Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Director of Chatham House from 2001 to 2006, has argued in an interview with Geopolitics & Empire that the United States is an empire, but that it is an empire in retreat.

In the interview with Hrvoje Moric, Prof. Bulmer-Thomas argued that right from the start of the American Republic, the founding fathers and many of the earliest officials viewed the new republic as an empire right from its very founding.

Hitchcock … talks about a kind of nirvana, a kind of period in which the Founding Fathers were dominant, in which this was a pure republic without any imperial overtones. Well obviously I don’t agree with that, because in my view, right from the start, this was an imperial project, and the founding fathers without exception were very free with the word ’empire’ in describing what it was that they were trying to build.

After World War II, the United States switched from employing a programme of territorial control to one of financial control, one that depended on control of institutions at a global and regional level. Today, however, Prof. Bulmer-Thomas sees the United States as an empire in retreat, characterised by a declining share of global GDP and an extreme degree of economic inequality; and this retreat should be attributed largely to internal rather than external factors.

The fruits of growth have gone to a very small proportion of the US population. That has created a sense of resentment, and I think one of the most important things in discussing empires, not just the US Empire, is that they really only work if the citizens feel they are benefiting, even if the subjects are not. […]

If you take the case of the multinationals, I make the point that whereas the US Empire was never more than semiglobal – at no point, even at the height of its powers, was it a global empire; it was never more than semiglobal, and now, arguably, it’s not even that – whereas the multinationals have become global, and for them the whole world is their oyster, and they have to operate in virtually all countries of the world, and so they can no longer align their interests so closely with the US state, because basically they’re seeing the world differently.

The US state is clinging on to power in a shrinking part of the globe, if you like. The multinationals, the most important ones, are seeing the world more and more in global terms, and that I think will remain the case regardless of what happens in terms of this dispute between China and the US.

There is nothing positive about multinational corporations being able to operate in a moral and legal vacuum. If nation-states truly care about BEPS, they need to increasingly pursue audit for taxation purposes of MNCs’ entire global activity.

You can watch the full interview below:

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