Collapse Schedules

It took over seven decades for Soviet communism to implode. Arguments could no doubt be made — and they would have to be right — that given certain quite limited counter-factual revisions of historical contingency, this period might have been significantly extended. Austrians nevertheless consider the eventual termination of comparatively pure communism as a vindication (of the Calculation Problem, in particular). They are not simply wrong to do so.

Fascist economics is far more formidably resilient than its now-defunct soviet antagonist. Any attempt to quantify this functional superiority as a predicted system duration is transparently impractical. Margins of theoretical error or imprecision, given very modestly transformed variables, could translate into many decades of extended (or decreased) longevity. Coldly considered, there is no reason to confidently expect a theoretically constructed collapse schedule to hold its range of probable error to much under a century. (Darker reflection might lead to the conclusion that even this level of ‘precision’ betrays unwarranted hubris.) There might be crushing lessons to be learned from the history of Messianic expectation.

Such acknowledgements can easily prompt over-reaction. Insofar as the collapse schedules of Austrian apocalypticism pretend to certainty, they undoubtedly court humiliation. Yet, if the soft-fascist configuration of global ‘capitalism’ were to comprehensively and unambiguously disintegrate within the next two decades, the Austrian vindication — retrospectively evaluated — would easily match the Soviet case. Those who doggedly maintained that this cannot perpetuate itself for long would be seen to have understood what their opponents had not. Since the critique of Soviet political economy was not, retrospectively, derided as a ‘stopped clock’, there is no reason to imagine that this would be. The redemptive power of apocalypse easily overrides substantial scheduling embarrassments.

The question that will ultimately be seen to have mattered, then, is far more “can this go on?” than “when (exactly) will this stop?” The important prediction is compound: the longer it continues, the harder it ends. This too might be false, but if it is, a substitute fascist presupposition must be correct, and that has yet to be adequately formulated. Roughly speaking, it insists that politics subordinates economics absolutely. In other words, the thoroughgoing politicization of the economy is indefinitely viable. This is an assumption subject to humiliation by any schedule that falls short of perpetuity, since mere medium-term sustainability does nothing to justify it. Hitler demanded a thousand years. How could his more financially-sophisticated successors — enthroned in planetary hegemony — ask for less?

ADDED: Attaining balance on this topic would test the skills of a tightrope walker. “There’s a lot of ruin in a nation,” (Handle reminds us), but “It’s like that old saying– better to be a year (or decade) too early than a day too late. Because one should never underestimate the speed with which things can unravel.” Plus additional highly-relevant remarks from Simon Black (don’t miss the embedded diagram).

June 11, 2013admin 39 Comments »
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39 Responses to this entry

  • Handle Says:

    Two farming families were friendly neighbors. One kept up the ways of their ancestors, meager but sufficient for subsistence. The other was a clever and industrious bloodline, always making small improvements every generation or so. After a while, the innovators became wealthy with their rich yields and, when looking upon the primitive methods next door, said, “You’ve got an awfully managed operation going on over there. Can’t possibly last long.” The poor farmer said, “It has lasted long.”

    Reminds me of this,

    “America is not going to be destroyed ” he shouted passionately.
    “Never?” prodded the old man softly. “Well…” Nately faltered.
    The old man laughed indulgently, holding in check a deeper, more explosive delight. His goading remained gentle. “Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? Forever? Keep in mind that the earth itself is destined to be destroyed by the sun in twenty-five million years or so.”
    Nately squirmed uncomfortably. “Well, forever is a long time, I guess.”

    and worse, it seems the old man will be wrong about the Italians too.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    The quote is brilliantly appropriate, but your opening fable is rather confusing. Fascist economics is not exactly characterized by it modesty and sustainability — it rests upon the leveraging of state power-credibility as ‘collateral’ for exponential debt expansion, tending to perfect fusion of propaganda and finance under political guidance. If we were talking about Amazonian Indians, the Austrians wouldn’t be pulling their hair out.

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    Handle Reply:

    My point was that analysis of sustainability or collapse-proximity is skewed by both relative perspective and theoretical counterfactuals. Smith’s, “There is a lot of ruin in a nation” is relevant here – and perhaps some systems aren’t bad enough that they can’t be survived indefinitely without a push from some intervening event. “Fascist Economics” is probably one of those “not bad enough” systems.

