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World War 1 All Over Again — Paul Craig Roberts – PaulCraigRoberts.org

World War 1 All Over Again — Paul Craig Roberts – PaulCraigRoberts.org.

World War 1 All Over Again
The same fools play the same game

Paul Craig Roberts

“If you reduce the lie to a scientific system put it on thick and heavy, and with great effort and sufficient finances scatter it all over the world as the pure truth, you can deceive whole nations for a long time and drive them to slaughter for causes in which they have not the slightest interest.” — Chief French Editor, Behind the Scenes in French Journalism, describing the organization of World War 1 propaganda in France.

Did US Secretary of State John Kerry ask you before he delivered an all or nothing ultimatum to Russia? Did he ask Congress? Did he ask the countries of western and eastern Europe–NATO members who Kerry has committed to whatever the consequences will be of Washington’s inflexible, arrogant, aggressive provocation of Russia, a well-armed nuclear power? Did Kerry ask Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, South America, Africa, China, Central Asia, all of whom would be adversely affected by a world war provoked by the crazed criminals in Washington?

No.

He did not.

The exceptional, indispensable, arrogant, self-righteous United States government does not need to ask anyone. Washington speaks not merely for itself. Washington represents the country chosen by history (and the neoconservatives) to speak not merely for itself, but for the entire world.

Whatever Washington says is truth. Whatever Washington does is legal, in accordance with both domestic and international law. When Washington invades countries and destroys them, sends in drones and missiles, blows up people attending weddings, funerals and children’s soccer games, Washington is practicing human rights and bringing democracy to the people. Whenever a country tries to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, the country is engaging in terrorism, al-Qaeda connections, human rights violations, and suppressing democracy.

We are watching this audacity play out now in the confrontation with Russia that Washington’s coup in Ukraine has provoked. Obama and Kerry have been advised by the idiots that comprise the US government that Russia will surrender and accept Washington’s will if Washington is sufficiently insistent.

Apparently, no one has asked the advisors what happens if ultimatums are given, and the Russians do not submit.

The 1914 debate: Is Europe’s past really Asia’s future? – World – CBC News

The 1914 debate: Is Europe’s past really Asia’s future? – World – CBC News.

The Japan-China provocations show no sign of letting up

By Joe Schlesinger, CBC News Posted: Feb 08, 2014 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Feb 08, 2014 5:00 AM ET

People wait to offer New Year prayers at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Jan. 1. 2014. Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a Japanese cabinet member had just visited the shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's wartime aggression.  People wait to offer New Year prayers at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Jan. 1. 2014. Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a Japanese cabinet member had just visited the shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression. (Yuya Shino / Reuters)

Photo of Joe Schlesinger

Joe Schlesinger
Foreign Correspondent Emeritus

Joe Schlesinger was a foreign correspondent for CBC for 28 years, covering natural disasters, political upheavals and conflicts from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf. In 2009, the Canadian Journalism Foundation honoured Schlesinger for his body of work.

The Davos economic conference is over, and the presidents, prime ministers and other potentates who attended have gone home with their briefcases full of recipes on how to make the world — and themselves — richer and more secure.

Some of these recipes will surely do some good. Except for one big hitch. The kitchens in which the fate of nations is baked may be in danger of blowing up.

The man holding the fuse aloft is Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan no less.

His warning was that the current tension between his country and China is similar to the rivalry between Britain and Germany that led to the First World War 100 years ago. And it sparked a very angry, un-Davos-like response from the Chinese, one of whom compared Abe to North Korea’s wacky dictator.

While Abe talked in generalities about the trouble brewing in the region, everyone knew that he was talking about the escalating tug of war over the eight contested islands in the East China Sea.

These rocks, some smaller than a football field, are called Diaoyu by the Chinese; they are 330 km from China’s coast and 410 km from Japan, where they are known as Senkaku.

Their inhabitants: moles, goats and albatrosses. More importantly, though, the islands are surrounded by the magical Aladdin’s lamp of our era — oil and gas deposits.

Superpower rules

The area has been controlled by Japan since the days of gunboats and colonial expansion in the 1890s.

And in laying claim to these islands now, China is trying to match its status as a new economic superpower by asserting itself as a military force (as Abe sees it, like Germany did a century ago).

INDIA-JAPANAfter Davos, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe moved on to India where he talked up the close ties between the two nations as they close ranks against mutual rival China. (Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters)

Two months ago, Beijing announced the creation of an air defence identification zone over the portion of the East China Sea that includes Diaoyu.

The new rules, with their implicit threat of military action against foreign aircraft that don’t identify themselves to Chinese authorities, caused an international uproar.

But the immediate danger is in the military jockeying that’s taking place over these islands.

The warplanes China has dispatched to patrol the area have been challenged by U.S., Japanese and South Korean fighter planes.

With armed planes buzzing each other in a small airspace, there is the very real possibility that a simple miscalculation could lead to war, not unlike the small events that triggered WWI.

Another danger factor is the animosity that still exists between the Chinese and Japanese; in many ways they have never put the Second World War behind them as most other former enemies have.

Echoes of 1914

It isn’t that either Japan or China wants war necessarily — though both are arming noticeably.

What’s more likely going on in the East China Sea is that two of the world’s largest economies — China is No. 2 and Japan No. 3 — have ramped up their bullhorn rivalry as a means of deflecting attention from their own domestic problems.

However, if not checked by the power of No. 1 — the U.S., which is showing its disinclination to intervene abroad militarily — the animosity between China and Japan could unleash a wider conflict.

When 1914 came, there was no hint of the scale of the disaster to come.

Then, as now, the world had gone through a period without the kind of far-ranging wars that devastated continents.

US-JAPAN-SHRINE/A Rising Sun flag with a picture of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Hideki Tojo, Imperial Japan’s WWII general, is burnt during protest outside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong in December. Large-scale protests took place in South Korea and China after Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. (Tyrone Siu / Reuters)

Europe, which endured centuries of bloody conflicts, had been largely peaceful from the 1850s on.

But by the early 1900s, a growing world economy rested on colonial empires. Not just European ones either.

Japan also acquired colonies towards the end of 19th century, mainly by conquering Korea and setting its sights on Russian-controlled Manchuria.

What made being an imperial power so attractive was that it provided cheap colonial labour and raw materials — the equivalent of today’s coveted undersea resources — and turned these colonies into protected markets for the “mother” country’s manufactured goods.

Lines in the sea

In 1914, the world’s two biggest industrial powers were Germany and Britain, who were also among each other’s biggest trading partners.

But the Germans were frustrated because the Brits had the world’s largest empire — and navy. And they became determined to grab a bigger share of the global pie.

Their opportunity came when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne next door, was assassinated in June 1914 by a Serbian nationalist.

The Austrians, encouraged by Germany’s promises to back them up with its huge army, blamed the assassination on Serbia and declared war on the Serbian kingdom.

That started the dominoes falling. As expected, Russia came out on Serbia’s side. Germany, in turn, declared war on Russia and, for good measure, on France as an ally of Russia, while Britain joined in as an ally of France.

