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Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Current Affairs ... Public Policy ...

For today, I’m going to list some recent articles that caught my attention, with a short comment on why I think they are worth reading.

First, an article on a conservative commentary site, saying that there is a “new government class” consisting of government workers and retirees, Social Security / Medicare / Medicaid recipients, food stamp recipients, TANF recipients, veterans receiving long-term benefits, etc. These people (including myself) have a vested financial interest in the existence of a government, one that goes over and above the usual social benefits of law and order, military defense, education, keeping the streets clean, putting out fires and responding to other emergencies, etc. I think this all relates to Mitt Romney’s famed “47 percent that won’t consider voting for me” comments at the fund-raising dinner in Florida.

This “government class” is opposed, I would guess, to the entrepreneurial class, who are supposedly burdened and slowed down by the government hordes, given the taxes that they need to pay in order to let us get our checks and benefits. Of course, the article author accuses Barack Obama and the Democrats with trying to expand the “government dependency class” as much as possible, so as to make it politically impossible to reduce government and taxes. This would assure that the entrepreneurial class will be forever limited, such that our economy’s growth rate and overall well-being will not reach full potential; thus, our nation will be poorer and weaker overall than it otherwise would have to be, solely because of the short-sighted political machinations of the Dems.

I gather that this is a popular notion amidst Republicans and conservatives these days. Actually, it is a rather bogus dichotomy. The “government class” has been around for a long, long time now, growing from the 1930s thru the 1970s; by 1975 it reached levels about equivalent to today, in terms of percentage of the overall population. Since 1980 and Ronald Reagan, the growth of this “class” was stopped, and a lot of new economic wealth was created by “the entrepreneurial class”. Unfortunately, not much of this new wealth trickled down to the “dependency class”; the new jobs created by these entrepreneurs did not pay well or offer good benefits. Thus, the dependency class stayed dependent on government. The entrepreneur class got richer and richer.

Now they want even more, and so they are trying to convince the rest that government benefits for the “dependents” (who don’t benefit much these days from the entrepreneurial class), and taxes on the entrepreneurs, should be cut. Despite the fact that the Reagan-Bush experiment did not help the poor or middle class, the wealthy entrepreneurs want to push that experiment even further, asking the rest to trust them that this time, thing will work out better.

What is wrong with this picture?

Oh, also — the entrepreneurs get a lot of favors from the government. They are NOT all that “in-dependent”. The last I heard, most rich people do not turn down their Social Security or Medicare benefits once they become eligible. They also get special tax breaks and incentives from the government thanks to their financial ability to effectively lobby our policymakers and legislators (read, help them get elected and re-elected). They further get government cooperation in establishing the infrastructure they need for production, distribution and marketing, e.g. roadways to and from their factories and warehouses and sea ports. And they often get the benefit of diplomatic and military interventions aimed at protecting their interests overseas. When their banking and financing systems get unstable, the government pays to bail it out.

So, this is the “in-dependent, non-government class”?

Some other interesting articles:

On Dec. 21, the Mayan Calendar runs out; but the Mayan civilization that posted that calendar petered out long before that. There are several interesting and relevant reasons why the Mayan civilization is not here to update it. Is our civilization heading for the same fate? Ignoring resource depletion and changing weather patterns is not a good thing.

Next, the US national Intelligence Council just released a big report saying that American economic and military influence will wind down over the next 20 years and China will rise to world dominance by 2030. Overall, there will be a shift of global power from the West to the East, and from the North to the South.

But then again, there could be “black swans”, unexpected things that throw off today’s obvious trends.
One of the big uncertainties is just how bad global warming and climate change is going to be. The world climate system is still very complex and subject to feedback, chaos and state-shifts that can cut either way, towards a warmer or cooler trend. Our planet’s climate certainly is changing, and human carbon emissions and other greenhouse gas releases are certainly a big part of this. As to how big those changes will be and what they will lead to . . . a lot of scientists think it will be pretty bad for civilization as we know it today.

But others point out that there have been “big doomsday factors” before that later turned out to be duds, or were accommodated over time without any huge collapse. Still, it is a bit scary when the science people report that warming trends appear to be happening faster than their models had predicted. A recent Sci Am article discusses possible feedback-loop mechanisms that could put the pedal to the metal in terms of temperature increases, sea level rises, stormy weather, change in rainfall and drought patterns, etc. I would say that if these trends do not start subsiding over the next decade, our world and our civilized lives will be in for a rough ride over the next century or two.

One does wonder – – if and when the crisis becomes clear to everyone, will we see a “new human spirit”, a new willingness to cooperate and sacrifice in order to save our race? Will the challenges of losing our living space to rising waters and losing fertile farmlands to changing winds and temperatures inspire an acceleration of scientific technology development and organizational innovation, which will have numerous beneficial side effects over the following generations? (E.g., the US economy in the 50’s and 60s was super-charged by the many technology developments inspired by WW2, e.g. radio, TV, atomic energy, plastics, synthetic fabrics and rubber, antibiotics, etc.).

Or will it be “every tribe for themselves”, will it degenerate into a zero-sum situation, “my group versus your group”? Given that the basics such as food, water and land are involved, once humanity goes over the edge into such a situation, things will degenerate really quickly. If we can manage to cooperate, then our science and technology will shift from things like super-duper I-pads and Android phones into genetic development of more hardy crops, new kinds of fertilizers, new methods of harvesting and distribution, new water management techniques, and probably even weather control experiments (yes, at some point we would have to call on “geo-engineering of the climate” measures, despite the great risks). Our standards of living may go down a bit, population growth may slow or stop . . . but there would not be any genocidal extinction situations. If, however, we slip into a free-for-all status . . . i.e., possibly what happened to the Mayans . . . then look for some big drops in world population by 2120. (Well, if you are still around; I certainly won’t be!).

