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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: Western Declination, Eastern Rise
Recently, This Financial Times article discussed the end of 500 years of Western rule, the kind of rule that sticks, in the history books.  Financial, cultural, the rule of an Empire so total that the entire rest of the world was left behind in mud huts while we paved and conquered all before us.

I have long believed that we were due for a fall.  Luckily for most of us it will be a long one: just as the Mediterranean didn't fill in a day, empires don't fall overnight.  Instead we have a long and dark old age to look forward to, as our once-powerful engines - of industry, of capitalism, of democracy - can no longer exert the same force they used to.

Old men don't get old with the flick of a switch, and neither will our culture fall with a single act.   Instead, we'll find that more and more our power is simply not attractive anymore.  The young bucks are taking centre stage now, and the best we can do is die gracefully.

We could change it, but we won't.  We started off young, full of ideas and drive and we changed the world, but an old man's attention turns to protecting what he has, and we slowed down.  Wages went up, worker and consumer protections raised the cost of business, everything started to cost more, so we asked those who didn't suffer these luxuries to prop up our lifestyle.  They built it for us, in their slums and dirty windowless factories, with their shocking records of abuses and accidents, and we paid them handsomely. 

And now, flush with our money, they're coming of age.  We still want their labour and they still need our money, but they're slowly weaning themselves of a need for our expertise.  They have their own consumer class, they have tremendously more people, and they've got the drive we've lost.

They're already casting about for lower prices from the lower classes, and soon - very soon, for I see these cycles becoming shorter - they'll be in our position.  Old, too soon decrepit and too soon realizing their engines are slowing down too.

Ten years ago China's gross domestic product was one eighth of Americas.  Today it is one quarter.  In twenty years, it'll be more.  With five times the population, China's engine will boom far harder and faster than America's, which was harder and faster than Britain's. 

That's the cycle, ever more rapid. 

Such is life.

I don't see that China's empire will be more than superficially as effective at changing the world.  At the same time they're building their engines, they're modernizing and trying to shepherd their people from mud huts to skyrises.  Their rise took less than one lifetime, and to be frank I don't think such incredibly fast expansion can be maintained.  Their engine is more fragile, perhaps doomed to flame out as hard and fast as it started.

We're in for a pretty interesting show.  =)
BLEARGH
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Subject: Innovation Without Upheaval
By way of Techdirt, a very interesting article that talks of this exact thing in some detail:

...it compels us to consider how we balance economic dynamism and growth against the unity and stability of our society. After all, we must have continuous, rapid technological and business-model innovation to grow our economy fast enough to avoid losing power to those who do not share America's values -- and this innovation requires increasingly deregulated markets and fewer restrictions on behavior.

This is the tipping point of every empire, as it shifts from Wild West-style lawless aggression and expansion, to a civilized society with protections for its people, legal framework, etc etc.

If you remove the artificial impediments to innovation, you can regain your entrepreneurial spirit and create all sorts of new business opportunities, but at the expense of social order and predictability.

How many of us would trade security for opportunity?  That is essentially the privilege of the young, and like all men, a society reaches middle age and starts to protect rather than conquer.

The decline of empire is thus inevitable, unless a new method for running amok safely can be found.

Read the whole thing...

Techdirt doesn't necessarily agree with the options presented, but the analysis of the situation seems very much spot-on.
BLEARGH
This post was edited on 2010-01-14, 13:31 by NFG.
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Subject: It might not be an Eastern rise...
This article has some very fascinating things to say.  It's stuffed full of interesting things, and I can do little better than bullet-point them.  You should read it, if this sort of thing interests you.
  • After WWII, America was unusual in not pursuing a strategy of conquest, but instead setting itself up as 'first among equals' in a new, free world.
  • Europe spent the same time trying out a top-down, government-controlled system of protecting the vulnerable middle class from the disruption and unpredictability inherent in rapid technological change.
  • America cannot sort its shit out without great pain, and without other countries - who will not wait - passing it by.  Neither inaction nor action will be easy, but the latter will ultimately prove worthwhile. 
  • Reagan freed up America to run ever faster with a policy of deregulation, but this only delayed the inevitable as America managed to stay ahead of other growing economies without increasing its lead.

From 1980 through today, America's share of global output has been constant at about 21%. Europe's share, meanwhile, has been collapsing in the face of global competition — going from a little less than 40% of global production in the 1970s to about 25% today. Opting for social democracy instead of innovative capitalism, Europe has ceded this share to China (predominantly), India, and the rest of the developing world.  [...]

It is common to think of the post-war global economy as a baseline of normalcy to which we wish to return. But it seems more accurate to see that era as an anomaly: the apogee of relative global economic dominance by the West, and by the United States within the Western coalition. The hard truth is that the economic world of 1955 is gone, and even if we wanted it back — short of emerging from another global war unscathed with the rest of the world a smoking heap of rubble — we could not have it.

