Saturday, July 17, 2021

Let's bring PREDICTION into politics, as it works in science!

 How well can we predict our near future? It's a perennial theme here, since my many jobs almost all involve thinking about tomorrow (Don't stop! It'll soon be here.) 

In fact, my top tactical recommendation from Polemical Judo is to make politics more about who's been right more often. Whether it's about using wagers (it works!) to get yammerers to back off, or simply comparing real world outcomes from each party's policies, or the vastly more important recommendation that we track predictive success in general... there's really nothing more useful and important that we aren't already doing.

== Prediction redux ==


This article well-summarizes the findings of Wharton Professor Philip Tetlock (author of Superforecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction), whose research between 1984 and 2004 showed that the average quality of predictions – explicit and honest and checkable ones – made by experts was little better than chance:


Open any newspaper, watch any TV news show, and you find experts who forecast what’s coming. Some are cautious. More are bold and confident. A handful claim to be visionaries able to see decades into the future. With few exceptions, they are not in front of the camera because they possess any proven skill at forecasting. Accuracy is seldom even mentioned… The one undeniable talent they have is their skill at telling a compelling story with conviction, and that is enough. Many have become wealthy peddling forecasting of untested value to corporate executives, government officials and ordinary people who would never think of swallowing medicine of unknown efficacy and safety but who routinely pay for forecasts that are as dubious as elixirs sold from the back of a wagon.”


Though looking closer, Tetlock found that there were actually two statistically distinguishable groups of experts: the first failed to do better than the chimp (and often worse) but the second beat the chimp (though not by a wide margin.)


Following up – (and I’ve written about this before, including a damn good short story!) – "Tetlock’s Good Judgement Project, which commenced in 2011 in association with IARPA  (part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the U.S.), found that (somewhat above-average) ordinary people, without access to highly classified intelligence information (but given access to broad-unclassified information), could make better forecasts about geopolitical events than professional analysts supported by a multi-billion dollar apparatus." (The parentheticals I added, because they matter!)


“It turned out that the top forecasters in the Good Judgement Project were 30% better than intelligence officers with access to actual classified information, and 60% better than the average.


I’ve been on this topic for decades because I think there’s no more important project imaginable than a broad spectrum effort to find out who is right a lot!  Elsewhere I called for predictions registries which – voluntarily or involuntarily – would track forecasts and outcomes. At minimum, it would be a way of giving credibility to those who have earned it!  Moreover, it would let us study whatever methodology (even unconscious) was leading to the better results.


== And the best prediction tests are wagers! ==


Here’s a fascinating tale – about a wager between Kevin Kelly – founder of WIRED Magazine – and Kirkpatrick Sale – author of numerous tomes (Rebels Against the Future) denouncing technology, modernity and calling for a mass world population culling, leading to a simplified life of hand farming villages. 

To be clear, I am partisan – Kevin is a friend and his ethos is very close to mine. 6000 years of history and even more millennia of archaeological findings show how utterly miserable life was for denizens of those “pastoral’ societies, yes even the horrifically brutal owner-lords who crushed freedom in 99% of human societies; even they suffered from parasites and soul-crushing ignorance and the surprise death of almost every child. That experiment has been tried, and absolutely always failed to deliver the happiness that Sale romantically claims they did. 


In the mid-2000s, Sale cofounded the Middlebury Institute to promote the idea of secession. If states peeled off from the union, the theory went, Sale’s decentralized vision might get a little closer to reality. He was disappointed that the movement did not gain steam when George W. Bush was reelected. His romance with decentralization even led him to a blinkered view of the Confederacy, which he lauded for its commitment to concentrating power locally.”

But I digress. The crux is that Sale accepted a bet from Kelly, over whether by 2020 the world would be a hellscape. “
Sale extemporaneously cited three factors: an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless, causing a depression worse than the one in 1930; a rebellion of the poor against the monied; and a significant number of environmental catastrophes.”


 So how does today’s world of 2021 compare? Yes, these are dangerous times and the questions of class struggle and saving the planet are still... very serious questions. Their shared editor adjudicated at the end of 2020, and twisted himself into a knot to give Sale the benefit of the doubt... yet still he ruled in Kelly’s favor, because, um... aren’t you reading this in comfort and real hope for better times?


While the topics and facts about the 25 year bet are interesting, it is the meta that interests me! For the wager itself is a process for cornering the dogmatic! One I have been pushing for a decade as the only way it’s ever possible to pin dogmatists against a wall of actual facts.


Oh, you won’t make a cent. Kirkpatrick Sale has refused to accept that he lost, despite adjudication by the agreed-upon judge, who bent over backwards to concede some points to Sale. Only a cad would do that, but you’ll get the same result when you corner a MAGA fanatic with a wager demand. As any of our ancestors would testify, across 6000 years, anti-modernist, science hating, pastoralist-feudalist-nostalgist-romantics are also rationalizing liars. They won't pay any wager or ever recite the holy catechism of science: "I might be wrong."


But that’s not the point.  For unlike Sale, your average MAGA lives for Macho. And refusing to either bet like a man or pay up leaves him exposed as a pants-wetting, wriggly-squirming weenie. And that savaging of his manly cred matters! It shatters their circle jerks – their nuremberg rallies of magical lie-incantations. 


And their wives (who can still vote) notice.


