Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Pondering Pax Americana and the government 'shut-down'

While Americans await the recoil of their government's impending shut-down, I recommend, for light reading/listening, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, especially the last sentence, which is a tonic for those who have been taught the koolaid mantra that "all government is vile, all the time." Ask yourselves what our parents in the Greatest Generation would have said to that noxious oversimplification.

And, mind you, I say this as the only science fiction author ever to deliver a keynote to a Libertarian Party National Convention... back when the "L-word" had not been hijacked, before healthy skepticism of bureaucratic over-reach mutated into bilious hatred of an entire system that has worked well for U.S. citizens, for generations. Listen to Jeff Daniels recite the Address for you. Then re-dedicate yourself to what Lincoln meant, spurning the cynics seeking to re-ignite that civil war.

== On American Exceptionalism… ==

JeffDanielsAw heck, that makes a perfect segue to Jeff Daniels again... now in the hit HBO show "Newsroom." The show can be dramatic, fascinating, smart, on-target... and occasionally too smug in its mainstream liberalism not to deserve a wince or two.  Or maybe an occasional "yeah, true enough, but you left out...." spray-shouted at the TV. (Oh, I am so much fun to be around!)

In this clip, Daniels responds to a student's question, "What makes America the greatest country in the world?" The first two panelists on the stage give pat (strawman) answers -- diversity, opportunity, freedom and freedom. Daniels ventures into somewhat indignant territory, but his answer is worth pondering. Indeed, I discussed this issue in "American Exceptionalism vs What has Made America Exceptional"...

And yet, at risk of offending both left and right in my contrarian way, I must demur. Daniels' response blatantly ignores many things.  Like why the United States has spent so much more money than any twenty other nations on defense. He deems it a mark of shame, but it has been a burden that largely saved the world.

Perspective time. The reason is because we were the world's Pax Power and that in itself is a type of "greatness."  Across history, most pax empires (e.g. Pax Romana or Pax Sinica) were oppressive, but generally there was a huge upside to living under or near one; cities were safe from rampaging hordes and people were free to build their lives in peace. The alternative of fractious warring states could have advantages too… there was never a more fecund time than splintered Classical Greece or Colonizing Europe, but the fragility and brittleness of those times were a terrible price and most "warring states" periods did not even have such fecundity.

War21CenturyWithout question, Pax Americana was the best and least hated of all grand paxes. (Try reading what non-Roman peoples grumbled about Rome, even while benefiting from the peace. Or what Gandhi said about Pax Brittanica, even while admitting it was the least immoral empire seen up to that point.) In fact, all of them -- including PA -- committed crimes. Dig this well -- we are human beings and when we get some power our egos get carried away with it. You try being king, sometime.

If you want to hurl a list of bad PA actions, from police enforcement for United Fruit Co. to Mossadegh in Iran and Allende in Chile, I will thump my chest and cry "nostra culpa!" for each one. You'll not get mealy-mouth excuses or shrugs from me. Indeed, clear-eyed criticism of such crimes -- or disastrous-hubristic meddlings, like Vietnam  -- is part of the duty of an aware American citizen. And dig this, boy are we trained to criticize with abandon!

Still, by comparison, and weighing the pile of good next to the bad -- and partly because of the habit of self-criticism -- Americans exercised more restraint and responsibility with that temptation than any other nation across all of time. In fact, I'd ask you to name a people who ever did better when tempted by power.  (You who are fuming right now, consider. Are you part of the national habit I am describing? Are you honest enough to name the tsunami of films and other propaganda that made you such an eager critic?)

Back to specifics, the U.S. defense umbrella has, since 1945, allowed most nations to spend far, far lower fractions of national income on warriors than at any time in history, allowing them to divert more to education and development.  Look up the stats and be amazed!  And Steven Pinker's proof that violence has plummeted under the era of Pax Americana. Further, do go ask folks in Poland and Korea, before you dismiss all this "pax" stuff.

== A word hated by the left and horribly misused by the right ==

selfcritiqueAlas, no American gets any of this! In part because Americans avoid knowing anything at all about history. For their part, Republicans love the glory of imperium  - its pomp and preening-doofus "Yew-Hess-Hay!" pride… and thus they have plunged us into wasteful, horrendously-futile and self-defeating wars in search of it… while never admitting the grown-up obligations and accomplishments of Pax Americana -- especially the vital and unprecedented habit of self-criticism.

Liberals, in contrast, are so obsessed with seeming "grownup" that they never mention the fact that PA was flat-out necessary and mostly good for civilization, especially in comparison to the mess wrought by every preceding great power.  This despite the ultimate irony, that Democrats nearly always have managed America's pax responsibilities vastly better than Republicans ever did (except Ike.)

Vastly better.  Want it laid out clearly and decisively? How Democrats and Republicans Wage War.

No. Go watch Jeff Daniels's rant . He tells truth… but only half of it. The surly, grouchy half, which is just as limited a liberal dumbness as "Yew-Hess-Hay!" is insipid troglodytism on the right. In fact, the Pax period since 1945 is serious history that our descendants will study in books for 10,000 years. It has been far more positive than negative, but in part because of our reflex of despising empire, not glorying in it. This calls for perspective, not uni-directional reflexes.

And thus, the Daniels rant -- his narrative -- is, in fact, a poison.

== Another perspective ==

My friend the popular economics-investment pundit John Mauldin recently showed his added class by attending the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio and revealing himself to be an uber-fan. He also publishes economics insights from what might be called an "Eisenhower Republican" perspective -- rock-ribbed and skeptical of debt, but also well-distanced from the Murdochian Madness that has hijacked today's GOP. John's latest report appraises how a combination of rising oil and gas production in the US, Obama Administration policies and a rapid return of high-tech manufacturing to US shores is already having huge effects upon the American balance of trade, a deficit that has spanned a human lifetime.

A deficit that - by the way - I call deliberate, and one of the most important contributions of Pax Americana to world history. A deficit that propelled export driven growth across the world, uplifting generations first in war-torn Europe and Japan, then Taiwan, Korea, Singapore… and so on until US trade is now the chief force lifting China and India at the same time. 