Yet the strategy of giving up and opting out of this international economic competition in order to focus on quality of life is simply not feasible for the United States. [...]  We do not live in a Kantian world of perpetual commercial peace. Were America to retreat from global competition, sooner or later those who oppose our values would become strong enough to take away our wealth and freedom.

So the collapse of Western competitiveness is perhaps less this than the re-alignment with the norm.  Less a fall from height as a return to the way things were.

  • Balance must be found between social protections and progress.  Either one, taken to the extreme, prevents the other almost entirely.
  • America's society is polarizing: the rich get richer, the poor are experiencing complete societal breakdowns.
  • Right-wing attempts to preserve 'traditional values' sprang from the belief that a sound, moral society would better perform with their deregulated system: pure hearts would not abuse their freedoms.  Unfortunately, this is obviously not how things worked out.

The new normal, however, is different from the old normal. [...]  The wealthier and better-educated segments of our society, for example, have re-established the primacy of stable families and revived their ­intolerance of crime and public disorder. But they have combined this return to tradition with very non-traditional attitudes about sex, masculinity, and overt piety.

Now THIS is some encouraging news, isn't it?  THe parts of our society who are better educated (and largely wealthier) are big fans of stable families, are sexually tolerant and aren't hugely religious.  That's societal change I can get behind!

  • In 1965, nearly all mothers had been married at least once.  Today, some 25% of mothers without highschool diplomas have never been married, but college grads are still quite traditional, at 3%.
  • In 2009, nearly 40% of all children born were to unmarried mothers.  70% if they're black or hispanic.

It is hard to exaggerate the chaotic conditions under which something like a third of American children are being raised — or to overstate the negative impact this disorder has on their academic achievement, social skills, and character formation. There are certainly heroic exceptions, but the sad fact is that most of these children could not possibly compete with their foreign counterparts.

  • Political correctness has replaced good manners.
  • Environmentalism has replaced self control of consumption and waste.

This is somewhat disturbing, and I am not comfortable with the idea that people need external reasons to be logical about their life choices.  Still, I suppose good manners and a modicum of restraint should be encouraged...

  • A welfare system protects the vulnerable from harm, but relies on the same social generosity and maturity that it destroys by protecting people from harsh realities.  People who don't need to work rarely will, and this leads to decline.
  • There are about 30x more millionaires now than in 1982.
  • A shift away from an economy producing goods to one driven by services produces a better environment for the intelligent, but decreases the prospects for labourers and the working class.

Growing inequality was a price we paid for the economic growth needed to recover from the '70s slump and to retain our global position.

  • Living standards are up since 1980.
  • Wages are not (though in America, since the employer pays for ever-increasing healthcare costs, this helps offset the lack of wage increases).

The premise is that you can now buy more, live better, with less.  I don't reckon this will last, there seems to be a re-evaluation coming soon, especially on food prices which certainly are too low.  Considering how important food is, how poorly we treat our farmers and how much of a devastating impact food animals have on our environment, I can easily believe food prices are going to rise.  They'll become a much larger part of our budgets, which I think is a good thing.

the divisive effects of this cluster of trends [...] are only intensified by [stuff] and an increasingly crude and corrosive popular culture combined with the technology-driven fragmentation of mass media.

How interesting, that our pop-culture combined with mass-media fragmentation leads to more and more of this sort of unpredictability and social fracturing.  I guess it makes sense - when 500 disconnected voices try to influence you, the effect is going to be quite different than the handful of voices our parents listened to.

  • Fewer Americans (and I believe, Westerners) are able or willing to compete globally.
  • Of those who can, or will compete, they are increasingly few compared to the global whole.
  • The current status cannot last.  I've been saying this for a while: the West is in decline.

Honestly I don't know if I can compete either.  I work so I can play, the idea of shifting my balance - working far more and playing less - doesn't appeal to me.  I feel I must resign myself to this fate: the Chinese will take over and I will be marginalized, and I will have been the enabler for it all.  Made my bed, lying in it, thanks.  =(
BLEARGH
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Subject: When America crumbles...
Over on Global Guerrillas there's a very interesting article:

What happens to the legal system when the US suffers a Soviet style collapse?  Answer:  It will rapidly decay. 

It's short, but potent.

BRB, pondering.
BLEARGH
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It is quite interesting how the world works. I take a Chicargo school type belief to the issue that long term growth over the long run is constant but there are some bumps on the way. The popular theory is that developing countries will always grow at quicker rate but which is getting slower each step up. This is mainly due to their use of technology that first world countries make available, take India and their computer industry for example. Although to overtake, you have to have some very good economic and governmental factors.

