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prague-deus-ex I think Czechia might just be the best country in the world.

  • Europe’s best gun rights (just further liberalized)
  • But lower homicide rate than UK/France/Germany because no aggressive Third World minorities
  • Social liberalism without the poz and purple-haired SJWs
  • Also most atheist European country
  • But with a higher fertility rate than Holy Poland nonetheless
  • Sane foreign policy
  • Richest country in ex-Communist Europe.
  • Has more industrial robots per capita than France or UK (the word “robot” comes from the Czech/Slavic word for “worker”).
  • 40% cheaper than the US.
  • Member of the Schengen zone.

Okay, someplace like Switzerland or Norway might give it a run for its money, but if I were a Westerner looking to downshift to someplace nicer, affordable, and more European, Czechia seems to check all the boxes.

Is this about right, or do I have an overly rosy view of the Czechs?

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Czech Republic, Living Standards 
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A few months ago I posted a table and map of Russian IQ’s as derived from regional PISA performance. Those figures are based on Jarkko Hautamäki’s slideshow comparing regional PISA performance in Finland and Russia.

That material is a bit inadequate because, as had been my custom up that point, I was only making IQ estimates based on the Math and Science components of the PISA tests, and avoiding Reading to maintain reverse compatibility with my (now disused, in favor of just IQ) Human Capital Index. In light of some realizations that verbal IQ is no less important than numerical, I have updated the figures to include the verbal component as well. This doesn’t create any radical changes – the overall IQ only drops by 0.3 points – so I reuse the same map.

(Note that the legend on the map isn’t converted to IQ. “PISA scores, mean 500, SD 100, have to be transformed into IQ values, mean 100, SD 15, by adding or subtracting the deviation from the mean in the relationship 100 : 15 = 6,67.”)

Commentary

There are any numbers of comments one can make, but I will confine myself to the most important ones:

(1) In some regions, margins of error are high, as samples were low. Nonetheless, it is still possible to identify some concrete patterns. The overall estimate is very accurate because the sample was N=5,308 and representatively distributed across the country.

(2) Moscow pupils performed very well, at the level of the highest scoring OECD countries like Finland, Taiwan, and Korea. This is especially impressive considering the significant numbers of immigrants in that city from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, who come from poorly-scoring countries and rarely have good Russian. This is surely the result of a century of attracting Russia’s (the USSR’s) cognitive elite.

(3) St.-Petersburg and Tyumen oblast performed above the OECD average, while a few other regions performed at or only slightly below the OECD average.

(4) Among ethnic Russian republics, Siberian regions performed well, while the Urals and southern regions performed badly.

(5) Performance in ethnic minority republics differs dramatically. Many of the Turkic and Finno-Ugric regions, such as Tatarstan, Komi, Chuvashia, and Karelia did well; however, Mari El is a big exception. The Buddhist peoples of Asia, such as Chita oblast (now merged into Zabaykalsky Krai) and the Sakha Republic, performed relatively poorly, as did the Muslim North Caucasus region of Dagestan. Chechnya and Ingushetia would probably score around very low – probably in the mid-80′s. We can be pretty confident about that because their unemployment rates are nearly 50% despite tons of federal transfers.

Bear these figures in mind when considering long-term investments into Russia alongside with their business climate, corruption levels, etc.

PISA-derived IQ of Russian regions

The results by each of the 44 Russian regions which participated in PISA are reproduced below:

IQ
Moscow 106.6
Saint-Petersburg 102.6
Tyumen oblast 100.6
Novosibirsk 100.0
Chelyabinsk oblast 99.7
Omsk oblast 99.3
Samara oblast 99.2
Vladimir oblast 98.9
Tula oblast 98.6
Karelia 98.1
Tatarstan 98.1
Komi 98.0
Tomsk oblast 97.9
Primorie krai 97.2
Krasnoyarsk 97.1
Chuvashia 97.0
Udmurtia 96.4
Sakhalin oblast 96.4
Saratov oblast 96.0
Tambov oblast 95.9
Moscow oblast 95.6
Volgograd oblast 95.5
Vologda oblast 95.3
Kemerovo oblast 95.3
Altai krai 94.9
Astrakhan oblast 94.8
Ryazan oblast 94.7
Kursk oblast 94.6
Khanty-Mansijsk 94.2
Bashkortostan 93.4
Krasnodar 93.3
Perm krai 93.3
Rostov oblast 93.3
Nizhnij Novgorod 93.1
Voronezh oblast 92.7
Orenburg oblast 92.7
Kaluga oblast 91.7
Sverdlovsk oblast 91.6
Ulyanovsk oblast 91.5
Adygea 91.2
Stavropol 91.0
Mari El 90.1
Dagestan 88.7
Chita oblast 88.5
Sakha (Yakutia) 87.7
RUSSIA 96.0