Wheat production will be especially sensitive to rising world temperatures. Supposedly, wheat production is already down in certain places over the past few years due to unfavorable weather. World wheat production, along with corn, rice, oats, barley, soybean, etc. still seems to be trending upward. But here and there, certain places where there were once fertile lands for a particular crop suddenly go into decline.

It’s not going to be easy to find newly suitable lands to grow wheat and shift production; perhaps in a decade or two we could adjust, but in the interim, prices will soar and shortages will occur. Food shortages — not a nice thought. Some big corporations are looking at consultant studies suggesting an 11 deg F rise in average world temperatures by 2100. That would throw a lot of things out of wack, especially how and where we grow our food. Also where we live, given the rising of the sea.

Oh, guess what else. Coffee is also at risk, and is already seeing some initial declines in many regions. Instead of 4-cup-a-day habits, coffee may become an occasional delicacy, something we have maybe once a week at an inflated price — even higher than what Starbucks is now charging for their “reserve line”, i.e $7.

So, if and when food becomes a big issue (along with clean water availability), things might get real ugly amidst the human race. You can imagine much mass migration, new wars breaking out over access and ownership of lands that are still productive, and fights about potential new places to grow food. The USA and Canada may still be able to grow enough for themselves, but not continue as food exporters. One might then expect a lot of immigration, some legal, much illegal.

But interestingly enough, there is some reason to believe that the big migration trend over the past 25 years from Mexico into the US is coming to an end. Already Mexican immigration, both legal and illegal, is way down; it’s the economy, of course. But if and when things do get up to speed here again, the hordes of poor people seeking better lives may not reoccur. One factor: things have been getting quite a bit better in Mexico itself (aside from the wars in drug cartel territory near the border).

Another unexpected trend — there appears to be a growing Hitler admiration cult in India. This is not based on anti-Jewish sentiments. There are very few Jews in India. It is more a matter of “the enemy of my enemy being my friend”. I.e., Hitler is seen to have weakened Great Britain such that it had to relinquish its world empire after WW2, thus leading to Indian independence in 1947. Also, supposedly many Indians admire strong national leadership qualities and world-domination. That’s probably a lot of wishful thinking, given that since Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi, they haven’t had any.

If the global warming “free for all” situation that I have discussed here does come to pass . . . then India is not going to be the only nation with Hitler-envy! All kinds of nasty dictators will make a big comeback, unless somehow we manage to keep the international competition pot from boiling over, if and when the climate change heat really does flare up.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:27 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I couldn’t agree with you more. Most certainly the entrepreneurial class, while they talk about those who seek “entitlements” are themselves the “entitled” group, getting massive reductions in taxes that the ordinary person doesn’t get. If that, for one thing, is not an “entitlement”, what is?

    As to the “government class”: Again, the really rich people can complain about them; but they would be the first ones unwilling to do without them. Sometimes I think the really rich walk through the world with blinders on. What was that in the Bible about seeing the mote in one’s neighbor’s eye but missing the beam in one’s own eye? (I think I’ve got that right.)

    As to the whole climate change thing: Once again, I find myself wondering just how it is that so many areas of the country are being built up that should not be built up. One instance is areas that could wash away in major rain events. Areas of the West where populations have moved, allowing the water table and rivers to be depleted are another example. It makes me wonder how it is that developers even *think* of building in these places. Of course, they have to make money—another example of the entrepreneurial class doing what’s good for them.

    I do also think that, while man may be adding to and hastening the climate warming, over millennia there have been major changes in the earth. Montana was one time an area where dinosaurs lived. I find myself wondering what the new drilling in the Antarctic will turn up. Periods of time when that whole area was warm? That would be interesting.

    As to man: Did not Neanderthal man die out with the weather change? (But then again, the latest I read on that is that homo sapiens—at least some—interbred with the Neanderthals, so some part of the Neanderthals has survived.)

    It seems to me that change is simply part of the nature of the earth. If humans are going to live on it, humans will simply have to adjust and adapt.

    The Hitler admiration cult in India astounds me! First time I’ve heard of it. Have they forgotten their great non-violent leaders? What a disaster if they have!

    Then too I wonder what things would be like if there were a *positive* outcome to all these changes. I, for one (and maybe the only one), think that even changes in the rich/poor dichotomy we have now would not be a bad thing; i.e., some of the rich money going to the poor, an even-ing out of the differences between the groups. Same thing with the earth changes. Why must all the changes that seem to be obviously going on with the earth be a necessarily bad thing? Perhaps generations from now they will turn out to be good.

    One thing is for certain, tho: By the time 2100 rolls around none of us will be around (or few of us—only those who cannot read this, I would think). The problems then will be for those alive then to solve. It is by solving those problems that the people living then will grow and develop for themselves.

    Recently I read a book about Hildegard of Bingen who lived over 900 years ago. It struck me how vastly different life then was, yet how in many ways it was the same. The growth and development of humans as humans was the same, almost everything else was different. Yet, here we are doing OK for ourselves a millennium later. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — December 20, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

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