Once the U.K. became involved, Canada was in automatically as a member of the British Empire.

Even distant Japan declared war on Germany because of an alliance with Britain. And Turkey, which had been at odds with Russia, also joined the fray.

Within four months of Ferdinand’s death just about all of Europe and much beyond was bogged down in a war that would last four years and cost more than 16 million lives.

Some would argue it has continued its baneful influence to this day, from communism to Nazism and the Second World War with its many disastrous aftershocks.

The grievous miscalculations of 1914 should serve all those involved in the current spat over those few rocks in the China Sea as a lesson about the danger of setting lines in the sea and defying the rest of the world with shows of might.

Once the shooting starts it can be too late. As it was in 1914.

Directing Conversations, Censorship, and Propaganda

Amerikan Democracy

Amerikan Democracy (Photo credit: Saint Iscariot)

One of the books I read recently is the classic, Propaganda, by Edward Bernays. I don’t recall what post or website I was on that referred to it but I thought it worth the read. I wanted to explore the concept of liberty and how manipulation of information by the elite could be weaved into my next book (Olduvai 2: Exodus).

As the writeup on Amazon states about Bernays and his book: “A seminal and controversial figure in the history of political thought and public relations, Edward Bernays (1891–1995), pioneered the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion, which he famously dubbed “engineering of consent.” During World War I, he was an integral part of the U.S. Committee on Public Information (CPI), a powerful propaganda apparatus that was mobilized to package, advertise and sell the war to the American people as one that would “Make the World Safe for Democracy.” The CPI would become the blueprint in which marketing strategies for future wars would be based upon. Bernays applied the techniques he had learned in the CPI and, incorporating some of the ideas of Walter Lipmann, became an outspoken proponent of propaganda as a tool for democratic and corporate manipulation of the population. His 1928 bombshell Propaganda lays out his eerily prescient vision for using propaganda to regiment the collective mind in a variety of areas, including government, politics, art, science and education. To read this book today is to frightfully comprehend what our contemporary institutions of government and business have become in regards to organized manipulation of the masses.”

On the advice of my marketing consultant for Olduvai, I have been more active in attempting to develop an ‘online personality and following.’ One of the ways I have been doing this is to comment on various news articles or opinion pieces that tie in to my book’s major themes (i.e. geopolitics, economy, energy, environment, liberty, etc.) via online comment sections of a limited number of media and theme-related websites, using my book cover as my avatar and adding my website address as a ‘signature’ at the bottom. It has proven to be remarkably effective in attracting readers to my website.

What I have noted is that a relatively small portion of my comments do not get past the ‘moderators’ at the two websites where I have done most of my posting, The Huffington Post: Canada (HPC) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

When you sign up to participate in such online discussions, your comments must meet certain criteria (CBC’s policy here; HPC’s here). Some of the criteria are fairly specific and not really open to much debate as to what is acceptable and what is not. For example, you may add up to three external links to your post or use French if responding on Radio Canada’s site. Other criteria are open to some disagreement over what is acceptable and what is not. Comments may not be threatening, harrassing, or sexually explicit. Some, however, are open to such broad interpretation that almost any comment could be deemed to be in violation. You may not make repetitive comments, for example. But what defines repetitive? If you interpret the world through a particular lens, for example Christainity, you will very likely bring the concept of God or Christ into your comments. Or, as I tend to do now, your global schema may consider the concepts of exponential growth and energy depletion as fundamental to how you view events. Regardless, my point is that the latitude that is given to moderators allows for personal biases and interpretations to direct the online discussion of many of these websites. I have found that CBC ‘disables’ my comment but continues to show it via my personal profile. The Huffington Post simply ‘loses’ it in the internet ether somewhere, no online record of the comment is visible.

There appears to be at least a couple of different methods used by these corporations to steer conversations. The comment can be entirely ‘disallowed’ or it can be held in queue for an extended period of time while others get through and  then are posted far down the list, buried several pages in.

I also believe that some commentators are ‘blacklisted’ in the sense that their comments are not posted automatically but held up so that they may be moderated/censored more assiduously. I am certain that I am one of those whose comments have been flagged for greater scrutiny. I have sent communcation to both websites enquiring as to the process that is used, yet I have received no response to date (several weeks now).

The HPC’s flagging is quite interesting/humourous. For virtually every one of my posts, I get the message “Due to the potentially sensitive nature of this article, your comment may take longer to appear publicly.” It does not matter what the topic of the article is; apparently all articles have a ‘potentially sensitive nature’, even those in the sports section. Today (Jan. 30/14), I have been quite frustrated at not being able to challenge an article penned by Conrad Black in the HPC who argues that JP Morgan CEO, Jamie Dimon, has become a rich man due to his merit. I attempted to point out several instances of Mr. Dimon’s bank participating in market rigging, fraud, and corruption in order to boost their bottom line, but none of the posts got past the censors.

The conclusion I have reached is that these two sites  work to direct the online conversation, especially when certain assumptions are challenged. To be fair to CBC, often my comments are disabled due to me adding my signature (website address) to the bottom; when I resubmit without the website, the comment is usually posted. However, there is absoluetly no consistency here as many of my comments with my website address are posted. And, every once in a while one does not get posted regardless of the presence or not of my website address.

Bernays himself states the following in the book: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” [An interesting sidebar to Bernays is that he worked with the American government to control the narrative of at least one government coup organised by the CIA: Guatemala (1957), where he worked with E. Howard Hunt a CIA operative associated with both the Kennedy assassination (eerily similar to the Guatamalan assassination) and Watergate.]

As Alex Jones’s website, InfoWars.com, suggests, there is a war on for your mind, and the corporate media is a large part of the propaganda campaign waged by the elite. Challenging biases, prejudices, assumptions, facts, opinions, etc. is important if we are to better understand the world and its complex isues. Disallowing such challenges through censorship serves only the status quo. As Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed states in his introduction to Censored 2013: Dispatches From the Media Revolution, it is important “to uncover and showcase news stories, in the public interest, that have been ignored, misreported, or simply censored by the  so-called ‘mainstream,’ but more accurately, the corporate media.” It seems it will only be through independent media and bloggers that people will gain a broader perspective of world events and narratives. It will not be through the elite and their corporate media.

Why is this so? I defer to Murray Rothbard in his essay, Anatomy of the State: “…the State is that organization in society which
 attempts to maintain a monopoly of force and violence in a given territorial 
area….[it] provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of 
private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively ‘peaceful’ the 
lifeline of the parastic caste in society…[and] the majority must be 
persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise, and, at least, 
inevitable…ideological support being vital to the State, it must unceasingly 
try to impress the public with ‘legitimacy,’ to distinguish its activities from 
those of mere brigands.” (emphasis added)

Roubini: Many Davos Speakers Think It’s Like 1914 … Right Before WW1 Broke Out Washington’s Blog

Roubini: Many Davos Speakers Think It’s Like 1914 … Right Before WW1 Broke Out Washington’s Blog.

