Easter Island and the Arms Race
The story of the rise and fall
of the Easter Island civilization has mostly been deduced. You can read
Competition between rival tribes caused the islanders to ecologically
bankrupt their society. The race to build more and more statues used up
all the trees on the island which caused erosion and prevented the
islander from building boats for fishing or evacuation. An extreme case
of the Aberfan Effect.
Without the proper environment the population crashed and their
The world at large has been involved in a global rivalry for almost two
hundred years. It started with the rise of European nation-states and
the rise of colonialism in the 18th century and has now spread to Asia
and Africa and the Americas. Countries with limited resources squander
them purchasing expensive military equipment. The presence of this
capability induces belligerency in neighbors which leads to regional
and civil conflict. The developed countries sell or give arms to the
developing countries which provides the developed countries with a
source of revenue and a way to keep their arms industries occupied.
The US now spends more on military and police functions than the rest
of the world combined. The amount has been obscured as a part of the
federal budget by including as part of the overall budget items for
which the government is simply acting as an insurance company. The
largest of these are Social Security and Medicare. If these dedicated
funds are removed from the calculations (as they were before the
Vietnamese War) then military and police expenses account for about 50%
of all government programs. Our allies and competitors in the world
don't have this level of expenditure. As a consequence they are able to
devote a larger part of their public funds to infrastructure
development and social programs. In some places you get free medical
care, child care and college tuition. By not using up all the "trees"
these countries are becoming more productive, better educated and with
more modern manufacturing facilities.
Neglecting the infrastructure for international posturing will
eventually make the US fall behind. Our inefficiencies are currently
being hidden by a large balance of trade deficit as countries lend us
money to be used to buy their products. When these countries become
strong enough they will seek other markets and demand their loans back.
This will cause the US economy to deflate just like Easter Island.
We can invest in more "statues" (missiles and antimissiles, nuclear
weapons, boats and planes) or we can invest in improving our quality of
life and business competitiveness. All the major colonial powers
eventually overextended themselves and collapsed. Can we learn from the
past or are we destined to become another Easter Island?
Moral: A penny saved is a
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Copyright © 2004 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.