03 January, 2012

One empire down, one to go?

Here's an interesting perspective on where we've been and where we're going, as articulated by Monika Halan:
The fracturing post-World War II equations showed through the plaster in 2011. The 63-year period from 1945 to 2008 will be remembered as the time when two dominant ideas about people and money, and how we choose to organize ourselves around these ideologies, died. One version delinked people from money; the other put money before people. The first collapse was in 1991 when the dominant interpretation of collectivism shattered the Soviet Union into 15 shards. The classless, moneyless, stateless, egalitarian society, which took from each according to his ability and gave to each according to his need, crumbled under the weight of authority and effort that was needed to impose something so state-centric and unnatural in place. Progress does get measured by money, and the severe scarcities and the dysfunctional economies of the Soviet bloc hastened the collapse—the delinking of people and money did not hold true. 
But handing over the keys to the market caused another collapse, and 2008 was when the interpretation of individualism in the form of predatory capitalism began its death dirge when the US’ financial sector demonstrated what unregulated greed can do. This version of capitalism (which was not what Adam Smith envisaged) delinked risk from reward, made a section of labour behave like capital, and made governments subordinate to the transnational corporation. That version of capitalism, emboldened by the breakdown of communism, pushed for and got what were called “free” markets and “less” government. But markets, as was later found out, were not really free—but compromised by the 1% who held the levers of control to move the system. And move it they did, towards appropriating more and more for themselves.
But there's more to it than that: both post-war empires overextended themselves. The Soviets couldn't pull back and manage a real "restructuring" (perestroika) and failed to keep "openness" (glasnost') under sufficient control to keep the empire intact. Today, with greater technologies for information transparency--and heavy-handed attempts to restrict it--the parallels for the US are too close for comfort. Do we really think the TSA is just for the external threat?

And then there's the Chinese. The Chinese government is watching the various "Springs" of recent history and finding it's too vulnerable for comfort. Little noticed in the growth of Chinese military power is the fact that the internal security forces now have a budget that rivals that of the PLA.

Old patterns of social organization and control are breaking down, but there's no consensus on what will replace them. Probably the best we can do is encourage experimentation, and see what works (and for whom) in various circumstances. But that's precisely what those in power are most opposed to trying. This could get interesting.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity - Home - livemint.com

No comments: