Posts Tagged ‘America’

Independence Day

July 4, 2020

The Fourth of July is the day on which the American people celebrate their independence from Great Britain. It is not actually clear why Independence Day is the Fourth. Congress actually passed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It has often been thought that the Declaration was signed on the fourth, but that doesn’t seem to be true. There wasn’t any one time when the members of Congress signed the Declaration and there were a few who didn’t get around to signing it until August. Nevertheless, the fourth is the date that stuck. As John Adams wrote to Abigail.

English:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

And so it has been, for the last 244 years. May God bless America and grant us many more years of freedom.

Happy Independence Day.

You Say You Want a Revolution

June 17, 2020

I think that everyone agrees that the death of George Floyd was a heinous act of murder and that the officer responsible, Derek Chauvin, ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. This is a literal no-brainer. I would also like to think that everyone agrees that looting and rioting are bad things, unlikely to have positive results. Somehow, this is not as obvious. There seem to be a fairly large number of people who have been taking to social media to excuse, justify, and encourage the rioters.

These people don’t really seem to be all that concerned with Black Lives. They don’t seem to care much about the Black lives that are destroyed when Black neighborhoods are burned down. Instead, they seem to be most interested in living out some role-playing fantasy of revolution. Since these people are fools who don’t have any idea of what they are leading the country into, I am going to explain just what living in a country where the people have decided they would rather kill each other rather than live in peace is really like.

Is this what you want?

Wars, revolutions, and civil disturbances are interesting to read about in history books. Movies and books make war and revolution exciting, glamourous, even romantic. Who wouldn’t want to be like Luke Skywalker or Katniss Everdeen, leading the good fight against the Evil Empire? Real life is very different. In real life, civil conflict is not exciting and glamorous. It is frightening, ugly, and brutal. Just look up some of the places in the world where the people have decided that they prefer to kill each other than living in peace. Here is a shortlist of recent examples; Syria, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, The Congo. There are many more. Look up the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the Mexican Revolution for just a few, not so recent examples. You do not want to be living in a country that has torn itself apart. Trust me, you really don’t.

Let me give you an idea of what it is like to live in a country where people have decided it is better to resolve their disputes violently rather than peacefully. Let’s imagine you are living in America about ten years from now.

You wake up early to go to work. It used to be about a thirty-minute commute into the city to the office, but that was before the Uprising and the fighting. These days you never know how long it will take if you can make it at all. There hasn’t been much fighting in this part of the country lately. Just the usual terrorist bombings and attacks by the Resistance forces hiding out the country. The government says they have the situation under control and the Resistance is losing. They have been saying that a lot.

On the way to work, you have to veer into the next lane to avoid the crater left by the bomb that went off last month. They say the Resistance was targeting a military convoy. If so, they must have set the timer wrong because the bomb took out three cars full of people going to work, just like you. You saw the explosion from a distance. You were late to work that day because it took the emergency responders three hours to clear away the wreckage. They had to be careful. Sometimes the Resistance plants second bombs to kill the people trying to save the victims.

You are stopped twice at military checkpoints. Each time you show your ID to the soldiers and explain that you are on your way to work. You try to keep calm and not act suspiciously. Under the State of Emergency, the police and military have the power to detain anyone they suspect of aiding and supporting the Resistance for seventy-two without charges. Each time, the soldiers check your ID against the online database and let you pass. It is getting harder to move around these days. You are lucky to be working in the same county you live in. If you lived in another country they would be checking your ID more closely and asking if you really need to cross a county line to work. It is very difficult to cross a state line these days. You would need to demonstrate a legitimate need to travel to receive your travel permit. This is all very inconvenient, but if it helps stops the terrorists, maybe it is worth it.

At work, you overhear some of your co-workers talking about politics and recent events. That can be dangerous. Expressing sympathy for the Resistance could get you a visit from the police if you are lucky. If not, you could simply disappear one night. No one really knows what happens to the people who disappear, though there are stories. Maybe they are shot and buried out in the country. Maybe they are taken to work camps in North Dakota. Who knows? Its also not safe to show too much support for the government. The Resistance has been known to assassinate people who speak out against them. You are just glad you have no close family in the police or military. More than one cop or soldier has come home to find the mutilated corpses of his family waiting for him, murdered as a lesson or in retaliation. It’s best to stay quiet and mind your own business.

