Understand our problem before you prescribe a cure for America. We’ve gone mad.

Summary: People seeking to reform America typically search for a list of policies that will cause Americans to rally around. But what if it’s not our choice in public policies that plaques us, but something in our minds? Perhaps some ill that has infected our national character? If so a “I’m OK – You’re OK” campaign will certainly fail, and a reform movement must strike deeper chords to attract meaningful support. Here is a possible diagnosis (or first step towards a diagnosis).

Mad Smile
Look into our minds. Will you like what you see?

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“I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men.”
— attributed to Issac Newton

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Typical posts on the FM website provide data-rich examination of small things, seeking clarity through focus. Today’s post take the opposite approach, speculating about the larger picture.

Reading the morning news I have a recurrent, overpowering impression. Not provable, purely subjective, beyond evidence, but one seemingly with great explanatory power. Perhaps America has gone mad as a society. There are historical examples beyond count.

France went mad during the early 18th C (ie, John Law and the Mississippi Company) and again during the mid-revolutionary period (1792-95, mass executions and issuing the Assignats). Britain did during the South Sea bubble (1711-1720).

Different kinds of madness are the witch-burning epidemics in Europe. And, of course, NAZI Germany (mad to the bone).

A form of madness often infects people starting war — or arises during them. The Confederacy went mad after Summer 1863, fighting after defeat was certain. Europe after 1914, fighting after the original reasons were moot. Imperial Japan’s mad ruling class declared war on most of the world’s major powers.

Perhaps we have some form of these kinds of madness. Perhaps even more virulent than most.

Diagnosis and Symptoms

Perhaps sometime after the fall of the USSR — starting in the late 1990s — we slowly slid into madness. A broad madness, affecting much of society and much of what we do. Here are three examples; in the comments you can add your favorites to this list.

Queen Paranoia by CyberAsero
Some of us handle madness better than others.
“Queen Paranoia” by CyberAsero

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  • Our mad economic policy took us from rapid growth and a nearly balanced budget in the 1990s to a succession of asset bubbles (#3 now in progress) — and a national debt quadrupled from $3 to $12 trillion (with nothing to show for it but an aging infrastructure). Now we’ve begun the long slow withdrawal. The jubilation over Larry Summers’ withdrawal as a possible Fed Chairman shows the reluctance to begin this process; the widespread eagerness to nominate Janet Yellen shows our inability to learn (her career’s high point was this speech in October 2005 explaining that no action was needed about the emerging housing bubble).
  • Our foreign policy has been militarized in a mad fashion, resulting in an ever-growing list of interventions. Persistent failure has not discouraged us — until perhaps the proposed war with Syria began the process of reform (despite increasingly mad claims that Syria’s WMDs pose a threat to the US).
  • In 2000 we began the approach to a demographics crisis, ahead of the first Boomer turning 65 in 2011. That decade was the last opportunity to prepare: pay down the Federal debt, force public and private pension plans to fully fund their obligations, etc. Despite decades of warnings, instead we squandered the time like madmen.

A great nation throwing away its wealth, perhaps even its future. Truly mad.

Result: we are easy to manipulate

Our leaders see our madness, and exploit it. Both Left and Right use similar methods, both led by Americans who understand our weakness: fear. Irrational, cowardly, sometimes paranoid. Despite our wealth and power, fear has become our Achille’s Heel.

On the Right they have excited conservatives with fear of culture change (eg, full rights for gays and women), fear of ethnic change (white’s displaced as the ruling caste), and fear of economic stress (as much of the middle class slides into economic insecurity, even decline). They created the Tea Party, which has become an engine of disruption for the GOP as well as the nation.

On the Left they have excited liberals with fears of environmental destruction. Not just fear of the possible climate changes described in the IPCC’s reports, horrific changes in late 21st century if we burn off most of Earth’s deposits of fossil fuels. Rather they fear today’s weather — often falsely described as “extreme” on the basis of short (as weather cycles go) decades- or century-long records. Even in the US, with its low trends in hurricane landfalls, number of wildfires, and tornadoes. Ditto for Global Tropical Cyclone Activity.

