Wyland Stanley Peerless touring car, Bay Area 1923
As I was writing The Broken Model Of The Eurozone yesterday, I already knew there would have to be a sequel, because doing everything in one go would have been too much. And then, considerably less than two seconds later, it dawned on me that if I wanted to cover broken models and systems, a book would be the very least. But I don’t want to write a book, or, certainly, not here and now. Therefore, the best I think I can do is to sit down and let it flow, train of thought, stream of consciousness, probably the approach that suits me best to begin with.
There’s no question that the eurozone is by no means the only broken model, design, system, structure, in our world, though its built-in fatal flaws are perhaps easier to pinpoint than they are in other models. Everyone can see why having no mechanism to keep poor member nations from getting poorer must of necessity doom the eurozone, and the euro. Everyone, that is, but the people with the most vested interests.
That said, when you get to think about it, it’s hard to find a model, a system, in our ‘modern’ societies that is not broken, through similar design flaws. Just the past few days, we had the US midterm elections, and it doesn’t come more broken than that. As Ron Paul stated once again, US politics is a monopoly system, not a democracy. That part exists only in people’s dreams and in media stories. In reality, it’s pick your favorite identical twin. Yet for some reason, people still vote. Go figure.
Then there was the BLS unemployment report, which is no longer even a joke, but such an outright insult to Americans that it’s difficult to see why anyone looks at it anymore, other than for propagandistic reasons. A model designed to ignore the combined erosion in labor participation, wages and benefits that has taken place in the US since 2007, and the number of people who can’t make enough to pay their bills and feed their kids, is useless as a gauge for the American economy.
What these, and just about any other model I can think of that we use to run our world, have in common, is/are a number of flaws:
First, they were designed to operate exclusively in growing economies. Perhaps not even on purpose, but they sure don’t function in less glorious days, if only because no provisions were made for such days. It’s at least one reason why protagonists are so eager to point to growth even where there is none.
Second, whether in days of growth or of non-growth, they offer no protection from destructive exploitation of the natural world, either by nations, by corporations or by ourselves. A self defeating model.
Third, they are so far removed from the ‘human scale’ that we can’t internalize the ways they work and don’t work, other than perhaps in abstract theory. We can’t understand how the systems work that govern our lives, and therefore not why they fail.
These three characteristics guarantee inherent self limitation, self defeat and eventual self destruction. Sort of like the spy message that destroys itself 10 seconds after being read.
I was reading John Michael Greer’s recent Dark Age America: The End of the Market Economy, in which he reiterates how an increase in complexity of a society means ever more intermediaries take position in between productive economic participants, skimming off the fruits of other people’s daily labor. And how a decrease in complexity, such as the one we’re seeing today in our world, forced by diminishing economic returns, will lead to those intermediary positions disappearing, and a renewed form of feudalism taking the helm.
There are many shapes and sizes of these intermediaries active in our present societies, but none are more powerful, in more than one way, than politicians and traders/investors. The political world and financial world don’t produce anything of value, they owe their wealth and power solely to others who do.
The past century – or two – of ultra cheap fuels, which have enabled one single human being to produce as much as a thousand of her ancestors, created the space in which the financial and political intermediate powerholders operate. The debt machine gone haywire of the last few decades either created even more of that space or made up for what was lost due to rising fuel prices. Both fossil fuels and debt now stumble on their last legs, and society will need to be remolded, along principles that may indeed well resemble feudalism more than anything else.
To be sure, Greer doesn’t define feudalism along the lines of the bad rap it has gotten, but simply as a system in which rights and obligations for both lords and servant are clearly defined.
What he doesn’t specify, but I will, is that the feudal model operates on a human scale. That points to another aspect: the servant – for lack of a better word – in a balanced feudal system knows his master. We, today, do not. We only know a bunch of people pushed forward for their gift of gab and telegenic faces. The way our leaders are (pre-) selected is not much different from seeing how many second hand cars or tupperware bowls they can sell on a TV sales channel.
But then those leaders are (s)elected to head entities so far beyond the human scale it should be obvious to anyone that they cannot function properly no matter how much growth there is. Leaders of entities like the US, the EU or China have little in common with the people they supposedly represent, and they don’t have to, nobody expects them to. The US midterms were mostly a a battle of the bulge, as in candidates’ bulging wallets.
And on top large scale national politics we have created yet another, even more anonymous layer of power. UN, World Bank, IMF, NATO, there’s an ever growing collection of supra-national organizations that keep on guzzling up more power and more money every single day.
Like ‘smaller’ entities such as the US and EU, only more, the supra-nationals attract a certain kind of people, those that like to assert power without being held directly accountable. In structures that far exceed the human scale, they are like fish in water. And that’s why we should never accept having them in those positions. IMF and World Bank have a history of at best disputable and at worst very bloody interventions in nations across the globe.
We should have today celebrated the end of NATO along with that of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. But it’s still there, and playing an active role in the flaring up of the Ukraine civil war. As for the UN, there should be a place for an organization like it, but not with the money gobbling corporate structure, serving shady interests, that it has today.
Our political systems don’t work. Our economic systems don’t work. We live on a steady – but hardly nutritious – diet of debt and propaganda. Our societies are no longer productive enough to allow for the numbers of intermediaries they have given birth to. But it’s the intermediaries who have more often than not taken up the most powerful positions in our societies. So they will fight, and initially often successfully, to keep their positions, at the cost of the more productive segments. It’s a mechanism that’s much easier to understand than it is to fight.
I tend to think that it’s easier to make the effort to get rid of things like models and systems and structures when you know they will need to go soon anyway. But that’s without counting in propaganda. Without including Freud and spin doctors and Edward Bernays and why detergent commercials work so well. When you do take all those into account, things don’t look so easy anymore.
What the EU has in common with all present day political and financial structures, bar none, is that it can, and indeed was built to, function only in times of growth. Take away growth and inherent flaws become exposed. Take away growth and panic ensues. Well, we no longer have growth, other than in our dreams and spin.
Or more accurately, there is indeed one thing that does still grow: our debt. It’s all we have left to keep up the pretense that we’re still growing. That and a pack of lies that grows more outrageous as time goes by. We run our societies on debt and propaganda. To a large extent, propaganda about why and how debt, and more debt, can’t hurt us.
Because as long as we believe that, we’ll leave our political and financial structures and power holders keep their plush seats. And as long as we believe it, they’re free to take more and more away from us. Something we feel powerless to stop, because we’re scared of what may happen when we stop believing. In broken models.