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US To China and Brazil: Take Up the White Man's Burden

A lot of the world spends its time oscillating between the gleeful anticipation of American decline and the detailed analysis of those endlessly clever American plots that keep the inevitable, surely approaching decline at bay.  The rise of new powers like China and Brazil has been supporting the decline school of late, but sooner rather than later expect some analysts to identify a diabolically clever new American strategy: outsourcing empire.

Take, for example, Brazil as it experiences the growing pains of a regional power: Brazilian-led development projects in neighboring countries like Bolivia and Peru are encountering local resistance, protests by indigenous populations, and outright cancellation. The NYT reports:

Brazilian endeavors are being met with wariness in several countries. A proposal to build a road through Guyana’s jungles to its coast has stalled because of fears that Brazil could overwhelm its small neighbor with migration and trade.

In Argentina, officials suspended a large project by a Brazilian mining company, accusing it of failing to hire enough localsTension in Ecuador over a hydroelectric plant led to bitter legal battle, and protests by Asháninka Indians in Peru’s Amazon have put in doubt a Brazilian dam project.

But perhaps no Brazilian project in the region has stirred as much ire as the one here [Bolivia].

Financed by Brazil’s national development bank — a financial behemoth that dwarfs the lending of the World Bank and has become a principal means for Brazil to project its power across Latin America and beyond — the plan was to build a road through a remote Bolivian indigenous territory. But it provoked a slow-burning revolt; hundreds of indigenous protesters arrived here in October after a grueling two-month march that took them up the spine of the Andes, denouncing their onetime champion, President Evo Morales, for supporting it.

China is experiencing some of the same problems, most recently when the Myanmar government canceled Chinese-led construction on the Myitsone dam after the project encountered fierce local resistance.

The Brazilians themselves seem confused about all the hubbub. “We want Brazil to be surrounded by prosperous, stable countries,” said Marcel Biato, Brazil’s ambassador to Bolivia. Of course that’s what Brazil wants, and in principle that’s what neighboring countries want too. But foreign development projects involve more than good intentions and solid planning; inevitably, someone will want to cancel production on that dam or this road or that canal. Politics will get messy. Reputations will change. Development into a regional and global economic power does not come without challenges and drawbacks. Welcome to the big leagues.

Welcome to something else as well.  America’s prime interest is not the preservation of some kind of world power and resource monopoly.  If a Chinese company buys a Zambian copper mine or a Brazilian company gets a contract to develop hydroelectric power sources in Peru, this normally poses no problems for US foreign policy. In fact, if as I believe America’s primary interest is in the health of the international system of trade and investment overall, the increased roles for other countries in that system actually help us out.

The move of manufacturing into the developing world will, I think, ultimately look less like a collapse of the American economy than like a shift to a system in which America continues to enjoy the benefits of the liberal global economic system it has promoted for decades but shunts more and more of the costs onto the shoulders of other ‘stakeholders’ in the system.  As countries like China and Brazil become greater manufacturing powers, they need to develop and protect sources of raw material.  They make large investments in foreign mines, gas fields and transport networks.

In the past, the US would be making those investments — and getting itself into hot water with all the interests in various countries who did not like the consequences of the foreign presence.  Now China, Brazil and others are increasingly tangled up in these concerns while the US works on developing the post-industrial economy of the future.  On the one hand, this new order outsources many of the headaches of power; on the other, countries like China and Brazil are increasingly trapped, like it or not, into the roles of ‘responsible stakeholders’, whose power and influence is harnessed to the task of making the America-designed world system work.

As coffeehouse intellectuals and left wing graduate students ponder the evolution of the imperial system in what some of them are still calling “late capitalism”, the next dialectical twist of the argument will start to appear: the appearance of ‘decline’ was yet another crafty imperialist plot as the supernaturally clever Americans offload the costs of empire onto the shoulders of their compliant bourgeois stooges in China and Brazil.

Wait for it.

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  • Jeff77450

    Re. “A lot of the world spends its time oscillating between the gleeful anticipation of American decline and the detailed analysis of those endlessly clever American plots that keep the inevitable, surely approaching decline at bay.” This reminds me of a quote by some fairly well-known academic-type. He was talking about the “Pax Americana” and the world’s resentment of it. He said something to the effect of “they resent it even though they benefit from it, they’ll never help to pay for it and they’ll be sorry when it’s gone.” That’s not an exact quote by any means.

