Ask any question about geopolitics, broadly defined. We’ll attempt to answer it in the comments. Links to other episodes appear below.
Like Jeporady, your comments must be in the form of a question!
Questions received so far:
- Will Palestine become a state recognized by the UN? Would that be good, bad, or inconsequential?
- What do you think of world-systems theory as an accurate framework for analyzing geopolitics?
- Do you feel that this up and down stock market plus the debt crisis in Europe will result in an economic collapse and a Second Great Depression?
- What happens if all of this stimulus and QE does not work?
- Given our recent ramblings with Pakistan, what might be the end game there? In Afghanistan?
- Is there an “Israel Lobby” as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt say there is and is its influence detrimental to America’s global standing?
- What about the discovery of neutrinos that travel faster than light?
- We should we care about Israel’s fate?
- What do you think about the recent Turkish/Israeli developments?
Earlier episodes were big successes. My thanks to all who participated!
33 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website, espisode 4”
Will Palestine become a state recognized by the UN? Would that be good, bad, or inconsequential?
(1) Eventually, in the course of time. It will require a massive policy change by Israel — perhaps forced by either the major world powers or alliance of its neighbors.
(2) It will be inconsequential for the world, but good for the Palestinian people. And good for the Jewish people. They were on course for a great strategic victory, establishing solid if not friendly relations with their neighbors, with the Camp David Accords (1978), the Oslo Accords (1993). the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (1994), and the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities (1994), the Washington Declaration (1994), the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace (1994), the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (1995), and the the Hebron Protocol (1997).
But all this potential came to nothing, destroyed by the expansion of settlements into Palestine following the 1977 election victory by the Likud Party. This policy was antithetical to both the peace process and the long-term survival of Israel. They forfeited the moral high ground, the key to survival in a world with 4GW is the dominant form of warfare.
The situation will have to change greatly before Israel can make a secure home for itself in the Middle East, and getting there might be prove painful for both sides.
Posts about Israel
What do you think of world-systems theory as an accurate framework for analyzing geopolitics?
FM Note — From Wikipedia:
I am not a fan of such systems. On the other hand, many perspectives are needed to understand our complex and rapidly-changing world.
Such systems are useful for some people. It’s a fox and hedgehog kind of thing. As described in the opening of The Hedgehog and the Fox by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1953):
You state: “I am not a fan of such systems.”
Could you explain why?
Not coherently. Such things are, I suspect, a matter of personal styles. Perhaps it’s just my sloppy analytical processes.
For a good analysis of the limitations of tight systems, reasoning from “well-reasoned principles” to detailed conclusions, see “On Politics and Principles” by Jonathan Bernstein (Asst Prof of Political Science at Depauw U), 3 October 2011 — Excerpt:
“I still lack a political, religious and philosophical world view — I change it every month — and so I’ll have to limit myself to descriptions of how my heroes love, marry, give birth, die, and how they speak.”
— Letter to Dmitry Grigorovich, 9 October 1888
Do you feel that this up and down stock market plus the debt crisis in Europe will result in an economic collapse and a Second Great Depression?
First consider the background. The start of this global downturn (Q4 2008- Q1 2009) was equal or worse than the 1929 crash. But economics is more developed than in 1929, and measures were taken to stabilize the global economy (dor details see Why has the worst recession since the 1930′s had so little impact on the economy?).. Unfortunately this first aid was not followed by treatment.
As Richard Koo explained in the beginning (and I’ve said many times since) we are locked in cycles of slowdown-stimulus-recovery-slowdown. We’re entering the fourth, following the stimulus programs (monetary and fiscal) in Q1 2008, Q1 2009, Q4 of 2010. In July 2010 (starting the 3rd cycle) I explained What lies ahead for the US economy? the global economy?. I was wrong about the 4th US stimulus program, which came faster and larger than I expected (each must be larger to get the same effect). Now we’re in the stimilar spot of cycle 4 — but it’s worse.
In Fall 2010 Japan was recoverying, Europe was relatively stable, and Asia growing strongly. Now …
Depressions are normal (but fortunately rare) business cycles. Great depressions result from massive public policy failures. From lack of international coordination, from ignorance (Keynes wrong his magnum opus in 1936), and from the usual ills of policy making. Fear of bold actons, too little political capital for the the necessary bold actions, allowing time to close options while delaying “to keep our options open”, etc.
