Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How Americans Spent Themselves into Ruin... But Saved the World

In the 1/1/24 edition of the Silicon Valley newspaper and online journal Metroactive, I have an editorial: Power of Consumption describing how the American consumer came to propel the export-driven development of Japan, Korea, Malaysia, China and now India.

That process, spanning more than six decades, is almost always portrayed -- especially in Asia -- as having come about as a result of eastern cleverness, in catering to the insatiable material appetites of decadent westerners.  But there is a far more interesting, complex, and even inspiring explanation for how the greatest wealth transfer of all time -- which has lifted several billion people out of poverty -- actually came about.  I reveal how George Marshall and the United States chose, in 1946, to behave differently from any other "pax" empire, and thereby changed the world.

I'll now repost that essay here, in expanded form.

If your politics operate on reflex - from either left or right - you are likely to find something here that will offend. But please, dear fellow believers in tomorrow, bear in mind that I'm an internationalist who opposed jingo-chauvinists, all his life.

And yet, I feel it is long past time that someone spoke up in defense of Pax Americana.

==The Far-Right's Caricature Version of Pax Americana==

Sure, that phrase Pax Americana (PA) fell into disrepute during the era of the mad neocons, whose misrule left the United States far worse off by every clear metric of national health.  During their time in near-total power, steering the American ship of state, fellows like Richard Cheney, Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman and their ilk made a point of proclaiming imperial triumphalism - exoling an America invested with sacred, perfect and permanent rights of planet-wide dominance, based upon inherent qualities that were said to be unaffected by any objective-reality considerations, like budgets or geography; like world opinion or the end of the Cold War; like science or technology; like rationality or morality or the physical well-being of our troops.

Indeed, the only factor that they felt might undermine America’s manifestly-destined and eternal preeminence could be a failure of will, should the wimpy liberals ever have their way.  But if led with a firm-jawed determination to bull past all obstacles, the American pax could linger indefinitely, with all the privileges of governing world affairs and few of the responsibilities or cares.

Sure, it has been proper to oppose the policies of such deeply delusional men -- policies which unambiguously and uniformly brought ruin to the very things they claimed to hold dear. Capitalism, freedom, fiscal and national health, as well as U.S. influence in the world all plummeted under their rule. (These metrics all skyrocketed under Bill Clinton, whose endeavor in the Balkans was inarguably one of Pax Americana's finest hours.)

==But The Left Goes Too Far The Other Way==

And yet, something is very wrong with the unselective manner in which some folks on the other side have allowed those neocon nincompoops to define the argument.  It is an unfortunate habit of the left to assume that any appreciation of the American contribution to human civilization must be inherently fascistic.  This reflexive self-loathing has given (unnecessarily) a huge weapon to the right, in their ongoing treason-campaign called "Culture War," allowing them to retain millions of supporters who might otherwise have abandoned them.

By abrogating the natural human phenomenon of patriotic pride, these fools on the left have allowed guys like Sean Hannity to claim love-of-country as a sole monopoly of the right!  If they get away with pushing simplistic “greatest nation ever” rants and portraying themselves as the implicit opposite of homeland-hating liberals, that gift comes gratis from the left.

Moreover, there is another reason for liberals to re-examine this reflex and to find good -- and even great -- things to proclaim about America.  Because, without any doubt, America deserves it.  Yes, self-criticism is a useful tonic, and there definitely were crimes committed, during our time on top.  Nevertheless, the net effects of Pax Americana have been generally positive, compared against every single previous era in human history.

This can be proved, with just a single example -- one that was as decisive as it is ironic, and that has spanned an entire lifespan.

==The Miracle of 1946==

Mr. Wu Jianmin is a professor at China Foreign Affairs University and Chairman of the Shanghai Centre of International Studies.  A smart fellow whose observations about the world well-merit close attention.  Specifically, in a recent edition of the online journal The Globalist, Wu Jianmin's brief appraisal of  "A Chinese Perspective on a Changing World" was insightful and much appreciated.

However I feel a need to quibble with one of his statements, which reflected a widespread assumption held all over the world:

 "After the Second World War, things started to change. Japan was the first to rise in Asia. We Asians are grateful to Japan for inventing this export-oriented development model, which helped initiate the process of Asia’s rise."

In fact, with due respect for their industriousness, ingenuity and determination, the Japanese invented no such thing. The initiators of export-driven world development were two military and diplomatic leaders of Pax American at its very peak:  George Marshall, who was Secretary of State under President Harry Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, during his time as military governor of Japan, in the ravaged aftermath of the Second World War.

miracleof1947While Marshall crafted a historically unprecedented, receptively open trade policy called “counter-mercantilism” (I’ll explain in a minute), MacArthur vigorously pushed the creation of Japanese export-oriented industries, establishing the model of what was to come.  Instead of doing what all other victorious conquerors had done – looting the defeated enemy -- the clearly stated intention was for the United States to lift up their prostrate foe, first with direct aid.  And then, over the longer term, with trade.

(One might well add a third American hero, W. Edwards Deming, whose teachings about industrial process -- especially the importance of high standards of quality control -- were profoundly influential in Japan, helping  transform Japanese products from stereotypes of shoddiness into icons of manufacturing excellence.)

Look, lest there be any misunderstanding, I am not downplaying the importance of Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Chinese and Indian efforts to uplift themselves through the hard work of hundreds of millions who labored in sweatshops making toys and clothes for U.S. consumers.  Without any doubt, those workers... (like the generations who built America, before 1950,  in the sooty factories of Detroit and Pittsburgh)... and their innovative managers, were far more heroic and directly responsible for the last six decades of world development than American consumers, pushing overflowing carts through WalMart.

Nevertheless, those consumers —plus the trade policies that made the WalMart Tsunami possible, plus a fantastically generous and nearly unrestricted flow of intellectual capital from west to east — all played crucial roles in this process that lifted billions of people out of grinding, hopeless poverty.  Moreover, it now seems long past time to realize how unique all of this was, in the sad litany of human civilization.

==The Thing About Empires==

Let's step back a little.  First off, if you scan across recorded history, you'll find that most people who lived in agricultural societies endured either of two kinds of global situations. There were periods of imperium and periods of chaos.  A lot of the empires were brutal, stultifying and awful, but at least cities didn't burn that often, while the empire maintained order.  Families got to raise their kids and work hard and engage in trade.  Even if you belonged to an oppressed subject people, your odds of survival, and bettering yourself, were better under the rule of an imperial "pax."

That doesn't mean the empires were wise!  Often, they behaved in smug, childish, and tyrannical ways that, while conforming to ornery human nature, also laid seeds for their own destruction.  Today, I want to focus on one of these bad habits, in particular.

The annals of five continents show that, whenever a nation became overwhelmingly strong, it tended to forge mercantilist-style trade networks that favored home industries and capital inflows, at the expense of those living in in satrapies and dependent areas.

The Romans did this, insisting that rivers of gold and silver stream into the imperial city.  So did the Hellenists, Persians, Moghuls... and so did every Chinese imperial dynasty. This kind of behavior, by Pax Brittanica, was one of the chief complaints against Britain by both John Hancock and Mohandas Ganhdi.

Adam Smith called mercantilism a foul habit, that was based in human nature.  A natural outcome of empire, it over the long run almost inevitably contributed to self-destruction.  But alas, everybody did it, when they could.  Except just once.

==The Exception to the Rule of Imperial Mercantilism==

In fact, there has been only one top-nation that ever avoided the addiction to imperial mercantilism, and that was the United States of America. Upon finding itself the overwhelmingly dominant power, at the end of World War II, the U.S. had ample opportunity to impose its own vision upon the system of international trade.  And it did. Only, at this crucial moment, something special happened.

At the behest of Marshall and his advisors. America became the first pax-power in history to deliberately establish counter-mercantilist commerce flows.  A trade regime that favored the manufactures of many foreign/poor countries over those in the homeland. Nations crippled by war, or by millennia of mismanagement, were allowed to maintain high tariffs, keeping out American manufactures, while sending shiploads from their own factories to the U.S., almost duty free.

Moreover, despite the ongoing political tussle of two political parties and sometimes noisy aggravation over ever-mounting deficits, each administration since Marshall's time kept fealty with this compact -- to such a degree that the world's peoples by now simply take it for granted.

Forgetting all of history and ignoring the self-destructive behavior of other empires, we all have tended to assume that counter-mercantilist trade flows are somehow a natural state of affairs!  But they aren't.  They are an invention, as unique and new and as American as the airplane, or the photocopier, or rock n' roll.

==Why Did This Happen?==

Now, of course, more than pure altruism may have been involved in the decision to create counter-mercantilism. The Democratic Party, under Truman, and Republican moderates, such as President Dwight Eisenhower, held fresh and painful memories of the Hawley-Smoot tariffs, instituted under Herbert Hoover and the Republican Congress of 1930, which triggered a trade war that deepened the Great Depression.   Both Truman and Ike saw trade as wholesome for world prosperity -- and as a tonic to unite world peoples against Soviet expansionism.

 (Indeed, as another example of his farsighted ability to plan ahead for decades, Marshall also designed the ultimately victorious policy of patient containment of the USSR until, after many decades, that mad fever broke, for which he deserves at least as much credit as Ronald Reagan.) 

Nevertheless, if you still doubt that counter-mercantilism also had an altruistic component, remember this -- that the new, unprecedented trade regime was instituted by the author of the renowned Marshall Plan — both a name and an endeavor that still ring in human memory as synonymous with using power for generosity and good. Is it therefore plausible that Marshall -- along with Dean Acheson, Truman and Eisenhower -- might have known exactly what export-driven development would accomplish for the peoples of Europe, Asia, and so on?

Cynics might doubt that anyone could ever look that far and that sagely ahead.  But I am both an optimist and a science fiction author.  I find it entirely plausible.

==Alas No One Seems to Notice==

Unfortunately, while recipients of the Marshall Plan's direct aid could clearly see beneficial results, right away, other parts of the program -- especially counter-mercantilist trade policy -- were slower in showing their effects, though they were far more vast and important, over the log run.

What they amounted to was nothing less than the greatest unsung aid-and-uplift program in human history.  A prodigious transfer of wealth and development from the United States to one zone after another, where cheap labor transformed, often within a single generation, into skilled and educated worker-citizens of a technologized nation. A program that consisted of Americans buying continental loads of things they did not really need. Things that they could easily done without and stopped buying, any time that they, or their leaders, chose to call a halt.

(Oh, sure, the U.S would sometimes make a stink and nibble away at the edges of these unfair trade flows.  But such efforts were never serious, intense, or undertaken with anything like full power or national will behind them. No plausible theory was ever raised, to explain that tepidness... until now.)

Yes, yes.  There are a few obvious cavils to this blithe picture. One might ask -- does anyone deserve "moral credit" for this huge and staggeringly successful "aid program"?

Well, that is a good question. Perhaps not the American consumers, who made all this happen by embarking on a reckless holiday, acting like wastrels, saving nothing and spending themselves deep into debt.  Certainly, even at best, this wealth transfer seems less ethically pure or pristinely generous than other, more direct forms of aid. (See my posting: Saving the World Through Walmart.)

Moreover, as the author of a book called Earth, I’d be remiss not to mention that all of this consumption-driven growth came about at considerable cost to our planet.  For all our sakes, the process of ending human poverty and creating an all-encompassing global middle class needs to get a lot more efficient, as soon as possible.  Call it another form a debt that had better be repaid, or else.

Nevertheless, if credit is being given to the Japanese, "for inventing this export-oriented development model," then I think it is time for some historical perspective.   Because the impression that one gets from many, especially in the East, is that the West must forever remain counter-mercantilist as if by some law of nature, and that the vigorously  pro-mercantilist policies of the East are some kind of inherently perpetual birthright.   Or else, these trade patterns are purely the result of asiatic cleverness, outwitting those decadent Americans in some kind of great game

This view of the present situation may feel satisfying, but it is wholly inaccurate.  Moreover, it could lead to serious error, in years to come... as it did across centuries past

==What Might The Future Bring?==

Even if America is exhausted, worn out and a shadow of her former self, from having spent her way from world dominance into a chasm of debt, the U.S. does have something to show for it the last six decades.

A world saved.  A majority of human beings lifted out of poverty. That task, far more prodigious than defeating fascism and communism or going to the moon, ought to be viewed with a little respect.  And I suspect it will be, by future generations.

This should be contemplated, soberly, as other nations start to consider their time ahead as one of potential triumph.  As they start to contemplate the possibility of becoming the next great pax or "central kingdom."

 If that happens -- (as I portray in a coming novel) -- will they emulate Marshall and Truman, by starting their bright era of world leadership with acts of thoughtful and truly farsighted wisdom?  Perhaps even a little gratitude? Or at least by evading the mistakes that are written plain, across the pages of history, wherever countries briefly puffed and preened over their own importance, imagining that this must last forever?

==Is Anybody Still Reading==

Probably not.  This unconventional assertion will meet vigorous resistance, no matter how clearly it is supported by the historical record.  The reflex of America-bashing is too heavily ingrained, within the left and across much of the world, for anyone to actually read the ancient annals and realize that the United States is undoubtedly the least hated empire of all time.  If its "pax" is drawing to a close, it will enter retirement with more earned goodwill than any other.  Perhaps even enough to win forgiveness for the inevitable litany of imperial crimes.

But no, even so, the habit is too strong.  My attempt to bring perspective will be dismissed as arrogant, jingoist, hyper-patriotic American triumphalism.  That is, if anybody is still reading, at all.

Meanwhile, on the American right, we do have genuine triumphalists of the most shrill and stubborn type -- mostly moronic neocons -- who share my appreciation for Pax Americana... but for all the wrong reasons, and without even a scintilla of historical wisdom.  Indeed, it is as if we are using the same phrase to stanf for entirely different things.  If they are still reading, I can only point out that their era of misrule deeply harmed the very thing they claim to love.

Alas, my aim does not fit into stereotypical agendas of either left or right.  Instead, I am simply pointing out the necessary sequence of causation events that had to occur, in order for the International Miracle of export-driven development, of the last sixty years, to have taken place at all.  Indeed, it is the fervent, tendentious and determined denial, that American policy played any role at all, that beggars the imagination.

And so, at risk of belaboring the point, let me reiterate. If the U.S. had done the normal thing, the natural human thing, and imposed mercantilist trade patterns after WWII -- as every single previous "chung kuo" empire ever did before it -- then the U.S. would have no debt today.  Our factories would be humming and the country would be swimming in gold...

...but the amount of hope and prosperity in the world would be far less, ruined by the same self-centered, short-sighted greed that eventually brought down empires in Babylon, Persia, Rome, China, Britain and so on.

Also, by this point, every American youth would be serving in armies of occupation, and the entire world would by now be simmering and plotting for the downfall of the Evil Empire.  That is the way the old pattern was written.  But it is not how this "pax" was run. Instead, the greater part of the world was saved from poverty by the same force that rescued it from the fascistic imperialism and communism.

Yes, America's era of uplifting the globe by propelling the world's export-driven growth must be over.  Having performed this immense task, Americans cannot expect (if Wu Jianmin is any example) any credit or thanks.

But that is okay. Nobody needs to be angry and we certainly do not have to be thanked.  It simply is done.  Other dire problems now stand waiting for this much richer world to address them. And meanwhile, the U.S. must rebuild.

In other words, soon it will be time for someone else to start buying, for a change. The products, the services, and especially the ideas -- of which we will always have plenty.

New ideas, for a new century, when efficient production and care for the planet will combine with far-sighted mindfulness of generations to come.  Ideas that – just like George Marshall’s – the world will need and want.

 And just watch. America will be happy to sell.


David Brin is a scientist, technology speaker, and author.  His 1989 ecological thriller, Earth, foreshadowed global warming, cyberwarfare and the world wide web.  A 1998 movie, directed by Kevin Costner, was based on The Postman.  His fifteen novels, including New York Times Bestsellers and winners of the Hugo and Nebula awards, have been translated into more than twenty languages.  David appears frequently on History Channel shows such as The ARCHITECHS, The Universe and Life After People.  Brin’s non-fiction book -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Freedom and Privacy? -- won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.
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For more of David Brin's articles on the economy: See: The Economy: Past, Present, and Future


rewinn said...

To be "the least hated empire" is a worthy accomplishment.

I'm not kidding. In evaluating Pax Americana, unconditional love and unconditional disdain are uncomplicated and easily enjoyed approaches, and I will resort to bumpersticker politicking as fast as anyone. But reality requires messy judgments and complicated feelings; any coach in any sport will tell you that you have to objectively accept both your good and your bad, if you want to get better. Sadly, a "fair and balanced" approach doesn't sell ad space.

