The chart below depresses me. It shows the US producing STEM graduates at a lower rate than almost all other developed countries and many less developed ones as well. No country can maintain its financial, military or ideological dominance while standing in the ashes of its education system.
This is what occurs when a political party or interest groups demean education and science. As a result, in order to maintain any claim to being a technologically advanced and financially innovative country, we may be forced to import many of our scientists and engineers — perhaps even from Syria.
“In the American system ‘costs’ are fiscal or financial limitations that have little connection with the use of scarce resources or even with the use of available (and therefore not scarce) resources. The reason for this is that in the American economy, the fiscal or financial limit is lower than the limit established by real resources and, therefore, since the financial limits act as the restraint on our economic activities, we do not get to the point where our activities encounter the restraints imposed by the limits of real resources (except rarely and briefly in terms of technically trained manpower, which is our most limited resource).”
Quigley, Carroll. Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time. GSG & Associates Publishers.
History does not always repeat itself, but when it does it is inexcusable for those in power to make the same disastrous decisions that were made in the past.
American interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria were just such a descent into folly.
In 1839, the British marched into Afghanistan in order to remove a government they did not like, replacing it with their man, Shah Shuja. Two years later the Afghan tribes rose up and drove the British out with horrendous losses.
The British leadership rejected the advice of their own officials on site, preferring to base their actions upon the hawkish sentiment in England and among British officials in India who perceived a threat to their economic interests from Russia. A threat that was non-existent.
Shortly after their defeat, the British returned to punish the Afghanis for “War Crimes,” committed their own and eventually retreated again leaving the local tribes to re-install the government headed by Dost Mohammed Kahn who the British originally ousted.
The British thereafter left Afghanistan more or less alone for the next 100 years or so because among other things it was evident that Afghanistan was too poor to be taxed to support a standing army of occupation and exploitation.
170 years later, the American government, not so long after the Russians fell into the same trap as the British, invaded the country to install what was perceived by many as a puppet government in order to punish the existing government for harboring a terrorist who had killed Americans in what could only be described as a crime against humanity. For about a decade, the Americans, in turn, committed their own heinous crimes against the local population before finding and killing the terrorist leader who was then and had been for most of this time living in another country. Finding their occupation financially untenable, the Americans withdrew only eventually to discover the original governing group that they had driven from office slowly fighting their way back into power.
Interesting to the point of bizarre, Hamid Karzai who the US put into power belongs to the same tribe as Shah Shuja the British puppet leader. The Taliban is made up of the same Ghilzai tribes that drove Britain out.
In the first 10 years of the war in Afghanistan, the United States spent a total of almost 500 billion dollars or 50 billion dollars per year. The Gross Domestic Product of Afghanistan at its highest point during the United State Military involvement was slightly over 20 billion US Dollars. In other words, the United States spent occupying the country over twice what the economy of that country was worth — All in the effort to kill one man and install another presumably more friendly to us.
During the Third Century AD, a long dry spell began. On the central Asian Steppes, the pastoral economy began to fray, conflicts arose and migrations began pushing into and ultimately destroying the Western Roman Empire.
Further south the Syrian steppes, an extensive grassland, extending from modern-day Syria into the Arabian Peninsula, also began drying up. As they did, the Bedouin pastoralist began a slow but steady migration into the rural towns and more prosperous cities of the littoral where the made up a growing class of the underemployed and disenfranchised. Conflicts arose. New religions were created. Existing ones grew, split and fought over competing ideologies.
The existing great powers in response to this turmoil imposed ever more repressive control on the people of the areas they governed and supported or opposed ideologies or leadership as they deemed them beneficial or inimical to their interests. They also fought over and expended massive amounts of national treasure on the impoverished lands they did not control because they believed if they did not their competitors would. This expenditure was not repaid by the spoils of war and exerted an ever increasing burden on the treasuries of the great powers of the time fatally weakening them.
