Question time on the FM website. Post your questions and answers!

Summary: It’s “ask a question” time. In the comments “ask the mineshaft”:  post questions about geopolitics — and your answers to other people’s questions.  This is a community exercise, from the German Gemeinschaft (see Wikipedia).

Questions are especially welcome about current events and recent posts (which appear on the top of the right-side menu bar).  Please use the “reply” button to post replies!

Questions

  1. How will the United States cope with the reality of returning to a pre-industrial lifestyle?
  2. Is it possible for the impoverished in the US to come together for some anti-poverty grassroots movement, as called forth by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, and if so, would that be a good thing?
  3. What are your thoughts on the health care decision, and “Obama Care” in general?
  4. What do you think are the significant policy differences (if any) between Obama and Romney?
  5. Do you think it is ‘fair’ to compare individual European countries to the United States?
  6. What do you think of the recent attempt to create a new “Centrist” movement “Americans Elect”, funded almost entirely by Wall Street hedge fund managers?
  7. Who the hell is Fabius Maximus anyway (and not talking about the dead Roman)?
  8. Discussion of question #7.
  9. A complaint (no specifics) about the coverage of Science & Technology on the FM website.
  10. More about #9.
  11. If Paul Kennedy is correct about “imperial overstretch”, how can we reverse this if most Americans are disengaged from politics and governance or malinformed?
  12. What is money? What is debt?  What is credit?
  13. Comment about the Overlords and the Gnome Underpants Thievery.
  14. Comment explaining that “there is only one objectively best solution to any problem”.
  15. Request for more information about the history of major technology corporate failures.
  16. Request for more information about political & personal nature of business decision-making.
  17. What do you think of Thomas Friedman?
  18. Answer to #17.
  19. What are your thoughts on The Economist’s recent special on Climate Change: The Melting North?
  20. When should we “buy American”?
  21. What is the best way for an individual to future-proof their career for the acceleration of automation?
  22. Do you think Julian Assange should be extradited to the US?  Is it true that “Nothing of value was leaked out during the Wikileaks fiasco.”
  23. If demographics are destiny, then what do you think these trends hold for America?

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124 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website. Post your questions and answers!

  1. So how do you think the United States will cope with the reality of returning to a pre industrial lifestyle?

    1. Since that’s not going to happen — except in the case of low probability threats such as asteroid impact and massive nuke war — it’s not worth discussion.

    2. Interesting. Experts over at EnergyBulletin and ASPO seem to disagree with you.

    3. (1) It’s a gross exaggeration to say that they agree with the “reality of returning to a pre-industrial lifestyle”. A very few take such an extreme position. Mostly charlatans, such as described here: Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off.

      (2) Since many of my posts are posted at EnergyBulletin, that’s obviously not a unanimous verdict. Another is going up in the next few days.

      (3) As for ASPO, it’s a mixture of experts (eg, Robert Hirsch) and charlatans. The peak oil “community” has had almost nil influence on public policy largely because of its disinterst in review of its members work. Hence the reports of genius and clowns are randomly intermixed. The latter distinguished by their long history of failed predictions. For examples see Exaggerations and false predictions are good; truth is bad – about peak oil research.

    4. A pre-industrial society won’t happen. The thinking is based on a faulty premise: Industrial development followed a pendulum-like swing toward progress, and when the momentum stops, everything just retrogresses.

      We have thousands of examples of the rise and fall of cities and human migration patterns to show what does happen.

      When a place declines, people leave. People in urbanized areas tend to go to other urbanized areas that would offer a similar standard of living, or emigrate from their nations somewhere else with the prospect of rebuilding and enhancing their lives.

      They seldom, if ever, return to agrarianism.

      Look at contemporary examples of decline: Eclipsed industrial areas or war-torn cities. The U.S. Rust Belt entered a secular decline, and cities were depopulating. People didn’t just vanish; most who did leave left for better prospects in the Sun Belt. Those who remained had to find employment in government or nonprofit sectors, which became more economically important relative to manufacturing’s decline. These were enabled by transfer payments from more productive cities (through federal and state governments).

      In the case of war, cities are often irreparably harmed. Beirut, formerly the Paris of the Middle East, and even Baghdad had been productive, cosmopolitan cities pre-war. But a war has the side effect of rendering many economic classes outside of warriors obsolete. Merchants, technocrats, intellectuals and artisans who weren’t killed and who chose not to do battle left the country entirely. As the war settled down, the economic actors never returned and conditions don’t really improve.

      In neither case of decline did the Rust Belt or Middle East gain an agrarian advantage from a comparative industrial decline.

    5. I think it’s very possible for parts of the US to revert to a pre-industrial lifestyle, although of course not the whole country.
      All it would take is decreased economic activity leading to decreased infrastructure investment and maintenance as well as decreased levels of mobility for people and goods.
      I’m imagining a small town that produces little of value to the outside world, so modern conveniences like highways, power stations, plumbing, and telecommunications go into disrepair, exacerbating the problem. Such a town would be cut off in more ways than one.
      This would be most likely happen in the poorer and more isolated parts of the country, such as perhaps the outer Midwest and the inner South, and only if the Federal government operated with significantly reduced authority such that each region suddenly did need to fend for itself.
      Certainly not going to happen any time soon, although not out of the range of possibility within a couple decades, I think.

    6. “All it would take is decreased economic activity leading to decreased infrastructure investment and maintenance as well as decreased levels of mobility for people and goods.”

      Much of the world has had an industrial civilization for two centuries (depending). Can you cite some examples of this happening?

      The phenomenon you describes leads to “ghost towns”. Sometimes small numbers of people remain at low levels of prosperity, though not pre-industrial (eg, they use steel and other industrial products). There are people living in the hills across America at sustenance levels, even with social or economic collapse; they just prefer other lifestyles.

    7. Mr Maximus, you’re probably right that if such were to happen, the number of people living a pre-industrial lifestyle (we might call them “hill people”) would be statistically insignificant.
      I think most people in such a town would choose to *walk* to the city rather than the alternative.

