The Great Liquidation

America is hanging by a thread.  A great liquidation is underway, with many of the structures that support American society..or, in some cases, any viable society…being kicked away, sold off piecemeal, or just wantonly destroyed.  I’m talking about physical structures, legal structures, and social structures.

I do not think it is too late to turn this trend around, but the situation is very serious, and I’m going to ask you to gaze into the abyss with me before I discuss some reasons for hope.

Consider:

–Significant parts of America’s energy infrastructure are being destroyed or targeted for destruction.  For example, the Indian Point nuclear plant, serving NYC, was closed in April, despite the fact that this closure will likely create grid instability–and will certainly result in the zero-emissions power it had previously produced being generated instead by sources which do generate emissions. (Yet at the same time, NYC is banning the use of natural gas in new buildings–which will further increase the demand for electricity!) The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the largest source of electricity in California, is also scheduled for closure in 2025.  The cost of Diablo Canyon was $14.5B in present-day dollars, and I estimate that this represents at least 50,000 person-years of labor.  Something like 1200 working lifetimes, being wantonly trashed. Only a society which is very rich (for now)–disrespectful of its past accomplishments–and uncaring about the future would act in this way.

And these examples represent only a small portion of the assaults being conducted on America’s energy infrastructure. Peaker plants which ensure continued output under tough conditions, are being closed, with much hand-waving about how ‘demand management’ will solve any problems.  Oil and gas production are being squeezed. Pipeline construction is being suppressed, at the same time Putin is given the US green light for a Russia-Germany pipeline.  Energy is being transformed from an American asset into an American vulnerability.

–Billions of dollars of America military equipment were abandoned in Afghanistan and are now in the hands of the Taliban.  If we use a conservative estimate of $40 billion, that represents at least 400,000 person-years of human labor, thrown away. But that’s not the worst of it, of course: much of that equipment will now be used against us or our allies.  There are already reports of formerly-American weapons on their way to Iran.

The effect of the horribly-executed Afghanistan withdrawal on our credibility as an alliance partner will be devastating.  While many foreign policy types expressed worry about what expecting Germany to pay a larger % of the NATO bill would do to our alliances, any imagined impact of that was trivial compared with the impact of the current debacle.  The negative effect on American military recruiting, also, will be considerable, as discussed by several commenters at this blog.  Overall, America’s actual and perceived power position in the world has been greatly reduced over the past few months.

–American manufacturing has been negatively impacted by numerous policy choices and social factors, and America is no longer the world’s facto ry: that role now falls to China.  We have become extremely dependent on China and other countries for many products and components of products–as we found out during last year’s Covid crisis when we were subject to threats that we would ‘burn in the fire of Covid’ if China should choose to deny us critical pharmaceuticals and ingredients thereof.  We have become highly dependent on other countries for electronics manufacturing, especially microchips: a single Taiwanese company, TSMC, acts as the ‘foundry’ for a whole range of chips produced to the designs of many different American companies.  A Chinese takeover of Taiwan could be devastating to our industry, and such takeover appears considerably more likely than it did a couple of months ago.

Manufacturing was, for a couple of decades, considered by the approved-expert classes to be an increasingly-unimportant industry, populated only by those with inferior and uncreative minds. There is some recognition growing lately that this field may actually matter. But American politicians generally have so little comprehension of how the economy actually works that it is hard to believe that any remedies that they propose will be efficacious ones.  As example #1, I give you Joseph Biden: a man who asserted that anyone who can mine coal can ‘learn to code’, and who apparently believes that manually shoveling coal into furnaces is an actual substantial occupation in America today.  Biden also said, referring to China: “They’re not competition for us.”  This was in mid-2019!

America has given up much of its potential in manufacturing. and the consequences are severe for national security and for millions of people.  

–And, speaking of China: the United States has increasingly adopted a submissive position regarding to that country.  Major corporations are bending over backwards to avoid offending the leadership of that country…see my post here for some examples.  Universities, too, have become increasingly dependent on Chinese students and money.  At MIT, a board member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research raised concerns about whether a certain research collaboration with China was appropriate on national security grounds…other board members took offense, and even said that any serious inquiry into the ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party would be “racist.” She was told to ‘stick to science’ and not to mention China again.