In the Seventh Century, at the Southern end of the steppes on the Arabian Peninsula, the spurned son of a wealthy family in the littoral city of Mecca, a mystic named Mohammed, fled to an inland city on the edge of the steppe. There, cut off from family funds, he gathered other unemployed dispossessed mostly young men and added to the basic doctrines and rituals of his syncretistic religion a promise that if they fought for him for free they could divide the spoils among themselves (leaving one-fifth for Mohammed). If they died in the process, they would be reborn into a paradise of every young man’s dreams. For the next 300 years or so these motivated young men conquered the cities of the littoral and beyond and established a stern but relatively un-intrusive reign over the conquered people.
Fast forward to the beginning of the Twentieth Century. In the Syrian Steppe the Ottoman Empire, a foreign power, exerted ever-increasing repression in the area in an attempt to prop up their diminishing power by draining as much income as they could from the subjugated people. This included the elimination of strong minorities like the Greeks, Armenians and Christian Lebanese whose economic strength and political agitation for a greater share in governing the weakening Empire was seen as a threat to the ruling classes of the domain.
The pastoral agriculture of the steppes and commerce in the cities provided an adequate if subsistence economy for most the people and wealth for a few. As the century progressed the petroleum resources discovered in the region, while of little benefit to the local population, was of great value to the industrial powers of Western Europe and North America. Having the power to do so they simply expropriated them leaving the mass of the people in the region their adequate if subsistence level economy and granting the local elite a small share in the wealth. Eventually, the elite, as they almost always do, demanded greater control of the wealth. The Industrial Powers resisted at first, then agreed, keeping most of the power in their own hands but substantially increasing the wealth of the indigenous elite.
At the end of the century and the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, the steppes began to dry up as they had done many times before in the last thousand years. Exacerbating the drying was the urban elites success in opening up to their investment the unrestricted grazing the lands that the Bedouin nomads had, for over a thousand years, by agreement periodically left ungrazed so it could recover its productivity and be available especially during the periods of drought that regularly afflicted the region. With the resulting impoverishment of the grazing lands, people began migrating first into the rural towns and then into the cities of the littoral where, as the underemployed and dispossessed have always done, they looked for someone or something to blame for their predicament and an ideology to support it.
Into this morass stepped the American Eagle.
Upsetting the increasing tenuous balance of power in the area, one of the warlords (Saddam Hussein) installed by the West to maintain political control and protect their assets attacked another elite (Kuwait) in order to take over their share of the oil reserves and use it to bargain between the great powers and hopefully dominate the region. The American leader at the time, in all likelihood, listening to the advice of those with at least a passing knowledge of the history of the area, limited the nations use of force to restoring the dispossessed elite to power over the area and resources that they had controlled for as least 50 years.
Slightly over a decade later, another American administration (the son of the prior and wiser leader) upset with inflammatory rhetoric by the warlord the US previously had defeated acceded to the urgings of his in-house hawks to remove a non-existent threat to the US by invading that country, toppling the now unhappy warlord and installing one more amenable to the war hawks. They insisted they could pay for it all from the revenue from that nation’s significant petroleum reserves.
They were wrong.
After a decade of war, the US achieved few of its objectives. The warlord was replaced but the imposed regime was neither malleable nor effective. Unable to control territory that it was given, the nation promptly broke into three more or less independent political entities each obsessed with securing revenues from oil production for their elites even though they remained unable to protect themselves from rebellion peopled by the unemployed disaffected of the desiccated steppes some of whom flocked to a harsh new ideology under the guise of a return to time that never existed. An ideology manufactured and directed by those seeking power by, in part, wresting control of the petroleum resources from the now feeble hands of the areas traditional elite.
In the 15 years prosecuting the war in Iraq the United States has spent almost 820 billion dollars, or well over 50 Billion dollars per year. The GDP of Iraq in 2013 was a little under 230 billion dollars as much as 95% of which was provided by the petroleum sector.
It could be said that if it had worked and they were able to repay the US costs form the petroleum profits it might have been worth it. But, it would have most likely required maintaining an army of occupation indefinitely.
Contrary to those who claim that no one could have seen it coming, any reading of history would have revealed that it could and most likely would.