Could the global economy crash again, this time beyond the ability of governments’ to stabilize? Yes, it could happen.
“French banks could tip Europe back into a full-blown crisis“, Mohamed El-Erian, Financial Times, 22 September 2011. Esp note economist George Magnus’ comment in reply:
Much depends on the decisions of our leaders over the next few months. Their conduct so far gives me few grounds for confidence.
What might be the consequences of a policy mistake? See “Doom! Our economic nightmare is just beginning.” , John B. Judis, The New Republic, 14 September 2011.
“Collapse” is such a strong word. It implies a complete breakdown. Severe economic disturbance is more likely where living arrangements are re-calibrated to the new realities of finite resources.
I agree. The question asked about “collapse”, which is an extreme event. My reply discussed recessions and depressions, but did not mention collapses.
Societies VERY seldom collapse due to internal events. Even Jared Diamon’s book “Collapse” had to rely on the false story of Easter Island to support his green eco-fable.
Economic cycles are esp unlikely to spark collapses, since the true foundations of an economy are untouched: its people and physical infrastructure. Note that severe social changes are not necessarily economic collapses. The 1929 crash and the Weimer government’s response (austerity!) brought the NAZI party to power. That was a moral collapse, but not an economic one. Germany’s economy was one of Europe’s stars during the 1930s, and as such much admired.
What happens if all of this stimulus and QE doesent work? Head for the hills?
It’s not binary: work or not work. Different kinds of stimulus each have different degrees of effectiveness (for details see Everything you need to know about government stimulus programs.
The larger danger is not that stabilization measures (a more accurate name than “stimulus”) will fail — it is that they will not be made.
No, reconnect with your local community. These programs will not work because they are fighting something bigger than merely bad fiscal or monetary policy; trying to maintain a status-quo that is gone. The 20th century was remarkable in its advancements and most attribute it to better governance or a more developed Keynesian economic model, the truth is rise in GDP (and thus living standards) had far more to do with cheap energy. Overlay the historical GDP with oil production levels charts and they are the same curve. If you believe in peak-oil, then this period was just an anomalous congruence in the long view of history.
The age of austerity is coming but, not for the reasons we are told. A more pertinent question would be: How will you use your 1kW a day of energy?
Your comment assumes “cheap energy” = oil. I doubt very much that will prove accurate. I suspect that the transition will be from oil to other sources (probably cleaner and inexpensive). It might take 1 – 3 generations, especially as our myopia has meant near-zero preparation for peak oil (so the first decade or so of the transition might be painful).
IMO opinion the whole “reconnect with your community” is powerful socially and politically, but with little effect economically.
Hi Fabius Maximus,
Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately I believe you gave out the boiler plate response to peak oil; the belief that we will techno our way of it with other alternatives. It’s not backed by facts.
“I doubt very much that will prove accurate.” OK. I suppose you have some sound reason to believe this? I don’t and here’s why:
1. The worlds oil supply is many millions of years of the sun’s energy concentrated into an very convenient package that we are burning off in a few hundred years. The energy/volume ratio is truly amazing. So amazing that most don’t even bother to think about it. The easy (i.e. cheap) oil is in decline and cannot be replaced. Off-shore drilling, transforming oil sands and shale into liquid have ~6x the costs as sticking a straw into the ground and sucking up oil.
2. “Other sources” especially the ones labeled green can only harness, inefficiently, the energy of the moment – not an aggregate collection of many years time. Plus rarely does one consider the amount of energy used to make the wind turbine or solar array. It’s like dumping out a vat of energy and then refilling it with a drip. It takes years to recoup the initial energy. You can argue coal and nuclear but, even then there are very large problems with electrical transportation. Not to mention environmental problems.
3. My response to this question is devoid of ideology and based on the belief that the exponential expansion of living standards due to economic growth (in western civilization) in the 20th century had more to do with cost*energy/person decreasing than an economic philosophy. That ratio enabled us to go from horses to airplanes in 80 years.
If you believe, like me, that cost*energy/person will necessarily increase, fiscal and monetary policy actions based upon what worked x number of years ago because the future still had the low hanging fruit of cheap energy, suddenly takes on a new light.
4. “powerful socially and politically, but with little effect economically.” I’m not entirely sure what your point is here. The wise among us know that societal interaction (whether economic or something else) propels us by the choices individuals make as we move and work among each other.
