Empire Trap

by Bob Reuschlein, bobreuschlein@gmail.com

The life cycle of an empire follows definite paths and points of demarcation. In the beginning low military spending accelerates the rise and high military spending guarantees the eventual end. The turning point is based on the allure of power, domination, and control, the empire trap.

The Rise

Rome started with a part time farmer army, perhaps like a bowling league today, not inhibiting homeland production. They were located on a peninsula, Italy, so seas protected them from outsiders, as was later the case for Britain, America, and Japan. Britain, safely off the continent, could be more innovative and less defensive, hence beating the French costly and heavily armored knights with very low cost bows and arrows in the 1215 battle of Agincourt. America had a whole continent to itself with no major powers around to force it to waste resources on defense. Yankee ingenuity resulted in a steady rise up to World War Two. Japan was off the continent, allowing them to resist the Mongol hoards. But their real development happened after WWII, forced to demilitarize under the American occupation. In 2000 their per capita economy (GDP) was 24% higher than America.

The Turning Point

Rome adopted the emperor system and an increasingly expensive professional military at the same time, with the Senate voting to give powers to the first emperor. The watershed for America was World War Two. Before WWII America had a 1% military GDP and during the Cold War an 8% average military GDP. Japan had a 7% military GDP in the thirties and 1% after the war until now. Eisenhower encouraged retaining military production after the war, Truman and the Secretary of State supported him and against the wishes of the War Department and the chiefs of staff, America abandoned the historically successful pattern of low military spending between wars. They had caught the empire disease from Churchill and Britain.

The Fall

At the time of the Janasaries of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople an average soldier was paid sixteen times what a soldier in Britain earned at the same time. The emperor would advise his successor to “always pay the military well” to keep their loyalty. In America this had lead to a 1%/year linear rise in the gap between defense contractor pay and similar private sector jobs since 1942. The gap rose to 26% by 1968, 38% by 1981 and 41% by 1984. In Britain, the highest military spender in Western Europe between wars during the twentieth century, has dramatically dropped from 10% of the world economy in 1900 to 4% in 2000.
Various comparisons of America, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Japan in the seventies, eighties, and nineties show that murder and crime rates are 99.6% exactly proportional to long term average military spending rates. Those countries are listed in rank order from high military/murder to low military/murder. The ratio of America to Japan is six to one. Social decay matches economic decay. A forward looking manufacturing innovative achievement society with lots of engineers and equality, becomes a sideways looking service defensive control and power-oriented society of lawyers, lords and serfs. Income inequality returns to medieval levels, another period of militarism and stagnation.

Spirit Level Addenda

Thanks to data published in the 2009UK-2010US book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, we see an interesting pattern. That book presents graphs to support their case that income inequality is tied to many health and social problems. They create a nine factor health and social problems index that correlates about 88% with either military spending or income inequality. However, when you compare military spending correlations with income inequality correlations for these nine factors side by side, there is about a 3% difference in favor of military spending as the strongest overall. When you drop the three weakest correlations, where neither factor has any robust correlations and look at only the top six where military spending has six 75% or better correlations and income inequality has only three that strong, military spending has a 13% lead with an average correlation of 82% to the income inequality average of 69%. Clearly, among the most relevant correlations, military spending has the stronger explaining power for: prisoners (85 to 66); teen births (82 to 74); homicides (80 to 57); mental illness (79 to 74); and for obesity (75 to 52). Overall, for military spending, the strongest factors are the economic ones, followed by the health and social problems, followed by the environmental factors. The economic relationships with military spending are very strong indicating that all these relationships most probably begin with the economic relationship. Incidently, the correlation between the military spending and income inequality is a robust .765