As for the US I think they are a victem of a issue that will never go away. The working class vs social elites. Everyone loves to tax the rich because they think they are entitled to money just for existing. While the rich just want to be left alone. This creates a hybrid socialist (high taxes) and capitalist (low regulation & spending) economic monster. i.e democrats want to tax the sucessful members of society and the republicians want to cut spending and push ppl out of welfare and into work. Along with some horrendus monetary policy and you have the US slowly bleeding itself over an ideological war.
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From my perspective it seems less that the rich want to be left alone, and more that they want to be left untaxed.  It's very interesting, the way you write seems as if you are or want to be one of them.  Right now, 1% of the population makes more than the lowest 50% combined.   30 years ago that same 1% made half as much.  There's a serious disparity here and it's not a matter of the lower echelons hating the elites, it's a matter of the elites taking way too much and a system that supports this.

The republicans want to cut spending, sure.  Currently they're trying to cut spending on programs they voted to create and support.  Their position is untenable, and no matter their origins they have reached a position where everything they say is a zealous, shrill attempt to shout out dissenting opinions.  It's no longer about small government and personal responsibility, it's about lobbying and patent trolling preserving the big corporations.

I agree with the republicans' stated beliefs.  I do not agree with their actions.  They're absolutely fucking up the system for everyone.

(Interesting reading...)
BLEARGH
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By left alone I was meaning untaxed and with more personal freedom. On the most part I disagree about equality, if you are successful chances are you earnt it, you got an education or possess a skill that is in high demand. I think it is disgusting that people think that because you have money you must have stolen it from them somehow, the government should be equalling the starting line not who comes first at the end. I have full time uni and three jobs because I refuse to take tax payers money on principal. I have several friends who don't work and could that live off the dole and they fully understand what they are doing. Some even think they are entitled to it.

If someone is getting rich of others by cheating them its a legal issue, welfare should only for people who are unable to help themselves i.e disabled persons and students who need the extra cash as well as working to get the education to better themselves. I am a strong beleiver in equality of oppotunity not outcome. We should certainly help people who want to better themselves but we should never take away a persons hard earnt money because the cleaner thinks he deserves as much money as a eye surgeon who has spent a decade studying and possess a skill only few have.

I am hoping you take away from this that I am not a cold hearted bastard but someone who beleives in individual freedom for all and small government that catches you if you fall rather than cripple the successful as a means of equality.
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You and I are having a conversation that is only compatible on the surface.  What you're railing against are societal dregs playing the system for personal gain.  What I am fighting are the CEOs who make more money than 70 very well paid middle class workers for quitting a company that they ruined.  If your golden parachute pays the yearly wages of 140 of the people you just put out of work, you're an asshole, and I do not accept that this is acceptable for any society that gives a shit about each other.

You are not wrong to loath these parasites, but I would argue until we're both blue that you should not revere the bastards at the other end of the scale.

A story: When I was in Canada I bought a complete snowboard outfit: clothes, board, bindings, boots, the works, and my wife did the same.  The clerk asked if our gear was for students, 'cause we could save 7% tax if it was.  I said no, I'm not destitute, I will pay my share.  That's how I roll: I can afford to pay it, and I will.  If I was making 20 million and my tax burden was so high I only actually collected half that, I would still be a happy man, 'cause I have ten million dollars fuck yes.  

That's where I'm coming from: the rich should not be allowed to skip out of their contributions to our collective society any more than the scum should be able to ride for free.
BLEARGH
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Haha, I definately agree with the golden parashute. And that is a legal failure of government to not properly punish the CEO's.

On the issue of tax I am in favor of negative income taxes where it a flat rate and there are no exemptions and so forth so everyone pays a flat rate over the threshold and can't evade tax easily as i agree with you and the richer people must contribute. If only we could get such a system up..... I am 20 and I doubt I would see any such thing in my lifetime :(
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A recent Global Guerrillas post talks about the role of central planning in the demise of empires.  In a nutshell, it  posits that massive economies cannot be managed by small cabals, 'cause they'll make bad decisions that are magnified by their disproportionate influence on the whole.  Ask any gambler: it doesn't take many massive bad choices to completely screw the whole game.

So the Soviets failed, and he suggests the Americans are about to do the same thing.  It may not be government central planning this time (though it seems the government is certainly complicit).  Instead, he says something that is very relevant to this discussion:

As more and more of US economy was controlled by a narrow group of decision makers allocating government resources, the more sluggish the entire economy became...

an extreme concentration of wealth at the center of our market economy has led to a form of central planning.   The concentration of wealth is now in so few hands and is so extreme in degree, that the combined liquid financial power of all of those not in this small group is inconsequential to determining the direction of the economy.