Correlation with economic development

Doing the same exercise as I once did with Italy, the exponential correlation between IQ and GDP per capita (adjusted to reflect local prices; 2008) turns out to be R2=0.5262, if we only take into account those regions whose economies aren’t skewed by substantial natural resource sectors.

This is not as good as Italy’s R2=0.7302, but the result is still an amazingly good one in social sciences. In fact in Russia’s case it’s all the more impressive because its economy was for the most part built up under central planning, which isn’t as good as markets at allocating resources efficiently.

Even under a command economy, the principle still holds: Higher average IQ, higher human capital, greater productivity, greater GDP pre capita.

Other data on the Russian average IQ

(1) The PISA-derived IQ is 96.0.

(2) Richard Lynn estimates Russia’s average IQ to be 96.6 in his 2012 book Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences.

(3) Heiner Rinderman estimates it at 97.3 in a 2009 paper.

The two most comprehensive authorities on international IQ’s, as well as the most comprehensive international standardized test, are all in agreement that Russia’s current average IQ is in the 96-98 range.

Other data on Russian regional IQ

(1) Map of average Unified State Exam (USE) scores among Russians admitted to institutions of higher education in 2010.

This is a biased sample because it only measures those Russians who were admitted to a university in 2010. It is not indicative of average regional IQ.

Data from Межвузовское исследование «Успеваемость студентов первого курсавысших учебных заведений России».

(2) Here is the same data by Federal District. They are, in order: Volga; North-West; Siberia; Central; Urals; Far East; North Caucasus.

(3) The share of “Olympians” (basically students who did really well and get benefits) in the annual university cohort. By region from top to bottom: Northern Caucasus; South; Far East; Volga; Urals; Siberia; North-West; Central.

There is nothing surprising about this. The Central Federal District contains Moscow. The North-West Federal District contains Saint-Petersburg, and I also suspect that ethnic Russians from the North-West region also have the highest IQ potential of all Great Russians because of admixture with Finno-Ugrics. (Finns and ethnic Estonians both have very high PISA scores).

(4) Unfortunately, Russia does not release regional average USE scores. It does this on purpose to avoid inciting ethnic enmity. (Basically, some regions – most of them non-Russian ones – systematically cheat and inflate their USE scores).

(However, I do recall visiting a site showing the number of people from each region who scored a 100/100 on USE subjects such as the Russian language, math, etc. It is a very rigorous exam and getting full marks on a subject like math is exceedingly hard; only a few hundred manage to do it every year if memory serves right. As IQ distributions are bell curves, it should be theoretically possible to get some idea of regional IQ’s by looking at the perfect scorers per capita rate. To do this however I will need to locate that site.)

Other EE Nations

The Ukraine didn’t participate in PISA 2009, but extrapolating from its TIMSS scores, its IQ would be around 93.1. Belarus would probably be considerably higher, because (1) they are basically genetically identical to Great Russians and Poles, and (2) they have done economically better than Ukraine since the 1990′s despite keeping much of their economy state-owned.

This section will be updated with info on other countries in the near future.

Slavic Genetic IQ Ceiling

The Slavic genetic ceiling appears to be around 100 based on the Czechs and Poles. The average height of young Russian men is about 175cm compared to 179cm-180cm among the Central-Europeans (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks). This discrepancy likely arose from the fact that Russia’s (and Ukraine’s) post-Communist transitions were far more catastrophic than those of the Poles and Czechs, involving a major deterioration in quality of nutrition during the 1990′s when the PISA 2009 cohort was growing up.

Russia’s meat consumption per capita (kg).

