Wednesday, March 16, 2016

And so it begins

Lee Kwan Yew demonstrated that you can run a successful authoritarian regime. So long as your economy is far from the innovation/productivity boundary so that it is easy to generate outsize returns. And so long as you govern a small, homogenous polity. It also helps if you have Anglo Saxon constitutionalism with its common law tradition to constrain your henchmen's impunity. And critically:  you must be brilliantly competent.

Not so a 3.7 million square mile (vs 256) 320 million (vs 4.5) person empire spread over 7 time (vs 1) and 11 climactic (vs 1) zones that is at the innovation/productivity boundary. The wrenching changes required of economies at the boundary to keep growth moving forward attract rent seekers eager to profit from or retard the changes. Decisions made far away by unfireable apparatchiks in a ramshackle bureaucracy appear  illegitimate and oppressive (because they often are). The law which once was grounded in a tradition of constraining the state is now the seen as the state's tool of oppression in service to the richest,  most lavish of the rent seekers who infest the visibly richer, plutocratic capital city that is so very far away.

It is a system that is so huge, so complex that success can only be achieved at times of unusual international and domestic stability (Clinton 1) or during the emergence of a strong national consensus (Reagan) managed by highly skilled leaders able to expertly surf the waves of change. Yet I doubt if either RWR or WJC could handle today's challenges because the state's rule is so very much more invasive and manipulative than even back then. The unfireables have so much more power in large swathes of our society with only a modest and fading democratic audit of their activities. And Barack Obama is not a competent man. Neither will Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump be up to the task. The curse of brittle centralized authoritarian empires is a string of weak rulers and we have had such a string. And there is little doubt it will continue.

And the increasingly cynical left authoritarianism of the current occupant of the Eagle throne has engendered an equally troubling backlash. Both sides have concluded that the state is far too powerful to safely entrust to their political enemies for 4 or 8 years. Both sides calculate that they cannot afford to lose and so the political violence has begun.  Verbal violence has begat street violence has begat open talk of political murder which I fear will lead to real political murders on a scale never seen before.

Only then will the arrogance and cruelty of the centralizers become clear. But then it will be too late to amicably reorder our relations into the looser, less centralized, prescriptive and bureaucratic polity that our wiser forefathers built for us. I fear the poison will have sunk so deep into our hearts that both sides will calculate that the only way to ensure their survival is victory.

And then the real killing begins. Both here and around a world shorn of its stabilizing hegemon. And the people will cry out: My God My God why have you forsaken us? And the Gods of the Copy Book Headings will reply  "We did not forsake you. In your greed and arrogance you have forsaken us".

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