Sunday, April 25, 2021

Is Pax Americana worth defending? Or at least forgiving?

First another sign that grownups are at least trying, again.  At last, a major US figure is proclaiming what we've long known, that nothing can be accomplished to forestall the creation of a lordly, trillionaire caste that towers, omnipotent and impervious above all nations, unless the remedies are done internationally, by worldwide treaty. Janet Yellen's call for a global minimum corporate tax rate would be a fine start, limiting incentives for mega corps to 'shelter' trillions in tax havens.

Moreover, make no mistake. Preventing stuff like this is Mitch McConnell's actual, underlying reason for desperately trying to cripple the Biden Administration.

In my novel Existence, I posit that the world agreed to a "Big Deal" in the late twenties, that decelerated the drive toward oligarchy in ways like this. But something much more assertive is needed. Something that would not affect YOU or me or honest taxpayers or honest corporations one scintilla. See my proposal for a Worldwide Transparency of Ownership Treaty.

That's preferable over the last resort that I portrayed earlier, in EARTH. The Helvetian War.

== Trying to arue facts with those who despise them ==

As usual, the Good Guys in this culture war and political struggle seem to lack even a clue how to use judo tactics. For example, it is an exercise in polemical futility simply to accuse the PRC of oppressive minority-repression in their hinterlands and applying sanctions to rebuke those actions. Oh, the sanctions may serve a realpolitik goal, but as a public polemic? All they do - always - is shout back "who are you (the U.S.) to lecture anyone about moral or decent behavior? Your own young people and human rights activists denounce the USA faults daily! From incarceration rates to police misbehaviors to electoral cheating! What hypocrisy!"

And how does that reply play? 

Well, it plays very well! Many in the West - including, likely, some of you - nod sadly and murmur "Yeah, how dare we lecture anyone? What hypocrisy!" ...

...ignoring the elephant in this room: the fact that we train generations of Americans in Suspicion of Authority and the value of corrective criticism. The folks nodding their heads sadly - including many of you - are indications of health and strength, not the opposite. (For more on this concerted training program, found in almost every Hollywood film, see Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood.)

While I never cared for some of his endeavors, Jean-Paul Sartre had a keen sense that good argument among opponents - facing each other with facts and good will - was the fundamental tool of every Periclean Enlightenment: the only times in the long, dour history of our species when actual progress was ever made. The following Sartre quote wasn't just about anti-semites, but all fascists and every other cult that strives to evade fact and bring the enlightenment experiment crashing down:

“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

 And hence my proposal for methods of shaming blatant playground cheating, by going to the viscera core or such macho-romantic jerks -- their pretensions of manliness! And demands for wagers work better than any other. A wager demand is concise. You are refusing to be drawn in for their entertainment unless they show the balls to step up with cash. And when they flee, those balls are revealed - before onlookers - as hollow and made of dust.

There are ways to judo this polemical tit-for-tat. I have suggested several unusual and likely-effective tactics for years. Some of them can be found in Polemical Judo.

== Applying this to international 'accusation tiffs' ==

And let's be clear. This polemical level of combat is vital! Good maneuvers at that level might prevent other levels from going hot! A certain rising rival nation's Politburo is right now egging its own population into warlike hostility... even hatred... of purported American campaigns to "keep us down," despite the proved fact that we are exactly the reason for their rapid rise.  

By inciting such chauvinistic hatred, those paramount masters mean to use a trumped-up foreign threat to distract a billion humans from looking at their own hierarchs. But history shows that kind of riled-up popular fury can often be a tiger that's impossible to constrain or to ride. Among my many suggestions is to confront the actual history of our nations' relations -- (look up a fellow named Anson Burlingame, for starters). As the Genie sang to Aladdin "You never had a friend like us." 

But another approach is even more effective and you've seen it here before. It works better than anyone admits, toward all elements of the anti-fact coalition.
Next time US officials complain about concentration camps - and they answer with "incarcerations rates!" - don't just leave it all lying there! Follow up with a proposal to test our moral positions experimentally! "Let's put this to experiment. From both countries' census data, pick 1000 RANDOM CITIZENS and invite them (with immediate family) to gatherings in each others' capitals, with cultural and educational immersion, followed with an opportunity to be taken on a week of tours to any geographical location that they pick. 

"At the end of that month tell each of those thousand (and immediate families): "Here are two envelopes. One contains a ticket home. The other contains a rent-free, 3 year lease on a small, average apartment and a residency card. Which envelope will your sampled citizens choose? And which envelope would average, randomly chosen Americans pick? Shall we bet on it?" And sure quibble over average GDP or any other factor you like. Envision those factors adjusted and weighted. Shove your thumb on the scale all you want! You know the outcome would change by no more than a few percentage points. My point? It is not about any particular adversarial relationship or nation! It is not about immigration or any of the details.

It is about the stubborn insistence of our own political castes to keep avoiding anything like agile tactics! And yes, this applies to both the goodguy Union side and the evil Confederate side of this dismal, tragic, national civil war. 

One clade is good and decent and trying hard to overcome the outright and deliberate treason of the other, and yet they are all stooopidly rigid.

== The core accomplishment of the American Pax ==

Oh, then there is the argument that America used to be the protectionist stealer of inventions and intellectual property. Well, sure. And a certain amount is to be expected from rising nations!  Indeed, the U.S. was protectionist till WWI for the same reason that the U.S. after World War II was indulgent toward nations that used protectionism for the same purpose.