You have to stop at the grocery store on your way home. There is not much on the shelves and what little there is, is terribly expensive. War and terrorism play havoc with supply chains. You also have to stop at a gas station to refuel. You hate to do this since gasoline is over $10 per gallon, after the refineries in the Gulf were blown up. Before you can pull in, you are stopped by policemen. They ask you to get out of your car so they can search it. It seems that the Friends of the Earth have taken to leaving car bombs at gas stations to fight global warming or something. Its strange, but last winter was the coldest you can remember. Maybe that was because you couldn’t afford heating though.

 

At home, you turn on the television. the President is giving a speech about the recent capture of a major Resistance leader. He looks old. He has been president for a long time, almost nine years. The Uprising began right after the last election. Resistance fighters seized control of several American cities and declared themselves to be the Socialist Republic of North America. Fighting broke out all over the country. The Capitol was bombed while Congress was meeting and the twenty surviving members of Congress voted unanimously to suspend the constitution and grant the president emergency powers. The President ordered the military to take back control of the cities by any means necessary. The Uprising was crushed but the Resistance lived on. The fighting has continued to the present day.

The power goes out abruptly. This is a regular occurrence. Maybe a power line was cut or a transformer blown up. Maybe no one has the time to keep up maintenance on the infrastructure anymore. You decide to go to bed early. As you lay in your bed, you hear the distant sound of gunfire. The Resistance has emerged from their hiding places and is fighting the military. You hope the fighting doesn’t spread to your neighborhood like it did last year. Its hard to get any sleep in the basement, hoping no one decides to loot or burn down your apartment building. With that thought, you drift off to sleep.

Does this sound like fun or exciting to you? Is living in a country that is fighting itself likely to improve anyone’s life? And keep in mind that that was a fairly optimistic scenario with the government was mostly intact and fighting limited to terrorism and guerrilla war. I can imagine worse scenarios. Imagine how bad it would be to live in a country with no functioning government, just rival gangs or militias fighting it out all over the country. Or imagine if different factions of the US military took different sides in a civil war. How would you feel watching a race-based militia doing door to door, dragging out your neighbors who happen to have the wrong skin color and shooting them in the street? How would you like fleeing for your life from such a militia with nothing but the clothes on your back? Do you think you would enjoy living in a refugee camp because your home was bombed?

Revolution is not exciting or romantic. It is terrible. You do not want to be living in the middle of a civil war, yet that seems to be the way our country is heading. We have got to decide to step back from the cliff. No matter how bad you think the president is, or how much you think the Republicans or the Democrats are screwing things up, the alternative is far, far worse. You say you want a revolution. You have no idea what you are wishing for.

The Moon and MAGA

July 20, 2019

On this date fifty years ago, the first men landed on the Moon. I really should have written something in advance the anniversary of one of the most important events in human history, but I have been busy and the date almost slipped past me. I could have written something profound, but I’m afraid this will have to do.

The only thing I really have to say on this anniversary of the first Moon landing is this; why did we stop going to the Moon? Why wasn’t the Apollo program followed up with bases on the Moon, sending men to Mars and the other planets and a long-term commitment to manned space exploration? It is as if we reached the Moon, won the space race with the Soviet Union, and then gave up. We’ve had the space shuttle, but that was just running in place. Private industries could have taken on the load of putting satellites into orbit. There has been spectacular success with unmanned probes to every planet in the solar system, along with asteroids and comets, but that is just not the same as sending people into space.

This was us

What has happened to America? We used to be a people that did great things and dreamed great dreams. We used to build the tallest skyscrapers, construct the biggest dams, and put men on the Moon. Now, we just seem to fight each other and complain about the petty annoyances while living in the wealthiest and freest nation in history. We divided ourselves up into a hundred different factions and declare, in our ignorance, that America was never all that great. We get upset and triggered over things that could not even be dignified with the description of first world problems.

Some people believe the slogan, “Make America Great Again”, is racist, believing that the wearers of those MAGA hats really mean, “Make America White Again”. This is nonsense. I think that few if any, MAGA hat wearers intend to bring back the bad old days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rather, I believe, they want to bring back the America that accomplished great things.