    If something works year to year for a long time then one should be able to point to the unavoidable and unmanageable time-bomb to make a case for collapse-from-within. Which system seems more sturdy, Greece, Cuba, or North Korea? All survive more or less intact despite what one might guess. I don’t know how to make the bet on which would go down first “on their own accord”, or when. The obvious US time-bomb is the default on the implicitly promised benefits. I’m not convinced this default can’t be managed – and indeed it seems we’ll find out soon whether the East Asians and peripheral Europeans can manage it.

    And “exponential” is not the apt descriptor lately for total debt or revolving credit. (It fairly applies to student loans recently, but that’s sui generis). It also applies fairly to national debt, so the whole situation is starting to look very Japanese (except at least the Japanese have $1 Trillion in US bonds to offset their Yen-denominated debts). The next innovation in ‘Fascist Economics’ will be the triumph of the market monetarists and level NGDP targeting which will have the added benefit of helping to keep the overall economy’s debt to GDP ratio more contained.

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    admin Reply:

    Yes, yes, and yes.
    — “There is a lot of ruin in a nation” is the basic reference point for this entire discussion.
    — The ‘nadir’ of deeply broken societies doesn’t easily reach the depths that force fundamental change.
    — NGDP targeting formalizes the core principle of Fascist Economics (all techno-industrial deflationary surplus, i.e. positive economic externalities, are to be appropriated automatically by the state). The ‘logic’ of the system makes it the obvious next step. Of course, it’s massively abusive, and consummates the destruction of the free economy, but that’s all gravy to TPTB. Regarding its sustainability, there’s still much to discuss. The Austrians tend to be a little optimistic when they assume that rampant predatory government predicts near-term collapse (as you helpfully remind us).

    Nicholas MacDonald Reply:

    Reminds me of the difference between the casual use of “never” and the real meaning. I’ve often found myself on the wrong end of conversations and arguments because people casually sling never in a way that I interpret literally, when what it really means in casual conversation is “not in a time horizon that matters to me and you”. Saying the US will never fall, in this context, would be meaning “not in my lifetime,” not “in a million years”. If something might take 100-200 years to play out, that’s as good as never for most.

    Near vs. Far thinking?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    It’s interesting to explore. Imagine hypothetically that we were fully confident the current order of the world will have been exposed as disastrously and unnecessarily off-track in, say, 100 years time. That’s beyond our practical time horizon for most purposes, so one might say: It might as well be sustainable forever. I can also see how the insistence that long-range non-viability is a critical delegitimation echoes some types of Kooky communist religiosity. Anybody energized by the prospect of a multi-generational war is odd.
    On the other hand:
    (a) Who do you want to write for? Crazy people today, or sane people tomorrow (along with those who think even approximately like them)?
    (b) Uncertainty is truly massive, and a near-term catastrophe is at least possible.
    (c) Trafficking with the relatively distant future probably ignites non-linear dynamics that pull it closer.
    (d) Cognitive independence matters, even when it doesn’t connect to any kind of win.

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    Gom Jabbar Reply:

    “Anybody energized by the prospect of a multi-generational war is odd.”

    I’m not sure I’d agree with the oddity of being energized by multi-generational war. Just about all religions (even or perhaps especially those with an apocalyptic bent) if looked at in the right light are engaged in a multi-generational war. And is not multi-generational war the very definition of evolution and consequently the core doctrine of Gnon?

    We’ll Win Eventually![TM]

    Posted on June 12th, 2013 at 12:54 am Reply | Quote
  • noir realism Says:

    Well, it was none other than Carl Schmitt who said that “Sovereign dictatorship is an eminently democratic institution”. The sovereign dictator has the power, in taking the decision on the exception, to set aside the positive legal and constitutional order in its entirety and to create a novel positive legal and constitutional order, together with a situation of social normality that fits it. It follows that the sovereign dictator cannot base his claim to be acting in the name of the people on any kind of formal authorization. If the old constitution no longer exists and the new one is not yet in force, there is no formal procedure for generating a public will. And yet, the sovereign dictator claims to exercise the constituent power of the people. What is more, the constitutional order he is to create is to be considered as legitimate since it rests on the people’s right to give itself a constitution.

