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Our fears are unwarranted. America is in fact well-governed.

18 August 2011

Summary:  The good news is our problems are relatively minor.  Our leaders probably will take the necessary reforms during the next few years.  Of course they will govern in the best interests of our plutocratic elites, not us.  We’re along for the ride, sliding towards the Third Republic (which might not be a real Republic).

I reviewed the posts on the FM website of the past eight years, mostly cutting edge predictions.  Comments show they were considered outre when written, but most look good in retrospect (picking the right experts was the key).  But on the two most important subjects discussed here I was wrong.

  1. The fate of America’s political regime:  My naive optimism now looks delusional, as the Second Republic (based on the Constitution) has sickened more quickly than in my worst nightmares.
  2. America’s society and economy:  I have repeatedly said that American society was defective, with a broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loop.  Recent events reveal that to be false, in an operational sense.

By now anyone paying attention can see the first point (especially if reading the many fine commentaries on this sad story, such as Glenn Greenwald’s articles at Salon).  Today’s we take a brief look at the second.  A previous post, A look at the future of America, unlike the expectations of conservatives and liberals, sketched this out.  Readers suggested that it was not clear, so we will try again.  With more details in a later post.

The story of modern America, well-governed (as some of the Founders expected)

America is in better shape than Europe and Japan.  We have good demographics, sound fundamentals, relatively easily solved problems, and no powerful enemies.  Why the constant sense of crisis?  QE2, hyperinflation, climate armageddon, Obama the socialist, AIDS, alar on apples, jihadists, debt, swine flu – a constant drumroll of doom, explained by Peter Moore in ”The Crisis Crisis” (Playboy, March 1987).   Answer:  elites govern a weak people by exploiting their fears.  For example, look at the “government is broke” panic.

  • The Federal government’s net debt is only 2/3 of GDP, well below the 100% of GDP “red line” (that Italy reached many years ago).
  • The short-term deficit is mostly the result of the recession.  The medium-term deficit results from the Bush tax cuts.
  • Social security’s funding gap is small vs. GDP and easily fixed.
  • The massive funding gap is mostly Medicare, easily fixed by adopting features from the mixed public-private systems in Europe.

Panic pushes Americans to allow cuts to popular social services plus increased and highly regressive taxes.  No matter who wins, after the 2012 election our representatives will implement the necessary policy changes:  raising taxes, cutting expenditures, rebuilding our infrastructure, and beginning the long process of reforming health care.  It will be another morning in America.  There is no crippling polarization, just distracting noise masking a consensus between both parties about the key points of economic and foreign policy.

We do not see this long-standing pattern (see the previous post for details) because our collective OODA loop is broken (see section 6 here).  That makes us easier to lead.  Relying on wealth-based elites to run the country has a cost.  They take a large share of the pie; we take a small slice.

Experts warn about the coming doom of America

An analogy explains why America will prosper.  We are like sheep.

Sheep panic each morning, set upon by barking, biting carnivores and screaming men on horseback. The sheep run to safety in the fields.  Later the pack and men return.  Again the sheep flee, this time finding safety in the pen. All is well.  Tomorrow the cycle repeats. Sheep have short memories, and do not see the pattern.

Sheep have poor judgement.  But ranches depend on the thinking of the shepherds, not the sheep.

Our leaders incite fear to build support for policy changes.  It’s easy to do, which makes us easy to govern.  During the past quarter-century or so they have concentrated America’s wealth and income in fewer hands and massively expanded the government’s internal security services (police, intelligence, and paramilitary forces).  Both good things from their perspective.  They will steer America away from the rocks because they own most of it.

This is the opposite of a conspiracy: They do everything in the daylight.  It’s an open source movement, funded and operated by like-minded people.  Something between Linux and jihadism.  John Robb should write about this, if he has not already done so.

It’s class warfare.  But like war monger, a form of right-wing political correctness has banned these terms from our thought stream — making it difficult to understand current events.   It’s like Newspeak.  Guide the language, which directs people’s thoughts, which channels their actions.

Open source political movements are among the major drivers of social change.   The 1917 Russian Revolution was an exception, driven by a relatively small number of more or less organized groups.  The American, French, and 1989 Russian 1989 revolutions were more typical, guide by open source political movements.

A question for readers

Should this post appear on the Good News about America reference page?

For more information about US politics

  1. America’s elites reluctantly impose a client-patron system, 5 November 2008
  2. Lilliput or America – who has a better way to choose its leaders?, 19 November 2008
  3. About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
  4. Please read this. For the sake of yourself, your children, and their children, 25 June 2009
  5. The key insight to understanding America’s wars, 11 December 2009
  6. Campaign finance reform = incumbent protection, 20 December 2009
  7. More people participating in politics: is this good for America?, 20 June 2010
  8. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
  9. Which political party will best protect our liberties?, 10 September 2010
  10. Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 1 September 2010
  11. Polarization and hot rhetoric conceal two similar political parties. Will we ever notice?, 29 October 2010
  12. We have the leaders we deserve. Visit McDonald’s to learn why., 30 October 2010
  13. The winners and losers from this election, hidden amidst the noise, 3 November 2010
  14. In America, both Left and Right love the long war, 30 March 2011

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51 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 August 2011 7:02 am

    Great Analogy. Sheep in the morning with biting canines and screaming men on horseback! (You must have seen this in action…I have; very appropo.) The best part may be that there is an interlude and then it starts all over again in the PM.
    Daily.

    Next: “But ranches depend on the thinking of the shepherds, not the sheep.”

    We shall see if that is accurate. The shepherds know they must leave enough wool on the sheep so they can survive the Winter.
    Did they this time? Or have they lost control of the shearers this Summer ? How was their thinking for the last 30 years?
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    FM reply: I don’t understand the widespread lack of confidence that you describe in the US elites. They have done quite well during the last 30 years. Their incomes and wealth are up big; their income and estate tax rates are down. We have done less well, but hardly so poorly as to stir ourselves from our couches, drugs, and games. Sometimes we bleat loudly in protest.

    Plus they have revitalized the Crown-Church alliance that has so long dominated western politics. See the results of the Campbell-Putnam survey, reported in the New York Times. Deftly done by skilled political mechanics. When you want to rule a nation, hire only the very best.

  2. 18 August 2011 9:57 am

    We insist that our leaders be corrupt (“campaign contributions”).
    We insist that they be sociopathic Narcissists (who else could survive media vilification?)
    We insist that they need no training, expertise, or experience (for the nation’s most difficult job)
    We insist that they never speak honestly, nor address substantive issues based upon evidence (party politics/irresponsible media)
    We get what we deserve.
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    FM reply: quite right, as I have shown so many times on the FM website. Nicely said! But a rare view in a nation where “it’s not my fault” is the national mantra.

  3. Andrew Roth permalink
    18 August 2011 10:22 am

    Should this post appear under “Good News about America?” I think not.