The Syrian saddle and steppe used to be a net exporter of food. It has few petroleum assets. It does have a ruling elite led by a single family. After WWII, the European powers had placed into power that family because they were members of a minority tribe and ideology in a nation of many tribes and nations. They believed that the minority, with their support, would constantly exert strict control over the fractious majority and avoid chaos in that illogical construct they named Syria.
With the drying of the grasslands, Syria could no longer feed itself and, as a result of the war, has no economy to speak of. The rural masses, now unemployed, who have flocked to the rural towns and cities to find work were ripe for an ideology to explain their plight.
Over the years, the ruling elite encouraged and supported by interests not aligned with the major powers of the industrialized West engaged in futile attempts to destabilize the entity established on the Mediterranean littoral peopled with Europeans whose ancestors migrated or fled from the area many years before (Israel).
In response, the US, in defense of its commitment to its often obstreperous ally, countered with the funding of groups opposed to the ruling family — seeming oblivious to the fact that should they fall, a war for power among the different tribes and ideologies would likely result. Consequently, chaos ensued. As is often the case where order breaks down, the entity with the strongest ideology often wins and that currently seems to be the group we call ISIL.
With the rise and success of ISIL, finally someone with some sense and knowledge in the US recognized the futility and cost of engaging in a ground war in the quagmire that impoverished country has become. The US has restricted its involvement to harassing ISSIL from the air, killing its leaders and funding its opponents in hopes that a more amenable and less ferocious ideology will emerge. So far only the Kurds seem to be developing in that direction.
Syria is an economic basket case. Its GDP totaled about 40 billion dollars in 2007 and has dropped precipitously since then. The US is spending only (a relative term) 3 billion dollars a year, primarily on air strikes.
No one party, except perhaps ISIL, currently seems strong enough to exert its control over the entire area. Even if the combined forces against ISIL prevail, Syria as it was designed by the European powers, will in all probability dissolve into a loosely amalgamated group of statelets run by those factions able to capture and control some bit of increasingly impoverished territory during the mayhem.
Peace appears a long way off.
A solution for everything:
Given the seeming insurmountable problems and crises, such as, wars and more wars, environmental calamities and climate change, gross and growing income and wealth disparities, creeping secular and sectarian authoritarianism, nuclear and biologic weapons proliferation and the host of other problems that accompanies humanities seeming death march to Armageddon, there appears to me to be a root cause and a simple solution to the conundrum we find ourselves in.
The root cause of our current predicament is that we have far too many men in the world today and the simple solution is to arrange to have far fewer of them.
Think about that for a moment. Is there any evolutionary purpose served today, outside of transporting and contributing half of the DNA strand to new individuals, of having hanging around a great number of individuals whose sole evolutionary function is to protect the cave from predators (mostly other men) and obtaining a few unreliable scraps of high calorie proteins from large animals while the female of the species was birthing and raising the next generation (and in all probability also gathering the major portion of the tribes caloric needs)?
Given that recent human evolution appears to be rapidly moving along social and technological lines rather than the biologic, except for the DNA transport function (and even that is presently technologically questionable) the other functions of the male are mostly well taken care of today (with the possible exception of protection from men themselves).
There are about six or seven billion humans abroad in the world today, about half are men. That is far too many just to provide for the survival of the species and actually may be inimical to that survival. I would guess that we need at most only about one percent of that number, if that much, for species success and genetic diversity.
In a science fiction series of novels, the writer c.j. Cherryh posited a community run entirely by women, with the few men there were, like male lions in a pride, kept in splendid isolation as being to too dangerous and insane to be let loose on the rest of society. This culture worked quite well, with a lot of co-operation among all concerned.
Other writers, mostly men, imagining similar female dominated societies, unfortunately too often pictured them as being ripped apart over conflicts for the few remaining men. (Why do male writers so often picture women as men in dresses with deficient upper body strength? Women are not lesser men.)
Come now, does anyone really believe that women as a whole would take up arms against one another over a man. Imagine if the “face that launched a thousand ships” were that of Brad Pitt instead of Helen of Troy would the women of Greece have taken to their boats? I for one find no reason to believe they would be that foolish, after all, each of the poor evolutionary irrelevant male creatures provides enough genetic material for hundreds, if not thousands, of progeny.
