Saturday, November 17, 2012

Waiting for the Return of the Old Gods

A great article in Der Spiegel, hinging on this prediction for the U.S. of  "the debt drama of the next few months, the showdown and duel between Democrats and Republicans over which party can blame the other one for a national bankruptcy."


In fact, [the political-economic system] is in the midst of a massive transformation process, a deep-seated change to our critical and debt-ridden system, which is suited to making us poor and destroying our prosperity, social security and democracy, and in the midst of an upheaval taking place behind the backs of those in charge.

A great bet is underway, a poker game with stakes in the trillions, between those who are buying time with central bank money and believe that they can continue as before, and the others, who are afraid of the biggest credit bubble in history and are searching for ways out of capitalism based on borrowed money.

Great. Yet it just says what we all know when we dare to think about it.

We're broke. Europe is broke. China is broke. The system will end.

I'd suggest this isn't just a financial system, but, as the above article suggests, a transformation of the world civilization. It's not like the Great Depression, it's more like the Renaissance or Reformation or the Industrial Revolution: one civilization is dying, another will take its place.

That's the real message of the election: There is no electoral majority of any significance either for either stimulus economics or cutback economics. Obama has no mandate; he merely was better in rousing his base for one day. Romney, even if he had squeaked out a "victory," would have had no backing for trying to reverse our headlong plunge toward the abyss.

We don't have the vision and/or guts to make the choices that could save us; so the crash will come.

Maybe there isn't a way. Maybe we've gone too far; maybe as has been said democracy ends when 50.1 percent of the voters realize they can plunder the rich and the public treasury. Maybe the mass delusion that we can magically create wealth is too widespread.

My main consolation is that the change will uproot many of the delusions that have sprouted up. My main fear is that history shows this is never, ever, a peaceful process. 

We believe we can wish wealth into being; we believe we can wish into being the moral 
rules we would prefer to have. 

In either case it's as if we could by our regulations and slogans end the law of gravity, and fly wherever we wish.

We can't. So we will have to pay the price. Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) likes to quote a Kipling poem that, I predict, will be as prophetic of the 21st century as "The Second Coming" was of the murderous 20th:

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race, 
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place. 
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall, 
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

I have some optimism that will indeed be purged of our insanities and will come out better. Alas, I am probably too old to have much hope of seeing that day. 


  1. If you're going to look at Kipling, you might want to look at his two science fiction stories, "With the Night Mail" and "As Easy as A.B.C.," especially the latter. They share a common future historical and technological background, a key feature of which is the rise of mass society, democracy, and invasion of privacy in the twentieth century, followed by revulsion and planetary upheaval and a society with very different values. The latter story is accompanied by the revolutionary anthem of the overturn, "MacDonough's Song," which many people who know "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" are also familiar with, especially

    Whatsoever, for any cause,
    Seeketh to take and give
    Power above and beyond the Laws—
    Suffer it not to live.
    Holy State—or Holy King—
    Or Holy People's Will—
    Have no truck with the senseless thing.
    Order the guns and kill.

    1. Bingo with a bullet! "As Easy as A.B.C." reads
      as though Kipling had been vouchsafed a vision
      of our future history, including a glimpse of
      a certain statue modeled on events coming soon
      to a city near you.
      Perhaps the Steampunk world in which it is set
      may be far enough from our reality to allow
      suspension of disbelief long enough for some
      to see the truth in the fantasy.

  2. As Heinlein says, it's just bad luck.

  3. The rise of envy-driven government thuggery where the government is called upon by the looters to punish and rob the producers reminds me of reading the news accounts in real time back when Mugabe was sending out his goon squads to take over the white farms in Zimbabwe. That was prior to the hyperinflation and led to it in no small part.

  4. I happen to think "The Second Coming" will work just fine in the 21st century, too - no reason two or more great works can't synergistically explain or describe our age, and that to come.

  5. It will be interesting to see them(us) eat their young.Lock and Load and pay attention, its your only hope.

  6. I think '1984' will be seen in the future not as a cautionary tale but rather a memoir of how pleasant life used to be.

  7. There are 3 ways out that I see:
    (1) Shame those on the receiving end of welfare (I mean anybody / company...). As it now is, it's as if you're mocking a cripple if you say anything to a mooch.
    (2) Run out of [other peoples] money, and thus: work or starve.
    (3) A renaissance of rational ideas (Objectivism) that dejects altruism and replaces it w/ egoism. Hard to see this coming.

    I'm guessing it's #2.

    1. I'm betting on, haircut, global, all-at-once. No clue data, just because it is least painful for the greatest number (democratic social justice), and because of the net, newly do-able.

