Question time on the FM website – chapter 15

Ask any question about geopolitics, broadly defined. We — and others reading the FM website — will attempt to answer it in the comments.   All answers welcomed!

  • Like Jeopardy, your comments must be in the form of a question!
  • Please use the REPLY button when replying to a previous comment, to keep threads together.

Questions received so far (click on the link to go directly to that thread):

  1. Are FM’s Shockwaves (high impact low probability) the same thing as Nassim Taleb’s Black Swans?
  2. Will the Euro crisis ever be resolved?
  3. How does past US industrial policy compare to now in terms of coherency and competence?
  4. Do you ever find yourself tempted to gloss over the realities of the past, in order to present a better story for the present?
  5. Virtual JFK was a good movie. But what’s top billing for 2011?
  6. What do you think of the idea of a tiered system within the European Union would work?
  7. Why have the protests in Athens stopped?
  8. What do you think of Dmitry Orlov’s claim that the European sovereign debt crisis will end our civilization?
  9. What do you think of the “Grand Archdruid” John Michael Greer, and his theory of catabolic collapse?
  10. Where did the M F Global sequestered accounts go and how was the audit trail severed?
  11. How is one’s OODA loop affected if the opponent is irrational?
  12. Why do you think Orlov’s article is too dumb for comment?
  13. Answer to question #12

Quote of the week

Who are we at war with? Everybody!
Where are we at war with them? Everywhere!
When are we at war with them? Every day!
Why are we at war with them? Everything!
The lack of anticipation of blowback is, as always, quaint.

— Arthur Kirkland, comment posted at the Volokh Conspiracy, 30 November 2011

To start the discussion:  this week’s articles of great interest

  1. Why are these days so many in the GOP liars?  For yet another sad example see “How Newt’s New Novel Plays Politics With the Past“, Kevin M. Levin, The Atlantic, 5 December 2011 — “Eager to court black voters while retaining southern conservatives, Gingrich writes a notorious massacre out of his book”
  2. Obama Road Tests Hopey-Changey Big Lie 2.0: He’ll Reincarnate as Teddy Roosevelt if You Are Dumb Enough to be Fooled Twice“, Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism, 7 December 2011
  3. Who are the unemployed?  Over 65?  55-65  Or young people?  For answers see “Demographic Shift?“, Tim Duy (Asst Prof Economics, U OR), Economists View, 7 December 2011
  4. The GOP prefers that the government hire only the ignorant:  “Politicians Scorn Professors“, Jeffrey Frankel (Prof Government, Harvard), Roubini Global Economics, 7 December 2011
  5. State Capitalism at work:  “Another Sweet deal for Buffett – Who pays? You do!“, Bruce Krasting, 9 December 2011
  6. The Great Recession and Distribution of Income in California“, Sarah Bohn, Public Policy Institute of California, December 2011

26 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website – chapter 15

    1. I don’t think so. FM refers to these being things like tsunamis, meteor strikes,
      Plagues of various sorts, and so on. Rare events but easily identified as important while they are occurring. Taleb’s Black Swans on the other hand represent events which, while they are occurring, are not necessarily even identified at the time as being cataclysmic as their defining characteristic is their extreme separation from our regular cognitive frame work. Systemic collapse often has this type of genesis and only after the fact historians and experts note that those involved failed to imagine the true nature of their predicament until it was too late. Thus Black Swan describes a cognitive failure to imagine certain possibilities a priori

    2. No, black swan events are not the same as shockwaves.

      1. A black swan event is a surprise (to a observer or participant) that has a major impact. Afterwards the event is rationalized by hindsight.
      2. A shockwave is a low probability event, that has a major impact. The odds of the event occuring during a long period might be exactly known — but its odds of happening today are low but >0.
    1. Of course it will be resolved. Not everything moves like a TV sitcom, a tidy finish in 30 minutes. The people of Europe have to decide which path to travel. Such decisions by large numbers of people are not made easily. Nor made quickly

    1. Alexander Hamilton’s industrial policy — followed in a sense until WWII — was designed to build America’s economic strength. It benefited powerful special interests, who supported it — but provided benefits to the nation.

      Todays industrial policy is organized theft, often with zero benefit to the nation. Today’s example is “Another Sweet deal for Buffett – Who pays? You do!“, Bruce Krasting, 9 December 2011.

  1. I remember author John Ralston Saul talking about how French enlightenment philosophers would describe England in glowing terms “The land where people think free, wise and rational thoughts”, in spite of the fact that they knew the denizens of Perfidious Albion’s thoughts were anything but, as a way of spurring change in France.

    I’ve noticed you refer quite a bit to the values of the past in your blog. Do you ever find yourself tempted to gloss over the realities of the past, in order to present a better story for the present?

    1. “Do you ever find yourself tempted to gloss over the realities of the past, in order to present a better story for the present?”