The concerns of the people in both extremes are reasonable. But their emotional certainty makes them loyal soldiers. Well-meaning, dedicated, often intelligent and educated — marching to madness. Their certainty of doom impels them to make disturbing, sometimes violent, comments on websites. Reading these suggests the possibility of extreme political action in their future.

Our madness might not have yet finished with us. It might flower into strange forms. What might some Leftists to save the planet? What might some group of well-armed Red State activists do to preserve America from the others threatening it from within? What madness might seize the imagination of the American mass mind — as happened after 9-11 to further bin Laden’s dream of the Long War?

Worst of all, reforming America might remain a dream unless we successfully confront this problem.

Another indicator

The disorientation produced by our madness also affects our artists (canaries in society’s coal mine). For an wonderful example see Russell Brand’s analysis of the GQ awards ceremony: ‘It’s amazing how absurd it seems’. Quite so.

Madness in the head
Of course, we all fear the orbital mind control lasers

For More Information

About the subjects discussed today:

Posts about reforming America:

  1. The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  2. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
  3. The sure route to reforming America, 16 November 2010
  4. We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
  5. A third try: The First Step to reforming America, 28 May 2013
  6. The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy,
    27 June 2013
  7. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013

This is how I feel sometimes when answering comments

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Alice when the Madness Returns
Alice when the Madness Returns

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42 thoughts on “Understand our problem before you prescribe a cure for America. We’ve gone mad.

  1. Would that it were… but Americans like grandiose simplistic uninformed panacea like solutions. Hows does one even counter that? How can this culture become empirical?

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    1. Tom,

      I have thought much about this, and will discuss it in a future post.

      The short version: couple it with a goal, a dream or aspiration. Plus a self-image. Frontiersman, cowboy, entrepreneur — we love a powerful self-image.

      Like

  2. Consider the trend of “talk shows” on TV, where they moved from the entertainment show with celebrity guests chatting, singing, dancing, etc. to the Phil Donahue/Oprah variety, which taught Americans to focus on their own “pathologies”, airing them in public and replete with “experts”. These shows taught Americans to break familial bonds of trust in public and to rely on experts rather than their own common sense or family and community.

    And beyond that our entire culture began to gravitate to a reliance on “experts” and as long as an “expert” receives a celebrity endorsement and/or has a string of college degrees, Americans, by and large, believe them.

    We’re not mad, merely being trained to rely on others to think for us. Our entire culture, from accepting any quack “military strategy” proposed (as long a general or two endorses it) to health information, where the list of miracle foods to miracle cures abound and a nitwit celebrity can influence thousands of parents to forgo vaccinations, point me toward this cultural shift toward relying on “experts” rather than teaching people to question and think for themselves.

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    1. sorry, you just showed your own brainwashing with the “nitwit celebrity can influence parents to forego vaccinations” thing. The “nitwit” is asking parents to do the hard work of calculating the risk/benefit ratio for their own children, and avoid those vaccinations where the risks outweigh the benefits.(does your 9-year old really need Guardisil? probably not!)

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  3. I think the amish got it figured out: no mass media, low overhead, no fast food, no car payments, lower oil use, insurance, no military service, low income taxes, is we followed their example we wouldn’t have most of the problems fm discusses.

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  4. Madness is a state of mind….and this has never been a particularly sane country, to begin with.

    Consider the hallmarks, the symptoms of “madness” which has never been nailed down as a definitive disease, mind you. We don’t have an accurate description, nor a comprehensive list of symptoms, nor a cure.