Nouriel Roubini, Davos Speakers, Kyle Bass, Larry Edelson, Charles Nenner, James Dines, Jim Rogers, Marc Faber, Jim Rickards and Martin Armstrong Warn of Wider War

Well-known economist Nouriel Roubini tweeted from the gathering of the rich and powerful at Davos:

Many speakers compare 2014 to 1914 when WWI broke out & no one expected it. A black swan in the form of a war between China & Japan?

And:

Both Abe and an influential Chinese analyst don’t rule out a military confrontation between China and Japan. Memories of 1914?

Many other economists have forecast war.

Kyle Bass writes:

Trillions of dollars of debts will be restructured and millions of financially prudent savers will lose large percentages of their real purchasing power at exactly the wrong time in their lives. Again, the world will not end, but the social fabric of the profligate nations will be stretched and in some cases torn. Sadly, looking back through economic history, all too often war is the manifestation of simple economic entropy played to its logical conclusionWe believe that war is an inevitable consequence of the current global economic situation.

Larry Edelson wrote an email to subscribers entitled “What the “Cycles of War” are saying for 2013″, which states:

Since the 1980s, I’ve been studying the so-called “cycles of war” — the natural rhythms that predispose societies to descend into chaos, into hatred, into civil and even international war.

I’m certainly not the first person to examine these very distinctive patterns in history. There have been many before me, notably, Raymond Wheeler, who published the most authoritative chronicle of war ever, covering a period of 2,600 years of data.

However, there are very few people who are willing to even discuss the issue right now. And based on what I’m seeing, the implications could be absolutely huge in 2013.

Former Goldman Sachs technical analyst Charles Nenner – who has made some big accurate calls, and counts major hedge funds, banks, brokerage houses, and high net worth individuals as clients – saysthere will be “a major war starting at the end of 2012 to 2013”, which will drive the Dow to 5,000.

Veteran investor adviser James Dines forecast a war is epochal as World Wars I and II, starting in the Middle East.

Billionaire investor Jim Rogers notes:

A continuation of bailouts in Europe could ultimately spark another world war, says international investor Jim Rogers.

***

“Add debt, the situation gets worse, and eventually it just collapses. Then everybody is looking for scapegoats. Politicians blame foreigners, and we’re in World War II or World War whatever.”

Marc Faber says that the American government will start new wars in response to the economic crisis:

We’re in the middle of a global currency war – i.e. a situation where nations all compete to devalue their currencies the most in order to boost exports. And Brazilian president-elect Rousseff said in 2010:

The last time there was a series of competitive devaluations … it ended in world war two.

Jim Rickards agrees:

Currency wars lead to trade wars, which often lead to hot wars. In 2009, Rickards participated in the Pentagon’s first-ever “financial” war games. While expressing confidence in America’s ability to defeat any other nation-state in battle, Rickards says the U.S. could get dragged into “asymmetric warfare,” if currency wars lead to rising inflation and global economic uncertainty.

As does Jim Rogers:

Trade wars always lead to wars.

Martin Armstrong wrote in August:

Our greatest problem is the bureaucracy wants a war. This will distract everyone from the NSA and justify what they have been doing. They need a distraction for the economic decline that is coming.

Armstrong argued last month that war plans against Syria are really about debt and spending:

The Syrian mess seems to have people lining up on Capital Hill when sources there say the phone calls coming in are overwhelmingly against any action. The politicians are ignoring the people entirely. This suggests there is indeed a secret agenda to achieve a goal outside the discussion box. That is most like the debt problem and a war is necessary to relief the pressure to curtail spending.

And given that many influential economists wrongly believe that war is good for the economy … many are overtly or quietly pushing for war.

In addition, historians say that the risk of world war is rising because the U.S. feels threatened by a rising China … and the U.S. government considers economic rivalry to be a basis for war

Moreover, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said that the Iraq war was really about oil, and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill says that Bush planned the Iraq war before 9/11. And see this and this. If that war was for petroleum, other oil-rich countries might be invaded as well.

And the American policy of using the military to contain China’s growing economic influence – and of considering economic rivalry to be a basis for war – are creating a tinderbox.

Finally, multi-billionaire investor Hugo Salinas Price says:

What happened to [Libya’s] Mr. Gaddafi, many speculate the real reason he was ousted was that he was planning an all-African currency for conducting trade. The same thing happened to him that happened to Saddam because the US doesn’t want any solid competing currency out there vs the dollar. You know Gaddafi was talking about a golddinar.

Indeed, senior CNBC editor John Carney noted:

Is this the first time a revolutionary group has created a central bank while it is still in the midst of fighting the entrenched political power? It certainly seems to indicate how extraordinarily powerful central bankers have become in our era.

Robert Wenzel of Economic Policy Journal thinks the central banking initiative reveals that foreign powers may have a strong influence over the rebels.

This suggests we have a bit more than a ragtag bunch of rebels running around and that there are some pretty sophisticated influences. “I have never before heard of a central bank being created in just a matter of weeks out of a popular uprising,” Wenzel writes.

Indeed, some say that recent wars have really been about bringing all countries into the fold of Western central banking.

Joseph S. Nye asks whether war between China and the US is as inevitable as many believe World War I to have been. – Project Syndicate

Joseph S. Nye asks whether war between China and the US is as inevitable as many believe World War I to have been. – Project Syndicate.

CAMBRIDGE – This year marks the hundredth anniversary of a transformative event of modern history. World War I killed some 20 million people and ground up a generation of Europe’s youth. It also fundamentally changed the international order in Europe and beyond.

Indeed, WWI destroyed not only lives, but also three empires in Europe – those of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia – and, with the collapse of Ottoman rule, a fourth on its fringe. Until the Great War, the global balance of power was centered in Europe; after it, the United States and Japan emerged as great powers. The war also ushered in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, prepared the way for fascism, and intensified and broadened the ideological battles that wracked the twentieth century.

How could such a catastrophe happen? Shortly after the war broke out, when German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was asked to explain what happened, he answered, “Oh, if I only knew!” Perhaps in the interest of self-exoneration, he came to regard the war as inevitable. Similarly, the British Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey, argued that he had “come to think that no human individual could have prevented it.”

The question we face today is whether it could happen again. Margaret MacMillan, author of the interesting new book The War that Ended Peaceargues that, “it is tempting – and sobering – to compare today’s relationship between China and the US with that between Germany and Britain a century ago.” After drawing a similar comparison, The Economist concludes that “the most troubling similarity between 1914 and now is complacency.” And some political scientists, such as John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, have argued that, “to put it bluntly: China cannot rise peacefully.”

But historical analogies, though sometimes useful for precautionary purposes, become dangerous when they convey a sense of historical inevitability. WWI was not inevitable. It was made more probable by Germany’s rising power and the fear that this created in Great Britain. But it was also made more probable by Germany’s fearful response to Russia’s rising power, as well as myriad other factors, including human errors. But the gap in overall power between the US and China today is greater than that between Germany and Britain in 1914.

