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Tag Archives: Soviet Union

On A Post Labor Scarcity Economy

Traditional economies assume that everyone always has a job they could and should be doing and if that’s ever not the case, you have the government tweak a dial here or there.
However, the industrial revolution has made production so efficient that it’s no longer necessary or desirable to try to mobilize all available labor at once.  This is a good thing.

An economic system with no way to preserve surplus labor is like a worker living paycheck-to-paycheck.
It’s like a plant that gets only just enough sunlight through a thick forest canopy.
Or a bear that is still lean in the autumn months when the demands of hibernation are nigh.
Surplus is a key part of strategy throughout the natural world so a model that assumes surplus must not exist is incomplete.

We can see the silliness of total employment even in the present scope of human societies by looking at militaries. Armies go decades at a time without anyone to shoot at.  They mostly deter conflict, like nukes, by simply existing.  There’s no demand in peacetime for skilled soldiers yet every year thousands of troops are trained to fight and kill in combat they may never experience.
Surely free-market advocates have never dreamed of a greater and dumber display of waste.  If the all-knowing and all-wise market had its way, there would be no soldiers, tanks, nukes, or jet fighters in peace time because there would be no demand for them. 

We can also consider how “free-market” states like the USA have generous agricultural subsidies.  Without a state safety net, farms might start to go out of business after a few bad harvests, leaving good ground fallow, spiralling needlessly into famine.  

A die-hard laissez faire capitalist might disapprove, but no matter a state’s rhetoric, security and food supply are two things rulers can’t screw up.  Mesopotamian kings in charge of the very first states thousands of years ago still had to successfully manage the army and the granary.  Even the Soviet Union had to swallow its pride and quietly privatize just enough of its farms to get by when ideology didn’t work in the real world. 

By reducing to basics we see the obvious place of a state as the brain that dictates the survival strategy of the group.  Without a central nervous system, the group is driven abruptly extinct by the first shock it encounters.  A population of millions left to its own devices behaves like bacteria in a petri dish.  
Enlightenment thought, obsessed with the individual, forgets how the society itself loses consciousness and individual agency if no one can agree to work towards common goals. 

The Trump Era And Iran

Iran hasn’t been a major expansionist power since the 17th century.  The modern state of Iran is a pale shadow compared to any of the empires across milennia based in the Persian homeland.
There frankly isn’t much reason for the United States to make Iran a top foreign policy priority.  They may eventually get nukes but Pakistan, a state infinitely worse than Iran already has nukes and the world hasn’t ended yet.

Aside from influence over Middle East client states, the US and Iran have no real conflicts of interest.  Rivalry with Iran was largely manufactured by US meddling in Iranian affairs.  For some bizarre reason the US establishment just can’t get over the fact that their Shah didn’t work out 40 years ago and that they need to move on.  It’s not unlike their inability to adjust to the fact that the USSR no longer exists.

President Trump, as of this writing, has just fired his national security advisor, Michael Flynn.  There are many flimsy-sounding official reasons for the dismissal but I suspect it is not without coincidence it comes shortly after Flynn put Iran “on notice” after the test launch of a missile.

Iran responded by launching more missiles and the US was again left looking foolish and impotent.
It looks like Trump took Flynn’s advice regarding Iran, but perhaps had his reservations because he made Flynn publicly own the announcement rather than doing it himself and taking the credit.

When Flynn’s sabre-rattling backfired, Trump may have decided to pull the plug even though he must understand that the optics are damaging to his administration.

 He acted similarly many times firing staff during his campaign with everyone saying he was finished and his organization falling apart.  These kinds of plays shouldn’t surprise us by now.

The open belligerence expressed by Flynn, when backed by no credible threat, makes no sense and makes the situation worse.  We need only reflect on how W Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ needlessly inflamed and encouraged his designated enemies.

Why on earth would anyone want to keep their enemies “on notice?”  Why not keep them guessing about their relationship with the US and always leave room for negotiation?  I remember how neocons and cuckservatives revolted when Obama merely said he would be willing to “talk to Iran.”  What kind of national leaders could express outrage at conducting diplomacy, a basic function of state?  This is the sort of childish idiocy an adult like Trump has to tear out by the roots.

Iran is a state with paranoid tendencies as one would expect of a land that has been under the influence of foreign powers for the last 200 years and invaded from every direction by every group for thousands of years.  Their nation lies at a natural geo-political crossroads so their government naturally has a hardliner temperament somewhat similar to that of Russia.  The key distinction that the US misunderstands is their outlook is primarily defensive in nature.
Beyond a buffer client zone in the Shia regions of Iraq along with its Shia holy cities, Iran really doesn’t seem to aspire to that much at the moment.  They have proxies all over the Middle East, but more to destabilize Sunni powers they fear than anything else.

I actually think Obama had the right general policy direction even if he was forced to by circumstance.  When his pet Syrian revolutionaries blew up into ISIS he went crawling on his knees to Tehran begging for them keep an independent Iraq in existence on paper at least.  The price was that he had to make humiliating concessions.

I think he still could have done a better job of playing the situation, though, considering he was paying the Iranians to do what they desperately wanted to do anyway.  I have to give him credit though for at least opening a dialogue when no one else in the establishment would.

The Western powers can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that Iran as the central power of Shi’ite Islam with its own great share of the petroleum market is the natural enemy of Sunni powers.  The potential for playing them off against each other should be obvious.

The US had its chance to take the Sunni side of that divide when they backed Saddam Hussein as a relatively secular Arab Nationalist leader of Iraq.  Had diplomacy been conducted with a more realpolitik understanding back then, perhaps Iraq would have been allowed to absorb Kuwait as an ally’s reward after their hard-fought war with Iran.
Perhaps that extra infusion of oil money would have enabled America’s then-ally to go back and pose a greater threat.