John shows how the trade imbalance appears to be going away more rapidly than anyone expected: "With the US current account deficit continuing its fall, we need to be alert for the next crisis abroad. It is very difficult to predict exactly when, where, and how markets will panic, but taking US dollars out of the trading system is akin to losing a chair in a game of musical chairs. Someone is going to be left out. It could be Europe or Japan – but more likely it will be emerging-market countries loaded with a lot of external debt denominated in US dollars who struggle to keep a seat at the table."

Another outcome. When the US is no longer shipping tsunamis of dollars overseas, the countries of Asia will need another currency to trade with each other. China is already preparing to set up its renmimbi (yuan) as a new reserve currency to stand next to the dollar. This will be accelerated, so long as China does not collapse because America is buying fewer Chinese goods. It can get complicated. For example the impact any China slow-down is going to have on commodities like metals, on countries like Canada, on countries like Australia.

It probably is time for the development teat of U.S. trade deficits to start shutting down. It was fun, buying trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed, so that manufacturing jobs would cycle through the planet leaving new middle classes rising in their wake -- perhaps far more fun than "foreign aid" is supposed to be... though also vastly more effective than any other form of wealth transfer or aid ever attempted. But America needs to attend to finishing the latest phase of its ongoing civil war and that's going to take a while, before we can go back to helping move the world forward.

== A final note on that civil war we're in ==

You want my own quirky, contrarian take on the insane lemming charge toward a shut-down of the U.S. government?  Well... all right. So long as you are ready for more contrary insights. Here are some peeks behind the curtain.

Key is the Hastert Rule, under which all Republican House members have vowed to always and absolutely obey the majority of the House GOP Caucus, no matter how slender (or crazy) that majority might be. This means that 51% of the 51% can utterly control the agenda and proceedings and output of the United States House of Representatives. This, plus gerrymandering, plus Fox News, compose all the explanation anyone needs for the current made-up "crisis."

Despite all the pundit-ravings about a "civil war within the GOP," The 21st Century Republican Party remains (for now at least) the most tightly disciplined political force we have seen in American political life since the "solid south" of the old Dixiecrats, seventy years ago. Pundits tell us that discipline and the Hastert Rule are maintained by fear of Tea Party insurrections in next spring's GOP primary.  Don't you believe the pundits.

LincolnGettysburgAddressIn fact, nothing happens in the Tea Party without say-so from Fox News. Fox is co-owned by Rupert Murdoch and several Saudi princes who have made their agenda clear. The government of the United States of America, which has functioned -- overall -- far better than anything else the world ever saw , helping to lead a consortium of other free nations and peoples to transform civilization for the better... that government and even the concept of "government" must be undermined, discredited and ultimately destroyed. It is the core, consistent narrative and one that a third of U.S. citizens now swallow as eagerly as babes do mother's milk. And hence, amid this re-ignited civil war, it is only proper to evoke Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, one more time. Recite it to your neighbors enthralled by the Murdochians. Watch them wince.

So. Do not let the appearance of internal GOP strife fool you.  All -- (or nearly all, so long as the Hastert Rule applies) -- is choreographed.

Were these sane days, it would take just twenty House GOP members to break off and form a Grownup Conservative Caucus -- taking their chances with the inevitable Tea Party vengeance in their district primaries, next spring -- in order to negotiate with moderate democrats, as used to happen all the time, back in the 20th Century. They would do this for the sake of the nation, out of courage and love of country… and love for a version of conservatism that Barry Goldwater might recognize. (A deal to make entitlements more efficient, in exchange of elimination of some fat-cat tax breaks, has been on the table for two years. Those twenty are all it would take.)

Alas, Rupert Murdoch and his partners have made clear their agenda to destroy Goldwater Conservatism in America… and thereupon all meaningful discourse. God help us if the Democrats ever become likewise dominated by their loony fringe. (And you better believe they have one - as feeble as it currently is!) If that ever happens -- (and a vanishing Middle Class just might drive such radicalism) -- then our only escape will be Canada… or space.  And Pax Americana will be finished.

Which has been the aim of Rupert & Co., all along.


Carl M. said...

Um, the "L" word was hijacked LONG before your speech. Murray Rothbard wrote the Libertarian Party's manifesto back in the 1970s, and he was the enforcer of radical purity almost from the start. Rothbard was proud of his bilious hatred of the state.

The voices of reasonableness in the LP's early days were headed by Ed Crane, and financed by -- queue up evil empire music -- the Koch brothers, what Rothbard called "The Kochtopus."

Rothbard drove out Crane and the original forces of reasonableness in the LP two decades before your speech.

Ian said...

"US trade is now the chief force lifting China and India at the same time."

No, it isn't.

Unknown said...

The biggest problem with Pax Americana is that it's unsustainable. We can only maintain it by taking actions that undermine our own economy and exacerbate class tensions within the U.S. That is what undermined the British Empire before us, too.

We can take it as given that we're a better hegemon than any of the currently plausible alternative imperial states (if there even are any), but perhaps what's needed here is some thinking outside the box.

A "pax state" as you call it is in effect an international government, maintained by the overwhelming power of a single national government. Like many governments from ancient times, it amounts to government by the biggest, strongest, and shrewdest thug on the block.

Arguing the benefits of a pax state is, therefore, arguing the benefits of international governance.

Might we not have international governance in some form that is NOT governance by thug? Not even (relatively) well-behaved thug?

Perry Willis said...

Took time out from work to read and enjoy this article David. I kept thinking of Niall Ferguson as I read it. Your arguments about empire are much like his, so I guess it must be something else about his work that you find objectionable.

Your interpretation of history is certainly reasonable. But I see things differently....

The long peace of the 19th century was not a function of the Pax Britannica. It happened because of an extreme discontinuity in human history. The industrial revolution and Smithian trade broke the tie between wealth and land. This meant that wealth was no longer a zero sum game. This lessened incentives for war. But the one big incentive for war that still remained was the old ideology of empire. World War I was a function of that antiquated ideology.

Now imagine what might have followed had the US not intervened in that war. Peace without victory might have been forced on the European Oligarchs by mutinying armies long before the Bolshevik revolution had time to take hold. And it's hard to see how such a timeline would have resulted in either a Stalin or a Hitler.

It's also extremely hard to point to any successes for the so-called Pax Americana that resulted from that intervention. Not only did we help create the conditions that led to Hitler and Stalin, we also helped pave the way for an expanded Soviet Empire by making a too-ready alliance with Stalin to fight Hitler.

Imagine a world where we did NOT so easily partner with Stalin. What if we had made our assistance conditional on Stalin returning to his pre-Hiter-pact borders upon the defeat of Germany? We could have done everything we did in that war without stooping to aid Stalin sans consideration. Instead, we partnered ourselves in the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe while asking for nothing in return.

You see this kind of error as an exception, but I see it as the rule. Were we really so good when we murdered tens of thousands of people to create an empire in the Philippines after the Spanish American War? And did this really play no role in later Japanese behavior in emulation of our bad example?

I could go on and on. But my point isn't to uniquely bang on America's politicians. My point is to debunk the myth of militarism, in all its forms, especially when it seeks to cloak itself in benevolence. The Pax Romana may have made sense in a pre-industrial world where all wealth was based on finite land, but Pax Trade make more sense in our modern world. Politically managed armies are problems, not solutions. They create more enemies than they kill. We would be more secure without them. A completely decentralized guerrilla strategy would work better for both deterrence and defense, without the danger of political mischief-making. How's that for a contrary view?

Daniel Ryan said...

Some costs of the Pax America on it's vassal states.
NSA spying partnerships with our own agencies.
Radical changes in our IP laws to suit Hollywood. Being bound to the disasterous US Patent system.
Huge pressure on our health system to stop providing cheap medicines.
Takeover of local corporations by US giants. etc.
Oppressing our own people to appease the TSA.
Involvement in multiple wars.

Sure it's pretty mild by historical standards but it's not insignificant.

Ian said...

A simple observation to expand on my earlier point:

India's trade surplus with the US is worth $20 billion a year. Total US exports to India are worth ca. $50 billion.

India's GDP is $1.8 trillion (a market exchange rates).

how does a trade surplus of 1% of GDP drive the economy.


India, BTW, runs a persistent trade deficit despite it's bilateral surplus with the US.

India's economy is growing despite a current acount deficit of ca. 5% of GDP.

China's economy is growing while it's current account surplus has fallen from ca. 10% of GDP to ca. 2% over a 5 fie year.

There is no simple correlation between either bilateral trade balances with the US or total trade balance or current account balance.

So what does this tell us: well as all regulars here know it tells us that economics isn't a science and I'm a filthy elitist and Tool of the Jews for suggesting otherwise.

John Kurman said...

Brian, military spending as a percentage of GDP has been declining steadily since WWII, to about , I think, less than 5% of GDP today, despite the obscene amount we spend, and working on two and a half to three wars at a time. 1 out of 3 planes in the air force is a drone, and going up, and we have the lowest citizen participation rate ever. Hardly anyone has skin in the game, and the average citizen sacrifices nothing, and need only perform brief rituals at sports events. If anything, it makes permanent war very likely. On the other hand, the really big difference, since 90% of everything in the world goes by ship, is the existence of the US Navy and support services. I doubt we would have the trade conditions we enjoy today without role of the US in that.

Alfred Differ said...

Pax Americana manages trade lanes across the oceans. THAT is the core. Because we have an interest in doing that we also manage options for war between nations that must use navies and ocean transport. That is the next layer of the onion and it impacts the military budgets of every nation. I view trade imbalance between us and other specific nations as a form of soft power that only makes sense if we have the first two layers right, so before trade imbalances are given too much credit for improving the lives of billions, we must count the expenditures associated with amassing and maintaining our huge fleet.

Acacia H. said...

Oh, here's something for the anti-Obamacare "socialized medicine" fanatics: Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party are responsible for socialized medicine due to an unfunded mandate in 1986 that prevented patient-dumping. In essence, hospitals have been forced to add to their costs due to uninsured patients using the Emergency Room as their doctor. Seeing that hospitals are often not able to get much money back from the poor but can't dump the patients, their costs go up. Thus the current problem with our health care system.

If the Republican Party was truly anti-Socialized Medicine they should repeal this law from Reagan and their own from 1986. They should out-and-out state that they were wrong to do this law and that hospitals have every right to turn away patients who can't pay.

Though that might lose them a lot of votes....

Rob H.

Unknown said...

"I doubt we would have the trade conditions we enjoy today without role of the US in that."

And this is a benefit precisely how?

The main point of my post is not that Pax Americana is a bad thing compared to international chaos, but that it's a bad thing compared to international governance that doesn't depend on imperial power. It's time we moved beyond empire to a form of global governance that's more democratic.

This would, among other things, generate a global trade regime that benefits ordinary people, not just powerful corporations.

I actually agree with David's reasoning as far as it goes. He just doesn't take it far enough.

Acacia H. said...

Oh, and here's a webcomic for researchers. Yes, there IS a webcomic for just about every group now, isn't there. ;)


Rob H.

Sojka's Call said...

David - thanks for a great post that tied so many different inputs together. I found your "final note on the civil war we're in" to actually give me goosebumps. The info about the Saudi prince owning part of Fox (7% from one source I checked) to be a missing piece of a puzzle I have been working on. I loved the Newsman video and your commentary on that too. I had read Maudlin's piece last week and like how you threw that in to give some hope to those down and out about all the mess in DC. I think "that habit of self-critique" will save us in the end. Thanks again for an excellent and timely post.

Thomas said...

"Further, do go ask folks in Poland and Korea, before you dismiss all this "pax" stuff."

Korea was divided, against the will of the people, on US initiative. The result was two brutal dictatorships both with an official policy of reunification by force under their command. Yeah, thanks a lot America!

Tim H. said...

Thomas, there was the small matter of the USSR to consider in the Korean partition. If you've gotta' have a "Bad OSA" moment, read up on TR's settlement of the 1905 Russo-Japanese war.

Alex Tolley said...

