Hola

Recent developments in South America have upended the United States’ historical — and often misguided — tendency to lump the region into a one-size-fits-all policy. A politically and economically muscular Brazil, the rise of an anti-American bloc of countries led by Venezuela, and the emergence of economic and even political extraregional rivals in the hemisphere have created a more diverse, independent and contentious region for the United States.


But the reports of the United States’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. Economically and politically, the U.S. remains the leader in what is admittedly a much-changed, more assertive region. What is now necessary, however, is a long-overdue rethink of U.S. policy toward South America.


Meanwhile, South American countries have not stood around waiting for the United States to fill the resulting void. Economically within the region, the U.S. has been losing market share. In 2011, China replaced the U.S. as the major trading partner for Brazil and Chile. At the same time, China has signed free trade agreements or trade deals with Chile, Peru, Cuba and Costa Rica, while providing a series of concessionary loans to Venezuela and Ecuador. Even Washington’s greatest South American ally, Colombia, has refused to wait, signing a free trade agreement with Canada and launching negotiations for a free trade agreement with China. [World Politics Review]


A mariner fantasy for most of his life is the integration of the two Americas, North and South, and throw in Australia and New Zealand. What a trade powerhouse that would be. One continent is in the northern hemisphere, the other in the southern hemisphere – a boon to 12-month agricultural GDP. South America has oil, too, but it leads in amounts of rare minerals like Lithium. In South America, weather similar to the Gulf Coast is as large as the continental United States. In reference to the last post about the Pacific Rim, ten nations from Mexico to Argentina have coasts on the Pacific Ocean – and China knows it.


Two things interfere with collaboration: social history and racism. The United States has been too interested in the northern hemisphere and its cultural links with old world nations. Europe launched the existence of the United States in 1607. That liaison has run its course as new economic and technical forces are reshaping global economics and international policy.


Mariner doubts the US social image of anything south of Florida has changed since Hemingway lived in Cuba and politically since Castro was the dictator. Even Puerto Rico and Hispaniola get short shrift. Otherwise, as Donald would suggest, they are non-white immigrants. The literary relationship is little more than Carmen Miranda and “Don’t cry for me Argentina.” However, several professional tennis players have been quite successful in the US.


But. The coronavirus has reset the totalizator. Overnight new odds and probabilities have become real and immediate which otherwise would have taken a decade to emerge. Momentarily up in the air is how to deal with world recession; that certainly will have an effect on international relations. The disruption has had social ramifications as well because citizen pressure on governments has forced awareness of how incompetent governments have been at managing the wellbeing of the citizenry. The virus has forced to center stage the indigent, helpless and marginally threatened part of the population and indirectly has highlighted growing plutocracy and corporate greed.


Further, the virus has stopped dead the functioning of the job market. This will allow faster adaptation to artificial intelligence and change the way citizens work almost immediately instead of gradually.


It seems a perfect time to revisit and restructure the US relationship with everything in the western hemisphere below 20°N.


. . . and before global warming really grabs our attention!


Ancient Mariner

Over There . . .

In a desperate attempt to escape the gravity of the Trump-news broadcasting conglomerate, mariner has traveled to distant lands – a part of the planet where Donald is a sideshow. As a straightforward example, note this book review covered in a British news outlet:

“In it Rory Medcalf, Head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, highlights an emerging formation on the geopolitical map: the Indo-Pacific, a growing web of alliances centered on the “Quad” of India, Japan, Australia and the US, but also taking in a crescent of maritime states in eastern, south-eastern and southern Asia. Looser and more multipolar than other such formations, it is unified by the quest to balance, dilute and absorb Chinese power. “The Indo-Pacific is both a region and an idea: a metaphor for collective action, self-help combined with mutual help,” writes Medcalf. Two months on from its publication, virtually all of the trends that his book draws together have advanced.”[1]

North America not only has a shoreline on the Pacific, it has been drawn into Pacific Rim activity since the explorer Jorge Álvares reached southern China in 1513.[2] The US involvement in Asia is dominated by wars. Consider: The Korean Expedition 1871, acquisition of Samoa 1898, Spanish American War 1898 and 1913, Boxer Rebellion 1898, World War I 1917, World War II 1939, Korean War 1950, Laotian Civil War 1953, Viet Nam War 1955, 1965, 1974, Communist insurgency in Thailand 1965 and Cambodian Civil War 1967.

As Medcalf points out in his book, things have changed. In the part of the world fronted on the Pacific Rim, China has grown to be a super power in the midst of many smaller nations that easily can be dominated by China. The reader may recall an effort in 2016 called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Twelve nations signed on but the agreement failed to be ratified by the US. The countries were Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States.

The TPP concept of an international trade agreement that assigned an economic role to each nation up front was a new turn in international relationships that heretofore were variable agreements subject to tariffs, internal politics and market activity. Still, many criticized the agreement for allowing business interests to ignore or supersede traditional national rights.