    It might’ve been said by George F. Kennan or George Marshall or Henry Kissenger, I’m not sure. I’ve searched for the quote without success. If anyone knows the exact quote and it’s source I’d be curious to know. Thanx.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Sounding more like Ron Paul all the time.

  • Kenny

    Ah, the white man’s burden.

    I fear Whitey is getting tired of carring it both internationally & domestically.

  • Kris

    If John hates you, it’s because of your notoriously bad character and abusive actions.
    If John hates me, it’s because you played on his shiftless nature and incited him against me.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Te he he, our nefarious Hamiltonian plan for world hegemonic domination and the uplifting of mankind is working, and all we had to do was let them think they were cheating us (you can’t con an honest man), by allowing them to manipulate their currencies through the purchase of US Treasuries. LOL, Stupid Mercantilists

  • don

    So true, you hit the nail on the head, and you didn’t even need a hammer.

  • Gene

    Future historians will (I hope) see the first half of the 21st century as the era when the world (both its governments and its people) finally grew up. Unfortunately we’re in for a lot of quite dangerous temper tantrums before those kids learn to take responsibility for themselves.

  • Dave

    The best part of this “new new world order” is that it keeps our white hands clean. If China or Brazil decides to exterminate a few tribes to secure mining rights, our brave college students will call for a boycott or occupy a park somewhere.

  • SomeSockPuppet

    I wish I could find some solace in this, but I’m reading Mark Steyn’s “After America” and reading Drudge today and all I can see is a nation going balls to the wall into oblivion.

    I’d love to think we’re that clever, but really? I think we’re fielding the elementary after-school chess club when we need Fischer and Kasparov.

  • notquiteunBuckley

    No no no. Mark Steyn told me America is about kaput.

    Dead Uncle Sam right on the cover of his book about After-Americanism and all the problems we have as Americans.



    No no no.

  • teapartydoc

    Fate still has some tricks up her sleeve that we have never seen and cannot possibly predict. Any prognostication we do now is with knowledge we will only have in hindsight and possibly not even then. We’ll see. Or not.

  • Some Sock Puppet


    I take Steyn with a grain of salt. He’s got some very astitue observations that I’ve had similar experiences with so I tend to think he’s accurate. It’s a depressing read, but that doesn’t mean I’m making it my roadmap to the future.

    I live in the people’s republic of NY and I assure you, cameras are going up by the dozens, rights are curtailed with no respect to the constitution, etc. Nanny bloomberg horrifies me.

    I’m paying more attention to China’s housing bubble, their huge surplus of males and their hypernationalistc mindset coupled with their historical greviences their ridiculous all-pervasive attempts to break into every system we have with no seeming answer.

    I’m watching Iran and Israel and the ridicuously ineffectual attempts to keep a nation that obviously doesn’t mind being annihilated as long as they get to claim they bloodied the US first.

    I’m paying attenion to this administrations refusal to do anything meaningful about our energy problem, our economy, and watching them strangle the country with regulations by unelected beuracrats and it’s treasonous spending sprees while ignoring the will of the people, along with Fast and Furious, Soylondra, et al.

    I’m paying attention to the unions and statists in our own borders that refuse to acknowledge that they’re part of the problem.

    I’m paying attention to a southern border and a culture that refuses to assimilate and uses violence and threats of it to keep us from doing anything effectual.

    It’s all relevant and needs to be addressed.

    That doesn’t mean I think we’re all about to bite the big one. This nation is too dynamic to keep down for long. As long as we get this government out of our way we can come roaring back.

    But that’s a massive undertaking and half the populace doesn’t study history.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding your comment, but if not, please don’t confuse my unease about our future with reading and agreeing with an author you think might be a little on the hysterical side with not being informed.

  • Jennifer Doherty

    Facinating Article.

    Belo Monte is only a small part of development-induced displacement in Amazon Region. The situation in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru is even worse. Bogumil Terminski estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement worldwide.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.
    This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

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