“Reconnect with your community” was in reference to the question being asked – “run to the hills?”. In a world of higher energy costs, traveling 60 miles round trip to work, vacations 1,000 miles away, 3,000 ft^2 houses and biweekly trips to the mall go away. Perhaps I should have articulated it as: Your life is going to get more local. Reconnect with your friends and family. It’s where real happiness comes from anyway.
In your “1-3 generations”, are you taking into account that the world’s population is also growing exponentially? What has historically happened when a civilization runs into resource depletion? Why did Rome attack Gaul?
You raise a host of interesting questions, most beyond the scope of anything possible to discuss in reasonable detail in comments. Many of these are the subject of posts on the FM website, dozens of articles of 500-1500 words each. I recommend looking at the two FM Reference Pages about Peak Oil and Energy (on the right-side menu bar, here and here).
Here are a few brief responses.
(1) All true, but looking backwards. Fusion plus electrification of ground transport (batteries and fuel cells) can replace oil, eventually. The process will be slow, and starts only with the invention of commercial fusion (there are many promissing early stage research projects, such as the ITER and Polywell). As for peak oil, the issues you raise have been discussed in great detail on the FM website. In brief, what you describe is that mineral quality (eg, ore quality) is inversely proportional to quantity. So peak oil does not mean running out, just costly with output limitations.
(2) Not really. The next 20 years could be difficult (see the posts of Feb 15 and Sept 6 of 2011), but I suspect the longer-term situation is brighter.
(3) I disagree, especially over the multi-generational time scales I mentioned. But we can only guess about the future. Hence my primary objection is your confident guessing (something we try to avoid on the FM website, although some slips thru due to sloppy editing).
(4) I disagree, but these things are mind-bendingly complex — and can only be subject of wild guessing over any medium- and long-term horizons.
Re: “world population is growing exponentially”
Most estimates forecast that the world population will increase roughly 1/3 over the next 40 years, from aprox 6.9B now to 9.3 around 2050 (the max forecast has dropped over the past few decades). That is not “exponential” in the usual sense, with annual growth of about 3/4% per year. That 2050 number has two assumptions, both of which I question.
Hi Fabius Maximus,
I agree with on comments. They are not spaces for real discussion and I rarely dive into the foray but, I feel you opened the box so I will play the game this last time.
A few quick thoughts on your comments. No reply necessary.
* Unless I’m reading you incorrectly, it’s strange to say that you discourage “confident guessing” by participants when they are being asked to answer a question; especially one about the future. The best we all can do is try to build up knowledge and shape our philosophy. Locke didn’t agree with Descartes. Both were brilliant. Were it not for the debate between “Publius” on one side and “Brutus” and “Cato” on the other, it’s quite possible that the colonies would not have ratified the Constitution. It is all opinion. I had a chuckle too since casually perusing your site, and your comment to me, you are essentially guessing confidently. Certainly that is your prerogative since it is your site but, you should be wary of falling into group think.
* At one time I was a pretty good engineer. I used to volunteer as a senior project adviser for engineering students at a state university. I designed circuitry maximizing the power out of Solarex solar arrays into batteries; before they were bought by British Petroleum. I have some experience in this area. The amount of energy needed to develop PVP’s, including the newer thin film types, is substantial. Same with wind turbines and even newer battery types. I’m not implying we shouldn’t pursue these technologies, but they have inherent limitations in their energy collection. There are great efficiency advantages to having the gas or airplane fuel ride along in the vehicle it is propelling. Even with a large roll out, they will not put a very large dent in the ~20MBD we use.
* A colleague of mine worked for Lydall developing fuel cell membranes. The whole project was dropped because it was turns out to be largely impractical. Great white-board idea that falls apart when asking the secondary and tertiary questions. What’s the fuel? Where’s its source? How do we transport it safely? The list goes on. We were asking these questions many years ago and still don’t have practical answers. I’m old enough to remember very smart people getting duped into the “water fuel cell”. The Internet is loaded with wishful thinking free-energy nuts.