But this ignores the stunning U.S. policy of COUNTER-mercantilism that the New Empire imposed after World War II, unlike the mercantilist ripoff trade systems imposed by every other imperium across 4000 years. The reversal of that traditional behavior is the salient fact - more than any other - about Pax Americana.

in 1945, George Marshall and others held meetings that - for the first time in the dismal history of humanity - asked a simple question. "We're about to become the world's paramount power. What mistakes did all other empires make and how can we avoid them?"  

Again, all other Imperiums practiced mercantilist policies that stole gold from the peripheries and funneled it to the central zone, leading to poverty and hatred in the periphery and eventual the fall of it all. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was only the latest example of this wretched reflex, and the calamity that it caused almost slew us all.

That was what Marshall and the others decided to avoid, as a matter of deliberate policy. Starting with Europe & Japan, then Taiwan & Korea, then Singapore and other nations, indulgent US trade policies allowed and encouraged them to practice protectionism letting them draw in first textile mills, then assembly plants, then higher production while the workers' kids went to school... and all of it propelled by American consumers buying 100 TRILLION dollars worth of of crap we never needed.

Raised in a spirit of self-flaggelatory reflexes, liberal Americans - especially well-educated ones - simply ignore this deed, which may be the greatest accomplishment across all the annals of all nations and times, lifting a majority of humanity out of grinding poverty and transforming now China AND India at the same time!

I despair of anyone, anywhere, ever blinking and staring and finally realizing this blatant fact, that the greatest men of the 20th Century and possibly all of human history set up this greatest deed, after just finishing crushing the worst evil of all time. 

But it is simply true. We are still doing it. And without this deliberate policy, our supposed 'rivals' would still be almost all dirt roads today.

You're welcome.


 Ashley said...

You don't need my approval, but I do love American optimism in the face of adversity, and your call to arms against the wave of crazy that is sweeping America and other Western polities around the world, and agree that Pax Americana is the greatest gift to Mankind, despite its flaws.

But, while I think you Polemical Judo as an idea is great, I don't think it works as well as it could, for two simple reasons. Most of us are not you, and those we confront are not to be reasoned with.

Speaking with my psychology hat on, human cognitive processing is overwhelmed by the changes in our cultural norms from advancing communication technology that while we as societies have had such disruption before, this has been turned up to eleven. Without addressing this, having all sides agree that it is the problem, which neither side seems willing to do (though I could be wrong in that assumption) any change is going to not only difficult, but glacial.

I'm not sure we can as a species can avoid making the same mistakes our precursors made in such changing times (civil wars and revolutions that don't address the human condition). A plan like the Post WW2 Marshall Plan is what is needed now, but focused on how to stabilize Western Industrial Educated Rich Democratic societies in the face of Future Shock.

I'm not smart enough to know how to do that, and I suspect no one else is either.

Tim H. said...

Not strictly on topic, but good news:

A 77% effective malaria vaccine.

scidata said...

Re: vaccines

Not just malaria. The technology that was scaled up and deployed for mRNA vaccines (virus key target RNA wrapped in fat) has many possible applications, including rapidly evolving variants and even cancer. I had a choice (Canadian, over 60) and I went with Moderna for scientific (and Dolly Parton) reasons. The capper is that Forth is the natural choice for exploring nucleic acid strands and HGT. Concatenation is a quaint and quirky programming paradigm, but it's a fundamental process in nature.

Re: Pax Americana

The "worth defending" phrase reminds me of the famous words of Robert Wilson (Fermilab) in response to a facile 'What does this have to do with national defence?' challenge during a 1969 Senate hearing:

It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture... It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about. In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.

This concept was tragically missing in US 'leadership' between 2016 and 2020. Only a pompous, narcissistic, moronic grifter would fail to see this plain truth.

David Brin said...

AShl;ey, good remarks, but it might help if you actually read Polemical Judo, since there is plenty there that addresses your points.

Tim H. thanks for that news! Passed along.

Scidata amen. Except that Two Scoops did nothing to advance our defense even in classical terms and arguable eviscerated many aspects.

Lorraine said...

I feel the opinion undercurrents, it's like an undertow. I always self-identified more-left-than-liberal but now (at least online) there is a very explicitly anti-liberal brand of left.
At first it took the form of combining use of "liberal" as an epithet with referring to centrist faction Democrats (which I admittedly view as inimical to what I view as progress) as liberals. The lateral message discipline seemed to me discordant, tone-deaf and historically illiterate, as until not long before the 2016 primary season (when this "antiliberal" wave seemed to me to start) it was very conventional American English to refer to the Sanders wing (which I still support, if a little more warily) as the liberals and the Clinton wing as the moderates, or centrists. I (admittedly) wanted to denounce the latter as maybe careerists, or corporate stooges, or people out to put the austerity squeeze on the population (perhaps because they believe the "laws of economics" to be true), but attacking them for being "liberal" seemed stupid, as I assumed I myself was (among other things) a flaming liberal, and if anything the problem with the DLCs is that they're not liberal enough. It just seemed to me to be bad electoral messaging. Eventually I figured out that what I was observing was really anti-electoral messaging. This new new left seems (from my vantage point) to have appeared rapidly but voluminously out of nowhere, much like the alt-right. It revolves around certain gonzo journalists and their alt-media outlets, and is a gratingly strident wall of shout, of Putin-excusing, Assad-excusing, and now Uighur genocide denial.

David Brin said...

Lorraine much can be understood in the context that 10% of 'liberalism" was always filled with sanctimony junkies whose top priority was utter contempt for both the masses and all the nerds who use those "fact" things.

The struggle against the mad right mustn't stop us from recognizing these "allies" would torch everything we love, if they ever got a chance.