    The mindset that you describe among our elite has so far entrenched vices including reckless stinginess (one result: dangerously deteriorating public infrastructure), thievery (e.g., the health insurance racket), and unbridled sociopathy (the “War on Drugs,” unaccountable rampaging police, torture, war on false pretexts for political purposes). I don’t see how leaving the same vicious gang in power unchallenged can be expected to yield different results in a few years’ time, as you insist.

    I have personal experience with sociopaths among my friends. In my experience, they only yield when directly and forcefully challenged; otherwise, they prey on those around them. My sociopathic friends act an awful lot like congressmen and presidents. I’d say that our elected officials will implement reforms only to the extent that restive elements (voters, protesters, insurgents or whatever) force them to do so.
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    FM reply: I think you are using heaven or children’s textbooks as your standard of comparison, rather than ruling elites in other nations, now and past. Some sage counsel from Pride and Prejudice:

    . Bennet: Well, I dare say he has, Lizzy, though Darcy may turn out to be no more of a black-hearted villain than your average rich man who’s used to getting his own way.

  4. Roberto Buffagni permalink
    18 August 2011 11:10 am

    My humble opinion is the following: perception of USA’a decline stems from its core ideology, i.e. unending expansion.
    In recent years, the U.S. of A. has become the uncontestedly biggest power in the world, a feat never accomplished by any power in history: even the British Empire had Tsarist Russia as a contestant of his supremacy.
    Any normal empire should content itself with such a situation, and maybe begin thinking about consolidation of its power and borders, about improving the living of its people, about finding a balance of power with its neighbours.
    Unfortunately, USA is NOT a normal empire. US of A. have no borders, but frontiers, always to be crossed; have no ethnically embedded culture nor a religiously based tradition, but an ideology, or a civil religion (American exceptionalism) according to which being a full human being means becoming an American.
    This kind of program meets, of course, some vibrant objections, especially when it clashes with real (transcendent) religions like Islam, or with cultures which seriously value ethnicity and tradition (China, Russia).
    So that the US of A., having set for itself an impossible program, mourns about the hard fact which it is not going to be realized, but cannot abandon it, because they have not anything else on which they coud base their identity.

    • Bluestocking permalink
      17 April 2012 7:31 pm

      I’m inclined to question your claim that the United States has become the only uncontested superpower in human history…I think the Roman Empire succeeded in achieving that for at least a brief period in its history and, to use your analogy, ignored the existence of any borders but instead viewed the rest of the world as frontier to be annexed (and also saw Roman citizenship as the only way to become a full-fledged human being).

      However, I agree with the rest of what you said. I’ll even amplify it by noting that the United States is in dire jeopardy of becoming like the Soviet Union during its final throes…a house built on sand. The neoconservatives in American politics flatter themselves with the idea that America won the Cold War and defeated the Soviet Union, but it would be more accurate to say — as some in the United States, such as Melvin Goodman (a former head of office of Soviet Affairs at the CIA) do — that the Soviet Union defeated itself. The leadership of the Soviet Union was allowing infrastructure to fall into disrepair, had embroiled the country in a seemingly endless war, and had lost the faith and loyalty of the Russian people because they were out of touch with them…any of that sound like what’s happening in the United States currently?

      If you’re even remotely intelligent and perceptive, you have to acknowledge that it does. Gorbachev seemed to recognize what was happening and made an effort to reverse (or at least halt or slow) the collapse, but he was unsuccessful…and we don’t even appear to have an equivalent to Gorbachev in American politics at this point.

  5. Pluto permalink
    18 August 2011 11:58 am

    I need to question FM’s response to Greg Connolly.

    My sense of the world (which I will be the first to admit isn’t always right) is that the shepherds HAVE sheared the sheep just a bit too closely this time. Yes people are buying cars and other stuff to replace things that wore out in the last few years. This drives the surface impression that everything is okay. But at the same time I’m also hearing a lot of comments about people using up their emergency funds or that they are doing this while praying that things get better. And I’m hearing this from higher levels of the economic stratum than ever before.

    My other concern is that I’m continuing to see small businesses fail at a much higher rate than before the financial crisis. If my impression is accurate I would be very concerned for the long term health of the nation because small businesses are a very important leading indicator of success.

    My other question is regarding this comment: “Plus they have revitalized the Crown-Church alliance that has so long dominated western politics.” You follow it up with a nice poll showing the decline of the Tea Party (something I’m not seeing yet but am willing to believe is happening). One of the comments in the poll is that the Tea Party is in decline in part because it wants to mix religion more deeply into government. Doesn’t that contradict your comment about the Crown-Church alliance?
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    FM reply: Some points in reply.
    * The economy of most developed nations are under stress, so this not a US phenomenon.
    * It is the business cycle. We have had depressions before, and will again. A depression does indicate the political regime has failed. Most survived even the Great Depression.
    *. The interesting point of the NYT article was IMO the religious nature of The TP. Hence my comment about the traditional conservative alliance.
    *. The TP are just disposable shock troops for the Republicans, allowing the “centrist” mainstream Republicans to take unpopular measures without damaging their reputation. It is an ancient political tactic, recommended in The Prince.

  6. Alex permalink
    18 August 2011 3:05 pm

    FM: “It is the business cycle.”

    Show my one element of business cycle. I don’t see overproduction – I see collapse of production. I don’t see accumulation of saving on consumers’ hands waiting to be released on market – I see enormous debt on consumers’ hands. It is not business cycle. It never happened before.
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    FM reply: False on all counts.

    * Two examples of overproduction followed by collapse in demand: cars and homes. Vacant homes are (from memory) 14.5% of all homes, a record high. Cars per household also rose to an unsustainable high level, driven by an unsustainable increase in car debt AND lengthening of car loans (to an average of 63 months, so that many people had negative equity on their cars when they would usually buy).

    * This is a typical (if large) contraction phase of the private sector credit cycle, a form of business cycle. Japan started one in 1989. The US experienced one in the 1930′s. Many economists (e.g., Richard Koo, George Magnus) correctly idetified this back in 2007 and 2008. Many, like Paul Krugman, correctly anticipated its results (e.g, a liquidity trap) and the deficient public policy response (see The Return of Depression Economics). A May 2001 IMF paper by Abbas et al examined government debt/gdp reduction periods (a different type of credit cycle) in 19 developed nations (also see the slides from their June 2011 presentation, esp slide #9!).

    * For a description of the 70-year long literature on this see Debt – the core problem of this financial crisis, which also explains how we got in this mess. For more analysis see the links on the FM Reference Page Financial crisis – what’s happening? how will this end?

  7. Grimgrin permalink
    18 August 2011 3:22 pm

    “I want my sheep shorn, not shaven”
    - Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus, reacting to the overcollection of taxes, as reported by Cassius Dio.

    Your analysis hinges on two points. First, that the ultra rich have a rational economic program in mind. I’m not sure that’s the case. As you say, the things America needs to do to fix it’s economic mess are obvious. Yet at every stage proposed reforms face extremely well funded opposition. I’d suggest that the ultra wealthy are following a simple rule, “Do whatever it takes to keep the money coming in”. And are in fact incapable of implementing or acquiescing to the reforms you describe because of it.

