Donald Trump wants to leave an organization that has molded much of the world into the image of American capitalism, the WTO. He is repeatedly telling his advisers that this organization's policies and free trade in general has not benefited his country. “I don’t know why we’re in it," Trump says again and again, "The WTO is designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States.”
Of course, none of this is true. International institutions like the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank (the last two of which formed, with the US Treasury, what is called the Washington Consensus) supported, reinforced, and expanded the American Empire. To attack them is to attack nothing but the foundations of an economic order that, after the 1970s, and the closing of the gold window, the Nixon Shock, transformed the US into what the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis describes as a Global Minotaur. This is the beast at the heart of the transnational maze. All economic systems (or national economies) lead to it. It consumes the world's surplus capital, and transforms it into debt that is again bought and stored by the world's elite. This system has, one, made borrowing cheap for US consumers, and, two, detached the global elite from their national economies, and ultimately tied them to the elite in the US. Even Africa's elite sends its surpluses to the Global Minotaur.
Trump is now pulling the plug on a number of these institution and policies, which, if they all collapsed, would plunge the global economy into a new chaos and end an empire that emerged from the ruins of World War II. It seems that an empire with a military that costs over $600 billion annually and a GDP that's larger, $19 Trillion, than two continents—South America and Africa—combined, is being undone by a pee tape. With the British Empire, its undoing was two successive world wars and massive economic crash.
As we experience the decline of the American Empire, it's a very good time to listen to a lecture that describes the rise and fall of the empire that it replaced, the British Empire.
British-born historian Patrick N. Allitt offers no less than 108 lectures about the British Empire. Each lecture is 30 minutes long and covers some aspect or defining development of an empire that began in 1783 and did not survive Dunkirk in 1939. Allitt, who has a very dark sense of humor, organized the lectures (which were recorded by the Teaching Company) into three sections (or courses), each with 36 lectures. The first is The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, the second (and my favorite) is Victorian Britain, and the third covers The Industrial Revolution.
Five months ago, I spent a month listening to every lecture in this series while walking to work or to the grocery store. I found that immersing my mind in a world whose key figures (Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and so on) and key events (the death of the Corn Laws, the Indian Rebellion, the Crimean War, the Boer War, and so on) Allitt vividly describes (he is a great storyteller but rather weak analyst), complemented, in a soothing way, the decline happening before my eyes, the decline of my own empire, which I entered by way of Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia—one of the British Empire's brief nights after its long twilight) at the moment the US initiated its neoliberal, globalized, and post-Bretton Woods stage.
Because we are all thinking about the American Empire, and Trump, and civilizational collapse, starting next Friday, July 6, I will begin presenting my notes on each lecture in Allitt's series on Slog every Friday. This project—which will begin with the first lecture, "The Sun Never Set," in the first course, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire—will take about two years to complete. By the time I reach the end of the story of that previous empire, in 2020, our own should be over.
If you want to be a part of this project and contribute comments and notes to my notes, you can download Allitt's courses on Audible. Let's do this.