(emphasis mine)

And then I start to wonder: what happens when this small group of people is comprised of old men, protective of their aging business models and unwilling to take the sorts of risks a healthy economy demands?  Well, reading the last two paragraphs of this article basically answers that question too:

The end result is that our economic and political system has become very fragile.  All it will take is is one extremely bad decision and the cascade of failure that follows will catch everyone off guard.

This is already having an effect.  Enough people believe in the reality of a potential American collapse that they're investing in Swiss, Australian and Canadian currencies as a new financial bedrock.
BLEARGH
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Naomi Wolf, someone I've quoted here once or twice before has a very illuminating article up about the #occupy protests in America:

Quote by Naomi Wolf:
The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. [...]

No 2: reform the banking system [...]

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

It's worth a read.  I don't follow Naomi Wolf regularly, but I think I might start.  What I've read from her so far always seems to be true and concise and, in this case once again, relevant to my interests.

I really need to look into parallels between the American, British and Roman empires' declines.    Were they all products of individual greed at the highest levels?
BLEARGH
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The sorts of things I'm reading out of the USA lately are terrifying.  It might not be true that a boiled frog fails to notice he's boiling if the water's heated slowly (in fact, even frogs figure out there's a time for leaving the spa) but it sure seems America's got its share of boiling frogs.

That there's not more riotous outrage over there is sort of surprising.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, which uses the so-called “Gini coefficient,” a common economic indicator of inequality, the United States ranks as far more unequal than the European Union and the United Kingdom. The United States is in the company of developing countries — just behind Cameroon and Ivory Coast and just ahead of Uganda and Jamaica.  )source)

That's, like, WOW. 

And when you see the police pepper-spraying the Occupy protesters:

6. The oligarchs are therefore pre-empting the pre-revolutionary situation by militarizing the police (as guard labour) (source)

Read the link on that second quote.  Can you imagine if that was all true?

Worse, what if it is?

This sort of thing sneaks up on a person.  Time to wake up, I think it's already here.
BLEARGH
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Quote by NFG:
And when you see the police pepper-spraying the Occupy protesters:

In a different thread (that I'm too lazy to hunt down at the moment) you once expressed a little genuine confusion at the idea of race-based conflict. One of the interesting things about the American Occupy protest movement is how young people of European descent are surprised at their treatment by law enforcement, whereas those of African descent are not.

Ever since the civil rights battles were won, Black Americans have always understood that their relationship with the police is fraught with conflict. We Americans are taught as children that police are on our side, that they're here to protect and to defend us. But one need only look at the recent example of Henry Louis Gates, a Harvard professor who was mistakenly arrested as a burglar when he was entering his own home after a long vacation. Black Americans know from example and experience that police exist to protect the establishment. As a minority ethnic group that numbers fewer than ten percent of the total population of the United States, African Americans know instinctively that this proverbial establishment does not uniformly think or act to include them.

I share this view. As an American of Eastern Asian descent, I've been frequently stopped by police who were performing racial profiling. Doing nothing wrong and having nothing illegal on my person, I'm stopped on the sidewalk or in my car because I don't look like I belong there. It's infuriating, frustrating, and in the long run unsurprising. Police serve a society and a culture that, by and large, does not seek to include me.

Occupy protesters are now in a similar boat, but the separation is economic rather than racial. They are excluded, and when they appear to threaten a more wealthy establishment it will defend itself, just as Southern segregationist governments did. And I'm not surprised that police play a similar (if not identical) role here. They act in the interest of the institution, not of the people whose burdens aren't relevant to said institution.

There's a silver lining here though. Where you see society falling apart, I see society unchanged for about five decades. It's not a step backward, but evidence of how little progress we've actually made.
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I fear I've always been a bit of an idealist.  When my parents told me all men were equal, I believed it.  I believed in the America, land of the free.  I believed that people were all generally level-headed and honest, but too often misunderstood.

My universe has sort of collapsed onto me.  I still believe all these things, but only as far as I can prove them to be real.  I'm a good guy.  My friends are good guys.  That's as far as I'm willing to extend any guarantees.

There's less racism in Australia than America.  And given how they treat the indigenous populations here, that's really sort of pathetic.
BLEARGH
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I really can't believe how desperately keen America is to completely lose its shit.

Over in Paragould, Arkansas:

"They may not be doing anything but walking their dog," he said. "But they're going to have to prove it."

"We're going to do it to everybody," he said. "Criminals don't like being talked to."

You know who else doesn't like to be talked to by police armed with AR-15 assault rifles and dressed in tactical gear? Damn near everybody.

from techdirt

Also found via Techdirt... 

The US government seized the funds transferred to the creators of a comic book about Joseph Kony (remember him from earlier in 2012?) and his Army of God.  Apparently being paid for a book about a terrorist organization is the same as sending this money to a terrorist organization, so the funds were seized...  I mean, what the fuck, you guys!?

America, you have become your own enemy.
BLEARGH
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