Drawing contemporary lessons from 1914 requires dispelling the many myths have been created about WWI. For example, the claim that it was a deliberate preventive war by Germany is belied by the evidence showing that key elites did not believe this. Nor was WWI a purely accidental war, as others maintain: Austria went to war deliberately, to fend off the threat of rising Slavic nationalism. There were miscalculations over the war’s length and depth, but that is not the same as an accidental war.

It is also said that the war was caused by an uncontrolled arms race in Europe. But the naval arms race was over by 1912, and Britain had won. While there was concern in Europe about the growing strength of armies, the view that the war was precipitated directly by the arms race is facile.

Today’s world is different from the world of 1914 in several important ways. One is that nuclear weapons give political leaders the equivalent of a crystal ball that shows what their world would look like after escalation. Perhaps if the Emperor, the Kaiser, and the Czar had had a crystal ball showing their empires destroyed and their thrones lost in 1918, they would have been more prudent in 1914. Certainly, the crystal-ball effect had a strong influence on US and Soviet leaders during the Cuban missile crisis. It would likely have a similar influence on US and Chinese leaders today.

Another difference is that the ideology of war is much weaker nowadays. In 1914, war really was thought to be inevitable, a fatalistic view reinforced by the Social Darwinist argument that war should be welcomed, because it would “clear the air” like a good summer storm. As Winston Churchill wrote in The World Crisis:

“There was a strange temper in the air. Unsatisfied by material prosperity, the nations turned fiercely toward strife, internal or external. National passions, unduly exalted in the decline of religion, burned beneath the surface of nearly every land with fierce, if shrouded, fires. Almost one might think the world wished to suffer. Certainly men were everywhere eager to dare.”

To be sure, nationalism is growing in China today, while the US launched two wars after the September 11, 2001, attacks. But neither country is bellicose or complacent about a limited war. China aspires to play a larger role in its region, and the US has regional allies to whose defense it is committed. Miscalculations are always possible, but the risk can be minimized by the right policy choices. Indeed, on many issues – for example, energy, climate change, and financial stability – China and the US have strong incentives to cooperate.

Moreover, whereas Germany in 1914 was pressing hard on Britain’s heels (and had surpassed it in terms of industrial strength), the US remains decades ahead of China in overall military, economic, and soft-power resources. Too adventuresome a policy would jeopardize China’s gains at home and abroad.

In other words, the US has more time to manage its relations with a rising power than Britain did a century ago. Too much fear can be self-fulfilling. Whether the US and China will manage their relationship well is another question. But how they do so will be dictated by human choice, not some ironclad historical law.

Among the lessons to be learned from the events of 1914 is to be wary of analysts wielding historical analogies, particularly if they have a whiff of inevitability. War is never inevitable, though the belief that it is can become one of its causes.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/joseph-s–nye-asks-whether-war-between-china-and-the-us-is-as-inevitable-as-many-believe-world-war-i-to-have-been#FTTehJIsCzqkHKMX.99

charles hugh smith- Why Economics Will Never Be a Legitimate Science

charles hugh smith- Why Economics Will Never Be a Legitimate Science.

Why Economics Will Never Be a Legitimate Science 
(December 24, 2013)
“If we expect an economic theory to behave like a theory of physics, with non-trivial predictions about the future, we’re never going to get one.”

Back in August I explored Why Isn’t There a Demonstrably Correct Economic Theory?. Many commentators have noted the obvious, that economics is a pseudo-science rather than a real science: beneath the fancy quantification and math, economics is fundamentally the study of human behavior, and that complex mix of dynamics cannot be reduced to a tidy econometric model that spits out accurate predictions.One key element of science is that the results must be reproducible, that is, the same experiment/conditions should yield the same results time and again. I suspect that economic models are not applicable across all times and situations; a model might “work” in one era and in a very specific set of circumstances, but fail in another era or in a similar set of circumstances.

Since human behavior is based in culture as well as in naturally selected (genetically driven) behavior, then cultural milieus and values obviously play critical roles in shaping economic behaviors.

So presenting an economic model as “scientific” and quantifiable is in effect claiming that the bubbling stew of human culture can be reduced to quantifiable models that will yield predictions that are accurate in the real world. This is clearly false, as culture is not a static set of objects, it is a constantly shifting interplay of feedback loops.

This helps explain why human behavior is so unpredictable. Virtually no one successfully predicted World War I in 1909, and no one predicted the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1985.

Another reason all economic theories fail as scientifically verifiable models is that economics boils down to a very simple dynamic: those in power issue financial claims on resources as a “shortcut” way of gaining control of the resources without actually having to produce the resources or earn the wealth via labor and innovation.

I think this is the one fundamental dynamic of economics, and it does not lend itself to reductionist models.

Longtime correspondent Chuck D. recently explained why economics will never be predictive (i.e. a real science) like physics:

If we expect an economic theory to behave like a theory of physics, with non-trivial predictions about the future, we’re never going to get one. If, on the other hand, we accept economic theories which explain why we’ll never get the kind of economic theory we’d like to have, the kind that would support investment decisions and government policy formulation, we can formulate THAT kind of theory. (If you want a physicist to decide whether light is a stream of particles or a pattern of waves, you’re not going to get an answer.)Von Neumann and Morgenstern came pretty close when they applied mathematical game theory to economic behavior. In game theory terms, if there existed an economic theory which provided any kind of advantage to those who understood it, either it would be kept a secret (so as not to give up the advantage), or the “game” itself would adapt to invalidate the theory.

The reason for the failure of economics to produce “the theory we’d like to have” is not merely that people are complex, just as modern physics doesn’t say that “electrons are really hard to locate;” the problem is that any conceivable process for observing the electron disturbs its position and/or momentum, invalidating the observation. A theory of economics cannot be both useful and well-known. (Can we call this a statement of “meta-theory”?)

So, the competitive (game-like) nature of economics means that the usual incremental accumulation of knowledge that applies in natural science is impossible. To succeed in the market, I need to have better information and/or interpretation than at least one other trading opponent (oops, I almost said “trading partner”!) There are two ways for me to have better knowledge than you do: either I think hard about the data I gather (and keep the results to myself), or I promulgate disinformation and misinterpretation (see “talking my book”).

In other words, I don’t need to be smart if I can make you stupid. It’s just the opposite of science. It’s not even necessary for everyone to proliferate misinformation, as long as there’s enough of it around to create uncertainty about the truth. (You and I, for example, can see things quite clearly, and still not turn the tide of madness around us.)

Thank you, Chuck, for an insightful, thought-provoking commentary.

 

China Slams Abe’s “Malicious Slander”; Warns Japan Is “Doomed To Failure” | Zero Hedge

China Slams Abe’s “Malicious Slander”; Warns Japan Is “Doomed To Failure” | Zero Hedge.