I do NOT include Bernie and AOC among them! They are on the team, doing their jobs! One of which is preventing recruitment by the mad, anti-enlightenment far left.

Larry Hart said...


You left me awfully confused. You seem to conflate the far right with the far left, and I'm not sure that's not intentional. (That wasn't a typo)

Maybe you think you're describing obvious truths which need no explanation, but I have no idea who or what on the left you are describing. Who on the left calls Hillary "too liberal"? Who on the left excuses Putin?

David Brin said...

I have seen Putin excusers on the far-left, folks who know damned well that only surface emblems, symbols and incantations have changed from the USSR. Likewise the word "liberal is being bandied as an enemy in some leftist quarters since its classic definition is to encourage flat fair-open competitive markets. I have inveighed that that means regulating away the oligarch-cheating that wrecked all such experiments. But the far left wants to cheat and allocate from a top pinnacle, just like the oligarchs want to do.

Lorraine said...

The anti-liberal left isn't calling Clinton and other moderates too liberal, they're using the non-US definition of liberal (synonymous with capitalist), perhaps as a dog whistle to their comrades, or an operation brainf*ck against normal Americans who think liberal means "unusually left of center even for a Democrat." Part of me likes the particular bit of linguistic engineering they're trying to pull off (the American definition of liberal, and also of "middle class," are pet peeves of mine,) but they seem utterly deluded about the amount of political capital they have available for such projects.

The who on the left is pretty much everyone whose cited sources tend toward The Intercept, The Grey Zone, and a few others.

David Brin said...

Lorraine, sanctimony junkies do not care about pragmatic outcomes. For ages this has been a curse of the left.

Der Oger said...

"Lorraine, sanctimony junkies do not care about pragmatic outcomes. For ages this has been a curse of the left."

Okay, in the current situation, it would be a totally pragmatic option for the EU/Germany to buy Sputnik (provided it works) or signalling to you that we will do if we don't get more vaccine doses; it would also be totally pragmatic to devote all available HUMINT assets (Blackmail, Bribes, Theft, Worse) to achieve the same. It wouldn't be wise in the long run, but in a existential situation where your political, economical and actual survival might depend on it, one can't be picky. It would be quite sanctimonious to *not* do that. Right? :-)

David Brin said...

Not. The most pragmatic thing is to look at what works, which is enlightenment method of error correction through divided power, reciprocal accountability, confident freedom, competitive arenas, egalitarian tolerance and all that. We defend those things as moral goods. But it is their practical effects that have been overwhelming... until enemies figured out how to turn suspicion of authority and individualism cancerous.

Lorraine said...

Surely if open source is conducive to accountability, heavy-handed intellectual property enforcement is not. I wish much more of the research $ went into universities and less into corporations, but that maybe would have been unpragmatic. Either way, perhaps the public sector (in the name of the public) should assert some IP rights in publicly funded stuff. Too bad the American discourse has been poisoned by the public sector equals socialism bleat.

As for Sputnik "V", it has had the lowest bar to clear in terms of safety testing, which doesn't mean it's bad, just that there's less evidence that it's good. I'd be in no hurry to import it, but I wouldn't categorically keep that option off the table, either.

scidata said...

In a 1958 interview, a simultaneously fogeyish yet deep Aldous Huxley warned against technodictatorship. If you update a few of the players and their toys, you get a pretty accurate analysis of current politics in this 6 minute animated clip.

A useful argument I've found in my citizen science advocacy, one-on-one, is this. Scientific literacy/numeracy is a 2nd Amendment issue. The right of self defense against oppression could really be called a 'Flint Locke' insurance policy. Liberalism is the true patriotism. In modern times, with billions of connected citizens, the mind-bending transistor is far mightier than the flesh-tearing projectile. An insurance policy is needed more now than ever. Also, I'm always dubious of the gun-meisters blaming video games. It's like Directors suddenly dissing soma. Or inversely, like zombie thugs shouting "1776". Shared frustration for both utopians and oligarchs: manipulating* America is like herding cats. Seldon has his work cut out for him.

* Yes, I know that true utopians don't manipulate, they enlighten, but it's still frustrating.

Jon S. said...

Lorraine, it's not the US that redefined "liberal" - it seems deeply weird to me to regard "liberal" and "capitalist" as the same thing. They're not necessarily opposite concepts, but they certainly can be divergent ones! I mean, it's a bit like regarding "communist" as identical to "conservative", isn't it?

Now, certainly, there are conservative capitalist political parties in some nations that call themselves "Liberal" - Canada springs to mind - but that doesn't mean they are liberal, any more than the DPRK is a democratic republic.

Larry Hart said...

Half a Year After Trump’s Defeat, Arizona Republicans Are Recounting the Vote

The country’s old center of political power — the industrial belt stretching from New York to Illinois — is once again losing seats in Congress while Sun Belt states such as Florida, North Carolina and Texas will gain them. California will lose a seat for the first time.

More than 250 bills to curb or complicate access to polls had been introduced in 43 state legislatures as of February 19, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which is tracking the bills -- and bills have since been introduced in at least two more states, North Carolina and Wisconsin, according to CNN reporting.

I am this close to giving up, admitting that Republicans have gamed the system enough to insure their hegemony for a thousand years, and "learn[ing] to love the bomb", as it were.

Except that I can't help remembering the inevitable consequence of "He loved Big Brother."

scidata said...

Larry Hart: to insure their hegemony for a thousand years

I remember another monster claiming that his empire would last a thousand years. Uhh, nope. History can only be 'gamed' in the very short term. Also, population shifts are a double-edged sword, red states are counting eggs as chickens, don't judge a census by its headlines.