Russian nutrition has already returned to First World levels however; for instance, meat , fish, fruit, etc. consumption is now basically the same as in Europe or the US. This means that in the next decade I expect the Flynn Effect to kick off in Russia’s favor, raising its average IQ levels to their theoretical peak of 100 by the 2020′s.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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This may be the article I’ve hesitated longest over publishing. Its subject matter has always hovered as a specter over my writings on the close relation between human capital and economic growth; an obvious but studiously ignored presence*. I am talking, of course, about race and IQ. Of racial differences in IQ, to be precise.

Why now? First, it’s a propitious moment to raise the issue, what with the recent publicity surrounding the Trayvon Martin case and the firing of John Derbyshire from The National Review (for writing an article in another magazine whose recommendations most liberals follow in private even as they denounce it as incorrigibly racist in public). But my purpose isn’t to get attention as such. On these matters, it tends to come from unwelcome quarters, either from the PC police (who regard any discussion of race other than to deny it as crimethink), or from the reactionary White nationalist crowd, who think they’ve stumbled on ideological soul-brethren (thanks but no thanks, or to quote Robert Lindsay, “We’re never getting a boarding pass. Never!”). I suspect being a liberal race realist is somewhat akin to being a Jew before anti-Semitism went out of fashion. You get fired on from all sides. Not fun.

The second, more substantive reason, is that the issue matters. If it was an irrelevance, I obviously wouldn’t bother (though tellingly, most people have no problem discussing genetic causes for relatively unimportant things, such as the preponderance of Kenyan marathoners, or East Asians’ lack of alcohol tolerance). But there is a mountain of evidence indicating that IQ levels have a very real and direct influence on the world, from the life earnings potential of individuals to the wealth and poverty of nations.

This is a futurist blog, and it has never shied away from inconvenient but pertinent observations that go against Establishment orthodoxy, e.g. that the world is finite, and industrial growth in its current form is unsustainable. As regards its distribution, my views on the sources of prosperity would discomfit both left and right; contrary to theorists from both camps, it is mainly determined by levels of human capital, both within nations and internationally (the two major outlier groups, countries with resource windfalls or central-planning legacies, are exceptions that prove the rule). A corollary is that if there are genetically rooted differences in IQ between races that go beyond the power of racism or exploitation to explain, then there would be variegated ceilings on the extent to which human capital can be developed in different nations and different societies. It would also mean that major inequalities in global development are here to stay.

But first, a much-needed definition of terms to clarify why Race Realism (or “Human Biodiversity”) is not coterminous with Racism.

Defining Racism, Race Denial, and Race Realism

In the US, liberals flat-out deny racial differences in IQ (“Race is a social construct,” “IQ tests were invented by racists and don’t measure anything”), and indulge in all sorts of mental acrobatics to explain away why a generation of affirmative action has utterly failed to narrow the academic performance or socio-economic chasm between Whites and NAM’s (Non-Asian Minorities). Conservatives just blame it all on Blacks’ supposed moral defects and the “entitlement culture” that supposedly dominates there, i.e. the precise opposite argument to liberals who decry the plight of Blacks who have to contend with the “privileged” position of the white man (the question of why the Man isn’t keeping Asians down is typically skirted over).

However, mainstream pundits from both camps are united on one thing: Innate racial differences do not, cannot have anything to do with it. Anyone who so much as implies otherwise is a Racist Bigot.

To be honest, there is undeniably a great deal of overlap between Racists and Race Realists. I think there are two reasons for that. First, Race Realism is not a socially respectable position to hold (unlike in pre-1970′s America, or for that matter, practically all of East Asia today). Many Americans who adopt it explicitly – as opposed to confessing to it while drunk, which happens quite frequently – tend to be marginalized whites who aren’t interested in truth and only need some sort of explanation for their low status (e.g. blaming the ZOG, “skraelings”, etc). Second, the uniform hostility that any declared Race Realist runs into – e.g., John Derbyshire, who got castigated by the left and cast aside by his former comrades on the right – no doubt has a polarizing effect. As I mentioned above, being fired on from all sides isn’t fun. Or as Lindsay points out, “only in the arena of reactionary thought are views about race realism allowed to flourish.”