The US military is still primarily constructed to fight a war with a similarly equipped sovereign nation. The failure to win in Vietnam should have been a clue this wasn't going to work in different situations. Afghanistan and arguably even Iraq, continue to show the failure mode of such a force. The use of drones is definitely a move towards fighting modern wars, albeit with serious consequences with their current use.

As for maintaining trade routes, explain how a carrier based fleet achieves this? Traditionally what you would need is large fleets of vessels like destroyers to deter piracy and other illegal activity. However even here, remote surveillance and intercept might be a better way to go.

It is hard to understand how this is still a "Pax Americana" when the US seems increasingly willing to actually engage in war, rather than just threaten. The costs of such wars will result in the same imperial overstretch that undermined the "Pax Britannica" before it. I think we are already seeing this quite plainly.

matthew said...

@ ALex - you cannot have the destroyers without air support, and thus the carriers. A ship at sea without air support is just a target. Sorry to say, the trade lanes require the carriers, until such a time as air support devolves strictly to drones.

matthew said...

And thus, I suspect, ends the great libertarian Bitcoin experiment. Alleged Silk Road propriater arrested for money laundering, counterfeiting, and attempted murder for hire. I've linked to the Boing Boing report on this because they have the best dirt of the major sites so far.

Also, I just bet that the "routine" customs search that allegedly led the authorities to DPR was anything but routine. We've seen too many documents showing that the government is lying about such things lately.

And finally, anyone that is still trusting tor or any other website to hide their IDs online is a chump.

I think this is the second big nail in the coffin for the cryptophreaks, after the Snowden revelations.

John Kurman said...

Alex, a different question might be "Why aren't all cargo ships armed to the teeth"? Even though we still haven't figured out that military force is not a projection of will, if properly advertised, it's projection of force is formidable enough to keep most pirates, etc. at bay, despite the occasional headline. Plus, in the near future, every Navy surface ship will have a swarm of angry air drones and - more important - a school of nasty unmanned submersibles surrounding it. I think the mere knowledge that machine death can be applied to criminals is probably enough to deter all but the most desperate (which is what those Somali fishermen are).

Alex Tolley said...

@matthew - what sort of threat are you expecting - some sort of sovereign nation attack? Definitely overkill for piracy.

AFAIK, the US fleets duties are not concerned with piracy, but force projection for mainly sovereign threats.

<a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/gcaptain/2013/03/11/protecting-ships-from-somali-pirates-the-navy-vs-private-security/>Forbes article on protecting ships from Somali pirates</a>

@John Kurman - the answer is cost. Very few ships actually get attacked by pirates. In the Malacca straits pirates tend not to kill the crews, just steal the goods. Arming (and training) the poorly paid crews with more than just small arms is going to be expensive. Got to keep those transport costs down.

I agree that cheap drones that can kill will probably be a very good way to reduce force costs by increasing surveillance and response range.

Paul451 said...

Perry Willis,
"A completely decentralized guerrilla strategy"

Can you explain what you mean by that?

Rob H,
"They should out-and-out state that they were wrong to do this law and that hospitals have every right to turn away patients who can't pay. Though that might lose them a lot of votes...."

Would it? I mean they wouldn't admit they were wrong, but would repealing the no-dump law really lose them "a lot of votes"? It seems to be exactly the hate-the-poor, takers-vs-makers, <cough>blacks<cough> no you're the racist, propaganda campaign that Fox News loves.

John Kurman,
"Why aren't all cargo ships armed to the teeth"?

Because sovereign nations don't like it when armed foreign vessels sail into their ports, except under very strict circumstances and with loads of prior negotiations.

Paul451 said...

Re: The Newsroom clip.
Of course, in the real world, he would not have gotten past "America is not great" without either being booed off-stage or cheered in every other line, depending on the University(?) they were speaking at, and the two other talking heads (token-liberal-stooge, token-conservative-stooge, because is we "balanced" see) would not have left a single one of those stunned (dramatic) pauses unfilled with well-rehearsed indignation.
Some of the boys from the old club are starting to worry about the monster they've created:


Dr. Schadenfreude says, "Ha ha".

Anonymous said...

You may find this speech by the Australian comedian, actor, and musician Tim Minchin interesting.


Mitchell J. Freedman said...

What does this loony left that is supposedly in the Democratic Party want, David?

From those I know who are inside the Democratic Party, they want (1) massive infrastructure rebuilding and development of new infrastructures in solar, wind and mass transit; (2) repeal of trade treaties and reassertion of a smart tariff policy to restore and restart an industrial capacity in this nation; (3) labor law reform to make it easier for labor unions to form and (4) Medicare for All/national child care program to protect (mostly) women with young children.

That sounds far more sane than anything the Tea Party has cooked up.

The equivalency argument fails.

LarryHart said...

The recent talk of tumbrels and guillotines put me in a mind to re-read "A Tale of Two Cities".

I've read the book four or five times in my life, but never before has it seemed to be so "torn from today's headlines".

The two more or less "establishing shot" chapters called "Monseigneur in Town" and "Monseigneur in the Country" describe much of what is wrong with a society heading toward oligarchy.

For good measure, I'll probably follow it up with "Les Miserables".

Acacia H. said...

Freedman, the Loony Left wants us to stop using technology, move everyone to the cities to eliminate any damage to the environment, ban all guns, ban any technology that would allow people to make guns, ban any speech that disparages anyone else, ban meat because it's cruel to animals, ban any forms of genetically modified foods as unnatural, and basically turn the entire nation into a nanny state. Oh, and also get rid of the military and trust the rest of the world not to go after us.

No thanks.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

I would suggest 'encouraging everyone to the cities' myself. The majority of the world's population is streaming in that direction already. Do you have a problem with that, Robert?

Andrew said...


That version of the "looney left" is only a tiny fraction, numerically speaking, of their counterpart extremists on the right.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

Robert H., you are so deluded.

Not one Democratic Party politician holds those panoply of positions. Not one.

And I don't know anyone in the Democratic Party who stands for those things. They are outside the Democratic Party if they exist at all.

Tony Fisk said...

Just a minute...