    Second, that they have firm enough control over their ‘shock troops’ to be able to act as they see fit, and will not find themselves overtaken by the movement they’ve created. Maybe the Tea Party will fall into line, but maybe people stoked to a fever pitch of racial, economic and religious anxiety over the state of the world and loss of a dominant position will prove harder to control than expected.

    Also: If I remember my Machiavelli, he suggests feigning outrage and having your patsy executed after they’ve made the unpopular moves you saw as necessary. Will they be able to euthanize the Tea Party that easily? Or will it develop into a network of it’s own?
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    FM reply: Great quote! Thanks for posting it.

    As for the rest, we can only guess about such things. My guess is that the current behavior of the Republicans is a tactic to gain power. The worse, the better — as I explained in February 2010: Republicans have found a sure-fire path to victory in the November elections Rick Perry’s comments about Fed easing are consistent with that theory.

    It makes no sense to me to assume that our elites are stupid because they have so successfully gained power and wealth over us. That looks to me like a way to avoid recognition of our weakness.

    As for the Tea Party, it is a minority within a minority. With ample external funding and support from the news media it appears as a giant. Once those end it will look like as a dwarf. Polls (such as in the NYT article cited above) show that it is already losing support. There is a long tradition in US history of exteme movements appearing, being used, and fading away.

  8. Grimgrin permalink
    18 August 2011 5:20 pm

    FM: I’m not assuming they’re stupid, just that it’s entirely possible they will prioritize short and medium term self interest over long term general interest. They may see being able to divert social security taxes to the market in the next 4 years, more important than the question of what happens the next time there’s a market crash for example. This is to say nothing of the question of if averting national bankruptcy is in their self interest. Bankrupt states and governments have a tendency to sell of very valuable properties and concessions in order to raise short term capital. (Witness the Chicago parking meter deal as a small example)

    It’s also entirely possible that they’re very intelligent but proceeding from mistaken assumptions about the world and the economy. Robert Strange MacNamara comes to mind here as an almost archetypal example. Finally it’s possible that great wealth (a handful of technology billionaires notwithstanding) isn’t a sign of intelligence at all but of a combination of social intelligence, unscrupulousness, drive and luck.

    As for the Tea Party, you’re probably right. I just worry that a political movement playing on racial, nationalist, religious, and economic fears about loss of position and power has the potential to become something self sustaining and ugly.
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    FM reply: Thank you for raising these points, all of which warrant thought. We can only guess at what will come.

    IMO we must take the advice of Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic “Weeping Philospher” of Ionia: “Unless you expect the unexpected you will neer find truth, for it is difficult to discover and and attain.”

  9. 18 August 2011 5:24 pm

    Have they left enough Wool on the sheep? We shall see and over many incremental time periods, I suspect.

    In every flock there are a few stragglers seemingly unawares (or uncaring) of the man on horse or the scurrying dogs. And even some very clever coyotes (or wolves) will distarct and take out a dog or two in the nightime.

    I would not be so certain about the over arching intelligence of the Ranch Owners. Stupid, of course not. But there is a big World at play and humans are known for their arrogance. I suspect there are more than a few surprises awaiting the Ranch Owners.

    Do not be so ceratin of containment. There is hope around a Corner.
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    FM reply: I suspect (wild guessing) that the Second Republic (based on the Constitution) is in its death throes. The Thrid Republic (perhaps a Republic in name only) might be worse — for most of us. But there is always hope for the Thrid Republic. If we learn from our experience it might be better and grander than the Second!

  10. Oscar Tata Soria permalink
    18 August 2011 6:42 pm

    “Houston we have a problem”…
    Perception of USA decline as the monosuperpower has many angles and shapes. One is very well described by Roberto. The ruling elite problem is not just an American problem. It seems to be world wide: France, Germany, UK, China, Japan, India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and a long etc. are in no better possition.

    The quality of the elite, how elite is constituted, the values and principles thats guide the ruling. Maybe if we label the elite by its goals and means, as plutocracy/ olygarchy, we are getting closer to fully understanding the nature of the problem of the ruling elite in the USA and decline.

    Political parties, and false flag movements as Tea Party, becomes puppets of the ruling elite, the Wall Street plutocrats, who runs the show, financing campaigns and media exposition of their candidates and appliying the law of silence to candidates they see as independent.

    Maybe the enemy whitin, the ruling elite, is the real enemy of the US people, rich, and poor, Constitution, Military Forces, minorities, production forces, and working manpower.
    Maybe IMO, the elite has been using the unique Empire to its selfish elitist benefit and the Military pays the price of the new branding.

    Learning the lessons from history and rethinking the equation is a painfull but necessary intellectual excercise before moving to action.
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    FM reply: These are deep waters, where certainty iies beyond our grasp. My statements are intended as clear positions (guesses about the future) allowing debate and rebuttal. Having said that — I do not frame the debate in the same way as you do. There is no right/wrong here, just operational utility.

    “The ruling elite problem”
    What problem? It’s not a problem for them. It’s not a problem for us if we choose not to take the burden of self-government.

    “The ruling elite problem is not just an American problem”
    This seems even more questionable than the previous statement. Evidence? That people complain about their rulers does not mean there is a problem. Angels probably complain about Heaven (All that Harp music!).

    “The quality of the elite”
    That’s a great paragraph, but omits one element. Life is largely about relative performance. We can justly complain about our ruling elites only if we can do better.

  11. 19 August 2011 5:12 am

    FM reply: “These are deep waters, where certainty iies beyond our grasp. My statements are intended as clear positions (guesses about the future) allowing debate and rebuttal.”
    …………..

    Heaven’s yes…right on the $$, FM. And that is why it is so fascinating here. And thx.

  12. AAG permalink
    19 August 2011 2:04 pm

    How will the destruction of the middle class fix itself after the next election?
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    FM reply: why do you assume that it will? Neither the political factors (government by and for the rich) nor the objective factors (eg, automation, globalization of trade, emigration) will change — or even slow.

  13. 19 August 2011 5:02 pm

    I think that you are taking a bit of the lazy man’s approach. Unlike France or the UK or Russia, America’s governance lies to a significant extent outside the scope of the federal government and any serious analysis of the quality of the ruling class has to extend at least to the state level and possibly all the way down to the municipal level.

    Valparaiso, IN is not the beneficiary of some higher level conspiracy against its next county over near twin Merrillville, IN. It is simply governed better and the daily quality of life is significantly different.

    Now ask yourself why you can’t even get a list of all US governments. It seems not to be available.
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    FM reply: You raise two good questions. First, about factors not considered in this analysis. This is a common rebuttal, saying that there are other factors outside the scope of this analysis. While accurate, it ignores two things.
    (a) there are always factors outside the scope of any analysis. If this was 100 pages, there would be key factors outside its scope: social, historical, economic, political, resources, etc.(b) Posts on the internet must be brief. Readership drops off quickly after (my estimate) roughly a tthousand words. Most are, I’ve read, about 300 words. This post is 854 words. A tea cup can hold only a cup of water; do not condemn it for that.

    As for your second point, while true I believe you overestimate it. The influence of elites is even stronger at the state and local level, for many reasons. Critical ccoverage of the news media is much less than at the national level, so locals have less ability to see what’s happening (let alone mobilize effective action). Also, the influence of countervailing forces much smaller. This is easily seen whenever local groups seek to stop the activities of a multinational or the Federal government. They come when they want. Do what they want. Leave when they want. Not always, but usually. And more so now than 50 or 100 years ago, when local communities often had their own institutions (e.g., locally owned newspaper and banks).

  14. Oscar Tata Soria permalink
    19 August 2011 5:16 pm

    FM as allways you are wise and deep grasping the focus of the issue you put for discussion.
    And yes, I agree with you, is our problem not theirs if we dont renounce to self-government.

  15. 19 August 2011 5:20 pm

    Daniel Dennet once pointed out that sheep (and cows) have solved a huge problem: in return for giving up their free choice in reproduction, and being eaten, there are now vastly more of them than there would otherwise be, they are fed and cared for, and protected from other predators. The sheep have made a good deal, in other words. Except for the few lambs and veal that die early, they are free from fear of predation and probably live what they consider a long and normal life.

    If you look at the US economy, our financial system periodically gets disturbed by an overly-aggressive shearing (debt collapse, junk bonds, savings and loan…) but the sheep just keep making more wool and lambs and, meh, whatever. It’s a bit better than “picture a boot stamping on a human face, forever” Where’s my prozac?

    • 28 August 2011 9:53 pm

      I believe we have a “best of thread” winner! There is always a silver lining to every cloud.

      Contrast this with the assertion on Star Trek shows that men and women are not suited to be slaves. History disproves this. Slavery works well whenever economic factors make it profitable. Of course, it takes many forms. But like deth and entropy, we can fight and in this time and place win. We can create a home for a free people. It’s all about choice.

      Marcus Ranum is the author of The Myth of Homeland Security (2003), and writes at his website about homeland security and computer security. From his about page:

      Marcus J. Ranum is a world-renowned expert on security system design and implementation. He is recognized as an early innovator in firewall technology, and the implementor of the first commercial firewall product. Since the late 1980′s, he has designed a number of groundbreaking security products including the DEC SEAL, the TIS firewall toolkit, the Gauntlet firewall, and NFR’s Network Flight Recorder intrusion detection system. He has been involved in every level of operations of a security product business, from developer, to founder and CEO of NFR. Marcus has served as a consultant to many FORTUNE 500 firms and national governments, as well as serving as a guest lecturer and instructor at numerous high-tech conferences. In 2001, he was awarded the TISC “Clue” award for service to the security community, and the ISSA Lifetime Achievement Award. Marcus is Chief Of Security for Tenable Security, Inc., where he is responsible for research in open source logging tools, and product training. He serves as a technology advisor to a number of start-ups, established concerns, and venture capital groups.

  16. 19 August 2011 7:29 pm

    Appalling as this scenario is, there’s an almost (I repeat, almost) comforting aspect to it, in that the shepherds are competent, and their interests include keeping most of the sheep alive and in reasonably productive condition.

    But as everyone from Solomon to Steinbeck has noted, neither wealth nor wit is guaranteed to pass from generation to generation, and as noted in the string above, everyone’s thinking has a boundary. From outside of the boundary come Black Swans, and while the American flavored oligarchy we seem to be inheriting is very good at moving wealth up, it depends on having some things, like cheap energy inputs and relative geopolitical calm, stay constant. That can’t be guaranteed.
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    FM reply: But growth or decline, our elites appear likely to remain on top of the American heap until the world changes.

    Thanks for the wider perspective on this. We’ve rebranded the FM website as the go-to shop for good news!

  17. Fubar permalink
    20 August 2011 6:36 pm

    re: FM reply: “But growth or decline, our elites appear likely to remain on top of the American heap until the world changes.”

    When the world changes, it will not be the better for most americans. (?) A middle class crisis can lead to fascism.

    Specific criticism of this thread: If you are going to use sarcasm , please make it more accessible to the reader. Unless you are trying to confuse people for some “higher purpose”?

    In conventional thought, people are supposed express outrage and revulsion when the illusions of democracy are stated in an unvarnished manner. You seem to be trying to invert the revulsion, at redirect it at the people’s own weaknesses, laziness and cynicism (the real reason for the breakdown of democracy)?
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    FM reply: What saracasim?

    “to invert the revulsion, at redirect it at the people’s own weaknesses”

    Yep. Nothing else has worked; perhaps this will. I have explained this several times, as in these:
    * A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words.
    * For the holiday season, here are some comforting thoughts about America

  18. Heh permalink
    20 August 2011 6:37 pm

    You’re totally wrong if you think America has ‘good demographics’. Look at the public schools today to see the future of America tomorrow. Or, if so inclined, look at the Crown Heights, LA Riots and Katrina events of the past if you want to instead. Japan has far better demographics, even if old, than the U.S.

    As for the financials, yes, the U.S. has better financials than (Southern) Europe, but it’s doubtful that’s true of the Germanic nations(Holland, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia). It has a better energy situation, but horrible infrastructure, so it’s unclear if that will make much difference in the end.

    The one thing it does have is a strong military, but see the demographics question to know how that will pan out (or look up the harmony of the multicultural Habsburgian Imperial Army, and how it fared (read: fell of a cliff).
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    FM reply: I disagree with all of this.
    * By demographics, I used in the usual sense — referring to the age wave, and the collapse of fertility.
    * I don’t see a relationship between demographic change and US education.
    * As for your list of riots, you appear unaware that America has had high levels of social violence since (at least) the Civil War). Draft riots. Race riots. Union-Corporate violence. Range wars. Regular old riots.
    * As for financials, the US has better aggregate debt levels than most of Europe.
    * As for strong army, too strong vs. threats may be as bad as too weak. Imperial Germany and Japan are examples. Not only are too-large militaries expensive, but encourage risky foreign expenditures.

  19. Fubar permalink
    20 August 2011 6:54 pm

    Anthropologists are beginning to uncover the evolutionary basis for culture. People are adapted to social, tribal groupings. The organization of all the “great civilizations” of the last 8,000+ years is based on a model of extended tribalism. All extended tribes are unstable and random in nature.

    There is no evidence that an ordering “hand of god” is behind such organization.

    The assumption in this post appears to be that “economics” creates its own logic and order, despite the residual (outmoded) beliefs of past empires and cultures.

    The question is: what is the effect on culture of a model of society where the basis of social organization is almost purely money and power? What does Habermas mean when he says that “lifeworld is colonized by systems”?