Americans are not accustomed to paying attention to India. However, India is a fellow ‘sumo giant’ along with China[3]. Together, India and China represent thirty-six percent of the world’s population; of every three humans on earth, one of them is an Indian or a Chinaman.

The United States ranks third in land mass and population, but ranks first in GDP at 21.44 trillion. China is second at 14.14 trillion and India is fifth with 2.94 trillion but has the fastest growing GDP in the world.

Mariner hopes his data profile may invite readers to invest time and interest in a part of the world that truly will dominate future centuries regardless of treaties. Already it can be seen that Europe and the Middle East will not have the clout to compete with the Sumo League. For the first time, the center of world civilization may be the Pacific Rim.

In any case, mariner had a great time visiting the ‘other’ world. Donald who?

Ancient Mariner

[1] Indo-Pacific Empire, China, America and the Conquest for the World’s Pivotal Region by Rory Medcalf,    Manchester University Press ISBN: 978-1-5261-5078-3

[2] An interesting side note, a Chinese adventurer named Hwui Shan crossed the Pacific to Mexico in 458 AD.

[3] In 2018, population of China is 41 million more than India. Due to higher population growth of India, margin between these two countries is coming down quickly. And in 2024, India will have more people than China with approximately 1.44 billion people.

Thoughts on Economics

Mariner is not an educated economist. Nevertheless, he seeks common sense relationships that make an economy work and he flavors the numbers with human reality. This flavoring is important to regular human beings who, not being career economists, are not bound solely by interpretations of profit, loss and growth.

An economy flows in a long, somewhat circuitous river that starts in rural areas and small businesses everywhere and like the mighty Mississippi River, feeds into larger and larger economies that eventually reflect the generalized circumstances of a national economy. If the economy dries up at any point, the ‘flow’ stops; words like depression and recession prevail; an example is the coal industry in West Virginia. On the other hand, the economy can flow too fast, which is like the flooding of the Mississippi after significant rainfall; the word becomes inflation – a condition where investment values drop, as in a flooded home; a dollar in hand this morning will buy less tomorrow morning. A few insights:

  1. There are several relatively independent branches of the economic river, e.g., manufacturing, agriculture, investment (stock market, cash savings), services (very large including restaurants, health, transportation, etc.), engineering, and telecommunications. Not a complete list but one gets the idea.
  2. At the state level, economics is fifty separate branches of the economic river. Each state is responsible for the flow of economics within its borders. Modern economic times have altered this independence as corporations grew and merged and as population has shifted, taking income with it.
  3. The Internet has had a profound impact on the relationship of a region, with its geographic ties to productivity, versus the imposition of production from elsewhere, even beyond national borders. Two examples are Walmart and Amazon. Local businesses are disappearing very rapidly. Further, the profits from local sales are not recorded in the local region but reflect income at the home office of the corporation.
  4. What provides current in the economic river is something called Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Typically, one learns about GDP for the nation during news broadcasts. Actually GDP can represent something as small as a neighborhood or small town. GDP consists entirely of how much income is generated within a defined region – including businesses and all residents (AKA jobs).
  5. Until the late 1980’s when computerization and new US economic policy shifted dramatically, GDP was tied almost exclusively to actual production, that is, stuff that is made or grown. A significant shift in how to generate income was launched during the bountiful years of the nineties: investment became as important as making things. The US went from manufacturing to investment.

Suddenly it was more profitable to ship production overseas where production costs were lower than it was to stay in the US. In the abstract, this new economy opened an era of international GDP, e.g., Trans Pacific Partnership, but at the same time reduced the job security that was had in the days of ‘made in America.’ (One can speculate whether this was the source of Donald’s base) Adding insult to injury, many corporations and capitalist-minded entrepreneurs invested their profits in offshore banks to avoid paying taxes – and to forego investing in the US economy.

 

Given these insights, that is the state of affairs in the US economy at present. But as the street-wise aphorism says, “The times they are achangin.” Two huge areas of new history are upon the citizenry and upon the responsibilities of government policy and business practices: Cloud technology and climate change.

֎ Cloud Technology[1]. Awesome. Beyond imagination. It is hard to imagine how Cloud technology (CT) will change everything without exception. Will a ‘job’ exist after CT? Will GDP be measurable in any geographic manner? Will any governmental border matter? Google has always had a stated goal: to know everything there is to know in the world. This includes one’s privacy not just in the home but wherever one is, whatever one is doing, and what one had for breakfast. CT will know when one needs new shoes or an oil change – if there is ‘oil’ in future machines. On New Year’s Eve, CT will pick one out of the densest crowd in Times Square in New York City.

CT, coupled with a faster Internet, will not need to be aware of time zones; all data around the world will be instantaneous. Mariner could go on with matters of awe but the big question is, what will CT do to economics – not just in the US but everywhere? Today, investment strategies count on the delay of stock markets opening in a staggering fashion as the world turns. This single strategy will not be available in the world of instant data. International stock exchanges will, in fact, be one giant stock exchange. It will be impossible to keep anything secret – even perhaps what one will name their newborn baby (Has the name been discussed in hearing distance of Alexis? Can one imagine receiving promotions for babywear that already has the unborn baby’s name on it?).