But are Race Realists the same thing as Racists? I do not think so. First, because the association smacks of Lysenkoism (the US justifies its high inequalities by the American dream that anyone can, though self-improvement and hard work, earn enough to enjoy la dolce vita; but if, God forbid, it’s true that racial differences make the goal practically unattainable for large swathes of the population, that kind of throws a spanner in the works. Wrecker! Saboteur! Off to the Gulag Guantanamo with him!). Second, and most importantly, Race Realism does not by and in of itself justify overt discrimination, or Racism; tarring both with the same brush is an association fallacy.

Though Race Realism may induce skepticism as regards the efficacy or fairness of certain leveling policies, e.g. affirmative action, that is a very far cry from calling for a return to segregation, or race war, or whatever. I would even argue that Race Realism is far less paternalistic, insulting and harmful to NAM’s in general and Blacks in particular than the typical attitudes of colorblind conservatives, who attack certain negative perceived features of Black culture (e.g. “entitlements culture”, “anti-intellectualism”, “family breakdown”, “gangsta rap”, etc). In doing so they argue that Blacks as a group fail to achieve what Whites or Asians do in terms of salaries, employment, crime etc. due to their own moral defects, as opposed to it being the result of factors they truly have no control over, and as such need a good dose of discipline, “moral direction” and tough love to find their way (i.e. no affirmative action whatsoever, no social welfare, even more insanely hardline drugs policies, etc).

The liberal Race Realist to the contrary acknowledges these divergent outcomes as a regrettable but inevitable consequence of innate group differences (especially in IQ, which largely determines educational attainment and life prospects), but on the other hand appreciates that it’s wrong and illogical to blame a people for their bad luck in life’s genetic lottery, and is willing to meet them halfway in trying to ameliorate their plight by supporting subsidized housing, education, income redistribution, etc. This is in stark contrast to the conservative reactionary, who would throw NAM’s to the dogs of unfettered capitalism, but for some reason it is still the liberal Race Realist who is the racist.

(There are, of course, also many Conservative / Libertarian Race Realists. Functionally, if not on their theoretical foundations, their stances are similar to those of their Race Denier ideological counterparts. More on classifications later.)

Still not convinced? Here are three Q&A’s that I hope will further reveal the Race Denier / Racist binary for the false dichotomy it really is.

Q1) One national leader is a progressive sociologist for his time and denies there are innate differences in cognitive ability between blacks and whites. Another is so progressive that he even bans IQ tests because they show some races getting lower scores than others. The third national leader believes in a hierarchy of races, with his own at the top, and rules his country with a firm fist. Which of these is the racist?

A) The first leader was Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of South African apartheid. The second leader was Hitler (he banned IQ tests because Germans got lower scores than Jews). The third leader was Lee Kuan Yew, who repressed Chinese nationalism despite his belief in Chinese intellectual and cultural superiority, and transformed Singapore from a Third World slum into a gleaming technopolis.

Q2) One man is a “post-racial” President, while another man is a Presidential candidate who – if recently dredged up kompromat is true – may have associated with racists in the 1970′s. Who is the racist scumbag?

A) Obama also supports the war on drugs that is the single biggest reason why every tenth young Black man is in jail, and launched a war against Libya that ended up with the ethnic cleansing of Blacks from that country and the destabilization of a neighboring Black country. Ron Paul promises an end to the war on drugs and foreign military adventures.

Q3) A racist American schoolboy, reeking of White Privilege, arrogantly claims a prize that should have rightly gone to a black. What a racist, right?!

A) The schoolboy in question was an immigrant from South Africa who applied for a “African-American Student of the Year” at his Nebraska school. Despite being white, he was objectively far more African (by virtue of having lived there) than any of the students there, black or where, who had only lived in the US. The school was not amused and suspended him, proving that when prodded, the Race Deniers – no matter be they liberal or conservative – are in fact very far from colorblind as they claim to be. Who’d’ve thunk?

Towards a new classification

Thus far, I hope I have at least made a halfway persuasive argument that Race Realism and Racism are not coterminous. (The detailed evidence for Human Biodiversity, especially as regards IQ, and its implications for US and global development, will have to await a second post).

In its stead, I suggest another classification, one that takes into account the true range of thought around this subject.