Events in the East China Sea since 2009 have thrust to the forefront the following frightening question: will China and Japan imminently go to war? Conventional answers in the affirmative point to the deep level of historical mistrust and a certain level of “unfinished business” in East Asian international politics, stemming from the heyday of Showa Japan’s imperialism across Asia. Those on the negative often point to the astronomical economic costs that would follow from a war that pinned the world’s first and third largest economies against its second in a fight over a few measly islands, undersea hydrocarbon reserves be damned.

I can’t pretend to arbitrate between these two camps but I find that far too many observers sympathize with the second camp based on rational impulse. Of course China and Japan wouldn’t fight a war! That’d ruin their economies! I sympathize with the Clausewtizean notion of war being a continuation of politics “by other means,” and the problems caused by information asymmetries (effectively handicapping rational decision-making), but the situation over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands can result in war even if the top leaders in Tokyo and Beijing are eminently rational.

Political scientist James D. Fearon’s path-breaking article “Rationalist Explanations for War” provides a still-relevant schema that’s wonderfully applicable to the contemporary situation between China and Japan in the East China Sea. Fearon’s paper was initially relevant because it challenged the overly simplistic rationalist’s dogma: if war is so costly, then there has to be some sort of diplomatic solution that is preferable to all parties involved — barring information asymmetries and communication deficits, such an agreement should and will be signed.

Of course, this doesn’t correspond to reality where we know that many incredibly costly wars have been fought (from the first World War to the Iran-Iraq War). So, if wars are costly — as one over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is likely to be — why do they still occur? Well, the answer isn’t Japanese imperialism or because states just sometimes irrationally dislike each other (as the affirmative camp would argue). It’s more subtle.

Fearon’s “bargaining model” assumes a few dictums about state knowledge, behavior and expectations ex ante. I’ll cast the remainder of the model in terms of Japan and China since they’re our subjects of interest (and to avoid floating off into academic abstractions).

First, China and Japan both know that there is an actual probability distribution of the likely outcomes of the war. They don’t know what the actual distribution is, but they can estimate what is likely in terms of the costs and outcomes of going to war. For example, Japan can predict that it would suffer relatively low naval losses and would strengthen its administrative control of the islands; China could predict the same outcome, or it could interpret things in its favor. In essence, they acknowledge that war is predictable in its unpredictability.

Second, China and Japan want to limit risk or are neutral to risk, but definitely do not crave risk. War is fundamentally risky so this is tantamount to an acknowledgement that war is costlier than maintaining peace or negotiating an ex ante diplomatic solution.

The third assumption is a little dressed up in academic jargon: there can be no “issue indivisibility.” In plain English, this essentially means that whatever the states are fighting over (usually territory, but it could be a pot of gold) can be divided between them in an infinite number of ways on a line going from zero to one.Imagine that zero is Japan’s ideal preference (total Japanese control of the Senkakus and acknowledgement as such by China) and one is China’s ideal preference (total Chinese control of Diaoyu and acknowledgement by Japan). Fearon’s assumption requires that there exist points like 0.23 and 0.83 (and so forth) which set up some sort sharing between the warring parties. Even solutions, such as one proposed by Zheng Wang here at The Diplomat to establish a “peace zone,” could sit on this line.

If the third assumption sounds the shakiest to you that’s probably because it is. “Issue indivisibility” is a nasty problem and a subject of quite some research. It usually is at the heart of wars that seek to decide which state should control a territory such as a Holy City (the intractability of the Arab-Israeli conflict is said to be plagued by indivisible issues).

So, is the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu fundamentally indivisible? Probably in the sense of splitting sovereignty over the islands, but probably not in the sense of some ex ante bargain similar to what Zheng proposed. Even if the set of solutions isn’t infinitely divisible, whatever finite solutions exist might not fall within whatever range of solutions either Japan or China is willing to tolerate — leading to war.

Fearon actually doesn’t buy the indivisibility-leading-to-war theory himself. He reasons that generally almost every issue is complex enough to be divisible to a degree acceptable by each party (undermining the infinite divisibility requirement), and that states can link issues and offer payments to offset any asymmetrical outcome. In the Senkaku/Diaoyu case, this would mean a solution could hinge upon Japan making a broader apology for its aggression against China in the 20th century or China taking a harsher stance on North Korea (both unlikely).

Relevant to the Air Defense Identification Zone is Fearon’s description of war arising between rational states due to incentives to misrepresent capabilities. China and Japan’s leaders know more about their country’s actual willingness to go to war than anyone else, and it benefits to signal strong resolve on the issue to extract more concessions in any potential deal.Japan announcing its willingness to shoot down Chinese drones earlier this year and its most recent defense plans are example of this, and China’s ADIZ is probably the archetype of such a signal. Instead of extracting a good deal, what such declarations can do is force rational hands to war over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

Fearon’s final explanation — regarding commitment problems leading to war — is slightly ancillary to the core discussion about the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands given Japan’s constitutional restraints on the use of force (rendering preemptive, preventative, and offensive wars largely irrelevant in the Japanese case). Regardless, the point remains that even if the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands might seem like a terribly silly thing for the world’s second and third largest economies to go to war over, war can still be likely.

As I observe events in the East China Sea, I mostly recall Fearon’s warnings on certain types of signals leading to brinksmanship (the divisibility issue is far murkier). Both Japan and China don’t seem to be relenting on these sorts of deleterious signals. Additionally, given that Chinese and Japanese diplomats haven’t had high-level contact in fourteen months, even the more primitive rationalist’s explanation, that war occurs because a lack of communication leads to rational miscalculations, becomes plausible.

A reflection on the possible rational reasons for China and Japan to go to war over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands highlights the seriousness of the ongoing brinksmanship in the East China Sea. If a war is fought over these long-contested islands, it will have an eminently rational explanation underlying all the historical mistrust and nationalism on the surface. War in the East China Sea is possible, despite the economic costs.

 

 

Is War With China Inevitable?

Is War With China Inevitable?.

As a general rule, extreme economic decline is almost always followed by extreme international conflict. Sometimes, these disasters can be attributed to the human survival imperative and the desire to accumulate resources during crisis. But most often, war amid fiscal distress is usually a means for the political and financial elite to distract the masses away from their empty wallets and empty stomachs.

War galvanizes societies, usually under false pretenses. I’m not talking about superficial “police actions” or absurd crusades to “spread democracy” to Third World enclaves that don’t want it. No, I’m talking about REAL war: war that threatens the fabric of a culture, war that tumbles violently across people’s doorsteps. The reality of near-total annihilation is what oligarchs use to avoid blame for economic distress while molding nations and populations.

Because of the very predictable correlation between financial catastrophe and military conflagration, it makes quite a bit of sense for Americans today to be concerned. Never before in history has our country been so close to full-spectrum economic collapse, the kind that kills currencies and simultaneously plunges hundreds of millions of people into poverty. It is a collapse that has progressed thanks to the deliberate efforts of international financiers and central banks. It only follows that the mind-boggling scale of the situation would “require” a grand distraction to match.