I think they are right. It is past time to bring back that America that could put a man on the Moon. Let’s forget all our petty differences of race, color, creed, or sexual orientation and come together as Americans. Let’s think of ourselves as Americans first and anything else a distant second. Let’s get off our comfortable couches and go back to the Moon. From there, let’s plant the Stars and Stripes on every planet of the solar system and ultimately, let America be the nation that leads the human race to the stars. Together we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. We have nothing to lose in the pursuit of greatness; we have a universe to win.

The Resistance

July 8, 2017

I don’t object to the opposition that Democrats have shown towards President Trump and his policies. The Democrats are the opposition party and their job as the opposition is to, well, oppose. I am not one who complains much about gridlock or that the government isn’t moving fast enough. As far as I am concerned, gridlock is precisely what the Founding Fathers intended when they wrote the Constitution. They were most concerned about protecting the rights and liberties of the people and did not want a situation in which the majority could vote away the rights of the minority, thus they intentionally made it difficult for the federal government to do much without a broad consensus among the people. If I wanted a government in which everyone marches together in lockstep, I would consider moving to China or North Korea. What I do object to is the way that the people most opposed to Donald Trump have taken to calling themselves “The Resistance”. Not the loyal opposition, not simply the other party who happens to have disagreements on policy, but the Resistance, as if they are fighting against an enemy occupation.

The Resistance is deliberately named to harken back to the resistance movements in France and other countries occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. This is a ridiculous conceit on their part. The resistance fighters of World War II faced considerable danger and hardships. The Nazis were not known for their kindness towards those who fought against them and their countrymen who chose to collaborate with the Germans could be far crueller. The only danger that a resistance fighter against Donald Trump could possibly face would be being interrupted by a standing ovation in the middle of a public rant against the president or developing carpal tunnel syndrome from being at their keyboard too long. In other words, there is no danger at all in “resisting” Donald Trump. If anything, judging from recent headlines, it takes more courage to publicly support Trump, at least in such progressive strongholds as Hollywood and college campuses.

It requires no courage to be against Donald Trump. He is not a Fascist dictator who has suspended the constitution. The police will not arrest anyone who speaks out against Trump. He does not have a paramilitary army of thugs to silence dissenters. It is the “antifa” protesters who are behaving like thugs. The Resistance is just a cheap way to feel courageous and virtuous. It is a way for people to feel as though they are fighting the good fight against oppression without having to do anything about the real oppression in the world.

Who is the Resistance and what are they resisting anyway? I notice that there don’t seem to be many marginalized, and oppressed people leading the marches against Trump. The Resistance seems to be comprised of Democratic politicians, journalists and media figures, Hollywood celebrities, academia, federal workers of the so-called Deep State, and the like. In other words, the Resistance seems to be those people with the most power to influence public opinion in the country, in many cases the people who seem to despise the “Deplorables” who live in flyover country the most. I get the impression that the are actually less concerned with losing their freedom than with losing their power to hector and bully the rest of us who do not care to follow the policies they see as enlightened. Trump’s populist tone and his “political incorrectness” must be really frightening to these people.

What are they resisting if Donald Trump is not a dictator who seized power in a coup or a puppet of an occupying power? They are resisting the duly and constitutionally elected President of the United States as well as the elected representatives, of at least the majority party, in Congress. The Resistance likes to accuse President Trump of shredding the constitution, but they are the ones who have been proposing one unconstitutional means after another to remove Trump from power. After the election they were urging the electors who were pledged to support the Republican candidate to be faithless electors and vote for someone else. They have proposed that Trump’s cabinet invoke the twenty-fifth amendment to declare him unfit for office. They are now promising to impeach Trump if the Democrats regain a majority in Congress, even though there is no evidence that Trump has committed any crimes. The Resistance is resisting the results of a democratic election. They are resisting the concept of democracy in this country. They are resisting the idea that we the deplorables should have any say in the direction this country takes. They are resisting the idea that the United States should have a government of the people, by the people, for the people, wishing instead to have a government of the elites, by the elites, for the elites.