By the numbers:

Race Deniers (PC; diversity police; colorblind; “multiculti” (in racist lingo)): This is the official ideology of the Western Establishment and “respectable” white people take care to at least pay homage to it even if they don’t really believe it (at least when sober). The mainstream punditry, be they liberal or conservative, all aggressively hold to this position – arguably, more so in the US, than in Europe, despite the latter being commonly regarded as more liberal/left-wing. Their slogan is “differences are only skin-deep.”

The failure of NAM’s (Non-Asian Minorities) to integrate and converge to average levels is explained differently on both left (oppression, racism, legacy of colonialism, etc) and right (laziness, shiftlessness, lack of appreciation for capitalism, etc) but ascribing it to genetic or racial factors is a universal taboo. Verboten! You’re safe from prosecution if you do it in a measured way, even in PC Europe, but you certainly run the risk of a good media pillorying and getting fired from your job.

While you may think Race Denial precludes Racism, I do not think that’s the case. Take the case of the South African schoolboy above. Or, arguably – and of infinitely greater import – take Hendrik Verwoerd, who at least in his early sociologist days seems to have denied an innate different in cognitive ability between blacks and whites. That didn’t stop him from setting up a cruel and patently unjust ethnocracy in South Africa.

Race Realism (cognitive elitism, racial particularism, Human Biodiversity, “racists” (to Race Deniers)): The belief that there are innate differences in races on socially meaningful parameters, such as cognitive ability, and based on assessment of the scientific and empirical evidence. Racism does not naturally follow, as that involves calling for overt discrimination based on the aforementioned beliefs (see below).

There are several prominent Race Realist pundits. Robert Lindsay is the foremost Liberal Race Realist (and quite a bit more: He has quite the idiosyncratic portfolio, also including stuff on linguists and pro-Stalinism; make of that what you will). I can’t recommend his fundamental post on the matter, Liberal Race Realism: Clearing Up a Few Things, highly enough, as it jives almost perfectly with my own views.

Here is the conundrum for Left-liberalism:

Just supposing that there are differences between the races that are not caused by oppression, racism, etc. This is painfully obvious to anyone who will look. The Left refuses to look, because the reality of the whole mess is bad for the Left. So we say it doesn’t exist, unscientifically. We wish the reality away. …

Suppose Blacks had the same abilities as Whites, genetically.

All of the problems, including low IQ, were simply due the fact that they are fucking up, often on purpose. If this were true, and strangely enough, this sort of follows from liberal beliefs about genes and environment, I would argue for a harsh response to Blacks. Not necessarily cutting them off altogether, but I would certainly be a bit less likely to help them.

But there’s no evidence that that is true.

If Blacks do have low IQ due to things they cannot control, then, as a socialist, I would argue that there is no reason that the higher IQ group ought to obtain dramatically higher income, wealth, housing, living spaces and health than the lower one.

As much as possible, socialists should try to attempt to more equalize incomes, housing, living spaces and health care access for both groups, the higher IQ and the lower. …

Why should Whites be allowed to become dramatically richer, healthier, better housed, and live in better places than Blacks, simply because of how the genetic dice got rolled?

Answer: They have no such right. If both groups were equal, and Whites got that way by simply trying harder, then we could make the argument that the White position is just.

Why should Blacks be forced to become dramatically poorer, less healthy, worse housed, and live in worse places than Whites, simply because of how they were born, a variable that they had no control over whatsoever?

Answer: This is not right. It is not just. They should not be forced into these outcomes, and that they are is an outrageous injustice.

Steve Sailer is a Race Realist from the conservative side of the spectrum. Half Sigma, from the libertarian. The most significant academic bloggers at the GNXP network. I guess you could classify this blog, AKarlin as a Liberal Race Realist blog from now on. Why should I continue paying lip service to an ideology that I find to be incredible in the literal meaning of the word? It’s simply dishonest.

Satoshi Kanazawa, Richard Lynn, Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray, Arthur Jensen, Steven Pinker, James Watson are prominent researchers/academics who identify(ied) as Race Realists / HBDers. For that matter, most of the people doing research on population groups, genetic clusters, etc would fit the label.