Imagine, in such a world the hydrocarbon emission problem would virtually disappear. The sexual sublimation of adolescent boys and young men by the automobile would be replaced with transportation only needs. Would a woman really need to drill a hole in the ocean a mile below the surface? Not even the metaphor succeeds.
Population pressure will recede. No one can rationally maintain that it is solely women’s thirst for more and more children that lies at the root cause of the population explosion.
And what about meat? The consumption of Big Macs, BBQ ribs and steak would plummet, freeing the world environment from the ravages of the inefficient production of meat protein. The reduction of methane production alone from fewer cows as well as men can only be interpreted as environmentally and aesthetically beneficial.
Yes, some will suffer, like beer distillers and owners of sports teams and perhaps the porn and sex industries and the like, but I am sure that is a small price to pay for the enormity of the benefits.
Does anyone believe that women, in general, have wet dreams at night about the glories of social and economic inequality? Would they really have interpreted Darwin’s theories as survival of the fittest? (I suspect Kropotkin rather that Spengler would have been more appealing.) Would modern economic theory be more or less Keynesian if it were written by women for women? (We cannot lose sight of the fact that traditional economic theory was for the most part written by men, about men, for men)
Think about wars, invented by men to keep down the competition for sexual access and to acquire resources from those who actually produced them (usually woman). Would women really find a need to dress up in uncomfortable military costumes only to mess them up killing one another to prove their sexual attractiveness? I suspect they are not so simple-minded. Don’t you think that even the crazies among the female sex, would resist sending out other women to fight and kill or be killed for a few more acres of land or another barrel of oil or for that matter because we do not like their opponents skin color or the face of their god?
What about the creeping theocratic lunacy afflicting the world today? Imagine say the meeting at a street crossing in old Jerusalem among a group of burka covered Muslim woman, a few babushka-clad Israeli immigrant woman from the Pale and a covey of Irish nuns. Does anyone really see them grabbing knives and guns and killing one another? Insults shouted, maybe a little pushing and shoving, but killing, no. It would soon be over because they all have more important things to do than shout at each other on a street corner.
What about gay men? Would not this society be unfair to them? Given the fact that gay men are still men and historically not above the testicular induced madness to kill one another for no good reason (e.g. Alexander the Great), I have come to the conclusion that we should consider adopting the system practiced by the American Indian. Gay men willing to do so, could go off and live as women in every way feasible. That would also have the practical advantage of immediately reducing the number of the male hormonal addled by ten or fifteen percent. Then the rest of us males, straight and gay alike, can go off and live in splendid isolation and save the rest of the world from the plague of our unbridled testosterone.
Can anyone out there in the blog-o-sphere think of one crisis afflicting the world today that cannot be better handled by women in a world with far fewer men?
Response to Comments:
This Post, so far, hypothesizes that there were too many men in the world and that excess may be a major cause of the problems facing us today. It further suggests that women could probably do a better job of running things, at least in so far as the survivability of our species is concerned.
Those who have reviewed what I have written above (mostly male) generally expressed high dudgeon that I would even hint at the possibility that women on the whole could do a better job at species survival than men who had, after all, rigged the game in their own favor for at least about 10,000 years.
Now I am the last person women either need or should want to defend them in any way. I can, however, try to make the case for the assertion that men have outlived their evolutionary purpose and that there are just too many of us.
For at least 10,000 years or so virtually every political system, economic system and religion has been designed by men for men. There is no natural or divine law that requires any of these structures to be designed in the way that they have been. During those same 10,000 years every justification of those structures have been developed by men to benefit men.
That rigging of the game in favor of men and their particular needs and world view has disadvantaged women throughout time and still does so today.