It doesn’t always work perfectly. But it is the only thing that does work.


== Trickle Down? It’s not just a phrase ==


Okay, the right is yowling over the proposed price tags for Biden/Democratic interventions, Yes, on paper $6 trillion is more than the estimated $4 trillion that Republicans have spent on their versions of stimulus... Supply Side gifts to the aristocracy.  I admit that the total is bigger.


However:


1. Biden will not get it all.


2. Biden is a sincere Keynesian - unlike the maniacs to his far left who subscribe to MMT "Modern Monetary Theory," which is almost as insane as Supply Side! 


 A sincere Keynesian spends freely during harsh times to do needful things to grow the middle class... then uses boom times to pay down debt or at least keep deficits below GDP growth.  That wing of the Democratic party has credibility at keeping that promise!  Clinton, Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom... all used good times to pay down debt. Again let's bet over whether republicans have ever been more fiscally responsible. Ever.


If Republicans were sincere, they would now say "all right, our method failed, so it's your turn to try yours. But we demand assurances that the pay-down part of the cycle is part of the plan." And sprprise. If they demanded that, they'd get it, But that's not what they are after.


3. The most important factor though is effectiveness of investment.  BOTH parties seek to pour trillions into stimulus - with this difference. Supply Side (SS) stimulus of trillions added to the coffers of the rich does not work even slightly!  Adam Smith said it wouldn't, and once again the Scottish Sage of 1776 proved right. 


Very few of the open-mawed recipients of SS largesse ever invested in R&D, new products or productive capacity. Most poured it (as Smith said) into rentier properties, capital preservation and asset bubbles. And bizarre plutocratic, gilded-excesses like NFTs. Key point: Money velocity plummets to near zero!


That last one is the ultimate refutation. Perhaps some Republicans sincerely believed in Supply Side, in the beginning. But after FOUR perfect failures, it is now nothing but a mad cult, doubling down on magical chants and incantations.


In contrast we know that a trillion in infrastructure spending will at-minimum rebuild bridges and pump up Money Velocity (MV). It will very likely reduce poverty and help poor kids to become Smithian competitors. History shows that it will stimulate small business startups. It will pump R&D and domestic-sourced production. And it cannot hurt to spend some of it to reduce pollution.


(In fact, McConnell has openly said he opposes all this because it might actually work.)


Okay yes, I admit this. One Keynesian excess -- "guns & butter" during Vietnam -- resulted in overheated MV and hyper inflation. That is a danger!  One that few economists fear right now (see below).  But that was an exception. MOST Keynesian interventions did result in booms and increased tax revenues off higher economic activity and resulting deficit reduction.


This is about the difference between one system that is largely proved, that has some dangers but is based upon factual historical experience... versus another that has utterly failed FOUR TIMES, that is scientifically utterly disproved, and that is now nothing more than a cult of chanted incantations. 


This isn't about 'left' vs. 'right.' It is about sane vs. insane.


Both sides want to 'invest' budget-busting trillions of stimulus. With the difference that one method stimulates and eventually pays for itself while the other is voodoo.


 I think it's time to go back to the wisdom of the Greatest Generation, who built the American Pax and infrastructure and universities and the biggest thriving middle class and the beginnings of social justice and the best time in the history of our species.


And finally.... 


Show me anyone who predicted this - and explicitly - earlier than in  my novel Earth and my nonfiction The Transparent Society. See this study: “Body-Worn Camera Research Shows Drop In Police Use Of Force.”  


No seriously. That's not a brag, but genuine curiosity. I can think of one example, though it's kinda extreme.


Saturday, July 10, 2021

Space Rocks and tech marvels that really rock! And best sci-future YouTube Channels!

Do you love YouTube channels about science? Wish I had one? Well, maybe if I get that Kiln People self-copier machine! A close second to that would be these great channels! First, an interesting interview for your weekend listening pleasure or edification. Singularity Radio - from Singularity University - I offer perspectives on The Value of History, Criticism and Science Fiction.

Scott Manley is one of my favorite YouTube explainer guys, especially when it comes to spacecraft. If there's some kind of milestone in rocketry, for example, he'll clarify it for you, within a couple of days. (Manley was also designer of the "cycler" spacecraft in the 2021 movie "Stowaway".) But today's posting goes a bit farther in space and especially time, as Manley  talks about how to Move the Earth, citing especially my own postings on the subject. (in particular my video: Lift the Earth! - though he cites the more detailed blog posting.)

Other favorite explainers include Anton Petrov for new science and space discoveries (he often makes an error or two, but generally (not always) small ones)... and Physics Girl ... and for in-depth explorations of galactic stuff like the Fermi Paradox, tune in to Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur

Do you have favorites? Share them with the community in comments.

== Political aside: A rightist Republican is right about moving the Earth! ==

Did the Earth move for you too? When House Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas made an argument about climate change at a subcommittee hearing that appeared to suggest the US Bureau of Land Management might act to shift the Earth’s orbit, in order to fight climate change.

 Most observers are about 80% sure that Gohmert was trying to be clever, asserting thus that no human interventions could avail against a changing climate - one of a dozen rightist arguments that all contradict each other, as heat waves and weather disruptions make it harder for the mad KGB/Fox incantation machine to stop folks from waking up. 