For some time now, I have had the strangest feeling that I was living in a country occupied by an enemy determined to destroy, or at least fundamentally change, every aspect that makes this country unique. It seems to me that the people who have been running this country and shaping public opinion have been doing nothing but attacking America and the ordinary people who have made it great. Our history has been disparaged as nothing more than a history of systemic oppression and racism. Our founding fathers, the greatest men who have ever lived, have been dismissed as dead, White, slaveholders. Our great heroes are defamed as racists who committed genocide. Our religion has been mocked as intolerant. Our values and our way of life are derided as old fashioned and obsolete. If we dare to take a stand and ask that our concerns be addressed, we are called racists and bigots.

Both political parties have been taking part in this. The Democrats are openly against us. The Republicans listen to us before the elections, but as soon as they get to Washington, they decide that they don’t need to keep their promises. We had the Tea Party to try to get them to listen and it has had some success, despite the unanimous opposition from the media. It wasn’t until Donald Trump ran for president that they started to notice us, and even then we were all racist deplorables. I still do not altogether trust or like Trump, but he does seem to be one of the few people in Washington who really gets it. He won the presidency by understanding why so many of us in flyover country are so upset, and he seems to really be trying to fight for us.

It is really we who are the Resistance. We are the ones fighting to restore democracy in this country. We, the bitter clingers, the Deplorables, the people who love this country and want to see it become great again are the revolutionaries against the people who think there that this country was never really great and who want to see it transformed into something quite different. Donald Trump is the leader of this resistance movement, for the moment, but if we want to see America great and free again, we cannot rely on any leader. We have to rely on ourselves. It is up to us all to make America a great nation. Let’s get out there and fight.

History Denial

March 24, 2015

A little while ago there was a minor controversy when former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani stated that he did not believe that President Barack Obama loves this country. I do not know the president personally and I cannot tell whether he loves America or not. Perhaps he does, in his own way. I think that it would be fair, however, to state that the good people at Watchdog.net do not love America. How could they, when they view American history as nothing more than a sordid tale of oppression and genocide? That is what they want our children to learn in schools and they deeply resent any attempt to set the record straight about this country.

Dear David Hoffman,

A bill in the Florida Senate would make a right-wing revisionist historical documentary required viewing for the state’s 8th and 11th graders.

“America: Imagine The World Without Her” argues that Native American genocide didn’t happen, and that the descendents of slaves are better off as a consequence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The film claims that America’s indigenous population declined due to disease, not genocide. Nowhere does the film mention the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the incarceration of Native children in religious boarding schools, or the forced sterilization of Native women.

The documentary also claims that, because lots of countries throughout history have had some form of slavery, America’s brutal slave economy wasn’t that big of a deal.

Tell Florida Senators that racist, revisionist history has no place in public schools!

PETITION TO FLORIDA SENATORS: The film mandated by SB 96 has no academic merit and instead offers an inaccurate, racist account of American history. Vote down SB 96!

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

The documentary in question is Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World without Her. I have never seen the documentary but I do not believe that it is a whitewash of American history. Rather, it seems to argue that despite all of its flaws, the United States of America has generally been a force for good and justice in the world; a concept truly hateful to the left. I believe that Dinesh D’Souza also rebuts the leftwing distortions and lies which are all too often taught in our public schools. As it happens,what the people at watchdog.net consider to be racist, inaccurate, revisionist history  is actually the truth, not that truth has ever mattered very much to people on the left.

First, the great majority of the Native Americans who died during and after the European conquest did indeed die of disease. The European conquest of the New World would not have been possible if large numbers of Indians had not died of the diseases the Europeans brought to the Americas. We read of conquistadors like Cortes and Pizarro conquering empires of millions of inhabitants with only a few hundred Spaniards and attribute this to the superior technology of the the Europeans. The conquistadors did have guns and horses, but they would have been quickly crushed by the Aztecs and Incas, had not their empires been fatally weakened by epidemics and internal dissent. The Spanish conquerors could generally count on the tribes subjugated by the Aztecs and Incas to provide them with help to overthrow their masters. It seldom occurred to the people of Mexico and Peru that they were simply exchanging one master for another. In North America, the English settlers at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock would not have survived had not the natives in the region obligingly died of disease, leaving cleared fields for the settlers to take over.