    FM has consistently replied that it is ultimately a matter of “choice” (or laziness). This seems to be an effort (perhaps a convenient one?) to locate evil primarily in individuals, rather than in social structures. James Hillman has written on the many problems involved in the american “fad” of placing all evil in the area of individual choice. Ignoring how evil is located in social structures is itself part of the problem of disempowering individuals. (further reference to systems theory might be productive, self-organizing systems, self-learning systems).
    .
    .
    FM reply: Reform of a society or nation can only come from actions of individuals, no matter how you choose to define the problem. Either we act or we don’t. I do not see why this is difficult to understand.

    As for this comment, I have no idea what you are attempting to say.

  20. 20 August 2011 9:26 pm

    “You’re totally wrong if you think America has ‘good demographics’. Look at the public schools today to see the future of America tomorrow.”

    Fears about the American education system are not new – but despite decades of hand wringing, the apocalypse has not come. What it boils down to, IMO – is race and nationality. Education is just one small part of our overall fear of the scheming Asian Menace, destroying the American superpower because their kids are better at math than ours. Still hasn’t happened yet.

    “Or, if so inclined, look at the Crown Heights, LA Riots and Katrina events of the past if you want to instead.”

    How about Harper’s Ferry? Or the Nat Turner Revolt? Or the Whiskey Rebellion? I don’t see such crisis’s as a sign of decline.

    “Japan has far better demographics, even if old, than the U.S.”

    How so? “Old” is a potentially LETHAL demographic. And their national debt per person is about double ours.

    “As for the financials, yes, the U.S. has better financials than (Southern) Europe, but it’s doubtful that’s true of the Germanic nations(Holland, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia). It has a better energy situation, but horrible infrastructure, so it’s unclear if that will make much difference in the end.”

    I don’t think the US is really comparable to relatively small and homogenous nations like Germany or Austria. A better comparison might be the EU as a whole. Unlike the US, the EU is more of a Confederacy, with the strongest nation states dictating the economic policy of the weaker states, as we can see with the Austerity witch hunt. I doubt the people of Alabama would be too pleased if they had to accept a budget written by New York and Massachusetts before they could receive Federal money.

    The grass always looks greener on the other side.

    “The one thing it does have is a strong military, but see the demographics question to know how that will pan out(or look up the harmony of the multicultural Habsburgian Imperial Army, and how it fared (read: fell of a cliff).”

    I’m not sure the largest military on Earth is a strength, or just a further unnecessary drain on our coffers.

  21. Oscar Tata Soria permalink
    21 August 2011 2:32 am

    How about Harper’s Ferry? Or the Nat Turner Revolt? Or the Whiskey Rebellion? I don’t see such crisis’s as a sign of decline.

    Decline? We need to be more specific thinking of future scenarios and critical factors and indicators: 2020, 2030, 2050?.
    Let me propose an example. China power now is a result of an long range strategic master plan started several decades ago with clear objectives in the sciences and technology, economics,military and political. One mean [factor] to pursue those objetives was quality higher education, partially implemented by sending best student to get PhD in basic hard sciences abroad, mainly to the US and UK, France and Germany. See statistics of numbers of foreing PhDs in hard sciences from 1970-1990 and you will see hard data to understad the point in am trying to underline .

    Joe Brown raid on Harpers Ferry was the point of no return to American Civil War. Many lessons from the military point of view: I, II, and III GW: cavalry movement strategies, trenches war, total war, concentration camps POW, naval blockade, and destruction on civil population. Was not the end, was just a crises that ended in a Civil War. But you have to pay a price. A bloody one, as all civil wars are.

    Elites at local county level, State level, Federal level. FM aswerd the question very well in my humble opinion.

    Power Elites abroad, lets think UK. Whats the difference in FP between Thatcher, Blair or Cameron governments? Conservative, demo- liberals or labor. Britons may recall Harold Wilson as the lost stateman they dont have now.
    Who runs the show in UK 10 Domning Street or the City?. What is UK vis a vis EU without the supoport of the USA?

    Lets think France: De Gaulle, Mendes France, Pompidou, Mitterrand, Chirac, Sarkozy? Lets think Germany: from Adenauer to Merkel. Lets thin China: from Mao to LinPiao, from Chouenlai to Dengtsiaoping and the Gang of Shangai. Deng reforms couldnt survive without the strong support and commitment of the military establishment. And changes will stress internal contradictions, such as urban-rural economic development, and wealth distribution.

    We have had many Presidents after WWII. How many can be considered statesmens?

    A Nation deals with specific features of power: currency, foreing policy and war.
    The power shift from the White House and Congress, to power elites started maybe in 1913 with the creation of the FED?.

    Maybe I have more questions than answers. The sheeps can floks as numires. Fear is a form to conditioning behavior and mind control to concentrate liberties and rights at the top of the pyramid?. Its working very well. And I am not sarcastic. In my humble opinion.

    • 28 August 2011 7:24 pm

      “We have had many Presidents after WWII. How many can be considered statesmens?”

      As the old aphorism goes, “a statesman is a dead politician”. More seriously, few national leaders are statesman. Neither our election process nor American voters select for those qualities. Nations get those by good luck, rarely.

    • Oscar Tata Soria permalink
      31 August 2011 1:15 am

      oh yes! Statesman are species in extintion!!!!. Thats wht we get with this political system.

    • 31 August 2011 5:49 am

      Let’s chant the mantra of 21st C America: “It’s not my fault.” It’s the system!

      Bad news: the system is an abstraction. We are the system. In a democratic republic authority and responsibility lies with us, collectively. We hold elections every two years. Nobody cares about our whining or sophisticated excuses.

  22. Roberto Buffagni permalink
    21 August 2011 11:19 am

    Some sparse considerations.

    a) reform is possible until the system is reformable. (I don’t know, of course, if USA is a reformable system). Very tautological, but true. See URSS, or Spanish Empire in XVII century, when there was a flock of often very bright “arbitristas” writing articulate essays on decline and remedies at hand, widely read and discussed at Court.
    b) ruled classes like slaves, or farm and factory workers, never succeeded in history to overthrow their rulers, unless they were so lucky and clever to catch the “window of opportunity” of a major defeat in a foreign war (Russia 1917).
    c) UE is not a Confederation, nor a Federation, nor a viable State of any kind. It has no political sovereignty. Its “principal enemy” are the USA (until the US empire is viable, Europe will never be independent)
    d) maybe I’m wrong, but I think that if you sum up private and public debt, Euroland is waging better than US
    e) conclusion: the US of A being an Empire, their future (even their internal politics and balance of power between classes) hangs on geopolitics: if a coalition of anti-US powers is able to form itself, or not.

  23. Oscar Tata Soria permalink
    22 August 2011 5:31 pm

    Good points Roberto.

    a) reform is possible until the system is reformable. (I don’t know, of course, if USA is a reformable system). Very tautological, but true. See URSS, or Spanish Empire in XVII century, when there was a flock of often very bright “arbitristas” writing articulate essays on decline and remedies at hand, widely read and discussed at Court. [...]