And yet…  well, the coincidence would make one smile... if it weren't possible that idiots like this would leave the planet a cinder.  But onward...

== Rocks And maybe riches out there… ==


Set to launch next year, the agency’s Psyche spacecraft will explore a metal-rich asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Alas, another example of where the excellent TV series Expanse got things wrong and didn't need to.


A lonely meteorite that landed in the Sahara Desert in 2020 is older than Earth. The primeval space rock is about 4.6 billion years old, and is the oldest known example of magma from space. Its age and mineral content hint that the rock originated in our early solar system from the crust of a protoplanet.”  Around 75% of these protoplanet remnants seem to have originated from one source — possibly the asteroid 4 Vesta, but this one stands out. "No object with spectral characteristics similar to EC 002 has been identified to date."


Phil Plait (“Bad Astronomy”) reveals how sophisticated are the new programs being created by clever researchers like Jean-Luc Margot, that let radio astronomers sift for “signals” out there… and more important, eliminate the artifacts that originate from our own civilization. Hint, the latter is 100%... so far.


== More fermis… Phos-scarcity? ==


Among the few people who actually know about the shortage crisis of the 2030s - Phosphorus - many first heard about it in my novel Existence, wherein the king of Morocco is the richest man in the world because of it. Now come estimates that Earth may be exceptionally well endowed with the stuff, compared to elsewhere in the galaxy. Does this help to explain the Fermi Paradox / Great Silence?


"Dr. Brin, you brought to our attention the looming phosphorus crisis. It turns out, in regards to alien life and civilizations, that the crisis might be literally universal and Earth has life only because it has a local cache of phosphorus.  What is really depressing is a galactic shortage of phosphorus severely limits the amount of life, human or otherwise, can expand through the galaxy."


Mentioned earlier, Isaac Arthur is always interesting... and cites me pretty often... and he focuses on this problem here.


== Technologic marvels ==


With robotically constructed  foundation, walls, and utility conduits, this 1,407-square-foot Riverhead, New York house cost half as much to build as a normal one.


Incredible scientific advances… including those that gave us covid vaccines… have been propelled by nanopore technology: breaking up samples into tiny constituents that can then be appraised and tallied and then – using computers – that data recombined to model, say, a whole genome! A fantastic technology… that a startup now wants to turn into a gaming console! Yes, taking the amateur science trend (See my past postings about the “age of amateurs”) and combining it with gaming, Huh. Well… it is a game console you’re gonna have to clean and resupply pretty often. But are we on our way to Existenz?  See the Wefunder video.


See Ten Breakthrough Technologies of 2021, such as messenger RNA vaccines and hyper-accurate positioning. 


Fascinating progress in analyzing and modeling the fabulous brass Antikythera Device that (it seems) hand cranked models of the motion of 7 planets. An incredible glimpse of lost technology and science… which (to me) raises the twin issues of “how much else was lost from ancient Chinese, Roman and other civilizations?” and more important “Why were their memories of such skills so fragile?”  I think I know why.


Speaking of spinning disks, spin-memory disks aren’t extinct yet! In order to stay ahead of flash memory for cloud storage use, the solution may be two new techniques called microwave and heat-assisted magnetic recordingor MAMR and HAMR. These use an energy source, either a microwave-generating device called a "spin-torque oscillator" or a laser, or change the platter material's coercivity. This, coupled with a more stable platter material and a smaller write head, lets you pack more data – 20TB or much more - onto each platter.   


And yes, analog disk computation plays a crucial role in letting six refugee/immigrant races do calculations and change their fate, without access to digital computers... all in the Second Uplift Trilogy of Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heanven's Reach. Now all refreshed, updated with beautiful new covers! 


The newest U.S. Army night vision goggles are wow.


Amazing images of Sicily’s Mt. Etna erupting...


Finally, are you concerned about the mania that is driving many of our neighbors to recite anti-science and anti-fact incantations? There are ways we could restore the role of facts and objective, verifiable reality in politics, society and a recovered notion of grownup negotiation.  See the Fact Act


Saturday, July 03, 2021

Chapter 9 of Polemical Judo: Pax Americana and the rise of China


In light of recent statements by the apparent President for Life, on the occasion of the centenary of the Chinese People's Communist Party, today I offer an excerpt from my book Polemical Judo: Memes for Our Political Knife-Fight. Mostly, the book is about US domestic politics and the astounding political rigidity of the "Union" side which must win this dangerous phase of the American Civil War, and the inability of Democratic leaders and sane pundits to see even a glimmer of a path around Sumo Politics...

...but in this chapter I went international, because there will be terrible consequences for all humanity, if we don't learn judo methods in dealings with planetary rivalries, as well! So let's start with one key point we should repeat, over and over:

 We do not aim to prevent China from becoming a leading nation - perhaps marginally the leading nation - across the second half of the 21st Century! 

What terrifies us is the zero sum thinking that is conveyed in almost every PRC foreign policy declaration and especially in last week's speech by the CCP chairman rejecting reciprocal criticism from without and free debate from within. 

A vibrantly successful China that shows leadership in creativity, science, progress, justice, rule-of-law, open accountability and encouragement of bold critique by diverse citizens and new generations does not threaten us. Indeed, America has played a principal role in helping China's rise. Alas, we see instead a repetition of 6000 years of pyramid-shaped authority. May it be just a phase... but those 60 centuries show how rare it is for leaders to accept the revolutionary phrase... "I've got to let go."


