My Theory of Everything: Part VII

In the previous episode of this endless series of posts, I explained my view of history as a random stagger. Societies move from one phase to another haphazardly, constrained by the choices of those who came before them. North Korea has the options it has due to the choices made by those of the previous generations. The decisions made today will constrain future generations.

Those decisions, however, don’t spring from thin air. The choices made by Kim Il-sung were for a reason and that reason was to address a problem. The organization of his political party, for example, was about solving problems that Kim and his people were facing. Like all solutions, they were trade-offs. As is always the case with good commies, Kim let the debit side of the trade-off fall on his people, while he kept the credit side.

Everything around us, the political institutions, the laws, the customs, etc., all evolved to address the immediate needs of society and the desires of the people in charge of society. There’s not a single punctuation mark in the legal code that is not there for a reason. Every jot and tittle in the regulatory code has a constituency behind it that wanted it in the code to fix a problem for them.

The temptation is to point at these things and dismisses them as corruption, greed or ideological lunacy. Even when that is true, self-dealing solves a problem for the political elites doing the dealing. The modern Democrat party shovels money to public sector unions because it is good for the party. The unions use those funds to elect Democrats, who in turn shovel them move money. From their point of view, it is the perfect solution.

Even the ideological stuff is done to address what the ideologues see as a pressing need. FDR and the New Dealers rolled out the welfare state because they truly feared popular unrest due to the Depression. They thought social security was a great solution to the problems of old age. They thought the Wagner Act would help stabilize labor and prevent the sorts of radicalization they saw in Europe.

Thus the world into which all of us were born is a world populated with solutions to problems. Some are cultural institutions like churches and social customs. Others are in the political economy of society. Government, the legal structure of every society, was created and evolved as a solution to the problems of how to best organize and rule society.

Of course, many of those problems were long solved and the lingering solutions no longer seem to have a justification. This is where Progressives get into trouble. They swing the wrecking ball without wondering why the thing they intend to destroy was created. In the 1980’s, America emptied out the lunatic asylums because lefty felt bad for the crazies. Ever since, American cities have had a “homeless problem.”

Then there are problems that have been truly solved. In America, food shortages have been solved and now the poor are fat, while the rich are skinny. Despite the abundance of cheap calories available to everyone, we still have food subsidy programs for the poor and farm subsidy programs for farmers. Billions are taken from tax payers, given to rich farmers and fat people so the rich farmers can sell the fat people cheap food.

Every year, sensible people propose that we spend public funds on new problems, but the cost of farm subsidies for rich people and food programs for the fat people means there’s not enough money for the new solutions.We kick a lot of cans down the road in order to avoid unwinding unneeded solutions to long solved problems.

Even though we have long blown past the point where the returns turned negative, the perceived costs of rolling back these old solutions exceeds the benefits. As a result, they keep rolling along, becoming ever more draining on society. Many public policy solutions take us down a cul-de-sac.

The most well known example of this is the Roman Empire. Early conquests had huge returns that more than paid for the cost of gaining them. That meant new conquests were the obvious solution to adding to the wealth of Rome.

That made sense up to the point where the costs of new conquests exceeded what the Romans could loot form the newly conquered people. By the time of Augustus, expanding the Empire further simply made no sense, because the cost of conquering more barbarians exceeded the benefits.

The trouble for the Romans was the ongoing cost to past conquest. Those conquered lands had to remain conquered. The frontiers had to be guarded and that meant paying for legions to fight the barbarians. Administering an an empire had costs as well. Roads had to be built, army officers bribed, dissent suppressed. The on-going costs of maintaining the empire eventually hollowed it out, leading to collapse.

An example of how culture can become a suicide vest can be found with the Celts. They had a tradition of burying their dead leaders with their wealth. New leaders acquired their own wealth, which created a meritocracy of sorts. To become a great Celtic leader, you had to be good at war and peace so you could gain great wealth for yourself and your people.

The trouble was, destroying that wealth on the death of the ruler made it harder for each generation to acquire gold, silver, precious gems, etc. Eventually, the number of people seeking gold far exceeded the amount available in Celtic lands. Historians believe this led to the collapse of Celtic society and the Celtic invasions.

That’s fundamentally why companies fail, revolutions topple governments and empires collapse.The cost of the status quo becomes untenable, but the cost of reform is also untenable. The business cannot reorganize, the elites cannot reform and the empire cannot downsize. The only “solution” left is liquidation, a clearing off all the old solutions and their costs. A clean start.

At a nation level, revolution is just bankruptcy with more theater. The revolutionaries seize the public assets of society, liquidate them and start over with a clean sheet of paper. What is useful is retained, but all obligations are voided. The whole point of a revolution is to wipe away all those old solutions, which are viewed as mistakes and burdens, so the people can have a fresh start.

The crisis faced by the West is not just the wave of migrants or the mountains of debt. Those are easily solved. The crisis is caused by the overhang of old solutions to old problems. Angela Merkel is the answer to a question posed thirty years ago, one no one asks anymore, because we have new questions to answer, like how to keep Mohamed from self-detonating in Europe.

What comes next, what always follows a economic revolution, is a massive political reorganization. Maybe this time it is collapse under a wave of flea infested migrants from the south. Maybe the popular uprisings in response to the flood of migrants will usher in a clearing of the debts. Maybe the Germans will stop apologizing for Hitler and Southerners will stop apologizing for slavery.