    Your are right. A Reform not The Reform is underway not a secret conspiracy but maybe an open one. 9/11 was the boiling point.

    b) ruled classes like slaves, or farm and factory workers, never succeeded in history to overthrow their rulers, unless they were so lucky and clever to catch the “window of opportunity” of a major defeat in a foreign war (Russia 1917). [...]

    The so called October Revolution was an efficient work of small group of revolutionary proffesional,mainly foreigeners [ rereed Curzio Malaparte's Technc of a Coup D'Etat], low moral defetism, Kerensky’s colaboration, and the lack ok military leadership and control, and an incompetent Zar. A small group of Latvian Riflemen save the Revolution[Coup D'etat] in less tha one day. The Revolution and Civil War lasted two years an deserves more space for analysis.

    Reform need to be well define in the case of USA. Reformer was Reza Pahlevi, trying to westernaize Iran. The prize he paid was opposite to the purposes of foreing supporters, nor an Wester democracy neither a pro-soviet regimen, but the Islamic chia Revolution. Maybe Reform in the USA means return to lost self-govenment from the bottom and support from the top, more a Republic and less an Empire, change orientation of FP, keep the technological leverage of the Military, and rebuild the infrastructure PKI, return to Lincoln greenbucks, more control on WS, and the return to basics in education of quality.. Maybe….

    e) conclusion: the US of A being an Empire, their future (even their internal politics and balance of power between classes) hangs on geopolitics: if a coalition of anti-US powers is able to form itself, or not.

    Excelent point. The trend to multipolar world based uppon etnicity,language and or religion, as you mentioned before. I am rather skeptic of the accomplishments. BRIC is a construc of Goldman Sachs. Multipolar means going nuke, as the France doctrine before Sarkozy. Going nuke has many dangers from friends [so called] and foes. In my humble oppinion.

  24. Fubar permalink
    28 August 2011 3:35 am

    Your use of the plural “individuals” makes your point moot: By definition, if you are talking about what more than one person is doing, your are actually talking about the collective. People take action in the context of collectives. People draw their models of reality from collective consciousness. Abandoned babies that receive insufficient human touch do not develop normal personalities. In the case of the human species (and most other life), without culture, you have no individual meaning.

    “Individual” human beings can not be understood without also understanding collective consciousness. Human counsciousness is a archetypal combination of “I”, “We” and “It” (Jung). If you want to get into purely scientific definitions, an individudal human organism is a complex collective of cells, there IS NO INDIVIDUAL.

    The actions of individuals are influenced and largely determined by the collective culture. Culture is a result of evolution, and understanding evolution is done by analyzing artifacts. The evolution of human culture was complex.

    No significant actions aimed at a social reform have ever resulted purely from the acts of an ISOLATED individual. The laziness and apathy that de Toqueville predicted american democracy would produce is a product of culture, as expressed in the collective.

    • 28 August 2011 8:44 pm

      This gets into heavy philosophy, where we can only debate. As with all phenomena, there are larger scale interactions which provide different perspectives. There are cells, which combine to form ants, which combine to form an ant colony. Which level shows the most intelligence?

      I see only individuals with free will. The other levels — physiology (e.g., neurological), psychological, and sociological — are equally valid perspectives are valid, each in its own way.

  25. Fubar permalink
    28 August 2011 4:14 am

    “FM reply: Reform of a society or nation can only come from actions of individuals, no matter how you choose to define the problem. …”

    THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE TRUTH. IT IS A PARTIAL TRUTH. INCOMPLETE TRUTHS LACK AUTHENTICITY.

    The elites avoid “taking responsibility” for the PREDICTABLE results of their exploitation of the lower classes by shifting the “blame” for the “evil” {dysfunctionality} that develops (in lives of the exploited people) from the actions of the elites to the actions of the “individuals” that are being exploited. This justification (by the privileged elites) for the ethos of exploitation is so deep and pervasive that most people, including sophisticated people that deeply care about the problems of the world, do not even recognise it in their thinking.

    See Rabbi Michael Lerner’s books (especially _Surplus Powerlessness_), or many essays on Tikkun Daily for some good examples. {From Was the Prophet Jeremiah a Failure?, 5 August 2011:

    … History, in a sense, has portrayed him as a failure. He failed to convince his contemporaries not to rebel against Babylon; he failed to save Jerusalem from destruction … Like Job, Jeremiah curses the day he was born. The burden he carries as a prophet who admonishes people who refuse to listen is unbearable. Several attempts are made on his life. He is sentenced to death and barely escapes execution. He is considered a traitor by the king and his counselors, by the priests, by self-styled prophets, as well as by ordinary people. He can count his friends on one hand. Aside from his loyal scribe, Baruch ben Neriah, he only has one constant friend, namely, God. “

    Please read Lerner’s mentor, Abraham Joshua Heschel {Wikipedia}, instead of all that dreary Straussian/classicist stuff.

    This is why contemplation, meditation, or some other psychosocial “spiritual” (or similar) practice is necessary. Integralists have adapted the tools of eastern spiritual traditions into “shadow work”, a process of understanding the subconscious,”Jungian shadows” that have a large effect on people’s actions. Exploitation is caused by ego gratification and greed. Its result is laziness and apathy.

    You are only seeing the RESULT (laziness/apathy), not the CAUSE (exploitation, ego gratification, greed, clinging to illusion). Which is exactly what is wrong with attempting to define the possibility of social reforms in the context of limited truths. Again, you have to answer the question of “What did Habermas mean by ‘lifeworld colonized by systems’?” to understand the current crisis of legitimization in culture (such as the diminishment of democratic republics). In Habermas’ analysis, social institutions are dysfunctional because the collective rationale for their original purpose no longer matches newly emergent elements in a culture (new paradigm shifts).

    No reforms are possible unless they are a collective effort. Major reforms (e.g., the change from aristocracy to democracy) tend to be the result of a paradigm shift in culture, which usually results from a shift in the techno-economic mesh of a society (Marx.)

    Koestler’s theory of Holons is very useful.

    In the pathological form of american culture (as described by Hillman, who is a critic of mainstream therapeutic culture), there is too much emphasis on the problems of individuals (or put another way, too much emphasis on locating “evil” in individuals). Hillman is saying that locating “evil” in individuals has become an absolutism in much of american culture and thought, and thus an impediment to overcoming dysfunction.

    From a Holistic perspective, salvation and redemption (which is really what “social reforms” are about) are only possible when evil is located in not only “individuals”, but also in “collectives” and “systems”. Those are Jung’s “I”, “We” and “It”. An example of a Holistic approach that considers all three perspectives is the idea of the “Three Faces of God”.

    • 28 August 2011 8:52 pm

      To say “THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE TRUTH. IT IS A PARTIAL TRUTH. INCOMPLETE TRUTHS LACK AUTHENTICITY” is a fail in terms of Philosophy 101. There are no complete truths, at least in words. Perhaps a kiss. Perhaps a newborn baby. Perhaps an act of selfless heroism. But not words.