  2. Completely theoretical here, but I’m wondering, do you think it’s possible for the impoverished in the US to come together for some anti poverty grassroots movement, as called forth by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, and if so, would that be a (probable) “good” thing?

    1. “do you think it’s possible for the impoverished in the US to come together for some anti poverty grassroots movement”

      (a) It’s possible, but unlikely. That such a movement would be effective is even less likely. Most social reform movements have leadership from the middle or upper classes. Those that didn’t, such as peasant rebellions (see Wikipedia), usually fail. For example, Wat Tyler’s Rebellion of 1381 (Wikipedia).

      (b) Good or not (for them)? That depends on too many path-specific factors for any reliable forecast.

    2. Interesting! I wonder if the formally middle class folks in the US following into poverty might qualify for “middle class leadership”? There’s certainly some potential there I’d imagine.

      Thanks for the links.

    3. It is interesting to point out though, according to Wikipedia at least, the failed Tyler’s Rebellions did signal the need for reform and more attention of the caste system in England.

    4. Yes, some historians put a happy ending — a distant, tentative happy ending to the story:

      Although the revolt did not succeed in its stated aims, it did succeed in showing the nobles that the peasants were dissatisfied and that they were capable of wreaking havoc. In the longer term, the revolt helped to form a radical tradition in British politics (a development explained by Christopher Hampton, see further reading). After the revolt, the term poll tax was no longer used, although English governments continued to collect broadly similar taxes until the 17th century.

      Personally I’ll stick with the actual ending. The King invited Wat Tyler to a meeting. He listen to Tyler’s pleas, thanked him for sharing, and had him killed. The peasants fled for their lives, returning to their farms and labor.

    5. Well, then again, the Wikipedia page also says

      “Despite its modern name, participation in the Peasants’ Revolt was not confined to serfs or even to the lower classes. The peasants received help from members of the noble classes—one example being William Tonge, a substantial alderman, who opened the London city gate through which the masses streamed on the night of 12 June.[12] However this is debatable; the actions of individuals like Tonge could be ascribed to fear and panic rather than rational persuasion by the rebels. [13]”

      Looks like it might not be all that well understood, at least from Wikipedia’s POV

    6. “Looks like it might not be all that well understood, at least from Wikipedia’s POV”

      That’s an important thing to remember about long-ago events. For all but the big things, we’re usually dependent on a small number of course — few of which are fully reliable.

    7. Then what should the poor of America do? I’m a poor person myself, and want to help get involved in anti poverty action (I’m already thinking of joining my local Occupy) but I take it from this that the poor joining together in a grassroots fashion is a bad thing?

    8. As someone with some experience in social work — there is no useful category of “poor people.” Some are disabled, mentally or physically. Some have diabling addictions (with a large overlap with mentally disabled). Some are very young, some elderly. Some have dependents requiring care. Some are in effect barred from most jobs by their criminal record. Some need training in social or employment skills.

      There is no one solution, except a well-funded social services staff and (where necessary) temporary or lifetime income aid (partial or full). Treatment, always partial and ongoing — not a cure (there is none in this world, esp as poverty is experienced as a relative state). But America today lacks either the ideological or religious support for that. The dominant ideology of conservatism (which goes by many names) has replaced social liberalism and Christianity (as defined in the New Testament), and sees property rights as the highest right — and fellow feeling as inimical to property.

      This is a stable system, as those without property or income are relatively powerless and difficult to organize. Should some form of organizing framework develop, then we’re early 20th century Latin America — on the fast path from superpower to 2nd world status.

    9. Loss of social cohesion, zero-sum conflicts, rise of political factionalism so that coherent and effective political becomes difficult (the Founders big fear). Things go downhill quickly after those processes start.

    10. I agree that “poor people” is a general term encompassing many people, a lot unrelated. I grew up in a poor “welfare” family that has had to rely on financial aid for education and even food much of my life, I understand I’m not in the same boat as someone who lost everything from a felony conviction. Still I think “poor people solidarity” and working class solidarity is a useful goal, after all it’s part of what led to the social democracies of Europe (that and the ruling classes fear of socialism/communism ;).

      I don’t see ditching our superpower status as a bad thing at all, or that our system is very stable at all, but then again I’m probably biased from my upbringing.

    11. “’poor people solidarity’ and working class solidarity … after all it’s part of what led to the social democracies of Europe”

      Those are two very different things, perhaps somewhat conflicting. We have neither. How to get there from here is the question, to which I’ve seen no answers (although I’ve proposed or discusssed quite a few on this website).

    12. I hate to triple post, I swear I won’t do it again

      I get what you mean now, that by the time such a movement occurs, we’re already in poverty. But the thing is we already are, we’ve already taken the nose dive to poverty and social fragmentation, and even degeneration a long time ago. As much as I hate identity politics, they can serve a valuable purpose for organizing a group alongside accessible and worthy goals. Take 21st Century Latin America as an example.

      As for political factionalization, that’s been happening since Democratic-Republicans and Federalists, yeah the Founding Fathers (some anyway) feared it, but unfortunately (I guess) it’s a feature of any complex society, it’s impossible to avoid.

      Anyway sorry to butt in like this and post constantly, I’ll quit now.

    13. You’ve done nothing inappropriate here, and certainly nothing you need apologize for. All discussions here are iterative, and often long. That’s the only way to gain any mutual understanding.

      You’re right that we’ve taken steps on this road. But they’re just first steps on a long road. Perhaps we’ll organize soon. That looks to me like hope over experience, but only time will tell.

    14. “I don’t understand what Occupy.net attempts to accomplish. A movement towards what? What’s the desired end?”

      I’m referring to Bum Rush the Vote, not Occupy in general. Bum Rush the Vote is basically just Occupy groups getting into electoral politics and going away partying in parks. Do you think this is a worthwhile goal? Admittedly I’m very left wing (to the point that I was cheering on Syriza in Greece) so that makes me happy they want to do this, but I’m curious if you think it’s unrealistic, not going to be fruitful, etc?

