Category Archives: Geopolitics

The “Free Parking” Analaogy in International Relations

In business strategy, it is common to subsidize a money losing business that in order to make a primary business profitable. This is called “free parking.”

For instance, McDonalds is one of the largest parking lot operations in the world. The scale of their investment in an international network of places to park your car is staggering, involving professional and operational employees and contractors all of the world.

But McDonalds is not in the parking business. They are in the hamburger business. But absent providing “free parking,” McDonalds would find the cost of customer acquisition painfully high and the economics of scale from its operations too small.

Of Interest to Parking Lot Operators

Likewise, the United States runs one of the largest carbon-economy rollback operations in the world. The scale of US investment in preventing the success of the carbon economies (from “King Cotton” in the late 19th century to “King Oil” in the late 20th century to King Natural Gas today) is staggering. This anti-carbon-intervention — from a massive climate science masquerade to military actions in the American South and the Middle East.

In most of the world most of the time, carbon-based economies are naturally despotic and authoritarian. These “hydraulic empires” exist because of the government monopoly over the infrastructure needed to extract wealth from the earth. This form of social organization can be internally stable but maintain considerable freedom of movement in international relations because rules do not need worry about complicated economic links that limit non-carbon economies. That is, they are warlike.

Of Interest to Carbon Extraction Operators

(Whether refers to carbon-economy rollback by that name, or says something about sustainable political-economic growth, or “shrinking the gap” or whatever, the meaning and the concept is the same: minimizing the political and military importance of carbon extraction throughout the world.)

Rolling back the carbon-based economy is to the US what free parking is to McDonlads. For McDonalds, free parking is the side business and selling hamburgers is the main business. For the US, carbon-economy rollback is the side business and selling security is the main business. McDonalds could not afford the customer acquisition cost, and could not enjoy the economies of scale, without subsidizing free parking for its customers and potential customers. Likewise, the US could not afford the country-acquisition cost of its military alliances nor enjoy economies of scale, without subsidizing carbon-economy rollback for its customers and potential customers.

My friend Dr. Samuel Liles thinks that free parking is a distraction, whether for McDonalds in a shopping mall or the US in the world political system. He’s wrong on both points.

McDonalds cannot provide hamburgers (in exchange for cash) without providing parking, for free.

The US cannot provide security (in exchange for power) without rolling back the carbon-based economy, for free.

Yes we can have a pro-growth foreign policy

We hear a lot about the need for a pro-growth economic agenda. However, we need a pro-growth foreign policy agenda, too.

Of course, this means supporting the power and influence of actors who support growth, and reducing the power of influence of countries that oppose it.

Specific suggestions? We need to be pro-India and pro-China, because it is only these new core economies that can both spend and save enough to help America in our burden of leading the global economy. A pro-China/pro-India foreign policy will kill the Joint Strike Fighter. The JSF channels our relationship with other great powers into conflict, instead of growth.

Likewise, a foreign policy that moves against energy monopolists will support batteries, corn-based ethanol, wind and solar, and port facilities for biodiesel transshipment. Countries like Russia use the world’s dependence on fossil fuels to retard integration into the world system, roll back economic reforms, and generally cause misery.

Of course, we will also need to thread the needle. Bush’s protection of Iran from Israeli strikes should naturally led to Obama’s work in integrating Iran into the world system. I use Iran as an example: already close to India and China, naturally suspicious of Russia, and able to help us achieve our goals in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We need to work closer with countries like India and China, minimize the influence of bad actors like Russia, and work with marginal countries like Iran to improve their regimes.

We can do it. Yes we can.