NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

American Empire

August 13, 2003

One reason the United States possessions choose to remain territories is because it is a good deal for them. They get far more in aid from Washington than goes the other way. Puerto Ricans, for example, do not pay federal income taxes but are still eligible for federal welfare benefits such as food stamps, says Bruce Bartlett.

This illustrates an important point about colonialism that France and Britain also discovered -- it just doesn't pay. Even admirers of the British Empire, such as economic historian Niall Ferguson, admit this fact.

  • In his recent book, "Empire" (Basic Books), he notes that Britain put far more into India in the form of public works and military expenses than it ever took out.
  • In "Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire" (Cambridge University Press), economic historians Lance Davis and Robert Huttenback concluded that Britain lost money on all its colonies.
  • This is forcing U.S. taxpayers to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq on top of the large and growing costs of occupation.
  • And, of course, the biggest cost is unquantifiable-the 261 American military personnel who have lost their lives in the Iraq conflict.

Bartlett doesn't believe anyone in the Bush Administration consciously desires an American empire, although they are being urged to pursue one by some pundits like William Kristol. But there is still a danger the United States will back into imperialism if it is not careful.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "American Empire," National Center for Policy Analysis, August 13, 2003.


Browse more articles on International Issues