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21 Comments on "My Theory of Everything: Part VII"

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I just don’t see a reset or shtf scenario on the horizon.

Look at how long the Soviet Union could go on, and they had almost no stuff…
while in the US Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is met, even self-actualization.

The current system is backed by something much better than gold, the US Navy!
My bet is on a gradual decline, slow & steady, no fall of the Berlin wall like events.

RW
Guest
“Maybe the Germans will stop apologizing for Hitler and Southerners will stop apologizing for slavery.” I never thought to compare the two, but now that you mention it the light goes on. People stumble along in a daze until reality clouts them in the ear. “Over and over again I have said that there is no way out of the present impasse. If we were wide awake we would be instantly struck by the horrors which surround us … We would drop our tools, quit our jobs, deny our obligations, pay no taxes, observe no laws, and so on. Could… Read more »
Severian
Guest
Have you read The Collapse of Complex Societies, by Joseph Tainter? He’s an archaeologist who says a lot of similar things, backed with field examples. Your idea about “apologizing for slavery” is especially interesting in this light, given that slavery itself seems to be one of those solutions to old problems, namely the vast labor shortage in pre-Industrial America. But by the 19th century, an economic solution had morphed into a social problem — when the slave system collapsed under its own weight (which was inevitable, as many saw), race war seemed inevitable. What was to be done? In any… Read more »
Anon.
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If men would stop bowing down to women it would be a good start. This is all about excess. Few would argue against fair and decent treatment but post-modern attitudes, best described as political-correctness is puritanical and excessive and strikes few as fair. That a nobel prize winning scientist would be fired because of a harmless joke is emblematic of a putrid system of thought. Note that there’s no ‘apology to women’ involved but the process is the same.

Andy Texan
Guest

Our ‘fin de siecle’ civilization has been driven by excessive feminization. The progressive era is all about feminine solutions to social problems. Women’s suffrage gave the biggest boost to socialist policies here and abroad. Unmarried women are a large demographic of progressive political activism.

Anon.
Guest
These things are packaged as ‘feminine’. Most women recoil from the feminist movement and its puritanical excesses. If society were able to stand up to this fringe movement, it would be able to stand up to all the excesses of political correctness. If society can’t resist throwing a top scientist to the wolves for the crime of saying something sweet and funny about women in science, how would society stand up for fairness and decency when it comes to outrageous accusations of racism? We’re in a topsy turvy world where America and Britain who fought against the Nazis are apologizing… Read more »
Buckaroo Banzai
Guest

The 19th Amendment was a colossal mistake, and must be repealed.

This is an idea which seemed absurd as recently as a few years ago.

Now it is starting to sound like common sense.

JimmyDeeOC
Guest
Watching TV last night……….an endless litany of car ads. Honda highlights the “Helpful Honda People”, donating time and money to animal shelters and the like. Mazda’s “Drive For Good” promises that their employees will donate time to local charities. And Subaru = Love. Who do you think these ads are aimed at? Nothing about the cars themselves, which in older times were advertised as reliable, fun to drive, economical, provide a way to one-up your friends, get you laid, or some combination thereof. Do people really base their car-buying decisions on this stuff? I’m all for volunteering, but I make… Read more »
NovaDog
Guest

In the better olden times car adds were about in your face horsepower and a cobra that can eat a road runner. Not hardly acceptable now. Beep Beep!!

Steve
Guest

“…..Southerners will stop apologizing for slavery”.
Real Southerners are not apologizing as it was over a long time ago; we’re still being punished by the Yankees.

Member

Some time ago I read of an interesting solution to a problem in N Korea. Under pressure from China & because NK could not feed its people, NK began allowing private enterprise. It remains illegal, but Kim is ignoring it. A recent article said 30-50% of NK’s GDP is now produced by the private sector.

Member

Kim can stop ignoring free enterprise any time he wants, so people engaging in it are foolish.

grey enlightenment
Guest

America is far from being broke. Japan will likely default before we do. That’s what’s kinda frustrating to many who want collapse and reset so society is changed. It may be awhile

Member

We’ll never be broke because our treasure is our people. Those who are capable and courageous come here from around the world to be free! American ingenuity and know how is unbeatable.

Lee
Guest
come on Z-dog…the history of everything seems a little…off base….if you’re dumb, go to the back of the bus and let the smart while Conservative males make all of the decisions, right Z? haha….part V points out that Women’s suffrage and civil rights for “Negroes” was just a progressive(Democrat) ploy in order to line up votes? Women have no need for equality in a man’s world do they Zee? Same goes for those pesky “Negroes” How dare they think they should be able to drink from a water fountain or ride in the front of the bus? I’m a proud… Read more »
dc.sunsets
Guest
I reject the notion of “random walk” because I’ve looked at the nifty correlation between Elliott’s Wave Principle “pattern,” the stock market and the larger-scale social events of history. People herd. The compulsion to do so arises from brain structures whose output occurs BEFORE conscious cognition, so what ends up happening is that people act (or decide), and only then do they look for a rationale that explains (to themselves) why they did so. We are rationalizing creatures, not rational ones. Why did we go to war? Why did we vote for Clown 1 and not Clown 2? Why do… Read more »
Randy Stafford
Guest

One additional wrinkle: history isn’t just a collection of solutions to past problems. It’s also a collection of solutions to what people thought, sometimes erroneously, their problems were.

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