It was never actually the policy of any of the colonizing  powers to exterminate the Native Americans. Something close to 90% of the Native population of Spanish America died in the century following the Spanish conquest. Mistreatment by the conquerors no doubt accounted for much of this loss of population, yet the Spanish were surely not foolish enough to want to kill off their labor force. The English and later the Americans were not interested in enslaving the Indians but in taking over their land for settlement. Yet, while there were a good many Americans who believed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, this was not an official policy of the United States government. I do not wish to minimize the injustices and suffering we have inflicted on the Native Americans, but this was not a deliberate attempt at genocide as the Nazi destruction of European Jewry or the Soviet starvation of the Ukrainians were. Neither were the Indians helpless victims. They fought as well as they could for their land and way of life and might have succeeded in fending off the European invaders if their numbers had not been decimated or if they had managed to unite in a federation against their common enemy.

Next, if the people at Watchdog.net have any questions about whether the descendants of the Africans brought to America as slaves are better off, they should take an extended tour of Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was truly one of the greatest crimes against humanity on record, yet the African-American of today has good reason to be thankful for the sufferings of his ancestors. Historically, the descendants of slaves have been freer and have enjoyed a standard of living far higher, not only than those of their brothers who were left behind in Africa, but also of the lower classes in almost every part of the world, even under segregation and Jim Crow. I do not wish to justify either slavery or the discrimination faced by African Americans. The treatment of Black Americans has all too often been terribly unjust. I do want to put matters in perspective. Even in a country as racist as the United States has been, many Blacks were better off than peasants in China, India, or even parts of Europe.

I do not, and I am sure that Mr. D’Souza does not, intend to present a false, whitewashed view of American history. I freely acknowledge that there have been times that we have not lived up to our high ideals. Nevertheless, I still believe that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world, not least because we do acknowledge and try to correct our mistakes. I believe that the Western civilization, of which America is a part, is the highest and noblest civilization on this planet. Slavery has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of history. It is only in the West that anyone challenged the existence of slavery. No one in Africa or Asia spoke out against it. Genocide and wars of aggression have existed for centuries.  America and the West have done terrible crimes, but at least we have come to realize that they were crimes and have sought to put an end to them.

It is too bad that the people on the left feel the need to deny historical facts to justify their pathological hatred of their own country. There is nothing we can do about it, except try to keep them away from our children.

John Stossel and the Decline of the Roman Empire

August 1, 2013

Ever since the fall of the Roman Empire, people have speculated on the cause of that fall. In general, those who have indulged in such speculation have seemed to believe that Rome had some fatal weakness that made its fall inevitable. They have often gone on to point out that their own country has flaws rather similar to Rome’s and that the fall of their nation’s power is likewise inevitable. We, Americans have not proven to be immune to the temptation of comparing ourselves to the Romans and wondering if the decline and fall of the American Empire is just around the corner. John Stossel ponders this question in his latest column at Townhall.com.

Unfortunately, the fall of Rome is a pattern repeated by empires throughout history … including ours?

A group of libertarians gathered in Las Vegas recently for an event called “FreedomFest.” We debated whether America will soon fall, as Rome did.

Historian Carl Richard said that today’s America resembles Rome.

The Roman Republic had a constitution, but Roman leaders often ignored it. “Marius was elected consul six years in a row, even though under the constitution (he) was term-limited to one year.”

Sounds like New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg.

“We have presidents of both parties legislating by executive order, saying I’m not going to enforce certain laws because I don’t like them. … That open flouting of the law is dangerous because law ceases to have meaning. … I see that today. … Congress passes huge laws they haven’t even read (as well as) overspending, overtaxing and devaluing the currency.”

The Romans were worse. I object to President Obama’s $100 million dollar trip, but Nero traveled with 1,000 carriages.

Tiberius established an “office of imperial pleasures,” which gathered “beautiful boys and girls from all corners of the world” so, as Tacitus put it, the emperor “could defile them.”

Emperor Commodus held a show in the Colosseum at which he personally killed five hippos, two elephants, a rhinoceros and a giraffe.

To pay for their excesses, emperors devalued the currency. (Doesn’t our Fed do that by buying $2 trillion of government debt?)

Nero reduced the silver content of coins to 95 percent. Then Trajan reduced it to 85 percent and so on. By the year 300, wheat that once cost eight Roman dollars cost 120,000 Roman dollars.