    15. “Those are two very different things, perhaps somewhat conflicting. We have neither. How to get there from here is the question, to which I’ve seen no answers (although I’ve proposed or discusssed quite a few on this website).”

      Okay there is a difference I admit, though I think that there is more correlation between them than some like to admit, and that poor and working class (oftentimes poor themselves) are more likely to work together than with middle class and upper class people. I guess I was referring to this specifically: “How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 Percent’“, George Lakey, Common Dreams, 26 January 2012

      Maybe things like Bum Rush the Vote can be the beginning of this?

    16. What on the Occupy website connects with the nordic societies, or with this Common Dreams article? Movements start with goals, not tactics. Movement is pointless without an end in sight. It just means the crowd is moving according to someone else’s plan. Pawns in motion.

    17. Wonderful. Another personality-based campaign. Is Martinez another Mr. Hope and Changey?

      I’m done. This is hopeless. You’re just avoiding all the hard work of forming goals, selecting leaders, organizing, and campaigning. You might as well just hope for the Blue Fairy to save you and be done with it.

    18. “What on the Occupy website connects with the nordic societies, or with this Common Dreams article? Movements start with goals, not tactics.”

      Obviously the candidate they featured on the article gives some idea of the policies the Bum Rush The Vote endorses and wants to field candidates to endorse, it’s right here: George Martinez

      I bring up the Common Dreams article because it details how people “bum rushed” “crowd sourced” “zerg rushed” whatever the electoral system in Norway and Sweden, even to the point of forming their own parties to get policies they wanted enacted (which has already happened in the state of Vermont) and there is at least some leeway between what happened there and what some occupy groups here want to do. That’s what I was asking about. I’m wondering, do you promote going into electoral politics at all or do you think it’s useless?

    19. “It just means the crowd is moving according to someone else’s plan. Pawns in motion.”

      Obviously this can’t be said of Occupy which is so afraid of having central leaders that they use things like consensus democracy, which in my opinion is a big flaw and leads to nothing being done. My biggest criticism of occupy is they have no serious leadership and no general goal actually.

    20. I don’t believe that’s correct. Crowds have leaders. The occupy structure just makes it difficult to see them. For an example of this see how easily the Tea Party Movement was coopted. Formed in opposition to the Bush-Obama bank bailouts, they’re now shock troops for the most bank-friendly GOP since the early 20th century.

    21. Alright, fair enough. Who are the leaders of Occupy then? Any speculations? I’m curious now.

      The Tea Party was easily co-opted by the right wing because it was started by diabetic senior citizens who are angry at “liberals” and blacks in office. Occupys message of income equality and being against wall street is not going to be as easy co-opted by the leadership, as they are wall street themselves.

    22. You’re just dreaming. The same mistake made by Obama’s supporters. It was clear what Obama supported from his words and history, but they preferred to project their fantasies on him.

      You’re doing the same thing. I asked for some evidence about the Occupy’s program, and you pointed to a person. Now you give us more fantasy about Occupy’s goals and future. It’s a formula for failure, and makes you as easy to manipulate as the Tea Party, despite your illusion of superiority and ignorance about them.

    23. “You’re just avoiding all the hard work of forming goals, selecting leaders, organizing, and campaigning.”

      I’m not avoiding anything. I have nothing to do with this initiative (it’s operating on the other side of the nation after all), I’m simply pointing you out to it and you blathered on about how I’m a “pawn” expecting some figure to “save” me. I’m simply pointing out something that *may* be interesting. There probably was a better source I could have referenced though.

    24. (1) “said in humorous fashion” that the TP was “started by diabetic senior citizens who are angry at “liberals” and blacks in office. ”
      Calling them aged, sick, racists. No doubt tea party members find your humor delightful and insightful, not insulting.

      (2) “it started by people with overlap with the “right-wing””
      That’s not the same thing as elderly sick racists.

      (3) “anyone who denies this is an idiot”
      Charming.

      (4) “You’ll have to give some evidence that someone is co-opting the Occupy movement”
      Since its a insignificant dot with no meaningful program, why bother? A little street theater burns off social tension that might otherwise take dangerous forms. This has been my analysis since the beginning (here), and so far has proven correct.

      (5) “biggest criticism is that it has no leadership and “goals”
      Quite so. Which is why its accomplished so little, compared to the Tea Party movement which has accomplished so much.

      (6) “so I don’t see it being very susceptible to co-option.”
      Since most of your political analysis appears to be free-form fantasy, I suggest making no large bets on that.

      (7) “I linked to the candidates page because you asked what their goals were”
      Try re-reading my reply, whose message you’ve missed. For a start, a candidate’s bio tells us nothing about the movements goals.

    25. OK, now we’re really done. You’re wasting our time, as seen in posting hundreds of words prasing the Occupy movement — then popping out the “I wasn’t supporting it, just saying it was interesting” defense.

      Scientists find dung interesting, but that doesn’t mean everybody has to study it.

    26. “the Tea Party, despite your illusion of superiority and ignorance about them.”

      I have no “illusion of superiority” over the Tea Party, what I said (in humorous fashion, sorry if it offended) is it started by people with overlap with the “right-wing”, anyone who denies this is an idiot. That’s why it was easily co-opted. This doesn’t make Occupy or any “left-wing” movement superior, it’s just a fact that Wall Street is not going to want to spread the message of fighting…Wall Street. You’ll have to give some evidence that someone is co-opting the Occupy movement. I mean the Democrats tried that and failed, and still the biggest criticism is that it has no leadership and “goals”, so I don’t see it being very susceptible to co-option.

      I linked to the candidates page because you asked what their goals were, I wasn’t promoting him as some “Obama” figure, and the election is already over in fact. I don’t even live anywhere near the district he was running in. Here is a link that might explain the goals of the organization they’re trying to construct http://occupiedmedia.us/2012/06/a-letter-from-george-martinez/

    27. “OK, now we’re really done. You’re wasting our time, as seen in posting hundreds of words prasing the Occupy movement — then popping out the “I wasn’t supporting it, just saying it was interesting” defense. Scientists find dung interesting, but that doesn’t mean everybody has to study it.”

