Blog Archives

Political and Social Conflict Is Accelerating: Here’s Why

That economic, social and political conflict is accelerating is self-evident. What’s open to debate are the core drivers of conflict / disorder /unraveling.

Here’s the core self-reinforcing dynamic in my view:

1. The status quo elites can no longer mask soaring costs of essentials nor soaring wealth / income inequality between the top .01% (Oligarchs), the top 9.99% who enrich the Oligarchs with their discretionary spending and technocratic/managerial labor, and the bottom 90% who are rapidly losing ground on all fronts: economic, social and political.

2. The elites’ “fixes” to the social / political conflicts unleashed by the rigged financial system and winner take most economic order are politically expedient, meaning they don’t actually address the sources of conflict, they merely paper them over with PR as a means of preserving the elites’ wealth and power.

3. The elites’ fundamental financial “fix” is to create trillions in newly issued currency and distribute it to the banks, financiers, super-wealthy families and global corporations– the top .01% Oligarchs.

4. This “fix” accelerates the asymmetric distribution of wealth by enabling the already-wealthy to buy more productive assets, fund stock buybacks, etc., while forcing the bottom 90% to borrow money from the Oligarchs to make ends meet: the rich get richer, the poor get more indebted.

5. The only possible output of these inputs (political expediency to preserve the elites’ wealth and power, the creation and distribution to the Oligarch class of trillions in new currency) is the acceleration of the very erosion that fueled social / political conflicts in the first place. In effect, the elites’ “fixes” are accelerating the conflicts that will ultimately lead to their downfall.

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The Dead Giveaways of Imperial Decline

Identifying the tell-tale signs of Imperial decay and decline is a bit of a parlor game. The hubris of an increasingly incestuous and out-of-touch leadership, dismaying extremes of wealth inequality, self-serving, avaricious Elites, rising dependency of the lower classes on free Bread and Circuses provided by a government careening toward insolvency due to stagnating tax revenues and vast over-reach–these are par for the course of self-reinforcing Imperial decay.

Sir John Glubb listed a few others in his seminal essay on the end of empires The Fate of Empires, what might be called the dynamics of decadence:

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The Elites Have Destroyed the Status Quo’s Ability to Self-Correct

For any system to endure, it must maintain a built-in capacity to self-correct: that is, it must generate accurate informational feedback about dangerous asymmetries and auto-correct with behavioral feedback.

This is true of ecosystems and enterprises as well as political/social systems.

Human systems can lose the ability to self-correct in three basic ways.

1. The information feedback is no longer accurate because self-serving interests manipulate the data to maintain whatever narrative/data-flow supports their power, wealth and income.

2. Self-serving interests limit any behavioral feedback that threatens their power, wealth and income.

3. Those in positions of responsibility who are tasked with managing behavioral feedback are no longer accountable, so the needed behavioral feedback fails.

Self-serving interests committed to protecting their power, wealth and income have destroyed our economic-political system’s ability to self-correct. There are many examples of these three dynamics; here are a few.

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Recovering America’s History of Progressive Populism

There is only one narrative in the mainstream media about populism: it destroys democracy and leads straight to fascism. This is an ignorant and false narrative. Here’s a typical example of the mainstream anguish that the elites’ preferred narratives are falling apart because they’ve left the bottom 95% behind: How Democracies Fall Apart: Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy

Granted, this is an international context for populism, but this is no excuse for overlooking America’s history of progressive populism. Are the “experts” beating the drum that populism inevitably leads to autocracy so poorly educated about American history that they don’t know that populism can be powerfully progressive, or are they being willfully blind to serve their elitist masters?

It’s time we recover America’s history of progressive populism. It’s awfully easy for elites and their toadies (witting or unwitting) to dismiss the citizenry who reject elitst narratives as “deplorables,” just as it is easy for them to dismiss populist resistance to their control as being “undemocratic.”

This is of course the exact opposite of the truth: populism is the result when the institutions of “democracy”–i.e. the machinery of elite control–have failed to respond to the concerns and opinions of non-elites.

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Following in Ancient Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Wealth Inequality

There are many reasons why Imperial Rome declined, but two primary causes that get relatively little attention are moral decay and soaring wealth inequality. The two are of course intimately connected: once the morals of the ruling Elites degrade, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too.