    But I find these are either precursors or characteristics of madness:

    Intoxication: from the first colonization of the Western Hemisphere by Europeans, drunkenness was a recurring problem for a significant portion of the population and their families. The efforts of Carrie Nation and her sisters were the desperate actions of women pushed past endurance. Nowadays, we have so many more forms of intoxication: drugs of all kinds, legal or not. And our understanding of addiction has grown to encompass more than drugs and drunkenness: sex, power, greed, sadism…and more.

    Early on (1700’s) drunkenness was considered a personality flaw, and religion was the preferred cure. But religion can also become an addiction, if it serves to justify and prop up a non-reality-based life. Religious mania is also alive and well today.

    So perhaps “madness” is anything that interferes with dealing with reality and one’s survival in that reality, in a “civil” society. Our society is noticeably uncivil, not just at the poverty level, but at all levels, today. it has grown increasingly so in the 50+ years of my observation.

    In which case, we are a basket-case nation. Because we are lied to, conned, betrayed and fleeced by everyone and anyone in power, we are driven mad.

    When they call the Revolution, there will be a lot of willing madmen and women. Revolution is a form of madness, too. But when all peaceable paths to reforming society and its functioning are blocked, there truly is only revolution, emigration, or slavery. Unless one can sell out and join the Powers That Be…in which case, one is first in line to be hanged from a lamppost, Come the Revolution.

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  5. Tough exactly to pinpoint the moment madness took charge, but I think Kenneth Patchen covered it’s rise fairly well with some of his poetry and of course his anti-war novel The Journal of Albion Moonlight.

    Let Us Have Madness

    Let us have madness openly.
    O men Of my generation.
    Let us follow
    The footsteps of this slaughtered age:
    See it trail across Time’s dim land
    Into the closed house of eternity
    With the noise that dying has,
    With the face that dead things wear–
    nor ever say
    We wanted more; we looked to find
    An open door, an utter deed of love,
    Transforming day’s evil darkness;
    but We found extended hell and fog Upon the earth,
    and within the head
    A rotting bog of lean huge graves.

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  6. “Florence! exult: for thou so mightily
    Hast thriven, that o’er land and sea* thy wings
    Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell.”

    Dante, Inferno, Canto 26

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    1. Duncan,

      Scary, apropos quote.

      Unusually amount of great poetry on this thread. That’s great. I believe we need to dig into the arts to understand where we are, and to find the inspiration to again find our true path.

      Like

  7. From Pink Floyd
    The Dark Side Of The Moon
    The Lunatic

    Brain Damage
    (Waters) 3:50

    The lunatic is on the grass.
    The lunatic is on the grass.
    Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
    Got to keep the loonies on the path.

    The lunatic is in the hall.
    The lunatics are in my hall.
    The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
    And every day the paper boy brings more.

    And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
    And if there is no room upon the hill
    And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
    I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

    The lunatic is in my head.
    The lunatic is in my head
    You raise the blade, you make the change
    You re-arrange me ’til I’m sane.
    You lock the door
    And throw away the key
    There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.

    And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
    You shout and no one seems to hear.
    And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
    I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

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  8. nobody loses all the time

    e e cummings

    i had an uncle named
    Sol who was a born failure and
    nearly everybody said he should have gone
    into vaudeville perhaps because my Uncle Sol could
    sing McCann He Was A Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself which
    may or may not account for the fact that my Uncle

    Sol indulged in that possibly most inexcusable
    of all to use a highfalootin phrase
    luxuries that is or to
    wit farming and be
    it needlessly
    added

    my Uncle Sol’s farm
    failed because the chickens
    ate the vegetables so
    my Uncle Sol had a
    chicken farm till the
    skunks ate the chickens when

    my Uncle Sol
    had a skunk farm but
    the skunks caught cold and
    died so
    my Uncle Sol imitated the
    skunks in a subtle manner

    or by drowning himself in the watertank
    but somebody who’d given my Uncle Sol a Victor
    Victrola and records while he lived presented to
    him upon the auspicious occasion of his decease a
    scrumptious not to mention splendiferous funeral with
    tall boys in black gloves and flowers and everything and

    i remember we all cried like the Missouri
    when my Uncle Sol’s coffin lurched because
    somebody pressed a button
    (and down went
    my Uncle
    Sol

    and started a worm farm)