      I’ve never praised it, I asked you a simple question about a campaign they were conducting on a questions and answers thread that says:

      “Summary: It’s “ask a question” time. In the comments “ask the mineshaft”: post questions about geopolitics — and your answers to other people’s questions. This is a community exercise, from the German Gemeinschaft (see Wikipedia). …”

      in which you instead elected to call me out as “fantasizing” and otherwise insult me instead of just saying “no, I don’t find it interesting”.

      “(1) “said in humorous fashion” that the TP was “started by diabetic senior citizens who are angry at “liberals” and blacks in office. ”
      Calling them aged, sick, racists. No doubt tea party members find your humor delightful and insightful, not insulting.”

      Um..it’s humor at their expense, so no shit they would find it offensive. It’s ironic you’re complaining about giving offense at all. You need to get a thicker skin.

      The rest of your stuff I don’t even really disagree with, and I don’t want to get into a protracted debate with someone like you, so sorry.

    28. (1) “You need to get a thicker skin.”

      You were insulting them, not me (I’ve consitently been highly critical of the TPM since its start). You’re correct in the sense that I have little tolerence for insults (even of others). It’s a poisonous method. We need to understand the positions of others, and that “humor” makes it difficult.

      (2) I said nothing about your question, but rather your responses.

    29. “in which you instead elected to call me out as ‘fantasizing'”

      Its a valid analysis of your political reasoning, given with supporting detail. You don’t need to like it.

      It is however different in nature than calling the TPM sick elderly racists.

    30. “You were insulting them, not me (I’ve consitently been highly critical of the TPM since its start). You’re correct in the sense that I have little tolerence for insults (even of others). It’s a poisonous method. We need to understand the positions of others, and that “humor” makes it difficult.”

      Well then why do you engage in them so readily?

      ‘(2) I said nothing about your question, but rather your responses.”

      All I asked was about a campaign a group was conducting and you preceded to try to belittle and insult me and even psychoanalyze me for what I thought was an innocent question, and then you bitch when I insult someone else. That’s pretty interesting. I’m sorry if the very mention of the Occupy movement makes you go into a tard rage.

      “Its a valid analysis of your political reasoning”

      All I did was ask a question though, I didn’t advocate anything. You don’t even know anything about me and you’re already commenting on my “political reasoning” :D

      “You don’t need to like it. ”

      It’s not that I really care deep down, it’s not like what you say is deep and profound and affects me, I just find it a bit amusing and a little hypocritical.

      “It is however different in nature than calling the TPM sick elderly racists.”

      Not sure why you’re harping on that. If you can’t take people insulting each other, in politics no less, I wonder why you haven’t slit your wrist long ago.

    31. You raise quite a few important points here!

      (1) “Well then why do you engage in them so readily?”

      This comes up a lot; not all criticism is an insult. IMO an insult describes an individual’s personal characteristics (ie, racist, aged, “anyone who denies this is an idiot”). It’s analysis, not an insult, to describe what you say: “most of your political analysis appears to be free-form fantasy”.

      (2) “preceded to try to belittle and insult me and even psychoanalyze me”
      Wow, psychoanalysis! Examples?

      (3) “I didn’t advocate anything”
      Sounded like enthusiasm to me. Re-reading, it still does.

      (4) “I just find it a bit amusing and a little hypocritical.”
      Suggestion: try focusing more on the content and less on how it makes you feel.

      (5) “if you can’t take people insulting each other, in politics no less, I wonder why you haven’t slit your wrist long ago.”

      What you said about the TPM is significant IMO in 2 ways. First, it’s a response to your hurt feelings. Try empathy for the TPM instead. Second, I strongly believe that social cohesion — crossing the party barriers — is essential if we’re to have any chance of moving forward. Hence I strongly discourage that kind of name-calling. It appeals to our crude tribal natures, and allows our ruling elites to divide and manipulate us.

    32. I missed a few interesting points.

      (6) “the very mention of the Occupy movement makes you go into a tard rage.”

      (a) It’s called analysis. It’s what we do here.

      (b) Tard Rage: when a retard is sent into a rage acquiring super-human strength

      What’s the point of saying these silly things? My guess (based on consdierable experience) is that people tend to resort to these when they run out of rational responses, but wish to continue the debate (why?).

      (7) “You don’t even know anything about me and you’re already commenting on my “political reasoning”

      What you write shows your political reasoning. We have a sample of several hundred words to see your reasoning with respect to the Occupy website and, more generally, US politics. We know nothing about you as a person, but that’s neither relevant nor discussed.

    33. If I may interject, I think the individual “JohnDurandal” was just honestly asking an innocent question. I don’t see anything like “Hey, check out this awesome initiative that is totally going to work!”, all I saw was “This is an interesting development, what do you think?”

      Seems a weird thing to fight over.

  3. What are your thoughts on the health care decision, and “Obama Care” in general? Is it communism leading to death panels, an important program increasing access to health care for a large number of americans, or a massive subsidy to private health care industry. I think it may be the best that could be accomplished in our current degraded political system.

    1. (1) ObamaCare is modeled on RomenyCare, which was designed by conservative think-tanks (esp Heritage). Both aare nice if poorly written first small steps. Since our health care system is so deeply dysfunctional, radical reform is inevitable — no matter which party runs Washington.

      (2) “Is it communism leading to death panels”

      That so many people believe absurd lies about ObamaCare — that GOP leaders continue to repeat these oft-debunked lies — shows the dominance of conservative forces in America. And the mental and spiritual weakness of its people.

      (3) “or a massive subsidy to private health care industry”

      Yep. That’s why Obama choose it, and why it passed through Congress. Little is done in America that does not benefit a large chuck of our Big Corporate Citizens.

