[I’m on vacation this week, but I’m reading and doing some metacommentary on Mitt Romney’s book. Enjoy, or skip over it: it’s a free country.]
Today we join Mitt Romney’s ghost writer to see Why Nations Decline. First a general commentary that nations decline and then several examples. Then he’ll have a couple annoying sections trying to tie it together. Because I’m on vacation, I’m only going to deal with the intro and the “Ottomans” section that deals with the Ottoman Empire, and somewhat surprisingly Spain and Portugal. So the intro.
America is the best, and it looks like we’ll never decline but other countries used to think that about themselves and “they’ve all been surpassed.” Of course since Romney talking about nations, what we need here is a corporate metaphor.
This kind of collapse is not unique to nations. We’ve witnessed business powerhouses lose their lead to upstarts. United Airlines was upstaged by Southwest.* Sears and Kmart were passed by Wal-Mart. Western Union and AT&T watched Verizon speed by. And look at General Motors: it was once the undisputed automotive heavyweight, the champion here and around the world. No More.
Romney worked for someone who had a mathematical model of why corporations with a head start have an advantage. But that didn’t work out. Then he remembers he’s writing a book about nations, so:
Why is it that the great fail? It’s a question America must ask, not only because we are the world’s leading nation, but because of the continuation of our lead has been called into question
So now we’re on the section called “The Ottomans” that’s also about Spain and Portugal (I know I say this like 50 times in this short for this series post, but it’s that strange). But at least it starts with the Ottoman Empire. Well, mostly it’s about him learning about the Ottoman empire in school.
But after that intro of Romney coloring in maps we learn that, the empire was great for centuries until “Christian Europeans won the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and decimated the Ottoman navy. Rebellion and war were overwhelming.”
First off, The Ottoman Empire lasted until the end of the First World War, so the collapse didn’t really happen in 1571. A long decline would be interesting to write about. Especially if you’re worried about America being a power in the future, but not the preeminent one. But instead it’s a paragraph of mostly meaningless cliche as to why.
Highly beneficial global trade routes that had traditionally passed through Ottoman territory had been abandoned for Ocean passages, and the empire’s revenues dropped accordingly. More important, while Europe** embarked on the early stages of manufacturing, the Ottomans did not; they were confident that their pillaged wealth would sustain them indefinitely. The Ottomans’ growing isolation from the dynamic world of manufacture and trade was reinforced by the conviction that their holy scriptures provided all the knowledge that was necessary; foreign technology was infidel technology. The Empire banned the printing press for half a century.
And that’s all you need to know about the decline, er collapse, of the Ottoman Empire. In chapter of case studies of why empires and nations fail, there’s more about coloring in maps in high school than there is about his first case study. These I’m-a-deep-thinker-make-me-president books are sure serious business when they come from Republicans.
But even though the Ottoman case study is over, the section continues with Spain and Portugal. I think the point here is that they were all closed societies based on pillage. But the title is “The Ottomans” not “Empires Based on Pillage Eventually Run Out Of Shit To Pillage” or something with less swearing. So Spain and Portugal. It’s only 2 paragraphs, so I don’t want to quote too much, but I totally am going to:
“Like the Ottomans, the Spanish and Portuguese achieved wealth through plunder, and their empires fell for remarkably similar reasons.” So they plundered the rest of the world, and took the resources but didn’t build anything with them. England, France, and Germany were making things, but Spain and Portugal were buying them. And, I think Romney just found the Wikipedia entry on when the printing press was introduced to various countries, because that comes up again.
The Protestant Reformation to the north had spawned not only dissent and skepticism but also literacy and innovation. Spain and Portugal isolated themselves from such heresy. Portugal placed strict controls on printing presses. The Spanish crown banned scientific works by Protestant authors. They banned study abroad in any non-Catholic country. Spain went so far as to impose the death penalty on anyone who imported an unauthorized foreign book. Like the Ottomans, Spanish and Portuguese isolation became complete. They eschewed the manufacture and trade of goods that was sweeping the rest of Europe, and they closed their borders to outside thought.
So the guy who exported, piece by piece, American manufacturing is saying stopping making things is a problem. Ugh this book.
OK, tomorrow China, Britain, and maybe Romney’s conclusions if I’m up for it.
* Not for nothing, but if you’re on Southwest, here’s a strategy I stumbled on for getting the row to yourself. Obviously, pick a not totally full plane. Then take an aisle seat, and start reading No Apology. Maybe underline some stuff.
** Much of Southeastern Europe was part of the Ottoman Empire, but whatever.