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  9. maybe it was ergotism?

    seriously, though, maybe madness is the wrong diagnosis. the FM website has touched on it a bit with its prescriptions for improvement, but my guess is that the fracturing of US social identity to subnational loyalties (i.e. political party, religious sect, Dallas Cowboys fan) has a lot more to do with us being susceptible to divide and conquer strategies by our elites than any kind of mass mental disorder.

    when we live in a world where one might be nearly castrated for wearing the wrong team colors, it’s kind of hard to believe that we can wrap our heads around large abstract problems easily as a mass of voters. it’s not impossible for us to do–our parents and grandparents were probably no less bigoted and probably quite a bit less educated than we are–but it would take a sustained effort to educate people on policy, mechanisms, and seeking common ground. the kind of stuff that costs a lot of money in an economy where the wealthiest are increasingly solidifying their hold over America’s wealth.

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  10. With the possible exception of Nazi Germany, I see little parallel between the historical lunacies mentioned and our society today. The “madness of crowds” in these cases (many more are mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds) was active, and rooted in obsession.

    Nazi Germany was a madness born of the leaders (whether the leaders themselves were mad, or simply exploitative, I do not claim to know) and deployed upon the people. The obsessions were there, in the form of excessive nationalism and virulent antisemitism; but (my impression, at least, is that) the motivation, the drive to act, all came from the top. Perhaps this is a myth: but I think the people were caught up in an engineered tide, not so much mad as effectively herded.

    That could be us—but our leaders have not yet found their Jews (nor a broadly convincing image of the Übermensch). Certainly there are pockets of obsession and hatred, as deep as any in history; but none are widely shared.

    Socially and politically, we are not so much mad as catatonic. We do not know what to do, so we do nothing; and those who think they know, all know something different, and so cancel one another, leaving only depleted spirits in their wake.

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    1. “That could be us—but our leaders have not yet found their Jews (nor a broadly convincing image of the Übermensch”

      Fascinating but profoundly irrelevant to this post. It is most certainly not us.

      That you don’t see the rather obvious parallels between the financial manias listed and ours is interesting, and shows how we have drifted into this madness — it seems normal.

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    2. It is quite possible that I fail to see the parallels because I don’t know enough about the previous financial manias.

      What I recognize in the past couple decades of finance, though, is not madness. It is well-positioned people creating and exploiting heads-I-win, tails-you-lose opportunities for profit. Meanwhile, the rest of us, each individually knowing that we lack the power to have any significant chance of affecting the long-term trajectory of our society, still hope that if we play carefully, we might survive to go on to the next round. Many of us make mistakes, but they are mistakes, not delusions.

      Were derivatives bound to crash? Was Enron certain to be revealed sooner or later? Who cares? IBGYBG: I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone, the mantra of the modern executive. (In the latest debacle, most of those who weren’t even gone still made out handsomely.)

      If there is madness, it is the common family’s hope of avoiding disaster. For most Americans, though, I don’t think that is—yet—an unrealistic hope. Most of us have enough to lose that the odds favor playing along and keeping our heads down. Most of us will make it… at the expense of mind-numbing levels of stress and insecurity. So long as the aristocracy can maintain those conditions, they have us.

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    3. “It is quite possible that I fail to see the parallels because I don’t know enough about the previous financial manias.”

      Now that’s a powerful point. I apologize, assuming for no reason that everybody knew these histories.

      The problem of excess debt dates back to the dawn of civilization. In western history States accumulated debts most often during wars (or were broke after wars). The South Sea Bubble and the Mississippi Company were schemes to unload the government’s debt. The French revolutionary government issued the Assignats. The German an Austrian governments wildly printed currency after losing WW1. All are mad “solutions” to difficult problems.