It is difficult to predict what form this distraction will take and where it will begin, primarily because the elites have so many options. The Mideast is certainly an ever-looming possibility. Iran is a viable catalyst. Syria is not entirely off the table. Saudi Arabia and Israel are now essentially working together, forming a strange alliance that could promise considerable turmoil — even without the aid of the United States. Plenty of Americans still fear the Al Qaeda bogeyman, and a terrorist attack is not hard to fabricate. However, when I look at the shift of economic power and military deployment, the potential danger areas appear to be growing not only in the dry deserts of Syria and Iran, but also in the politically volatile waters of the East China Sea.

China is THE key to any outright implosion of the U.S. monetary system. Other countries, like Saudi Arabia, may play a part; but ultimately it will be China that deals the decisive blow against the dollar’s world reserve status. China’s dollar and Treasury bond holdings could be used as a weapon to trigger a global sell-off of dollar-denominated assets. China has stopped future increases of dollar forex holdings, and has cut the use of the dollar in bilateral trade agreements with multiple countries.  Oil-producing nations are shifting alliances to China because it is now the world’s largest consumer of petroleum. And, China has clearly been preparing for this eventuality for years. So, given these circumstances, how can the U.S. government conceive of confrontation with the East? Challenging one’s creditors to a duel does not usually end well. At the very least, it would be economic suicide. But perhaps that is the point. Perhaps America is meant to make this seemingly idiotic leap.

Here are just some of the signs of a buildup to conflict…

Currency Wars And Shooting Wars

In March 2009, U.S. military and intelligence officials gathered to participate in a simulated war game, a hypothetical economic struggle between the United States and China.

The conclusions of the war game were ominous. The participants determined that there was no way for the United States to win in an economic battle with China. The Chinese had a counterstrategy to every U.S. effort and an ace up their sleeve – namely, their U.S. dollar reserves, which they could use as a monetary neutron bomb, a chain reaction that would result in the abandonment of the dollar by exporters around the world . They also found that China has been quietly accumulating hard assets (including land and gold) across globe, using sovereign wealth funds, government-controlled front companies, and private equity funds to make the purchases. China could use these tangible assets as a hedge to protect against the eventual devaluation of its U.S. dollar and Treasury holdings, meaning the losses on its remaining U.S. financial investments was acceptable should it decide to crush the dollar.

The natural response of those skeptical of the war game and its findings is to claim that the American military would be the ultimate trump card and probable response to a Chinese economic threat. Of course, China’s relationship with Russia suggests a possible alliance against such an action and would definitely negate the use of nuclear weapons (unless the elites plan nuclear Armageddon). That said, it is highly likely that the U.S. government would respond with military action to a Chinese dollar dump, not unlike Germany’s rise to militarization and totalitarianism after the hyperinflationary implosion of the mark. The idea that anyone except the internationalists could “win” such a venture, though, is foolish.

I would suggest that this may actually be the plan of globalists in the United States and their counterparts in Asia and Europe. China’s rise to financial prominence is not due to its economic prowess. In fact, China is ripe with poor fiscal judgment calls and infrastructure projects that have gone nowhere. But what China does have on its side are massive capital inflows from global banks and corporations, mainly based in the United States and the European Union. And, it has help in the spread of its currency (the Yuan) from entities like JPMorgan Chase and Co. The International Monetary Fund is seeking to include China in its global basket currency, the SDR, which would give China even more leverage to use in breaking the dollar’s reserve status. Corporate financiers and central bankers have made it more than possible for China to kill the dollar, which they openly suggest is a “good thing.”

Is it possible that the war game scenarios carried out by the Pentagon and elitist think-tanks like the RAND Corporation were not meant to prevent a war with China, but to ensure one takes place?

The Senkaku Islands

Every terrible war has a trigger point, an event that history books later claim “started it all.” For the Spanish-American War, it was the bombing of the USS Maine. For World War I it was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. For U.S. involvement in World War I, it was the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-Boat. For U.S. involvement in World War II, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor. For Vietnam, it was the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (I recommend readers look into the hidden history behind all of these events). While the initial outbreak of war always appears to be spontaneous, the reality is that most wars are planned far in advance.

As evidence indicates, China has been deliberately positioned to levy an economic blow against the United States. Our government is fully aware what the results of that attack will be, considering they have gamed the scenario multiple times. And, by RAND Corporation’s own admission, China and the United States have been preparing for physical confrontation for some time, centered on the concept of pre-emptive strikes.  Meaning, the response both sides have exclusively trained for in the event of confrontation is to attack the other first!

The seemingly simple and petty dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea actually provides a perfect environment for the pre-emptive powder keg to explode.

China has recently declared an “air defense zone” that extends over the islands, which Japan has already claimed as its own. China, South Korea and the United States have all moved to defy this defense zone. South Korea has even extended its own air defense zone to overlap China’s.

China has responded with warnings that its military aircraft will now monitor the region and demands that other nations provide it with civilian airline flight paths.  China has also stated that it plans to create MORE arbitrary defense zones in the near future.

The U.S. government under Barack Obama has long planned a military shift into the Pacific, which is meant specifically to counter China’s increased presence. It’s almost as if the White House knew a confrontation was coming.

The shift is now accelerating due to the Senkaku situation, as the U.S. transfers submarine-hunting jets to Japan while pledging full support for Japan should war ignite.

And most recently, the Japanese press has suggested that war between the two countries could erupt as early as January.

China, with its limited navy, has focused more of its energy and funding into advanced missile technologies — including “ship killers,” which fly too low and fast to be detected with current radar.  This is the same strategy of cheap compact precision warfare being adopted by countries like Syria and Iran, and it is designed specifically to disrupt tradition American military tactics.

Currently, very little diplomatic headway has been made or attempted in regards to the Senkaku Islands. The culmination of various ingredients so far makes for a sour stew.

All that is required now is that one trigger event — that one ironic “twist of fate” that mainstream historians love so much, the spark that lights the fuse. China could suddenly sell a mass quantity of U.S. Treasuries, perhaps in response to the renewed debt debate next spring. The United States could use pre-emption to take down a Chinese military plane or submarine.  A random missile could destroy a passenger airliner traveling through the defense zone, and both sides could blame each other. The point is nothing good could come from the escalation over Senkaku.

Why Is War Useful?

What could possibly be gained by fomenting a war between the United States and China?  What could possibly be gained by throwing America’s economy, the supposed “goose that lays the golden eggs”, to the fiscal wolves?  As stated earlier, distraction is paramount, and fear is valuable political and social capital.

Global financiers created the circumstances that have led to America’s probable economic demise, but they don’t want to be blamed for it. War provides the perfect cover for monetary collapse, and a war with China might become the cover to end all covers. The resulting fiscal damage and the terror Americans would face could be overwhelming. Activists who question the legitimacy of the U.S. government and its actions, once considered champions of free speech, could easily be labeled “treasonous” during wartime by authorities and the frightened masses. (If the government is willing to use the Internal Revenue Service against us today, just think about who it will send after us during the chaos of a losing war tomorrow.) A lockdown of civil liberties could be instituted behind the fog of this national panic.