      If someone told me there would need to be a catalyst, and that a shadow world govt had determined to have a limited 'accidental' ('magnetic polarity reversal'?) nuclear ICBM exchange in order to sober up the masses and give them an enormous demand-creating construction job, well i would not be surprised, as such a plan would explain a myriad of strange doings (Chinese ghost cities, city of Astan, Kazakhstan, underground of Denver International Airport, et cetera and so forth), and the one-world govt would thus 'organically' come to be sought by the human race, and welcomed.

      Letting the NWO 'one world' shadow govt form a global crime syndicate (a 'let' the edge of which we see as the inexplicable failure of govts to prosecute the known perps behind the current crisis) able to elect Pagan govts with thermonuclear strategic weapons at hand, leaves hoi polloi with little to do at this point but hope and pray the powers will have a change of heart some bright spring morning as the abyss is staring hard at them, and decide this world ain't so bad, come to think of it --just needs some work.

  8. Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is a fan of SF author Jerry Pournelle,, who has re-posted Kipling's "Gods of the Copybook Headings" every few months for years now.

    Pournelle is currently posting some ruminations on the future of our western civilization; it might be worth your time to read.

  9. What happened to the Hostess cupcake company this past week is illustrative of our own future as a nation: a parasite learns that there really is a limit to how much you can suck out of the host without killing it. Of course the USG is a much larger host and can print its own currency, but there is a still a practical limit to the amount of wealth that can be sucked from the host and still leave it able to recover. We shall see what happens when we reach that limit.

  10. The people responsible for the problem will never admit that it is they who caused the problem. Moreover, they will never abandon the delusion that still more spending (i.e., debt) would fix the problem. They will have to be ousted — preferably via the ballot, but forcibly if necessary.

  11. Capitalism based on borrowed money... nice spin on social democracy...

  12. 15The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
    16And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
    17For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
    18And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
    19And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

  13. Stand by for "Lord of the Flies II: The Return of Reality".

  14. "Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defence. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated much more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from the letter "After 10 Years", written for New Year's, 1943.

  15. The "Takers" think they have the right to what the "Makers" produce. The "Makers" are mostly in the "red" areas and the "Takers" in the "blue". Now, this is not entirely true as the blue areas have much of the information industry but it does seem true that about 50% of the people think they have a "right" to take assetts that do not belong to them. This has been ingrained in them to such an extent that they cannot be convinced otherwise, only sad experience may serve to show them the truth. As they number about 50% of the population, the "Takers" who will never vote to reduce their benefits will almost always win an election as some "Makers" who do poorly would like to become "takers". Since it has become impossible for the "makers" to win elections, then we must look to other means for the dose of harsh reality the "takers" need.
    How can this be done? Look at a U.S. map of election results on a county basis and one sees the answer. You see a sea of red with a border of blue on the West Coast, a blotch of blue in the NE, the SE coast of Fl is blue and all the rest of the blues are in tiny urban islands surrounded by red. What this means is that food and energy production is almost entirely in red areas. "Reds" control the food and energy production and have the means to FORCE change on the blues. How to do this?
    There are both legal and illegal ways and either would be acceptable to me as long as it causes the urban "takers" to understand the folly of their beliefs. The highways and electrical delivery structures are umbilical cords to the isolated urban areas that could be effectively severed. You do not want to sever them completely as a partial severing would cause more chaos with fights over fuel and food breaking out in the cities. I'd recommend a legal and organized embargo on one city at a time until they "get it". Start with Chicago. If a legal effort didn't work well, does anybody really think the national Guard or even the army could patrol thousands of miles of highways to keep snipers from targeting food and fuel trucks?
    The "Makers" would then demand a new election in which nobody who works for the govt or who gets more than 5% of their sustenance from the govt could vote.
    Force the "Takers" to experience hardship and show them they have no control over the outcome and we can produce an economy in which nobody gets anything for free. Nobody should get something for nothing, not retired people, not the elderly, not the mentally impaired, not the physically impaired. EVERYBODY should work in some capacity unless they are living off their own savings.

    1. Happened right off the bat, in the second year of the world's first communist takeover, the Bolshevik Revolution. The Red Army came out of the cities, and rolled up the countyryside in detail, exposing fighters by torturing hostages from their families. The Tambov Uprising, 1919-1921.

    2. This is exactly the kind of thinking that gave us a second term of Obama.

      America is _not_ divided into 'makers' and 'takers', because almost everyone is in both categories at once, or at different times in their lives.

      Contrary to his own foolish words, Romney ended up getting a lot of the votes of his supposed 47% of 'takers', and a lot of the so-called 'makers' voted for Obama.