      But I really doubt that you are unaware of the government’s massive debt accumulation since 1982, and especially since 2000. One need not be a economic historian to realize that this is not likely to end well for us. That we have come to accept this as normal is true madness.

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    4. I’ll cite Paul Krugman, Nobody Understands Debt and This Is Not A Crisis, to back me up: United States government debt is not a major problem. It was and is a red herring.

      Private debt is a major problem: it is both a result and a driver of levels of inequality which are economically and socially destructive. Ultimately, though, it is more fundamentally a symptom than a cause.

      As its cause lies, perhaps, one way in which we truly are mad, caught up in Chicago School magical thinking: the belief that laissez-faire capitalist markets can solve all economic problems, making further economic policy obsolete. This delusion—that if we set up the right ground rules, we can then dispense with politics and democracy and the hard work of continually seeking an economic order that is both prosperous and just—is one Americans are loathe to abandon, even in the face of all evidence.

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    5. Coises,

      Krugman is a great economist, but writes in the NYT as a partisan warrior. It is a conflict of roles which does not discuss, but I am certain he is aware of. Much like Jonathan Swift in 18th century England, tempering HS wisdom to writer politically powerful tracts.

      Let’s look at this passage from the 2nd article you cite.

      “It is that we are nowhere near fiscal crisis; we aren’t even looking at anything like a fiscal crisis 15 or 20 years from now.”

      His support for that is the current CBO forecast. These have proven of little as short-term forecasts, and totally so for long-term forecasts. As Krugman knows quite well, this is absurd. To mention just one factor (discussed in the comments), the CBO assumptions are wildly optimistic.

      “So budget deficits, entitlement reform, and all that simply don’t deserve to be policy priorities”

      I agree. I mentioned the long-term deficits, since 1982 and esp since 2000 (both BTW engineered by Republicans). The current downturn is a cyclical event in which deficits should be run — borrowing at low rates to rebuild America.

      “let alone dominate the national discussion the way they did for the past few years.”

      Yes, the timing is crazy — driven by politics. On the other hand, the real deficit problem — running deficits over the *full cycle*, with the Boomers about to retire — is a serious problem. It could have been fixed easily in 1982 and 2000. Now we can only mitigate the coming shock.

      Krugman is a good Democrat partisan and waves this away, even pretending that the Treasury bonds in the SS Trust fund (obligations from the Federal govt to the Federal govt) will pay for social security.

      Just as good GOP economists waved this away as their boys ran up massive deficits. Lots of confident assertions, backed by hand-waving that it is all ok by economic theory. Now for partisan purposes they are shocked — shocked — to see deficits!

      This all probably will look quite mad a decade from now. In fact, IMO it is quite obviously mad now.

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    6. I agree with several of your points, maybe all. This is an engineered crisis for the benefit of the powerful and greedy. They bought the politicians and enough academics to dismantle all the rules restraining their excesses.

      And with TPP, they are trying to make things worse than they ever were, a global oligopoly that enslaves everyone. Except themselves.

      There are sufficient lamp posts, I expect, for them.

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  11. You’re implying that Larry Summers — a guy who did way more than most to grease the skids for the 2008 catastrophe — would be the better choice? You really need to pay less attention to that gasbag shaman DeLong.

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    1. Snake,

      (1) Prof Delong was clear that he approved of both Summers and Yellen, with “only a slight preference for Summers.”

      http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2013/09/a-note-on-the-possible-summers-fed-chair-nomination-backing-up-ed-luce-weblogging.html

      (2) Almost everyone likely to become the new Fed Chairman supports the bank and market deregulation programs that played such a large role in creating the crash. It is a litmus test, IMO.

      (3) Wall Street clearly preferred Yellen over Summers because of today’s policy questions — especially timing and pace of policy normalization.

