The Mango Stand

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The tragedies of the clueless

Indulge me for a moment, this is something that's been on my mind lately:

Societies that adhere to ideology in denial of reality fail. Sometimes with a bang, sometimes with a whimper, but they fail. Sometimes they just decline, or fall beind to the point where they can be manipulated or defeated by more powerful societies more in touch with reality. This isn't some crackpot hypothesis; as much as anything is a historical law, this is.

Theories of imminent destruction have been argued and disproved since at least since Malthus and Marx; and each time some variable they didn't consider possible dooms their predictions to the wastepaper basket of history. Malthus's theories of mass starvation were disproved by the industrial revolution, and the way food production, like population growth, grew exponentially instead of geometrically; and Marx's predictions of capitalism's collapse didn't come to pass because capitalism proved capable of adapting--the contradictions of capitalism he observed were overcome by social policies that allowed the standard of living of ordinary people to grow.

I don't want to add to this pile of discredited pessimism except to add some observations:

--Our Republican freinds no longer give a damn about reality, and they are in charge. One wonders: do they know they are lying, or are they just ignorant? Do they know their numbers simply don't add up? Do they care?

--What happens when the piper has to be paid? When the beast has been starved, when government is, in Grover Norquist's evocative phrase, is "small enough to drown in a bathtub," what will America look like? Will it be the capitalist utopia these guys are assuming? Or will it be a lot worse? Here's one fictionalized vision--not anywhere I'd want to live, anyway. (Side note: if you aren't familiar with Neal Stephenson, you're missing out. He's probably my favorite author right now.)

--In short--are we living in one of those times, when the policies of our leaders take their leave of common sense to the point where our society declines? Will China be eating our lunch in a few decades? Are the Greenlanders who starved to death instead of eating fish, or the Easter Islanders cutting down the last palm tree?

Now, I'm no communist. I'm not even much of a socialist. However, I believe that markets and governments are not opposites, but symbiotes that work best when they are both big enough to do their jobs but not so big that they overwhelm the other. Put another way, gov't and markets are tools for the allocation of resources within a society and the world. Tools which, like most tools, can be used constructively or destructively--the same hammer that I can use to build you a house I can also use to bash your skull in.

Anyway, this stuff has been on my mind for a bit. Especially when I see the repubs pass an estate tax repeal that will cost the treasury $1 trillion or so; propose a social security "reform" that will bankrupt the system and make current benefits impossible; and on and on. I don't think any sort of collapse is imminent, or even likely--more likely is just some relative decline that hopefully will be reversed when more responsible heads prevail. Anyway, it's been on my mind lately. More later.


  • I think the big problem is that people in power realize "In 30 years, I'll be dead and how could the world function without me?" There are plenty of exceptions but the closer a person is to death, the more likely he'll believe the world is coming to an end.

    By Blogger Mark, at 9:46 AM  

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