I’ve previously covered two other key characteristics of an empire in terminal decline: complacency and intellectual sclerosis, what I have termed a failure of imagination.

Michael Grant described these causes of decline in his excellent account The Fall of the Roman Empire, a short book I have been recommending since 2009:

There was no room at all, in these ways of thinking, for the novel, apocalyptic situation which had now arisen, a situation which needed solutions as radical as itself. (The Status Quo) attitude is a complacent acceptance of things as they are, without a single new idea.

This acceptance was accompanied by greatly excessive optimism about the present and future. Even when the end was only sixty years away, and the Empire was already crumbling fast, Rutilius continued to address the spirit of Rome with the same supreme assurance.

This blind adherence to the ideas of the past ranks high among the principal causes of the downfall of Rome. If you were sufficiently lulled by these traditional fictions, there was no call to take any practical first-aid measures at all.

A lengthier book by Adrian Goldsworthy How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower addresses the same issues from a slightly different perspective.

Glenn Stehle, commenting on 9/16/15 on a thread in the excellent websitepeakoilbarrel.com (operated by the estimable Ron Patterson) made a number of excellent points that I am taking the liberty of excerpting: (with thanks to correspondent Paul S.)

The set of values developed by the early Romans called mos maiorum, Peter Turchin explains in War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, was gradually replaced by one of personal greed and pursuit of self-interest.

“Probably the most important value was virtus (virtue), which derived from the word vir (man) and embodied all the qualities of a true man as a member of society,” explains Turchin.

“Virtus included the ability to distinguish between good and evil and to act in ways that promoted good, and especially the common good. Unlike Greeks, Romans did not stress individual prowess, as exhibited by Homeric heroes or Olympic champions. The ideal of hero was one whose courage, wisdom, and self-sacrifice saved his country in time of peril,” Turchin adds.

And as Turchin goes on to explain:

“Unlike the selfish elites of the later periods, the aristocracy of the early Republic did not spare its blood or treasure in the service of the common interest. When 50,000 Romans, a staggering one fifth of Rome’s total manpower, perished in the battle of Cannae, as mentioned previously, the senate lost almost one third of its membership. This suggests that the senatorial aristocracy was more likely to be killed in wars than the average citizen….

The wealthy classes were also the first to volunteer extra taxes when they were needed… A graduated scale was used in which the senators paid the most, followed by the knights, and then other citizens. In addition, officers and centurions (but not common soldiers!) served without pay, saving the state 20 percent of the legion’s payroll….

The richest 1 percent of the Romans during the early Republic was only 10 to 20 times as wealthy as an average Roman citizen.”

Now compare that to the situation in Late Antiquity when

“an average Roman noble of senatorial class had property valued in the neighborhood of 20,000 Roman pounds of gold. There was no “middle class” comparable to the small landholders of the third century B.C.; the huge majority of the population was made up of landless peasants working land that belonged to nobles. These peasants had hardly any property at all, but if we estimate it (very generously) at one tenth of a pound of gold, the wealth differential would be 200,000! Inequality grew both as a result of the rich getting richer (late imperial senators were 100 times wealthier than their Republican predecessors) and those of the middling wealth becoming poor.”

Do you see any similarities with the present-day realities depicted in these charts?

And how many congresspeople served in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan?

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Failed Discipline, Failed Reforms and Grexit: Why the Euro Failed

There is no substitute for the discipline of a market that cannot be manipulated by political elites.

It’s not that difficult to understand why the euro is doomed to fail. Given its structure, there is no other possible outcome but failure. Greece’s exit (Grexit) will simply be the first manifestation of the inevitable structural failure of the euro.

To understand why this is so, we have to start with two forms of discipline: the market and the state. The market disciplines its participants by discovering the price of not just goods and services but of currencies and the potential risks generated by fiscal and trade imbalances.

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Why the Periphery Is Crumbling: The Spoils System Is Cracking

Instability starts on the periphery and moves into the core.

While it is clear that the instability in periphery nations is arising from dynamics unique to each nation, there is one unifying causal factor: the spoils system in each nation is breaking down.

Every nation-state, from brutal dictatorships to nominal democracies, ultimately depends on a spoils system that provides the various factions, classes, etc., with sufficient material and status benefits to accept the Status Quo arrangement.

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