* Fusion. Another 70’s talking point. The technological challenges are extreme. A 1960’s NASA space-race type program would have to be implemented to *maybe* get something going by 2025. I don’t see it happening. We’ve squandered most of our money on short term thinking these past 3 decades and money looks to be tighter when we will need the technology development. I wouldn’t rule it our completely. But…
* “’Problems with electrical transportation’ are just engineering and cost of transition”. Pretty casual shrug of the shoulders here. Alpha Centauri is “only” 4.2 light year away too! The costs would be great. Another extremely large program when there is little political will. And at a time, when you admit, “next 20 years could be difficult”. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
* “That is not “exponential” in the usual sense.” It’s still the compounding function. I’m talking about exponential growth, which you can readily look up. This is absolutely the case as can be seen in any chart of historical world population. Wikipedia “World Population” has an adequate graph from 1800. There is the classic knee around 1960 – when the population was “merely” 3Billion.
* Regardless you are, again, casually shrugging away adding ~1Billion people in 12 years. 3.3 USA’s; the entire worlds population about 200 years ago. This is an amazing clip and you disregard that the main population centers of India and China are consuming ever greater amounts of energy. Decreasing oil production, increasing population, larger energy consumption – this adds vigor to my argument that energy per person will increase.
* You were quick to disagree with my belief that our rapid growth has more to us happening upon a very cheap and convenient mega-energy source than other things. And conversely, that we will not find adequate substitutes for it and the past 100 or so years have actually been an anomalous congruence. It’s my observation that economies are hopelessly addicted to energy being cheap and ever abundant. I based my “confident guess” on a contracting economy due to rising energy costs and don’t think this is an outlandish scenario. I’m not predicting “collapse” or “run to the hills”. That’s for the gold, guns, and grub Mad Max crowd. Just a recalibration.
Perhaps you are right but, I’m fine with you not agreeing with me.
Hopefully I’ve added something to the conversation. Regards!
I would like to take another stab at answering your question: “What happens if all of this stimulus and QE doesn’t work?” Please disregard my clumsy attempt above since I believe it was off target.
If stimulus measures fail or, more properly, not applied correctly, then we didn’t return to the growth rates necessary to overcome expenditures. The most of the budget would go to debt and entitlement obligations, and given our perverse obsession with war, probably the military. Less would be available for improvements and emergencies. In this case, the federal government would become even less effective and local government and communities would play a larger role. I don’t believe you would need to “run to the hills” but, the economy would change as we rely less on consumption and financialization.
Your comment suggests a misunderstanding about the function of what are misleadingly called monetary and fiscal stimulus. They DO NOT return us to our former growth rates. To use a medical analogy, think of these as bandages, morphine, and blood plasma. They do not fix anything. They stabilize the patient so as to maximize healing and minimize trauma and suffering.
To generalize, a major underlying problem in the developing nations (but not the emerging nations) is excess debt (in different sectors in each nation). Deleveraging is painful, and can spark very destructive debt deflation. Stimulus programs are first aid. This is quite clear looking back at the 1930s (despite conservatives attempts to confuse people).
These programs are often held to unrealistic standards. The equivalent of going to intensive care and condemning the use of bandages, pain-relieving drugs, and plasma. Like saying “These don’t cure anybody; make the the ill suffer so they heal faster!
I’m not sure I follow your thought process. Stimulus is stimulus is stimulus. Fiscal policy is money spent, usually, into infrastructure or tax-cuts designed to STIMULATE economic growth. That’s kind of the whole point. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 comes to mind. Sometimes it’s implemented during counter-cyclic downturns. Sometimes not. Often it can have the effect of stabilizing AND laying the foundation for future growth. You are attempting to split asunder a thing that can be one. Think Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935.
ARRA was crafted, and sold, as stimulus. It could have worked as both stabilizer and investment if the money was spent intelligently preparing the country for a future with higher energy costs. Improving the electrical grid, high-speed mass transit, etc. Instead we went “shovel ready”. Marginal returns.
My answer was directly related to the question being asked.
I have discussed this at length in several posts, such as “Everything you need to know about government stimulus programs“, 30 January 2009. I suggest you read some of those for detailed answers. Most of your comment is not really accurate.
(1) “stimulus is stimulus”
No. Various forms of fiscal and monetary stimulus have different levels of effectiveness. For example… * Tax cuts for the rich during recessions have little effectiveness, as much of the increased after-tax income is saved. That was a large chunk of the Q1 2009 bill. * Federal funding that replaces State/local cuts provides zero stimulus (but still desireable; as I said “stimulus” is too narrow a framework). This was another large chunk of the Q1 2009 bill.
(2) “Often it can have the effect of stabilizing AND laying the foundation for future growth.”