The president of the Foundation for Economic Education, Lawrence Reed, warned that Rome, like America, had an expanding welfare state. It started with “subsidized grain. The government gave it away at half price. But the problem was that they couldn’t stop there … a man named Claudius ran for Tribune on a platform of free wheat for the masses. And won. It was downhill from there.”

Soon, to appease angry voters, emperors gave away or subsidized olive oil, salt and pork. People lined up to get free stuff.

Rome’s government, much like ours, wasn’t good at making sure subsidies flowed only to the poor, said Reed: “Anybody could line up to get these goods, which contributed to the ultimate bankruptcy of the Roman state.”

As inflation increased, Rome, much like the U.S. under President Nixon, imposed wage and price controls. When people objected, Emperor Diocletian denounced their “greed,” saying, “Shared humanity urges us to set a limit.”

Doesn’t that sound like today’s anti-capitalist politicians.

Diocletian was worse than Nixon. Rome enforced controls with the death penalty — and forbid people to change professions. Emperor Constantine decreed that those who broke such rules “be bound with chains and reduced to servile condition.”

It might be useful to consider a few dates. Gaius Marius was consul in the years 107, 104-100, and 83 BC. The Claudius who ran for tribune is probably Publius Clodius Pulcher. He was murdered in 52 BC. Tiberius reigned as Emperor in the years AD 14-37. Nero reigned from 54-68. Commodus reigned from 180-192. Diocletian ruled from 284 to 305 and Constantine ruled from 306 to 337. The Roman Empire is generally considered to have fallen when the German warlord Odoacer forced the last Emperor Romulus Augustulus to abdicate in 476. This is not actually a very good date for the fall of the Roman Empire since government’s authority had collapsed outside of Italy about half a century earlier. Still, it seems that the excesses and follies of various Roman leaders which caused the fall of Rome took a long time to effect that fall.

Actually, Romulus Augustulus was not the last Roman Emperor. There was still a Roman Emperor in the East at Constantinople. The Eastern Roman Empire, usually called the Byzantine Empire survived intact up until the Arab invasions of the seventh century. Even then the Empire survived in Greece and Asia Minor with its capital at Constantinople until the Turks finally captured Constantinople in 1453. It is true that the average citizen in Constantinople in 1400 lived in a very different society that the Roman in 100 BC. He spoke Greek, not Latin, was ruled by an autocratic Emperor, not a republic, and was a Christian, not a pagan. Still, that citizen of Constantinople never doubted for an instant that he was a Roman a true descendant of the people who had once ruled the world.

The traditional date for the founding of Rome is 753 BC. Modern historians do not take the legends about Romulus and Remus very seriously, but 753 is probably as good as any other date for the beginning of the Roman state. If we consider Rome as having begun in 753 BC and ending in AD 1453 than Rome, as an independent state in various forms lasted for an incredible 2206 years. That is an existence longer that any other nation with a continuous history except for China and ancient Egypt. Rome was a major power from about 300 BC until AD 1100 or 1400 years. Rather than asking what caused the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, perhaps we should be asking how the Roman Empire lasted so long.

Are there lessons to be learned from Roman history? Perhaps. We should keep in mind that Ancient Rome was a very different society than modern America. The Roman Republic became the Roman Empire, in part, because Roman political leaders stopped following the unwritten Roman constitution. We may be able to learn something, though There are signs that many contemporary American politicians view our constitution more as a hindrance to get around than a basic law to follow. I don’t think that our situation in America is like fifth century Rome. There are no Visigoths ready to sack New York or Washington DC. I think it is more like Rome in the late second century BC, a republic whose institutions are starting to break down. I am afraid that there is a Julius Caesar or Augustus somewhere who is fated to fundamentally transform the American Republic into the American Empire.

The Second American Century?

May 12, 2013

One meme that has taken hold in the last decade or so is that the People’s Republic of China is poised to take over America’s role as the world’s leading nation. China’s economy has been growing at a fantastic rate and its GDP is expected to surpass America’s within ten years, probably sooner. Pundits have warned us that we are in danger of being left behind in the new Chinese Century, unless perhaps we adopt some of China’s authoritarian politics. Personally,  I have been rather skeptical of these claims. China has some serious structural problems that will need to be resolved soon or their economic growth will not be sustainable. Not least of these problems is a closed, authoritarian government that neither represents nor is accountable to the people of China. Until the Chinese government opens up and grants its people more freedom, China will not prosper.

