Saturday, October 08, 2016

Side Stream from "Voting"

I think we are going to be facing hard times. Fracking is holding aloft an economy that would otherwise be in decline.  Had the decline started, it is even money whether it would have been gradual or spurred a crash of major or minor proportions. Cheap oil and other technological advances may continue to stave off serious collapse.  Yet the lack of collapse encourages us to keep doing what we are doing, personally and in government, so we spend what we do not have and do not stop the bleeding in other places. That may make things worse in the long run (Nicholas Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, believes this is so).

Which people, and especially which party is responsible for that I am not examining here. If Amity Schlaes can be re-interpreting the conventional wisdom about the Great Depression 85 years later (I was taught the CW in 11th grade 45 years ago.  High school textbooks aren't usually cutting-edge for theory, so the CW had been in place a long time), I can't pretend to have the True Interpretation of the Obama years versus the Bush years versus the Clinton years vs...the Truman years. I only note that things don't look good, and we don't seem to have been finding ways to spend less money, neither as families nor as nations.

Foreign affairs do not look encouraging.  They never look wonderful, but there are two contradictory values that are increasing in force: the idea that if anything bad is happening in the world it is at least partly our fault, so we should therefore fix it, contrasting with the idea that whatever we do abroad seems to make things worse, or at least, cost lots of money without helping much.  Some folks would say it's all the fault of the West, especially America - and even the jingoists would point to things (different things) we have screwed up. Additionally, there are those who believe America should stop suffering wherever we find it, regardless of who is at fault.  Because it's suffering, Jack, and we don't like to look at it. There is an isolationist streak re-arising that shakes its head.  Our attempts to fix that makes it worse.

I am also not identifying who's at fault here, nor even which value should prevail.  That is a different day.

But going forward, we know we are not going to be well-governed in these matters, at least for the near future.  We might get lucky.  The faults and virtues of any politician are usually closely related, and the crises that come might match the strengths that would be weaknesses in normal times. I wouldn't count on it, but it could be.  Or the other branches of government, for their own selfish reasons, might compensate for presidential overreach.  Sanders may be the leader of a Democratic delegation that Hillary can't control.  Trump certainly has a host of Republicans looking for a chance to dig in against him.  Where will it lead?  Will it all neutralise, and we test the old saying "The government that governs least, governs best?"

We face looming crises and we will not be well-governed.  That is the most likely outcome. My growing thought is that it all matters less than we think, for good or ill.

How shall we then live?


james said...

Maybe this way?

We don't have a king, of course. The Romans didn't either--they didn't like the title. Per Wikipedia "The Roman emperors themselves generally based their authority on multiple titles and positions, rather than preferring any single title."

james said...

Pray first, of course. That's step 0.

The first thing after that to figure out is what is _really_ happening. For example, I hear happy talk about how the economy is picking up, but that's not reflected in experiences of people I know. The far left-hand side of the distribution is getting hit harder--I see more homeless than ever before, more than I can attribute to Madison being a magnet. I think the powers-that-be are using averages instead of histograms.(*)
For another, I sense, but cannot quantify, a greater attitude of "we're NOT all in this together." That's among the rank and file--by now I'm quite convinced that the Brahmans are for the Brahmans and their talk about the good of the people is a tissue-thin commitment.

The second step is to try to get some clarity on what is going to benefit who. Each against all is a recipe for impoverishing everybody, but some projects are unsustainable and need reigning in. I don't know if I have any possible impact on that, though. Avoid circular firing squads.

The third step is to figure out what exactly I can do, alone or in an organization (realizing that organizations twist and betray). Maybe the only thing I can usefully do is help my better half teach neighbors about gardening and home canning.

Bad government will result in more violence and will magnify economic lacunae. Stock some non-perishables and game out how to deal with shortages of one kind or another. (You don't do that already? We already get tornadoes and other minor disasters.) Make sure you have a local circle of trustworthy and knowledgeable friends (train each other?).

(*) Back when dinosaurs still stalked the land, I took a course on FORTRAN (punched cards and all--"shuffling the deck" had an unpleasant meaning). Taking a computer programming course was a requirement for engineers and for business majors, and was recommended for scientists. The distribution of grades was strongly bi-modal: one curve flattened out against the 100% level, and the other settled somewhere around 40%. The average was about 70, but almost nobody made that score.

Sam L. said...

James: "...I hear happy talk about how the economy is picking up, but that's not reflected in experiences of people I know." The administration and their media minions are lying to us.

" now I'm quite convinced that the Brahmans are for the Brahmans and their talk about the good of the people is a tissue-thin commitment." My estimate is maybe at best a micron, waaaaaaay less than "tissue-thin". You are too generous.

Murph said...

Two other factors that are camouflaging the true state of our economy are:
(i) the ~$20 trillion national debt has been used to finance the current costs of government. The spending is out of control; the annual deficit is STILL 1/2 billion dollars, so we're STILL madly digging that hole deeper. At some point interest rates WILL rise, causing the assets held by the FED due to its QE policies to lose value, and as federal public debt gets rolled over our debt service payments will consume a greater and greater portion of our revenues.
(ii) "profits" gleaned by the GSEs, Fannie and Fred, rather than dividends paid to the shareholders of those entities, are being swept into the Treasury's general fund (so far as I can tell), thereby puffing up claimed federal revenue to the tune of near $1 billion annually.
And I'm sure that's not all the fake accounting that supports the administration's claim of "we're doing great."

dmoelling said...

I just came back from business in Korea and Japan. My more liberal relatives asked me what the opinion was of the US election. I told them they did not like Trump at all, but distrusted Clinton as an extension of Obama. The need for US leadership politically, militarily and economically is clearly understood by foreign populations.

I think we are in a period much like the 1850's where everyone was attempting to dodge the big question of slavery. To resolve our many financial and social issues everyone is going to have sacrifice. We are not ready for that as a nation. Everyone wants the other guy to pay for it, or take the risks or be inconvenienced. The level of trust is not there that sacrifice (better stated as change) will be shared by all.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@dmoelling - Ha! Just today I had people at work admit how embarrassed they were about Trump because of how it must look to other countries. ("I would tell people I'm a Canadian!") I was unsuccessful in explaining that this is different from country to country, and by profession and experience. There is one European elite that is similar to the American liberal version: journalists, professors, artists, government officials.

Actually, I didn't get that far. They quickly changed the subject, somewhere as I was introducing the idea that there were classes of Europeans, too.

@ James. Excellent point about disaster preparedness. We should train up and stock up against many shortages and disasters, not because a general collapse is all that likely, but because shortages here and there are increasingly likely. Redundancy is no longer wasteful.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Here's a good example of how trying to help often gets misdirected. I donate to charities I can trust because I've checked them out. Avi's Wife