      (4) For More Information on the FM website:

      1. Hidden truths about American health care, 19 January 2010
      2. A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
      3. About the political significance of the conservatives’ health care propaganda, 23 March 2010
      4. The core truth about our health care system, 3 April 2010
  4. Second question. What do you think are the significant policy differences (if any) between Obama and Romney?

    1. There are significant policy differences between the two. Most especially about taxation, labor, environmental, education, and some social policies.

      But there is little difference with respect to the core aspects of public policy, especially bank regulation, most aspects of macroeconomic policy, domestic security, and foreign policy (which is now largely military policy). They differ in the speed with which they’ll take us to the Right, but little else.

      There are also large stylistic differences, which the news media consider BIG BIG BIG. Nobody will remember them after they’re dead.

      For more information on the FM website

      1. Lilliput or America – who has a better way to choose its leaders?, 19 November 2008
      2. About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
      3. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
      4. Which political party will best protect our liberties?, 10 September 2010
      5. Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 1 September 2010
      6. Polarization and hot rhetoric conceal two similar political parties. Will we ever notice?, 29 October 2010
      7. In America, both Left and Right love the long war, 30 March 2011
      8. The good news: America’s politics are neither polarized nor dysfunctional. That’s also the bad news., 16 November 2011
    2. Who do you believe would make a better leader for America, and who do you trust to properly select who should be placed on the Presidential Assassination List?

  5. Do you think it is ‘fair’ to compare individual European countries to the United States?

    The context I am thinking about is healthcare and the economy. We can see that individual European countries can successfully implement a single payer system… could we expect Europe as a whole to accomplish this as well? The North South rhetoric economy-wise makes me think they’d have a hard time at it.

    1. I don’t understand your question. Why is it unfair? If individual countries can implement a single-payer system, why can’t the EU as s whole?

      Also, most European nations have mixed public-private health care systems (as does the US). From memory, the UK has the only single-payer system in Europe. Norway has a largely public system, with a small private component.

    2. >From memory, the UK has the only single-payer system in Europe.

      Not true, but indeed it’s rare. Mixed public private insurance systems are often called Bismarck models, and that’s the norm in the industrialized world. The Beveridge (NHS, VA) style system is much rarer, but Spain also has it. I *believe* Italy does too.

      Most nations either have some Single payer insurance system (Think Medicare, in both the US and Canada) and/or a heavily regulated private insurance system (where insurance companies are treated more like public utilities)

    3. What I am trying to get across is that maybe the Northern europeans wouldn’t want to pay into a health care system that had southern europeans in it, logical or not.

    4. It’s not an issue at this time. Even if they unify, most national systems will run as they are for now. Think of a unified Europe as like the US, with the EU nations as States.

  6. Another question

    What do you think of the recent attempt to create a new “Centrist” movement “Americans Elect”, funded almost entirely by Wall Street hedge fund managers? It seems a lot of rich folks are continuously agitating for “centrism”. Your thoughts?

    1. It’s difficult to select the best analogy. Roach motels? Flypaper? My preference is the release of sterile insects. Free insects will mate with them, preventing reproduction.

      The good news is that this is too transparent to fool even the American people, and these have all flopped.

    1. After reading his writings for such a long time, here are my thoughts: Male, 50 years old, US citizen, law graduate, Beltway resident, connection with the US Marines (family member serving?), half Jewish or married to one.

    2. If I had to guess, I would presume that Fabius Maximus is male (deep knowledge of history and military affairs plus the post on the “mancession” a term from the manosphere on the Internet), between the ages of 50-65 (claims to have been a Republican fundraiser or something of the sort for decades and some of his most vivid posts are about Nixon), most likely white, is either from or lives is the Mid-Atlantic/Beltway or in the northeast, either has military experience or has a family member with some, probably has a professional degree (claims in one post however that he’s not a lawyer), and married. With that I end my catalogue of facts I can reasonably collect about our exceptional blogger.

  7. @anonemiss,

    Mostly agreed except maybe for the Jewish part. Would add he probably votes Democrat.

    Re FB’s columns, I’d say his expertise is far more skewed towards the military and foreign affairs. On economics, science and technology, I’d say he’s a bit lacking — which doesn’t stop him from opining.

    1. “On economics, science and technology, I’d say he’s a bit lacking — which doesn’t stop him from opining.”

      Specifics? That’s an especially odd statement with respect to science, as the posts on the FM website about Science are almost entirely of two forms:

      • citations from peer-reviewed research,
      • excerpts from reports by or websites of major science institutions (eg, NOAA, NASA, universities).

      Upon investigation of past comments like Trinity’s, they usually result from the attitude that “scientists are authorities, except when they disagree with me. Then they’re clowns.” Which shows a near-total misunderstanding of how science operates, especially on the frontiers of knowledge. Reading Nature or Science is not like repeating the Pledge of Allegiance.

    2. Re: technology

      Ditto about technology. The posts about technology are almost entirely citing or quoting others. The longest and most important series of posts about technology on the FM website discussed cyberwar — and was written by Marcus Ranum (an expert).

  8. Touchy, FB. This is your bombastic side coming out. Yes indeed you do cite and quote science and technology sources, but this ain’t your native expertise. Not a criticism, an observation that’s accurate.

    PS, science is more about questions than answers so your knee jerk remark “scientists are clowns, etc.” is way off the mark.

    1. (1) “his ain’t your native expertise. Not a criticism, an observation that’s accurate.”

      Quite so, but that was not what I was responding to (this is why I try to always respond to direct quotes). I was responding to this: “which doesn’t stop him from opining.” I don’t “opin” on research only to the extent of showing that there is a debate, and echo observations about procedural flaws (science is a social process, and like all such often doesn’t follow the rules).

      (2) “so your knee jerk remark “scientists are clowns, etc.” is way off the mark.”

