Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Civis Romanus Sum

This was so pertinent that I had to make it a post in itself. My man Pluto commented down the thread of the preceding post regarding what this election year says about the dysfunction of the American political process:"Over time the natural distrust between groups that are allied by distrust builds to the point where they fear each other more than they fear the opponent and they stop cooperating and nothing gets done."

Pluto has just won the "Revolting Gracchi" Award for Figuring Out Why I Always Bring Up The Fall Of Republican Rome when I talk about the U.S., circa 2008. Because it was JUST this problem that choked the life out of the old Res Publica. The proles were disenfranchised and didn't care and the very people who SHOULD have been circling around the republican institutions like slavering guard dogs, the senatorial and equestrian classes, were divided and paralyzed by internal division and partisan rancor. The state was decaying, or at least that's how it seemed to many of the Roman citizens, and finally they were just sick of the mindless, meaningless Senatorial chatter. They wanted a Man on Horseback and, boy howdy, did they fucking get him.Now, I don't think we'll see that. Our fundamental distrust of each other, and the disarray of our society is such that not even a military hero would be capable of uniting the nation behind him. At least, not now. Mind you, let the current economic doldrums slide into true Depression, and kick in something like a 1970's "Oil Crisis"...well, maybe you've got something there...

Nope. I predict that each successive Administration will grow progressively less capable of addressing the fundamental contradictions within the system, each will become less effective, more fractious and more strident. Our end won't come with a Caesarian bang but with a Castilian whimper.

We'll slowly fall behind polities like China and the EU and Russia that have spent the early and will spend the middle 21st Century fighting, not fabulous wars with inflated Islamic boogeymen, but rural poverty, infrastructure shortcomings and economic improvements. Finally we'll look around and see ourselves the 2050 equivalent of the impoverished, clapped-out Aragonese peasants, exhausted by wars, bankrupted and screwed by our own rentier classes, benighted by religious ignorance and beset by a host of troubles spawned by a decaying national hardscape and a fraying social fabric.But at least we'll have 245 channels on digital cable!

Of course, 216 of them will be either Ultimate Fighting, infomercials for male enhancement, cooking shows or pay-per-view porn.


pluto said...

The "Revolting Gracchi" Award?! ROTFLOL!! Thank you for the award, I'm sure I'll find some honored place to put it, no matter what it looks like.

I don't quite agree with your analysis for two reasons; one hopeful, one quite the opposite. Hey, I wouldn't BE Pluto if I couldn't find a storm cloud out there somewhere.

1) The "We" you refer to when you say "we don't trust each other" are our political classes, not the general population. Also the political classes are still able to get it together enough to hand out the dole, er, pass an annual budget even if it is 4-5 months late.

Since our political classes are pretty small compared to the general population and the process to replace them is relatively easy (at least on paper), in theory all we need is some bipartisan intelligent representatives who are willing to work together and we can straighten out the mess.

Unfortunately, there's the second point:
2) Unless we are REALLY lucky, the economic slowdown is going to turn into a long, slow, grinding super-recession like Japan has endured for the last 25 years.

We won't experience the desperate shock of the Depression but we will endure the day-after-day dripping of bad (but not devastating) economic news that will wear this country down to the breaking point.

Example: The real inflation rate (not the official one) is going to run 9-14% this year and the average worker is probably going to see a 2.5% pay increase. I should point out at this time that it isn't because the rich are getting richer, it is because foreign faith in our government and ability to repay are deteriorating and that is going to continue for at least the next 3-4 years. Are you doing well enough you can afford what amounts to a 25% pay cut over the next few years?

Example: Medicare starts running out of money around 2011, just as the leading edge of the baby boomers hit.

Example: Our unofficial federal deficit is now running at $2 billion per day. Our trade imbalance is about the same. So the country been bleeding $4 billion per day for the last 4 years. That, my friends is about $5.5 trillion and I think it is going to get even worse over the next few years.

Enough examples, I don't want to wreck everybody's day. Short version; you see the fall of the Roman Republic, I see the fall of the Roman Empire.

You're right, we're not going down in blood and flames, just a genteel decay until some barbarian finally shouts, "Enough already, you're useless and me and my state are leaving!" and unlike 150 years ago the ultra-sophisticated gents in Washington with the big dreams and the short reach decide that it's more expensive to recapture the state than it is to ignore it.

I don't know how long this will take but I can see it happening already.

P.S. - Did you notice that the California Prison Guard Union has petitioned to get the Arnold dismissed as Gubernator?

