Friday, January 28, 2011

Our Century of Revolution Seems to Have Arrived

What's going on in the Arab world may just be a taste of what is to come.   Some are predicting that the 21st will be the Century of Revolution.  Man's history is a compendium of wars fought for political, religious and economic aggrandizement but that sort of conflict may be dying out replaced by internal struggles, class-driven insurgency.

In many states, the discontented, disaffected are finding the enemies that matter most are the enemies within.   This is a reality about to dawn on America's working classes, blue and white collar.

America lost sight of the fact that its real enemy, the one that most threatened to undermine American stability and strength, was itself. An Age of Ruin set in beginning with Ronald Reagan that saw the industrial powerhouse transition from a culture of production to a culture of consumption. When Reagan took office, America was the world's largest creditor nation. When he left it had become the world's largest debtor nation. Whereas all of his postwar predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike, had steadily (even during the enormously expensive Vietnam War) whittled down America's debt to GDP ratio, that was all washed away by Reagan, Bush I, Bush II and now by Obama who has inherited the debris of their mental illness.

Corporate America forged the era of globalization which so richly served the oligarchs, the rentier classes, while sucking wealth out of the middle and working classes where, despite productivity leaps, wages stagnated even as the country's manufacturing base, the beating heart of a stable middle class, was shipped offshore. The scourge of inequality, fought back from the days of Roosevelt to Carter, returned with a vengeance.

It's unlikely that marginalized Americans will take to the streets as we are seeing the disaffected do in the Arab world.  That probably won't happen unless their power at the ballot box is somehow usurped.  Yet at some point the inequality that so plagues the United States will, in some guise, lead to political upheaval.  If this is the future that awaits America, what must lie in store for the emerging economic superpowers?   Even India today is finding itself unable to meet the aspirations of the burgeoning ranks of its new graduates.   The same is happening in China.   There simply aren't enough quality (highly paid) jobs to go around.  And there never will be.   Meet the Wall.

We have had centuries to witness nations ascend and decline but the process in the Century of Revolution is markedly different. We've run out of stuff. We've already hit the wall. They can't become us, because there's not enough stuff to make that possible. Sometime in the late 1980's mankind's consumption reached our planet's annual production of renewables - water, trees, fish and so on. We got away with it for decades thanks to sleight of hand, eating into our reserves, and outright conjuring tricks such as the Green Revolution, but the hens always come home to roost.

 So, we're out of good stuff. Now what to do? Well power traditionally translates into access. Those who have power or seize it expect to be first in the queue. But they can't get a power-size share of an already allocated pie without somebody else taking a much smaller than usual slice. The question becomes who gives up how much and why? That's something we'll be struggling with for quite a while and it may cause us to revisit some of our fanciful notions of free-market capitalism - again the Century of Revolution.

When planning is based not on growth but on allocation it shifts the focus from opportunity to inequality. People look for a lot more equality in sacrifice than in prosperity. We can become very egalitarian when we perceive that to be vital to our self-interest. If we aren't to be stampeded off the cliff we will have to pull back and that promises to be a struggle of truly revolutionary dimensions. The forces of the status quo will not go peacefully into the night. We need only look at the extraordinary efforts of the Fossil Fuelers in maintaining their dominance at mankind's considerable expense to understand that corporatism is tenacious and, as needed, ruthless.

An allocation based society is inherently far more communal than most of us have ever experienced. It is an order that confounds free market capitalism, tames it, and dismembers corporatism - not because of some grandiose ideology but of sheer necessity.

I suspect this will, after a lot of costly revolutions, become the new world order, one in which muted aspirations are accommodated by measured equality.  The gap between rich and poor will always exist but it cannot survive at the extremes at which it exists today.

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