Perhaps the roots of LHE is that Empire was forced upon us by the circumstances of WW2, not sought; we (or, to be precise, our Greatest Generation ancestors) did not set out to conquer half the planet; most entered WW2 reluctantly. Perhaps this reluctance is why so many citizen-soldiers were eager to return home asap, rather than settle down and rule subject peoples. However, if the modern flavor of conquest is economic rather than military, the next empire may not be so reluctant to rule with an iron fisc.

The enormous reservoir of goodwill abroad remaining toward America, despite worldwide opposition to our foreign policy of nearly a decade, may be a valuable LHE legacy; let's not waste it!

Marc, Austin, TX said...


Interesting points. Well thought out and I think fairly accurate.

The theme is a point I often try to make to my 'refuse to listen', 'bash America first', liberal friends. The American PAX, and if we are/were really an 'Empire' why didn't we loot all these places, like in Iraq, why not just take the oil? Why pay for it, if we are so evil?

The America 'PAX' isn't/wasn't perfect by any means, but we are/were definitely the best of the bad choices. The lesser evil lets say.

I think what is often missed historically, is that we (APAX) inherited and are still trying to clean up the mostly European Colonial era, that also led to 2 world wrs, that for some reason the wacky left seem to forget about when praising Europe.

Ultimately it is all that nation building where there weren't any (Modern Nations), that is what has exploded in the Middle East, Iraq, India, Pakistan, etc, etc... and before this gets int a rant:

I have to say, I love the Uplift books, well done!

AND Not to be a nit-picky moronic neocon but, you having a small spelling mistake here: "Indeed, it is as if we are using the same phrase to stanf for entirely different things. If they are still reading," See I was still reading. (I'm sure I have some als, but, so please take it as intended as a helpful comment.)

Anyway, I knew you were liberal, I didn't realize you were whacky liberal whacky! Wow! Well, I still love the books. Thanks for the post. This moronic neocon happens to agree with you!

David Brin said...

One thing I left out of my appraisal was that Marshall and others finally had a chance to institute the program that President Woodrow Wilson tried to get Britain and France to agree-to, at the end of the First World War. This time, no Clemenceau or Lloyd-George could stand in the way, with their petty grudges and shortsightedness. So there was an element of "step aside grampa, and watch how it's done."

And the brash kids were right -- for the first time in history they were almost entirely right.

(Oh, helping the French suppress Ho Ch Minh was a boner... and there were others. Ah well. Sic Semper Imperia.)

Marc, hi. You are w elcome new member of this ornery, independent-minded community. As a "liberal" myself... I have long felt that liberalism should NOT call itself a movement of the "left." here has always been an uneasy relationship between the two.  

Right now liberals and lefties are allies against a greater monster-threat. The insanity that has warped conservatism into something that Barry Goldwater deeply condemned, before he died.

 But the left can... and has... spent its own time stark jibbering insane,
True liberalism, stretching back to Adam Smith... has been about pragmatically making the world better using ALL tools, including enterprise. THAT is classic liberalism. And the left tends to forget it.

You are welcome here. Our religion is curiosity.

chrismealy said...

Let's hope it doesn't take another world war to sort out our current international monetary issues.

Tony Fisk said...

By abrogating the natural human phenomenon of patriotic pride, these fools on the left have allowed guys like Sean Hannity to claim love-of-country as a sole monopoly of the right!

GB Shaw once remarked that, if given the choice between betraying friend or country, he hoped he'd have the guts to betray his country.

I wonder if the problem is that the left tend to concentrate on love-of-people, and that the right concentrate on love-of-state, and both forget that neither is necessarily love-of-country.

I wonder if, put that way, each side can find it in themselves to express love-of-country, either by the folk that comprise it, or the mores that join them.

soc said...

Mercantilism sunk previous empires. Anti-mercantilism is sinking America but lifting Asia. Looks like for the "Pax" it's a lose-lose.

Bryan Alexander said...

Great, thought-provoking post.

It reminded me of, among other things, Georges Bataille's weird argument that the Marshall Plan was a kind of national potlatch.

Do you think one "[act] of thoughtful and truly farsighted wisdom" could be an international program to ease the world's transition away from such a high reliance on petroleum?

And will the world still come to the US for certain educational needs?

David Brin said...

Tony, there are MANY aspects to how the left differs from the right... and few of them related at all to standard models.

E.g. you have all heard me talk about how it is more a matter of PERSONALITY. Conservatives tend to be deppressive... grumpy and hating tomorrow and utterly lazy (all of which describes the Congresses of 1995-2008)... while liberals and lefties are manic, always scurrying about, trying to save the world.

The diff tween liberals and lefties is that the liberals want to use ALL tools, including free and creative and truly innovative markets to seek pragmatic solutions NOW! That's why liberals did more DEregulating of government control over commerce - when it seemed right - than conservatives have ever even PROPOSED!

A gigantic irony, that. Hence, people simply put it out of their minds out of cognitive dissonance. Like the pure fact that democrats patrol the border much better. But it makes sense, if you realize that Adam Smith was a crony-monopoly-HATING "liberal."

In contrast, lefties are manic to save the world... but think there is ONE DOGMATIC WAY to do it.

And now let me remind you all...

George Orwell decrypted the Hegelian-tyrannical impulses that underly classic leftism. Above all contempt for the masses that they claim to "represent."

Remember, the three greatest mass murderers - Hitler, Stalin and Mao - were all "socialists."

Please be careful. The left is tame right now. And we can work with them.

But keep an eye cracked open toward them. Always.

David Brin said...

The Nazi Party was the National Socialist Workers Party. Hitler's actual economics policies are seldom discussed, but they were labor-syndicalist... meaning that the purely aryan unions got plenty of advances under the Nazis! Factory owners had to let union men onto their boards. Aristocrats had to walk on tiptoes.

There were MANY socialist endeavors under Hitler... welfare systems and benefits and social levelling... all very socialist... though just for aryans.

And Stalin was NOT a "communist"... the USSR was very much socialist.

Please study. Read Orwell, who was right in the thick of it as a "man of the left."

I am not saying socialism is worse than feudalism, overall. It is just more frenetic and utopian and intense. Feudalism grinds at the soul for centuries and drags us all down, but it is lazy and when the peasants seem calm and happy and reverent, the lords leave them be. In contrast, mad versions of socialism kill people by the tens of millions, in a crazed effort to uplift.

The Norwegians do socialism right, of course. But then, they ALSO do capitalism right! The secret is to be reasonable, progressive people.

No. While we know our biggest danger, right now is from feudalists, who want to bring back the Old Order of 4,000 years, they are not the only threat.

David Brin said...

Oh... saw 2012 a few hours ago.

Knowing what to expect, I turned my critical, scientific and cultural dials down to zero... then ripped out the wires. Even so, I felt it would have been better, had I been completely blitzed.

But I had the kids along, ah well. Even so, I enjoyed it more than I expected. Even the fourth time an airplane skirted collapsing buildings and mountain peaks, yeesh. ALl the blather was just an excuse for huge visual fun.

Which means DON'T wait for the DVD. See it BIG!

(AH, but why can't such directors imagine doing something just that vivid... WITHOUT requiring a lobotomy first...? Sigh.)

Stefan Jones said...

What I find alarming about this way of doing things isn't that we're not using our might to suck in money from the rest of the world, but that that our dependence of easy imports is making us fucking lazy.

Not in the "not willing to work" sense of lazy, but in the "complacent" sense of lazy. Mental laziness.

DB, I forwarded an article about Rhodes scholars to you the other day. For the others here:

From Oxford to Wall Street

"In the 1980s, however, the pattern of career choices [of Rhodes Scholars] began to change. Until then, even though business ambitions and management degrees have not been disfavored in our competition, business careers attracted relatively few Rhodes scholars. No one suggested this was an unfit domain; it was simply the rare scholar who went to Wall Street, finance and general business management. Only three American Rhodes scholars in the 1970s (out of 320) went directly into business from Oxford; by the late 1980s the number grew to that many in a year. Recently, more than twice as many went into business in just one year than did in the entire 1970s."

Making money through speculation, arbitrage, and other sorts of fiscal twiddling might make you rich, but it doesn't create anything of real value. There's certainly a benefit to freely flowing credit. But when debt becomes the hottest growth industry we can muster, something is deeply perverted.

The "our spendthrift ways benefit the world" notion amounts to a feel-good epitaph if we don't, as a nation and as a society, begin to value genuine creativity and production of things of real and lasting value.

And any good feelings the world might have toward us won't mean much if we don't take some leadership in dealing with the externalities of the current system, like resource depletion and global warming.

Eadwacer said...

This is why I thought Paul Kennedy was wrong in his conclusions in "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers". We won WWII and we didn't act like conquerors. Then, of course, we won the Cold War and threw it all away.

Rob Perkins said...

Honestly, the third or fourth time an airplane made a narrow escape through engine-choking volcanic ash, or failed to gain altitude in time in ways that defy every law of physics except speed-of-plot, or being told that "the neutrinos have changed... somehow! and are now microwaves!" I knew no brainwork was required.

David is right. See 2012 on a twelve-foot or bigger screen, with super-dolby-dts-thx-surround, or you've wasted money.

sociotard said...

Interesting. It is notable that while the US didn't demand rivers of silver and gold flow into its imperium, it did strongly encourage a river of smart people.

It encouraged the best and brightest from all over the world to come study in US universities, then get so addicted to the US lifestyle that they didn't especially want to go back home. The great brain drain. Alas, I'm told that there are signs of that great river drying up, just as the old empires lost their rivers of riches.

Tim H. said...

I would say the United States was close to a sweet spot trade-wise in the 1950s and 60s, not a simple matter to stay on a sweet spot, as we've proved.
As far as recent SF movies go, UP would be a good choice, in a Verne, Wells, burroughs sort of way.

David Brin said...

Sociotard hit on it!

You get Post-Of-The-Day!

I have in-past essayed upon how the US made out like a bandit for 40 years, "stealing" the best and brightest from around the world, via our universities... then sending the rest home infected with our values.

So yes, we were NOT entirely passive, during this time! Hollywood, too, was busy. Two "benign" but very aggressive forms of imperialism...

... but the biggest was the liberation of women. THAT is what has the jihadists hot and bothered, down deep.

It also happens to be the one best way to save the world.

David Brin said...

Oh, Stefan? A near future blog entry will be all about the hidden way that science and the arts have screwed up our economy... attracting the best and brightest FROM the aristocracy... leaving their frat-ass brothers to run the economy!

matthew said...

Best bumpersticker I've seen in ages, "Yeehaw is not a foreign policy."

Seen stuck to the wall behind the beer taps at Fire on the Mountain, PDX buffalo wing joint.

Thought I'd share the wisdom of the (great) local bars.


upedsl: What happens when you attach 10001 helium ballons to Grandma's classic car.

David Brin said...

The ability of conservatives to believe that the GOP has anything to do with fiscal conservatism... responsibility with national finances... boggles the imagination.

Read Russ Daggatt's latest at:

While unemployment should be the priority in the short term, deficit reduction should be a long-term priority.  Toward that end, it is worth revisiting how we got into our current mess.
The real explosion in the federal debt began under Ronald Reagan who cut taxes while increasing government spending to levels previously exceeded only during the four years of World War II.  (After six years with spending over 22% of GDP and two years over 23%, Reagan left office with federal spending running at over 21%. 

By contrast, President Clinton left office with spending at 18.5% of GDP.)  The result was that the national debt increased more than 400% from less than a trillion when Reagan took office to over $4 trillion when President Clinton and a Democratic Congress finally increased taxes again in 1993.  The deficits during those years are even more dramatic when you state them in current dollars. In 2009 dollars (using the OMB), Reagan and the first Bush ran up deficits of roughly $5 trillion. 
The turning point in this deficit story was the 1993 Budget Act, about which I have written before, which was designed to eliminate the record budget deficits inherited by President Clinton.  It included a large overall increase in taxes and extended the pay-as-you-go budget rules.  It passed without a single Republican vote in Congress by the closest possible margin – by one vote in the House and with Vice President Gore breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate.   Republicans predicted that the economy would collapse as a result.  Instead, it produced record budget surpluses and the strongest economy in a generation.  But the Democrats paid a price, as they were crushed in the 1994 elections and lost control of Congress.  Unfortunately, the lesson that was learned in Congress was that fiscal responsibility doesn’t pay politically.
George W. Bush inherited record budget surpluses but quickly turned that around. The GOP enacted $2 trillion in tax cuts, even before counting the trillion dollar cost of two wars, and passed the largest increase in entitlement spending (Medicare Part D) since the creation of Medicare in the 1960’s with a ten-year cost of almost a trillion dollars.  At least when LBJ created Medicare he also enacted taxes to pay for it.  Bush and Congressional Republicans never even discussed any means of paying for their budget-busting initiatives.  They let pay-as-you-go budget rules lapse.  The result, predictably, was an increase of over $5 trillion in the federal debt, almost doubling it in just eight years.  Together with the quadrupling of debt under Reagan and Bush’s father, that accounted for almost 80% of all debt that had been accumulated in the history of the US government up to that point.

For Obama to be taking the blame for the PRESENT deficits... when deficit spending is precisely what a Keynsian MUST do, during a steep recession... is absurd. What is culpable is the fact that no reserve or rainy day fund was established, during good times, to be used as stimulus, in times like these.

Clinton tried. He was packing away surpluses and paying off the debt at record pace. But the aristocracy wanted their feeding frenzy, justified by a Supply Side voodoo that never, ever made a single successful prediction borne out by subsequent facts.

Read the Bible's story of Joseph. During fat times you save and during lean times you spend. The Dems did and do behave that way. But the goppers DO have a part of the Bible that they resemble, too.

The story of the prodigal son. Only we are the good sons, who must watch as the banker, fratboys of Wall Street are bailed out with OUR birthright.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re the climate change emails

A wise man once told me not to write anything in my e-mails that would embarrass me if it was published in my local newspaper.

As an extension of this if I am saying anything at all non complementary I always sleep on it before sending.

I have not found this to be a drag on my creativity or communications and I would advise everybody to follow these rules for all work e-mails

With Freedom of Information Acts, Court Discovery, and Hackers not to mention careless co-workers any e-mail could end up in the papers

I think I will try and extend this to comments and home e-mail as well.

Back on topic

Saving the world by shopping! - Priceless!

Marino said...

Re: 2012
big thumb down, visual aside:
I'm graduate in humanities, but some things just scream vegeance to high heaven. Like the cold air falling from upper atmosphere that failed to heat due to compression in Day after tomorrow, those neutrinos turning into "something else" and heating the core... pro bono pacis let's assume it's true, wouldn't they fry everything on the surface first? and would anyone design the engine commands without a manual override? (I keep it bit cryptic...spoilers)? Not to mention an huge cartload of suspicion of authority and conspiracy theory, and a lot of undeserved praise for the PRC (my bet is they'd let everyone inside the "dam" drown instead of boarding...Frau Angela would help people, but the Chinese or the Russians?) so, just going back to the original line, while not being so so forgiving like Dr. Brin (but I've been a card carrying member of the Italian Communist party, once. OK, they were in fact a good approx of those Norwegian socialists Mr. Brin likes, all said and done), better Pax Americana than Pax Germanica or Stalinica once or Pax Sinica tomorrow, by orders of magnitude, 'nuff said.
aside: in Italian movie theaters people laughed hard or applauded ironically at how the Italian PM is portrayed. It's just as realistic as the odd behavior of neutrinos or planes flying thru dust and ash unscathed

Tony Fisk said...

2012 sounds like another example of that US intellectual laziness that Stefan referred our imagination the effort of seeing a spectacle! I'll save my money and exercise my imagination by envisaging the flotilla of plastic ducks in the bathtub as a squadron of berserker planet killers homing in on planet soapbar.

(Sort of like what is briefly seen flying up the wall in the opening shots of 'The Wrong Trousers')

To more serious things: interesting times when Malcolm Turnbull, having stated he will *not* lead a party that refuses to accept an ETS, looks as if he's doing just that since nearly his entire front bench resigned on him (the debacle has not a little to do with his blunt leadership skills, but I wouldn't be surprised if the libs split over this)

Acacia H. said...

One thing to recall about the deficits that occurred under Reagan and Bush Sr. is this: didn't it happen while the Democrats were in control of Congress? As such, was Reagan and Bush truly to blame for the deficit going out of control?