Here's the thing about grifters and demagogues. They're too greedy for their own good. Sooner or later, the (never paid) griftees figure it out. The GOP is a ponzi scheme that would make made-off blush. It also has an ever-shrinking base which hastens the Fall.

Just keep lots of coffee and blankets on-hand for our disaffected brothers.

Duncan Ocel said...

Thank you Lorraine, for bringing up this delightful topic. The usual distinction I encounter in leftist circles is that "liberals" aim for a better world, but only as far as existing institutions can allow. Whereas "leftists" aim for a better world by removing, making irrelevant, or replacing obsolete or restrictive institutions.

An example from recent US policy debates: RE: pandemic rent forgiveness,

A liberal solution: some households are eligible for temporary rent forgiveness or eviction freezes. Households must prove low-income status by navigating a complex bureaucracy and if they ever amass more than a few thousand dollars in savings they are removed from eligibility. When they lose eligibility, they are again liable for all back-owed rent. An archetypal liberal believes wholeheartedly in the rent-tenant-landlord system and believes that by slightly helping a few households for a limited time, justice has been done.

A leftist solution: all tenant-landlord lease agreements are null; the whole rental-landlord-tenant institution is unjust and contributes to wealth inequality. Ownership of residences is by the public. Revenue that landlords might miss and that tenants never had is replaced by a livable but modest universal basic income. An archetypal leftist knows that a landlord adds some value to a house, but only insofar as he maintains the structure and risks his own solvency in taking a mortgage. Rent payments greatly exceed value added by landlord and therefore unjust.

Larry Hart said...


I remember another monster claiming that his empire would last a thousand years.

Yes, I used the phrase intentionally.

But the Nazis had external forces who were able to kick their asses. Who is available to do the same against the US military?

They're making it illegal to protest for gosh sakes:

G.O.P. Bills Target Protesters (and Absolve Motorists Who Hit Them)

So not only will it soon be essentially illegal to organize an outcry against governmental injustice, but it will be legal for Brownshirts to kill protesters. They're making us into The Stepford Nation. That's what Making America Great Again means.

FMK said...

Jon S.,

In many European countries, "liberal" refers to people who are right-wing/capitalist economically, but leftwing/progressive socially.


I know exactly what you mean. There is an element of the left that is strident in its' condemnation of Western failings (criticism I often sympathize with), but who do a complete 180 when it comes to foreign dictatorships that have an antagonistic relationship with the West.

So they'll take Egypt or Saudi Arabia to task for their outrages (while blasting the US/UK/France for their cosy relationship with such countries), but then offer sympathy/support/excuses/ "understanding" to Iran or Russia or North Korea.

David Brin said...

Duncan O... the answer to all leftist utopians is: "Name one revolution that ever delivered 1% as much as this one. Now find any supposed reformist leftist revolution that did not devolve into a version of classic, theological (incantation based) authoritarian rule? Given that history, who bears burden of proof? The reformers who would use sustantively large-scale incrementalis, to continue our already prodigious advances? (though against a stiff headwind of feudal-oligarchic plots and resistance.) Or a prescription of upheaval that has not a single historical example of ever having worked, despite a myriad tries?

Which program made YOU, oh revolutionaries?

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
I would argue that the "leftist revolution" had made the most difference was called "The New Deal" - and worked superbly until the Reagan/Thatcher loonies took it apart

David Brin said...

Yes, Duncan v.1. But the New Deal was epically assertive-incremental-liberal. It attempted what marxo-rads etc deem impossible. And succeeded beyond any and every one of their proposed or executed topplings.

duncan cairncross said...

I would agree with all of that - the "New Deal" was "Head them off at the pass" approach

But it was still "leftist" - bit like Bismarck implementing the first "Welfare State"

The pragmatists taking the most useful parts and making them work

David Brin said...

"Left" and "right" were almost meaningless for a long time, e.g. the most anti-communist force in US life was the labor union movement.

Now, if you make it pro or anti oligarchy-plus-confederate-lowbrows, then sure. It's still a nasty hole. And the left contains would be tyrants, too. Always has.

Jon S. said...

First defintion of "liberal" I ran across:

"willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one's own; open to new ideas."

Again, just because a political party calls itself Liberal doesn't mean it is liberal. It's not the US redefining the term... this time.

Daniel Duffy said...

There are two harsh facts about the Pax Americana:

1. Americans bear most of its costs and reap little of its direct benefits. The US navy ensures freedom of the seas allowing global trade (and "globalization" itself). However, international trade accounts for only 5% to 10% of American GDP, and most of that is with Mexico and Canada.

2. After the Collapse of the Soviet Union, the basic premise of Pax Americana and its underlying assumptions became obsolete. After WWII America was the last man standing with the worlds only surviving navy. We bribed up a coalition of Western nations saying in effect, "We will bear the costs of ensuring world trades so you don't have to go back to imperial times with each nation's navy protecting trade with their colonies if you join us in an alliance against godless communism". And it worked, we won the Cold War. Yet that victory undermines the whole reason for Pax Americana in the first place.

The American taxpayer, facing skyrocketing costs for social security and Medicare as Baby Boomers age and retire, may not wear to bear this burden anymore - even if they aren't Trump supporters.

Daniel Duffy said...

I do recommend Peter Zeihan's presentations on YouTube, he does a very good job of explaining why and how the world works. These boil down to a few main points:

1. End of the Cold War made all our assumptions obsolete.

With the Evil Empire gone, American foreign and trade policy makes no sense and is continuing through simple inertia. After WWII America bribed together a coalition to fight godless communism in return for offering the services of the American navy to maintain free trade. However, this global trade system is not something America participates in very much, exports make up a relatively small part of our overall GDP. We could go isolationist tomorrow and do just fine (because of point 2 below). The rest of the world OTOH would go to economic hell in a hand basket.