Closely related (though not coterminous) with Race Realists are “Cognitive Elitists”. These folks believe in the value of a high-IQ society, in that it will have more culture, less crime, more interesting conversations, etc. They are typically high IQ themselves and associate with the “cognitive elite”, i.e. the high-IQ stratum of the population that typically clusters in certain geographical areas (e.g. Shanghai and Beijing in China; Moscow in Russia; Washington, Connecticut/Massachusetts/NY, and the Bay Area in the US). As such, they are strong supporters of comprehensive, well-funded education systems and immigration systems that give priority to skilled workers. Australia and Canada are two good examples of countries that are run by cognitive elitists, even if they don’t identify themselves as such and formally deny IQ and its heritability. Immigration policies give priority to skilled workers, and their public university systems are top notch. I guess one could even call their immigration policies “Deniably Race Realist” because in today’s world, qualified worker typically means East Asian or White anyway.

I would argue the ANC leadership of South Africa has been consistently Race Realist, bizarre as it may sound at first. The blacks had been repressed there by whites for generations (really repressed, not its non-existent form in post-1960′s US). It would have been understandable had they gone down the Robert Mugabe route of confiscations and expulsions. They didn’t. The “price” is that South Africa is now one of the most stratified societies in the world, where the Gini income inequality index is at 70 (higher than under apartheid) and whites and blacks live in separate worlds. The alternative – i.e., Zimbabwe, and its retreat from relative prosperity to complete destitution – would have been much worse for South African blacks themselves.

Lee Kuan Yew was and remains a Race Realist, but gets no flak for it because he isn’t White. I do not think he is a Chinese chauvinist because he cited objective data and scholarly works in support of his views (e.g. IQ scores by race, and Arnold Toynbee’s civilizational history, that argued “hard societies” developed in harsh northern climes where you needed brains to survive), and didn’t refrain from also arguing that Jewish Americans were intellectually superior to the Chinese (citing their disproportionate share of Nobel Prizes). Though immigration policy favored Chinese, on account of their lower birth rates, he also vigorously repressed expressions of Chinese nationalism in Singapore to maintain social unity. Quite clearly he was a Race Realist and Cognitive Elitist, but not a Racist. I can’t say I’m a huge admirer of the Singaporean social model – I’m of the opinion drugs should be legal, not banned under penalty of death (!) – but there is no denying he did a great job for Singapore.

Racism: This starts when one demands overt discrimination based on race. For instance, while Race Realism isn’t Racism per se, it can – admittedly – easily tip over into “Scientific Racism.” Unlike platonic Race Realists, the Scientific Racists are primarily driven by antipathy; indeed, they may have started out as simple Racists, and specifically sought out the science component to serve as an intellectual veneer for their beliefs. As such, they are prone to confirmation bias, and risk degenerating into “Pseudo-Scientific Racism.” Nazi phrenologists and race theorists are classic examples of Pseudo-Scientific Racists. There there are, of course, the simple Racists, who are usually just low-IQ and tend to be unhappy with life. Half-Sigma pegs them perfectly:

What’s the difference between a race realist and a racist? The race realist understands The g Factor, The Bell Curve, and other works of scientific research. The racist apparently thinks that because Barack Obama is half black, it’s impossible for him to have a significantly higher g than John McCain.”

Most of the people at Stormfront are simple racists. There is a lot of pseudo-science and wild conspiracy theorizing there.

Concluding remarks

It would be nice to believe that if only we could raise more aid to the poorest nations, global inequalities could be erased away; and that at the US level, more social welfare and affirmative action for NAM’s (Non-Asian Minorities) could bridge its deep racial chasms in achievement, which have hitherto been stubbornly unyielding. However, the evidence thus far suggests that many of these chasms are substantially rooted in genetics, and as such would be impossible to close under a capitalist system, or indeed, any economic system that offers increasing returns on better human capital (Maoism is the closest one that comes qualifying to that standard, but is probably not the way to go as most would agree). I’d love to be proven wrong but I’m pretty certain it would have to wait for the age of mass genetic engineering or brain-computer interfaces.

As I hope I made clear, none of this means that overt discrimination is justified, or social spending on NAM’s – especially on education – should be reduced (like Race Denying conservative reactionaries would want to). There is ample evidence to support the view that practically everyone benefits from more education, and it’s better than more foreign wars regardless. (Contrary to stereotypes, the US education system actually isn’t doing too bad of a job; though it gets mediocre scores on international student assessments, when broken down by race, its typically near the very forefront). Just don’t expect miracles from social engineering when biology stands in the way.