Whether or not this is true, this is the counterargument Republicans do use against the whole "Reagan and other Republicans are behind the deficit." So we need to ask one important question: why was a Democratic Congress unable to control spending under a Republican President?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Pat Mathews said...

Nice post! I am one person who has not been sucked into the screaming polarization of American politics but rather thinks they've all gone mad - possibly because I predate the polarized people by a few years? (Born 1939 - was in my 30s at the time of the cultural revolutions).

The Joseph model is a little simplistic. During the fat years I spent like a New Deal program - on acquiring a house, paying it off, and upgrading the life support systems (heat, plumbing, energy-efficient windows, reroofing the garage) and likewise acquiring and paying off a car. And getting whatever medical and dental work done that was needed while I still could. All of it functional.

Woozle said...

I remember when conservatives were anti-globalization (or are they still?) -- Perot's "giant sucking sound", billboards on I-85 warning us that all our jobs were being sent overseas...

...and I remember thinking, "gee, how terrible that we might have to find more useful ways to create value so that people in poorer countries might start to get a piece of the economic pie we've been chowing down on for the past few decades."

More recently, though, it has begun to seem that we are a nation that has forgotten how to do anything for itself. All of our basic industry takes place overseas; American products are still largely inferior to those made in Asia; we have to import from New Zealand to get organic lamb and apples (just to cite two personal local observations). This isn't *universally* true -- I'm sure there are many American products which still outclass those we import -- but it does seem to be the case in general. I began to think that possibly the anti-globalists were right, at least in the sense that globalism can be over-applied.

So it was actually with a substantial amount of relief that I read your earlier mention of this idea: that out sacrifice of domestic industry has not been entirely foolish or vain, that we *have* effectively been buying prosperity for much of the world, and hence a greater chance for peace.

So what happens how? How can we bring back some of that self-sufficiency? I see Americans naturally gravitating towards it, all around me -- faires dedicated to hand-made products, the rapidly-growing (but largely-overlooked) fiber arts movement, the growth of small organic farms and farmers' markets, and I have to mention the local Tech Shop even though there are only two of them nationwide as far as I know -- but all of these things face tremendous hurdles if they are to become the core of a regrown production-based economy. The biggest hurdle is probably psychological: the idea that we, as individuals and communities, can -- or should be able to -- subsist by making things, and selling or trading them -- is something we have become unaccustomed to.


Political spectra: As a liberal, I don't think I've ever fallen into the "hating America" trap; there are aspects of America that I really really dislike, but I see them as character flaws which we must acknowledge if we are going to be able to fix them. All-or-nothing Republican types like to see this as "hating America", and many liberals let themselves get framed into that thinking.

"Socialism", as a threat, is a boogeyman; right now, it's looking pretty damn attractive -- but it has to be done right (just like capitalism) and it can be used as a cover to do things that are very, very wrong (just like capitalism).

As for the Republican party... they've been utterly insane at least since 9/11, and events since their own personal 9/11 (the 2008 elections) have only served to drive them further down the spiral of insanity. We need to stop looking at Republicanism as a valid worldview and start treating it as a psychological condition.

Tim H. said...

Domestic industry was thrown away in vain, a balance cod have been reached without the sack of Detroit , or breaking rice bowls. American "bizcritters" tend to resist moderation, running any good thing into the ground. Probably a near certainty that someone will make a disparaging comparison between a '70s domestic car and a state of the art import, blithely overlooking the many deficiencies of '70s imports.

alstsubp, the sound of incredibly messy table habits.

soc said...

Has America succeeded much in advancing women's rights in Muslim countries?

I'd also like to point out that not every Muslim who has some sympathy with the jihadis is dreaming about some future caliphate. I have heard essentially secular Muslims express sympathy for these kinds of militant outfits even though, in a theocratic state run by these thugs, the secular Muslims would be in the front of the line for the guillotine.

When Pres. Obama made his Cairo speech some of the biggest cheers came for the spread of democracy and women's rights. Now, I know this would have been a select audience (but still, cheering democracy by an audience specially selected by a dictatorship?), but there is plenty of sympathy for those ideas. Even so, people who support those ideas still have this knee-jerk response where they see the jihadis as freedom fighters against western aggression. Mind you, this is changing in places like Pakistan but the impulse is still there in many places.

This support is obviously short sighted but there is a reason for it. Many Muslims feel like they are under real attack by a colonial West. They are baffled when they hear about the 'Muslim threat' to the west. As far as they can see the situation is very much the reverse.

Now, Western values WOULD threaten jihadi values, but non-jihadi Muslims are more threatened by western militaries.

How many western nations are under military occupation by Muslim armies? How many giant Muslim military bases are stationed in European countries? How many western cities experiance "shock and Awe" by over-whelmingly powerful armies that are simply impossible to stop? How many western nations stagger under oppressive dictatorships who wouldn't last a week if a foreign muslm superpower cut off funding?

These grieviances are not unique to the jihadis, they are general, but it is these grieviances that fill up their ranks. There are many young Muslims, even in the West, who come to these organizations not because they read the quran and conclude that the jihadis understand religion best, but because of a sense of victimhood and exclusion (particularly in the West for the latter), which the jihadis address with often tragic consequences.

Christopher Hitchens would consider everything I just said to be complete rubbish.

However, I think there's something in it.

If anyone is interested I would strongly recommend this article: Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again that looks at some British Muslims who became jihadis, then turned their backs on the ideology. It shows what got them into it in the first place and, crucially for us who want to actually put an end to this ideology, what got them out.

Again Hitchens has no time for this sort of thing, but I think it's helpful.

Woozle said...

Tim H.: I'm thinking more of my 1987 Nissan Maxima (still got it) versus the 1986 Ford Taurus a relative inflicted on us (piece of crap; died in mid-90s)... versus my 1967 Dodge Coronet station wagon, which was supposedly made after quality had started to decline but was nonetheless a great car (it was stolen in the mid-90s) ...versus our 1997 Dodge Caravan (piece of crap we have to keep because we can't afford to buy another car right now).

David Brin said...

Marino... you are great! But please do try to learn to set your mental dials down to zero, when it comes time to enjoy a film by Emmerich or Michael Bay. Just lobotomize yourself -- or go to see it stoned -- and enjoy.

I am MUCH LESS able to turn down my MORAL IQ. And hence, I writhe in films that go for the reflex "all my fellow citizens are sheep and all our institutions are either moronic or evil." Because that message is actually doing huge harm.

Rob said: "One thing to recall about the deficits that occurred under Reagan and Bush Sr. is this: didn't it happen while the Democrats were in control of Congress? As such, was Reagan and Bush truly to blame for the deficit going out of control?"

No, that's facile, Rob. When you have a Republican president and a 48% Republican minority in Congress, then all you need is 6% of the democrats to cooperate and you can get anything you want. Especially since the dems do NOT fillibuster.

Remember, the dems are not lockstep-disciplined. They are largely individual delegates from individual districts who want to legislate from a variety of perspectives. Many of them are "conservative" in the sense that republicans OUGHT to be... and hence receptive to some supply side notions... and/or some are simply corrupt and bribable.

Moreover, the biggest phenomenon was simply that the Democrats TRIED HARD to cooperate and negotiate with Reagan and both Bushes. They listened, they negotiated, the record is filled with examples of Democratic Congresses dickering in good faith with Republican Presidents, while there are NONE of the reverse EVER being true...

...with one exception. The one time that Newt Gingrich negotiated with Bill Clinton in good faith, we got Welfare Reform, which was without any doubt one of the most successful pieces of social legislation in forty years, correcting hundreds of abuses and inefficiencies. Proof of this is that nobody mentions welfare anymore. Alas, though, Gingich got so much Sh$t from the partisans, for even speaking to Clinton, that this never happened again.

The GOP's lockstep-discipline has been so uniform that they would not even back budget balancing, under Clinton. Dig this from Daggatt: "The turning point in this deficit story was the 1993 Budget Act, about which I have written before, which was designed to eliminate the record budget deficits inherited by President Clinton.  It included a large overall increase in taxes and extended the pay-as-you-go budget rules.  It passed without a single Republican vote in Congress by the closest possible margin – by one vote in the House and with Vice President Gore breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate.   Republicans predicted that the economy would collapse as a result.  Instead, it produced record budget surpluses and the strongest economy in a generation.  But the Democrats paid a price, as they were crushed in the 1994 elections and lost control of Congress.  Unfortunately, the lesson that was learned in Congress was that fiscal responsibility doesn’t pay politically."

Go and read Russ's article. All of it. Carefully. That is, if you like facts:


David Brin said...

Tim H. I agree that the US "pax uplift" of the world might have been handled better, with more of an eye toward retaining our industrial capabilities, for the day when we'll need them again. Detroit should not have been allowed to fall. We should have built high speed rail, even if it meant purchasing the parts from Japan & China!. But you assume this was all being "managed" somehow. But, just as Marshall set in motion that strategy of containment that ultimately worked vs the paranoid USSR, he set in motion the counter-mercantilist trade patterns...

...and the sign of a great plan is that it can then be driven by lesser men. Hence, Reagan's deification for the fall of the USSR. Usupported by facts. But I have other things to fret about, than letting the right worship its god.

Soc... Hitchens is no help to anybody, anywhere, anytime.

Woozle, my 97 Chrysler van was pretty bad. I cussed and yowled when the transmission fell onto the freeway I dunno why we bought another one in 03 but it is really, really good.

Hope you get to upgrade soon.

Rob Perkins said...

My 99 Dodge Grand Caravan is still working beautifully, after 90,000 miles. The only problems it's ever had with the transmission were two instances with a faulty transmission malfunction sensor. Other than that we get it out only when all six or more of us need transportation, that way it gets better than 150 person-miles/gallon.

(Chrysler redesigned the transmission in the Caravans and Voyagers in 1998 or so, I'm told by a reliable insider.)

They just need to take the next step and sacrifice a little fold 'n' go storage for a bank of batteries and a plug-in...

Corey said...

David, as a generally left-of-center individual (what you might call a "liberal" vs a "leftie" :D), I found this to be a very interesting look on things. Thank you for taking the time to bring forth this interesting outlook on things.

I will note that your presentation of our present situation fits in rather interestingly with a talk by economist Paul Krugman that I attended just a couple of weeks ago at my local college. I think that you, yourself, might have found his conclusions on the mistakes made that lead to this depression rather interesting, but more important and relevant to your commentary was his evaluation of our present situation.

Above all, what Krugman seemed to want to convey was the idea that the US was no longer in a position economically to support the present strength and position of our currency, and that if there was one thing that would really benefit us right now, it would be for the value of the dollar to tank so that we could competitively export again to actually build up a real and tangible position in the world economy again, with a real foundation underneath it. To that effect, he quipped that the best thing China could do for us would probably be to stop funding out debt and start investing in Euros.

We live in such an interesting time...

As for the reliability of American-designed -and Mexican built, I might add- vehicles, I'm not old enough to comment on what cars from the US might or might not have been like from decades past, but right now, the very testimony of the other posters here, including those in praise of American vehicles, are proof enough of the sad state of quality of American vehicles.

In contrast to the vehicles discussed here, my 1997 Toyota Tercel has 190,000 on it, spent half a dozen years as a pizza delivery car (the most stressful driving imaginable on an engine), got into a front-end collision, and that car has not required one repair or serious mechanical adjustment outside of a $30 welding job to seal an exhaust leak, and a replacement of the front headlights (which got obliterated in the crash). A friend of mine with a really old Chevy Cavalier once told me "the only thing that keeps my car from being epic is your car".

Mark said...

I don't understand your need to define some amorphous group of "lefties" to bash on. Who are these lefties? Who represents them in Congress? Barbara Lee, the long anti-war vote? Pete Stark, the lone atheist? Bernie Sanders? Who's their talking head on TV? At best, these "lefties" you caricature make up less than 0.5% of the American public.

On the other hand, you had for several years a President and a majority of both houses who were clearly willing to engage in imperial adventures that have bankrupted the treasury. In some elections, they got as much as 53% of the vote.

Today, as the United States slowly tilts back to a more measured approach to the world, the very same Bush supporters attack Barack Obama for the "socialistic" and "un-American" way in which he's governing. What do you hear from your so-called "leftists"?

As many people as there might be in this country who are reflexively anti-American, there are 100 times as many who believe in the rapture and see an upside to war in the Middle East. So enough with your false equivalences.

Anonymous said...

In no particular order:

- Interesting thesis. Write the book and I'll buy a copy
- Reagan fulfills the Right's need for a daddy figure which their whole philosophy is sorta based on
- As Daniyal Mueenuddin said on NPR the other day "My country, right or wrong, is like saying my mother, drunk or sober"
- Yes, the U.S. has done great things and we have, for the most part, not been as brutal as other Empires but that is little consolation to the folks that we have brutalized by our policies
- Are we admitting we are/were an empire? If so they we must admit that others can rightly blame us for our behavior. hell, we still blame England for atrocities over 200 years ago
- as a lefty, I am not sure I agree with the assumption that 'The Left' never sees anything good in American behaviour: we do, but based on "our" collective rhetoric about "Democracy" and "Freedom," we just expect better

Tim H. said...

In the midwest, imports can be a bit rare past a certain age, between corrosion and high repair costs when something does give. My significant other's '97 Taurus has needed little in the way of repair, and we've measured 30+ mpg on the highway more than once (Cruise control at 65 mph, tires at max inflation.). And managed would be a strong word for what happened to the domestic economy, with biz types looking no further than a spreadsheet, rabid union-busters, short-sighted work rules and science-as-practiced-by -lawyers. Why I like to refer to the condition of these United States as the "Compound Failure".

Tony Fisk said...

Sounds like this could be heading into Transition town territory. I started digging into it a few weeks ago after Alex Steffen posted an interesting critique of it
take away points:
- no, I am not about to head for the hills to await the coming collapse from peak oil.... which, a couple of earnest gents were telling the locals last weekend, is predicted in a certain well-worn text)
- nor is the TT movement.
- I generally agree with Alex: good start, needs extending.

Rob Hopkins book on the topic contains an interesting snippet about some absurdities of food transport: in 2004 year UK sent 1.5 million kilos of potatoes to Germany, and imported ... 1.5 million kilos of potatoes from Germany. I've heard of line Akvaavit, but...!

(OK, so it's er... spud picking)

My car is a '95 Nissan Pulsar which is still chugging along happily (cue for disaster... I was thinking that about my home PC last weekend, before I killed it with an upgrade)

'nizeryzo' capcha likes my car!!?

David Brin said...

Mark, you may be too young to remember -- and too historically ignorant to be aware -- so let me brak it to you ungently.

All dogmatists are inherently mad, and when they achieve power, they get especially so. Right now, the American left is a tepid and powerless force. Liberals and their BlueDog moderate allies control the Democratic party, and genuine lefties are largely limited to the lit and softsci departments of two hundred university campuses.

Your prickly response ignores the fact that I have made plain how well I KNOW which side of the spectrum has the really dangerous crazies, right now! I have fought the neocons far harder than you have... or indeed, I'll bet, any possible COMBINATION of your friends. They are the dark force, right now that wants to bring back the rule-by-oligarchy that darkened 95% of human cultures.

Ah, but another 4% of human societies were, instead, ruled by madmen of the left. Populist assholes, who strove hard to make up for lost time by being FAR more murderous,per year. ALL THREE of the worst murderers of all time -- hitler, stalin and mao -- were "socialists."

Am I saying TODAY's left and right are "equivalent? Bullshit, I never said that and your use of"equivalence" is a strawman. The left's jerks don't control a political party. The right's do.

Still, even though I support President Obama and I feel the GOP is a tornado of near-pure insanity, I will NOT let dogmatists talk me into persuading the danger that lurks in other directions. Moreover, if you let them talk you into that, then the more fool you.

DemetriosX said...

The interesting thing about mercantilism, is that it generally has never achieved its stated goal of bringing treasure to the mother country. Economic studies have shown that the British Empire spent more on her colonies than ever made it back to Britain. Similarly, most ancient empires went through massive economic problems that usually revolved around the debasement of coinage -- because they couldn't stop the flow of gold and silver outward.

Conversely, as others have pointed out, the US actually got rich off our anti-mercantile policies. Much of the current fall is the result of occasional old-fashioned style imperialism, having to obtain most of our primary energy sources from countries not directly under the pax (as if Rome had been forced to buy most of its food from the Germans and Parthians), and most recently the triumph of anti-Smith capitalists doing their best to subvert real capitalism and sabotaging their home markets in order to maximize their short-term profits. Eliminate those last two points and not only would we be far more prosperous than we are, the Pax Americana would still be going strong.