Still, the main issue is jobs. Another aspect of CT is artificial intelligence. Middle management will take a big hit. So will truck drivers, factory workers, fast food employees, and tens of thousands of person-to-person jobs like tax preparers, retail salespeople and primary care physicians. Further, the role of cash will change. Don’t underestimate cryptocurrency; if properly instituted, one will no longer need cash just as, increasingly, one will no longer need storefront shopping.

CT requires a mountain of economic policy change in the federal government. For this reason alone, voters must not be distracted by party shenanigans, racism, incompetent elected officials or plutocratic domination of ‘our’ government. Without starting another post, vote sensibly in 2020.

֎ Climate Change. Naysayers take advantage of the slow pace of Planet Earth compared to the lifespan of a human being. In January, “Where is global warming now?” or “There have been hot Junes as long as I remember” or “Fossil fuels aren’t the cause.” Well, actual, Donald-proof evidence says it is happening; it has been happening; it will accelerate throughout the rest of this century.

For the sake of brevity, mariner will describe just one issue raised by climate change: rising sea level. There are other ramifications like increased volcanic and earthquake occurrences, extensive extinction of life including plants and especially the ocean environment, and severe changes in drought and rainfall across all regions of the planet that will significantly alter agricultural economies and threaten sufficient food to feed a population approaching 11 billion people.

Rising sea level is the most disruptive and expensive phenomenon associated with climate change – even though it is within the capability of humans to manage it. Today there are those who gripe and complain about immigration around 100,000 to 150,000 at one general location in the US. Consider this issue as practice for relocating people, jobs, homes, churches, factories and specialized services for 11.6 million citizens of the larger cities at sea level from New York to New Orleans. Of course it will be a lot easier because the US has about a decade to pull it off . . . mariner jokes.

What makes population migration scary is that these massive relocations of entire societies will happen around the world. London: 8.9 million; The Indian Sundarbans in India: 13 million; Hong Kong: 7.4 million; Tokyo and Yokohama: 11.8 million. And this is just a sampling.

It will be expensive. So expensive that many smaller economies will become bankrupt. Even the US is in danger of economic instability as it helps pay for relocation of new homes, businesses, health services and other important social functions. How about interstates and airports? Must they be relocated and rebuilt? On and on. Sadly, many island nations will be gone.

These are mariner’s thoughts on the US economy. Nevertheless, enjoy a warm, warm summer.

Ancient Mariner

[1] Cloud technology: cloud computing is storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of accessing private computer hard drives. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet but is paired with banks of very high speed computers that can share processing. Limits to data storage and retrieval virtually do not exist; response is instantaneous anywhere in the world.

Primer for the Electorate in 2020

Reaganomics.

In the 1980s Reagan proposed a four-pronged economic policy that was intended to reduce inflation and stimulate the economy and job growth:

1) reduce government spending on domestic programs;

2) reduce taxes for individuals, businesses and investments;

3) reduce the burden of regulations on business; and

4) support slower money growth in the economy.

If the reader recognizes these policies, it’s because today’s Republican Party still believes in the sanctity of these four policies. However, the issues that confronted Reagan (high inflation and high unemployment) do not exist today. Deregulating industry was so prevalent that during Reagan’s Presidency, businesses were allowed to use assets locked in retirement funds as a source for new venture capital. Unions have been decimated by Reaganomics; Reaganomics is a ‘supply-side’ policy, that is, provide products and people will buy them, raising employment as a factor of profit. However, the net result in today’s economic environment encourages capital investment rather than manufacturing.

By reducing or eliminating decades-long social programs, while at the same time lowering taxes and marginal tax rates, Reagan’s approach to handling the economy marked a significant departure from that of many of Jimmy Carter’s policies. The results spread the gap between the wealthy and working classes versus poverty levels. The number of children, ages 18 years and younger, below the poverty level increased from 11.543 million in 1980, 18.3% of children, to 12.455, 19.5%, in 1988. Also, the situation of low income groups was affected by the reduction of social spending, and inequality increased. Hence GOP resistance to universal health strategies and discretionary spending.

Today, the advantage granted to business and wealth has grown to the point of imbalance. The government is close to becoming a plutocracy as the wealthy, large corporations and lobby support for legislators have grown into disruptive proportions.

What needs to happen in 2020:

It’s time for Reaganomics to end. For both houses of Congress, this is done by replacing the old GOP with young centrist republicans and by increasing the number of democrats.

Lack of collaboration and compromise in Congress.