This something even Trump actually understood, but he tried to execute a new foreign policy in his typically vulgar, thuggish, ham-fisted and incompetent manner. Future American administrations will continue to dismantle our now obsolete post-WWII foreign policy structure, but with more finesse. Future presidents will be America First - they will just be nicer about it.

2. The shale revolution has made America energy independent.

That's a huge change. Indeed, we will later this year become the world's second largest exporter of oil and natural gas after the Saudis. As such, we no longer give a rat's ass about the Persian Gulf, the Middle East or even Israel (except for reasons of sentiment). And American boys will no longer be dying in the mountains of Afghanistan. As such we hold the reins. Want to crush Putin's Russia? Flood the would markets with American oil and natural gas and watch energy prices collapse along with the Russian economy.

In either case, America really doesn't need the rest of the world anymore. But the rest of the world desperately depends on the US navy.

Daniel Duffy said...


3. Demographics are destiny.

See the following videos explaining what aging and shrinking populations do to military strength, government spending, national debt and capital markets:

As such China is already a dead man walking. Russia has one foot in the grave. Europe will stay on life support. Japan only maintains its economy by going ever more massively into debt.

There is no such thing a no-growth capitalism and economic growth is not physically possible with shrinking and aging populations. The only two nations have healthy (from an economic point of view) demographics are America and India (which is the next superpower, not China). Also throw in México whose demographic profile makes it the prefect economic partner for America - not Canada (which is why Canada is now NAFTA's third wheel).

With an aging/declining population, China's economy is now based not on consumption or even exports but on inventory building (like those vast empty cities they built just to keep workers and investors happy and nobody lives in). As such their economy is a Ponzi scheme using Enron-like accounting that will collapse like a house of cards. It explains why the CCP has gone uber-nationalist and authoritarian. A storm is coming and the men in Beijing know it.

(Demographics are endlessly fascinating because "demographics are destiny" and they are the closest thing we have to a working crystal ball that allows us to se the future. Fun Fact: by 2100 half of the world's working age population will be living in sub-Saharan Africa. America has always needed and will always need immigrants to grow its economy. But Europe stopped having babies, so those immigrants won't be White - hence Trumpism. American can either be a prosperous and powerful nation, or it can be a White nation - it cannot be both.)

They are all short videos, so get a cup of coffee and watch them all. Then watch his full hour and a half presentations. He's not always right, but he is insightful and very interesting.

P.S. Though aging/shrinking populations doom capitalism they may save yet the planet from extinction level global warming. So there you have it. You can either have a vibrant economy or a living planet. You can't have both.

P.P.S The wild card is climate change. If global warming gets really bad, whole swaths of the planet become unlivable (there is a certain wet bulb temperature that no human body can adjust to), unable to feed itself, or suffer from massive drought and cutting off of water supplies (which nearly happened to Cape Town last year). These desolate areas include India and Africa the two areas which currently have the brightest economic demographics.

Daniel Duffy said...

Historian Will Durant on income inequality. History never repeats, but it does rhyme. From his book, "The Lessons of History":

Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities, in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history. The rate of concentration varies (other factors being equal) with the economic freedom permitted by morals and the laws. Despotism may for a time retard the concentration; democracy, allowing the most liberty, accelerates it. The relative equality of Americans before 1776 has been overwhelmed by a thousand forms of physical, mental, and economic differentiation, so that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is now greater than at any time since Imperial plutocratic Rome.

In progressive societies the concentration may reach a point where the strength of number in the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.

.... Good sense prevailed; moderate elements secured the election of Solon, a businessman of aristocratic lineage, to the supreme archonship. He devaluated the currency, thereby easing the burden of all debtors (though he himself was a creditor); he reduced all personal debts, and ended imprisonment for debt; he canceled arrears for taxes and mortgage interest; he established a graduated income tax that made the rich pay at a rate twelve times that required of the poor; he reorganized the courts on a more popular basis; and he arranged that the sons of those who had died in war for Athens should be brought up and educated at the government's expense. The rich protested that his measures were outright confiscation; the radicals complained that he had not re-divided the land; but within a generation almost all agreed that his reforms had saved Athens from revolution.

(IOW, Solon as the FDR of ancient Athens)

....The Roman Senate, so famous for its wisdom, adopted an uncompromising course when the concentration of wealth approached an explosive point in Italy; the result was a hundred years of class and civil war.

.... In one aspect the Reformation was a redistribution of this wealth by the reduction of German and English payments to the Roman Church, and by the secular appropriation of ecclesiastical property and revenues. The French Revolution attempted a violent redistribution of wealth by Jacqueries in the countryside and massacres in the cities, but the chief result was a transfer of property and privilege from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie. The government of the United States, in 1933-52 and 1960-65, followed Solon's peaceful methods, and accomplished a moderate and pacifying redistribution; perhaps someone had studied history. The upper classes in America cursed, complied, and resumed the concentration of wealth.

We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation.

Daniel Duffy said...

We will soon have French Revolution levels of inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient:

In 1968, America’s Gini Coefficient was 35.

By 2015 it had grown to 49, a growth rate of 0.31 per year.

The GIni Coefficient in France in the late 18th century at the start of the French Revolution was 59.

Only 10 points higher than it is now in America.

At our current rate of growing inequality we Americans should be storming the Bastille in only 32 years, by 2047.