Yes, I believe that’s obvious to most people. It was not the point of my reply, which was not intended as a complete analysis of stimulus programs.
(3) “sold, as stimulus”
I am sorry to disappoint you, but you cannot get your economics from politicians. They very frequently oversell things, and often do not themselves understand much economics.
(4) “Instead we went “shovel ready”.
This is a bogus criticism on several levels.
(a) Only a fraction went to any kind of infrastructure spending. Much went to offset funding cuts for vital state/local services. Much went to tax cuts, required to win Republican approval. (b) They were looking for standard fiscal stimulus, appropriate for recessions which last 6 to 18 months (typical for the post-WWII era). Hence the need for fast start programs. You should have told them if you had proof at that time that this would last longer. Several emminent economists said so then, including some on their team, and were ignored. Ignored by Team Obama, the news media, Wall Street economiss, and esp conservatives (who still mock the economists who were right, while lionizing those who were wrong).
The large-scale infrastructure spending of the New Deal was initiated 3 years into the great depression.
Given our recent ramblings with Pakistan, what might be the end game there? In afghanistan?
That’s an easy one, as guesses go. We will leave Afghanistan and Pakistan, which will both resume their normal state. Without the irritating factor of foreign infidels, the Pastun tribes probably will be unable to muster the energy to unify. Both Af and Pak will lurch along, working out their destiny as if we had never been there. Americans remain blissfully ignorant that the two factors behind the Af-Pak War were:
(1) Foreign infidels (aka us), which almost always around insurgent opposition, and
(2) The Brits strategy to maintain influence after being booted from their colonies was to draw national lines so as to maximize conflict and minimize power of the largest ethnic groups. So they drew the Durand Line to divide the Pastun tribes, making them minorities in both Af and Pak.
Our intervention being based on ignorance of the major local dynamics was destined — like our similarly ignorant expedition to Vietnam — to be a historical footnote, an illustration of the dysfunctional nature of the brief American Empire.
Is there an “Israel Lobby” as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt say there is and is its influence detrimental to America’s global standing?
President Obama and the republican presidential candidates seem to be knee-jerk defending Israel in recent news. Why should we care so much about their fate?
His article that started it all: “The Israel Lobby“, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, London Review of Books, 23 March 2006 — Later expanded into The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007)
Stephen Walt’s articles at Foreign Policy:
(1) Yes. The evidence assembled by Measheimer and Walt (and others) is definitive, IMO.
(2) Any time a nation manipulates the internal dynamics of another nation there is the high liklihood that the influence on the subject nation is detrimental. America has done it to many nations since WWII, from the programs to influence elections in Western Europe to even less respectable methods.
(3) We should care about Israel’s fate. But a nation’s destiny is ultimately its own to forge. Especially in Israel’s case, where they have stolen so much of their neighbor’s land since 1977 — against both their own and our long-term interests.
What do you think of the recent science behind this joke:
FM note: the article in question is “Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam“, posted at arXiv, 22 September 2011 — Abstract:
For a good non-technical discussion of the issues involved (which most articles in the news media grossly misrepresent see “Neutrinos CAN Go Faster Than Light Without Violating Relativity“, Sascha Vongehr5, Science 2.0. 2 September 2011.
“We should care about Israel’s fate”
Why ?! (Please don’t tell me about the moral stuff, as you know more than me, political matters are not governed by moral issues, or as it has been said: nations are NOT charities)
(actually what US is doing is a lot more than ‘care’)
All valid points. Such statements as mine about America’s goals — beyond our objective national self-interest — are inherently subjective.
What do you think about the recent Turkish/Israeli development? and why the US seems to do little about it (given that it is the only country that affects Israeli decision makers)?
For how long can Turkey play this: being a NATO country (and not a trivial one, recently they just agreed to host the NATO missile shield), and at the same time, having a more friendly (or ‘open’) relation with Iran and a worsening one with Israel ? Is it a threat that US/NATO may loose Turkey soon?
All good questions, about matters the US news media tends to grossly misrepresent.
(1) Israel is working very hard to make enemies. This is just another result of their policies.
(2) NATO members are not pawns of the US. Nor is NATO a girl’s club, where everybody must have the same friends. It is a mutual defense society, and members’ relations with Iran and Israel are irrelevant to NATO obligations (which may themselves be irrelevant toda).