I am quite impressed with Richard Hanania’s new book Public Choice Theory and the Illusion of Grand Strategy. It makes a simple but important point: U.S. foreign policy is less due to some persistent grand national strategy than to inconsistent lobbying pressures of various political groups. While at times causes millions to die for no good reason.
For example econ sanctions almost never work, but they satisfy a public desire to “do something”. We support big rivals like the USSR or China with trade as we resist them militarily, because business wants trade while the military wants budget. Hanania explains:
The whole reason that International Relations is its own subfield in political science is because of the “unitary actor model,” or the assumption that you can talk about a nation like you talk about an individual, with motivations, goals, and strategies. No one believes this in a literal sense, but it’s considered “close enough” for the sake of trying to understand the world. … [But] the more I studied the specifics of American foreign policy the more it looked irrational on a system-wide level and unconnected to any reasonable goals, which further made me skeptical of the assumptions of the field.
The book felt a bit belabored to me, as I’d have been persuaded by an article length analysis. But I get why he did it; academics demand sweat and impressive mastery of literatures.
As a U.S. citizen, I am especially appalled at such waste being done in my name, even though I expect that similar problems bedevil other nations. This feeling is especially strong as I listen to major foreign policy issues being debated this week.
Monetary policy seems to me an especially promising place for a similar analysis. People usually talk as if that were being done by a central actor according to some coherent long term strategy, but that seems a priori unlikely. Yes futarchy could solve this, if only there were some interest in doing some small scale tests to hone such mechanisms.
US foreign policy is coherent when you understand or just simply admit that like all empires, the US has ended up being ruled by foreigners.
The foreigners that hold decisive sway within the US political system have had very clear goals for the past one hundred years, they have been successful in using American economic power, military power and blood for their benefit, and, it looks like they are pursuing one last attempt at wielding the US military, this time against Russia.
The various lies concocted to justify war in Iraq and Afghanistan never made sense. But it does make sense when you know the “US government” was planning war in the Middle East at least as far back as the early 1990s. Bill Clinton pushed for peace in N.Ireland because they didn’t want the UK military “distracted” at home when they were going to be in the Middle East.
If you work off the basis that government power is guided by Americans for Americans instead of foreigners for foreign interests, that the American people want sanctions against X instead of mass communication controlled by foreign interests controlling the narrative, and if you do not acknowledge massive corruption throughout the political and governmental system, yes, it is all incoherent.
The Federal Reserve Board is effectively a single actor. WRT monetary policy, the Board and only the Board ever takes action: it is the sole authority. There are no details for subordinates to work out. Compare that to the State Department, with its numerous (dozens?) of Under/Deputy/Assistant Secretaries, all of which exercise some degree of discretionary authority.