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  12. Manifest Destiny is one aspect of our insanity that is rarely spoken about but invoked rather frequently in it’s guise as American Exceptionalism, that ideal “shining city on a hill.” Jeffers had his fill of this claptrap in his time and wrote this poem–

    Shine, Perishing Republic
    BY ROBINSON JEFFERS
    While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
    And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

    I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
    Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

    You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
    A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.

    But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption
    Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.

    And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
    There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught—they say—God, when he walked on earth.

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  13. “But what if it’s not our choice in public policies that plaque us, but something in our minds”

    Liah Greenfeld in her recent book Mind, Modernity, Madness discusses the issue of modern madness. She argues that an extremely important dimension of madness is its delusionary quality or the inability to distinguish between information originating outside the mind and information generated by the mind (or inside the brain)

    To be even more specific, she states that delusion seems to revolve around not being able to distinguish between the culture within our brain (symbolic stimuli with no sensory component) and outside our brain (symbolic stimuli with a sensory component).

    When this type of delusion predominates we are not far from severe depression, manic-depression and schizophrenia.

    The recent shooter at the Navy Yard in Washington DC was supposedly experiencing hallucinations (information generated by the mind and inside the brain) but experienced by the shooter as coming from outside the brain through some kind of external manipulation.

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  14. Do this post, and comments like this one:

    Assuming rationality might be the greatest of analytical errors.
    Fabius Maximum

    represent a change in your assessment from posts like these:
    Our fears are unwarranted. America is in fact well-governed.
    The good news: America’s politics are neither polarized nor dysfunctional. That’s also the bad news.
    and comments like this one:

    I have written many posts about this, and do not understand why this is not obvious: our leaders are competent.
    Fabius Maximus

    or am I missing how the two perspectives fit together?

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    1. Coises,

      It’s a perspective thing, like looking at an elephant from different angles.

      Our rulers seek to maximize their power and wealth, as have so many rulers in history. Our rulers are competent in this sense. They’ll act as prudent greedy people. Not likely to do the dumb things to immediately wreck the nation, as op-ed columnists so often fear. Like drawing straight lines on govt spending and deficits under Obama, and declaring the end is nigh.

      From this perspective our foreign policy makes sense. Maximizes US power, puts US-friendly rulers in many capitols (elections are so unreliable). Foreign military adventures are useful in so many ways, and their children do not as a rule fight on the front lines. The cost in terms of cut spending (to pay for them) and damaged lives are paid by the proles. And these small wars slowly boost State power, and they are the State. War is the health of the State.

      But is all this rational, as in the rule of reason? That’s a higher bar. Do their decisions lead to long-term stability? Would Socrates or Kant approve? As in, do our rulers ask “Would the result be the best for all if everyone acted as I do?”

      Syria nicely illustrates these dynamics. Obama’s initial strategy was typical of post-WW2 US: bully our way in, a few hammer-blows for ill-thought-out objectives on a small nation. Not much risk. Fun. Maintains fear of our power in the small nations and fear of the world among the proles. Practice for our military machine. All typical thinking of the powerful. But Russia’s intervention forced a change, as our rulers are prudent as well as greedy.

      This is all competent, but not rational.

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    2. This comment by Coises is yet another reminder to me that I should be more careful with my use of words. It is not possible to be too pedantic!

      I use “rational” in different senses, carelessly.

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  15. Coises remarks:

    That could be us—but our leaders have not yet found their Jews (nor a broadly convincing image of the Übermensch).

    Permit me to demur. The untermenschen in modern America are of course terrorists, while the uebermenschen are (naturally enough) that exceptional species Homo Americanus Invictus Maximus, otherwise known as The World’s Greatest Suckers.

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    1. I have little sympathy for terrorists, and would not put them in the same category as the “others” victimized by tyrannical regimes throughout history.

      The closest we have to victimized others — and it is not too close — are Islamic Americans, under suspicion by our government and a large fraction of the people.