John F said...

The benign management of the international trade system by the US is surely a critical part of the economic advance of Asia; and also the post-war recovery of Europe.
The US shepherding of the European states into the OEEC/OECD, Bank of International Settlements etc was critical to this.

However, it's debateable if ALL prior empires were mercantilist.

Many were simply not really "economic" at all; insofar as those sort extracted wealth, they were based more on tribute than manipulation of trade.

And the later British Empir, arguably, was neither extractive nor mercantilist.
Certainly the "First Empire" was; that of the East India Company, North America, West Indies, triangular trade, sugar and slaves.

But the Victorian heyday of Empire was based on, perhaps even driven by, free trade. That is, after about 1846.

Imperial preference was sought by some in 1920's and 30's but never systematically established.
Due to objections of UK free traders and of Dominion govts. wish for protection for their industries.

A crucial difference was that in the British system was unable to enhance exporters competiveness by adjusting currency exchange rates.
Either because the imperial territories used Sterling, or if outside the empire, due to the gold standard.

And also, the US post-1945 has been remarkably tolerant regarding non-reciprocal free trade practices.

OTOH, the US (like London before it) did benefit - or at least significant sectors did - from "rivers of gold and silver stream(ing) into the imperial city".

The dollar as reserve currency and the role of Wall Street in arranging dollar loans and other services was & is highly profitable, and an important factor in sustaining US consumption by funding trade and budgetary deficits.

Acacia H. said...

I found a rather interesting article on sustainable aquaculture which would probably prove less expensive (over the long term) and more viable than existing aquaculture methods, and simultaneously allow for the growth of vegetables along with the fish.

When we consider the ever-increasing price of fish as we overfish the oceans, the threats to more common aquaculture methods from jellyfish and other predators, and other factors which will undoubtedly arise, "farms" such as this one may prove to be the future for safer and healthier fish (and vegetables) in the future. Though I'm sure large business would find ways of pumping huge amounts of chemicals into their system to boost productivity and a marginal increase in profits....

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Reminder that Gandhi complained that British trade policies destroyed India's domestic industries, especially textiles, and hence he spun cloth on a spinning wheel, even (especially) when western guests were visiting.

Still, your final point is excellent. Purchase of American debt might be seen as "rivers of gold." Though only/primarily to keep us spending more and more.

David Brin said...

Rob H, that is why we're supposed (at present wisdom) to buy/eat tilapia and Chinese catfish. That is... till the NEXT expose reveals that everything we knew is wrong.

Acacia H. said...

And what's to keep us from using different fish and vegetables? Seriously? If it works with one group of fish and the like, why not others?

For that matter, I originally believed fish farming was harvesting fish eggs, allowing the eggs to hatch, and then releasing them into the wild to grow up on their own. Obviously someone decided some step of the way to cut out the middleman (the fisherman) and grow everything on their own... but why the government can't harvest fish eggs and sperm, ensure fertilization, and then keep the eggs safe until they hatch (and then release the newborn fish into the wild) to increase fish stocks?

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Fish restocking is old and has been done extensively for a long time.

Fish farming doesn't just eliminate the fisherman middle man, it makes the process up to a hundred times more efficient because the fish are kept protected from predators and kept within reach for harvest all the time.

Robert Leyland said...

One item of the Pax that is often overlooked is the legal system. The most successful countries have legal systems based on English Common Law - from the US to Singapore, from India to New Zealand. Pax Americana succeeded in Japan at least partially because of the replacement of a feudal justice system. (prior to US involvement to be sure - my point is that 'uplifts' haven't worked well in societies with little or no judicial oversight).

The killer of a developing country is corruption - when personal goals do not align with societal goals, and the population at large has no legal recourse - failure is assured.

It's very hard to be entrepreneurial when your profits are confiscated, there is no fair market etc. Isn't it part of the American dream to start with little, and succeed greatly, by dint of your own efforts.

Pax Americana would be well served to replace Napoleonic, Religious and Feudal judicial systems wherever possible.


John F said...

Re: Gandhi & textiles.

Yes, Gandhi believed British trade policy was destructive of Indian traditional manufactures.
And he was quite right.

However, that was not down to mercantilism: more that the British Raj would not permit protectionism.
At least for non-Dominions; IIRC Canada and Australia had mildly protectionist policies.

Of course, it could be argued that as the dominant industrial/financial centre the UK gained effectively mercantilist rewards from nominally free-trading policies. OTOH, it's also arguable that post-independence, Indian protectionism retarded growth.

One thing seems clear: the British imperial trade/finance system was less effective (due to technical limits of the time?) in recycling finance into capital investment in lower-level developing economies.

But likely at least in part that was because a lot of investment from London flowed to then prime developing economies e.g. USA, Argentina.

It'll be interesting to read Niall Ferguson's take on this in Ascent of Money.

BTW on the Marshall Plan: if you haven't read it already, Michael J. Hogan's The Marshall Plan is well worth searching out.

John F said...

Another thought: the high consumption/debt/import model of the US since c. 1980's may have mortgaged the American future and undermined swathes of traditional manufacturing.

BUT it likely also played a massive role in the advances of the US in software/information/entertainment etc which have generated considerable wealth and generated a massive American potential advantage in "cultural capital" globally.

OTOH the evolution of an information and finance rich economy into baroque and arcane financial engineering of credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, asset futures bubbles etc has turned out to be of very dubious value.

The New York/London/Far East money cycling system has been & is BOTH a massive asset and a potentially devastating liability to national and world economies. It's going to take a lot of smarts and slog to retain as much as possible of the good and minimise the bad.

On female emancipation and Robert Leyland on corruption & links of both to development: another book recommendation, David Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.

Unknown said...

Dr. Brin:

We met once about twenty-five years ago at a San Diego Comic Con (I think - it's hazy). I believe you were on a panel or presentation.

I'm happy you've stayed an optimist, at least for the majority of the time since then, especially as I've lurked on this blog.

I spoke with some Canadian friends about the ups and downs of Imperial US, now that we seem to be near the end of our tenure. The best we could agree upon was that our time as Empire will be remembered as being not nearly so bad as the ones before, and not nearly as evil or oppressive as almost anyone else in this era could have been in the same situation.

I wish I had been able to read your article before that conversation, as the execution of the Marshall Plan does actually elevate our time at the top a bit more than just "not as bad as could have been".
I'm pretty sure we could all agree on that.

We're looking forward to your next novel. Good luck with keeping optimistic in the coming years!


Rik said...

On Niall Ferguson: his books usually promise more than they deliver. "Ascent of Money" was a good read, but unsatisfying.

Evaluating Pax America: who says it's dead? Or about to join the choir invisible, push up the daisies, pine for the fjords or whatever? Japan may intervene to keep the yen down. That helps save their export-led growth model (btw: exports are deflationary)so On Niall Ferguson: his books usually promise more than they deliver. "Ascent of Money" was a good read, but unsatisfying.

Evaluating Pax America: who says it's dead? Or about to join the choir invisible, push up the daisies, pine for the fjords or whatever? Japan may intervene to keep the yen down. That helps save their export-led growth model (btw: exports are deflationary)so they can bring more goodies to consumption-led economies like the US.

Is debt a problem? For the private sector, yes. It will continue deleveraging, which leaves only the government able to pick up the demand. The US government is sovereign in the dollar, it can buy anything it wants. No problem there.
Stimulus 2.0, however, must target full employment, via a job guarantee or the Argentinian 'jefes de hogar'. More people working means more spending & more taxes. Solves the present trouble, doesn't it?

To think the American Empire dead or on the brink of dying seems premature or wallowing in self-pity. If there's any problem, it's how you spread the meme [insert your solution] to county/state/fed politicians.

Kathy said...

Remember Leonard Wibberly's book "The Mouse That Roared?". The country of Grand Fenwick decided to go to war with the U.S. because the U.S. will win, and then help Grand Fenwick with their problems. The Duchess Glorianna says: "Americans are quick to forgive & forget. In fact, it is almost a race in their minds which to do quickest"

David Brin said...

Good pt Kathy! And hi JohnSerenity.

I am not saying that America's time of leadership is certainly over. But to re-invigorate it would require real re-dedication to optimism...

...something that BOTH Hollywood and the Culture Warriors seem absolutely hell-bent to prevent.

rewinn said...

Robert Leyland's general point about the utility of the rule of law is probably right, but neither Continental Europe and Japan use Common Law. To the extent that our United States may be more prosperous than Germany or Finland (a debatable proposition) it's hard to make that case that the difference is our legal heritage.

Certainly replacing feudal systems with constitution-based systems has many advantages, but remember, the common law was perfectly compatible with feudalism in a way that constitutions ratified by the will of "The People" are not. Beyond this political advantage, I would suggest that constitution-based law has a structural advantage over common law, in that the former have an objective, written document much more easily interpreted than our current insanely huge volume of poorly-organized judicial opinions (even now that they are available at google scholar.)

David Brin said...

What R-L is talking about is the recent work of Hernando de Soto:

...which performed a breakthrough by shattering the supposed gulf between right and left, by re-introducing concepts of Classic (adamsmithian) Liberalism -- suggesting that the poor in developing nations needed, above all, a reliable and predictably fair and transparent rule of law. The experiment that seems to have utterly verified his theory was run in his homeland of Peru, where simply granting and guaranteeing poor people clear title to the land they already owned enabled them to mortgage that property and get loans that resulted in a spectacular up-trend in small and medium startup businesses.

Note that this did not fit the agenda of either left or right, because there were VERY vigorous state-based oversight provisions and paternalistic protections, to ensure that the rich did not swoop down and take advantage...

...and the left was deeply offended by the classic liberalism, that assumed competition and markets and enterprise are core goods.

It doesn't fit either smug-stupid ideology, but it did pragmatically take ideas from both, and the result not only accorded with human nature... it worked.

sociotard said...

For a little Tech fun, progress on a replacement bionic eye marches on.

sociotard said...

Oh, and for aficionadoes of fish farming, here's something ammusing.

Artist Mathieu Lehanneur designed an aquarium refrigerator for locavores. The locavor can buy his fish and have them delivered live (the freshest way possible) and put them in his aquarium until he is ready to eat them. He slaughters, cleans, and prepares his fish himself.

Ian Gould said...

"The Norwegians do socialism right, of course. But then, they ALSO do capitalism right! The secret is to be reasonable, progressive people."

I tend to think Australia does pretty well too.

one of the key things here is that both sides of politics tend to be run by pragmatic empiricists.

Our last Prime minister John Howard was pretty far too the right on economic issues at least by Australian standards.

Given carte blanche, Howard might well have sought to abolish Australia's universal health care system.

but given that he knew it was overwhelmingly popular with the public and delivers top quality health care at around half the cost of the US system, he chose instead to fiddle around the edges of the system, making it more efficient and cutting the cost to the taxpayer (or at least the rate of growth of the cost to the taxpayer).

Labor for its part has chosen to keep most of hsi reforms.

Ian Gould said...

"One thing to recall about the deficits that occurred under Reagan and Bush Sr. is this: didn't it happen while the Democrats were in control of Congress? As such, was Reagan and Bush truly to blame for the deficit going out of control?

Whether or not this is true, this is the counterargument Republicans do use against the whole "Reagan and other Republicans are behind the deficit." So we need to ask one important question: why was a Democratic Congress unable to control spending under a Republican President?"

- Robert A Howard


Take a look at the budgets proposed by Reagan and Bush the smarter.

The Democrats in Congress only increased the deficits from what was proposed by 5-10%.

Any increase was bad but basically 90-95% of the blame should accrue to the Presidents of the day

Ateeq said...

Mr. Brinn,

Very interesting analyis. As an Indian and someone very wary of empires( although we have done done our share in the near region a few centuries ago), I do agree that USA has been the most popular empire ever. I guess, being pitted against the USSR also helped our( I have lived in this blessed country for a decade now, so i conveniently switch identities) image quite a bit.

The problem we have always had is that there is a clear renunciation of any historical precedent in our(USA) decision making. Sometimes, like the Marshall Plan it has helped to ignore history. At others, like the occupation of Afghanistan it has been a fiasco. When all history tells us that it is a fool's game.

So many people( Afghan and NATO) have died and there could be more in the coming years. We were lucky in Germany and Japan to have counterparts who were genuinely interested in the development of their country. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we don't have such parallels. The countries are basically lines drawn in the sand by a previous empire. I am very fearful that there could be more war and mayhem if Pakistan(another country with no basis in history or culture) collapses.

parSec said...

Back off topic, I thought that, neutrino-microwaves aside, the point of 2012 was to see plate tectonics happen quickly. Am I the only one who gets off on seeing fast-forwarded world maps and a closing Pacific? I knew Gondwanaland would come back ins style be back eventually.

David Brin said...

Ateeq, you are most welcome in our little corner of ornery intellectual curiosity.

And yes, if Marshall and Eisenhower showed remarkable degrees of historical insight, others have not. Americans in general are frightfully ignorant of history. And their inherent gift for pragmatic problem-solving is all-too often thwarted by an equally profound talent for self-righteous sanctimony.

Ian, Aussies always astound me... among the most profoundly individualist people ever seen... who embrace a degree of socialism and law-based control that many Americans would screech over. Indeed, I think it is largely BECAUSE they know they could rise up and tip over the edifice, any time they like, that makes you lot so even-tempered about it all, and so unlikely to call it a "slippery slope."

Big Brother could never govern you guys. He'd have to nuke you flat.

Re 2012... they should have siad the neutrino-heating was TEMPORARY. Otherwise, how could even the measures taken at the end have mattered?
And yes, we do seem often befuddled, when trying to deal with peoples who refuse to reason as we do.

Tony Fisk said...

... at least our brand of conservative can't be accused of marching in lock-step at the moment!

Marino said...

David Brin wrote:
Marino... you are great! But please do try to learn to set your mental dials down to zero, when it comes time to enjoy a film by Emmerich or Michael Bay. Just lobotomize yourself -- or go to see it stoned -- and enjoy.

ehe... I've bee exposed to too much Kenneenk at an impressionable age, so squealing in Primary doesn't appeal me too much. I'm closer to Charles Dart, all said and done...(grin) Proof is that my son rented Transformers 2, Revenge... and I slept during the battle scene, I kidyounot....

David Brin said...

Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense --
Evidence for human interference with Earth's climate continues to accumulate

David Brin said...

Any of you in the Orange County (California) area this weekend, see the event I'll be speaking at:

Anonymous said...

Dude! Use a spell checker!


Tony Fisk said...

... and the libs prefer the climate change nonsense, by one vote!


We've got by-elections this weekend. Interesting times!

bucubele : south pacific dish served to tribal year-chiefs before their ceremonial execution.

(* sound of head hitting desk)

JuhnDonn said...

What the iPod tells us about Britain's economic future

just because something is “made in China” or somewhere else in the emerging world doesn’t necessarily mean that the money from its construction goes to that place alone. This helps explain why, in broad terms, a developed economy does not need a trade surplus (or even a balance) in order to survive.
Let’s take the iPod (or the iPhone for that matter) as an example. On the back of it it says “Designed by Apple, Made in China” or words to that effect. What this tells you is who designed it and who put it together. What it doesn’t reveal is the complex economic web that the product represents – that the cash you pay for one of them is scattered to many different countries around the world.

In a very enlightening series of papers on precisely this, a team of US academics (Greg Linden, Jason Dedrick and Kenneth L. Kraemer, all of the University of California, Irvine) have found out where the money goes, and their conclusions might come as something of a surprise.

Good article looking at global manufacturing and money flow.

I don't really get disaster movies. Hell, I feel bad watching kt event animations. For pure brain candy, I guess I'll go with new Star Trek movie. After hearing about live performances of old school Trek episodes, I'm convinced that Star Trek is the next Shakespeare collection. A hundred years from now, there may be another Barrymore portraying Capt. Kirk in an artsy all nude performance. And if she looks anything like Drew, I really hope head-in-a-jar technology has me around to watch.

Tony Fisk said...

... They were grooming Costello for head of the liberal party, now they've got Abbott instead.

(I kid you not!!!)

Tony Abbott: rough sketch: Sarah Palin with brains.

frapais: the drumming sound created by the soft thud of many heads hitting desks

David Brin said...

Really? Abbot and Costello? Are there jokes?

Do you blokes even GET "Who's on first?"

Tony Fisk said...