    Schmitt famously claims that “the specific political distinction … is that between friend and enemy.” The distinction between friend and enemy, Schmitt elaborates, is essentially public and not private. Individuals may have personal enemies, but personal enmity is not a political phenomenon. Politics involves groups that face off as mutual enemies. Two groups will find themselves in a situation of mutual enmity if and only if there is a possibility of war and mutual killing between them. The distinction between friend and enemy thus refers to the “utmost degree of intensity … of an association or dissociation.” The utmost degree of association is the willingness to fight and die for and together with other members of one’s group, and the ultimate degree of dissociation is the willingness to kill others for the simple reason that they are members of a hostile group.

    Schmitt claims that liberalism has a tendency to deny the need for genuine political decision, to suggest that it is neither necessary nor desirable for individuals to form groups that are constituted by the drawing of friend-enemy distinctions. Liberals believe that there are no conflicts among human beings that cannot be solved to everyone’s advantage through an improvement of civilization, technology, and social organization or be settled, after peaceful deliberation, by way of amicable compromise. As a result, liberalism is unable to provide substantive markers of identity that can ground a true political decision. Liberal politics, consequently, boils down to the attempt to domesticate the polity, in the name of the protection of individual freedom, but it is unable to constitute political community in the first place.

    If a people is no longer willing to decide between friend and enemy the most likely result will not be eternal peace but anarchy or subjection to another group that is still willing to assume the burdens of the political. This first answer, however, is not Schmitt’s last word on why liberal de-politicization is undesirable. Schmitt seems to admit that a global hegemon might one day be able to enforce a global de-politicization, by depriving all other communities of the capacity to draw their own friend-enemy distinctions, or that liberalism might one day attain global cultural hegemony, such that people will no longer be interested in drawing friend-enemy distinctions. Being unable to do this would bring liberalism through entropic derangement to its knees.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I appreciate the energy that has gone into this, but I don’t think I’m quite getting the conclusion that I’m supposed to be drawing from it. We can agree that Schmitt is a radical fascist, right? (‘Fascist’ used strictly technically, of course, and not as a stimulus to moral indignation.) What’s the lesson?

    The demand that society be subordinated to the friend-enemy distinction gets things completely back-to-front. An enemy is an enemy because he stops you doing what you want, so it’s what you want to do that comes first. Squabbles unrelated to the frustration of great projects are just gang-banging. Why the hell would we want society subordinated to that? (Or am I completely missing your point?)

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    noir realism Reply:

    Haha… no, this is obviously not my point, this is a point he made back in the midst of Weimar’s transitional government… by Schmitt himself. I thought I’d just add the obvious, that previous owners of these types of thoughts had from the Right already earmarked their liberal critique and begun formulating their own answers. Conversations among partisans on the Right seem to drift across time like junkartists reaching for readymades, inventing possibilities in retro for accelerating futures in the past. Disguised as the enemyfriend the dominative mode reveals its true intent in resilient thought that feeds on nothing less than the delight of . But to be more prosaic, Schmitt’s jurist stench still marks time with the slivers of a world always waiting for its entrance. Time slices of a fanatical instrumentalism that crop up from time to time. I’m not agreeing with him or actually affirming such subordination, just letting those parallel streams of another era wander into discourse. It’s like an isolated snapshot of time, an object totally withdrawn from us, unrelated that still reverberates and disturbs the quantum fields of time with its vapors. I don’t think I meant anything more than that tell you the truth…

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    spandrell Reply:

    I think you are missing his point. An enemy is not an enemy because he stops you from doing what you want. Most of the time it’s the other way around, they screw with you because they are your enemy and that’s what enemies are supposed to do.

    Politics is formalized tribal warfare, and ethnogenesis can happen on the filmiest ground.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realistic_conflict_theory#Supportive_research

    Denying friend/foe mechanics leads to, well, the Cathedral.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    That conforms perfectly to my “gang-banging” category. If it isn’t about anything beyond tribal identity, it’s intrinsically contemptible. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary to dish out massive violence, but it’s absurd to prioritize that above — say — colonizing the solar system. Unless your tribe is doing something more inherently dignified than merely existing, it doesn’t matter much if it ceases to exist.

    Posted on June 12th, 2013 at 6:33 am Reply | Quote
  • CyniCAl Says:

    My takeaway from this is: polysyllabic.

    [Reply]

    Thales Reply:

    tl;dr: circa. 2020

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 12th, 2013 at 5:38 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    @ Gom Jabbar (on “multi-generational war”)
    Excellent push-back — there’s a dense discussion thread worth of questions in this. I agree that my dismissal was over hasty, and unreflectively individualist. It’s not difficult for me to imagine individuals sacrificing their lives to a cause, but sacrificing their children’s and grand-children’s lives — that takes zeal (perhaps enough to count as ‘odd’).