      No. The opposite is the case. One of the great themes of the FM website is that one cause of our weakness is that we’ve lost our actual past. Instead we’ve constucted a faux past, erasing much of the shameful events about the slaves and Indians. History forms a foundation for a people, the base for action — and from which we see the present. A fake past throws us off balance and distorts our vision.

      Posts helping us recover our past:

      1. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris, 1 July 2008
      2. It’s Confederate History Month in Virginia!, 8 October 2010
      3. Most important: have trouble coping with our present because we’ve lost our past, 23 October 2010
  2. What do you think of the idea of a tiered system within the European Union would work? The commission would order countries with fertile land and poor economies—Italy, Spain, and Greece—to educate the unemployed masses as farmers. The poor countries grow food for the richer countries, who in turn develop the researchers and high-end service workers.

    Would this work?

    1. Politics is not the process of choosing among all the possible alternatives. There are a thousand and one possible paths Europe could take. Most are not practical or desirable.

      The situation you describe has a zero probability, and zero logic in its favor. There is no reason the people of Spain, for example, need be serfs growing food for Germany. Nor could agriculture absorb more than a tiny fraction of its population, unless done by pre-modern methods — with Spain in deep povery.

  3. Why have the protests in Athens stopped ?
    Everyone is happy with an undemocratic austerity government /everyone understands high finance and has perfect faith in the Merkosky gamble / the gov have put bromide in the tapwater /the police are too scary / its too cold / playing the new Call Of Duty instead / they have burnt the whole of Athens and the news has been censored.
    A black swan : the US military in Europe most of us forgot we got .

    1. The protests have stopped, for a time. That does not mean that they have ended.

      My guess: the Greek people protest, but at a relatively low level and in a episodic fashion — because they know these protests are futile. Greece is broke. No political leader has magic policies to change that.

      In a better world the Greek people would protest for policies to share the coming pain, put Greece on a long-term course to prosperity, and out of this shock reform their society. In the real world the protests are peasant protests, ignorant venting of anger against the social machinery.

  4. What do you think of Dmitry Orlov’s claim that the European sovereign debt crisis will finally put an end to our current civilization? “Stages of Collapse Revised: Joined at the Wallet”, 30 October 2011. Dmitry Orlov was an witness to the collapse of a previous civilization, the Soviet Union, and witnessed how that collapsed killed millions of soviet citizens. Is the same in store for us?

    1. Some comments about Orlov, doomsters in geneal, and economic cycles.

      1. I strongly believe that you will never recover the five minutes you wasted reading that article. It’s too dumb for comment.
      2. Millions were “witness to the collapse of the Soviet Union.” That gives them no special insight into the fate of the US. Certainly it gave Orlov no insights. (see Orlov’s Wikipedia entry)
      3. Doomsters are with us, like singers, prophets, and other entertainers. All are fun, so long as not taken too seriously.
      4. Booms and busts — even depressions — are an inherent part of free-market systems. Policy errors exaggerate these cycles. There is nothing in these cycles that “ends civilization.”
      5. The belief that an economic down cycle might continue until civilization ends is somewhat similar to that of early men watching the days shorten during winter. What if the days shorten until endless night comes? Hence celebrations at the winter solstice.
  5. What do you think of the “Grand Archdruid” John Michael Greer, and his theory of catabolic collapse? “How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse” (2005) — Abstract

    The collapse of complex human societies remains poorly understood and current theories fail to model important features of historical examples of collapse. Relationships among resources, capital, waste, and production form the basis for an ecological model of collapse in which production fails to meet maintenance requirements for existing capital. Societies facing such crises after having depleted essential resources risk catabolic collapse, a self-reinforcing cycle of contraction converting most capital to waste. This model allows key features of historical examples of collapse to be accounted for, and suggests parallels between successional processes in nonhuman ecosystems and collapse phenomena in human societies.

    1. Judging something by its abstract is difficult and prone to error. They’re too brief. But life is too short to read articles unless they seem to offer promise of useful insights or data.

      Greer’s article might be a work of genius. But it looks to me like gibberish. How many civilizations collapsed from depletion of resources? Climate change, war, internal social decay and instability — those are the commonplaces of history. Climate change is a frequent killer of civilizatons, as pre-modern technology provided few means to adapt.

      Greer’s entry in Wikipedia inspires me with neither confidence nor interest in his work:

      an American author, independent scholar, historian of ideas, cultural critic, Neo-druid leader, Hermeticist, environmentalist, conservationist, blogger, novelist, and occultist/esotericist who … studies and practices various forms of Asian mysticism (T’ai chi ch’uan, Neigong, etc.), Tarot, sacred geometry, and similarly esoteric practices; he is one of 21st Century America’s most noted occultists.

  6. How is one’s OODA loop affected if the opponent is irrational? Suppose he is irrational but you don’t know that. Or, put another way, does an OODA loop framework require rational action by both competitors?

    1. Having an irrational opponent is wonderful — so long as you recognize that the opponent operates by different logic than one’s own. As the allies found in the last years of WWII.

      In 1941 the US did the opposite, assuming Japan thought as we did. It’s an elementary error, but often made.

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