Women are not lesser men. There is no reason to believe that they are physically and emotionally hard-wired to be simply smaller men without penises whose bad luck it is to be designated that half of the population to be able to bear the future generations of the species and thus assure its survival. The fact of the matter is that because their critical role in species survival required them to spend so much time throughout their generally short lives in the all too often deadly activity of childbearing, the game has always been rigged against them. After all, the women were too busy doing the hard work of procreation, giving birth and raising their offspring to engage in such activities as beating up their neighbor or constructing governments and institutions to do the same thing, or for that matter writing about how good that may be. Men, on the other hand, usually had a lot of time on their hands, needing only to spend a few minutes to deposit their seed and otherwise hang around the entrance to the cave to intercept the occasional predator. By the way, how many men did it really take to guard the cave entrance, anyway? I suspect that since they were so underemployed, the men spent a lot of the time thinking about how to kill one another and keep all the women for themselves. Eventually, they wrote books about it.
Almost all institutions of significance in society have been designed by men to benefit men in order to glorify their designated evolutionary function. Governmental, financial and religious systems were developed to enhance the male role in species procreation. Had those systems been designed differently because that function was not needed, as it is not required today, would we have seen different results? Actually, we may get a glimpse of what could happen from the effects of some of the recent changes in our school systems
Not too long ago our elementary and secondary schools moved away from separate education by sex that was the traditional norm because it was viewed as disadvantaging women. At the same time, at least in the US, we adopted a more co-operative less authoritarian pedagogy. Soon, surprisingly, we began to see boys falling behind girls in almost every aspect of their educational performance. This was most likely due in part to the fact that intellectual development of boys and girls occur at a different rate and to some extent boys and girls traditionally responded differently to different teaching techniques. In any event, this exacerbated the difficulties that the boys were having keeping up. Sure some boys still did well, but for most the system had unwittingly been rigged against them. If this could happen so quickly to boys as a result of some minor changes to a single system, what must have happened to women over the ages?
Therefore, it is not enough that we allow women to compete (that word in itself being a male rigged concept) but it is perhaps time that we men should simply step aside and let them design their own institutions and rationalizations.
OK, you may say we agree that we men may have rigged the game in favor of our sex, so what makes you think that they will be any better at running things than we men have been?
I found the following quote in a Huffington Post article a while ago but, alas, I did not record the author and could not locate the article again. So to the unknown author, I apologize for using your words here unattributed but if you or anyone reading this recognizes them please let me know and I will immediately correct the problem.
“Sociobiology: males in their profound hunting pack instinct are unable to think of social issues except in social-third person terms — short-circuiting our best economic brains to totally ignoring the easy (never discussed therefore never discovered) sector-wide solution. We really need more (half?) females in the legislature and the social studies who are able to think of issues based on merits only, first person terms”.
Some of my reviewers claimed that women can be as bad as men and pointed to Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter among others as examples of the evil that women can aspire to. Now in the case of Ann, there have been many comments to the effect that she may be an infiltrator from the other team so to speak. As a result, for all we know, she may just be one of us in disguise. With Sarah however, as much as she does not rank as one of my favorite persons, to compare her to such paragons of maleness as Vlad the Impaler, Hitler, Attila the Hun and so many other shining examples of our sex, really now….
The question should not be can they do better but under any conceivable scenario could they possibly do worse than we have?
After all what is so wrong, from a male standpoint, with the social model of the lions of the savannah. The female lions run everything while a few males spend their days building up their muscles and beating off a few rivals. Men can, in this society, then spend their time preening in front of a mirror to make sure they look good in a Speedo.
As for whether we men have outlived our evolutionary purpose and are unnecessary to exist in such great numbers as we do today, what it is that men do today that woman cannot do as well or better? What is it that our sex actually does do other than clutter the place up?*
* One possibility, for white males at least, is suggested in this article in the “Atlantic Monthly”magazine. http://www.theatlantic.com…
Some additional observations:
Originally. natures way of dealing with the problem of excess underemployed males was to place them at the edges of their migrating bands. Since they neither bore nor nursed the children, the more foolhardy or slow of mind or foot, provided easially obtaind food for the predators of the era thereby protecting the far more genetically valuable women and children from predation.
As the large predators began to die out about 100,000 years ago, the problem of what to do with the now underemployed and slow-witted males was solved by the discovery by them of the joys of war.
Beginning in the twentieth century however that solution began to become inadequate as the the burden of war shifted from the wholsale decimation of un-bread males onto women and children. Humanity began to ingnore the mandate of God to to his armies of the rightous:
‘… kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.’ Numbers 31.17,18.–
(This shows that even a male god can recognize which human units were most valuable for species survival).