Apparently, W3C has approved the inclusion of DRM features in the web standard. The worry here is that 'end agents' (ie your browser) is no longer under the user's control.

However, the Director (presumably Tim Berners-Lee) 'will continue to review the impact of the experiment, such as whether new work is brought to W3C, one of the metrics to evaluate the experiment.'

Of course, this just may be the loony left sounding off.

peneffin - the act of committing a swear word to paper.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Interesting comment about political systems


Explaining why "Presidential" systems are doomed and you need to shift to a parliamentary system

Edit_XYZ said...

"Robert said...
Freedman, the Loony Left wants us to stop using technology, move everyone to the cities to eliminate any damage to the environment, ban all guns, ban any technology that would allow people to make guns, ban any speech that disparages anyone else, ban meat because it's cruel to animals, ban any forms of genetically modified foods as unnatural, and basically turn the entire nation into a nanny state. Oh, and also get rid of the military and trust the rest of the world not to go after us.
No thanks.

Andrew answered...
That version of the "looney left" is only a tiny fraction, numerically speaking, of their counterpart extremists on the right."

Andrew, now you're de facto calling Greenpeace as representing a "tiny fraction" of the left.
I beg to differ.

Alex Tolley said...

Speaking of Greenpeace, their act of sousveillance in the Arctic got trumped by the exercise of force. The participants are under the threat of 15 years jail for piracy.

I certainly hope they are just negotiating pawns in a greater game being played by Putin.

Edit_XYZ said...

I was referring specifically to Greenpeace's policy vis-a-vis genetically modified food:
And regarding the effects of GM food:

Of course, I could talk about Greenpeace's nuclear energy position, etc etc.
Its position - the position of the green mainstream - is that, if something is made by humans, it's evil/impure and should be expunged; that humans are the cancer of the planet.
Needless to say, I disagree; and I find it rather amusing how these mizantrophes are considered 'THE good guys'.

Acacia H. said...

You asked about the Loony Left. Please note, Dr. Brin has stated the Loony Left doesn't have any real power in the Democratic Party (which appears ready to usurp the Republican party as the party of business and conservatism, while the Republicans go the batshit insane direction into inanity - if this shutdown continues and if the debt ceiling collapses, then in two years you'll see some big losses among Republicans and them turning into a regional party that will never again be a significant power in Congress).

The Loony Left is only a threat if it breaks out of the Democratic party and manages to draw liberals with it. This will probably happen in the next 10-20 years considering what's happening with Republicans right now.

Rob H.

matthew said...

I think Edit is right, the "anti-science" left is a fairly big force, numerically. But Dr. Brin is certainly correct that they hold no power within their supposed party. Even the members of the House that come from districts where a majority of voters skew fairly far out on the "anti-science" scale (e.g. Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio in Oregon) are not pushing the "anti-science" agenda, except for some pretty common-sense stuff like being cautious with GMO's (labeling) etc.
Robert is correct here. American citizens are pretty far left of their government, if polling is to be believed. (Warning: from a left-leaning partisan source) Polling Shows America Leans Left or The Washington Post on cognitive bias in self-identifiying
Yes, I do think we are going to see much more radicalization on the left. From anti-vaccine fools to believers in alternative medicine to the anti-nuke brigade, those folks are organizing together via social media. I think we may be looking at a three or even four-party confusion at the national level pretty soon.

As a snarky aside aimed at the loony left: What do you call alternative medicine that works? Answer: Medicine.

Paul451 said...

Mitchell J. Freedman,

"They are outside the Democratic Party if they exist at all."

That is David's long-standing claim: that the Loony Left was run out of the Democratic Party decades ago and now exists only in academia, PETA/ALF, Greenpeace, etc. The Loony Right, otoh, has their own global media network, hundreds of millions in direct political funding, and hijacked the entire Republican Party.

Not everyone on the Loony Left ticks every criteria or would ever put themselves in the same category as each other, just as the Loony Right also hold a wide range of mutually-incompatible non-Party-supported beliefs, from near-theocracy to anarcho-capitalism.

Alex Tolley,
"Speaking of Greenpeace, their act of sousveillance in the Arctic"

That's not why they were arrested. They pulled their standard PR stunt, climbing onto a Russian facility and trying to hang a protest banner. The piracy charges are BS, of course, but they were not just sousveilling.

(And doing a generic banner protest ... in the middle of the friggin' Arctic ocean ... on a Russian facility ... is a perfect example of delusional Left thinking.)

Paul451 said...

Clever rocket hobbyist creates a see-through hybrid rocket motor which uses the solid plastic of its own see-through casing as fuel.


Paul451 said...

Article suggesting that Goldwater/Buckley were actually patients-zero of the modern "destroy the government" crazy Right.


"Listen to Buckley again from that September 1964 speech: "Any election of Barry Goldwater would presuppose a sea change in American public opinion," as if American society, "prisoners of all those years, succeeded in passing blithely through the walls of Alcatraz and tripping lightly over the shark-infested waters and treacherous currents, to safety on the shore." Yes: if you were a conservative, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society—Medicare,the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.—was the equivalent of incarceration in Alcatraz. And this was conservatism's grown-up."

David Brin said...

-Sorry guys I was traveling/speaking in Goldwater's home state. Here's a roundup of answers.

CarlM I do not contend my speech precipitated the Rothbardist putsch of Libertarianism. Indeed, were there not still a Crane component in the leadership, I'd never have been invited. But my speech might have got one of those guys fired.

Brian R I agree that Pax Americana cannot last forever, nor even another generation. I have referred often of our need to start now discussing Whatever Comes Next -- and indeed much of it is laid out here:

Perry W thanks for an interesting parallel universe story. I doubt the army mutinies would have come off as cleanly and uniformly as you portray. The German offensive of 1918 was stopped by US troops but even without them it 70% would have fizzled before reaching new lines at Paris. Yes, The French/British would have gone to static defense to avoid mutiny. But meanwhile the Ottoman collapse would have been followed by collapse of the Austrians while the German economy evaporated. Germany was doomed no matter how you cut it and so long as they weren't asked to attach, the main brit-french armies would have seen the value of holding the line near Paris till that collapse. I agree that would have made subsequent history different. If the from-the-south strategy took till 1921, Germany would have been broken up into forty mini-states.

