Krassimir Petrov, PhD. 4 Apr 2007. The Proposed Iranian oil bourse will accelerate the fall of the US Empire. The Guardian.
A nation-state taxes its own citizens, while an empire taxes other nation-states. The history of empires, from Greek and Roman, to Ottoman and British, teaches that the economic foundation of every single empire is the taxation of other nations. The imperial ability to tax has always rested on a better and stronger economy, and as a consequence, a better and stronger military.
Historically, taxing the subject state has been in various forms — usually gold and silver, where those were considered money, but also slaves, soldiers, crops, cattle, or other agricultural and natural resources, whatever economic goods the empire demanded and the subject-state could deliver.
For the first time in history, in the twentieth century, America was able to tax the world indirectly, through inflation. It did not enforce the direct payment of taxes like all of its predecessor empires did, but distributed instead its own fiat currency, the US dollar.
Here is how it worked. Early in the 20th century, the US economy began to dominate the world economy. The US dollar was tied to gold, so that the value of the dollar neither increased, nor decreased, but remained the same amount of gold. The Great Depression, with its preceding inflation from 1921 to 1929 and its subsequent ballooning government deficits, substantially increased the amount of currency in circulation, and thus rendered the backing of US dollars by gold impossible.
The dollar and gold
This led Roosevelt to decouple the dollar from gold in 1932. Up to this point, the US may have well dominated the world economy, but from an economic point of view, it was not an empire. The fixed value of the dollar did not allow the Americans to extract economic benefits from other countries by supplying them with dollars convertible to gold.
Economically, the American Empire was born with Bretton Woods in 1945. The US dollar was not fully convertible to gold, but was made convertible to gold only to foreign governments. This established the dollar as the reserve currency of the world. It was possible, because during WWII, the United States had supplied its allies with provisions, demanding gold as payment, thus accumulating a significant portion of the world’s gold.
In the 1960s, the guns-and-butter policy was an imperial one. The dollar supply was relentlessly increased to finance Vietnam and LBJ’s Great Society. Most of those dollars were handed over to foreigners in exchange for economic goods, without the prospect of buying them back at the same value. The increase in dollar holdings of foreigners via persistent US trade deficits was tantamount to a tax — the classical inflation tax that a country imposes on its own citizens. But this time around [it was] an inflation tax that the US imposed on the rest of the world.
When in 1970-1971 foreigners demanded payment for their dollars in gold the US Government defaulted on its payment on August 15, 1971. While the popular spin told the story of “severing the link between the dollar and gold”, in reality the denial to pay back in gold was an act of bankruptcy by the US Government. Essentially, the US declared itself an Empire. It had extracted an enormous amount of economic goods from the rest of the world, with no intention or ability to return those goods, and the world was powerless to respond — the world was taxed and it could not do anything about it.
From that point on, to sustain the American Empire and to continue to tax the rest of the world, the United States had to force the world to continue to accept ever-depreciating dollars in exchange for economic goods and to have the world hold more and more of those depreciating dollars. It had to give the world an economic reason to hold them, and that reason was oil.
Dollars for oil
In 1971, as it became clearer and clearer that the U.S Government would not be able to buy back its dollars in gold, it made in 1972-73 an iron-clad arrangement with Saudi Arabia to support the power of the House of Saud in exchange for accepting only US dollars for its oil. The rest of OPEC was to follow suit and also accept only dollars. Because the world had to buy oil from the Arab oil countries, it had the reason to hold dollars as payment for oil. Because the world needed ever increasing quantities of oil at ever increasing oil prices, the world’s demand for dollars could only increase.
The economic essence of this arrangement was that the dollar was now backed by oil. As long as that was the case, the world had to accumulate increasing amounts of dollars, because they needed those dollars to buy oil. As long as the dollar was the only acceptable payment for oil, its dominance in the world was assured, and the American Empire could continue to tax the rest of the world.
If, for any reason, the dollar lost its oil backing, the American Empire would cease to exist. Thus, Imperial survival dictated that oil be sold only for dollars. If someone demanded a different payment, he had to be convinced, either by political pressure or military means, to change his mind.
The man that actually did demand Euros for his oil was Saddam Hussein in 2000. At first, his demand was met with ridicule, later with neglect, but as it became clearer that he meant business, political pressure was exerted to change his mind. When other countries, like Iran, wanted payment in other currencies, most notably Euros and Yen, the danger to the dollar was clear and punitive action was in order.
Bush’s Shock-and-Awe in Iraq was not about Saddam’s nuclear capabilities, about defending human rights, about spreading democracy, or even about seizing oil fields; it was about defending the dollar, therefore, the American Empire. It was about setting an example that anyone who demanded payment in currencies other than US dollars would be likewise punished.
Economically speaking, in order for an empire to initiate and conduct a war, its benefits must outweigh its military and social costs. Benefits from Iraqi oil fields are hardly worth the long-term, military cost. Instead, Bush must have gone into Iraq to defend his Empire. Two months after the United States invaded Iraq, the Oil for Food Program was terminated, the Iraqi Euro accounts were switched back to dollars, and oil was sold once again only for US dollars. No longer could the world buy oil from Iraq with Euro. Global dollar supremacy was once again restored. Bush descended victoriously from a fighter jet and declared the mission accomplished — he had successfully defended the US dollar, and thus, the American Empire.