==... and now the excerpt... ==

H. R. MCMASTER, a retired United States Army lieutenant general and a former White House national security adviser has published an article in the Atlantic about "How China Sees The World," laying out how clearly the current PRC leadership caste expresses their intent to become the 21st Century's pre-eminent power, not as a leader amid rising boats but in a zero sum manner... by causing other boats to sink... and how they justify this with a mix of moral justifications (purported foreign enmity), and grudges over past mistreatments, plus contempt for moral pleadings by others.  

--------

 There is no topic more complex – outside of biology – than international relations. The subject of “judo polemics” in foreign policy merits a book in its own right! But with this volume hurriedly gathered for U.S. consumption in the 2020 election year, I must pick and choose.

So I’ll begin with the most controversial assertion of them all… that despite its many faults and some real crimes, the American Peace – or Pax Americana – has overall been the most positive time for humanity since the invention of fire. Moreover, this happened as a matter of deliberate policy, crafted by some men and women who were on a par, in vision and effectiveness, with the 1770s Founders. If that era is coming to an end, then let it be judged fairly, weighing the sins alongside a cornucopia of fruits.

 

And in that context, let’s also spend our first international chapter gazing with both awe and caution at the return and rise of Chung Kuo – the Central Kingdom. 

 

  

 

Chapter 9

 

America’s place in the world - Part 1:

Pax Americana and the rise of China

 

 

It seems to me that America's objective today should be to try to make herself the best possible mirror of democracy that she can. The people of the world can see what happens here. They watch us to see what we are going to do and how well we can do it. We are giving them the only possible picture of democracy that we can: the picture as it works in actual practice. This is the only way other peoples can see for themselves how it works; and can determine for themselves whether this thing is good in itself, whether it is better than they have, better than what other political and economic systems offer them.

        The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (1961)

 

In 1945, it was apparent that one nation would soon have – for the first time in history – almost total global reach and power. In somber conversation, some of that era’s top minds contemplated history and the paradox of empire.

We know that power tempts and corrupts. Across almost every continent and at least 10,000 years – ever since the discovery of metals and agriculture – large men would band together with metal or stone implements, coercing others to hand over their women and wheat. They would then assign priests and other persuaders to tell everyone it’s good for a local lord, or king or theocrat to pass this power to his sons. The same pattern happened almost everywhere, almost every time. We are all descended from the harems of guys who pulled that off.

 

Nor were they satisfied with some local theft. Knights sought to be barons, barons to be dukes, dukes to be kings. If you had an empire with a nervous border, you would conquer beyond it to get a “buffer”… a buffer which then had to be protected, in turn. We can see all of these imperatives playing out in today’s world, though much has also changed.


As we see elsewhere in this book, there were some exceptions to the dreary pattern loosely labeled feudalism -- what might be called Periclean Enlightenment Experiments, beginning when Athenian citizenship expanded sovereignty from 0.01% of the population - the inherited oligarchs - to 20% of the population... as did the US Founders in 1776. Yes I know, that latter expansion was horrifically incomplete! Though it continued, in grinding steps, each generation. But that's the internal struggle we discuss in another chapter. 


Here in this one, I want to inspect what happened when that young, experimental nation became an empire.

 

Once upon a time - in the year 1945 - there came upon the scene a clade of men and women who had just conquered the worst evils of all time. They were brilliant on a par with the American Founders and fixated on pragmatic idealism, not dogma or incantations. And now, in their hands, lay power never conceived by Alexander, Caesar or even Genghis Khan. 


Gazing across the litany of predictable behaviors, rationalized cruelties and stubbornly unsapient errors that we call “history,” they pondered a question that was never asked before: 

 

Is there any way we can learn from all that and make fewer mistakes, during the coming era? Pax Americana?

 

====

 

In 1999, I wrote to Time Magazine, nominating my own choice for “Person of the 20th Century.” I asked – how could you even consider anyone other than George Marshall? You probably just know him for the Marshall Plan, which famously did one unprecedented thing – the victors in a vicious war spending lavishly to uplift their recent enemies. And allies. But that is just the tip of what Marshall both influenced and accomplished. I invite you to read about this stunning example of what it means to be a truly grownup human. [1]

 

====

 

Let’s squint back across all those millennia at a few historical errors that George Marshall – along with like FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, Dwight Eisenhower, Cordell Hull and others – sought purposely to avoid. 

 

If you scan recorded accounts, you'll find that most people across the last 6000 years lived in either a period of imperium or else a period of chaos. Many empires were brutal and stultifying. Still, cities didn't burn very often when central authority maintained order. Most people could work, trade and raise their families in safety, under the imperial peace or “pax.”

 

That doesn’t mean such times were wise! Often, those empires behaved in smug and tyrannical ways that laid seeds for their own destruction. For example, whenever a nation became overwhelmingly strong, it tended to forge trade networks that favored home industries and capital inflows, at the expense of those living in dependent areas. The Romans did this, insisting that rivers of gold stream into the imperial city. So did the Hellenists, Persians, Moguls, Aztecs and every Chinese dynasty. This kind of behavior by Pax Brittanica was among the chief complaints of both John Hancock and Mahatma Gandhi. While you can grasp why emperors instituted such mercantilist policies, it inevitably proved stupid. Capital cities flourished… till angry barbarians from the impoverished periphery poured in. 

