Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A Manifesto For Radicalization

Tough times are coming. Even if Kerry had won there wouldn't be a whole lot he could do. Since we have reelected a mind-shatteringly incompetent government you can feel it coming much faster. In response, liberals in general and the Dems in particular, are radicalizing as I type. You can see it clearly in the liberal response to the election. Things like Jesusland, while hi-larious, have very real sentiments behind them. People who used to be moderate are moving towards partisanship, and current centrists and moderates of both wings are finding themselves ignored and diminishing in number. Centrism is a luxury afforded by periods of wide spread and sustained prosperity. The post WWII consensus is no longer operable. That constitutional order is collapsing as the Agrarian civil war era and the Coal Gold standard era economies before it.

Our current order is based on oil to provide large cheap energy for a liberal welfare state and the suburban lifestyle. You can call it the energy/black-gold standard. Theoretically our money is based on our economic output and not pegged to the price of any sort of commodity. But our output is determined how much energy we can produce and ultimately you can reduce all production down to the common thread of energy costs. IE how much oil we have to burn. Suburban life is possible because of cars. Cars and highways make it possible for us to use large amounts of land. That widening of the land supply makes it cheaper and lets people have a life style that would be impossible in a big urbanized city. Thus we trade capital for energy and energy for less rent. This process has been repeated for things like strip malls, supermarkets, and Wal-Mart style retailers. But we have hit the limits of substitution for a couple of reasons. One is that oil reserves are limited in the US and so we have to buy it from other countries. Two the bandwidth at which we can pump and distribute oil is limited as well. The restrictions on substitution started around the 70s, but not because we're going to run out of oil. To combat this the ideas of globalization and "free-trade" was born.

"Free-trade" in sarcasm quotes is of course nothing of the kind. Globalization shifts energy costs to poor nations where energy use is much lower thus saving businesses oodles of money. Ironically globalization has exasperated the problem in two ways. Firstly the social contract that came with globalization promised to replace lost jobs in manufacturing with white collar service and information jobs. For a while it was kept and let to the tech boom in the 90s. But then businesses realized they could substitute these jobs as well. Globalization led to booms in places like China and India. The growing economies and huge populations gave birth to a huge professional class willing to work for much less than US workers. Also these countries are finally beginning to industrialize thanks to the huge flow of money. They've quickly burned through huge amounts of coal and now are trying to convert to oil. In 10 years China alone will use more oil than the entire world does now. The US is BLEEDING money to try and sustain energy production because its that energy that keeps our huge appetite for consumption going. Exhibits A and B are the deficit and the current account deficit; both are the largest ever. The rest of the world is literally supporting us.

We're caught in a catch-22. The rest of the world is supporting us, but we support them as well. The relationship is very, very fragile. The US is the only country with a population that has enough capital to absorb the huge amount of excess production that fuels the economies of countries like Japan and China. But we do that buying with enormous amounts of debt. But we're the only country with a military that can keep the supply of oil flowing. We are the oil police. So we keep the oil going so production can keep gong so we can keep buying. But that cycle is headed for collapse. As the supply of available oil shrinks it becomes more valuable. The middle east which has the largest percentage of oil reserves is becoming increasingly unstable. The authoritarian governments we support/ed have or are about to be toppled. These new governments are very hostile to the US and are likely to disrupt the oil flow. Iraq was, indeed, about oil, but not the way you might think. Oil had been creeping up in price for a while. Iraqi oil was effectively untouchable because of Sadaam. We didn't go in to seize it for ourselves we went in to put oil back on the market and keep oil prices down for everyone. But its gone all wrong. Production is constantly being hammered by attacks. Our military is bogged down and we have lost the industrial world's consent to be its policeman.

All these forces are coming together to produce a crisis. Since the Democrats have largely controlled the post-war order the Republicans have been radicalized for some time and have already formulated a response: fascism to bring about a feudal style socio-economic order. The idea is to freeze growth so that the current order can stay competitive as energy costs rise. They'll do that by marginalizing and cannibalizing the industrial and technology economies and the urban growth oriented lifestyle they support and turn that capital towards the military, agriculture, and a new aristocracy. The military acts like a huge bottomless pit for money. Civilian contractors get paid 100,000 for driving trucks in Iraq. A bullet's value is gone after its used and doesn't ever have to be expended. But it probably will be. Feudal societies are very war like and highly religious. Two characteristics of many conservative republicans and certainly the Bush administration. Since the 70s, year after year more and more programs are gutted or replaced with less expensive and less effective alternatives. As the viability of the welfare state continues to deteriorate more and more people are going to turn to the Republican solution for stability. That solution requires religious adherence and economic trade-offs for welfare-like support from the church - which was the function of a national church in feudal times. Wealthy corprate Republicans have made a deal with fundamentalists. The wealthy and the religious leaders will form the nobility. They have agreed to trade growth for power. The Wealthy become the aristocracy and the only ones capable of charging rend and owning pattens. The aristocracy empowers the church to enforce its beliefs on the population. People trade growth and liberties for stability and support from the church. Classic feudal society.

Democrats have not formulated a response. They've been busy trying to maintain the viability of the current order. Now that they've been marginalized they can finally get around to reorganizing to create a progressive alternative to the Republicans. Its going to be nasty. Two radicalized parties in a less-than-zero-sum game. So we come back to the centrists. While they're complaints are heart-felt there is no alternative. Its time to choose sides. Its time to put aside childish consumer politics. This is serious. If 2000 wasn't clear enough 2004 better fucking be. We're not going to win by offering the same god damn shit again, or by appealing to religious sentiments. Conservative Christian fundamentalism is about creating a new social order that runs completely contrary to liberalism. In order to win votes Dems need to offer a radically different approach that diffuses the appeal of the Republican position and achieves the liberal goals of modernism, progress, and justice. Call it the Real Deal after the reality-based-community if you want. I would. It isn't about moving more to the left or right or center. Its about creating a liberal society and an economic structure that can maintain strong growth for decades. Real growth and progress are the only things that are going to give people enough hope and economic ablility to sacrifice their traditions and join the Democrats.

What does that mean? It means undertaking energy reform like we undertook the space race. It means cutting the military down. Its also going to mean some kind of conscription to dilute the uniformity of the military caste. Its going to mean the urbanization of suburban sprawls like Southern California, and other parts of the west. Its going to mean the end of traditional forms of subsidy and replaced by commodity and technology subsidy. It also means strong support of... I can't believe I'm saying this... free market capitalism. Like it or not capitalism is the best system for producing growth. Ideally this will be capitalism on liberal terms. There won't be any room for compromise. Liberal capitalism will stand in stark contrast to the running in place that results from feudal communism. It has to, or else we lose. The only choices are growth or stasis, and as far as I'm concerned stasis is the death of liberalism.