The situation is unpleasantly like what Churchill observed in the Britain of the late 1930s, where he wrote of “the unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure”…A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (quote from William Manchester, The Last Lion)

At the same time that the Biden administration is pushing for total electrification of transportation, they seem to have little concern about the fact that the US is far from self-sufficient in the minerals required for electrification technologies–and Biden’s son Hunter has been involved in a deal to give China a strengthened position in the supply of cobalt, a key material needed for battery production.  We are being positioned for a return to the kind of extreme energy dependence on other nations that for years gave the OPEC nations so much power and hence contributed to Middle East instability.

America’s relative strength vis-a-vis China is under threat not only as measured by traditional military, economic, and geopolitical factors, but in terms of the influence of the CCP on American internal politics and affairs.

–Media, academia, and increasingly business, indeed the majority of institutions in our society…are being taken over by an obsession with race and ethnicities.  People are not seen as individuals, but rather as members of ‘communities’, which term now refers to demographic categories.  Those who dare deviate from the political and social views assigned to members of their groups are denounced; see for example the attacks on the new Virginia Lt Governor Winsome Sears.

According to this 2018 survey, favorable race relations in the US peaked in 2009, with 66% of people rating them ‘good’…falling to only 26% assigning a ‘good’ evaluation in 2018.  A more recent Gallup poll shows that favorable views of race relations have fallen sharply over the past several years.

America’s colleges have been particularly race-obsessed:  see for example some college reading lists, with their assumption that ““diversity is defined by race or gender.” The link in the last sentence is from 2017…the obsession has clearly gotten much worse since then.

And it has gone way beyond colleges. “I’m so exhausted with being reduced to my race,” a girl at Grace Church School, an upscale private school in Manhattan said. “The first step of antiracism is to racialize every single dimension of my identity.” Kindergarten students at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx are taught to identify their skin color by mixing paint colors. The lower school chief in an email last year instructed parents to avoid talk of colorblindness and “acknowledge racial differences.”  These cases are only one example of a much wider phenomenon.

If this sort of thing continues, then at best…at best…America becomes something like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, about which historian AJP Taylor wrote:

The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce ‘log-rolling,’ and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.

A creaky and dysfunctional society like Austria-Hungary is the best outcome for America if the race obsession continues on its current path…it is possible, even likely, that the actual outcome will be something much darker. Categorizing people by groups and defining them by the single dimension of membership in such groups is very, very dangerous.  I’m reminded of something Ralph Peters wrote:

“Man loves, men hate. While individual men and women can sustain feelings of love over a lifetime toward a parent or through decades toward a spouse, no significant group in human history has sustained an emotion that could honestly be characterized as love. Groups hate. And they hate well…Love is an introspective emotion, while hate is easily extroverted…We refuse to believe that the “civilized peoples of the Balkans could slaughter each other over an event that occurred over six hundred years ago. But they do. Hatred does not need a reason, only an excuse.”

Excuses for inter-group resentment are now being manufactured at high speed, even mass produced.  Really want to go there?

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Around the Next Corner

What lurks in hiding for us there? Nothing good, and that is the general feeling one gets from the ripples and small currents in the wide ocean of the blogosphere. I’ve been paddling in that ocean since … 2002, when I gave up on Slate as an original aggregator news site shortly after 9-11, because the communities which gathered in the various comments sections just got too angry and irrational for words. Something let me to Instapundit, and through his links to the original incarnation of Sgt. Stryker’s Daily Brief. I became a contributor when the original Stryker appealed for other contributors and have been paddling away at the margins of the digital information ocean ever since. Back in the pre-internet day, I had subscriptions to all kinds of magazines. As a military public relations professional, I reasoned that I should know when and from which direction the next political-military-social sh*t-storm would arrive. Tracking blogs and digital media serves the same purpose for me that print media once did.

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Civility

In the aftermath of large crowds chanting “Lets Go, Brandon” or the ruder, cruder variant, certain prog media figures are reacting by ostentatiously clutching their pearls and demanding civility. In response to such demands, many of us who have paid attention over the years are pointing out that the civility ship has long sailed … in fact, circumnavigated the world, crashed into the homeport dock, burned to the waterline, and sank in a gusher of steam.

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A Prototype for Biden?