      The “scientists are clowns” was a characterization of a frequent viewpoint expressed in comments. Not mine. For examples see:

      1. A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008
      2. Is anthropogenic global warming a scientific debate, or a matter of religious belief?, 22 November 2008
      3. The definitive rebuttal to skepticism about global warming!, 10 December 2008
      4. Best example: High school science facts prove global warming! Skeptical scientists humiliated by this revelation!, 31 December 2008
      5. Is it possible to debate climate change with true believers? See the replies to Thursday’s post., 5 February 2012

      (3) “science is more about questions than answers”

      Science is a social process consisting of both questions and answers. Sort of a yin and yang. How one can say that one is more important than the other?

  9. If we accept Paul Kennedy’s thesis that great powers usually decline due to “imperial overstretch” with it’s attendant weakening of its economic base before its political and military power wane, how can we possibly reverse this process if most Americans are either disengaged entirely from politics and governance or often incredibly malinformed?

    1. Hoyticus,

      That’s a great question, of importance. I wish I had any ideas, other than continuing to exhort Americans to rouse themselves and re-take control of America.

      Perhaps all we can do is hope our plutocratic leaders change course.

    2. FB2,

      What? The comments on the FM website — mine and others — are filled with thousands of direct citations.

      Show us some examples to support your comment, where I’ve given responses like that?

      There is one such case, when I was tired. A reply said that wasn’t a valid reply, and I apologized. There are 22,652 comments on the FM website; let’s see if you can find evidence among those.

    3. Reply to FB2’s comment from a Fake Cranky Old Guy:

      What FB2 obviously refers to is that FM does not answer all questions. FB2 must be one of those “entitled youngsters”. In my day we didn’t have some pretend Roman guy to answer our geopolitical questions. We had to walk to the library — uphill both ways — through the snow (year-around winter, before global warming) to research the answers for ourselves. From books. In Greek.

    4. Thank you Fake Cranky Old Guy for deciphering my point. While FM does cite interesting articles from time to time, well these are exactly what they are: citations from Google searches. Not exactly original thinking, but a catalogue of interesting articles.

      If I had a person working for me who would give answers and insights in the form of Google searches, I’d fire him.

    5. (1) “well these are exactly what they are: citations from Google searches.”

      On what basis do you draw that inference? It is false.

      Search engines (eg, google) are used on occasion. But search engines are not the most frequently used source of information. Most of these are drawn from my files, which consist of material accumulated over time. Questia is also used frequently. As a third “tier” is Wikipedia (the links, very seldom as a source), Wikiquote, and Highbeam.

      Also you reply differs from your original assertion, which was that replies on the FM website take the form of “use google” or “use wikipedia”. Now you are saying that replies consist of specific information, which you somehow determine come from google.

      (2) “Thank you Fake Cranky Old Guy for deciphering my point.”

      False, again. Fake Old Guy said something quite different. It said that “FM does not answer all questions.” Which is correct, and different from what you are saying.

    6. FB2 :

      The fact that you are commenting here shows that FM provides more value than you imply.

    7. Pretentious: Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.

      Perhaps FB2 might be taken seriously if he could cite evidence (as I do in posts & comments). Or even coherently state his theory. His three comments each make different assertions, each contradictory to some degree, none with any supporting material. The inference given in the 2nd comment is false.

      In my experience with the 21,000-plus comments here, these type of insults are usually given when people don’t like the content but are unable to provide reasonable critques. It’s a schoolyard-level response.

  10. One of the main trends among the comments (including from other posts) seems to center around one essential concept.

    “What is money?” Related questions being “What is debt?” and “What is credit?” If definitions are not clear, confusion is nearly guaranteed. “Half of the job is asking the right questions”

    I have a hunch that one of the essences of money is not exchange of commodity but exchange of human labor. And debt and credit are related to money as a claim on human labor.

    Physical, mental, emotional and “spiritual” human labor are at the root. Other “things” like commodities, fiat, virtual money, computer code, machines are just middle men or the product of this human labor. Commodities have to be mined, refined, converted, transported, stored, guarded etc. Money can only be a ‘store of value’ if it can be exchanged for human labor or the products of human labor in the future.

    There are certainly much better qualified people to answer these questions, and I hope this post has motivated you and others to provide better questions and answers.

    1. Let’s be clear about these important issues. Yes, and no. I agree and disagree.

      Most of the confusion in comments is that characterizing discussions of most technical issues: people don’t have basic knowledge of the issues.

      But, as Katana notes, these issues re-emerge at the highest levels of economics.

  11. The Overlords (and their underlings/functionaries) have no interest in the masses understanding how the system, or “man behind the curtain” (Wizard of Oz), functions. The masses are expected to consume (either mindlessly or mindfully, doesn’t matter much). Not very many are expected to produce anymore, at least in the USA. Voting and representative institutions are heavily manipulated.

    However, as FM pointed out some time ago, there is a South Park (TV cartoon) episode that explains all, it is titled “Gnome Underpants Thievery” {see it here}

    1. Pictures of The Overlords from Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke.
      .
      The Overlords show themselves to humanity for the first time.
      The Overlords arrive!
      .
      More details about the Overlords. Click here to see the full image.
      The Overlords from Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

  12. In reality there is only one objectively best solution to any problem. I understand that the way Americans do politics is mostly subjective. But, does that mean that it has to be done that way?

    When a business makes an investment, what bases are the shrewd operators going on? Pure subjectivity or do they try to inject a cold assessment of reality and apply as objective an analysis as they reasonably can? When, say, an anthropologist submits a grant application for federal funding, does he/she submit the rationale for funding the research based on objective criteria and facts, e.g., a newly found ancient manuscript refers to a site that contained a great ancient library and that site should be excavated, or is the exercise grounded mainly in subjectivity, e.g., last week God told me to dig for sacred relics 32.8 kilometers south of the center of Baghdad? Which grant application has a chance of getting funded, objective or subjective? Why might that be? Maybe because in the long run objectivity beats subjectivity.

    There is no reason that politics has to be the subjective irrational mess of ideology, spin and distortion that it is today. I again assert that there really is only one best solution to any problem within the purview of politics. The trick is to get people to see that.

    Do you agree with this?

