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- Smackdowns – corrections & rebuttals to FM posts

This page borrows a regular feature on Brad DeLong’s (Prof Economics Berkeley) website.  Openness to criticism — and self-criticism — are qualities I value.  These links go to my posts admitting I was wrong, and links to other sites disagreeing with my posts.  Please email me with additions:  fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (spam protected address).

What you see in those posts listed below are key beliefs about America shattered.  The FM website has changed at least one person’s view of the world.

“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
— attributed to Lord Keynes

“I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.”
— Lincoln, in a letter to Major General Grant, 13 July 1863

(1)  The most important smackdown: 

My delusional optimism about the resilience of America’s political regime

I was wrong on the big one.  Very wrong the most important subject discussed here.  America’s political regime has deteriorated faster than I dreamed possible.  Our liberties melt away like winter’s snow.  Oldskeptic pointed that out in 2009, but I disagreed.  Here are two of the posts admitting that he was right and I was wrong.

(a)  Another nail put in the Constitution’s coffin, but we don’t care, 9 February 2010 — Excerpt:

In December Oldskeptic posted two prescient comments about America’s fading freedoms (here and here), which I said were exaggerated.   Even nutty.  I wish I was correct.  Unfortunately I was wrong and he was right.

(b)  Our fears are unwarranted.  America is in fact well-governed., 18 August 2011 — Excerpt:

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.

(2)  Another important error:  America does not have high social mobility

Again Oldskeptic corrects my mistaken view:  A sad picture of America, but important for us to understand, 3 November 2008 — Oldskeptic corrects my happy but misinformed view.

This ugly graph tells a story contrary to a core American belief, immortalized in the books by Horatio Alger.  Social mobility probably was high in the past, when there was a frontier and far great rates of growth.  But the data shows today’s America has a low level of social mobility.  I did not know this until Oldskeptic corrected me (in comments here and here).

(3)  My delusional confidence about our wisdom

My most foolish predictions assumed that since it was obvious these wars were unwinnable, they would end soon:

(4)  Other corrections and admissions of error

  1. Forecasts for the American Expedition to Iraq, 30 November 2005 — Bush would wind down the Iraq War to avoid large Republican losses in the November 2006 elections.  Wrong.
  2. Keeping score: how well did 4GW theory predict events in Iraq?, 21 May 2008 — My forecasts about Iraq were mostly right; but here I misjudged which horse was best.
  3. Correction to my previous posts – not all citizen activism is good…, 16 October 2009 — Correction to my delusional optimism about mass movements.
  4. Update about the state of the Af-Pak war; my forecast was wrong, 1 March 2010 — My optimism about the effect of rational debate in America proves wrong.
  5. The Tea Party Movement disproves my recommendation for the path to reforming America, 20 April 2010
  6. Another FM smack-down: chemicals are not causing earlier puberty, 22 August 2010
  7. Endgame for the affair Assange: a big win for the government, 27 September 2010 — Events prove (again) that the CIA can easily fool most Americans most of the time (which is good enough for them).
  8. This was very incorrect:  R.I.P., G.O.P. – a well-deserved end, 7 November 2008 — In February 2010 I realized my error, writing Republicans have found a sure-fire path to victory in the November elections.

(5)  Criticism on other websites

These are just those that I remember, or see mentioned in the FM archives.

  1. What Lefty Site Does Whinyus Maximus Hope Will Hire Him?, Smitty, The Other McCain, 20 April 2010 — Smitty screams because sometimes the truth hurts.
  2. Does Fabius Maximus Consider The Constitution A Delusion?, Smitty, The Other McCain, 26 March 2010
  3. The Ethical Case for War in Afghanistan (is Strong but Insufficient), Bernard Finel, 23 November 2009
  4. Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban, Herschel Smith, The Captain’s Journal, 26 July 2009
  5. Fabius Responds – Badly, Bill Quick, Daily Pundit, 19 January 2009
  6. Off the Mark, Bill Quick, Daily Pundit, 17 January 2009
  7. I wonder what forms of maneuver Fabius would not classify under surrender?, tdaxp, 18 February 2008
  8. Lessons Learned in Sports and War, 6 February 2008 — Differing opinions about the utility of after-battle analysis.
  9. Fierceness, Variations, and the utility of these concepts, tdaxp, 3 December 2007
  10. On Fabius Maximus’ warning concerning the Long War, Wolf Pangloss, 8 November 2007
  11. In search of a darwinian ratchet: the ANC, the PLO, and the RAF, tdaxp, 24 October 2007
  12. Rationality – Strength or Weakness?, Opposed System Design, 11 January 2007
  13. Fabius Maximus Offers Visions of Petro-Empires, 17 July 2006 — Only time will tell who is correct!
  14. Non-State Groups Have Vulnerabilities Too, Opposed System Design, 12 February 2006
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. OldSkeptic permalink
    17 July 2012 9:05 am

    Thank you, praise indeed. Rather kindly you passed over my wrong predictions and analysis. I have made quite a few along the way naturally (cough, cough).

    The biggest problem is that long term trends that have been building for decades are, in some cases, going asymptotic now. So things are happening at a non-linear pace, which is hard to predict or even understand.

    Some deteriorations have caught, even a cynical skeptic like myself, completely off guard. Frankly I would never have predicted the EU meltdown, mainly because, if for no other reason, they had the experience of Sweden in the mid 1990’s to draw on (let alone Japan). Fixing their sort of problems is not technically difficult. The EU started on its disastrous path from a fairly strong position in economic terms. Yes they had some issues, yes they took some hits, yes there would be a bit of mild pain fixing it, but this mess is totally self inflicted.