Newt Gingrich is considered the House Speaker who changed a more or less collaborative legislative process into a contest for party dominance. The old days of party leaders negotiating balanced compromises was replaced by a ‘my party first, the Nation second’ attitude in the 1990s (just like Mitch). The Democrats responded in kind, replacing statesmanship with gamesmanship. This situation has grown worse as big money and gerrymandering have become the tools of political power – causing significant damage to the classic strengths of one person, one vote and the democratic engine perceived by the Founders. Part of the reason for Donald’s success is that the electorate has grown tired of a do-nothing Congress.

What needs to happen in 2020:

The electorate always will be influenced by personality first but add a second awareness in 2020: Does the candidate talk about new solutions for current issues or repairing old ones? Pick the one with new solutions.

Corporatism

Corporatism is multifaceted. What will replace Reaganomics is an economy that engages several nations at once. Think of a strip mall with many storefronts and a couple of large box stores at each end. Each store contributes to the overall GDP of the mall. Different stores sell and buy different things but all the stores are dependent on the mall as a whole.

A couple of years ago a consortium of 12 nations participated in designing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)[1], a classic example of international economics. Sadly, it failed muster in the US because of a rift between Republican Congress and a Democrat in the Whitehouse. There were some rough spots where the corporate authors ignored human rights and economic obligations but the attempt was headed in the right direction to launch a new and different economy.

Another facet of corporatism is taxes. Very large corporations virtually are not taxed; they live in several nations at once so they aren’t really controlled by any given nation. The solution is something similar to the European Union or TPP where economic policy is centralized across all member nations.

A third facet (there are more but these three desperately need electorate assistance) is the issue of human rights, privacy and security. Today, giant multinational corporations have no obligation to provide living wages, decent benefits or working conditions. Further, they totally disregard privacy and security. The old Reaganites are afraid to tax corporations because they will locate in another country – which is true because the countries have not banded together to formulate common taxes. Not taxing is not a solution.

What needs to happen in 2020:

Economically speaking, what needs to happen is expressed in the first issue – it’s time for Reaganomics to end. Consider giving the vote to a candidate that doesn’t spout the four policies of Reaganomics.

Further, take notice of candidates that talk about information security (see the recent post, How someone can live your life for you to understand privacy). The security side has to do with national security and high-tech industries that would prefer not to worry about the expense of national security on a nation-by-nation level. If the electorate can fix one security item, let it be US election security.

Manufacturing

A Chinese Corporation won the bid to build Chicago’s new rail system. Electronic manufacturing for US products largely is performed everywhere but in the US. The US is falling behind other nations in knowledge-based industries. Historically speaking, the US doesn’t make things anymore. Even armchair doilies are made overseas.

This is so obvious that it’s Democrats who know how to fix manufacturing! Their proposal is called the Green New Deal (a reference to FDR’s New Deal). The democrats combined the requirements to meet climate change, improve transportation in all its forms and create new industries for a new era driven by Artificial Intelligence into one sweeping manufacturing economy. Generally, the Green New Deal will turn the US into a nation that builds stuff again.

What needs to happen in 2020:

The Green New Deal is the opposite of supply-side Reaganomics; it’s Keynesian demand-side economics. It’s a Democratic Party program that needs a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress.

Cabinet-Based programs

A citizen is familiar with these issues: health, education, housing, equal rights, immigration, environmental protection, agriculture, and several other state and Federal policies – all managed by cabinet secretaries of one kind or another. Desperately needed immediately is a functioning State Department to restore US leadership in the world and to lead the US into a new economic and social age.

What needs to happen in 2020:

Get rid of Donald.

Ancient Mariner

[1] The TPP was between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. The countries involved produce 40 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product of $107.5 trillion.

Notes from the Alter Egos

Guru speculated about China’s Belt and Road Initiative (in China more often referred to as One Belt One Road or OBOR). Very generally, Belt and Road is China’s plan to be the most powerful economic engine in history. This is not simply bravura but a scale of economic activity necessary to accommodate China’s very large population and its stressed economy. It is a huge goal costing more dollars than anyone can begin to estimate but at the same time creating economic opportunities for about 60 percent of the developed nations in the world today.

Guru noted two things:

  • OBOR sounds aggressive and immediately brings to mind an automated form of colonialism. In truth, to use a mariner metaphor, China needs more stoves to burn its wood. Think of a family with twenty children trying to establish a rotation of food, clothing and household goods without being overcome by storage and process – it is easier to send out for pizza than having to make it at home. Investment opportunities seem to abound both for China and nations on the OBOR. However, economists are less than enthusiastic about using geopolitical solutions to solve internal economic issues.
  • Today, at least until Donald was elected, there was no question that the western nations, especially the US, were at the center of global economics and political influence. Guru proffers that if OBOR is successful, the center of global economy will drift back to the centuries where Sino-Eurasian economy prevailed (The original Silk Road). Still, guru ponders whether nations on the sea route in particular will be susceptible to economic bondage.