  26. ruralcounsel permalink
    28 August 2011 2:42 pm

    “It’s class warfare. But like war monger, a form of right-wing political correctness has banned these terms from our thought stream ”

    Right wing? I think you’re confused. It is only from the Right that I hear protests about class warfare being waged by the current in-power Left. The Administration’s railing about who has “made enough money” and the “rich not paying their fair share” is pure class warfare rhetoric, but they object strenuously to identifying it as such.

    Trouble is, the Left sees it as betwen the rich and poor, and the Right sees it as between the parasites and the productive. Neither Venn diagram is quite correct, I suspect, since it oversimplifies the number of major groups at play. Your model of the sheep and the cowboys/dogs is another version – though I’d replace cowboys/dogs with a pack of coyotes thinning out the flock periodically.

    • 28 August 2011 9:40 pm

      The Democratic and Republican parties have implemented policies which have helped concentrate wealth and income back to peak levels in US history (before the 1929 crash). And it’s still concentrating, so we’ll probably surpass those levels. Standards measures of income and wealth show the US with inequality exceeding that of our peers and moving to Thrid World-like levels. See this chart for an introduction. Combined with our low and falling level of social mobility, it shows that the Land of Opportunity is becoming a stratified plutocracy. For facts about this see America, the land of limited opportunity. We must open our eyes to the truth. Esp see the many links at the end.

      These grim facts make your claims little but flack attempting to hide the truth. Propaganda seeking to blind us to those pointing our the facts. It’s sad that you probably don’t know these things, and seek to keep others from doing so.

    • ruralcounsel permalink
      29 August 2011 1:54 pm

      I’m not sure what the gratuitous insult at the end of that was supposed to accomplish. I don’t see where we are in disagreement about the political situation we are in, other than who is conducting the class warfare.

      Perhaps you think income disparity is sufficient proof of class warfare, rather than a natural result of a competitive economic system. I don’t.

      However the income divide is artificially accentuated by our current political system; both parties are guilty, as you stated. Our political system has become predatory and at the command and control of our technocratic elites, yet you seem to applaud that on one hand by presuming their ruling competency, but decry the end result on the other. The class warfare rhetoric comes from one clique of technocrats trying to outloot another clique, all at the expense of a particularly wealthier group of the sheep. Both sides find it a useful tool to distract us from the real looting of the public fisc, while simultaneously demanding that the fattest sheep replenish what the “shepherds” have taken.

      I don’t think that pointing out that it is the shepherds who are demanding higher taxes on the wealthier sheep and trying to shift the wealth (as opposed to eradicate income disparity) to themselves and their cronies, while throwing crumbs and empty promises to the rest of the flock, is hiding anything. But demonizing the fatter sheep that are about to get skinned instead of just sheared certainly is. That is sad.

    • 29 August 2011 2:30 pm

      Much of what you say is factually misleading or outright false.

      (1) “I don’t see where we are in disagreement …other than who is conducting the class warfare”

      Other than that being a central point…

      (2) “income disparity is sufficient proof of class warfare, rather than a natural result of a competitive economic system. I don’t”

      You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. That US social mobility and inequality has risen to levels above most of our peers proves that there it is not a “natural result”. Esp while this has happened along with major public policy changes that benefit the wealthy. I recommend reading some of the articles mentioned in the post to which I linked.

      (3) “yet you seem to applaud that on one hand by presuming their ruling competency,”
      That’s a major reading fail. Observing that they are competent plutocrat exploiters does not equal “applause.”

      (4) “The class warfare rhetoric comes from one clique of technocrats trying to outloot another clique”

      Watch what they do, not what they say. Most of the relevant public policy changes that boost inequality were passed by bipartisan majorities. In this case (Q4 2010), signed by the President to whom you attribute “class war” intentions. These tax cuts for the rich accompany his often stated plans to cut much of the New Deal safety net — odd policies for a “class warrior.”

      (5) “simultaneously demanding that the fattest sheep replenish what the “shepherds” have taken … demonizing the fatter sheep that are about to get skinned instead of just sheared certainly is.”

      Total nonsense. Not only does this absurdly exaggerate what Obama has said, I doubt you can find any public policy actions to support this assertion. Guessing, you probably rely on FOX News for your information, supplemented by the Weekly Standard. There are few other places from which one can gather such misinformation (other than, of course, the Internet).

      (6) “the shepherds who are demanding higher taxes on the wealthier sheep ”

      The debate concerns returning the progressivity of the US tax system (never very progressive including all taxes at all levels) to where it was before the Bush tax cuts. Which was in turn far below what it was during most of the post-WWII era, when the US enjoyed far higher growth rates.

  27. ruralcounsel permalink
    28 August 2011 3:07 pm

    “in return for giving up their free choice in reproduction, and being eaten, there are now vastly more of them than there would otherwise be, they are fed and cared for, and protected from other predators. The sheep have made a good deal, in other words. Except for the few lambs and veal that die early, they are free from fear of predation and probably live what they consider a long and normal life.”
    – Marcus Ranum

    Interesting, but inaccurate. The majority of male cattle and sheep are castrated (steers and wethers)and used for meat. A large number of the females are also destined for slaughter. Even in the dairy business, almost all bull calves end up on the dinner plate, as there are few things more useless and dangerous to the farmer than an excess of bulls. And this is free from predation how? Unless one has a very peculiar definition of predation. The species as a collective may have a good deal, but it is far from optimal for most individuals.

    “Our leaders incite fear to build support for policy changes. … They will steer America away from the rocks because they own most of it.” – FM

    You have an overabundance of confidence in the competency of our ruling class to steer the boat. Yet I think there is a huge difference between being able to conduct an effective mutiny and good seamanship. They haven’t shown any ability at the latter, and have benefited from starting out in deeper waters than we currently face.

    • 29 August 2011 2:00 am

      “You have an overabundance of confidence in the competency of our ruling class to steer the boat.”

      Sad but perhaps true. Anyone reading the posts on this website will see that I had delusional optimism about the ability of the American people to reform and again take the reins of self-government. I could just as easily be wrong today.

    • Oscar Tata Soria permalink
      31 August 2011 1:29 am

      FM may have been playing Loki from the very begining. Loki is equal to the Mayan alushes, the elfs of this region..pulling or legs just for fun and wit. Is less Socratic style but provocative and eliciting good answers.

      I dont know whats the current meaning of right or left in LAC and or in US. The US seems to me a mono party system with two heads glue to the same body, lets say Republican and Democrats. Both monopolize the democratica process from the top and the American system is dead. Who is promoting “class struggle”? In my humble opinion are the plutocrats from WS who are mocking all of us.

    • 31 August 2011 5:51 am

      All I see are attempts to avoid the plain words of my comments. Try using quotes when responding. Try attempting to engage with their plain meaning.