The Tea Party revolt against the Republican elite is just the first rumblings. That they are being lead by Trump, a wealthy businessman turned demagogue, isn’t so odd when you consider that Robespierre was also a wealthy lawyer/businessman.

The 1% know this and are afraid.

Which is why they are buying up fortified homes and doomsday bunkers (at a time when mere violent street crime has fallen precipitously) like there was no tomorrow.

For them, there isn’t.

Tim H. said...

Brief thoughts on the GOP's "Quest for slack", 1912, TR found Taft's policies unbalanced and decided, 4 years belatedly, to run for the Presidency, the GOP bid their progressive wing good riddance and never attempted to rebuild it, allowing FDR to catch them flatfooted twenty years later. Eisenhower sometimes would do the right thing, but was repudiated by Buckley, Goldwater & Nixon to separate the "Dixiecrats" from the Democrats but failed to assimilate them and were themselves assimilated. Some details on what they were exposed to and what they are becoming here:
Walking back an idea so appallingly past it's sell by date might seem logical but TPTB find it useful in domination so they're doubling down on it, rather than looking into their history for precedents for appealing to minorities they're looking to further restrict voting, because it has become the path of least resistance, even though it has an obvious expiration date that some of them will likely live to see. Poll restrictions are somewhat more civilized than nocturnal horseback riding in bed sheets, but given that the last half century has seen contemporary conservatism's assimilation by white supremacists, how far away can it be?

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

I would agree with all of that - the "New Deal" was "Head them off at the pass" approach

But it was still "leftist" - bit like Bismarck implementing the first "Welfare State"

It was a leftist approach, but not a "revolution" except in a very broad definition of that term. I think that the operative term in Dr. Brin's challenge to "Name one revolution that ever produced..."

Dr Brin:

Now, if you make it pro or anti oligarchy-plus-confederate-lowbrows, then sure. It's still a nasty hole. And the left contains would be tyrants, too. Always has.

Ayn Rand actually recognized that with her "mystics of the mind vs mystics of muscle" thing. She was opposed to totalitarianism of either kind, and from what I've read, she was hardly a darling of the American right in her heyday. They claim her now, while glossing over her militant atheism.

Der Oger said...

"Now, if you make it pro or anti oligarchy-plus-confederate-lowbrows, then sure. It's still a nasty hole. And the left contains would be tyrants, too. Always has."

Both groups of people share a common denominator. They are both authoritarians. But communism/stalinism isn't your problem; fascism and apartheid is.

"An example from recent US policy debates: RE: pandemic rent forgiveness"

We had that discussion over here even before the pandemy. It is not so much about forgiveness, but about braking the exponential development of rents (which are tied to ground speculation and real estate investment fonds). You can, as an additional point of view, add in that property also gives you a certain amount of responsibility, and thus the society as a whole can expect that you behave in a specific manner.

"Name one revolution that ever delivered 1% as much as this one."
I'd answer that it is not about revolutions in the past, but about those to come, and one never can say that they might not achieve more than "this one." It is of no use to live in the past.

"In many European countries, "liberal" refers to people who are right-wing/capitalist economically, but leftwing/progressive socially."
Over the last 40 years or so, the German liberals have prostituted themselves to secure power, abandoning the leftwing/ socially progressive parts of their policies.
The Austrian FPÖ is far right.

Larry Hart said...

Maybe there is a God. :)

+ Texas was expected to gain three seats, and gained two
+ Florida was expected to gain two seats, and gained one
+ Arizona was expected to gain one seat, and gained zero

The connection, if you haven't picked it up already, is that these are all Republican-led states with large Latino populations.

The obvious inference here is that Donald Trump may have failed in his efforts to get undocumented immigrants excluded from reapportionment, but he was partly successful in causing Latinos to be undercounted, at least in places where the state government was happy to play along. In addition to the list above, it is also the case that New York and California—blue states with large Latino populations—were potential candidates to lose two seats each, but ultimately only lost one each.

In short, it sure looks like Trump managed to shoot the GOP in the foot. At least two of the lost seats in Texas/Florida/Arizona would have ended up in Republican hands, and maybe all three. And the larger lessons here would seem to be that: (1) jury-rigging the system is harder than it looks, and (2) Republicans have been pretty bad at it recently, between the census, and USPS shenanigans, and voting restrictions that may hurt the Party's working-class base more than anyone else.

Duncan Ocel said...

@Daniel Duffy

In the aftermath of Bubonic Plague, the 1400s and early 1500s were a time of unprecedented rights for peasants. The 33% drop in population and the abundance of cheap land made it a "peasants' market," where peasants would uproot and move to different lords' jurisdiction if they were mistreated excessively. Peasants made rent strikes and occasionally refused to work for the lord at all. Many revolutions ousted local lords, and peasants established egalitarian communal city states, some of which lasted for decades before being destroyed by vengeful nobility. Purchasing power for peasant and serf households was quite high, higher than all of the 1600s when the church unveiled new birth control and family planning policies that ensured there would never again be a peasant shortage.

So, if you use GDP growth as a proxy for economic strength, your conclusion about demographics is correct, but if you use other metrics, like per-capita purchasing power or the reciprocal of the GINI index, "demographic poverty" could mean a thriving peasant class.

Got these facts from Caliban and The Witch by Sylvia Federici (try pages 44-70ish):

David Brin said...

Duncan O. Your critical feedback is incisive and welcome!

duncan cairncross said...