Likewise, your scenario with Stalin boils down to "make him double his promises with a "cross my heart" before giving him aid. Aid in 41-43 was essential for US to win. We could have slackened it in 44, but to what end? Your Phillipines tale would make more sense if balances. Fact, the people are the judge. and overall, they were friendly to the US. Almost none viewed the Japanese in 42 as liberators, which suggests that the earlier campaigns were more complicated than you portray.

David Brin said...

D Ryan I agree that Pac Amer has had HUGE costs! In fact our resilience and ability to pay for wretched mistakes and come back is the wonder of the age. You are too young to recall what Vietnam did to us. We just a bout shattered… and swore "never again will we let idiotic presidents plunge us into multi-trillion dollar quagmire wars of insurgency in Asia!" Fat lot of good that vow did! Yet we recovered from that, too.

Ian's facile answer ignores that increases in trade have vastly greater effects upon INVESTMENT that proportionate other parts of an economy have.

Thomas, Korea was divided because Truman leaped in to prevent the Soviets from taking the whole penninsula. Yes, there was ensuing hell, five years later when the communists tried unification by force. But you ignore my challenge to ASK someone in the south if they wish we had not come. PLEEEEEEEEZ will you do that?

YEs, the Rhee and Park eras in the SOuth were dictatorships imposed by the Pax power. Sorry about that. But they were nothing like communist dictatorships which would kill you for things you mutter into a beer. ABove all, as economy, education and non-vote freedoms rose, pressure built and SKorean politics simply blossomed organically into the present democracy. Go turn on your Samsung and call anyone in SKorea and ask them what they think of America. Pleeez.

Mitchell Freedman when did I say there was "equivalence"? I state the obvious that there EXIST loony fringe lefty flakes. The folks who give Sean Hannity all the anecdotes he uses to then tell his Big Lie "All liberals are likt this idiot-doofus flake I just talked about." The lie was to say that Liberals are lefties. The lie was not to see "here'sa real-life idiot."

In fact, the mania I see… of some folks like you actually trying to deny: "MY side has no fanatical dogmatic jerks!" is in my mind symptomatic. It means you are blinkered, facing only one direction in your suspicions. Yes that direction happens NOW to be vastly the most dangerous. But blinkers are not good clothing for citizens.

You claim not one demo-politician holds the loony-left positions? Well, there are some borderline lefties among demo-politicians, BUT YOU ARE RIGHT! Generally, the demoparty is run by liberals, not lefties. God help us if that changes.

David Brin said...

LArryHart exactly. In EXISTENCE I show some smart Oligarchs very very concerned about how to prevent a French style revolution. This situation is proof that they are NOT as smart as they think they are.

Duncan I lived in London in the 1980s and Paris in the 90s. I can tell you parliamentary systems have flaws of their own. The US is in trouble for one reason. We are in a Civil War and Blue America is still in denial.

Alex, Greenpeace ran into the Gandhi Paradox. A Brit Asked G what Hitler or Stalin would have done with him.. Paraphrased, "They would have killed me and all my followers. SO? Do you want a medal or praise for being more decent and human than monsters? Decent enough that can live and apply pressure to your conscience? Fine. I will give you praise and a medal. After you leave."

Greenpeace thinks conscience matters to Putin. What did I say about a loony left? (I send them $ every year.)

Finally… I don't call Goldwater/Buckley perfect. Indeed, I found them infuriating and probably screamed at my TV MORE in their day, while Fox is so blatantly BASED on dishonesty and lies that I see little point. But G/B were smart and capable of gradual learning. G apologized for many 1960s stances and was a giant compared to Boehner et al.

David Brin said...

gerrymandering effects made blatant:

sociotard said...

Thomas, Korea was divided because Truman leaped in to prevent the Soviets from taking the whole penninsula. Yes, there was ensuing hell, five years later when the communists tried unification by force. But you ignore my challenge to ASK someone in the south if they wish we had not come. PLEEEEEEEEZ will you do that?

I don't have to. I work with a Vietnamese man who wishes not that the US had stuck it out and prevailed, but that the US had never gotten involved. Had the US done nothing about the fall of Korea, the peninsula would:
*be undivided
*not be as nice as the south but probably not as bad as the north. About like Vietnam. Without the constant bugaboo of the South and the US, the country wouldn't have been able to support its militarism.
*have suffered terribly for the first 40 years, but then the reforms come, and those people presently oppressed in NK would be way better off. Less suffering in the long term.

Oh, I know nothing about beer, but this made me laugh: Beer made with lunar meteorites as an ingredient

David Brin said...

Sociotard, no question that bombing the crap out of Vietnam AND accomplishing nothing was a very bad combo. And nothing could possibly have been accomplished in that terrain. Korea was conducive to conventional armed conflict and despite being outnumbered 10x by chinese forces the UN succeeded and Stalinists decided not to do their next plan... invading Europe thru the Fulda gap.

You DO have to ask Korean.s your second statement shows cluelessness of staggering magnitude. ASK them? Or Germans or Poles what they think of NATO.

sociotard said...

First answer me this: why is Vietnam better off now than North Korea? Vietnam changed its economic policies. It isn't as free as South Korea, nor as prosperous, but it is far far better than NK. Why?

I say that not being in a perpetual state of almost-war with two capitalist countries let Vietnam relax it's authoritative grip on the people. What is your explanation.

Country Democracy Index
Vietnam 2.75
North Korea 1.03
South Korea 7.88

David Brin said...

Vietnam was never going to be a NKorea. Ho Chi Minh was never the villain he was portrayed as, but rather our ally in WWII whom we betrayed by helping the French return, whose hero was G Washington.

Yes he was marxist and he was not innocent in his oppression of Vietnamese Catholics and Buddhists. Had we the means to truly shut down jungle supply lines and pinpoint troop concentrations under forest -- as we now do - it might have been possible to thwart his invasion of the south, where a clear majority did not want hi,

But we were hubristic fools then, tacklin an impossible task with outrageously inappropriate and disproportionate violence. WHile slim majority in the south did not want the communist experiment (they were right) a clear majority of all vietnamese wanted it (they were wrong but it was not our place to wreck a country to try saving it from poor political judgment.