Amos has had it with the US citizen. The harsh combination of identity politics, populism, incompetent, party-zealotist and opportunistic Congressmen, news programming required to make a profit, predator corporations, a horrific, selfish, hoodlum-like Whitehouse, and more, all virtually have eliminated the American ethos. Acknowledging activist interest, albeit it often a part of the list above, common citizens don’t care about ethos as long as they have their Facebook, smartphone, Echo, and Netflix. Putin is right – Americans have irretrievably trashed their respected role among nations. And the beat goes on . . .

Meanwhile, Chicken Little is fearful that he may be deported because his grandmother at age nine arrived in the US as an immigrant.

Mariner agrees with dissenters of Elizabeth Warren’s claim to be a Native American. Mariner’s Aunt Mary married a full-blooded Cherokee and had a son that looked more native than the man on the nickel. But that heritage was never used to differentiate their family. Elizabeth should be ashamed for practicing identity politics.

ELECTION DAY: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6. BE THERE AND DO IT – VOTE!

Ancient Mariner

Narcissism versus the North American Union

This past Sunday Fareed Zakaria opened the subject of the tiff between Mexico and ‘the wall’. Fareed also could have had a discussion with Canada on the same subject of US contraction and isolationism battled via trade negotiations. The situation with Donald’s recipe of self-aggrandizement, racism and kleptocracy is one that interferes with a marketing/cultural dream that has been around for a long, long time. The integration of Mexico, the US and Canada is one of two current international concepts that can compete with emerging China internationalism. The other concept is TPP which seems to be passing by unrequited. To keep the post short, mariner quotes Wikipedia:

The North American Union (NAU) is a theoretical economic and political continental union of Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America. The concept is loosely based on the European Union, occasionally including a common currency called the Amero or the North American Dollar. A union of the North American continent, sometimes extending to Central and South America, has been the subject of academic concepts for over a century, as well as becoming a common trope in science fiction. One reason for the difficulty in realizing the concept is that individual developments in each region have failed to prioritize a larger union.

That last sentence is blatantly true under Donald’s administration. NAFTA, given its minimal impact in the labor market (unions would disagree – a good example of failing to see the value of an international union), was a first step toward the NAU. The electorate has failed to grasp the enormity of uniting the economic power of the first, tenth and twelfth largest economies in the world. Today such a consortium represents a gross domestic product of $22,192,248 million million ($MM) compared to China’s $12,014,610 ($MM).

Today’s circumstances, where the US is slipping and China is getting its act together, provide a new urgency for pursuing NAU. With unusual certainty, thoughts about internationalism will not exist under the present narcissist kleptocracy.

Obviously there is comparison with the European Union (EU). However, the EU was formed to avoid failure of economies in member nations. Further, the EU made the mistake of not making the Euro its only currency. In the case of NAU, economic integration likely would be more universal. As China grows economically, their relation with other nations follows the EU model, allowing local currency and independent oversight of local economic policy. The NAU represents the idea of a combined economic policy that oversees all members’ policies and a single currency – a stronger economic model.

Tangentially, NAU would be large enough and politically influential enough to compete with what today is runaway corporatism. Corporations gain their advantage by playing in the cracks between the economies of different nations and cultures that are not easily unified financially.

Frankly, mariner’s opinion is that the US is so screwed and dysfunctional that attempts at managing its future remain a fantasy.

Ancient Mariner

Corporatism – the Overlooked Enemy

PBS news covered a story today about the National Football League setting rules for how football players must behave, the issue being whether the players can kneel in protest of racial and law enforcement abuse during the National Anthem. This may or may not be challenged in court (mariner has little confidence in US citizens being concerned about freedom, rights, ethics and morality) even though the act clearly is protected by the First Amendment.

This NFL mandate is so simple, so clear, so unobstructed and so much an example of how corporations increasingly are setting the nation’s moral standards. The protectors of our rights and the interpreters of our cultural image are supposed to be our legislators, our religious leaders and our independent court system. Woefully, all our protectors are easily swayed by corporate influence. It is more important for the NFL to sustain profit levels than to honor an individual’s rights under the Constitution.

The takeover of American justice by corporations is accepted as the norm. Consider the following cultural v. business situations:

Net Neutrality – the right of all individuals to share equally in public speech and information. Communication Corporations want to destroy this ethic in order to increase profits by charging individuals for faster access. To add insult to injury, these corporations intend to block an individual’s access to sources that may be detrimental to the corporation’s control and profit.

The Facebook fiasco is typical of Silicon Valley shaping cultural behavior and leveraging innocent participation as a source for additional profit – at the cost of privacy and security.

Mariner was opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership not because it was a new approach to international trade but because it was rife with rules about how nations should treat employees, the rights of employees and governments and other cultural impositions – under the guise that these rules would balance participation among disparate nations. It should be noted that corporate teams wrote TPP while national representatives provided signoff. When does a corporate platform have the right to dictate culture and ethics to any country, let alone 12 or 16?

Labor unions have many faults and are subject to abuse. Still, unions are a mechanism representing employees (AKA citizens just like football players) when a corporation imposes on fair practices similar to income, working conditions, and other behaviors that affect the cultural presence of employees in the society.