    • 30 August 2011 11:45 pm

      By “giving up their free choice in reproduction” I was attempting to ironically imply that – yes – testicles are lost in the process. I shouldn’t have tried to be clever. You appear to have caught the main point, which is that the cattle may suffer as individuals but as a species they are vastly more successful than they otherwise would be. I don’t think you could call our relationship with them “predatory” exactly – it’s more like parasitism or symbiosis. That’s the parallel that I see between the lumpenproletariat and the power elites. Nowhere should we assume that the power elites make good decisions all the time! Not to stretch an analogy too far, it appears that our cattle-farming may be so successful that it’s collapsing big chunks of ecosystem.

    • 31 August 2011 12:31 am

      You comment was quite clear. The problem is that I was attempting humor. The FM website is littered with such, usually unsuccessful. Crossing from geopolitics to humor is a bridge too far, for me at least!

  28. 29 August 2011 4:16 pm

    ruralcounsel offers: “Perhaps you think income disparity is sufficient proof of class warfare, rather than a natural result of a competitive economic system. I don’t. ”

    Goodness. “Natural Result…”? Clear sign that what one believes is more improtant than reality. AND: “But demonizing the fatter sheep that are about to get skinned instead of just sheared certainly is. ”
    ………………………
    Heavens. If or when the so called fatter sheep really experience the reality that they are just “Sheep” and have no idea what is encompassed in the reality of being WEALTHY in this Country, they will continue to support their own demise!. Boy, the myths we wrap ourselves in are just stunning.

  29. 29 August 2011 4:57 pm

    I’ve been using the sheep analogy in my classes for years. Most don’t like to take its implications seriously. It also contributes to a tendency to give up and submit in those rare instances when a group of committed individuals can make a positive difference. (There are more opportunities to make a negative difference–but not all that many of them, either.)

    Regarding some other comments:

    “The species as a collective may have a good deal, but it is far from optimal for most individuals.”

    Evolution is about the survival of groups. If it selected the optimum for individuals, we’d be immortal.

    “Our leaders incite fear to build support for policy changes. … They will steer America away from the rocks because they own most of it.” – FM

    Be careful not to assume “our leaders” are American — or think of themselves as American — let alone public officials. In a globalizing world, you get global elites. Global ownership. Global interests. If what’s best for the elite(s) is to allow some particularly stupid and needy sheep to die in order to maximize wealth extraction from the herd as a whole, it may be a regrettable but rational move. This may also include culling the flock.

    “You have an overabundance of confidence in the competency of our ruling class to steer the boat.” — ruralcounsel

    Sometimes that seems like the best hope for something like a liberal republic. If the some elite(s) in power really screw up, in a liberal republic there is a relatively nonviolent mechanism to co-opt more competent critics. Moreover, in the long run a sense of personal reward and personal control among the sheep (read “rights”) encourages more production, and thus more to extract. When that breaks down _and_ the elite(s) can no longer govern themselves–a situation we are increasingly in today–some counter-elite with greater self-discipline and competence still emerges, within or without, to replace the failures.

    But the transition is usually a lot more messy.

    • 30 August 2011 1:24 am

      Thanks for your comment!

      (1) “I’ve been using the sheep analogy in my classes for years. Most don’t like to take its implications seriously. It also contributes to a tendency to give up and submit”

      Of course your students do not like to be described as sheep. That’s the value of the analogy. From: Re-envisioning the FM website, becoming soldiers in the war for American’s future, 21 December 2009: From The Closing of the American Mind, chapter “Values”, Allan Bloom (1987):

      “Weber points us toward Nietzsche as the common source for serious thinkers of the twentieth century. He also tells us what the single fundamental issue is: the relation between reason, or science, and the human good. When he speaks of happiness and the last man, he does not mean that the last man is unhappy, but that his happiness is nauseating. An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.

      “Weber’s science presupposes this experience, which we would call subjective. After having encountered it in Nietzsche, he spent the greater part of his scholarly life studying religion in order to understand the non-contemptible, those who esteem or revere and are therefore not self-satisfied, those who have values …”

      (2) “Evolution is about the survival of groups”

      I believe this is social evolution, with no changes in the genome of Americans. But the analogy is a good one. What is the “group” whose survival is optimized? What is the group that constitutes America?

      (3) “Be careful not to assume ‘our leaders’ are American — or think of themselves as American — let alone public officials.”

      It’s not clear in this post, but my posts discuss our “ruling elites”. Senior officials are members of that group, but only a small part — and not the dominate part.

      (4) “you get global elites”

      That’s a powerful issue, described in important works such as The Revolt of the Elites: And the Betrayal of Democracy (1994). Some sociological and psychological research would prove enlightening. History suggests that elites integrate VERY slowly. By 1914 Europe’s elites had a tighter in connection than any time since, tied together by intermarriage and business (right to the top, in the Royal families). Yet that fabric burned just the same in nationalistic fires, and they’ve not yet been able to re-weave it.

      (5) “Sometimes that seems like the best hope for something like a liberal republic. If the some elite(s) in power really screw up, in a liberal republic there is a relatively nonviolent mechanism to co-opt more competent critics.”

      Perhaps. But I suspect (my wild guessing) that the result would be even more concentration of power. Look at the Gallop trust in institutions poll. Police and military are #2 and #1 (small business is not an institution), with a large gap between them an the rest. That suggests to whom we will turn in a time of turbulence — powerful institutions in whom we trust.

  30. Derek5 permalink
    1 September 2011 4:57 am

    FM: “Let’s chant the mantra…”

    Why does there have to be someone to blame? How is “we” any less of an abstraction than the “system”?

    • 1 September 2011 12:12 pm

      (1) Assigning blame sometimes helps in an operational sense. Understanding who bears responsibility is the essential fact in order for a Democratic Republic to function.

      (2) “We” American citizens is not an abstraction, but a set of specific individuals. We can list their names. The “system” is a high order abstraction, comprised of complex interactions among groups of citizens and foreigners plus an ever-changing set of formal and informal institutions (many of them also abstractions). If you cannot see the difference then there is little I can do to help you.

    • Derek5 permalink
      2 September 2011 4:46 am

      OK I agree that the “system” is a higher order abstraction than “we”; however, it seems to me that “we” is still an abstraction. I don’t think “we can list their names” since there are people passing in and out of existence all the time, my point being that the set of individuals is not specific but in flux, especially if we consider that people themselves and even their beliefs can change (although rarely, I’d grant you). Your site and your reply does help me in trying to figure out what is going on, so thanks.

    • 2 September 2011 5:32 am

      At that level everything is an absraction. You are a collection of everychanging cells, with your personality in flux over time. The key IMO (there are no fixed stars in such discussion) is operational utiltiy. Which is why focus on individuals. We can touch them. Under our system the citizens bear responsibility for the State. Not some invisible, vaguely defined “system”. That makes “we”, the collection of citzens, determinative in both theory and practice for the American Republic. Which is the subject of this discussion.

  31. "Republican Days of Wrath" in the NYRB permalink
    13 September 2011 1:41 am

    Worthwhile reading about modern American conservatism: “Republican Days of Wrath“, Michael Tomasky, New York Review of Books, 29 September 2011

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