Saturday, 12 November 2016

Revolution may prove more elusive than we thought


Donald Trump has much in common with Obama. Both were elected on a hope ticket. The sentiment behind the votes are very different but both were elected with a mandate for radical change. That has not happened under Obama. Obama has been a weak president who has struggled to push through a legislative agenda. The best we can say of him is that he and his family on a very superficial level have been good ambassadors for the USA. The veneer of a learned black man in the White House with a beautiful family is the sort of image the US needed to project after a pretty dismal showing from George Bush.

History, though, will be unkind to Obama. Though he never had the promise of being another JFK, may expected that he would be the change black America needed. In the end the same stagnant economic policies have remained in place and the social divisions in the USA are as deep run as ever they were, if not worse. It really depends which prism you look through. The Baltimore Murder Rate has become a grim economic metric of its own which is the culmination of multiple policy failings, and last year the BMR was the bloodiest on record.

Year after year we see democrat controlled cities plunging into deeper poverty, deeper divides and suburban America increasingly resembles Soweto. The incarceration rate continues to climb and disproportionately affects blacks, depriving children of fathers and households of income. Too many vested interests are dependent on keeping the status quo. The education system is rotten, the policing is broken and the job situation is not improving.

In this I doubt that Obama had the first idea where to start. So many projected hopes - so little delivery. And in four or eight years we will likely be saying the same of Trump. He simply won't be practicably be able to deliver all that's been projected on him. As tweeter Trent101 observes, "the interesting question is, what happens then? When the people twig they *really* can't get anything done; even when they win a POTUS".

It seems that Obama's legacy will be some marginal tinkering with healthcare. It could easily be undone by Trump. The supposed saviour, the great hope of the poor and the left behind last time has little to claim as an accomplishment. Trump has it even worse. There were high expectations of Obama but Trump is expected to be revolutionary. He is expected to take on the entire global warming cabal, revitalise the US economy and, as per his campaign slogan, make America great again. 

As much as any president is tied by the constitution and the unique make-up of the US power structure he does not have absolute sovereignty in the exact same way the UK does not reclaim it by leaving the EU. He could by executive decree pull out of a number of international agreements and very well could bin TTIP but there are consequences and costs and very little wiggle room. That will be the test of Trump.

It seems to me that in the modern era we have created such an intricate and elaborate system of governance that there is no longer scope for big and sweeping reforms and nobody is in a position to do very much without massively overstepping their authority. Worse still, in order to improve anything, some things will necessarily have to get worse. If you want the gain you must go through the pain. Any big change is going to require radical moves with seismic consequences. There is a lot to tear down before you can build.

The first test is whether Trump has the mettle to take on the many vested interests and whether he has the guts to endure the many negative consequences of picking such fights. With a good deal of foreign debt, America is not its own boss and with a two term limit, Trump will not be around long enough to finish what he starts. And this is all on the assumption that he isn't just a massive bullshit artist who will in fact do little more than play golf. This is a distinct possibility. 

So we are back to that question of what does happen when the people realise that the system is immune to change? The answer is staring us in the face. Revolution. A country as broken as the USA, so completely stocked with firearms of every possible configuration, we will see independence movements popping up all over. I think Trump is probably America's last hope for better or worse. Clinton wasn't going to solve anything. 

In this I think America is over. Too much power is in Washington. Unless there is a significant shift of power back to individual states we could well see the end of the USA whereby states become countries in their own right. I actually think that is the natural evolution of the world in this internet age. More and smaller countries emerging, reaching common agreements on regulations but exerting far more sovereignty on a far more local basis. I think federalism is dead both here and across the pond. With each state increasingly asserting its own identity according to the communities within I think there is sufficient diversity to warrant more nation states.

The USA has been agitating for major change for quite a long time now, as has the UK. And if Trump is America's last chance saloon then the same can be said of Brexit. When the final Brexit settlement delivers only marginal changes and Brexiteers realise those sunlit uplands of sovereignty, control and free trade were a mirage, they, like everyone else will be seeking more radical solutions. 

The binding agreements that prevent any real change will not be tolerated for every. The constitutional restrictions may end up being as tyrannical as any dictator. For us, such a radical move would be a hard Brexit - and for the time being I don't see any need for that. A gradual and measured approach is at least worth a try, but I get the sense that the decay in the US is far deeper set with too many suffering for too long. If Trump cannot deliver then the people will conclude that the system doesn't work. When that happens the USA as we know it is living on borrowed time. 

But by that same token, I think we all are. Human activity is now so rapid and so vast that we may well be reaching the limits of government and we will have to rethink the model entirely. We have far too many expectations of what government can deliver and human development has turned a corner. 

We are already seeing massive leaps in agricultural technology and probably in my lifetime we will see the end of labour intensive agriculture in the West and in a hundred years time almost all food production will be fully automated. White collar jobs are also threatened. It used to be that a small or medium sized enterprise would have their own servers, their own IT and their own systems. Now with the advent of cloud computing and software tools being easily configurable, much of the technical work is being erased entirely.  

We are looking at a future where the remaining jobs will either be the very lowest jobs which cannot be automated or much fewer highly skilled jobs with masses of competition. Eventually we will be forced to devise a basic citizens income system simply because we will have made work as we know it redundant. We are already halfway there. 

The reason the government is spending heavily on defence and nuclear and infrastructure at the moment is because if they weren't spending in this way they would have millions of unemployed people, a collapse of secondary industries and absolutely zero idea how to employ people. The libertarian notion that if we leave money in the economy it will of its own accord find ways to employ people is not so certain. Presently half the UK economy is a house of cards almost entirely dependent on government spending. 

We are not quite there yet but we are increasingly developing into a state where we are post scarcity where the normal rules of economics simply do not apply. Humanity is on the verge of a technological age where the basics are free and abundant. The question is whether we are ready for it or even when humanity can adapt to system where we can basically sit on our behinds and do nothing at all if we want to. I do not think we are there yet. I think we need another revolutionary cycle to get there. World war three. Sometimes the only way to change a system is to destroy it entirely. We appear to be running out of ideas as to how we change this one. 

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