We all know US governments have failed and are the direct cause for the malignant populism that has delivered Donald. The governments have failed because they take their cue from corporations rather than the electorate.

US corporate taxes would be funny if the issue wasn’t so important. Corporations pretty much can handle profits any way they wish – even to the extent of hiding profit in blind banks. Is this behavior ethical? Is it a freedom? Is it the primary cause of an oligarchical government?

Mariner must remind himself not to watch the news.

Ancient Mariner

 

 

In Irons

Mariner knew the whole of US reality is a circus when the press made fun of how Donald held his water bottle. Funny thing, mariner holds his water bottle exactly the same way. The reason is familial palsy.

Donald is the ringmaster. Worse is that the entire news industry has joined the circus. So has Congress. So has forty percent of the electorate. The President’s cabinet is a group of foolish clowns worthy of eighteenth century British cartoonists. If Donald actually had the powers of a Roman Emperor, he would be Nero fiddling while Rome burned. As it is, he is Don Quixote fighting with windmills. Meanwhile, the United States dwindles in morality, international power and cultural meaning – noticeable on a daily basis.

The nation is a ship in irons. Its sails flap uselessly while the future blows by. Meanwhile, China has a global effort fully active on every continent and in every important nation – including our neighbors; China soon will be the international force that defines world markets – including the US role in those markets. But Donald Q is chasing the windmill of isolationism.

Night after night, news media focuses on Donald’s affair with a whore. That the viewers of news accept both the behavior and the coverage as de rigueur is frightening; morality has become a rubber band stretched by entertainment value. Can the reader hear the calliope?

Racism has been welcomed back to the circus by Donald. Immigration is a global issue as economies, cultural abuse and war force human families to leave what they know, what they own, and likely, what they love. In Donald’s US circus, add religious intolerance to the show. Quietly, the Attorney General removes laws protecting any disadvantaged person regardless of their plight.

There are some good acts; the Me Too movement, California’s defiance of many of Donald’s efforts at disassembling the fabric of American ethics. But it is a disrespectful circus we watch. There are menacing shadows.

Mariner has decided to leave the circus tent. There is solace in silence. Mariner retrieves news from foreign press and other websites that are not taken in by the music. This savage time will pass as it always has throughout history – but at what cost?

Ancient Mariner

On Being Lost

Have you ever been lost? It’s a sense that one has lost touch with the perimeter or edge that provides definition to a person’s situation. One feels adrift and even afraid because there is no meaningful ‘here’ or ‘there;’ there is no ‘over there.’ It is then that we realize how important it is to know where we’ve been, where we’re going, and where we are relative to our start and finish.

This sensation of being lost can be induced in many different situations. For example, trying to solve a puzzle with too many variables like the ones that offer “Jane is 4 years old; John is 12 years old and their brother is 20 years younger than Aunt Joy who is six years younger than their mother. . .” Another example is the experience that college freshmen have when trying to identify one’s proper role in a completely unknown environment. Sometimes the unknowns are so vast and complex, we don’t realize we’re lost!

That brings us to today’s example of being lost. Who is lost? The entire world of people is lost. The world’s cultures are eroding like sand blown by the desert wind. Mariner can provide indicators that suggest we don’t know where we are or where we’re going in the future:

֎ Authoritarian governments are increasing while democratic countries are decreasing. The imbalance has accelerated since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The latest example is China which voted only a day or two ago to grant President Xi Jinping the status of President for Life. Even old standbys like Turkey, Greece, and the Balkan nations are struggling and show signs of increasing authoritarianism. The map shows where authoritarianism has emerged (the orange and yellow states – apologies for the blurred image).

Since the early 1500’s the bluer nations have ruled the world. It is likely that blue rule will fade in the 2000’s. In its third iteration since the 1940’s, China has grown up economically and has improved culturally. It is so huge in national presence that it is likely to dominate world economy and culture much as the United States has since the 1800’s.

Typically, authoritarianism evolves in nations with failed economies or oligarchical cultures. In the case of China, a nation with an average ten percent growth for decades, it will become authoritarian. The question with China is whether one man’s vision will comprehend change well enough to sustain global leadership as the world changes dramatically over the next 50 years. While authoritarian governments can take charge of confusion more quickly than messy democracies, their weakness is the inability to manage cultural change.

֎ If authoritarianism is at one end of the spectrum, the United States (and the less influential Nordic States) is at the other end. Unfortunately, the founding fathers wanted a nation ruled by the people – no monarchy here – but also wanted government to control the economy and the military. Hence, a democratic republic; something like a duckbilled platypus. While touting democracy as the guiding force, the republic side has dominated society and is no better at managing culture than authoritarianism (current studies show that over time the voting public has influenced one percent of legislation while moneyed sources have influenced ninety-nine percent, which explains the growing problem of oligarchy and corporatism in the US since the 1850’s). It is the case with any government philosophy that a hot, expanding economy forgives many sins but the US economy isn’t ‘hot’ anymore.