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 13th, 2013 at 2:58 am Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    Unless your tribe is doing something more inherently dignified than merely existing, it doesn’t matter much if it ceases to exist

    I agree on your value judgment but that’s not the point. Either you base politics in defining enemies and screwing with them, or you put people on VR machines to force them to feel black.

    Unless you base your tribe’s identity in futurism and define as enemies those who don’t want space colonization. Which brings us back to the new religion discussion.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “I agree on your value judgment but that’s not the point.” — I respect that style of argument, a lot. Maybe I’ll get it printed on a T-shirt. In any case, I should back up on this, because it isn’t as if I disagree with Schmitt or you on the nature of politics — it’s tribal monkey-business all the way down (and short on business to boot).

    It curves back to the discussion of constitutions, sovereignty conservation, and related matters (still hanging in my opinion) — how does a society de-activate politics sufficiently to get other stuff done? The more politics, the less of anything worth politicking about. That seems close to the neoreactionary stance in a nutshell, isn’t it? Although how to unfold the implications, theoretically and practically, remains hazy at best.

    [Reply]

    spandrell Reply:

    The Nazis were in uber-political mode while developing the best rockets humanity ever saw. I don’t think the relationship between politics and productivity is so simple. Some forms of politics create the Chinese hundred schools, other created Al Ghazali or climate change.
    Moldbug

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    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    Define “über-political mode”… conventional wisdom is that the Nazi managed largely to abolish politics. (To the extent that they did, it may be one thing they got right.) Of course, the machines must always and everywhere continue to run, that consent may be manufactured, and thus the vapor of legitimacy maintained. But I don’t get the impression that many average Germans were muscling each other to get their fair share of the Great Nazi Pie in 1942.

    Posted on June 13th, 2013 at 8:28 am Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    Moldbug had this idea that political conflict is the root of all evil. Korea had 600 year long dynasties but they sucked very badly.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

    [Reply]

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    I’ll take Switzerland & The Cuckoo Clock for 800 Alex.

    [Reply]

    Thales Reply:

    “…and the answer is: This is the ‘Mother of Invention.'”

    *boop-boop-boop*

    “Mister Connery.”

    “It’s YOUR mother, Trebek! Aww-haw-haw-haw…”

    “Please, God, take me now.”

    Handle Reply:

    They had “warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed” in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, etc. ttoo and got neither Leonardos nor Cuckoo Clocks nor anything remotely approaching either. I’m with Spandrell, I’m skeptical of drawing simple relationships between politics and human accomplishments. Except for intelligence, I don’t know if there’s any such clear relationship.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Running war and politics together so indistinctly is murking this up (I know Schmitt Clausewitz started it). War is a lot nastier than (domestic) politics, but it’s also far more effective as a stimulus to innovation. Has any invention ever arisen out of Machiavellian politicking? I doubt it.

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    Obviously, preferring the Switzerland is predicated upon it being chock full of Swiss.

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    Has any invention ever arisen out of Machiavellian politicking? I doubt it.

    You mean besides Machiavellian politicking? That’s not nothing.

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    Moldbug had this idea that political conflict is the root of all evil. Korea had 600 year long dynasties but they sucked very badly.

    I’m not sure Moldbug would go that far, but he’s probably argue that political conflict would not have helped Korean dynasties to suck any less.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 13th, 2013 at 10:06 am Reply | Quote
  • Peter A. Taylor Says:

    Bernard Crick wrote in In Defence of Politics,
    “Politics are the public actions of free men. Freedom is men’s privacy from public actions.”
    His “politics” is about the sharing of power; compromise and conciliation. Currying favor with an absolute monarch is not “politics” by that definition. Crick would not have said that what was going on under NAZI rule was “politics”.

    [Reply]

    spandrell Reply:

    I stopped reading at “free men”. As if that meant something.