If ever there was a Paper Tiger this is one

With a static or shrinking population the ratio of workers to pensioners gets worse but the ratio of workers to children gets better

There is higher cost for the old and lower cost for the young - its a WASH - or even a "profit"

And the idea that "growth" through population growth is in any way a good thing is just bollocks!
It "may" be a good thing if your country has a low population for its size - but in 99% of cases its a bad idea

Real useful "growth" in an economy is by the increased efficiency of utilizing resources

Daniel Duffy said...

Duncan, while what you say is true, the benefits to the peasantry occurred during the aftermath of the plague years. During the actual years of depopulation, economic activity came to standstill.

Whether a similar benefits awaits workers in the late 21st century in a age of advanced robotics remains to be seen.

Which has implications for human colonization and industrialization of space and the solar system. We can do the later without the former, thanks to robotics - and with dwindling populations we may not have enough colonists anyways. Robotic mining and automated industry already has a cost advantage over the expense of putting humans in space. Use robots to:

> strip mine Mercury to manufacture thousands of solar powered satellites to make a Dyson swarm to capable of providing enough energy to make Earth a Kardashev II civilization

> mine carbon from the thick atmosphere of Venus to make carbon fiber (stronger than steel) which can be used to manufacture any structure or tool

> mine Ceres, Callisto, Enceladus, and Europa for water for fuel

> mine Io and other S and M type asteroids for metals

> mine both metals and water from Saturn's rings

(Jupiter's massive magnetic fields would fry any human that visits its moons in any case)

> place massive data processing centers on Titan to take advantage of it cold temperature sink (

And do it all with self replicating robots and factories run by AIs that require only minimum human oversight. No humans need apply.

Only after the remaining 1 to 2 billion humans living among the abandoned countryside and empty cities on the Earth in the 22nd century have become fabulously wealthy (especially as a result of energy from the Dyson swarm where Mercury used to be) we can use that vast space industrial infrastructure to terraform and para-terraform Venus, Luna, Mars, Ceres, Calisto, Enceladus.

Then send small bands of colonists to these new worlds to expand humanity's population again.

Alfred Differ said...

Jon S,

There really is a loose US meaning for “liberal” that is completely disconnected from the historical meaning. I don’t agree that “capitalist” is a good synonym for the old meaning, but it is closer than the US mish-mash.

Old meaning is closer to “individualist” with a strong connotation implying a distinct lack of respect for tradition.

David Brin said...

Good crit, Alfred. Though all versions of 'liberal" supposedly oppose rule by inheritance brats and mafiosi. Hence "liberal is betrayed by the left when they expand the role of govt interventions from raising up kids and the disadvantaged to better and safely compete, and instead seek to banish competition. Rightists who call themselves "liberal in the old sense" or "neoliberal" are absolutely not, when they claim that ownership and property are sacrosanct and regulation is wrong.

David Brin said...

Duncan yes, if robotics truly takes off and is designed right, then organic humans may be like a foppidh but beloved nobility crust that the machines call "sir" and "madam" while manipulating us into satisfying our whims with mere trifles, easily afforded, like starships.

Lorraine said...

I don't see any point in working-age-to-not-working-age ratios. A lot of workers per retirees doesn't help retirees if said workers are in cutthroat competition over opportunities to work, or settling for precariat gigs and piecework scams. I worry more about whether the GDP will be there for my retirement, and of course the political will to use some of it for that purpose.

Jon S. said...

If the Liberal parties of Europe are not in fact liberal in the proper definition, it's not the US political system changing the definition, it's the European political system. That's all I'm saying here. (US "liberal" politics frequently fall short of the definition as well, but seem a bit closer than the European version, at least as far as I can tell. Sadly, our "conservative" politicians are no longer conservative, but in fact radical reactionaries, verging at times on fascism.)

Daniel Duffy said...

When women are given educational and career opportunities outside of the home, they have fewer children. Which is why fundy religions of any variety seek to keep women subservient. If they don't have enough babies their sect could go the way of the Shakers.

So here we are in the 22nd century with everyone rich as aristocrats, served by robots and AIs and made wealthy by the resources of an entire solar system and the energy of an entire sun. You are right, every human would be nobility, living like the Crawley's of Downton Abbey with the downstairs staff being robots and AIs.

But wealth societies (and classes) with freedom for women have fewer babies.

So how do we keep from going extinct?

Answer: Artificial wombs and insemination with robot nannies (indistinguishable from human parents) raising them.

The same technology can be applied to sending out "seed ships" to the stars with a millions of frozen embryo passengers to colonize the galaxy.

David Brin said...

So how do we keep from going extinct?

Answer: Artificial wombs and insemination with robot nannies (indistinguishable from human parents) raising them.

Well, you have Asimov's Solaria in extremum. But you leave out the fact that SOME women do want a lot of kids. And those will out-breed the others so vastly that malthus will certainly return within maybe 5 generations. We have that long to use this window opportunity to establish a truly grownup society, After which, just read A MOTE IN GOD'S EYE.

Larry Hart said...

Made the mistake of keeping the tv on for the Republican response after Biden's speech. How can something sound so reasonable at the same time as being diametrically opposite to reality?

He [President Biden] promised to unite a nation, to lower the temperature, to govern for all Americans, no matter how we voted. This was the pitch. You just heard it again.

But our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes. We need policies and progress that brings us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart
If you actually read this [Georgia voter suppression] law, it’s mainstream. It will be easier to vote early in Georgia than in Democrat-run New York. But the left doesn’t want you to know that. They want people virtue signaling by yelling about a law they haven’t even read. Fact checkers have called out the White House for misstatements. The president absurdly claims that this is worse than Jim Crow.