The US culture has become ragged without good social leadership. As the 1990’s rolled into the 2000’s, fringe conservatism and shifting liberalism crumbled national unity. Further, every country in the world is exposed to lightning-speed changes in culture because of the Internet and Artificial Intelligence. Who knew the morning coffee-klatch would meet on Facebook?

Global economics is changing as well. Old natural resources, old technologies and old political liaisons are up in the air at the moment and do not fit the new world economy in a technology-led world.

֎ Technology has been a puzzle piece for decades. Remember when a generation quietly passed on as it handed the torch to the next generation? Now folks have to live through the next generation as well and maybe the one after that. Never mind that joblessness, financial security, really old parents and feelings of uselessness are left to you to manage. Does that obnoxious voice box in the living room (Alexa or Google Assistant) look like its growing arms and legs? Even today, it knows you’re pregnant before you do; be careful if it starts to rearrange your investments and insurance – it knows when it’s your time to go. If you thought your spouse nags all the time, wait until the voice box follows you around giving you advice about everything and, dangerously, not telling you things you should know. Further, lawyers beware; there are legal bots online that can provide legal services for any need a client may have including the forms to process the issue.

֎ The environment, the puzzle piece still run by the planet whether we acknowledge that or not, already has plans to change the weather, coastlines, atmosphere, food resources and the diversity of nature itself. Did you know that when the last great ice age melted it created the Great Lakes? The water level of the oceans rose 300 feet. Today, if you live on the seashore, a long term mortgage may not be a good idea. You may want to sell soon – just ask folks who live in Bali, Miami or New Orleans.

So – if Jane is 4 years old, China is the new global power, your great-great grandparents live in the basement, you meet for coffee on Facebook, your job is gone or your boss is a nagging robot, giraffes and tigers are gone, the ocean creeps under the door twice each day, where are we going?

Ancient Mariner

Fruited Plains

Guru is with us today to consider international roles, political leadership and global cultural influence in the 21st century. Guru, you may recall, is the futurist among mariner’s alter egos; very much a theorist, his conclusions often have no traceable documentation and often depend solely on logic and the limitations of reality.

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All Americans know the mantra about the new nation called the United States: Freedom, liberty, equality, justice for all, one person, one vote. Stated in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, this was in 1776 to 1791 – 227 years ago. The United States rapidly became a nation among nations; indeed, the United States became the nation around the world. The United States was unbelievably blessed: an entire continent to itself with two vast, profitable and protective oceans on its borders; fruited plains, temperate weather, majestic purple mountains, multinational migrations to energize its culture and economy, and a philosophy of government belonging to its citizens. No aristocracy, monarchs or dictators here – the nation belonged to its citizens. It was a democracy.

The nation is to be lauded for its ability to keep the ship of state on course despite wars (Revolutionary, American Indian, Mexican, Spanish-American, Civil, WW I and II, Korean, Vietnamese, and in recent years a multitude of incursions to protect the world and its capitalist economy, five major economic depressions and 13 notable recessions, two economically devastating droughts in the 1930’s and 50’s, cultural erosion caused by the industrial revolution, technical revolution and information revolution, and last but not least, the birth of investment capitalism in the mid nineteenth century.

Now, as the Nation finds itself in the midst of global changes in economics, environment, computerization, shifting populations, and international transition, the ship of state sails on uncharted seas. The ship of state, like all ships, must endure active wear and tear and eventually take its place in its era to be replaced by newer versions and newer purposes. There are signs this moment approaches. It is time to stop looking backward to the way it was and longing for that time; it is time to reset the sails to fresh winds that will bring a new era.

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Always wealth has brought change. It was so in prehistoric times when the invention of the spear or mastering fire provided new levels of economic superiority over those without. On the first farm, the first field was planted with a crop that extended momentary security into future security; new wealth in agriculture created a massive change in human population and raised the need for a new polity to manage the wealth. It was the politics of nationalism. Speeding through the history of dynasties and empires, the Roman Empire often is used as a model that contemporary society can understand. The power to pursue more wealth came with a very important but subtle authority: the authority to change culture. Enough wealth existed that some could be spent on ancillary subjects like art, music, science, running water and sewer systems, religion, health, technical research from better Roman cement to American trips to the Moon. The ancillary subjects continue today to rewrite cultural understanding and expectation. But always, change rides on the back of wealth.

