American economist Jeffrey Sachs is no stranger to Russia, having served as an advisor to the Yeltsin government as it attempted to transition to a market economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, the academic warns that the United States may follow the USSR’s path to ruin, if it doesn’t scale back its military adventures and spending.
In his latest piece for the Boston Globe, Sachs explained that for economists, “the single most important issue in allocating national resources is war versus peace, or as macroeconomists put it, ‘guns versus butter’.” Unfortunately, he suggested, “the United States is getting this choice profoundly wrong, squandering vast sums and undermining national security.” In fact, Sachs noted, “if our next president remains trapped in expensive Middle East wars, the budgetary costs alone could derail any hopes for solving our vast domestic problems.” And that’s not even mentioning Washington’s competition with Russia in Europe and China in the Pacific.
The US is not a classical empire, the economist suggested, since it does not directly control foreign territories; rather, the US stations forces in dozens of countries, and uses this power to influence “who governs” in these states.
Noting that the US is suffering from ‘imperial overreach’, Sachs pointed out that “the scale of US military operations is remarkable.” The Pentagon has access to nearly 5,000 military facilities, 662 of which are sprinkled across 36 foreign countries across the globe. That’s not counting the secret facilities belonging to US intelligence. The cost of this behemoth, including the wars the US is engaged in, adds up to about $900 billion a year. Ultimately, Sachs warned that he believes that like the Soviet Union, which “bankrupted itself through costly foreign adventures such as the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and its vast over-investment in the military,” the US today is similarly overstretched. “Today,” the economist noted, “the United States has similarly over-invested in the military, and could follow a similar path to decline if it continues the wars in the Middle East and invites an arms race with China.” In Sachs’ view, the US has a choice: continue its project to try to maintain unipolar hegemony, and face ruin, or put an end to its imperial ambitions, “invest[ing] in sustainable development at home and in partnership with the rest of the world.” Commenting on Sachs’ piece, and the suggestion that the US faces the prospect of a Soviet-style collapse, prominent Russian historian and political scientist Andrei Fursov said that he can sympathize with the economist, although his analysis is not entirely correct. “Jeffrey Sachs is wrong about one thing: The Soviet Union did not collapse because of the arms race, or due to economic problems of any sort, for that matter,” Fursov explained, speaking to the independent online newspaper Svobodnaya Pressa.