Since the Second World War, it has been estimated that up to 90% of the casualties of most armed conflicts have been born by civillians. The obvious conclusion is that war is no longer an adequate control upon the excess and underemployed human male populations on earth. If left to their own proclivities, the human male will remain blind to the effects of his technologically enhanced means of eliminating his sexual competiters until every last creature on earth dies along with him.
So, if war is no longer adequate to keep the beast occupied and its numbers under control, what is?
A few years ago the ever insightful Brad Delong published in his blog a list of what he considers, “THE SEVEN CARDINAL VIRTUES OF EQUITABLE GROWTH.” Here it is in total:
1. Manage the macroeconomy to match aggregate demand to potential supply. Take the dual mandate seriously: maintaining full employment is as important a central bank goal as low and stable inflation–and much more important than preserving healthy margins for the banking sector. Run large deficits–run up the national debt–in times of war, depression, or other national emergency calling for government action. Pay down the debt in other times.
2. Invest. Invest in ideas, in equipment capital, in structures capital, in education: we need more of all forms of investment. Boost public and private investment: we need both kinds.
3.Over the past generation, America has shifted enormous resources into value-substracting industries: healthcare administration, prisons, finance, carbon energy. We need to reverse those shifts, and focus the American economy on the value-creating sectors rather than the value-subtracting ones.
4. We ought to have had a carbon tax 20 years ago. We still need one.
5. We need more immigration. It is much easier, worldwide, to move the people to where the institutions are already good than to make good institutions where the people are. More immigration produces a richer country for those already here. More immigration is a mitzvah for immigrants. More immigration is, to a a lesser degree, a mitzvah for those in poor countries outside who see less population pressure on resources. And a U.S. in 2070 that has 600 million people is more of an international superpower than a U.S. in 2070 that has only 400 million people.
6. We need more equality. If we want to have equality of opportunity 50 years from now, we need substantial equality of result right now.
7. We are going to need a bigger and better government. The private unregulated market does not do well at health-care finance, at pensions, or at education finance. The private unregulated market does not do well at research and early-stage development. The private unregulated market does not do well with commodities that are non-rival. We are moving into a twenty-first century in which these sectors will all be larger slices of what we do, and so a well-functioning economy will need a larger government relative to the private economy than the twentieth century did.
J. Bradford DeLong
While I agree whole heartedly with Dr. DeLong, however, as with most stirring generalizations, the clarity with which they are enunciated turns a bit foggy when one tries to figure out what they mean when attempting to carry them out into reality. In fact, people who agree on the generalities often have opposite ideas on how they play out in the real world.
Growth is perhaps one of the most loaded and overused words in our lexicon today. I think it probably has outlived its usefulness and should be replaced with less ambiguous words and phrases.
Let’s take a look at something DeLong also wrote recently:
“To put it another way: In 1870 the daily wages of an unskilled worker in London would have bought him (not her: women were paid less) about 5,000 calories worth of bread–5,000 wheat calories, about 2½ times what you need to live (if you are willing to have your teeth fall out and your nutritionist glower at you). In 1800 the daily wages would have bought him about 3,500 calories, and in 1600 2,500 calories. Karl Marx in 1850 was dumbfounded at the pace of the economic transition he saw around him. That was the transition that carried wages from 3500 calories per day-equivalent in 1800 to 5000 in 1870. Continue that for another two seventy-year periods, and we would today be at 10,000 calories per unskilled worker in the North Atlantic today per day.
Today the daily wages of an unskilled worker in London would buy him or her 2,400,000 wheat calories.
Not 10,000. 2,400,000.”
I assume for the purpose of this Diary that DeLong’s analysis is factually correct that within 75 years the number of calories that could be purchased by an ordinary worker in an emerging society increased by slightly less than 500 times. If that worker does not spend all that income actually on wheat calories, what does he spend it on? Also, I need to keep in mind that since 1870 this large increase in wages translated into calories has grown from being available to a few million workers to over 2 billion or more. And also, I assume I understand the implications of that rate of physically unsustainable growth inuring to unskilled labor and it is undesirable consequences.
