What if the US just shut the door?

Over the past few weeks, no less than three people I know have advocated a return to American isolationism to varying degrees, such as advocating Feed America First, which leads me to bring up a hypothetical scenario, based on one of their discussions:

America shuts off all governmental foreign aid and money to other countries (since you can’t really stop a private charity from giving without getting more fascist than I want), whether humanitarian or for political reasons, closes all overseas bases, brings all the troops home, and just in general doesn’t interact with the rest of the world at all except through the internet and such. All of our energy and money is focused inward on our problems at home. What would happen?

This is not a view I agree with (well, I do think we could give less out and look more at home) but it is a verbatim idea of one of those three people, and I was curious about the outcome.

I agree it could never work. You have also forgotten about all the companies who do business overseas, and all the jobs we have shipped to China.

Economic collapse? Isolationism has worked so very well for North Korea.

Yes, there is that. However, North Korea’s is a Communist government, so I’m sure that has something to do with their success. The US would be a much different story, what with a free market economy and a capitalist ideology.

In other words, a trade based economy - which in this scenario has cut off both its supplies and its markets. Economy fall down, go boom.

Exactly! Now you’re getting it! it fall down and asplode!

Nowhere in the OP is it suggested that trade will be cut off. It refers only to aspects of U.S. government expenditures - defense and foreign aid. Cutting off foreign trade would obviously be an economic catastrophe of epic proportions, but let’s take the OP at face value and just talk about cutting off guns and butter handed out by the Feds.

The obvious answer to THAT is that U.S. interests abroad would be hurt because the U.S. would lose influence over other countries. To use a current example, now is not the time to cut aid and support to sub-Saharan Africa, a region that is economically and politically growing very quickly. Why give that influence up to China and Europe? Furthermore, the entire world, the U.S. included, will be better off with a more prosperous Africa. This is the BEST time to invest in Africa.

The other obvious point is that U.S. foreign aid is simply not a lot of money inthe grand scheme of things. The OP’s friends are probably insanely overestimating how much money the U.S. gives out in aid (and much of the aid it does give out is conditional quid-pro-quo stuff, at that.) Depending on what source you believe, it’s a little over one percent of the federal budget. I’m not saying that’s not a lot of money, but what U.S. problem, realistically, would be cured with that money? Could you even get Congress to agree to solve any problem at all? I imagine they’d just cut rich people’s taxes.

It’s a little sobering to look at the chart for aid to other countries, see that in 2010 we gave $400 million to Israel, and have someone say that that’s “not a lot of money”. Not contradicting you, just I hadn’t really looked at the numbers before. Yeesh.

However, a side question to my main one-are there any bases we could do without? For example, do we need military forces in Germany, Italy, and the UK (apart from cross-training)?

Getting back to my original question-do you really mean that the US couldn’t be self-sufficient, if the need arose? I’m genuinely curious. And no, I don’t mean a total shutting of the borders like North Korea. It would be impossible and more trouble than it’s worth.

Not without restructuring our economy & industry, finding replacements for resources we don’t have, and being willing to make do with much less. Not only does America consume a disproportionate share of the world’s resources, but such a massive changeover would itself cost an enormous amount. I expect we’d survive, but we’d be more like a Third World country. After an initial economic crash because of the dislocation though I expect the rest of the world would become more prosperous, since they’d have more to go around without America taking more than its share.

It depends on what this means. If RickJay is interpreting you correctly, and you are just talking about doing away with direct governmental foreign and humanitarian aid, then it won’t mean much, except possibly be seen as an unfriendly act on our part. If by ‘doesn’t interact with the rest of the world’ at all…i.e. total isolationism…then it would be a disaster for us. As Der Trihs says, trade is the lifeblood of this country and without it we are talking economic disaster and total collapse. See the various Le Jacquelope threads for why it’s a bad idea.

The bottom line is that people who are isolationists don’t understand the level of interaction between countries today, or how absolutely reliant we are on trade. They have this odd impression that the US COULD make and build everything we need just using our own resources, and that somehow by trading with other countries we are losing all our jobs and bleeding the country white with all the aid and such we send out. It’s a load of horseshit. It’s the same load of horseshit that made the Great Depression a hell of a lot worse for everyone, world wide…including us.

If we bring all the troops and ships home then who will protect our interests overseas? I’m sure that no one is going to leap out the day after and start infringing or attacking our interests, but eventually, as the ships rot in their docks and the US downsizes it’s military (unless someone thinks that once we’ve brought them all home we’d continue to maintain them all), someone is going to get the idea that they could.


I think you need to spell out your “original question” better, since it didn’t seem to be about being “self-sufficient”, although you did say we could only interact thru the internet with other countries.

If you mean no trade, then we’re doomed. We don’t have enough oil, and the rare earth elements needed to make those batteries in electric cars comes almost exclusively from China. We could probably survive, but we’d get poorer every year compared to the rest of the world.

America gets foreign aid, too, remember. I remember Katrina relief, and a decent portion of my tax money has gone towards supporting America’s military efforts in the Middle East over the last decade in the form of UK troops, equipment, and more.

That would be the UK protecting the UK’s interests, so it wouldn’t count on the US’s tab. I don’t think you can reasonably characterize UK money spend on UK troops as US foreign aid. You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to, no matter how close an ally you are. Look at how much money Canada spent in Iraq and Vietnam.

Let me ponder the question and I will return. Must punch the clock.

Yes, of course we don’t have to do it. We didn’t have to send aid after Katrina or 9/11 either. You don’t have to send aid to Japan.

Nobody’s implying anyone HAS to do these things. I’m just pointing out that we do.

I would be ashamed if the US didn’t send aid and help to the Japanese after what has happened to them…or if we didn’t send aid to other countries in need.


Okay, let’s talk about a real world issue: piracy off East Africa.

Do we cut off the United States from world trade? That would lead to economic collapse.

Do we stop all Americans from trading in the world market and let other countries handle our trade? Bad idea, we are now dependent on those other nations. Look what happened to China when it turned over its trade to European powers in the 19th century.

Do we allow Americans to trade on their own without protection? They’d be obvious targets to pirates once they realized nobody was protecting them. It would be like the Barbary states.

Do we ask other countries to suppress piracy and protect our trade? Not likely to happen. Why should they shoulder a burden for us that we refuse to bear when we have more resources than they do?

Do we defend Americans from pirates? Now we’re back overseas with our troops.

When countries in, say central and Latin America, run into a debt/liquidity crisis, I premume the OP’s Feed America First policy would be to let 'em fail.

As a consequence these countries would either fail, or become more under the influence of those countries who did provide support. Feed America First would become Fortress USA rather quickly.

At that point “The American lifestyle is not negotiable” and “The American way of life is a blessed one” mantra comes seriously unglued and nobody is better off, with America leading the biggest losers.