 

AVOIDING PAST MISTAKES…

…AND UPLIFTING THE WORLD

 

Upon finding itself the dominant power at the end of World War II, the U. S. had an opportunity to impose its own vision of international trade. And it did. But at the behest of Marshall and others, America became the first imperial power to deliberately establish counter-mercantilist commerce flows. Nations crippled by war or poverty were allowed to maintain tariffs, keeping out American goods, while sending shiploads from their factories to us. Each administration since Marshall's time, regardless of political party, has abided by this compact–to such a degree that the world's peoples now simply take it for granted![2]

 

Of course, more than pure altruism may have been involved. Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Dwight Eisenhower both saw trade as a tonic to unite world peoples against Soviet expansionism. But if you doubt it also had an altruistic motive, remember that this unprecedented regime was instituted by the author of the renowned Marshall Plan–an endeavor that rings in human memory as an archetype of generosity. 

 

====

 

HIATUS FOR MEA CULPA

 

Let’s be clear – I’m not glossing over America’s many mistakes and crimes! From Vietnam to Mossadegh to Pinochet to the WMD scam and Trumpian monstrosities, this pax has much to atone for, as would any bunch of jumped-up cavemen with unmodified brains and hormones, who got their hands on steel and gunpowder and petroleum and nukes. 


But just as we ask Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln: “Were you much better than your times, and did you move things forward?” we’re also behooved to look across history at every other empire that ever was, and ask critics of Pax Americana:

 

“Can you name a people who were ever tempted by overwhelming imperial power, who used it with a better ratio of good to bad deeds?”

 

Talk of “ratios” will never salve the anger of a purist. Nor will the fact that your own high standards for personal and national rectitude – standards that America has failed – were taught by the very same Hollywood propaganda system that preaches Suspicion of Authority or "SOA", tolerance, diversity, eccentricity and the glimmering notion that – some time in our children’s future – there will be an adult and benign end to all empires.[3]

 

(For more on how Hollywood Sci Fi promoted SOA and tolerance etc, see VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood.)


Still, a defense case can be argued for the world that Marshall and fellow flawed-geniuses wrought. And foremost among articles entered into evidence is the counter-mercantilist trade system they introduced, diametrically opposite to the behavior of every other imperium, leading to America not so much being popular as being likely – across all those centuries – the least-hated empire.[4]


====

 

In fact, the Marshall Plan, per se, was nothing compared to the new trading system, under which Americans bought roughly a hundred trillion dollars worth of crap they never needed. And thus factory workers – first in Japan and Germany, then Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, then Malaysia and China, and then India and Bangladesh – sweated hard, often unjustly, but saw their children clothed and schooled.[5] Whereupon those kids refused to work in the textile mills, which had to move on to the next pool of festering poverty. It wasn’t clean, moral or elegant… perhaps not praiseworthy! But it amounted to a prodigious transfer of wealth from the United States to Europe, Asia and Latin America – the greatest aid-and-uplift program in human history. A program that (again) consisted of Americans buying craploads of things they didn’t really need.

 

Does anyone deserve moral credit for this staggeringly successful “aid program”? Perhaps not American consumers, who went on a reckless holiday, spending themselves into debt. Moreover, as the author of a book called Earth, I'd be remiss not to mention that all of this consumption-driven growth came about at considerable cost to our planet. For all our sakes, the process of ending human poverty needs to get a lot more mature and efficient. 

 

Still, it is long past time for a balanced view of the last 80 years, which have featured more rapid development and distribution of education, health and prosperity than any and all such intervals since we lived in caves. Than all eras combined. For the first time, a vast majority of humans have spent their entire lifetimes never seeing or smelling or hearing the rampages of a pillaging army, never witnessing war with their own eyes, and spent nearly all their weeks with enough to eat. Today 90% of children worldwide bring schoolbooks home to what Americans would call hovels, but with electricity, basic sanitation, a refrigerator and lights to study by. It’s not uplift at a rate demanded by our conscience! But it’s faster than ever happened before, and possibly in the nick of time.

 

Without diminishing at all from the urgent need for more advancement (much more!), some authors have dared to speak up against the notion that gloom is the only motivator for reform. In truth, citizens are more likely to invest in world-saving, if they can see that past efforts actually accomplished something. Starting with The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, by Gregg Easterbrook, other authors such as Steven Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) and Peter Diamandis (Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think) present overwhelming evidence that there is good news to match the bad. 


Not only that, but that awareness of the good that’s been accomplished may help us to believe in our power to press on harder than ever, to overcome the bad.

 

Yes, again it distills down to thinking positive sum. For a good handle on that concept, the central idea of our Great Enlightenment Experiment, I recommend Robert Wright’s wonderful 1999 book: Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.

 

JUSTIFICATIONS FOR A NEW PAX

A REVIVED CENTRAL KINGDOM

 

And indeed, it may be that - as some assert - the brief era of Pax Americana is coming to a close. At least that is the notion spread zealously by a new behemoth on the world stage. 


Again, I have very little time or space here, but this is a volume about seeing things from different angles. And there needs to be some pushback against a meme that’s going around, promulgated especially from Beijing, that the transition is wholly good and beyond-question ordained. 

