Seminar: Economics and US Grand Strategy

The University of Reading Graduate School and the Department of Politics and International Relations hosted a very special seminar on October 23rd to discuss the impact of economics on US strategic options – an event whose topicality was emphasized by the recent partial shutdown of the US federal government.  The seminar was organized by our PhD student Mark Jakeman, who did excellent work to bring together a collection of leading speakers in this area.  In the paragraphs that follow, Mark reports on the discussion that unfolded.

The relationship between economics and grand strategy cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries and therefore sometimes gets neglected.  Yet it is among the most important relationships for us to understand.  An enthusiastic audience gathered for this seminar, including members of the faculty as well as PhD Students from Reading, Exeter and Kent.  We heard four expert speakers give their views on how current economic issues facing the US, together with likely future developments, would affect America’s position in the international system.

Left to right: seminar organizer Mark Jakeman and speakers Nicholas Kitchen, Iwan Morgan, Sandford G. Henry, and Darren Perdue.

Left to right: seminar organizer Mark Jakeman and speakers Nicholas Kitchen, Iwan Morgan, Sandford G. Henry, and Darren Perdue.

Dr Nicholas Kitchen from the London School of Economics opened the session by explaining the importance of the role of capitalism as a constituent of US identity and as a driving force in the evolution of US foreign policy. He also discussed the changing nature of economic power in a more integrated and globalised world and warned against an uncritical acceptance of the popular narrative of American declinism.

Professor Iwan Morgan from University College London spoke in depth about the US debt and deficit with a detailed account of the US financial situation since the First World War. He explained the building pressures of entitlement programmes such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the “baby boomer” generation retires. He also discussed the difficult choices that will have to be made by the US government by the middle of the 21st Century regarding monetary and fiscal discipline and the impact they will have on US international relations and foreign and defence policy.

Sanford G. Henry from Chatham House struck an optimistic note whilst acknowledging the current difficulties faced by the US. He felt that a more flexible economic environment in the US together with technological advances driven by American innovation and the establishment of a new generation of trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would create the framework for a resurgence of US prosperity. This would allow America to grow out of its current economic constraints.

Darren Perdue from the US Embassy in London spoke frankly about the challenges America faced but was confident that with a combination of immigration reform, improved education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and modern trade agreements which opened markets and protected the intellectual property rights (IPR) of US companies, America would continue to be the leading force in the global economy.

The discussion which followed the presentations was lively and robust. The audience showed a deep understanding of the topic and were eager to challenge some of the speakers’ assumptions and reassess parts of the evidence they presented. Question topics included the nature of international power, the development of US strategy, the possibility of US immigration reform, the proper scope and scale of IPR in the developing world, the flexibility of future capital markets, the relationship of trade to military power and the relationship between Chinese prosperity, its military capability and US strategic options.

The Department of Politics and International Relations is deeply grateful to all the participants at the seminar and, especially, to Mark Jakeman for organizing it so skilfully.

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