Tony Abbott is the guy who, with Minchin, resigned from the opposition front bench in protest over Turnbull's support for the government's emission trading bill. While the comparison with Palin is a little unfair, perhaps, he is definitely a staunch conservative (having just written a book on the philosophy featuring a quote from Howard: 'a conservative is someone who doesn't think he's smarter than his grandfather', so you can see where he's coming from) and is a climate skeptic. His catholic background has given him the monicker 'the Mad Monk'

Peter Costello was Howard's deputy leader. Was touted as the next leader since forever, but never quite got the nod.
He is now leaving politics, and a by-election for his seat will be held this weekend. It is a blue ribbon liberal seat (disclaimer: I'm in it!!) so Labor didn't see the point in fielding a candidate. They're probably kicking themselves in hindsight. (I do feel for the liberal candidate with all this going on behind her!)

So, it will be down to the libs vs the greens (as I say, interesting times)

Who's on first?? Aha!

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: You gonna be the coach too?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: And you don't know the fellows' names?

Abbott: Well I should.

Costello: Well then who's on first?

Abbott: Yes.

There will be jokes.

David Brin said...

'a conservative is someone who doesn't think he's smarter than his grandfather'

It all sounds all very respectful...

... till you realize that the best grandfathers - and fathers and mothers - actively WANT their kids too be smarter than them.

In fact, they consider that to be part of the job of a good parent, to raise a new generation of people who know more, can do more, and exercise better wisdom, than earlier ones.

Oh, sure, kids often don't turn out that way. History is rife with generations that let down the hopes of earlier ones, that were more brave or creative, or industrious or pure. Indeed, a grouchy assumption that this is the rule, rather than the exception, colors ideologues of both left and right.

Both kinds rave about how much better people were, in other times. Their chief difference is that nostalgists on the right portray the best people as their immediate ancestors, in simpler, more stereotypical, and less culturally polluted versions of their own culture. (This is true of all conservatives, including those in China, Japan, Arabia, and RUssia, where the fight is over which earlier Russia was the virtuous archetype, that of Stalin, Peter the Great, or the Orthodox Church.)

Lefty-liberals differ only in that the better times they yearn for are "wise other cultures," simpler and more natural tribes, eastern religions, multiple avenues to vaguely subjective "truth." Feh.

In fact, all of this "respect for earlier generations" is nothing less than betrayal and insult toward those prior men and women, who strove and fought and dreamed and worked themselves to the bone, precisely so that we could be better than them!

It is by being smarter, stronger, wiser - and knowing it -- that we honor their efforts. And that we thereupon have some basis to hope that our kids - standing in turn on OUR shoulders -- will be better, still.

Joe Unlie said...

Dr. Brin, it's over, and that's a good thing. And a disaster.

Climate change has been a distraction for too long- far too long. Compared to the possible "what ifs" of climate change, the bigger problem facing us- oil depletion- is much, much more serious.

Yet, when was the last time you heard a politician seriously talk about oil depletion? Never. They're too afraid. We've been worrying about our wrinkles while a cancer has been eating away at us from within.

Now, however, the tide will change- oil depletion will become the most significant issue of the day. However, it's too late- after crying wolf about climate change, nobody is going to listen to us- at least not until the problem is insoluble.

Tony Fisk said...

In truth, I think it *is* meant to be respectful.

Abbott (and his mentor, John Howard) aren't evil men who want to see future generations kept down in the mud.

The problem with the way statements like that are framed is that it is a constraint: the inference being that a conservative doesn't think they're better than their ancestors, therefore the possibility is inadmissable.

Tony Fisk said...

It's not funny, except...

The lib leader is now Tony Abbott.
The deputy leader is (still!) Julie Bishop.

(Can we have the pope-emperor as Gov. General?)

We are a secular country....

bulae: many Fijian greetings

David Brin said...

Joe I am much less afraid of running out of oil.

Yes, it is a dangerous problem, and all the more reason why we should be doing almost all the same things as we need to do for climate change... pushing both efficiency and alternate energy as fhard as possible.

But if global warming is true, then the tundra and hydrate deposits may melt, after which huge amounts of NEW methane will blurt and we'll see GCC really accelerate.

In contrast, running out of cheap oil will be bad, but we'll then simply ratchet up to more expensive sources for a while. It'll hurt. But that's where capitalism works.

David Brin said...



Unknown said...

Just finished reading Evolution by Stephen Baxter (spoilers ahead), its grand and yet very depressing, unlike your novels and yet its relevant I think. Events in the lives of our ancestors from the first mammals to the remote future. Humanity gets a bad rap though, a combination of natural disaster and resource wars and our descendants end up as preconscious apes, trading big brains for survival, and then later diversified into different niches. It does make a good point though so long as we are the only intensely self aware species on the planet and maybe in this part of the universe its an all or nothing game. Apart from spreading to other worlds (Mars looks promising), surely uplift is the best chance of insuring against the risk that self awareness is lost forever.
Ironically in the book one form of machine intelligence does survive millions of year into the future although purely accidentally.
I wonder if other species had their own voices at the table then environmental management wouldn't take second place to the economy, they would want to protect their own niche.
Its interesting the effort going into creating machines with the neural capacity of a cat, when related species might be just a genetic tweak away from self awareness.

I don't give much credence to a technological singularity as a solution seems to me that its too soon to say if thats a possible outcome. Scientifically we're still picking the low lying fruit. Failing any of the above maybe we should look to our own long term robustness, eg fixing our broken Vitamin C gene, or making ourself less dependent on meat for proteins as the best short term insurance against extinction.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@goldwire: If you want optimism on the human condition, don't read Stephen Baxter. Individual heroes might have happy endings in his books, but he uniformly believes the species to be fundamentally incapable of long-term survival or collective decision-making. _Time Ships_, the _Xeelee_ sequence, the _Manifold_ trilogy, it doesn't matter: whatever the scenario, humans always make the self-defeating choice and other species are always morally superior. Baxter is free to have his misanthropism but I've chosen not to absorb any more of it.

@Joe Unlie: the oil disaster theory depends on oil supply (or oil prices) being in such short supply so fast that capitalism (and indeed civilization) have insufficient time or capacity to respond. Both the supply/demand charts and the price charts imply this is nonsense.

@David Brin: Given de Soto's work, how much is being done in our imperial projects to improve the judiciary? It's something rarely heard about but absolutely vital if we are not to have a worse mess after our inevitable withdrawal. (I have an echo of Mal Reynolds in my head, crying "Curse your sudden yet inevitable withdrawal!")

Marino said...

OT, about the McVeigh wave, here's an exchange between some guys on that list I attend (the "them" refers to liberals, progressives or whatever you call them. Who, after electing Obama seem to be a majority):

xxxxxxx wrote: (deleted names and addresses. I'm not a snitch nor a Stasi out The life of others)

Exactly, since it is inevitable anyway, we should do everything (short of direct action) to goad them into firing on Ft. Sumter for us. Let them start the dance and we'll call the tune.

xxxxxxx wrote:

Waiting can not be afforded. I don't want this, who would? But if it must happen let it happen sooner rather than later, before they create their Asaltos*. Let us not put off the inevitable long enough for the argument to become meaningless because Arabic has become the new international language and thusly make dhimmi of our grandchildren.

*the reference is to the Guardia de Asalto that defended the legitimate government in Spain at the beginning of the Civil War

Tim H. said...

Gilmoure's post on where the money goes was interesting, but not so upbeat when you think about the way off-shoring production simplifies the economy, bypassing many American hands in the working class and concentrating income at the highest levels. The producers in low wage countries cannot match the economic activity that used to happen here. Another implication to consider, unemployed and underemployed people will lack the means to upgrade to more efficient transportation and HVAC tech. something for the greener folk here to think about.

Abilard said...

I agree with the point of your article but, having made the same argument to professors and international students in grad school, I think that there is zero chance of that narrative being accepted or influencing the policies of rising powers. Further, if the past is any judge, the powers that replace us will not act out of altruism. Outright predation, as opposed to our own predation-light, will once again become the rule.

What fate therefore awaits us? Ashes, like Rome? How do you see this playing out? Or do I have to wait for your next novel. ;-)

David Brin said...

Goldwire, you made me think of the title of a paper to be presented at a Godmakers' Conference in 2045 (yes, they are still dreaming of the Singularity) in my new novel:

"No More Lemons! Fixing Humanity's Broken Vitamin C Gene."

Catfish, Stephen Baxter is the true heir of Arthur C. Clarke. People tend to think of Clarke as an opitimist, because his stories often have "uplifting" endings... but I realized, they nearly always involved us being uplifted by forces intervening from outside. In fact, both of them do not think highly of humanity at all, and show it relentlessly in fiction.

But that makes them in keeping with the times! Hollywood -- even Jim Cameron -- has gone completely off the Worthless Humanity deep end. I'll be talking about it, this Friday, in Irvine.

Marino, these guys are, of course, frightening. They are the Holnists in the Postman. They are the wedge for a resumed American Civil War, as deleriously delusional as the southern "patriots" who broke their oaths to the United States on the pretext that Abraham Lincoln's oppression had forced them to... before he even entered office or had a chance to even do a thing.

Likewise, the New McVeighs are reacting to a fantasy that bears no basis in fact... e.g. liberals have NO gun control measures on the agenda. (In fact, seeing how crazed the mood has become, some of them are buying rifles now, too.) At this rate, Limbaugh will have them mobilized to battle imaginary threats, just like southern savanarolas in 1861 convinced a million poor whites to march off and fight and die to protect their own plantation overlords. In the end, it is not about facts, or left or right.

It is about stupidity.

Having said that, let me avow that there IS an underlying threat posed by the would-be caliphs of the middle east. I just checked on Amazon and copies of Mike McQuay's JITTERBUG are still available. There shouldn't be. They should be snapped up and passed around.

Abilard, hi & thanks.

I do believe that there is almost no chance that the new powers of the east will see themselves repeating the dismal mistakes of predacious mercantilism. It is too easy to recite rationalizing incantations that excuse tiresome, old imperial behaviors. The same behaviors seen repeated by every Chinese imperium, for example.

Though, in fairness, let us make this admission. Although America is tired and exhausted from lifting the world through counter-mercantilism, that doesn't mean there aren't still hundreds of millions of poor people in India and China! The political caste in those countries can be forgiven for feeling they have to seek development at (almost) all cost!

Nevertheless, it is sadly likely that they will do so while reciting those self-satisfying incantations. And thus, they will lack the perspective that made America's tenure on-top truly memorable, world-saving and great.

David Brin said...

Zombie Reagan Raised From Grave To Lead GOP

Acacia H. said...

I think all that these e-mails have done is given the Denier Crowd another reason to claim they are correct and global warming is a fraud, while those of us who believe in the global warming theories will refuse to budge on our own beliefs. It's not going to actually change anything. Even the "Seven Points" doesn't cause any impact with the Deniers. They claim that the writer is in the pockets of the Climate Scientists and all of that.

It's gotten to the point that I've shifted my target from debating global warming to "let's get away from oil because demand is going to go way up and cost us a lot more money" (because it's obvious the huge motivator is "cost" or how much it'll cost them to change).

So. We need to use Judo against the Deniers. Any suggestions? I think that my argument about moving away from oil because of the inevitable rise in oil prices is a good start, but we need some more selling points to divert their arguments into areas where they can't effectively deny a benefit.

Rob H.

David Brin said...


1- I am always up for finding conmservative arguments for weaning decent conservatives OFF of neoconservatism. It is clearly the right thing to try... and I have proved that I've been game for the challenge.

Hence, all my efforts to spin the GCC as unimportant, compared to a consensus push for efficiency, which OUGHT to appeal to puritans ("waste not") who aren't in the pocket of Big Oil.

2 - but there comes a point where I get sick of the measly dribbles of awakened ostriches that this approach yields.

DIg it, they think THEY are the brave, nonconformist, individualist anti-authoritarian populists!!!!!!

That's the incredible irony. Robotic parroting of Rupert and Rush, reflexively defending corrupt politicians who are owned and operated by the Saudis and Exxon, they convince themselves that smartypants scientists are a functioning conspiratorial cabal, who are conniving together to sway public policy down a lemming cliff of panic... all in order to get a couple of million more dollars in research grants.

Oh, but the moguls who are racking in HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS... those guys aren't worrisome authority figures at all... not even after they are caught raiding all our cookie jars and sending the economy crashing.

No, there are times when I really am tempted....

David Smelser said...

Has any read Tim "Deltoid" Lambert's examination of one of the most widely cited examples of the alleged crimes at:

Today I'll look at Eric Raymond's alleged "siege cannon with the barrel still hot":

From the CRU code file osborn-tree6/ , used to prepare a graph purported to be of Northern Hemisphere temperatures and reconstructions.

; Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!
valadj=[0.,0.,0.,0.,0.,-0.1,-0.25,-0.3,0.,- 0.1,0.3,0.8,1.2,1.7,2.5,2.6,2.6,$
2.6,2.6,2.6]*0.75 ; fudge factor
if n_elements(yrloc) ne n_elements(valadj) then message,'Oooops!'

>> This, people, is blatant data-cooking, with no pretense otherwise. It flattens a period of warm temperatures in the 1930s -- see those negative coefficients? Then, later on, it applies a positive multiplier so you get a nice dramatic hockey stick at the end of the century.

But what is the code directly following the fragment Raymond quotes? Look:


IDL uses a semi-colon to indicate a comment, so the only code to use yearlyadj has been commented out. Raymond must have known this since he is an Emacs user and Emacs colour codes the comments. This doesn't seem to be a smoking so much as a gun that hasn't been fired.

Rob Perkins said...

@Rob H. -- What if they're *right*? What if we're wrong?

David articulated a number of very good reasons to proceed with the things AGW supporters say we all must do anyway. What if instead of giving them the enmity they seem to need, we give them other reasons not related to the things they want to deny?

Perhaps you feel like that's already been done to death. If so, I disagree. I think the last 10 years of AGW battles have been far from reasonable, even if the balance of unreason tips toward the deniers.

LarryHart said...

His fifteen novels...


Ok, what am I missing? I've read "The Postman", "Earth", "Kiln People", the Foundation sequel he wrote, and the two Uplift trilogies. That's ten novels. I had no idea there was any Brin out there left to read. So what am I missing?

LarryHart said...

Marino, these guys are, of course, frightening. They are the Holnists in the Postman.

Which reminds me, I asked this once, but you had moved on to the next thread already. I'll try one more time (and then assume you don't wish to answer and stop bugging you).

Might the name of NATHAN Holn have been inspired by Nathan Bedford Forrest?

David Brin said...

Larry see:

I don't know if NBF was there subliminally. But he sure fit.

Acacia H. said...

@Rob Perkins: If I'm wrong, nothing happens! We go to jail - peacefully, quietly. We'll enjoy it! But if I'm *right*, and we *can* stop this thing... Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.

Sorry. I felt the GhostBusters quote was apt. =^-^=

As I have been stating lately: between Peak Oil looming on the horizon and the multitudes of third-world nations that want to bootstrap themselves into Little Americas (in terms of cars and the like), oil prices will be going up. It's not a matter of "if" but when. Remember when gas was $4 a gallon, and over $150/barrel? That was just the start. EVERYONE will want oil and there won't be enough to go around. Prices will skyrocket. And the remaining oil will cost more to pump so it will cost more in any event so the "increased supply" won't significantly reduce costs.

Biofuels give us an out. And one biofuel in particular, algae-based, has considerable promise because if you supercharge the algae with carbon dioxide injections, the algae grows quite quickly and allows for quicker harvesting and transformation into fuel.

The easiest source of carbon dioxide for the algae biofuel? Carbon capture from power plants. We capture all the CO2 coming out of those babies, have nearby biofuel algae farms so transport of the CO2 isn't a problem, and we have cut a massive amount of carbon emissions and at the same time weaned America from oil.

Oh, and one last thing. If we're wrong about global warming, then we've still started new industries and weaned ourselves from oil (which is a good thing). But if we are right, and we do nothing, we screw everyone. Is it better to do nothing and pray to a God that wants his Children to learn how to do things for themselves or hope that nothing will happen... or to act now, when our efforts will still have an effect, and try to stop this now?


Rob H.

Robert Leyland said...

Reading David's essay reminded me of the sketch from Monty Python's Life of Brian - What have the Romans done for us, anyway?

Sometimes it's a very ungrateful world, but to be the least hated has got to be a plus.

A quick note about Nuclear power. There is a *whale* of a lot of nuclear fuel just laying around in countires that are quite friendly with the US, and the west. In particular the largest mies for Uranium are:

Country 2005 2006 2007 2008
Canada 11628 9862 9476 9000
Kazakhstan 4357 5279 6637 8521
Australia 9516 7593 8611 8430
Namibia 3147 3067 2879 4366

and for Thorium:

Country Th Reserves (tonnes) Th Reserve Base (tonnes)
Australia 300,000 340,000
India 290,000 300,000
Norway 170,000 180,000
United States 160,000 300,000
Canada 100,000 100,000


Blog entries are poor for tables, sigh.