With this in mind, I was very interested to read an article in the Telegraph that suggests that the Chinese miracle may be ending.

The world’s tallest tower should have been built by now. Officials said last year that the great edifice with 220 floors would be erected in three months flat in China’s inland city of Changsha by March, snatching the crown from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.

The deadline has come and gone, yet the wasteland sits untouched. It now looks as if the fin d’époque project – using prefab blocs – may never be approved. Even China knows its limits.

Prime minister Li Keqiang has asked the State Council to clamp down on the excesses of the regions. Not before time. A top regulator says local government finances are “out of control”.

Mr Li aims to cut China’s economic growth to a safe speed limit of 7pc next year and rein in rampant investment – still a world record 49pc of GDP – before it traps the country in a boom-bust dynamic of frightening scale.

Vested interests are conspiring to stop him, launching a counter-attack from their power-base in the $6 trillion state industries. Even so, uber-growth is surely over.

One of the problems of planned economies is that resources are distributed according to the whims of political leaders rather than being subject to the kind of transparency and accountability that a free market provides. Somehow the pundits who worship authoritarian regimes are blissfully unaware of the corruption and misallocation of resources that are endemic to such regimes. They also tend to be not very honest or efficient when collecting economic statistics.

Mr Li complained in a US diplomatic cable released on WikiLeaks that Chinese GDP statistics are “man-made”, confiding to a US diplomat that he tracked electricity use, rail cargo, and bank loans to gauge growth. For a while, analysts use electricity data as a proxy for GDP but the commissars kept a step ahead by ordering power utilities to fiddle the figures.

The National Bureau of Statistics has since revealed that data collected by the regions overstates GDP by 10pc, though they have not acted on the insight. It is well-known why this goes on. The reward system of the Communist hierarchy has been geared to talking up growth, and officials gain kudos by lowering the stated “energy intensity” of their zone.

China’s Development Research Council (DRC) expects growth to drop to 6pc by 2020. It could be much lower. The US Conference Board says it will average 3.7pc from 2019-2025 as the ageing crisis hits. Michael Pettis from Beijing University thinks it is likely to slow to 3pc to 4pc over the next decade, deeming this entirely desirable if it comes from taming the runaway state enterprises.

If so, China’s growth may not be much higher than the new consensus estimate of 3pc for a reborn America, powered by its energy boom and the revival of the chemical, steel, glass, and paper industries.

All those charts showing China’s economy surging past the US by 2030, or 2025, or even 2017, will look very credulous. China may not surpass the US this century.

This is not good news for either China or the United States. We do not lose if China becomes wealthy. We do not win if China collapses. Worldwide economic liberalization and the prosperity it brings is in our long term interests.

As of last year US GDP was roughly $15.7 trillion, compared to $8 trillion for China on a nominal exchange rate basis, the measure that matters for gauging economic power.

China’s output is 75pc of US levels on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis but even on this measure the Chinese `sorpasso’ is looking less certain. Clyde Prestowitz, an arch US `declinist’ who has just thrown in the towel, says China may “never” catch the US on any relevant measure. That is a stretch, but not impossible on a forecastable horizon.

“Keep in mind the next time you are in China and find yourself choking on the foul air that the things making the air foul are counted as positives for GDP. If you adjust Chinese GDP for environmental degradation and for over-investment in things that will never be used, it falls in size by 30-50 per cent. Much of this would show up as non-performing loans in most economies but since such loans are never recognised in China, it will show up as slower growth in future years,” he said.

Environmental degradation is a serious problem in China. If they have anti-pollution laws, they are not being enforced.  China’s government seems to not care about the enormous costs in healthcare that the polluted environment will create. Meanwhile, while America has many problems, we seem to be doing quite well for a nation that is supposed to be in decline, despite the efforts of the current administration.

A new view is taking hold in elite circles that the banking crash in 2008 was a nasty shock for the US, but not a crippling blow to America’s creative enterprise. US governing institutions rose to the challenge. It was however a crippling blow to Europe, and a more subtle blow to China in all kinds of ways.

Richard Haass, president of the US Council of Foreign Relations, says the world may already be in the “second decade of another American century” without realising it.