Acacia H. said...

And further, if we'd supported him economically but used diplomacy to encourage him to have a mixed market instead of communism, then Vietnam might have become a symbol to the Communist world that the U.S. is not some vast capitalist empire trying to destroy them... but a nation willing to work with them and wanting peace. Kennedy was a fool, as was Johnson. Nixon was right to want to pull us out of that quagmire. And I can't help but wonder if he'd won instead of Kennedy, what shape the nation would have been in and if Cuba would have been armed with nukes... especially as I doubt he'd have been shot like Kennedy was. And without Vietnam as an albatross, Nixon's presidency might have been without Watergate.

Not that it matters. You can't change the past, and even if you could it's probably not a good idea to do so.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


while the Republicans go the batshit insane direction into inanity - if this shutdown continues and if the debt ceiling collapses, then in two years you'll see some big losses among Republicans and them turning into a regional party that will never again be a significant power in Congress

In a rational world, I'd agree. But we've seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. The Republican Party and Supply-Side economics should have been dead after Katrina and the crash of 2008. Instead, they won a landslide of congressional seats and state houses in 2010 and were able to gerrymander themselves into a Reich to last 1000 years--or at least 10 when the next census occurs. :)

I guess it's true that "Nothing this evil ever dies."

Alex Tolley said...

(And doing a generic banner protest ... in the middle of the friggin' Arctic ocean ... on a Russian facility ... is a perfect example of delusional Left thinking.)

Why delusional? Because they should have expected to be arrested? That they should have expected to be tried for piracy?

Let's consider a different situation. You are on a cruise ship to reach the north pole during the summer ice free period. The ship is slowed to allow observation of a Russian oil rig. A few passengers decide to take a small boat and plant an anti-fossil fuel banner on the side of the rig. The Russians promptly call up a destroyer and force the ship to a Russian port where the ship is impounded and all crew and passengers are arrested for piracy. Is it really delusional to expect that the Russian rig crew would just have tried to eject the protesters and have a warship escort the cruise vessel away from the rig, given that it is in international waters? Sovereign nations may overreact, but that is normally kept in check by international laws and potential reactions. I cannot imagine we would accept this event.

Once we acknowledge that protest actions can have severe repercussions, we effectively accept and even condone those repercussions. Do we really want to go back to the bloody responses of institutions to protests and demands for changes? [And yes I recognize that I am arguing the opposite side of my position on sousveillance]

David Brin said...

Alex of COURSE the Greenpeacers are leftists. They have their uses. I send em money. They were dopes to expect the Russians to follow the unwritten rules of civil disobedience. Those rules only apply above a certain level of conscience. Gandhi would have told them that.

Robert, Nixon was a raging war-fighter. Yes, Kennedy's macho was dumb-ass and he fell for a trap by diving into Vietnam. But Nixon pounded Nam for FIVE YEARS so don't nurse such fantasies.

Alfred Differ said...

Vietnam is better off than NK today because they had the good sense to recognize China as their most immediate threat after we left and shifted policy.

Pax Americana will survive this century and even overspend in outrageous ways at times. There are no economic forces large enough to stop us unless we stop ourselves. Our dominance on the oceans will translate to dominance in cis-lunar space giving us 'shorelines' with every nation on Earth.

David Brin said...

Alfred, I hope that Americans soon get over their aversion to thinking about Whatever Comes Next and begin conversations with the world on a long, slow, respected and influential exit path for Pax Americana into something wise and truly effective for the planet and its peoples and nature. It would be our greatest of many great accomplishments. But without American influence, WCN will come anyway, and we'd probably find it distasteful, at best.

Alex Tolley said...

"[Greenpeace] were dopes to expect the Russians to follow the unwritten rules of civil disobedience."

X misunderstood how Y would react = delusional?

The US was a dope to expect the Vietnamese/Bin Laden/etc. to follow the written rules of war and how to fight.

Equally delusional? I think we can make mistakes without being cast as "delusional" with its association with mental illness. You can be sure Greenpeace won't make the same mistake again, although they may make different ones. OTOH, the US seems to be remarkably slow in learning from its mistakes when deciding to wage war.

Andrew said...

The views ascribed to the "looney left" here wouldn't even describe 5% of Berkeley. So, yes, I can state unequivocally that Greenpeace/PETA etc. represents only a small portion of the Left.

gregory byshenk said...

Alex Tolley: "X misunderstood how Y would react = delusional?"

Mere misunderstanding is not necessarily delusional -- but forming an understanding that is contrary to all evidence probably is.

So far as I am aware, there is just no evidence supporting the conclusion that the Russian governement will react kindly to "civil disobedience", and indeed a great deal of evidence it will react harshly. On what non-delusional grounds would someone come to the understanding that the Russians would react well to Greenpeace's actions?

ed waldo (Hart Williams) said...


Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Address

"Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

"This, plainly stated, is your language."

David Brin said...

Alex you seem to believe US leaders had forgotten Vietnam when they sent us to Iraq & Afgh. I contend they knew exactly what they were doing, with the intent of destroying Pax Americana.

As for civil disobedience, it is actually a fine art that has become woven into american and western law. If your actions create inconvenience, not for gain, little lasting harm, and ONLY inconvenience to attract attention, then you are honored with a night or week in jail. ANd Gandhi-King called it an honor.

Andrew, all that is needed is for you to admit that liberals are not leftists and you are a liberal. No more cog dissonance.

Thomas said...

David, Korea was peripheral for both USA and the Soviet Union. Why not simply make a deal that both kept their hands off and let Korea sort out its own business? Why do the two superpowers have to go around deciding these matters over the heads of the people? And don't pretend it was just the evil Russians that forced you any more than anyone forced you to support French recolonization of Vietnam.