Anybody in CA have any input on whether you think it will succeed or not?

Ael said...

Romani ite domum

srv said...

Pluto. I don't think the Governator is much trouble yet. The best thing that could happen is that the Republic fragments. Why we've been carrying the red welfare states all these years is inexplicable to me. You know CA's budget/crises shorfall? $20B. You know how much more in federal taxes Californians pay than they get back each year in spending? $35-40B.

Nobody here understands this. Pick any random Californian and tell them that, and their head explodes. But they can't rationalize not having someone 3000 miles away controlling their destiny.

The question is, what will come about that toppples the Nat'l Security State? OBL might have had a chance, had he focused on Pakistan and waited until he had specials. One in DC, one in NYC. We would have rampaged a little, but one wonders what citizens of the states would think after having to wipe their own asses for a couple of years while Rome smoldered.

You mention Medicare. There will be single-payer Universal care before 2016. You won't be able to get elected w/o the boomers, and the boomers shall require it.

FDC, BTW, the dump is up again, with folks like Nagl hisself:

Hope to see you there.

basilbeast said...

ael, write that a hundred times, or I cut your balls off!

8 -)

chief, there are significant differences between the RR and US 2008. We weren't invaded by barbarian Canadians, er Germans, from the north, necessitating a Marius to come to the rescue, Sulla and Marius hashing it out over a Senate house full of dead bodies, long wars with allies, slave revolts, bitter political infighting to the death, etc.

If we were like the ancient RR, we'd see smoking ruins, stem to stern within our borders.

A populace ready for the charismatic savior.

There could have been lots worse than JC.


sheerahkahn said...

"You're right, we're not going down in blood and flames, just a genteel decay until some barbarian finally shouts, "Enough already, you're useless and me and my state are leaving!"

One of the things I learned from a group of guys studying for their MBA was that they all came in, the day after their class, muttering. I asked what was up, and they all looked at each other like the Jesus's disciples the night of his crucifixtion. You know, the "oh man, what now?" look.
So the one guy says, "well, I think the best way to put it is that we...uh, the U.S. we...dam, this is pretty sad, actually."
Anyway, after some amusing joking, they finally began explaining what they, and their professor came up with which was that the US is going to break apart into economic zones.
Another mba student, much later on, related to me that he was looking at California, and said that it was pretty shocking to see how much money California dumps into the national coffers, and yet very little comes back to it...and how West Virginia, for some strange reason, was getting the lions share of it all.
Politics I told him.
But here in is the thing that falls in line with Pluto's observation that I've come to realize...I'll call it the white elephant in the room.
America needs California more than California needs America.
I know, I know, you're thinkging, "good G-d, Sheer, that's seccessionist talk!" and I'm not suggesting that is my feelings.
They're not, but it is an inescapable conclusion...all those "red" states needs Californias money far more than California needs those "red" states ignorant fears about terr's from the middle east coming to get their tractors and corn.
Yes, this I am saying this: The Red states irrational fears are way to expensive for California to put up with, or pay for.

Fasteddiez said...

Sheerah, SRV,

Amen Brothers!

I always knew that we sent more tribute to DC than we got back in return (did not know the latest numbers).

In Canada, as well, the Western folks are dismissive of their Eastern countrymen.

Countries are so yesterday. I am all for separating, or forming a Western Co-0p.

pluto said...

We here in fly-over land have similar opinions about the guys in DC.

I've been playing numbers games for some time trying to predict when and where the split will first occur and there are many reasons why California is a prime candidate to be the first to split off.

Not only does it have a diverse and powerful economy, it is increasingly out of step with Washington, and it's got a lot of distance, a couple of mountain ranges, and a good-sized desert between it and the guys in DC.

It's only got one really big disadvantage, which is a show-stopper from where I sit: Washington is WELL aware of how badly they need California and they aren't going to be willing to give it up without a fight.

New Hampshire, Vermont, and/or Maine, on the other hand, have a much better opportunity. They are small, isolated, very independent-minded, don't have any major resources that the rest of the country needs, and tend to send people to Washington that irritate the other politicians. I'm not making a prediction here, I'm just making a case for a region that might get away with it if they wanted to.

Only problem is that if one region gets away, especially if it doesn't fall into the toilet right away, the rest start thinking the same way and things start getting dicey for the good folks in DC.

pluto said...

Sheera, how long ago was that discussion with those MBA students?

I'm curious because I've been thinking about the US splitting up since reading Heinlein's last semi-decent book, "Friday," and have been doing my research solely on my own.

sheerahkahn said...