Primarily, war tends to influence the masses to agree to more centralization, to relinquish their rights in the name of the “greater good”, and to accept less transparency in government and more power in the hands of fewer people. Most important, though, is war’s usefulness as a philosophical manipulation after the dust has settled.

After nearly every war of the 20th and 21st century, the subsequent propaganda implies one message in particular: National sovereignty, or nationalism, is the cause of all our problems. The establishment then claims that there is only one solution that will solve these problems: globalization. This article by Andrew Hunter, the chairman of the Australian Fabian Society, is exactly the kind of narrative I expect to hear if conflict arises between the United States and China.

National identity and sovereignty are the scapegoats, and the Fabians (globalist propagandists) are quick to point a finger. Their assertion is that nation states should no longer exist, borders should be erased and a one-world economic system and government should be founded. Only then will war and financial strife end. Who will be in charge of this interdependent one world utopia? I’ll give you three guesses…

The Fabians, of course, make no mention of global bankers and their instigation of nearly every war and depression for the past 100 years; and these are invariably the same people that will end up in positions of authority if globalization comes to fruition. What the majority of people do not yet understand is that globalists have no loyalties to any particular country, and they are perfectly willing to sacrifice governments, economies, even entire cultures, in the pursuit of their “ideal society”.  “Order out of chaos” is their motto, after all.  The bottom line is that a war between China and the United States will not be caused by national sovereignty. Rather, it will be caused by elitists looking for a way to END national sovereignty. That’s why such a hypothetical conflict, a conflict that has been gamed by think tanks for years, is likely to be forced into reality.

 

SHTF Survival: How To Prevent Infections

SHTF Survival: How To Prevent Infections.

This article was written by Tess Pennington and originally published at Ready Nutrition

Storing medical supplies, especially antiseptic is a must when planning for an emergency event where hospitals and other types of medical care will be difficult to access. We all know that accidents happen, but when they get infected then they become life threatening.

Those that are preparing for short term and long term disasters more than likely have begun stocking up on certain supplies, such as bleach, water and baking soda mainly due to their versatility. But did you know that when these three items are combined together, they create a powerful antiseptic that can save a life? This antiseptic, otherwise known as Dakin’s Solution (diluted sodium hydrochlorite solution 0.5%) can be used to kill most bacterias and viruses.

This antiseptic was first discovered during World War I, when doctors on the battlefield were trying to find ways to kill germs and prevent bacterial related infections, such as gangrene and putrefacation from setting in. Doctors found that when they used Dakin’s solution before and after surgical procedures and for wound irrigation the patient’s condition improved. It was most beneficial after the wound had been adequately cleaned and foreign material and dead tissue had been removed.

Uses For Dakin’s Solution

  • Minor scrapes
  • Skin and tissue infections
  • Can be used before and after surgical procedures to prevent infection
  • Can be used as a mouth wash (should not be swallowed)
  • Used as a wound irrigator solution to clean wounds
  • Can be applied as a wet-to-moist dressing for wounds

Supplies Needed:

  • Sodium hydrochlorite solution at 5.25% (Bleach-unscented)
  • Baking soda
  • Clean tap water
  • Clean pan with lid
  • Sterile measuring cups and spoons
  • Sterile jar with a sterile lid
  • Label for jar to label antiseptic,date, time and discard date

 

To Make Solution:

 

1.  Wash your hands well with soap and water.
2.  Measure out 32 ounces (4 cups) of clean water.  Pour into a clean pan and allow water to boil for  15 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
3.  Using a sterile measuring spoon, add 1/2 tsp. of of baking soda to the water.
4. Measure the bleach according to the strength that is desired:

 

– For full strength – add 3 oz. bleach or 95 ml.
– For 1/2 strength – add 3 tbls. + 1/2 tsp. or 48 ml.
– For 1/4 strength – add 1 tbls. +2 tsp. or 24 ml.
– For 1/8 strength – add 2 1/2 tsp. or 12-14 ml.

 

5.  Place the solution in a jar and close it tightly with a sterile lid. Cover the closed jar with tin foil to protect it from sunlight.
6.  Throw away any unused portion of the antiseptic within 48 hours of use.  This solution can be made up to a month prior to using and stored away.

According to WebMD, “The body’s own wound-healing tissues and fluids can decrease the antibacterial effect of Dakin’s solution. Therefore, this solution is often used only once daily for minor wounds and twice daily for heavily draining or contaminated wounds… Additionally, protect the surrounding healthy skin with a moisture barrier ointment (i.e. petroleum jelly) or skin sealant as needed to prevent irritation.”

Additional Information on Dakins Solution

 

Making Better Choices in the Future | Peak Prosperity

Making Better Choices in the Future | Peak Prosperity.

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(Un)Paving Our Way To Nirvana

Making better choices in the future
by James H. Kunstler
Monday, November 25, 2013, 7:10 PM
You can’t overstate the baleful effects for Americans of living in the tortured landscapes and townscapes we created for ourselves in the past century. This fiasco of cartoon suburbia, overgrown metroplexes, trashed small cities and abandoned small towns, and the gruesome connective tissue of roadways, commercial smarm, and free parking is the toxic medium of everyday life in this country. Its corrosive omnipresence induces a general failure of conscious awareness that it works implacably at every moment to diminish our lives. It is both the expression of our collapsed values and a self-reinforcing malady collapsing our values further. The worse it gets, the worse we become.

The citizens who do recognize their own discomfort in this geography of nowhere generally articulate it as a response to “ugliness.” This is only part of the story. The effects actually run much deeper. The aggressive and immersive ugliness of the built landscape is entropy made visible. It is composed of elements that move us in the direction of death, and the apprehension of this dynamic is what really makes people uncomfortable. It spreads a vacuum of lost meaning and purpose wherever it reaches. It is worse than nothing, worse than if it had never existed. As such, it qualifies under St. Augustine’s conception of “evil” in the sense that it represents antagonism to the forces of life.

We find ourselves now in a strange slough of history. Circumstances gathering in the home economics of mankind ought to inform us that we can’t keep living this way and need to make plans for living differently. But our sunk costs in this infrastructure for daily life with no future prevent us from making better choices. At least for the moment. In large part this is because the “development” of all this ghastly crap — the vinyl-and-strandboard housing subdivisions, the highway strips, malls, and “lifestyle centers,” the “Darth Vader” office parks, the infinity of asphalt pavements — became, for a while, our replacement for an economy of ecological sanity. The housing bubble was all about building more stuff with no future, and that is why the attempt to re-start it is evil.

Sooner rather than later we’ll have to make better choices. We’ll have to redesign the human habitat in America because our current environs will become uninhabitable. The means and modes for doing this are already understood. They do not require heroic “innovation” or great leaps of “new technology.” Mostly they require a decent respect for easily referenced history and a readjustment of our values in the general direction of promoting life over death. This means for accomplishing this will be the subject of Part II of this essay, but it is necessary to review a pathology report of the damage done.