Reprocessing the spent fuel helps solve a couple of the "problems" - waste, and fuel supply.


Andrew S. Taylor said...

Dr. Brin,

May I criticize your analysis without being written off as “anti-American?”

You make it sound as if Japan had no experience with manufacturing and advanced technology prior to occupation by the Unites States. One wonders how they built those battleships, or all those nimble Zero fighter planes!

Japan was already powerhouse economy prior to WW2, one of the foremost in the world. The also had a constitution and a democracy before WW2 as well - something even educated Americans seem unaware of.

If Japan had a reputation for “shoddy” manufacture in the late 40’s/early 50’s, it’s likely because the most country had just been incinerated, along with almost all of its industrial base. You imply that it was because they didn’t understand quality control. This is just silly. Fer chrissakes, they were building ships for the U.S. and Britain at the end of the 19th century, and had the world’s third largest navy by 1913! Japan was exporting extensively prior to WW2, with manufacture accounting for one quarter of GDP before the end of the 1920’s. You think they needed Americans to teach them how to make wigits?

I don’t see this as a Left vs. Right issue, just a matter of historical perspective. Was America teaching something new, or just allowing Japan to restore - as best it could - what it had lost?

Do you really think America “saved the world” in this manner?

Tim H. said...

Creating new industries and weaning ourselves off of oil (As an energy source) would be fine, if it was only that. the bureaucracy to control greenhouse emissions, not so fine. Giving Wall $treet another opportunity to vampire us, not so fine.

Ilithi Dragon said...

How is the bureaucracy to control greenhouse emissions any worse than the bureaucracy and oligarchy that controls oil production? It's a lot different, actually, primarily because in a government structured to be run by the people, the people do have at least some say in how that government is run, and who does the running, etc. Problems might not be able to be fixed at the drop of a hat, but then no system of any significant scale can do that, outside of an autocracy, and that has all sorts of problems on its own.

I'm sorry, I just absolutely hate the "OMG bureaucracy!" argument. The idea that any and all government operations are automatically some evil, corrupt, inefficient, ineffective, over-bearing, oppressing bureaucracy out to screw us all just pisses me off to no end. No offense, but it's rampant, idiotic paranoia! Yes, there is such a thing as too much government, and yes, we need to constantly keep a close eye on government (which is part of our civic responsibility as citizens of said government, imho), but just because government operations can be run poorly does not mean that all government operations will be run poorly. That is dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter, a converse fallacy of accident.

Furthermore, a government bureaucracy in a functioning constitutional democratic government is far better than a corporate bureaucracy, because the government bureaucracy is still (remotely at the very least) accountable to the people, and subject to all the regulations and restrictions on government power. Corporate bureaucracies, on the other hand, are not subject to the will and well-being of the people, and exist purely for the sake of making a profit. Now, a corporate bureaucracy, like a government bureaucracy, is not corrupt, etc. by default. However, there are far more incentive and attractors to corruption in a corporate bureaucracy, and far fewer checks and restrictions against it, than in a government bureaucracy, and a corporate bureaucracy is far likelier to become corrupt, or to put the interests of the corporation and profit margins above the interests of the people and the services that they are supposed to be providing.

To reiterate, this is not to say that government is perfect, infallible, or always the best or right solution (many times it isn't), but it is not bad, evil, corrupt or oppressive by default or definition. Objection to government operation of a service by questioning if government is the best provider of that service I have no problem with, because that is simply a quest to find the most efficient and effective means of providing a service. Objecting to government operation just on the principle of government operation, however, is stupid and paranoid, and aggravates me to no end.

Acacia H. said...

This is the sort of thing that drives me nuts concerning corporate bureaucracy and executive benefits. Take for instance the recent cuts that were forced on the Boston Globe and other newspapers. After layoffs and other assorted cuts, close to a million dollars were saved. As a reward for all that cost cutting, the executives in charge were awarded a million dollars.

Wait a second: how many people were laid off, how deep were benefits cut, just to transfer the savings to the executives? There was NO ACTUAL SAVINGS. It was just transferring the money from the pockets of a couple dozen people to the pockets of a handful (and I might be overestimating that; I think it was just one executive who got that million dollar bonus).

This is corporate bureaucracy at work. It is just as wasteful as government bureaucracy, but instead of funneling money into the pockets of dozens of state workers, it funnels the money into the hands of a couple people at the top. Yet government bureaucracy gets a bad rap while corporate bureaucracy is considered good.

It is bullshit such as this that drove ordinary people from the Republican party. They saw that the private sector was just as corrupt and inefficient as the government sector, so they booted out the idiots (Republicans) in charge and replaced them with the opposition party (Democrats). I just truly hope that enough Democrats who are fighting for their seats in a year will take off the kid gloves and point out that the Republicans have not changed and will continue to do the same old BS that was done to drive our country into recession. But I doubt we'll see that. Thus in a year, we'll see the Republicans gain significantly in the House and Senate (though probably not to the level that was seen with Clinton in 1994) and the Republican Party will have not learned a thing from 2006 and 2008.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

A bureaucracy, even a well-intentioned one is a bit of a blunt instrument. If the world's needs change, the bureaucracy may not. An ideal solution would be energy tech that's cleaner, more affordable and more desirable than what we have, though in the short term we may have to settle for cleaner. Any solution must have room for the aspirations of the rest of the world, kicking the ladder down before the third world can reach it is no long term solution at all.

Tim H. said...

On the brighter side, polywell development continues:
If polwell fusion works as well as Dr, Bussard thought, these dreary carbon arguments become irrelevant. I wouldn't mind a discussion on placing some "chicanes" in the world trade system so the money can do more good while it wends it's way to the top.
"chimpu", what the careless zookeeper saw on his shoe.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Yup, I've definitely got my money on the Polywell reactor being the energy source that delivers us from fossil fuels, especially since they've been awarded another $10 million in contracts since the last update I've heard on it.

David Brin said...

Andrew Taylor, your defense of the Japanese industrial ability is appreciated. And even a valid rejoinder. Nevertheless, you miss the point. Which is that it was the trade patterns that asllowed that industriousness to flourish. The export-oriented development model would have gone nowhere, had Pax Americana followed mercantilist traditions.

BTW and competely aside, you may have an inflated image of the situation in Japan, before WWII. Go read David Bergamini’s fantastically well-researched JAPAN’S IMPERIAL CONSPIRACY. The prewar contitution was a sham, alas. One man had all the real power.

Likewise, the Zero was nimble and effective becuase all the samurai virtues came into play, early in the war. Ruthless speed and agility and willingness to press the attach. Utter disregard for personal safety -- (the zero had no armor protection for the pilots and no comfort and no self-sealing gas tanks... almost the full explanation for its nimbleness. Plus the development of a highly skilled pilot cadre at the Misty Lagoon training base.

But the samurai virtues quickly turned from advantages to deficits, as soon as the US officers learned how to exploit them. Starting with Gen Chenault in China (the Flying Tigers) who never lost a single P 40 to a zero... not one, ever... because he developed tactics to take advantage of samurai obstinacy, rigidity and inability to adjust.

The emphasis on a super-trained samurai cadre made the pilots of japanese carriers unbeatable... till four carriers went down at Midway, taking with them most of the Misty Lagoon graduates. After that, their pilots were mostly skeet pigeons for the rest of the war.

Oh, and while they did build decent ships (that burned like roman candles, if hit by a bomb), the average quality of Japanese WWII weapons was actually quite dismal. Most US ground casualties cam from the simplest weapon, the mortar.

But while that was a fun rant, it misses the point... which is that your reply simply shows you did not read my article with any understanding, at all.

Again. It was not about whether or not Japan had industrial capacity. That was not the topic at all.

David Brin said...

Tim H. said...”Creating new industries and weaning ourselves off of oil (As an energy source) would be fine, if it was only that. the bureaucracy to control greenhouse emissions, not so fine. Giving Wall $treet another opportunity to vampire us, not so fine.”

Tim, I would listen to this... if the “side” urging “no urgency” had any credibility at all. As it is, such GALL to hear “vampirism” shouted from a movement that has darn near wrecked America with its dogmatism and corruption!

Dig it, your hated bureaucrats were eviscerated by the bushites precisely SO THAT vampirism could go on, unchecked. Trillions were stolen from us by crony-artistocrats, yet you keep on yelling at the civil servants and the scientists... the two groups who are largely impartial and who actually KNOW A LOT!

Ilithi is right. You seem willing to KEEP TRUSTING an oligarchy of a few hundred greedy, secretive, conniving monopolists, just because they are “private.” When will you guys stop and realize that is exactly what they would pay billions to propagandize you into doing?

Oh, and tell me... who across 4,000 years, squashed human freedom and yes free enterprise, in every era? Bureaucrats? Socialists?

Oh, what’s the use. History doesn’t exist to you guys.

“A bureaucracy, even a well-intentioned one is a bit of a blunt instrument.”

A nice truism. And yes, a TRUE truism!

So? Dig it, we have bureaucracies for REASONS! Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, recommended them as the ONLY way that an open society can keep the REAL enemies of enterprise in check. Sure they can go bad... that is why Gore and Clinton spent 8 years SLIMMING the US civil service and making it more efficient than ever, because they wanted it to work well.

Your reflex - to cast a wary eye at bureaucrats - is a worthy libertarian one and I share it. But right now it is simply dumb.

You would trust a hundred crony conspirator billionaires, coniving in the dark while turning themselves into Adam Smith's worst nightmare...

... but you will not even let ten thousand skilled, knowledgable, dedicated and sincere men and women try to make things run well, even though that is precisely what they are paid -- by your taxes -- to try to do.

Andrew S. Taylor said...

Thanks for your response, Dr. Brin.

You seem to argue that the U.S. created a new model for trade that favored (in this case) Japan - it was "counter-mercantilist" in that it allowed Japan to enact Tariffs while the U.S. bought their products freely duty-free. I don't disagree that this happened, or that it was beneficial, just that I have a somewhat different spin on U.S. motivation -- it seems to me a wholly pragmatic decision in light of circumstances and entirely in the U.S.'s own interest for a host of reasons. Again, I do not make a positive or negative value judgement about the U.S. for doing so (at this moment). I only observe that the U.S. needed an economically strong ally in Japan more than it needed a colony, and that this was a quick way to bring it about. Not that it could have actually colonized Japan as easily as Hawaii...

As for "counter-mercantilism" in general -- I hardly see this as the U.S. MO in post-war era as a whole, to the extent that the U.S. has the ability to chose such matters. Certainly, it's not the approach taken with Mexico, is it?

RE: Bergamini. You do realize - I hope - that both he and, later, Bix, are highly controversial for their claims, and that many scholars, both Western and Japan, see this as little more than conspiracy theorizing.

As to the general strength of Japan's constitutional democracy; it may have waxed and waned, as it does in any nation that stuggles with counter-democratic forces, but it was hardly a "sham" in the Taisho era.

As for the shortcomings Japanese armaments and Zero "comfort" - you must at least consider pratical considerations such as metal shortages.

David Brin said...

Yes, the US did the Marshall Plan -- and Marshall's other "plans" like counter-mercantalism -- for reasons of "self-interest."

If by self- interest you mean creating a vastly better world for all their grandchildren to live in was self-interest. Fine, call it that, if you like. But then, in that case, ALL other empires acted AGAINST their own self-interest... and it looks as if the Asian mercantilist powers seem determined to do so, yet again.

Yes, sure, Bergamini has parked opponents who use name calling. But have you read the book? His sources are entirely in the public record, men who were right there, during the Taisho and Showa period, who had top "constitutional"powers, yet wrote in their diaries about instantly obeying their master.

Name calling is not refutation.

Do not get me wrong. I consider Showa's grandfather to be one of the great geniuses of the last 500 years. Meiji was far, far from the insipid little weakling who was portrayed in that Tom Cruise movie... which I considered to be a horrific pile of donkey droppings. Portraying the samurai caste a s OPPRESSED NATIVE TRIBE? One of the most monstrously relentless repressive aristocracies in all of human history?

It was as bad as portraying the "nobility" of the Startans, in "300" without ever showing their murderous treatment of the helot slaves... or the fact that Themistocles and the Athenian citizen militias were who really beat the Persians, BOTH times...

No, I do not underrate the incredible change that Meiji wrought. But to call their government democratic in any sense of the word is utter naivete.

"As for the shortcomings Japanese armaments and Zero "comfort" - you must at least consider pratical considerations such as metal shortages."

Naturally. But GIs who were there will tell you that the rifles ALWAYS jammed. Their primary purpose was to be a stick to hold a bayonet. And thus useless against a single marine who held his ground with a .30 caliber machine gun.

That's the key point. The samurai ethos considered weaponry to be secondary to "fighting spirit." And that was true... so long as the enemy could be intimidated, cowed frightened. But once they met an enemy who could not be, then weapons mattered very much.

Again, the situation is complex and you make good points. Still, the Misty Lagoon - samurai approach to pilot training was short-term brilliant and long term calamitous. It was only late in the war that they even tried recruiting pilots from the peasantry, and those had mostly gone through periods of hunger that had left their eyesight poor. In contrast, America had an infinite supply of farm boys who could read and write and dismantle a tractor. Nine weeks training was NOT enough for them to take on a misty lagoon samurai...

...but those samurai mostly died in one pitched battle off Midway. On carriers that folded up and lit up like matchboxes. And after that, it became a turkey shoot.

Heck, why do you think the Japanese erected freaking STATUES TO DOUGLAS MACARTHUR? Who does that, for the military governor of their conqueror?

Unless they also saw him as their liberator.

Tim H. said...

Credibility seems to be in short supply these days, especially regarding climate. And my sympathies are with oilco customers, who are going to ultimately bear the cost of changing to whatever new tech that comes to be. Big Oil, I'm not worried about at all, they're scrambling for dominance in clean energy, for fear of being left out. Establishing a new bureaucracy always carries the risk of unintended consequences, and one to regulate carbon dioxide could do little positive in the short and medium term, that is, for dozens of election cycles it would be a thorn in the side of the voters. By the time any net good was perceptible, the old tech would probably be a memory.

David Brin said...

Tim, you are brilliant at turning out one truism after another. But please, can you not see that your para, above, is just one long string of platitudes?

They are spoon fed to you guys by a well-oiled propaganda machine that has BILLIONS to spend, with one aim above all... to destroy the Enlightenment in general, and free enterprise in particular.

I reiterate. Adam Smith did not despise bureaucrats, he despised monopolizing, crony-conspirator oligarch-aristocrats. THOSE are the people who rape the consumer and "knock out the ladder" for the poor to rise up.

THOSE are the people who wrecked enterprise markets in EVERY human generation on EVERY continent that had agriculture or metallurgy.

That isn't a platitude or nostrum I am giving you. It is an absolute historical fact. While you are yattering about "maybe the bureaucrats might add some expense to the consumer"... you ignore the fact that the consumer has been screwed by monopolists who have REAL power. And who inherently hate free markets.

Bureaucrats OTOH do NOT inherently hate markets. It is possible, sometimes, for them to be the enemy of markets, true. But not always. And they sure weren't under Clinton.

Finally, you cannot get away with saying "nobody has credibility." It is a darned falsehood.

Clinton raised taxes and used the money to end deficits and pay off the debt.

There were fewer civil servants AFTER he left office than before, and JD Powers says their efficiency and productivity doubled!

He left every single military brigade "fully combat ready" after waging the most successful war in world history.

Not one Clintonian official went to jail or was even indicted for malfeasance of office, the first time that happened, EVER.

And every single statistically verifiable metric of national health went way up, under his tenure.

As every single verifiable metric of national health went down, under the neocon bushites.

That isn't just black vs white. It is the sun's surface vs interstellar freezing vacuum. And those are not nostrums, they are facts. Either refute them or accept that the assholes who have been feeding you your propaganda are the bad guys, in our national drama.

You should drop them. You really, really should.

Acacia H. said...

The problem is, Dr. Brin, that your hero Adam Smith is an unknown these days. He has been replaced by dozens of other economists who preach a platform more in line with the neocons and neoliberals who were all for the raping of the American economy, so long as they got their own cut of the pie.