Wealth, despite its powers, is not well organized. Wealth has no bully pulpit, no respected military, and no ability to organize human motivation. Wealth is motivated only by profit, both real and perceived. Below is a list of nations ranked by their current gross domestic product (GDP) in millions of dollars – a measure of their ability to affect change:

1 United States                    18,624,450

— European Union                16,408,364

2 China                                11,232,108

3 Japan                                 4,936,543

4 Germany                            3,479,232

5 United Kingdom                  2,629,188

6 France                               2,466,472

7 India                                  2,263,792

8 Italy                                   1,850,735

9 Brazil                                  1,798,622

10 Canada                              1,529,760

11 South Korea                       1,411,042

12 Russia                                1,283,162

13 Australia                             1,261,645

14 Spain                                  1,232,597

15 Mexico                                1,046,925

16 Indonesia                               932,448

17 Turkey                                   863,390

18 Netherlands                            777,548

19   Switzerland                          669,038

20 Saudi Arabia                           646,438

Quick assumptions would suggest that the top five or six are the key players in how the future will be shaped economically and culturally. However, due to advances in computerization and telecommunications, wealth is no longer constrained by geography or nationalism. Members of this list are inclined to pursue consortiums of nations that will multiply their ability to pursue greater wealth. Further, a new phenomenon made available by instantaneous telecommunications allows corporations to pursue wealth independent of national influence – at least under current legislative policies. Will the independent wealth of corporations, many of which rank high in the above list, control political issues related to human rights, support of indigent populations and leveraging wars to their advantage? Will corporations even be interested in human issues beyond labor profitability? These questions are at hand today as corporations garner wealth at amazing speeds nations cannot match or control.

Addressing the US perspective, its old Democratic wealth and its culture have waned as corporate wealth drains the natural wealth of the nation, its fruited plains, etc. That Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from its privileged role as world cultural leader is detrimental to the US position among other nations already responding to the new economic game – and the right to lead cultural change in the future.

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Moving quickly down the GDP list, The United States still is the largest economy in the world but it is not growing very fast. Laxity in cultural discipline has led to business practices that are not beneficial to the US. Many tout the stock market as a sign of a robust economy but significant portions are owned by overseas interests. Further, very large corporations have expanded beyond the nation’s shores not only to pursue profits but to avoid taxes – not only in the US but in any nation around the world. Inside the US, the nation suffers from increasing inefficiency as Federal and state legislatures linger in economic perceptions designed in the 1980’s. These old perceptions do not work in a world of international consortiums, artificial intelligence and instant global markets.

After dozens of international agreements beginning in 1909, the European Union created a visionary, international powerhouse in 1992 when 28 European nations combined their markets and cultural practices, military obligations and political clout. Unfortunately, the EU was not able to unify its economics. Individual nations did not benefit from a combined marketplace and several nations like Greece and Great Britain suffered recessions alone. The fragmented economy cannot respond easily to modern trends in global economics. Like the US, the EU economy is not growing at competitive speeds; individual nations like Germany have had growth but their association with the cultural commitments of the EU will interfere with Germany’s economic future. Germany is taking steps to seek new consortiums to sustain future growth – excluding the Trump-led US.

Similar to the United States in the 1700’s, fate has delivered to China a global advantage in today’s economic world. China has human resources of immense magnitude, a large land mass, the focus of a communist state, and a geographic archipelago of small contiguous nations with which to launch the world’s largest economy. Even at today’s level of wealth, China is investing significant amounts in the aforementioned areas of cultural growth. China likely will be the largest provider of infrastructure services in the world (mariner mentioned in a previous post that China is building Chicago’s new subway system) and has the labor force to build super highways and rapid transit as a means of linking China to Eastern nations including Russia. (China’s Belt and Road plan is a multi-billion initiative aimed at linking Asia with Europe and Africa, and the countries in between.) China is moving rapidly to the top of high tech markets, e.g., the nation already is the largest exporter of drones and competes aggressively for each airline contract. Finally, China is a sophisticated player in world politics. In today’s news, North and South Korea are willing to try peace talks without the United States – something North Korea would not do except with China’s urging.

India is a sleeping giant but is so far behind in culture, infrastructure and government sophistication that it will take time to become a top international player. Some futurists calculate that as India grows in economic power, it may be the nation that unifies nations like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia but that consortium is highly speculative. India also has interests in Africa.

Japan, long dependent on its relationship with the US, must seek an economic relationship with a major consortium in order to spread its productivity across other markets. The US remains the primary nation if a rewrite of the twelve-member Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) can be reintroduced successfully.

Russia pretends to be a world player but it lost the ability to play with super nations when the USSR collapsed and some key nations affiliated with Europe. Still, fate has cursed Russia with troublesome leadership for centuries. The economy in Russia today is thwarted by oligarchic domination led by Vladimir Putin. Without true economic power, Russia can only meddle in the success of other nations. Russia has agreed to participate in China’s Belt and Road initiative which may benefit Russia in the short term but long term Russia increasingly will be dependent on the Chinese economy.

Aside from Australia, South Africa and a few lesser nations, the Southern Hemisphere did not live the history of the Northern Hemisphere. It benefited from early contributions during and after the exploration age during the 14th-18th centuries but seems not to have escaped Colonialism. Southern Hemisphere countries soon will benefit from consortium relationships – which may be similar to colonial times.

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The silent partner in all this is artificial intelligence (AI). AI will change current perceptions of assets, national intelligence, description of work, and the ways of daily life – but that’s another post.

Ancient Mariner