    What even I didn’t expect was that the same neo-liberal/neo-cons that have destroyed the US were waiting in the wings and somehow managed to grab levels of influence.

    Bit like them grabbing power after 9/11 in the US. And how they did it, straight out of the Trotsky playbook. I followed Karen Kwiatkowski’s writings during that period and it was amazing how a very small group of people could subvert a whole system (she’s a personal favourite of mine, someone with strong moral courage). And she talked at an operational level, she actually witnessed what happened her area, she saw the people right up front.

    So I expect the whole EU fiasco is the same thing, just a very few people in the right places.

    And yes, things are going asymptotic, useless greedy fools are just piling on to the trend. Take Wall St, there are actually some people there with some brains. Take them out into the country for a week, decompress them and make them think a bit. And then ask the question “do you think war with (say) Iran is a good idea”. And they would be horrified.

    But within the hot house environment of their work, then it is “how can we make personal money out of this”. I can just imagine many of them hitting personal contacts right now in the Military, Govt, Israeli Govt, et al, trying to get an edge to speculate and make money out of disaster. Money changes hands (or promises made) for some insight. Disaster capitalism in all its glory*. No matter how bad things get “we can make money out of it, especially if we have an edge”.

    Can’t we just get rid of these people? The new DSM is out and can’t we add insane short term greed or hubris to the list of mental disorders? Makes sense to me.

    Anyway keep up the good work, but in realty the thing to think about is what happens AFTER the collapse. What sort of society do we want to have? What do we rebuild to, not the same as before (shudder), how can we make it better?

    The data and knowledge is all there about how to make functioning society that is economically reasonably well off, but is fairly happy, is healthy, well educated (in the true sense), just, honorable, fair and kind. The sort of place I’d like to live in, and you FM and most of your readers and commentators. That is fairly good and, at times, does some really good (even great) things.

    * I know you don’t like Naomi Klein but,as I have said before, she has a rare intuitive talent that she can pick trends from obscure data points, often well ahead of the curve. Not a great researcher, but intuitively she has hit the nail on the head many times. And a fair writer so she can explain things, which in itself is a rare talent.

    Like

    • 17 July 2012 12:58 pm

      It is well-deserved praise.

      (1) “she has a rare intuitive talent that she can pick trends from obscure data points,”

      Perhaps so. But unfortunately she in effect broadcasts on a frequency I cannot hear, in that her description of the output of her intuitive sense usually makes no sense to me.

      (2) “but in realty the thing to think about is what happens AFTER the collapse. ”

      First, I don’t see what a collapse is certain. Possible, of course — the structure of society is in effect built anew by each generation. Second, as I have so often written, we appear to be heading towards a singularity. We cannot see beyond it; all we know is that on the other side lies a different world. Better or worse, but with too wide a range of alternatives for useful analysis at this time.

      We cannot see beyond the choices we have yet to make.

      Like

  2. OldSkeptic permalink
    22 July 2012 7:53 pm

    Re ‘Collapse’. For a large minority of the population the US has already collapsed.

    When (say Dimitri Orlov) talks about societal collapse it really just means that for the majority of the population it has gone under. They have no money, short on food, no accommodation and no hope of ever getting these again. Basics like electricity or medical care are not available, either because you personally can’t afford it, or it is simply not available in your area and so on.

    But you can get a big bang collapse or a creeping one. The USSR was a fairly fast crash, the US is just a slower one.

    In the US what have you got now, 30%+ of the population, where for them, personally, society has collapsed. They have little or nothing, if they had something in the past it is gone now. And it will never come back. That will steadily grow to 40%+, then 50%+ and so on. As this goes on and municipal/county/State/Federal programs and spending and infrastructure crumble away then you are now a poverty stricken third world person living (?) in a crumbling third world society.

    Basically a slow motion train wreck. Take this for example: Is a Great Grey Exodus from America Starting?, Naked Capitalism, 22 July 2012.

    For those people society already has already gone under. So collapse is very much a personal thing, just when the % of the population gets high enough then we say the society as whole has collapsed.

    Could it be stopped and reversed? Yep sure. Will it? Nope. The consensus of the US ‘elites’ is that they are quite happy to throw (say) 70% of the population under a bus as long as they can keep their personal party going (not for much longer by the way, not that those kleptocratic sociopaths understand that).

    The US is already at the bottom of many societal indicators, compared to other ‘first world’ nations. Realistically you now have to start comparing it to 2nd World or even 3rd World nations now, because that is the life and prospects for a high, and rapidly growing, % of its population who have nothing and will never have anything.

    One day in the future historians will pick a year for when they say the US collapsed, but in reality it started a long while ago.

    Like

    • 24 July 2012 12:01 am

      “For a large minority of the population the US has already collapsed.”

      It’s easy for people with jobs to mock such statements, especially in the upper middle class — most of which is so far untouched by the great recession. But the numbers show the darker side of its effects, as in this note by the great economist David Rosenberg (working for the Canadian brokerage firm Gluskin Sheff), posted at Zero Hedge today:

      This is looking more and more like a modem-day depression. After all, last month alone, 85,000 Americans signed on for Social Security disability cheques, which exceeded the 80,000 net new jobs that were created: and a record 46 million Americans or 14.8% of the population (also a record) are in the Food Stamp program (participation averaged 7.9% from 1970 to 2000, by way of contrast) — enrollment has risen an average of over 400,000 per month over the past four years. A record share of 41% pay zero national incomes tax as well (58 million), a share that has doubled over the past two decades. Increasingly, the U.S. is following in the footsteps of Europe of becoming a nation of dependants.

      Like

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