11 December 2016

The end

It's the end.

Well, it's the events of the end; we can count 2017-01-01 or 2016-12-19 or 2017-01-20 if we want, or
something in the past year, or just wait until whatever future historians there happen to be come to a consensus.

The precise moment doesn't really matter. What matters is, yeah, it's the end.

Not the end of the Enlightenment; the Enlightenment died with Progress in the deicide of the Great War. Not the end of capitalism, because capitalism either began with accounting or was always a lie.  Call it the end of the Century of the Common Man, if you like.

It's clear that the upper classes really don't believe in the consent of the governed. It's clear that the articulation of need by the citizenry is broken. It's clear that the common existential crisis -- climate -- isn't going to be addressed because it hinders the certainty of an existing profit. (This is the distinction between capitalism and aristocracy; the capitalist of myth expects they might lose. The aristocrat is certain God did not produce so defective a universe as that.)

So whatever future we get -- and however much of it -- it's not going to look like the past of living memory. 2016 was the Last Normal Year.

Me, I cope by accumulating hand tools. It's not likely to help but it involves feeling less helpless.

04 December 2016

So why was the TPP so important to Obama?

This has been bugging me for awhile; Obama is widely reputed to be a smart guy, and certainly has way better information sources than I do. So if they're strongly for something I think is an obvious bad idea, I tend to wonder what I've got wrong.  (The TPP is, or was, obviously a terrible idea; extra-national profit-guaranteeing tribunals?  Urgh.)

And then the clue hit.

About four-fifths of the value of the US economy is IP of some kind.  It's very hard to tell how much of that is the intangible output of creatives -- new music, new design, new chemistry, materials, medicine, and biology -- and how much is rents extracted by the power of the American empire.

So let's consider a piano.  A piano is nigh-useless unless you know how to play it -- which someone smart can figure out -- and without the music you play on it, which is an accumulation of skilled people over time.  If you lose the accumulation, you can't get it back; it's contingent on events.  (If you restart the universe, you don't even get humans; you certainly don't get Bach's music.  If in ten thousand years your rising civilization finds a pipe organ in a buried hockey arena and builds a reconstruction, no one is going to re-invent Bach at that remove, either.)

So there's a bunch of questions about what should be charged for the music (above and beyond the material costs of making copies) and who gets the money.  There's also the question about what you pay a performer and what you pay a composer of new music.  (What the piano tuner gets paid and whether it's worthwhile to make more pianos and how much effort you put into making better piano wire for strings are all defined by the answers to that first set of questions.)

Those answers are cultural.  Which means contingent; the answers we have now are not the answers we would get if we did it again.

The current answers greatly benefit the US and somewhat benefit the satellite states of the unofficial empire; that's for a lot of reasons but that state persisting in the present comes down to "change is risky and the current situation isn't intolerable".  (Establishing the current answers is some mix of a very strong economy, getting nuclear weapons first, and being the only non-devastated major combatant at the end of the Second World War.)

I think it's really hard to tell how much of that four-fifths-is-IP is rent extraction.  I very much doubt the people doing economic intelligence for the Obama White House cannot put a number on it, or that the number isn't tolerably accurate.  Is it half?  I could easily believe half.

Anything that forces change leaves the situation open to ending up who-knows-where.  And wherever that is, it's worse for the US.  The TPP was a means to make significant change more difficult so it was less likely.

Completely open change as the current trade arrangements -- which are certainly showing both economic and political strain -- fail is nigh-certainly going to be produce something systemically simpler.  The influence of the US will be greatly reduced.  (It's much much harder to recreate a position of military dominance without the empire's economic dominance than it is to have a historical condition of military dominance acknowledged as persisting while the economy which created it persists.  Guns don't turn into butter.)

The greenback ceasing to be the reserve currency with no replacement available isn't good.   Two fifths of the value in the US economy going away in a short period of time -- rents the empire is no longer able to exact -- doesn't have an adjective.  Even one-fifth, because the current long supply chain situation doesn't have a graceful way to shorten the supply chains or collapse into domestic production.  (Compare the US domestic production of shoes with demand, just as a for-example.)  A depression is what happens when the mechanism is all there and the price signals get messed up.  This would be what happens when the mechanism collapses and has no immediate replacement.

Obama's basically a conservative.  Given a choice between trying to create a new set of economic mechanisms, and trying very hard to be sure the current set will persist, of course Obama would pick "persist".

Trump's approach looks like it's going to be status-quo-by-autarky, aka the worst possible choice; the status quo depends on the empire (which autarky abandons unrecoverably) and the autarky removes anyone else's interest in the "mutually beneficial" part of any new trade structures.  (Trade is a good thing as a means to greater general prosperity.  The problem isn't the idea of trade, it's using the necessity of trade as a means to obtain a political guarantee of profit that's the problem.)