In the early years the South, as far as I know, had considerably more blood on their hands striking down peasant rebellions killing tens of thousands of people. The North had a control state with very limited freedom, but didn't kill nearly as many people. (The advantage of a surveillance state is that you know who to kill rather than having to burn down entire villages of suspects). I also suspect US bombing campaigns during the Korean war killed more civilians than their regime has managed. You basically wiped the country off the map with incendiaries against wooden cities. In a way I think you should be happy the war ended with a draw so the devastation was hidden on the Northern side.

Refusing to talk to China, indeed openly talking about continuing from Korea into China for a regime change there, was another brilliant idea that prolonged the war for years and cost innumerable lives.

It is true the South Korea is now a democracy, but don't take credit for that, it was the people of South Korea that fought for and won their freedom, you were just as happy to support the dictators.

I wouldn't be as proud as you obviously are of your history, although patriotism seems to be an American religion.

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
"[Was the US delusional] to expect the Vietnamese/Bin Laden/etc. to follow the written rules of war and how to fight"


Supporting independence fighters in one war (WWII/Afghanistan), and then going to war with those same independence fighters and expecting any other outcome is delusional. Worse, going into places that had a) held their own against the WWII Japanese army, or b) defeated the Russian army, and going in with a light unequipped force thinking you face an easy opponent?

"Let's consider a different situation. You are on a cruise ship"

Alex, stop it. They weren't on a cruise. They weren't doing sousveillance.

Naum said...

David is correct on Goldwater -- by the 1990s, he incensed his own party and even supported Democratic candidates in the state. He decried the religious right takeover of the party and remarked how funny it was that him and Bob Dole were now considered *liberals* by the rest of the party.

Living in Arizona, my conservative friends shrugged Goldwater off as a sorry bitter, alcoholic in the twilight of his life more in the influence of his new young wife (he remarried in 1992 to a woman ~30 years younger). John Dean writes a different story (and like Goldwater, has a lot of scorn for the brand of authoritarian Republican that has captured the party).

matthew said...

This is significant, IMO. California law to give journalists five day warning before government can access their records.

And ed waldo, I've seen that Lincoln quote floating around social media a lot in the last couple of days. It is a killer one.

Paul451 said...

"light unequipped force"

Oops. I meant "under-equipped".

Alfred Differ said...

David: I'm all for inclusion of people who are moderately rational in a WCN dialog with us, but I'm a tad skeptical it will happen this century. What I do think will happen is we will continue to rely on certain other 'mature' cultures to remind us occasionally that there is value in restraint, but I honestly doubt we will 'grow-up' enough to get past our current form of philosophical barbarianism and I say that in the nicest possible way I can imagine. You know our culture is an odd duck with a mix of certainty that our way is the right way and everyone can just stuff it combined with a lot of self-criticism. You've written lots about it and it is entertaining to watch you point it out to people on FB. We are young barbarians, though, and will probably remain so for awhile a bit like the British did when they built a Pax empire.

In EXISTANCE you list out some of the civilization ending demises we could choose. Try running that same exercise for the demise of Pax Americana. There ARE ways we could end it all, but I think if you are honest with the exercise you'll find they mostly involve us or forces we simply can't control... yet. We are an economic juggernaut and the world will simply have to adapt to us this century. In the scenarios I know of only the Mexicans have a chance to challenge us by the turn of the century because of their proximity and the fact that they are willing to use pages from our own history of what we did to them, but even that is a long-shot I think.

If the world continues on a path toward sanity, Pax Americana will morph a bit as some cultures surrender to be included in those who make the decisions instead of those who get told what to do. It will all be done through trade mostly, but there will always be our barbarism as an undertone to the dialog. Instead of saying 'Do it our way or we will kill you.' we will probably say 'Do it our way or we will impoverish you.'

The exercises are mostly about geopolitics if you think about it in detail. This is our century. We won the wars of the 20th and will fight a few more times this century, but it's all over now except for the mopping up... until we decide to take the British path some day way in the future.

David Brin said...

The WCN I see as likely is in hiatus as Europe wallows in troubles. But these will pass. Then they will admit The Ukraine and Turkey... and voila, Bermuda and the Bahamas will apply, then Tonga and Samoa, the New Zealand.... do you think the "E" in EU will stop this?

They'll just make it mean "EARTH" and at that poit WCN will take form without any UN aspects. Not the worst but unpalatable to Americans, and we'll have lost the chance to influence its shape.

David Brin said...


LarryHart said...

More evidence that "A Tale of Two Cities" is torn from today's headlines, or at least today's blog posts.

Just a few hours ago, Paul Krugman had this to say in his blog:

If we have a debt-ceiling crisis in a couple of weeks, with dire economic effects, don’t just blame Boehner’s Bunglers; you should also blame the deficit scolds — the Committee for a Responsible Peterson Budget and so on, and all the Very Serious People who have lent them support. For as Jonathan Chait reminds us, these organizations all cheered the Republicans on in 2011, as they made the first-ever use of the debt ceiling to blackmail a sitting president.

If they are now horrified by the prospect of a financial crisis, well, guys, you’re the ones who insisted that extortion was OK as long as you thought it served your goals.

Which is not only spot-on, but also doevtails nicely with the aforementioned Chapter 23 of "A Tale of Two Cities". In that chapter, the Revolution is just starting to get underway. Aristocrats are still nominally in charge, but the downtrodden masses no longer fear nor obey them, and wise military officers know better than to order their men to threaten the populace. Rough men roam the countryside setting fire to the castles of the ruling houses, and when a rider from one such castle beseaches aid from a nearby village, no one cares to provide such assistance.

The rider from the chateau, and the horse in a foam, clattered away through the village, and galloped up the stony steep to the prison on the crag. At the gate, a group of officers were looking at the fire; removed from them, a group of soldiers. "Help, gentlemen-officers! The chateau is on fire; valuable objects may be saved from the flames by timely aid! Help, help!" The officers looked towards the soldiers who looked at the fire, gave no orders; and answered with shrugs and biting of lips, "It must burn."

It occurs to me that that represents the attitute of the American public to cries for the next bailout of the 0.01% when the Tea Party monster they themselves loosed upon us manage to bring down the economy.