But that’s alternate history and now it actually makes more sense to play Iran against the Sunni Middle East and thereby have some leverage over them from behind the scenes.  At the very least, it makes sense to defuse decades of pointless hostility with Iran.  
If the US had wanted to pursue that route, it already could have with a strong ally before it invaded that ally twice, deposed its ruler, and left behind a yawning power vacuum that has caused endless headaches ever since.

At present, Iran aligns with Russia to the frustration of the establishment, but this connection need not exist.  Historically, Russian and Persian powers have been bitter enemies that have fought many wars.  Their co-operation is far from inevitable.  Theirs is an alliance made necessary by American intransigence.  As the US drove the Iranians into the arms of the Soviet Union, it now pushes them towards Russia.  If it were to become a foreign policy goal to divide them, it ought not to be that difficult.  Just encourage both to have more ambitions in the Caucasus.

For the time being, Iranian-Russian cooperation has been beneficial in keeping the Middle East from descending into complete chaos while for once the US can watch from afar as someone else puts in all the blood and sweat.

US establishment rhetoric toward Iran has frustrated me for years.  Their stupid heavy-handedness in all things has destroyed their credibility until even a non-politician TV billionaire can step in and push them aside.  Some inflammatory statements about Crimea aside, I am hoping Trump has the sense not to get drawn into the cult of unilateral, irrational belligerence.

Update 2/17/17: Was the Flynn firing also a ploy to draw out and expose enemies within the state and intelligence agencies?  Very intrigued to see what happens next.  Like in the election, Trump keeps people guessing, as he should.

A US Collapse Vs. SU Collapse

The US and SU had many things in common as massive highly nationalistic, highly idealistic, highly militarized nation states founded on pioneering territorial expansion across their continents.

In fact, it was their very alikeness that made them competitors for the same niche!

The author of this piece argues that for all its flaws, the cooperative, state run nature of the Soviet Union made it easier to weather governmental collapse than we’d see in a zero-sum super competitive ultra privatized US that barely 20 years after the SU’s is certainly in sharp decline and possibly on its last legs.

LINK

Why Splitting the Atom Split the Traditional Society

By the Middle of WWII most the world was starting to look less politically diverse than the Risk gameboard.

The world was centralizing rapidly as a few winner states with the most resources, biggest guns, best scientists, and most ardent nationalism were curb stomping the remaining minor players out of existence.

At the conclusion of WWII an all powerful US found itself at the top of the world followed by a gigantic Soviet Union in a distant 2nd place.

Eventually even the Soviet Union disappeared and for a decade or so, one clearly dominant state remained seemingly unopposed…for the first time ever.

A historian named Francis Fukuyama hailed the collapse of the USSR as the “end of history.”

He was right to recognize a critically important milestone, but it did not mean what he thought it meant.

History as it had been known had ended in 1945.

Before the industrial revolution and modern science, warring states felt sufficiently secure that their root stock civilian population and critical infrastructure was too numerous and too widely spread to be easily destroyed all at once.
The stakes were not quite as high for rulers, so wars were frequently deemed a worthwhile risk.

From the mid-19th century onwards, methods of destruction became so effective as to make mass wars on open battlefields impracticable, excessively costly, and excessively risky for States and Societies themselves.

The invention of an ultimate weapon was just the decisive and logical culmination of the trend.

The atomic bomb changed everything.

Before there was a doomsday weapon, every man was very likely sometime in his life to be needed as a soldier.

Societies that wanted to survive had to make sure their men could hope for sufficient wealth and a woman who would bear his kids.
Thus he was given the necessary status and esteem by society to accomplish these goals.

Before there was a doomsday weapon, societies could ill afford internal dissent. It was a paradise on earth for the robber parasites of each respective society.

For thousands of years, even if you hated the duke who sent armed men to collect the rent, life and society itself could be wiped out by a conquering army. If your family was to have any chance of survival…long live the King.

The collective standard of life, like wages, could be forced downward according to a collective iron law to the lowest people could be persuaded to accept. The alternative was annihilation at the hands of invaders living in as desperate a poverty as themselves.

No beast on the Savanna ever has a chance to optimize its lifestyle or treat itself for worms because it must constantly be watching out for predators instead…

To survive, the state, society had to function in certain ways so implicit and obvious, that one might as well be defining the nature of the atom. Both the peasant and the King were crammed together in a society’s nucleus. However strong the forces of self-interest pushing them apart, even stronger external forces held them together as allies in the struggle for scarce resources and the mere privilege of existence.

As the nucleus of the atom has been split, much the same has happened to societies.

Doomsday weapons did much to alleviate the ever present external threat that held it all together.

Ever since, people have been discovering that without the fear of immediate extinction, their best interests lie beyond any arbitrary State. Like is free to ally with like. Every breed knows its own.

First, the Kings themselves with their superior access to information freely multiplied their wealth by unchaining themselves from any particular population of subjects.
The previous order had already been good to them but competition had been fierce. Now they could cooperate better with one another while the masses of the world were still ostensibly locked in the ancient competition.

With the expiration of the USSR the last excuse for a world defined by competition between states had vanished.

For a decade or so, things seemed to coast along smoothly as a recognizable traditional system, but the centralized society had been steadily unraveling for decades, a trend that was suddenly and exponentially accelerated by the eruption of personal computing, the internet, and wireless communications.

There is no going back now because all the pieces that composed the old social nuclei have recombined in countless new associations. Associations more strongly governed by innate attraction than mere fear and reaction to immediate danger.

Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama: The man who proclaimed the end of history.

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