What is going on here? I’ll tell you. A Washington power grab. This misplaced outrage is supposed to justify Democrats new sweeping bill that would take over elections for all 50 states. It would send public funds to political campaigns you disagree with and make the bipartisan Federal Elections Commission partisan. This is not about civil rights or our racial past. It’s about rigging elections in the future.

And no, the same filibuster that President Obama and President Biden praised when they were senators, the same filibuster that the democrats used to kill my police reform bill last year, has not suddenly become a racist relic just because the shoe is now on the other foot. Race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants. It’s far too important.

This should be a joyful springtime for our nation. This administration inherited a tide that had already turned. The coronavirus is on the run. Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines. Thanks to our bipartisan work last year, job openings are rebounding.

It was at that point that I turned off the tv while screaming an epithet which would get me cancelled from polite liberal society if my cat could tell on me--a line from Blazing Saddles that was discussed on this site a week or so ago. I'd like to think Richard Pryor would have given me written permission, given the circumstances.

duncan cairncross said...

Re- birthrate and the women who want lots of kids

We have learned that things like intelligence are governed by many many genes - as in at least 30
From an evolutionary and heritability POV this makes these traits much much less heritable

Something with a single gene can be "acted upon by evolution" relatively quickly
30 genes means the process is much slower

Combine that with a huge well mixed population and evolving to want lots of children is going to take millions of years - millions of generations

And that is BEFORE the fact that we are on the cusp of being able to choose our genetics - intelligent design starting soon!

Choosing NOT to have children is a sensible choice today - kids are expensive - but it would not take very much to change that equation - make kids "cheaper and easier" and the decision will move
We can see that today comparing the Scandinavian countries in Northern Europe with the Catholic ones in the South

In Scandinavian culture the man helps with the kids - not so much in the South
So the Scandinavian cultures are having more children

The robot nannies may be needed to shift the equation - or maybe just better childcare help

gregory byshenk said...

An interesting note on demographics in China:

China’s Labour Force is, and is not, growing!

The total working age population of China is going to decline. From 999 million in 2017 to 896 million in 2037. This is inevitable as most of these people are already alive.
As the propensity of these people to be employed is quite stable, this means that the total employed labour force of China will also decline – from 759 million persons in 2017 to 661 million by 2037. Basically 1 in 8 workers will leave the workforce.
However, this decline in number of employed persons is entirely in the rural areas. There the employed population will effectively halve.
In urban areas, because of the current age profile as well as on going rural to urban migration, the total employed labour force will continue to increase in size – from 398 million now to 467 million in 2027 and 485 million by 2037.

Daniel Duffy said...

Duncan, the dependency ratio is defined as the total number of workers divided by the total of both children AND retirees as the last two are both considered to be non-productive consumers of resources.

No distinction is made between the two of them by economists.

For a couple of decades China's one baby policy gave it a truly awesome dependency ratio with fewer children to care for and a work force that had not yet aged into retirement. It's the main reason why the Chinese economy was so productive and efficient in the recent past.

But China's workforce is rapidly aging and it will become the world's largest old age home in just a few years. And its happening much sooner than expected. This year's census showed that China's population peaked and actually declined.

It's a problem compounded by having to few children to grow up and become tax paying workers that will pay for the retirement of a Chinese senior population larger than the total population of most nations. Add a male/female gender imbalance caused by peasants who preferred sons during the one baby policy and you have a demographic disaster that will break the Chinese economy.

Demographically, China is a dead man walking. Like Japan in the 1980s (remember when they were going to take over the world?) China's economy will be destroyed by the demographics of too few children.

The only thing worse would be uncontrolled population growth destroying the ecology of the planet. In its drive to industrialize and modernize, China turned itself into a polluted cesspool spewing the bulk of the world's green house gases that are causing global warming.

You can have a healthy economy or a healthy planet. You can't have both.

David Brin said...

Daniel I think you are wrong about China. I believe they will innovate (with our help) to a soft landing.

Duncan, I believe a powerful drive to want more babies is likely a much simpler on-off switch than complex intelligence. 5 generations, tops, before it becomes a dominant gene set. We have that long to set up a decent civilization.

Duncan Ocel said...


RE: more equality, fewer babies.
Just because a causation exists under one set of circumstances doesn't mean it exists under all circumstances. Reduced birth rate seems to come when women have more career opportunities and more sociopolitical power, but not unto zero. Careers and representation are fulfilling targets when they are in short supply. Having children is also fulfilling, especially when children are known to be scarce. Populations perform differently when they are at drastically different compositions and resource usage patterns. I doubt birth rates will ever be low enough that artificial reproduction will be necessary. To argue such is similar to arguing that food will be replaced by intravenous solutions; perhaps it could be implemented, but enough people will keep eating food that the practice will never be lost.

David Brin said...

Good arguments and discussions



Mike G in Corvallis said...

"Let's put this to experiment. From both countries' census data, pick 1000 RANDOM CITIZENS and invite them (with immediate family) to gatherings in each others' capitals ...

I'd like to propose a more dramatic solution, one that would give immediate results whether China accepted or declined the challenge:

"You say that America is cruelly oppressing the people we put in our prisons, and we say that China is cruelly oppressing ethnic minorities. Well then, let's make this world a better place! Right now, will you accept fifty thousand of the people we have in confinement and welcome them and their families for a minimum of five years, with the rights of free Chinese citizens, if these people choose to accept your invitation? If so, we agree to accept on similar terms fifty thousand of the Uighur people and their families you have enslaved. And if any of those people want to stay in their new homes after five years, then they can. Deal?"

I'm sure that China would welcome with open arms the people we have in our penitentiaries. We should start teaching our convicts Mandarin ASAP! >sarcasm<