 

Dr. Wu Jianmin, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University and chairman of the Shanghai Centre of International Studies, is a smart fellow whose observations merit close attention. In the online journal The Globalist, Wu Jianmin’s appraisal of “A Chinese Perspective on a Changing World” was insightful. [6] Still, it typically misplaced credit for the Asian economic miracle. 

 

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

 

In fact, and with due respect for their industriousness, ingenuity and determination, the Japanese invented no such thing. The initiators of export-driven world development were U.S. leaders in the ravaged aftermath of the Second World War. While both Japanese and Chinese mercantilists preen about their development “invention,” they have frantically underplayed the extent to which this was at deliberate American indulgence. 

 

Instead, they spread the self-flattering notion that U.S. consumers are like fatted pigs, unable to control their appetites and worthy only to be treated as prey animals. For more on this, see: “The Power of Consumption - How Americans spent ourselves into ruin–but uplifted the world.” [7] And the blogged version,[8] which also contrasts left versus right attitudes toward an “American Empire.” (Hint, both sides are historically ignorant and entirely wrong.)

 

Of course one question to arise out of all of the above is… how could Americans afford to go on that world-building spending spree for 80 years? How could decade after decade of trade deficits be afforded?

 

The answer is inventiveness. Each decade brought a wave of new industries – automobiles, jet air travel, xerography, personal photography, industrial computers, satellites, electronics, transistors, lasers, telecom, pharmaceuticals, personal computers, the Internet, e-gaming, AI and so on. Each new industry generated so much wealth that Americans could keep buying older products – toys and textiles, then cars, then computers and so on – from overseas factories… till each new industry also fled to cheap labor and agile Asian corporations. But no worries, there was always the next thing to invent!

 

Which of course takes us to the central grudge in our current trade war, the spectacularly aggressive stealing of western Intellectual Property or IP.[9]

 

Look, for perspective, Americans were famous IP thieves in the 19th Century, and a certain amount of that is understandable! But inventiveness is the very lifeblood of the one nation that has propelled the world economy for an entire human lifetime. It is the goose that laid countless golden eggs for everyone. And while it’s fine to make and sell goods in order to gather as many eggs as you can, it’s quite another thing to kill and eat the goose! One word for that is greedy. Another is stupid.

 

 

TOXIC GRUDGES

 

Alas, there is something much worse going on than goose-cooking. We are also seeing floods of propaganda disparaging Pax Americana, justifying not only its replacement, but its violent fall. Critically dangerous, for example, is a meme being spread from Beijing that any strategy or tactic that the PRC might use to get on top is justified by past crimes against it, like colonialism.

 

Oh, the New Mandarins are doing this for their own reasons. Even without anger at oppression and corruption, a fast-rising population can get agitated by what’s called the revolution of rising expectations.[10] It’s well known that a foreign enemy can be helpful to manage domestic friction. Nevertheless, this sort of thing can get out of hand and in this particular case it needs to be nipped in the bud. Not just because trumped-up rancor might lead to conflagration. It is also based on an absolute lie.

 

Sure, many western powers behaved aggressively toward China in the 19th Century, bullying, carving out “concessions” and insulting one of the world’s great peoples. Easily half of the responsibility falls on that era’s corrupt Peiping (Manchu or Chi’ing) court, who refused to modernize or reform in the fashion of Meiji Japan and murdered every reformist voice. But that doesn’t excuse Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Japan and the rest for their callous opportunism. 

 

In any event (almost) none of that applies to the USA! In fact, across all 3000 years of Chinese history, China’s only real foreign friend, coming to her aid repeatedly and by far, was America. I can prove it, with example after example. But so could anyone with historical awareness.[11] And hell yes, include the last 40 years of rapid development. But I’ll save that for another time…

 

…adding only that pointing this out is an example of polemical judo, an art that’s not just necessary for political salvation of the United States, but possibly to prevent a ruinous world war. Lest the Beijing communist politburo miscalculate in riling up their population against us, we need to be ready to answer.[12]

 

“We weren’t perfect, by any means. But that accusation is a flat-out lie.

"We have always been your only friend. And we still are, to this very day.”

 

 

BRILLIANT… AND DECEPTIVELY CLOSE…

 

While we’re on the Central Kingdom, I want to point to one example of state-sponsored rationalization that struck me as especially important, insightful… and ultimately just wrong. Feng Xiang, a professor of law at Tsinghua University, argues that “AI will spell the end of capitalism.”[13]

 

According to Feng, first the standard Marxian cycle will return, wreaking havoc on capitalist systems with a vengeance. For lack of anti-monopoly or fairness-generating reforms (like those enacted by our parents under FDR, or by our great-grandparents under the other Roosevelt), each business cycle will result in greater wealth disparities and a narrowing of the owner-controlling caste, leading to a conversion of vibrantly competitive markets back into history's standard, uncreative oligarchic pyramid. And yes, barring imminent reform, that stupid pattern is what we see already happening, as Marx rises from the dustbin, back into pertinence.

Naturally, Professor Feng’s proposed solution is also Marxist, with “Chinese characteristics.” 

Party-guided proletarian revolution.