      Nor do the Red areas support the Blue areas tax-wise. Tax money flows, for the most part, out of the Blue-ish cities and into the Red-ish rural areas. The Red regions are disproportionately dependent on public spending, not because they are lazy but simply because of the economic facts of life about what goes on where. The businesses, taxable economic activity, and so on tend to be in the cities. That's no more a moral assessment than the fact that most of the food eaten in the cities comes from the rural areas is.

      Yes, the public believes it has a right to tax and redistribute. They've believed that since before the American Revolution, and that won't change in the future.

      The debate is not about that, but about _which_ taxes and _which_ redistributions are legit and which are not. Remember that Reagan himself was careful to emphasize that he was against the Great Society, rather than the New Deal, for just that reason.

      For ex, many people hate Obamacare and support SoSec and worker protection laws (witness the results of the Ohio elections that crippled Kasich), just because you oppose one doens't mean you oppose both. Yet the 'maker/taker' dichotomy lumps everyone into either/or categories that cut across real-world politics. Romney tried to run on it, and the result was Obama got a 2nd term and now we will probably get Obamacare too, when we could have gotten rid of Obamacare if we hadn't thrown away our momentum from 2010 on a futile attack on the New Deal.

  16. What's amazing to me is that the supposedly brilliant, Harvahd-educated Obama actually believes that wealth can be redistributed. He apparently thinks if you give unearned money to people they are now have wealth. It fails to dawn on him that money is an exchange of value.

  17. Obama knows perfectly well that money is an exchange of value. That's exactly why he redistributes. Because when he 'redistributes' the wealth, what he gets in exchange is the loyalty of his own kind, the parasites and grifters and the con men. That's why the welfare mob reelected him. That's why they committed voter fraud to reelect him, to keep the gravy train coming for another term. This is not a population group known for long term planning.

    Using the printing presses as a magic money tree will work for a few more years . . until the inflation turns into hyperinflation. Things will get real ugly when the food stamps don't buy anything anymore. I expect the future USA will look like the Mugabe family's Zimbabwe.

  18. Mark Steyn calls the US "the brokest country EVER."

    Our political class will keep doing what they have been doing, because it's all they know how to do. Reward themselves, reward their friends, reward their backers in return for kick-backs, and keep running up debt to do it. It worked to gte them where they are, successful people almost never change what brought them success even as circumstances change. They'll double down on debt to pay for more hollow promises as long as there is a vote or a campaign gift or a junket to be had.

    Very hard to say how it will end. We'll have governments all over the world and at all levels rolling over debt and never paying down any principal. At some point, maybe interest rates tick up, maybe bond sales fail, maybe some natural disaster requires liquidation of financial assets and we all find there are no buyers... hard to say. But if something cannot go on forever, it won't.

  19. No, this is not the end of a civilization, and no, it does not compare to the Reformation or the Renaissance. It is true that the Gods of Copybook Headings are about to explain it again, but it's not just the Left that's on schedule for the lesson, there's been plenty of nonsense on the Right, too.

    What we're seeing is the death of the post-1960s elite consensus that has prevailed on both the Left _and_ the Right for decades. It goes beyond the USA, and yes, it may yet turn violent.

    Glenn Reynolds likes to quote from the TGOCH, but he tends to quote the parts about economics, while ignoring another couplet that is at least as relevant to our current day:

    'On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
    (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
    Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.'

    'Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith...'

    The female fertility rate is the huge elephant in the room in the advanced countries since the 1960s, it's still socially unacceptable to talk about it in 'polite media', but it's there, and it's shaping everything.

    The nonsense that the Copybook Gods are about to rebuke is just as much to be found on Wall Street as Washington, just as present in Greece as it is California, but it's also present in Texas and Germany. The entire 'autonomy ideology' that dominates elite thinking today is an example of the gods of the marketplace at work. Libertarian cultural agendas _require_ big government as a prerequisite.

    1. great comment --but if one has a cultural agenda and is a libertarian, that agenda better be 'no agenda' or it ain't libertarian --right?

    2. The thing about libertarianims is that the cliche is true: it is to the Right pretty much what utopian socialism is to the Left. Both are utopian ideologies that require the things they supposed oppose, and neither fits human nature. Just as socialism requires a functioning market to draw energy from, libertarianism requires a functional (and fairly elaborately active) state to shield the individual from other, more powerful individuals.

      One of the Terrible Truths is that freedom can cancel itself out. That's part of why Romney lost. The GOP kept pushing it's 'economic liberty' agenda, not realizing that millions of people who are _not_ socialists, and who recognize the value of free markets, also know that untrammeled wealth and corporate power can and will roll over them if given total liberty of action. They know this from _practical experience_ of human nature and affairs.

      The Founders, incidentally, knew it too.