On almost every key measure, including the fertility rate and high science, there is no credible challenger. Core US defence spending is still greater than that of the next 10 countries combined. “The American qualitative military edge will be around for a long, long time,” he said.

Mr Haass says America has managed its dominance in such a way that it has not brought about a containment alliance against it by threatened powers, and that is no small achievement. Like Wagner’s music, US diplomacy is better than it seems.

Yes, the US faces a debt hangover, but so does China after the state banks let rip with private loans keep the boom going through the downturn. Fitch Ratings has just downgraded China’s debt, warning that credit has jumped from 125pc to 200pc of GDP over the last four years, with mounting reliance on shadow banking that lets banks circumvent loan-to-deposit curbs. This is why George Soros has been warning that there could be a “run” on China’s state banking system akin to the Lehman bust.

Total credit has jumped from $9 trillion to $23 trillion in four years, an increase equal to the entire US banking system.

America has moved in the opposite direction. Its banks now have loan-to-deposit ratio of around 0.7, and the biggest safety buffers in three decades. The Congressional Budget Office says US Treasury debt held by the public has jumped from 40pc to 73pc. This is the sort of damage normally seen in wars, but the US has recovered from bigger wars before, and from much higher debt levels. The CBO thinks the budget deficit will fall to 2.4pc by 2015. Growth will then whittle away the debt ratio for a few years.

There seems to be some sort of ceiling for developing countries that stops rapid economic growth once they have reached a certain size. It is as if the transition from a rapidly growing economy to a mature economy that continues to grow but at a reduced rate is a difficult one to achieve.

China’s premier Li is fighting a battle against those in the Politburo who delude themselves that the Lehman crisis validates China’s top down control. He gave his “unwavering report” last year to a joint DRC and World Bank report on the dangers of the “middle income trap”.

Dozens of states in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East have hit an invisible ceiling over the last fifty years, languishing in the trap with per capita incomes far behind the rare “breakout” stars, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The trap is the norm.

The report warned that China’s 30-year miracle is nearing exhaustion. The low-hanging fruit of state-driven industrialisation and reliance on cheap exports has already been picked. Stagnation looms unless Beijing embraces the free market and relaxes its suffocating grip over the economy. “Innovation at the technology frontier is quite different in nature from catching up technologically. It is not something that can be achieved through government planning,” it said.

Demographics are going to be a serious problem for China. Because of the one child policy, China is undergoing the sort of demographic transition usually seen in more developed countries, such as in Europe. The problem is that Europe may be able to afford to care for its aging population (but then again, they may not), but China’s aging population is going to be a significant burden for China over the remainder of this century.

Even if Mr Li succeeds in pulling off this second economic revolution – and we should salute him for trying – China’s growth rate is going to slow drastically. Demography will see to that.

The work force began to contract in absolute numbers last year, falling by 3.5 million. The International Monetary Fund says it will now go into “precipitous” decline, and much earlier than thought.

If you are wondering why police are still seizing pregnant women in Chinese cities and delivering them to clinics for forced abortions when they cannot pay the fine for breaching the one-child policy, you are not alone.

The IMF says the reserve army of peasants looking for work peaked at around 150m in 2010. The surplus will evaporate soon after 2020, the so-called Lewis Point. A decade later China will face a shortage of almost 140m workers. “This will have far-reaching implications for both China and the rest of the world.”

China’s ageing crisis is tracking Japan’s tale with a 20-year delay. China can expect to see the same decline in “marginal productivity” that has afflicted every other facing a rise in the old-age dependency ratio.

The authorities can of course keep the game going if they wish with another burst of credit, but risks are rising and the potency of debt is wearing off. The extra output created by each yuan of lending has halved in four years. Mr Li knows the game is turning dangerous.

A 2010 book by People’s Army Colonel Liu Mingfu – “China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era” – is still selling like hot cakes in China. Yet it already has a dated feel, a throwback to peak hubris.

China has everything to play for. With skill and a blast of freedom, it can take its rightful place at the forefront of world affairs. But nothing is foreordained.

I can only add to this that a more democratic and responsive government would have ended the one child policy years ago. Freedom is what China needs most. Unfortunately, freedom is what the Communist Party is least likely to give it.

Happy Independence Day

July 4, 2011

Eleven score and fifteen years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Happy Fourth of July.

 


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