s second largest oil and gas reserves. Similarly, behind the wars in central Africa over the mineral resources stood mining companies, transnational corporations and their nation states. Whatever is not directly related to strategic resources pertains to the ideas of free trade, open economies, deregulation and privatization which the US is trying to impose on countries through the IMF, World Bank, EU and NAFTA.
The US transnational companies are allowed to exploit the economies of poorer nations with the help of its structural adjustment programs, imposed in return for a forgone debt. Such programs only worsen the crisis in these countries leaving the people with catastrophic consequences. This was pioneered during the Mexican currency crisis of 1982. With its emergency bailout plan, IMF coerced Mexico into implementing neoliberal programs which just lead to further deprivation in the country. The effect was destroyed lives and communities in Mexico and an improving US economy where the consumption of the urban middle class was subsidized by the impoverishment of the Mexican labor.
Cultural imperialism, the promotion and imposition of a culture, usually of politically powerful nations is also a heavy trait of the US. It is not currently the only cultural imperialist. But today, as a global economic and political super power, the spread of American values in the entire world is leading to the spread of Western goods and consumerist culture. But this is effectively leading to the destruction of local markets and cultures, which is eroding any sense of cultural diversity in this constantly converging culturally hegemonic society. But this is not limited to just the influx of Western products and services but also Western ideas of freedom, free trade, democracy, etc. which they uses to reestablish their role as a political power. Thomas Friedman correctly pointed this out when he said that the McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas.
And as Imperialism usually does, it is again creating a wide economic gap, not just around the world but within America itself. The ‘corporatization of America’ is shifting decision making powers from the government to private firms. It is making the top income earners rich at the cost of lower middle class and the poorer citizens becoming even poorer. Because of the shift in power from the government to the private sector, which is now funding and financing these government policies, the voices of the needy are crushed under the façade of globalization, benefits of financial capital and trickle-down economics.
And all this is being reinforced as trade ministers, senators and the corporate executives continue to follow the neoliberal ‘reforms’ and ideas behind closed doors, keeping the public unaware. The serious concerns of the masses are not taken into account.
Media coverage plays an essential role here. The idea of the ‘American growth’ of development, of the ‘beauty of consumerism’ as a process that actually benefits the consumers by giving them more choices and lower prices is hyped by the media. The suffering and the negative impact of America’s globalization strategies on its very own citizens is hardly brought up in the public discourse. And this does not end with just America. With its strong hold on foreign markets, such suffering is becoming universal.
Therefore, globalization today still has strong traits of imperialism which can be witnessed in the form of great economic, military and political influence in the modern era. All one needs to do to witness this is, is to trail the flow of money, gold and guns. What remains to be seen though, is how long this American hegemony lasts in the global economy. After all, every bubble bursts.
Shreya is a graduate in B.A. Economic Honors from Kamala Nehru College, Delhi University. She is an avid debater and a passionate reader. She proclaims to be completely tune deaf, while being a jazz, blues and alternative music fan with equal conviction. She hopes to study Economics further and is particularly interested in Behavioral Economics, Micro Economics and International Economics. She plans to take a year off just to travel, hopefully without being constantly motion sick.