Unfortunately? The pie spoiled. And now everyone is pointing fingers while refusing to learn the lessons of history. Rather than preaching how Adam Smith was for reasonable bureaucracy and against oligarchy, you need to point out more recent, more modern economists that are on the minds of people these days, rather than someone from the history books which, ultimately, are ignored by the rank-and-file person out there trying to make a living.

The current brand of Deniers (be it economic or political or environmental) are set in their ways. We cannot convince them to change their minds. They spout platitudes about how "all politicians are corrupt" and BS such as that. So we need to redirect them. We need sociopolitical judo methods to steer the Deniers into a direction that is beneficial to us. And while we might not be able to change their minds... at least we can get something constructive out of them.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing to add other than that your post and all the comments have been an awesome read, and I read most of it! Yes, I have too much free time on my hands.

Tony Fisk said...

I think power sources are going to become an increasing source of tension in times to come.

(Who do you think has the time, the resources, and the inclination to lie about the weather?)

Power providers wish that roof top solar panels would go the way of basement fusion reactors (or at least made subject to middle-men of some sort).

Nuclear power is being touted as the saviour.

Oh, Adam Smith was intriguingly combined with a discussion of Somali piracy in Scientific American recently, so he's not forgotten.

fashina: the clade who decree what's hot (mini skirts, nukes and big business) and what's not (Adam Smith, solar power, and wee free men called David)

Your Most Enchanted Reader said...

The Nazi Party was the National Socialist Workers Party. Hitler's actual economics policies are seldom discussed, but they were labor-syndicalist... meaning that the purely aryan unions got plenty of advances under the Nazis! Factory owners had to let union men onto their boards. Aristocrats had to walk on tiptoes.There were MANY socialist endeavors under Hitler... welfare systems and benefits and social levelling... all very socialist... though just for aryans.
---David Brin@7:36 PM

Remember, the three greatest mass murderers - Hitler, Stalin and Mao - were all "socialists."
---David Brin@7:33

While I understand what the author has been laboriously trying to say (a caution against the excess of dogmatic fundamentalism), I find that the ill-chosen juxtaposition is improper and borders on Historical revisionism, the like of which one would expect from the Glenn Beck program every weekday on the Fox News Channel rather than on Contrary Brin.

Among the earliest victims of discrimination and persecution in Nazi Germany were political opponents---primarily Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, and...TRADE UNION LEADERS.
[United States Holocaust Memoria Museum]

I think, it just needed to be reminded.

The "Nazism = Socialism = Stalinism" meme reinforces a common radical talking point which position no government at the right and totalitarian governments at the left of the political spectrum. By the same token, the meme also places the GOP on the side of God near no government, and reinvent fascism as a left side ideology.

We have all seen the signs Obama = Hitler = Stalin and Obamacare = Communism (along with a picture of Obama sporting an Hitlerian mustache).

Just for the record---and not that it is of much relevancy today--- Hitler's political and economical positions with regard to Marxism as quoted from Alan Bullock's "Hitler: A Study in Tyranny," abridged edition, (New York: Harper Collins, 1971) paint a very different picture with respect to the dictator's political and economical positions:

"While Hitler's attitude towards liberalism was one of contempt, towards Marxism he showed an implacable hostility… Ignoring the profound differences between Communism and Social Democracy in practice and the bitter hostility between the rival working class parties, he saw in their common ideology the embodiment of all that he detested -- mass democracy and a leveling egalitarianism as opposed to the authoritarian state and the rule of an elite; equality and friendship among peoples as opposed to racial inequality and the domination of the strong; class solidarity versus national unity; internationalism versus nationalism."

But let's hear it from Hitler himself:

"The Jewish doctrine of Marxism rejects the aristocratic principle of Nature and replaces the eternal privilege of power and strength by the mass of numbers and their dead weight."

Take the"Jewish" part out, and, for all practical purpose, this could be a quote straight out from Ayn Rand.

Tim H. said...

Dr. Brin, I object to bureaucratic solution to climate on the grounds that it will apply pressure to a population already ill-used. Dissent on a single topic could be understood as buying the entire faux ideology, but, I don't. (OTHO, my brother, who voted for both Bushes, both times thinks it's quite funny.) In other news, the director of EAU's Climate Research Unit is stepping aside for the duration of the investigation. They may be able to reclaim some credibility.

David Brin said...

Tim, I grasp that you may be trying to be selective. Nevertheless, please watch the nostrums. We are in an era when the enemies of the civil servants have proved to be SO BAD that it just seems incredible that smart people would spend their time, right now, hurling eggs at civil servants.

Try monopolists, for a change. Try Rupert.

Robert, you may be right. But if I accomplish nothing else by beating the drum about Adam Smith, I'd be delighted simply to get those jerks and would-be oligarchs to stop misquoting the poor man and cramming into his mouth beliefs he would have despised.

He was one of the true heroes of the Enlightenment, dammit! He deserves to rest in peace, without being misused by monopolists and randroids and social darwinists as a poster boy AGAINST free and open and competitive markets.

Enchanted... Sorry, but National Socialism belongs firmly in the socialist camp. What Hitler did to his enemies was entirely consistent with what Stalin and Mao did to their enemies.

Stalin, too, killed trade union leaders. In fact, the murder of trade unionists in Eastern Europe, in 1946-8 was arguably his worst mistake, because it turned the US labor movement bitterly and volcanically anti-communist! See

The differences between Hitler and stalin DID exist and were sunstantial, but they had far less to do with economics than a fundamental assumption about human nature. Stalin was at the extreme end of the "nurture" belief... that environment trumps genetics. Hitler was the opposite. So Stalin would kill you, but re-educate your kids to hate you. Hitler would kill you AND your kids.

You miss the point about Limbaugh-Beck. Those jerk-polemicists are effective in part because they DO glom onto a simplistically valid point, from time to time. They then abuse it and misuse it. But that doesn't mean we automatically have to believe the opposite. That is giving them too much power.

In fact, Hitler, Mao and Stalin were murderously insane in the leftist style -- totally convinced of their utopian vision, they murdered in vast lots, frenetically, aiming to achieve it.

Right wing tyrants murder far more slowly, because they tend to be lazy. They just repress all progress and let the masses starve in ignorance. They wind up being responsible for far more death and misery than lefty monsters, simply because 99% of human history was dominated by right wing assholes.

Lefty monsters may be frenzied hyper-killers, but what Beck won't mention is that they are historically rare. In contrast Beck's chums are the threat that's always hanging on the wings, ready to suck the life out of the Enlightenment. They want to re-impose feudalism, and the long, slow, grind of night.

Andrew S. Taylor said...

Dr. Brin,

I have no problem with a healthy disagreement or discussion, but I do not like being called “naive.”

I’ve been to Japan at least a dozen times because my in-laws live there. Between my wife’s older relatives and my own, I have met more than a few war veterans on both sides of the ocean, and have heard first person accounts from both angles. One of my in-laws, in fact, was a Kamikaze pilot (Japan surrendered one week before his mission), and related to me directly what it was like to fly the Zero (quite horrible). And he did not train for “nine weeks,” but for more than a year.

I didn’t call Bergamini names - I’m just pointing out that a great many historians consider his thesis to be total bunk. When a PBS special aired in the late 1980’s making similar arguments using similar methods (i.e. diary entries), the outcry from historians was so great that several people actually resigned from the network. The New York Times panned the show. The fact is, many Western historians of estimable intelligence have engaged in “exhaustive” research of this subject and gotten it completely botched.

Herbert Bix later made the same arguments about Hirohito (more convincingly for some - and quite a bit more extensively than Bergamini) but even that book has tested the patience of some readers (including this one), with it’s numerous conjectural statements, such as “Hirohito must have known...” or “Hirohito had to have been aware of...”. And a survey of the book’s endnotes shows that there is an inverse relationship between the reliability of the source and the extent to which it further’s the author’s thesis.

The problem is that the vast majority of the scholarship on Japan during this era has not been translated into English, and even American scholars who are fluent often must rely on Japanese historians to provide context and guidance. This can be deeply problematic, as there are a wide range of political agendas amongst Japanese academics. In the case of Bix - I pick on him rather than Bergamini because he is by far the bigger fish on this subject, and I have attempted his book - he is a leftist of the Noam Chomsky variety, which makes it likely he relied heavily on left-wing scholars in Japan (in some instances he clearly did). Suffice it to say that leftists in Japan are just like the leftists in America of which you complain - only much more so! Many are ardent pro-China communists. These nuances, however, are not on the radar for American readers, as you can easily imagine.

I appreciate the book recommendation - but in no way can you assert its thesis as established fact. The case has been made better since Bergamini and I still don’t buy it.

The Taisho era in Japan was as democratic as America. I’ll call it a sham when you call American democracy circa 1915 a sham. Was there no threat from the ruling elite there, with the Lochner-era Supreme Court, and the growing influence of corporate power?

There are statues of MacArthur in Japan. So? There is a statue of Japanese Civil engineer Yoichi Hatta in Taiwan. Hatta traveled to Taiwan in 1916 to build an advanced irrigation system. He worked with farmers. The statue disappeared for decades - hidden in the midst of political turmiol - but was returned in 1981. A yearly ceremony - every May 8 - allows the Taiwanese to commemorate his efforts (he is quite beloved, not seen as a conqueror at all). Nobuhei Torii, another civil engineer, also has a memorial statue in Taiwan to this day.

So who is the imperialist and who the liberator? You can makes cases both ways in both cases, but please be consistent. I sense a double-standard behind your views on this matter.

Andrew S. Taylor said...

Btw, a public servant in Japan in 1915 writing that they "serve the Emperor" in their diary is no more conclusive of non-democratic government than a British subject writing privately of their fierce allegiance to the Queen. Without a clear understanding of where literalism ends and figurative speech begins, a historian can blunder into error.

David Brin said...

Andrew, this missive of yours was erudite and informative and appreciated. Still, I must say one thing, up front -- if you hang around here, you had better grow a thicker skin. We do not allow abuse here. But to take offense over this:

"But to call their government democratic in any sense of the word is utter naivete."

... sentence which addresses a specific act, and not your character or general mental abilities, at all... well, that is being WAY too touchy and maybe (I would regret losing your erudition) maybe you should go somewhere else.

"And he did not train for “nine weeks,” but for more than a year. "

This is proof that you are merely skimming, instead of reading my words. I spoke of 9 weeks as an AMERICAN training regimen. I find it wholly plausible that a Japanese pilot took a year. Misty Lagoon took seven.

No I do not consider Bergamini's thesis to be established fact. Though some of the diary entries that he quotes verbatim do look an awful lot like "His majesty ordered me to change my mind and get with the program, so I did."

What DOES incline me toward Bergamini is the utter implausability of the notion that the ruling caste in a nation like Japan would let go of power without it being pried out of their hands. Meiji conducted a classic -- even Marxian -- revolution, seizing monarchical power from a feudal aristocracy. Yes, he was brilliant and a real modernizer. That doesn't mean that he or Taisho or Showa would simply let it all slip into the hands of volatile, ill-educated people... or EVER risk it slipping back into the Samurai caste.

In other words, the notion of some 1920s golden age of constitutionalism in Japan bears a very steep burden of proof. I suppose it coulda happened. I really doubt it.

To compare this to 1920s America and say both were imperfect is totally facile. We all know the faults of 1920s america. But the HABITS of participatory democracy (at that point including women but excluding blacks) were 200 years old. Please.

I wish I could go on with this. But it is an obscure topic and boring everybody else. And I do have a lot of work to do. I appreciate your erudition and hope you'll stay.

Just grow a thicker skin, hm?

Rob Perkins said...

I have been fascinated by your exchange about Japan. Not bored at all.

Andrew S. Taylor said...

Apologies for the misread - I assure you I'm not skimming.

Not so much a thin skin, but frustration with familiar assertions I keep running into, here and elsewhere.

But I'll take your advice to heart...perhaps I was over-serious.

Goodnight, and thanks for listening!

David McCabe said...

Not boring, seconded. But get back to work, Dr Brin.

Ratliti: Yet another alien species.

Tim H. said...

Dr.Brin, have you read"Stalin, Court of the Red Tsar"? Simon Montefiore paints a luridly dark picture.

Your Most Enchanted Reader said...

Enchanted... Sorry, but National Socialism belongs firmly in the socialist camp.
---David Brin @ 9:27 PM

Actually, historians often disagree on the principal interests of the Nazi Party and whether Nazism can be considered a coherent ideology.

The National Socialist Party was a party that existed before Hitler took it over and turned it into a fascist party. Historians usually call the "night of the long knives" the final extermination of the National Socialist wing of the party, as Röhm was the last one in the party leadership to have socialist ideas.

As for Hitler, he was unequivocably opposed to Marxism as demonstrated by his writings (a mixture of anti-semitism and anti-marxism).

For Nazism, all history is the history of racial struggle. And for Marxism, all history is the history of class struggle.

The core concept of Nazism is that the German Volk is under attack from a judeo-bolshevist conspiracy, and must become united, disciplined and self-sacrificing (i.e. submit to Nazi leadership) in order to win. (Sounds familiar? Try replacing "judeo-bolshevist" with "Islamo-fascist.")

Bungling Adolf Hitler with Mao Zedong and Iosif Stalin, and referring to their "murderous insanity" as the "leftist style" implies an ideological correlation where none is truly warranted.

Totalitarianism is as totalitarianism does, and so his "murderous insanity"---and neither the left nor the right have a monopoly on it.

Ian said...

"No More Lemons! Fixing Humanity's Broken Vitamin C Gene."

Wouldn't it be a lot easier to engineer an intestinal bacterium to synthesize Vitamin C?

That way instead of having to genetically engineer the entire human race we just need to feed them some probiotic yoghurt?

Ian said...

"BTW and competely aside, you may have an inflated image of the situation in Japan, before WWII. Go read David Bergamini’s fantastically well-researched JAPAN’S IMPERIAL CONSPIRACY. The prewar contitution was a sham, alas. One man had all the real power."

Bergamini's work is generally not highly regarded by historians or other academic experts on Japan.

The truth lies somewhere between rosy views of "Taisho Democracy" and Bergamini's view of Hirohito as a a secret tyrant.

Ian said...

"Yes, sure, Bergamini has parked opponents who use name calling. But have you read the book? His sources are entirely in the public record, men who were right there, during the Taisho and Showa period, who had top "constitutional"powers, yet wrote in their diaries about instantly obeying their master."

I read Bergamini many years ago but, from memory, many of his most controversial claims are sourced to "private conversations" or "unpublished documents from the Imperial household Agency".

Edwin Reischauer certainly gave little credence to many of Bergamini's claims.

Ian said...

"The Taisho era in Japan was as democratic as America."

I'm sorry but I have to disagree.

Not only was political freedom restricted by press censorship and laws restricting the formation of political parties, the Diet had far less power.

In particular, the budget was controlled by the Emperor and the military exercised an effective veto over government formulation via the requirement that the Defence Minister be a swerving military officer.

So long as Taisho was on the throne and the military was content to let the political parties run the country there was substantial but limited degree of democracy.

That ended once the military decided to interfere in domestic affairs and Taisho was replaced by Hirohito.

The problem with Hirohito being on the throne wasn't so much Hirohito himself as the increased power it gave his uncles and brothers several of whom were senior military officers.

Ian said...

"What DOES incline me toward Bergamini is the utter implausability of the notion that the ruling caste in a nation like Japan would let go of power without it being pried out of their hands. Meiji conducted a classic -- even Marxian -- revolution, seizing monarchical power from a feudal aristocracy. Yes, he was brilliant and a real modernizer. That doesn't mean that he or Taisho or Showa would simply let it all slip into the hands of volatile, ill-educated people... or EVER risk it slipping back into the Samurai caste."

Except even Meiji never really wielded executive power - that was in the hands of the Cho-Satsu Samurai who overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Tony Fisk said...

No! It's a trick! A ruse to poison our precious bodily flora! It may be vitamin C today, but tomorrow it could be... yes! It could be vitamin D... and that means ... D for DEMOCRAT*! That's right, ladies and gentlemen! I beg you, before your mortal soul and principles are compromised, flush that yoghurt down the sink!

(* or GOP milk, if you prefer)

OK...before my bodily flora become totally compromised and speaking of work, I saw a neat picture in SciAm depicting a Zeppelin railway in 1909 (shades of 'the Smartest Mob')

aftian: a species of refugee often found in the back of boats

Acacia H. said...

Hey, can anyone provide a list of some of the people and companies (and nations for that matter) that are claiming Global Warming isn't manmade and/or doesn't exist? After seeing claims by Saudi Arabia that the "Climategate" e-mails prove global warming isn't manmade and that they won't support caps unless Saudi Arabia is given money to make up for "lost revenue"... well, I'm feeling my oats and feel like writing up an open letter on it, pointing out just who is claiming global warming is fake and what benefit they would gain by keeping the world from reducing emissions.