What does any of those virtues he listed mean with reference to those startling facts?
Demand equalling supply is a good idea but seems to miss the point.
Investing in ideas may be advisable, but shouldn’t some mention be made on focusing that investment on solving a problem that appears to be disastrously untenable? Why would one want to allow ambiguity on whether the growth being encouraged includes even the possibility of this continuing?
OK avoiding value-subtracting activities could include halting the obscene escalation of per capita caloric intake, but given its importance should we not at least include it among the examples.
A carbon tax. Good idea. It helps. Some would say it starts the ball rolling, but shouldn’t we urge something like a sustainable life style at substantially less than 2,400,000 calories per capita?
Immigration. Good thing too, but will each immigrant be entitled to 2,400,000 calories per day when they arrive or should they get less or even should those already burning the 2 million plus calories per day be required to share them with the new arrivals?
More equality. Another good thing even if “equality of result,” is a bit confusing. Does this include everyone having the same right to profligacy. The 2.4 million does this mean we all have to give something up or only those who use more than the average being forced to give it up to those using less so that we all can still spend the same average amount?
This post is not a criticism of DeLong. What he suggests is the right thing. But even doing the right thing may not be enough.
Joe Stieglitz has said that the two most important issues of our age are global warming and income inequality. Jeremy Grantham has warned that compound growth, not only cannot continue indefinitely but probably in inadvisable even over a relatively short time without producing a severe negative reaction.
I have suggested in prior diaries that there may be a ghost in the machine called humanity even greater than our mayhem compulsion. DeLong’s caloric analysis indicates that it may be our inability to refrain from consuming all the resources available whenever they are accessible. Even societies that developed mechanisms for living more within the limits nature allows usually fail to account for potential major changes in their environment, war, extended drought and so on. It is difficult to almost impossible, I believe, for a society to refrain from exploiting those resources that their technology enables them to.
It seems to me that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and even Boko Haram are all manifestations of the same thing. They are a single ideology and not separate organizations as we tend to think of them. That is why the Chechen fighters who battled Russia seeking independence can move comfortably from there, to Afghanistan, to Iraq and now to Syria and believe they are fighting for the same goal. This is not too different from the State-Socialist Bolshevik ideology that fired up the wars for colonial independence 80 years or so ago. They usually achieved independence and quickly morphed into military dictatorships or dropped their strident socialism as soon as they got a taste of the beguiling delights of consumerism.
Contrary to prior policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we occupied the land, at least temporarily, while we installed a governing organization that we called democratic but many others referred to as a puppet regime, we are no longer seeking to either hold land or impose a specific regime. Also, the US now concentrates on targeting the insurgency’s leaders and not merely on killing its soldiers. That is a change from Viet Nam where we racked up the kills of soldiers and civilians to no avail.
ISIL and the others remain ideologies [Islam is mostly the cover] opposed to the organizations that are the dominant economic powers of the day and not an organization like those we are used to dealing with. Killing its leaders, like killing its followers will not work. New leaders and new followers are easy to find. Occupying the land and imposing a regime we know now does not work either.
So what works? I do not know, but we have had great success battling competing ideologies with massive economic development. Young men inflamed with the possibility of becoming rich usually do not have time to pick up a gun.
In the national candidates debates during this election year, as in all other presidential years, the words “debt” and “deficit” are freely thrown about in order to justify one’s political position or criticize an opponent’s. All that bluster is usually a smoke screen since historically (at least since WWII) both parties run similar annual budget deficits with Republican administrations, since the election of Ronald Reagan, running somewhat larger annual budget deficits and both parties showing rather similar growth in the National Debt as a percentage of GDP. The difference between the parties often comes down to what that Budget Deficit goes to pay for. Traditionally, for Republicans, generally it goes to pay for enhanced military development and tax relief for private capital expenditure and formation and higher income individuals with Democrats leaning more toward paying for social programs, public works and tax relief for consumers and lower income workers.