 

Second, he joins many forecasting that the coming technological obsolescence of many types of employment will break the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, if not billions. No longer able to negotiate or bargain for the value of their labor, workers will be at the mercy of the Owner Caste. And yes, ditto. Feng’s prescription for a resolution is Sino-Marxist. Top-down state paternalism.

 

Finally, any artificial intelligence that gains unsupervised control over important systems may pose an existential risk to humanity. For this and other reasons, Professor Feng argues that research into AI should be tightly controlled by a benevolent socialist state.

 

Why am I giving space over to a communist state-servant who promotes Marxist notions that I clearly disagree with? Because it is well worthwhile reading his appraisal of looming problems. After which it is instructive to study his prescriptions. Because simplistic panaceas will doubtless appeal to billions, over the next couple of decades. Especially at a time when our own lords seem determined to follow the Marxian pattern by driving the American middle class into penury.

 

Oh, but it goes much farther! And you remain uninformed about all this to the peril of your country, your civilization and the fate of your posterity.[14] (Just all that, nothing more!)

 In fact, Feng Xiang’s missive is simultaneously brilliant and stunningly tendentious – clearly a piece of state-commanded justification propaganda, of the sort that gains heat daily in Chinese media. Exactly the sort of thing that distracts the masses… and, as already said, may get violently out of hand.

 

At minimum, you need to grasp the polemical intent underlying Professor Feng's missive. And to see how Feng's prescriptions – issued in variants by an army of court scholars – do not follow, logically, from his well-described premises. In fact, I offer answers to all of Dr. Feng’s assertions, and you are welcome to read them, here.[15] In another place I show why Beijing’s rationalization for central planning forever is hypocritically the most heretically anti-Marxist position of all. [16]

 

Included in those links is discussion of the major question of central planning and whether it’s possible to guide an economy from up top. (Here’s another[17] on that topic.) 


Every king and commissar of the past believed they could command-allocate a successful economy and all ultimately failed. Using sophisticated and agile modern tools, the Japanese did take central planning to new levels of success, before finally hitting a wall that free market thinkers believe will always appear, whenever arrogant leaders they believe they can control super-complex, synergistic systems. (It’s what we’re learning about the biggest, most productive and most-complicated such system, Earth’s biosphere.)

 

On the other hand, there is so much hypocrisy among supposed free market champions! The 5,000 golf buddies in America’s smug CEO caste – plus their New Lord backers and Wall Street/Riyadh/Kremlin pals – claim to oppose central planning. But their circle-jerk connivings only shift it away from openly accountable civil servants into dark crypts that are secret, self-flattering and inherently stupid.

 

Meanwhile, the Beijing leadership is at least open about taking central planning way beyond Japanese levels of success, crowing, “This time we have it sussed!” 

 

With deep respect for their accomplishments, and aware that this time might be different, my answer is: Well, sorta… and dangerously delusionally partway. 

 

But this is a dispute with many ramifications[18] – some of which we’ll cover in Chapter 11 on Economics. It won’t be settled soon.[19] At least not till we stop arguing in clich├ęs. 

 

IS ANYONE STILL READING?

Is anybody still out there reading at this point? This book consists of maybe 90% of judo assaults against the mad-right treason, so I doubt many conservative readers linger. And my defense of a mostly benign American Pax (while acknowledging bloody mistakes) has likely sent every liberal or leftist scurrying, amid a cloud of curses. My attempt to bring perspective will be dismissed as arrogant, jingoist, hyper-patriotic American triumphalism.[20]

 

But I’ll persevere anyway. Heck, perhaps some friendly-insightful AI is scanning this, right now. So let me just reiterate my assertion:

 

Even if America is exhausted, worn out and a shadow of her former self, having spent her way from world dominance into a chasm of debt, the U.S. does have something to show for the last eight decades. Humanity’s longest (if deeply flawed) era of overall (per capita) peace. A majority of human beings lifted out of grinding poverty. A trajectory of science and technology that may (perhaps) lead to more solutions than problems. The launching of environmentalism and many rights movements. Perhaps even a world saved. 

 

That task, far more prodigious than defeating fascism and Stalinism, or going to the moon, ought to be viewed with a little respect, at least compared to how every other nation acted, when tempted by great power. And I suspect it will be, by future historians.

 

This unconventional assertion will meet vigorous resistance, no matter how clearly it is supported by the historical record.  The reflex of America-bashing is too heavily ingrained, within the left and across much of the world, for anyone to actually read the ancient annals and realize that the United States is probably the least hated empire of all time.  If its “pax” is drawing to a close, it will enter retirement with more earned goodwill than any other.[21] Perhaps even enough to win forgiveness for the inevitable litany of imperial crimes.

 

 And so, at risk of belaboring the point, let me reiterate. If the U.S. had done the normal thing, the natural human thing, and imposed mercantilist trade patterns after WWII – as every previous “chung kuo” empire did – then America would have no debt today.  Our cities would gleam and our factories hum. The country would be swimming in gold...

...but the amount of hope and prosperity in the world at large would be far less, ruined by the same self-centered, short-sighted greed that eventually brought down empires in Babylon, Persia, Rome, China, Britain and so on. And when we finally fell, it would be in a turmoil of well-deserved wrath.

