How to Lose an Empire
America goes Ottoman shopping.
By Eamonn Fingleton
Here’s an economic history test:
1. Which Great Power pioneered the secular trend towards freer international trade?
2. Which Great Power first resorted to spiraling foreign indebtedness to pay for its wars?
3. Which Great Power first permitted large-scale foreign direct investment in its domestic industries and infrastructure?
If you guessed such latter-day globalizers as the United States or Britain, you flunked. The correct answer in each case is the Ottoman Empire.
During much of its existence of more than six centuries, the empire arguably ranked as the world’s top power, but this did not stop its eventual collapse in 1922-23. For anyone concerned about America’s future, the implications are thought provoking. Indeed in many ways America’s current trajectory seems like a speeded up version of the Ottoman movie.
Although the Ottomans were never as rabidly ideological in their trade views as the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, they diverged sharply from the systematic mercantilism that marked the rise of Europe in early modern times. Their import tariffs were relatively low and Ottoman policymakers took a “don’t worry, be happy” view of the empire’s rising trade deficits in the mid-19th century. In so doing, they eerily anticipated similar insouciance in Washington in the last three decades.