    1. You raise several interesting and complex points! In comments we can only lightly touch upon their depths.

      (1) “In reality there is only one objectively best solution to any problem.”

      I think that most geopolitical problems have multiple “solutions” because different individuals have different goals in mind for the nation. Getting agreement on goals is difficult for a large nation, and especially for a mature large nation (see <a href=”http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2006/07/28/israel/” title=”FM” target=”_blank”>this post</a> for details).

      Once we agree on goals, people will differ on methods. What are acceptable tools and tactics for the State to use (eg, assassination)? What costs and risks are we willing to incur? How long are we willing to take to achieve the goal?

      (2) “When a business makes an investment, what bases are the shrewd operators going on?”

      In my experience business investments have a large degree of subjectivity, often to the point of irrationality. They’re made on the basis of internal corporate politics. Who has influence? What will benefit the individual senior managers? Internal alliances, even hatred.

      In this excerpt from Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan Rajiv Chandrasekaran describes how personal politics within Team Obama added another layer to the madness of US policy in Afghanistan. But similar stories can be told about critical corporate policy of any large corporation. The history of the tech industry consists mostly of such stories (some of my favorites: the response of IBM and DEC to pc’s and the acquisition of DEC by Compaq).

      (3) “There is no reason that politics has to be the subjective irrational mess of ideology, spin and distortion that it is today.”

      I don’t know. Perhaps this is inevitable to some degree, with the degree varying over time for any society. We seem to suffer from a high degree of these things. Why the variation? How to change this situation? Important questions. I’ve discussed these in many posts about America politics (listed here). I believe these are accurate descriptions of the situation, but my analysis of causes and solutions is obviously inadequate (ie, flawed, incomplete, perhaps largely wrong).

    2. Please read what I said. I said there theoretically is only one BEST solution to any problem. I never said other solutions are not possible. I am talking about a kind of politics no one practices, i.e., smart, non-ideological, shrewd, public interest-first kind of stuff. I understand that that is hard to conceive, but just try. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. That’s fine. Just don’t distort me to make your points.

    3. IMHO, there are very few, if any, people out there who are at least trying to be PNIs. That brand of politics is toxic for most (95%?) of the voting American public. Viable candidates in the two parties usually can’t be non-ideologues because ideology is a necessary litmus test for party acceptability and endorsement. By definition, they cannot be PNIs. The only way to be a PNI would be to trick/convince their party and supporters into believing they are consistent with the party line and then steer a very different course once in office. For the 2008 election, Obama did a truly masterful job of creating an image that let people read into him what they wanted to see, including liberal democrats. Now, a fair number (most?) of the liberals and independents are disappointed with Obama and feel sold out.

  13. >some of my favorites: the response of IBM and DEC to pc’s and the acquisition of DEC by Compaq<

    I'd like to read more about this. Sources, if you don't mind?

  14. >In my experience business investments have a large degree of subjectivity, often to the point of irrationality. They’re made on the basis of internal corporate politics. Who has influence? What will benefit the individual senior managers? Internal alliances, even hatred.<

    Could you give me some examples of this, with sources? My experience seems to indicate that almost never happens in corporate sectors, but almost always in governmental sectors. After all, corporations are inherently more productive.

    1. (1) “My experience seems to indicate that almost never happens in corporate sectors”

      Wow. That’s too outlandish a statement to debate. My favorite book about the dysfunctionality of modern US corporations is Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by John Helyar. Any book about Wall Street history will also provide ample examples, especially those about the thinking of senior management seen by merger and acquisition investment bankers.

      (2) “After all, corporations are inherently more productive.”

      I doubt you can support that in any meaningful way. It’s an ideological statement. I doubt you can cite research supporting the narrower proposition that businesses are more efficient than governments. I believe the record shows that there are functions which are more efficiently done by the private sector — and those more efficiently done by the public sector.

  15. For analysis of Thomas Friedman I must defer to the genius work of others.

    (1) Atrios exhaustive analysis of US columnists to determine the One True Wanker of the Decade. From the start I believed Thomas Friedman deserved the award as no other person could. And so it was declared on 17 April 2012: THE ONE TRUE WANKER OF THE DECADE: Tom Friedman.

    (2) Matt Taibbi’s reviews of Friedman’s books. The reviews are far superior to the books. One can learn from the reviews, whereas Friedman’s books suck intelligence from the reader’s brain like a vampire does blood. Taibbi’s “Flathead” is my nominee for best book review, ever.

    In my small way, I’ve added to the lore of Friedman — exploring the mysteries of that source of negative information, a black hole for insight.

    1. >From the start I believed Thomas Friedman deserved the award as no other person could.<

      I would note however that the guy has won two Pulitzer prizes and writes editorials for the New York Times. Its weird that someone with his credentials for being so utterly wrong all the time has that much heft and profile. By your assessment, he should be unemployed or flipping burgers somewhere. Right?

    2. “By your assessment, he should be unemployed or flipping burgers somewhere.”

      You must be kidding, very young, or naive beyond belief. Skillful propagandists are well-paid for serving the powerful. On Madison Avenue, in Universities, in Washington.

      Truth: an ingenious compound of desirability and appearance.
      Truthful: Dumb and illiterate.
      — Ambrose Bierce

    1. Usual general news media climate propaganda. The reader is more ignorant afterwards than before reading it.

      (1) Almost totally devoid of historical context:

      • Of the known variation in the polar ice cap. For example, how it expanded during the Little Ice Age.
      • That the shrinking started before human-caused warming.
      • That in wind patterns cause the greatest short-term variations.
      • That the effect of continued warming on the ice caps as yet remains unknown (increased humidity might increase snowfall, leading to their expansion).

      (2) Omits key factors:

      • That deposition of soot on the ice cap is a major factor driving meling, effects still being determined.
      • That the south polar sea ice is slowly expanding.