Launching Nirvana

I have a new theory of history: things happen in human affairs because they seem like a good idea at the time. This helps explain events that otherwise defy understanding, for example the causes of the First World War. England, France, Russia, Germany, and Italy joined that war because it seemed like a good idea at the time, namely August of 1914. There hadn’t been a real good dust-up on the continent since Waterloo in 1814. Old grievances were stewing. Empires were both rising and falling, contracting and reaching out. The “players” seemed to go into the war thinking it would be a short,  redemptive, and rather glorious adventure, complete with cavalry charges and evenings in ballrooms. The “deciders” failed to take into account the effects of newly mechanized warfare. The result was the staggering industrial slaughter of the trenches. Poison gas attacks did not inspire picturesque heroism. And what started the whole thing? Ostensibly the assassination of an unpopular Hapsburg prince in Serbia. Was Franz Ferdinand an important figure? Not really. Was Austria a threat to France and England? It was in steep decline, a sclerotic empire held together with whipped cream and waltz music. Did Russia really care about little Serbia? Was Germany insane to attack on two fronts? Starting the fight seemed like a good idea at the time — and then, of course, the unintended consequences bit back like a mad dog from hell.

Likewise America’s war against its own landscape, which got underway in earnest just as the First World War ended (1918). The preceding years had seen Henry Ford perfect, first, the Model T (1908), and then the assembly line method of production (1915), and when WW I was out of the way, America embarked on its romance with democratic motoring. First, the cities were retrofitted for cars. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but the streets were soon overwhelmed by them. By the mid-1920s the temptation to motorize the countryside beyond the cities was irresistible, as were the potential profits to be reaped. What’s more, automobilizing the cities made them more unpleasant places to live, and reinforced the established American animus against city life in general, while supporting and enabling the fantasy that everyone ought to live in some approximation to a country squire, preferably in some kind of frontier.

The urban hinterlands presented just such a simulacrum of a frontier. It wasn’t a true frontier anymore in the sense of civilization meeting wilderness, but it was a real estate frontier and that was good enough for the moment. Developing it with houses seemed like a good idea. Indeed, it proved to be an excellent way to make money. The first iteration of 1920s car suburbs bloomed in the rural ring around every city in the land. An expanding middle class could “move to the country” but still have easy access to the city, with all its business and cultural amenities. What a wonderful thing! And so suburban real estate development became embedded in the national economic psychology as a pillar of “progress” and “growth.”

This activity contributed hugely to the fabled boom of the 1920s.  Alas, the financial shenanigans arising out of all this new wealth, along with other disorders of capital, such as the saturation of markets, blew up the banking system and the Great Depression was on. The construction industry was hardest it. Very little private real estate development happened in the 1930s. And as that decade segued right into the Second World War, the dearth continued.

When the soldiers came home, the economic climate had shifted. America was the only industrial economy left standing, with all the advantages implied by that, plus military control over the loser lands. We already possessed the world’s biggest oil industry. But after two decades of depression, war, and neglect, American cities were less appealing than ever. The dominant image of city life in 1952 was Ralph Kramden’s apartment inThe Honeymooners TV show. Yccchhh. America was a large nation, with a lot of agricultural land just beyond the city limits. Hence, the mushrooming middle class, including now well-paid factory workers, could easily be sold on “country living.” The suburban project, languishing since 1930, resumed with a vengeance. The interstate highway program accelerated it.

The Broken Promises of Suburbia

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Country life for everybody in the world’s savior democracy! Fresh air! Light! Play space for the little ones! Nothing in world history had been easier to sell. Interestingly, in a nation newly-addicted to television viewing, the suburban expansion of the 1950s took on a cartoon flavor. It was soon apparent that the emergent “product” was not “country living” but rather a cartoon of a country house in a cartoon of the country. Yet it still sold. Americans were quite satisfied to live in a cartoon environment. It was uncomplicated. It could be purchased on installment loans. We had plenty of cheap energy to run it.

It took decades of accreting suburbia for its more insidious deficiencies to become apparent. Most noticeable was the disappearance of the rural edge as the subdivisions quickly fanned outward, dissolving the adjacent pastures, cornfields, and forests that served as reminder of the original promise of “country living.” Next was the parallel problem of accreting car traffic. Soon, that negated the promise of spacious country living in other ways. The hated urban “congestion” of living among too many people became an even more obnoxious congestion of cars. That problem was aggravated by the idiocies of single-use zoning, which mandated the strictest possible separation of activities and forced every denizen of the suburbs into driving for every little task. Under those codes (no mixed use!), the corner store was outlawed, as well as the café, the bistro, indeed any sort of gathering place within a short walk that is normal in one form or another in virtually every other culture.

This lack of public amenity drove the movement to make every household a self-contained, hermetically-sealed social unit. Instead of mixing with other people outside the family on a regular basis, Americans had TV and developed more meaningful relations with the characters on it than with the real people around them. Television was also the perfect medium for selling redundant “consumer” products: every house had to have its own lawnmower, washing machine, and pretty soon a separate TV for each family member.  The result of all that was the corrosion of civic life (a.k.a “community”) until just about every civic association except for school oversight (the fabled PTA) dwindled and faded. And the net effect of all that was the stupendous loneliness, monotony, atomization, superficiality, and boredom of suburbia’s social vacuum. It was especially hard on the supposed greatest beneficiaries, children, who, having outgrown the play space of the yard by age eight, could not easily navigate the matrix of freeways and highways outside the subdivision without the aid of the “family chauffeur,” (i.e. Mom).

Cutting Our Losses & Moving On

A couple of  points about the current situation in suburbia ought to be self-evident. One is that our predicament vis-à-vis oil, along with cratering middle class incomes, suggests that we won’t be able to run this arrangement of things on the landscape a whole lot longer. The circulatory system of suburbia depends on cars which run on liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Despite the current propaganda (“drill, baby drill”), we have poor prospects of continuing an affordable supply of those things, and poorer prospects of running the US motor vehicle fleet by other means, despite the share price of Tesla, Inc. The second point is how poorly all suburbia’s components are aging — the vinyl-clad houses, the tilt-up strip malls, the countless chicken shacks, burger stands, and muffler shops, all the generic accessories and furnishings that litter the terrain from sea to shining sea. There are a lot of reasons these things now look bad (and lose value) but the chief one is that most of them are things nobody really cares about.

In Part II: A Better Human Habitat for the Next Economy, we explore the necessary behaviors we’ll need to adopt if we hope to have any prosperity in the years ahead. What seemed like a good idea at the time — through the 20th century and a little beyond — is looking more like an experiment that failed. Our sunk costs in it promote a tendency to agonize over it. I propose that we just give up the hand-wringing and prepare to cut our losses and move on. The reality of the situation is that the response to all this will arise emergently as circumstances compel us to change our behavior and make different (and we should hope) better choices. That is to say, don’t expect programmatic political action to change this, especially from remote authorities like federal or state governments. We will reorganize life on the ground because we will have to.

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

 

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