Recently, I came across some information from the US Treasury Department on the annual US budget deficit, the total National Debt by year, US GDP and US National Debt as a percentage of GDP going back to at least 1929. I was able to cull the following from those spreadsheets.
First some definitions: The Budget Deficit is those government expenditures (including payments on the National Debt) not covered by revenues in a given year. For the most part from a policy standpoint, the annual deficit for any single year tends to be not all that significant except during times of great stress like wars and economic panic. The National Debt is what the Federal Government owes at any given time.
Let’s look at two lists I prepared from US Treasury spreadsheets going back to the end of WWII that I hope will shed a little light on the nature of the political rhetoric.
Percentage increase in total National Government debt by President during his term.
Bush 2 101%
Bush 1 54% (4 years)
Obama 53% (7 years)
Ford 47% (3 years)
Carter 43% (4 years)
Nixon 34% (5 years)
Johnson 13% (5 Years)
Kennedy 8% (3 years)
Truman 3% (7 years)
National Debt as a percentage of the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product at a President’s final budget.
Obama 106.7% (7 years)
Bush 2 85%
Truman 69.7% (7 years)
Bush 1 60.5% (4 years)
Kennedy 49.5% (3 years)
Johnson 35.9% (5 years)
Nixon 32.6 (5 Years)
Ford 31. 4% (3 years)
Carter 31.3% (4 years)
The second list is probably more important and informative since it relates the National Debt to the size of the economy at the time. While Bush 2 and Obama appear to have the larger percentage, a significant portion of those increases came at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of Obama’s as they struggled to deal with the Great Recession ($1.1 trillion DEFICIT for the last year of Bush2 and $1.5 trillion DEFICIT for the first year of Obama). It demonstrates how great an economic crisis it was. (A similar spike would appear if these charts continued back to the great depression. Under Roosevelt, the depression and WWII increased the National Debt well over 1000%.) One takeaway is that after WWII, the size of the National Debt as a percentage of GDP decreased through all administrations Republican and Democrat alike until Reagan took office. Since then it has steadily increased except during the Clinton years. The most significant impacts on both Annual Deficits and the National Debt since Reagan took office has been a large reduction in taxes on upper-income individuals, non-earned income and corporations, funding of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and the Obama stimulus.
Another way of looking at this, and perhaps even more illuminating, is how many percentage points over his predecessor a President increased the National Debt as a percentage of GDP when he left office:
The above clearly shows Clinton and Reagan as outliers. The difference between them appears to be almost exclusively their approach to taxes on higher earners and corporations. The list also further demonstrates the massive distortion of governmental finances engendered by the Middle Eastern wars and the Great Recession.
I believe that a national economy works better and the growth of National Debt moderated when a significant portion of public expenditure works its way through the economy from the bottom (like fuel in a furnace) rather than from the top. How that is done should be the basis of public debate (welfare, public works, incentives to work or to hire people, or consumer tax relief and so on).
I have no idea of the ideal size of National Debt a mature nation should carry but suspect it depends upon the interest rate on the debt and the ability of the nation to service the debt during times of crisis. That is why I believe Keynes prescription to run budget deficits during times of crisis and surpluses during periods of growth is sound politics and prudent fiscal policy.
Note: It should be pointed out that total US debt as percentage of GDP from all sectors went from approximately 1.5 times GDP in 1946 to a little less than 4 times GDP today. In 1946, the total US debt-to-GDP ratio was 150%, with two-thirds of that held by the federal government. Since 1946, the federal government’s share of total US debt-to-GDP ratio has fallen from about 2/3 to a little over 1/4. On the other, hand the share of total US Debt as a percentage of GDP of the financial sector, has increased substantially from less than 1% in 1926 to about 28% in 2009 with much of that growth occurring in the private Non-Government backed securities area. Government backed debt part of the financial sector, such as Ginnie Mae etc., has remained a relatively stable while private financial debt has soared from 0% to about 12% of the total US debt as a percentage of GDP. The ratio for households has risen nearly as much, from 10% of total debt as a percentage of GDP to about 24%.
In other words, while federal debt as a portion of the nations economy generally has been falling, private debt has been growing substantially.