 


NOTE: David McCullough’s Truman biography offers insights into that era when an empire - for the first time - was actually planned out, with an eye to not repeating mistakes of the past. Back in 1999 I nominated George Marshall to be Person of the 20th Century. But cred to FDR (and Eleanor) for choosing people like him, and Nimitz and Truman and Ike - all of them sharing traits of maturity, hard work, intellect, unjealous teamwork and competence. In other words, all of them diametrically opposite to Trump.


 

WHAT MIGHT THE FUTURE BRING?


Other nations have started viewing their time ahead as one of triumph, becoming the next great pax or “central kingdom.” If that happens, (as I portray in my novel Existence) will they begin their bright era of world leadership with acts of thoughtful and truly farsighted wisdom?  Perhaps even a little indulgent gratitude? 


We can hope they will at least try evading the mistakes that are written plain, across the pages of history, wherever countries (and their oligarchies) briefly puffed and preened over their own importance, imagining that this must last forever. 

 

But this, too, shall pass.

 

–––-

 

Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

-  Eleanor Roosevelt, Remarks at the United Nations, March 27, 1958


[1] “A Quiet Adult: My Candidate For Man Of The Century.” https://www.marshallfoundation.org/marshall/essays-interviews/quiet-adult-candidate-man-century/

 

[2] The original version of this essay was obviously written before Donald Trump. http://www.metroactive.com/metro/11.25.09/news-0947.html

 

[3] “The Dogma of Otherness.” from my collection, Otherness.

 

[4] Least-hated empire? https://medium.com/@david.brin/neither-side-owns-patriotism-9cd25cdf1506

 

[5] In much the same way that my grandparents slaved in the US garment industry, and other immigrants sweated so that their highly schooled offspring would not have to… and thus the factories moved on.

 

[6] "A Chinese Perspective on a Changing World" http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=8035

 

[7] http://www.metroactive.com/metro/11.25.09/news-0947.html

 

[8] “The Power of Consumption - How Americans spent ourselves into ruin–but uplifted the world.” and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2009/11/how-americans-spent-themselves-into.html

 

[9] IP theft. https://www.invntip.com/nation-sponsored-theft-of-ip/

 

[10]   https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/revolution-rising-expectations

 

[11] Chinese leaders and scholars are using resentment over past Western depredations like colonialism to justify ever-rising fevers of nationalism. One can understand their reasons –- a fast-developing and educated population must be distracted from their sense of being overly controlled – but the formula is dangerous. At some level, it must be answered. At the right moment, someone must ask, in as public a way as possible: “Across 3,000 years of glorious Chinese history, you accomplished many things and were – and remain – one of the greatest centers of human culture. Still: when did you ever have a friend? An equal friend who came to your aid when you called and wasn’t afraid of you.” 

    “As it happens, China – across its long history –only had one consistent external friend. Have you ever heard of a California city called Burlingame? It’s named after Abraham Lincoln’s envoy to China, Anson Burlingame, who made life hell for the British, the French, the Russians, the Japanese, endlessly hectoring them to get out. To give up their colonies and “concessions” and extra-territorial bullying rights. In several cases, he even succeeded at preventing some seizures, despite the Chi’ing Dynasty’s apparent eagerness to do everything wrong. A bit later on, the great hero in freeing China from those Manchu overlords – Sun Yatsen – based his repeated efforts at revolution out of Hawaii and the U.S. And when he finally succeeded, Sun sent hundreds of students to America on free scholarships. Yes, there were tussles between American forces and some of the warlords who usurped Sun, But who came to China’s aid against the invading Japanese Empire, at great cost in lives and treasure? And who has spent trillions buying crap from Chinese factories, providing the economic engine of all development and making cities like Shenzhen possible? Today’s huge Chinese military buildup is based upon a U.S. “threat” that does not exist. That across 150 years has never, ever existed. Moreover, there is no basis for wrath at us. If you want to sell us stuff, at the cost of U.S. jobs, well that was our policy, all along. (You’re welcome!) If you want our inventions, we can negotiate over that. But don’t you dare pretend any moral reason to justify hating us. It’s not fair or right. And it may help explain those 3000 years having only one friend.”

 

[12] China’s friend? This cartoon from that era may seem non-PC by modern standards But at the time it said “We are different from you imperialist fools.” https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Putting_his_foot_down.jpg

 

[13] From The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/05/03/end-of-capitalism/?utm_term=.01fa1d726f44

 

[14] http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2018/06/central-control-over-ai-and-everything.html

 

[15] “Central Control over AI... and everything else.” http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2018/06/central-control-over-ai-and-everything.html

 

[16] http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2019/08/international-affairs-and-china-redux.html

 

[17]   More on the myths of central planning: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2019/07/central-planning-and-team-human-are-we.html

 

[18] "Allocation vs Markets - an ancient struggle with strange modern implications: The ancient mythology of "economic allocation" takes on strange modern camouflage... as a defense of free market wisdom" http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2006/06/allocation-vs-markets-ancient-struggle.html

 

[19] At least not in a quick-impudent e-book on US political polemic.

 

[20] On the American right, we do have genuine triumphalists – Bush era neocons and later Bannonite imperialists - of the most shrill and stubborn type, who share my appreciation for Pax Americana... but for all the wrong reasons, as if using the same phrase to stand for entirely different things. Their era of misrule deeply harmed the very thing they claim to love.

 

[21] Assuming the Trump-trashed alliances and goodwill can be rebuilt.