      For more information:

      1. Climate science articles which you might enjoy reading!, 18 January 2009 — About melting sea ice and rising sea levels
      2. An example of important climate change research hidden, lest it spoil the media’s narrative, 22 May 2009 — About rising sea levels
      3. About that melting arctic ice cap, 17 April 2010
      4. Fear or Fail: about the melting Greenland ice sheet, 24 May 2010
      5. Today’s good news, about rising sea levels, 3 June 2010 — Esp note the links to articles and studies!
      6. It’s time to worry (again) about disappearing arctic ice, 8 June 2010
      7. Climate Armageddon postponed (again): the melting polar ice, 9 October 2010
      8. More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century, 16 October 2010
      9. Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses, 17 October 2010 — Two of James Hanson’s past predictions
      10. About the coming sea ice Armageddon!, 19 June 2012
      11. Shaping your view of the world with well-constructed propaganda, 21 June 2012 — About rising sea levels.
      12. Run from the rising waves! (The latest climate catastrophe scare), 27 June 2012
    1. When the product meets your needs at the best for you combination of price, quality, and features.

      These are value choices. Just like “buy local” and “buy from friends” and “buy from family”. Everyone decides to whom to give preference, and to what degree.

  16. What is the best way for an individual to future-proof their employment with the continuation and perhaps acceleration of automation?

    1. (1) Have money. Automation means higher returns to capital. As it has for farmers who own sufficient land and equipment.

      (2) Work in service sector doing something not automatable. Whores, manicurists, butlers, dentist.

      (3) Get a higher education in something that remains in demand during your lifetime (ie, be lucky).

      (4) While you are young, understand the future in sufficient depth to well position yourself.

      Summary: That’s a great question! To which I have few or no useful suggestions.

    2. “(4) While you are young, understand the future in sufficient depth to well position yourself.”

      Trying to take this approach.

  17. Do you think Julian Assange should be extradited to the US?

    Someone told me he should, because part of the Wikileaks leaks included people’s social security numbers. Would you agree?

    1. Oh yeah, the same said individual also said that “Nothing of value was leaked out” during the Wikileaks fiasco, would you happen to agree?

    2. “Nothing of value was leaked out during the Wikileaks fiasco.”

      (1) Factually incorrect, to a degree suggesting extreme ignorance. The Wkileaks information has had a great effect, in both America and the world.

      (2) In what sense was this a “Wikilead fiasco”?

    3. (1) Define “should”.

      (2) The available evidence (WaPo) suggests that Assange will be charged under the WWI espionage act (which doesn’t meet any basic standard of constitutionality, and was unused until Obama).

      (3) The US government might plan to take Assange from Sweden, not extradite him. From Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 19 June 2012:

      In December, 2001, Sweden handed over two asylum-seekers to the CIA, which then rendered them to be tortured in Egypt. A ruling from the U.N. Human Rights Committee found Sweden in violation of the global ban on torture for its role in that rendition (the two individuals later received a substantial settlement from the Swedish government). The fact that Sweden has unusually oppressive pre-trial procedures— allowing for extreme levels of secrecy in its judicial proceedings — only heightens Assange’s concern about what will happen to him vis-a-vis the U.S. if he ends up in Swedish custody.

      Can anyone claim that Assange’s fear of ending up in American custody is anything other than supremely reasonable and rational? Just look at what has happened to people — especially foreign nationals — over the last decade who have been accused of harming the national security of the United States.

      They’re imprisoned — still — without a whiff of due process, and President Obama just last year signed a new indefinite detention bill into law. Moreover, Assange need merely look at what the U.S. has done to Bradley Manning, accused of leaking documents and other materials to WikiLeaks: the Army Private was held for almost a year in solitary confinement conditions which a formal U.N. investigation found were “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and he now faces life in prison, charged with a capital offense of aiding Al Qaeda.

      (4) The judicial system in American no longer works to provide justice. People are convicted without the ability to defend themselves, on the basis of absurdly weak cases, with complete passivity by judges. It more closely resembles that of the Soviet Union. That assumes Assange is extradited and not subject to “rendition” to some third world ally for indefinite detention and torture.

    4. Are you sure? It seems most of everything that was leaked out of Wikileaks was already known by most of the world. It just seemed like petty squabbling that was leaked out. That’s at least how I viewed it on the news.

      Am I wrong?

    5. Yes. You are totally wrong.

      For several years much of the news about the US (and some other nations) has had Wikileak’s revelations as a major thread. Take a look at the large special posts run by major UK and US news media unpacking the revelations.

    6. Here are two examples, and not the largest.

      Don Vandergriff wrote about one of the several large information releases by Wikileaks: Afghanistan war logs: Shattering the illusion of a bloodless victory, 28 July 2010.

      The release of secret Congressional Research Service reports made less of a splash, but may have larger long-term effects by affecting research by journalists and scholars: A major leak of government secrets – read all about it!, 9 February 2009.

    7. What was revealed of importance to the American (and global) public? All I can tell is it’s mostly petty stuff about affairs and social security numbers. Are you sure about this?

    8. Please either research this yourself or stop asking these inane questions. At some point asking for this level of spoon-feeding easily found information is something only trolls do. This looks like that. You’re wasting my time and that of the readers. Any more and future comments will be moderated.

  18. If demographics are destiny and considering this blog operates on the “edges of what is known” then what do you think these trends hold for America?

    The first link (AP, 17 May 2012) is about the majority of non-white births in America for the first time in 2012.

    The second link is to a famous piece of research by Robert Putnam about how racial and ethnic heterogeny leads to a decline in social capital like trust, community organizations, etc. “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century, Robert D. Putnam, Scandinavian Political Studies, June 2007

    1. As you note, demographic change has come to America, and will continue. Probably accelerating.

      I too worry about the effect on US social cohesion. The consensus assumption is that the culture will continue to evolve slowly, and that the new ethnic and reliqious groups will assimilate (although much of the formal, often aggressive, assimilation machinery has been dismantled). That seems to me quite a gable.

      I have no forecasts to offer. None of my own, and I’ve seen little analysis on the subject.

      Pointers and suggestions welcomed!

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