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    Posted on June 13th, 2013 at 2:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • dan Says:

    I am not sure why things have to collapse due to welfare obligations. Can’t you just divide the pie by a larger denominator? It works for the very socialist nations of India and Brazil. Everyone just winds up with very thin gruel. California supposedly has a balanced budget now and Californians just make due with an existence that is crappier than it was in the past.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Sure, ‘steadily crappier for ever’ is the progressive promise. The jury’s out on whether even that is deliverable.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 13th, 2013 at 11:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Scharlach Says:

    Running war and politics together so indistinctly is murking this up (I know Schmitt Clausewitz started it). War is a lot nastier than (domestic) politics, but it’s also far more effective as a stimulus to innovation. Has any invention ever arisen out of Machiavellian politicking? I doubt it.

    Innovation can occur in spite of, not because of, an immediate socio-political context. Some American inventions during the Great Depression and the invention of the welfare state include the electric guitar, FM radio, the radio telescope, the Richter scale, the pH meter, the Philips screwdriver, lambda calculus, and fiberglass . . .

    I think it’s easier to talk about what doesn’t work to spur invention, rather than what does work. I’ve pointed to Joel Mokyr’s work on my blog, and his basic premise is that any attempt to stifle competition and create safe equilibria for economic players will atrophy innovation. This atrophy leads, in extreme cases, to total rot (c.f., Detroit).

    It’s extremely difficult to reduce the complex engine of technological innovation to a single system, but it’s much easier to see what has clogged the engine in the past. For reactionary politics, it’s better to make sure the engine isn’t clogged, that it’s running well, than to argue about what’s more important for making it run.

    ~~~

    More politics, less accomplishment? Usually, that’s the case. But look at the 1960s and NASA. The Space Race was totally politicized and USG threw shitloads of money at it. NASA budget was 4% of the national at one point. And it got us to the moon.

    But politics was on the side of real knowledge in this case. Another point made by Mokyr is that state-funding of science has only been beneficial when the money is well spent, that is, when it is spent on scientists who are actually on to something and need some help to bring it to fruition. The Age of Exploration was a success because governments began funding people who really had figured out this whole navigation business. Had they instead funded people still looking into a way through the Hollow Earth, well . . .

    The reason we need to decouple knowledge-creation and politics is not because the two can’t be coupled together for positive ends; they can be. The reason we need to decouple them circa 2013 is that politicians make stupid decisions about which knowledge to pursue. America spends billions on blank-slatist education policies that we know don’t work while its space program rots. It brings in tax dollars but doesn’t channel enough of them toward innovative, profitable ends.

    ~~~

    Total collapse begins to occur when the stupidity of political decisions (not politics per se) outweigh the benefits accrued through innovations occurring in spite of that stupidity. California hasn’t collapsed because it has Hollywood, the porn industry, and Silicone Valley. Californian politicians can afford to be really, really, really stupid. Take away Hollywood, the porn industry, and Silicone Valley, California would be bankrupt within a decade and the L.A. riots would look like child’s play . . .

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 14th, 2013 at 6:56 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    Mokyr is great — he’s central to the modernization debate, which neoreaction should ‘re-activate’ with new questions.

    I’m tempted to see the negative coupling between politics and invention as more essential than many other parties to this discussion do (it’s a dead-weight loss to zero-sum psychological manipulation and the talents needed to be ‘good’ at it have no techno-scientific pay-off). Still, it requires an argument with a lot more structure than this.

    PS. ‘Silicone Valley’ is Hollywood and the porn industry, or Twin Peaks. The digital panopticon industry is based in Silicon Valley.

    [Reply]

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    Speaking of Silicone Valley, have you guys seen this one? Was going to blog it, but too many people who know me (IRL) read me… and… well… you know…

    [Reply]

    Scharlach Reply:

    You know, I think I make that typo quite frequently . . . But I grew up much closer to the porn industry than the tech industry, so I’ll let that be my excuse. (I have a second cousin who has directed a handful of porn flicks.)

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 15th, 2013 at 3:40 am Reply | Quote
  • Colmainen Says:

    Well, to tell the truth, USSR could have been destroyed on 1920 and 1941. Both times America, for reasons Armand Hammer could tell us better, propped it up. America also saved Russia on 1994 – if it recognized Chechnya we wouldn’t be hearing too much about Russia now. We would be hearing about Muscovy and other dukedoms which now only exist in dusty history books.

    USSR could never exist on its own for a day.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    If that’s true (and I’m skeptical), what does it say about the prospects for (Monetary) Central Planning in Western societies?

    [Reply]

    Colmainen Reply:

    It will last until the stockpile of important stuff lasts, and will probably collapse once the stockpile is gone.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 17th, 2013 at 8:22 pm Reply | Quote

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