Rob H.

Rob Perkins said...

Hey, if someone formulates a symbiont that produces vitamin C, they should also engineer in a touch of that stuff that comes from the hoodia plant, along with a self-destruction gene (maybe a really short telomere strand? Um, do bacteria have telomeres?)

I'd totally use that.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Rob H.

I'm not too familiar with who all has been claiming that AGCC is false myself, but I'm sure Corey has some kind of list, or knows where to get the information. I'll break out the cattle prod and herd him back over here after work.
} ; = 8 )

Tim H. said...

Wonder if the GOP types who chummed around with fascists before WWII thought they were associating with socialists?

"coushic" an inebriated description of familial relationship.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Ian: "Wouldn't it be a lot easier to engineer an intestinal bacterium to synthesize Vitamin C?"

This is analogous to current efforts to engineer and promulgate "golden rice", which synthesizes vitamin A. It doesn't have to be internal probiotics.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@David Brin: "Catfish, Stephen Baxter is the true heir of Arthur C. Clarke... In fact, both of them do not think highly of humanity at all, and show it relentlessly in fiction."

"I told you so. You damned fools."
-- H. G. Wells' self-requested epitaph

This puts a new perspective on several matters. For instance, I had wondered how Clarke could have worked so well with that well-known dystopic misanthrope, Stanley Kubrick. 2001 is the only Kubrick film to have any sort of positive ending... but, as you point out, it's a sham. It's the Monolith-makers who are virtuous; we're just the stupid apes that dig up traps and build monstrous AIs.

It also explains how Baxter was able to mesh his dystopic visions so well with H. G. Wells in The Time Ships. Wells wasn't a complete misanthrope; he sincerely believed in the power of democratic socialism to build a better world. He wasn't a complete ideologue, either; on meeting Stalin, he was snookered into believing him "honest", but realized that he was far too rigid, authoritarian, and restrictive of thought. (Hey, FDR was taken in by 'Uncle Joe', too.) But Wells was massively depressed about the inequities of fin de sicele European society, and many of his works show it: Doctor Moreau, The World Set Free, The Sleeper Wakes, various predictions of the First and Second World Wars, on and on. Even the end of The Time Machine reflects it: neither Eloi nor Morlocks are evolutionarily fit, and neither humanity nor its descendant races survive.

Wells to Clarke to Baxter: a century of denial that the Enlightenment can succeed, or that maturity can be achieved.

Hazy vision: an aged Hari Seldon, bent over A Child's Compendium of Knowledge, and Daneel Olivaw, the Immortal Servant, debate the import of ancient science fiction on the chances of the Foundation project. Daneel argues that even Dawn Age visionaries foresaw humanity's cul-de-sac of development; Seldon continues his quest for the 'other side', the breakthrough into stable self-awareness in humanity....

Tim H. said...

On the positive side for Clarke, I would suggest "3001, Final Odyssey" and "The Last Theorem"

David Brin said...

Enchanted, I know all about Rohm and the Night of the Long Knives. And yes, Rohm was more of an economic socialist (though still a racist pig) than AH.

Still, watch TRIUMPH OF THE WILL re the Nuremberg rallies. There was huge emphasis, still, on the dignity and rights and power of the working man. Of course "man" meant Aryan and everybody else was an animal. But with that teensy proviso, the Nazi union chiefs actually got huge power in Industrial Germany, gaining seats on company boards, etc.

"As for Hitler, he was unequivocably opposed to Marxism as demonstrated by his writings (a mixture of anti-semitism and anti-marxism). "

So? Socialism is a big category. Marx wasn't the only player. Indeed, Marx had roots of his own, in a German philosopher named Hegel, who was not only one of the most detestable human minds every created... but also the wellspring of all Nazi philosophy.

And note, the Nazis slid VERY smoothly into collaboration with Stalin, in the immensely cynical and vicious Molotov-Ribentrop pacts. While planning a showdown, for sure. But both shared an UTTER CONTEMPT for "bourgeois notions of morality and ethics." Both shared a utopian notion that their struggle was for the soul of humanity (as each defined it) and excused any mere crimes.

"For Nazism, all history is the history of racial struggle. And for Marxism, all history is the history of class struggle."

So? Didn't I just say all that, above? Despite their similarities in personality, utopian grandeur and leftists frenzy, Stalin believed in nurture and AH in nature, as drivers of human destiny. Hence, Stalin would kill you and retrain your kids to hate your memory as a class enemy. AH would kill both you and your kids.

You are focusing on teensy details, in order to create a visible gulf, while ignoring the far deeper common threads.

They certainly belong bundled together. Except for the nature-nurture thing, they came from the same fundamental philosophical source, from the same fundamental personality traits, and exhibited remarkably similar methodologies, from propaganda to cynical dismissal of bourgeois democracy and morality, to systematic murder.

"otalitarianism is as totalitarianism does, and so his "murderous insanity"---and neither the left nor the right have a monopoly on it."

This is both right and utterly wrong. Rightwing totalitarianism has a completely different style. It is feudalistic, oppressively lazy, smug and relentless... and it is based in a pattern that ruled 99% of human societies. Leftist tyranny is frenetic flame that burns itself out or rouses the world to fight it. Feudalism is a long slow cancer of the soul.

Both are horrible and must be fought. Orwell was right in showing where left-style tyranny could lead. (BTW he called himself a "man of the left" and hated Hitler and Stalin for ruining it.) But he failed to note that Big Brother's son and grandson would inevitable get fat and lazy and the Party would gradually turn into a nobility and the cycle would start again.

Your model is all wrong and it denies you insights that would help you to understand the world.

David Brin said...

Tim, yes, right wingers did chum with fascists before WWII - that is an intelligent rebuttal to my assertion that fascism was "leftist."

The answer is that EVERYBODY WAS MARXIST in those days, including the rich - just as everybody was freudian. Those two visions had captivated everybody. Hence, the aristos were looking for a KIND of socialist who they could work with. One that could mobilize the volk against the communists.

Catfish, I just inserted pro-biotic gut bacteria that produce VtC in my novel! Thanks!

Heh! for the referral to FOUNDATION"S TRIUMPH!

Wells was complex. His dyspeptic gloom phases were balanced by true belief in the Enlightenment and in us.

He was... "contrary..." ;-)

Andrew S. Taylor said...


It's not so much that I take a rose-tinted view of Taisho, but a less complimentary view of America in the same era, so I come at the equation from the opposite direction.

In America, the anti-democratic forces were more splinted and diffuse, but I think in the aggregate just as influential - and this includes the press, the Jim Crow south, jingoistic militarism, legislators doing the bidding of business elites, and an ultra-activist Supreme Court repeatedly and unconstitutionally striking down state laws protecting workers for a period of decades.

That there is anything comparable between the two is difficult to swallow for some because of Japan's much younger democratic tradition - it's hard to square the formalities of traditional Japan with the rough-and-tumble individualism of America in the same period and see any equivalence. Nonetheless, I look at actual effects, and I note in addition that Americans often drastically under-estimate the degree of social regulation and coercion that existed in America at the time, both legally and culturally.

Andrew S. Taylor said...

Briefly on Orwell:

He wrote an earlier novel called Keep the Aspidistra Flying, about a struggling poet in 1930's Britain.

What's interesting is that the novel's trajectory - and even much of the imagery - perfectly tracks 1984, except that the lead character struggles with market-driven capitalism instead of a totalitarian surveillance state. Even the book's last lines mirror the "He loved Big Brother" as a capitalist equivalent thereof.

I warn, however, that the books is nowhere near as good as 1984.

sociotard said...

A sad bit of news

Famed astronaut hangout Outpost Tavern sold
HOUSTON -- The mission is nearly over for the Outpost Tavern near Johnson Space Center.

The hangout in the Houston area has been sold and is closing after nearly 30 years serving the NASA crowd. Tourists also stopped by to admire the autographed astronaut photos and space suits adorning the walls and ceiling.

Owner Stephanie Foster says the bar will shut down next month.

Foster received confirmation last week that the property has been sold. She expects a gas station or shopping center will be the next tenant.

Foster says she wants to make sure she has enough time to plan a proper send-off for the NASA staff.

Rocket scientists used to sketch ideas on napkins. Astronauts were known to stop by the Outpost Tavern after returning from missions.

Your Most Enchanted Reader said...

Your model is all wrong and it denies you insights that would help you to understand the world.
---David Brin @ 10:16 AM

I didn't present a model.

You did.

Models can of course be useful "to understand the world," I have no issue with that, I am just wary of models. Models can have an unfortunate tendency to be reductionist. It's not always a bad thing, but reductionist models are a dangerous facility---and also a tool of left wing and right wing totalitarian propaganda, as demonstrated throughout history. Orwell did an excellent job illustrating the point.

Rightwing feudalistic, oppressively lazy, smug and relentless... and it is based in a pattern that ruled 99% of human societies. Leftist tyranny is frenetic flame that burns itself out or rouses the world to fight it. Feudalism is a long slow cancer of the soul.
---David Brin @ 10:16 AM

Those are two aptly described models of Totalitarianism---Feudalism being the oldest and most pervasive one of them all. Stalinism, Maoism and Nazism are perfect examples of the "frenetic-flame" totalitarianism of which you speak; the juxtaposition still doesn't make Hitler's Germany a "Leftist" tyranny.

The "far deeper coomon threads" of which you speak is a meme that has been pushed quite agressively by wouldbe psychohistorians and History revisionists of all stripes---it's a major talking point on the Fox News channel and a choice item on many rabidly partisan sites. But though some of the facts they cite---as distinct from the generalizations they derive from them---are true enough, they omit a whole lot of "teensy details" inconvenient to their thesis. That makes their assessment an exercise in demagoguery rather than a sober appraisal.

rewinn said...

"...Hitler, Stalin and Mao - were all "socialists."..."

And the People's Democratic Republic of China is democratic. AND Republican.

Cuz, you know, it's in the name!

Seriously, Dr. Brin, you seem to be advancing a notion of left/right and socialism/feudalism that is not held by actual socialists or actual feudalists. That's your right but would it not be better to invent your own terms for the distinction you seek to make?

A truely deep analysis of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, the Columbus and his Conquistador buddies and the other great mass murderers of history would include the notion that they didn't really give a rat's ass for their people OR their ideology, but simply used whatever slogan was handiest in their quest for power.

David McCabe said...

Here I thought the notion was that 'left' and 'right' were meaningless terms anyway.

taxon: is an actual word.

David Brin said...

Andrew, both America and Japan were in states of furious development and deeply flawed socialorders, in the 1920s. Without question, any of us would feel outraged to live in the US then.

In Japan, we might be beguiled by the graciousness and eagerness. An ancient nobility that seems to be "letting go" and allowing more equality, under noblesse oblige, certainly seems more genteel than a brash melange of innovation, racism, populist preening and democratic hypocrisy.

But "hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue." And out of every generation of kids who grow up to find that "liberty and justice for all" was a lie, a large fraction then bend their wills toward making it become more true. If the Roaring Twenties Lost Generation were cynical, they also read and argued and invented. And women were enfranchised and the Klan repudiated and all of it done in open ferment.

That stew was very different than the ferfently obsequious and studiously imitative - though similarly rapid-changing - situation across the waters, Both democracies were flawed. But in America it was largely OUR flaws, aired in front of our children, who were watching and starting to make up their minds how to remake it all.

That kind of attitude was NOT the pattern across the Pacific.


I recall Orwell's novel, but as a capitalist version of Big Brother?

Tony Fisk said...

Seriously, Dr. Brin, you seem to be advancing a notion of left/right and socialism/feudalism that is not held by actual socialists or actual feudalists. That's your right but would it not be better to invent your own terms for the distinction you seek to make?

I thought he did with his multi-dimensional political axis model. OK so he borrowed left/right for we/I own, but introduced top/down (edict/concensus) and in/out (nature/nurture). I think big/small is still up for grabs (forward/backward looking?).

Clarke as a misanthrope?? Hmm! Well I suppose it fits with Childhood's End, and City and the Stars, events were mapped out by the city mind.

His non-fictional writings don't reflect this, though.

The resolution of the Oddyssey series (3001) has humanity trying to jam an out of control monolith technology which had decided that it was weeding time, based on some out of date information (AI glitches seem to be the theme).

Acacia H. said...

Hmm. Political theory as a Tesseract? (The model, not the dimensional travel as imagined by Madeleine L'Engle. Whose "A Wrinkle in Time" I still consider one of my all-time favorite novels.)

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

(Actually, I think strangeness and charm might make a better set of axis labels for forward/backward looking!)

hawlstsa: the sound of a werewolf sneezing

David Brin said...

on to next posting.....

melmo said...

By comparing the primitive democracies seen in the U.S. and Japan, leading up to WWII, it seems that the U.S embraced freedom of speech and the free press, while Japan advanced civil rights.

Japan did actually provide the Taiwanese and Koreans with voting power the same as the Japanese, and showed more tolerance and understanding against cultural and racial differences. Japan also proposed the Racial Equality Clause to the League of Nations in 1919 (voted down, unfortunately, by the U.S. , Britain, and Australia). W. E. B. Du Bois said that he was deeply impressed by the treatment he received during his trip to Japan, unlike the white nations.

At the same time, some of the top U.S. news paper articles during WWII did display impressive journalistic freedom, a quality rarely found in contemporary mass-media.

David Brin said...

I doubt the Koreans or Formosans would agree with this.

melmo said...

Cui bono.

Certainly Formosan elders and scholars and a majority of the current population of Taiwan would agree.

Nationalistic sentiments cannot change documented history.

Ben Goertzel said...


What you say makes sense to me, though I lack the knowledge of history to evaluate your claim that the US is the *only* empire ever to behave in this way.

But I think it's interesting to ask WHY the US was the first empire to behave in this way.

It's tempting to ascribe this to some basic "goodness" on the part of the US ... to American values etc. ... but doesn't it also have something to do with the particularities of advancing technology?

Perhaps the advancement of technology during the late 20th century led to a never before meaningful possibility of a more complex world economy, with the US playing certain roles and other nations playing related, interlocking but qualitatively different roles.

So that by promoting counter-mercantilist trade *at that stage in the history of technology*, the US was enabling a more complex world economy from which the US and everyone else benefited.

Whereas, if some other empire had promoted counter-mercantilist trade at a different stage in the history of technology, it would not have gotten similar benefits, and would merely have acted against its own interests.

I.e. counter-mercantilism promoted technological, scientific, industrial and social globalization, which made everyone wealthier by feeding the acceleration of technological and scientific change.

It's true though that this might not have happened if an empire with a different ideological bias had achieved world power after WWII. In that unfortunate alternate history, global scientific and technological progress might have been delayed by, say, a few decades, while the sociopolitical dynamics played out differently...

The US system had the *flexibility* to flow along with the intrinsic demands and dynamics of technological and scientific advance, which were inexorably pushing toward globalization and a more complex world economy... at least that's how I see it.

-- Ben Goertzel

I love america! said...

Two words Norman Bourloug. The father of the green revolution. i mean this guy created an economic surplus in india and that place is still developing. If America does actually end up ruin, the democratic countries that benefitted (all of them)from the green revolution will come to America's aid. At least they should. Also the rockerfellers and the Mexican agricultural programme deserves special mention in aiding Bourloug.

Also, Japan was able to grow as an economy so fast becuase of reparation for getting bombed. and after the war, America send some general to their fields to do research on their farms. The best way to stabilize the economy is by making an abundance of food. Of course that needs roads, political stability and with that stability, foriegn investment to aid with food creation.

The way I see it america spent to save themselves. Therefore not in ruin. What would happen if Japan was abandoned? The alienation it would have caused. I would assume that the ussr would devour us if they got into Japan.

And becuase they spend to save the world and themselves, usa is not in ruin. Unless you are talking about massive debt, which would be manageable if various springs around the world, social events and an updating of economic inefficient systems were to occur.

Usa usa usa

Kari Freyr McKern said...

I don't believe it. Like Spain with New World gold becoming the mouth of the world was an accident of history, the unintended consequences of dollar hegemony.

Data DrivenFP said...

As always, food for thought and insightful observations of world history, searching for larger patterns in the chaos. In today's realm of China challenging the US for freedom of the seas, and threatening war, they may have given the US an out. After all, if they commence war vs. the US-declared or undeclared- the US will probably renounce the US debt China has bought. A small repayment for Wal-Mart development aid.