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  16. Well, the larger point here is that most of the individuals today characterized as “terrorists” by the American military-industrial complex are bystanders doing nothing wrong. Among the people classified as “terrorists” by America are: non-violent political protesters, wedding parties in Pakistan, U.S. living-wage organizers, Occupy protesters, union organizers, etc. In 2013, with guys like Bradley Manning and Snowden being called “terrorists,” it seems clear that anyone who says or does anything that makes the people in power uncomfortable gets classified as a “terrorist.”

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    1. A terrorist is any person the Sate says is. Guilty of pre-crime. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-07-11/stasi-vs-nsa-compare-and-contrast?page=2

      According to a report by the NPR, the data center of the NSA in Utah will be capable of saving 5 Zettabytes (5 billion Terabyte). Assuming that a filing cabinet with 60 files (30.000 pages of paper) uses up 0,4 m², which would correspond to 120 MB of data, the printed out Utah data center would use up 17 million square kilometers.

      Thereby the NSA can capture 1 billion times more data than the Stasi!

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    1. That is the big question addressed in this series. All we know is that a people’s hearts can be changed. Slavery was abolished, America was created, women gained rights. None of these came quickly or easily.

      I am uncertain how this task compares with those. Perhaps only afterwards will we be able to tell.

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  17. “People seeking to reform America typically search for a list of policies that will cause Americans to rally around.”

    Not sure if this is accurate, but it would be a folly if true.

    A few categories of policies:

    • popular & effective – already done already
    • popular & ineffective – some are law of the land
    • unpopular & ineffective – very rare
    • unpopular & effective – rarely done yet

    A country with an already mature set of policies has mostly the unpopular&effective policies left for its own improvement. The repealing of popular&ineffective policies makes up most of their other good options.
    Neither is going to rally many supporters.

    Next, this mini-model can be enlarged by splitting popularity between popularity among the voter base and among the sponsor base. Again, what’s left are the political actions which would at least alienate one of both, for the common ground policies are already in place.

    Like

    1. Sven,

      That’s a logical typology, but assumes American public policy reflects our opinions and interests. I think both “popular” and “effective” are too broad for this use (as you mention in your last line).

      For decades large majorities opposed our open borders programs, which de facto enouraged massive illegal immigration. But only since the crash and following slow-growth years were effective (or partially effective) measures put in place to slow this (the slow economy did so more effectively).

      Our foreign wars have been unpopular and ineffective since (guessing) 2005. Yet we stayed in Iraq until they kicked us our in 2009 (combat forces; all troops our by 2011). And the unpopular futile war in Afghanistan continues, although the slow drawdown of troops began in 2012.

      Our complex inefficient tax system is widely hated. Politicians regularly promise to reform it. It is ineffective in terms of the national interest. But it well-suits the needs of our ruling elites, and there are no signs of change.

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    2. Think of “popular” as “possible to implement with little resistance”. Resistance by voters threatening to withdraw/withhold votes and resistance from sponsors threatening to withhold donations or to sponsor an opponent is such resistance.

      I don’t think your examples point out any weak spot in the mini-model.

      People who “seeking to reform America” and want “Americans to rally around” the reforms have their preferences for what to do, and both resistance and effectiveness can be judged in light of said preferences.
      Still, few if any major leaps happen in any direction simply because the major leaps which don’t face overwhelming opposition have already been made.

      The environment needs to change incrementally over time till this lock-in widens enough for another major leap.

      A series of NSA scandals over two years might suffice to break up the NSA. Reports and observations about income inequality may create political opportunities against the rigging of the economy within this decade. Decades of congress and president lacking majority popular support may suffice for a reform against gerrymandering. Years of congressional gridlock may suffice to kill filibustering. Years of monthly gun rampages may lead to universal background checks and tough gun registries. Years of decades more of information may end the War on drugs at least in regard to cannabis.

      It’s rather unlikely that anyone can just look into demographics and polls data and find a set of breakthrough policies which would propel the country forward by much AND are popular enough for actually being passed and implemented.
      That’s not how it works.

      Like

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