President Biden’s bizarre behavior during media appearances reminds me of something.  The British general Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s personal emissary to the French Army during the campaign of 1940, described a meeting he had with Philipe Petain during the final desperate days of that campaign…his objective being to turn the old general away from his growing defeatist orientation and toward the direction of resistance.  When Spears said that “What France needs today, Monsieur le Marechal, is another Joan of Arc”, the general’s reaction was startling:

“Once more he was all animation. His face lit up. “Have you read my speech on Joan of Arc?’ (no) ‘Well, that is too bad…I made it at Rouen, when was it, in 1937? 38?  It was an extremely fine speech, I may say. I shall read it to you.”

To Spears’ consternation (for the military situation was very urgent), Petain began to search for a copy of the speech. Unable to find it, he summoned his chief of staff, who finally found it.  The speech was very, very long, and Petain read it in a monotone.  “I do not think he was really proud of that speech as a great achievement, for he did not caress it by inflections of voice as a sculptor might stroke a statue he believed to be a great work of art.  He was recalling rather the pomp and circumstance of its delivery, the applause, and he wanted to include me in that admiring audience of years ago.”

And when the speech finally ended, Petain pointed out that “Joan of Arc was a peasant of France,” talked about the importance of peasants, and insisted in locating and reading another speech, this one about the French peasants.

“Genuine alarm brought me back to realities.  Time was passing, I had endless work to do.  The London telephone was certainly calling. How could I get away?”

Spears finally made his escape.  But doesn’t Petain’s retreat to his old speeches, and, further back, to his old victories, mirror Biden’s verbal retreat back to the days when he played shortstop, and such?

A month or so earlier, Spears had discussed some of the key players in France with his combative friend, the Interior Minister Georges Mandel.  Concerning Petain, Mandel had been dismissive:

“Surely you have seen for yourself–barely alive–and what there is left is pure vanity. He became a Hidalgo in Spain.”

I don’t think Biden has ever spent any significant time in Spain, but “what there is left is pure vanity” seems like a pretty good description of the man.

(The quotes are from Spears’ memoir Assignment to Catastrophe, a two-book series which is essential reading for anyone interested in the events of that period.)

 

Paying for Biden’s Dreams

President Biden says, in connection with his ‘infrastructure’ plan, that “We’re going to pay for everything we spend.”

Actually, it’s you that would pay for this proposed spending.  Exactly how much you would pay, and what forms your cash outflows would take, are dependent on your individual situation, but make no mistake: you would pay.

You would likely pay through higher direct taxes–yes, it is claimed that there would be no tax increases for those earning less than $400K/year (family income), but there are spending increases built into or implied in the ‘infrastructure’ bill that imply much higher spending…and taxing..over time.  You would pay, in higher prices, lower wages, and reduced investment returns for those corporate tax hikes, which Biden seems to view as a source of free money. You would likely pay in terms of reduced job opportunities…possibly even outright job loss…as a consequence of a damaged US business climate.

Above and beyond the specific details, the ‘infrastructure’ plan and its supporting tax represent an attempt to redirect a greatly-increased part of the national income generated by Americans into the hands of government and of those whose relationship with that government is key to their finances.  Such increases in government scope are of direct financial value to a lot of people, including high-income as well as lower-income people…see my post here for discussion of this point.  Increasing the scope of government also represents a tremendous ego and status benefit for many people, most definitely including Biden himself…who actually met with history professors to get ideas on how he could build up his ‘legacy’ and who, I think, is more interested in a legacy of doing Big Things than in what the benefits of those Big Things might be.

Nancy Pelosi, in reference to the ‘infrastructure’ bill, stated that: “The dollar amount, as the president has said, is zero.”  This is nonsense. The fact that money for a program will come from somewhere doesn’t mean that the cost of that program is zero.  If a division of a company embarks on an expensive project and gets the money from their parent corporation, that doesn’t mean that the cost of that program is zero.  Same if the division get the money by raising prices and/or selling more to their existing customers–the program still costs what it costs.

The Biden/Pelosi view seems to be that the United States exists to support the Federal government and that category of people who are most closely linked to that government.  Increasingly, government and the ‘extended government’ are acting like medieval robber barons, plundering the surrounding countryside to keep themselves and their retainers wealthy and powerful.

See also this post at Ricochet: Economic Illiteracy on Parade and my post The Logic of Insatiable Centralization.