The next post will take a far more detailed look at the intersections between race, IQ (or g), the effects of environment/culture (which are real but typically overstated), and implications for development.

* Well, ignored by the blog; discussed at length by Lazy Glossophiliac in the comments section.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Thesis. The current capitalist-industrial System is incapable of surmounting the limits to growth on planet Earth because markets and technology, today’s salvation gospel, are no deus ex machina to the energy-and-pollution predicament of industrial civilization. Nor is this System in principle capable of preventing ecological overshoot because growth in physical throughput is the very basis of its existence. As such, we need to transition to an entirely new way of thinking about politics, society, and the economy – Green Communism. This is a system based on technocratic planning using the latest tools of operations research and networking; political control based on ubiquitous 2-way sousveillance to detect corruption and free-riding; and spiritual succor from transcendental values linked to ecotechnic sustainability, instead of today’s shallow materialist values embodied in the System’s “myth of progress”.

By repressing the economic potential of eastern Europe and China throughout much of the 20th century, one of Marxism-Leninism’s greatest legacies is to have indirectly postponed humanity’s reckoning with the Earth’s limits to industrial growth in the form of resource depletion and AGW. Had Eastern Europe and Russia become industrialized, consumer nations by the 1950′s-1960′s instead of the 2010′s-2020′s; had China followed the development trajectory of Taiwan; had nations from India to Brazil not excessively indulged in growth-retarding import substitution, it is very likely that today we would already be well on the downward slope of Hubbert’s curve of oil depletion, and burning coal to compensate – in turn reinforcing an already runaway global warming process.

Though one might refrain that socialist regimes tended to focus on heavy industries and had a poor environmental record, this pollution tended to be localized (e.g. acid rain over Czechoslovakia, or soot over industrial cities); however, CO2 per capita emissions – which contribute to global warming – from the socialist bloc were substantially lower than in the advanced capitalist nations. Furthermore, it should be noted that the overriding spur to heavy industrialization in the first place was the encirclement by capitalist powers, which created a perceived need for militarization (most prominent in the USSR from the 1930′s, and now North Korea). This process also distorted other aspects of those regimes, e.g. the inevitable throwing aside of universal pretensions (in practice, though not in rhetoric) in favor of nationalism, and what could be called a reversion to the “Asian mode of production” with industrial overtones, which could be used to describe Stalinism, or the militarized neo-feudalism of the Juche system of North Korea. So one cannot point to those countries as “proof” of the superiority of capitalism; to the contrary, we should take away the lesson that any anti-capitalist transition should be universal if it is to survive.

The Real Contradictions of Capitalism

Capitalism was a viable and successful system when there was still plentiful land, labor and cheap resources to be exploited (even Engels acknowledged the primacy of nature in powering history’s march forward, for it “supplies [labor] with the material that it converts into wealth”). The cheap resources are now ending, so a system predicated on debt-financed perpetual growth is no longer tenable; this became visible in Japan from the early 1990′s, and is now becoming clear in Europe and the US too, where economic collapse in 2008-09 was only checked thanks to a massive transfer of private losses and bad debts onto the public account (socialism for the elites, capitalism for the rest). The neoliberal era underwritten by cheap oil, global finance, and the US Navy is coming to an end.

Given that oil production peaked in 2008, and the decreasing EROEI of other energy sources, willingly or not we are going to return to the zero-growth of pre-industrial times: then we can either 1) successfully get out of our overshoot predicament and restart conventional development (unlikely), or 2) we can effect a “sustainable retreat” to lower levels of physical throughput and increased efficiency, or 3) we can with ever more coercive state efforts, with the help of modern cybernetics and electronic technology, use the tools of the industrial era to try to maintain the industrial infrastructure and its associated institutional-cultural superstructure.

Most likely we will choose the latter, but it will almost certainly fail; all the Limits to Growth models all suggest that both markets and technology – Mammon and the Machine – are powerless to solve the fundamental predicament that a limited world can support unlimited growth, and they don’t even take further negative feedback loops such as the debilitating effects of political populism and geopolitical competition; nor do those models incorporate the observation that the technological base is dependent on the economic-industrial base for its support, so once the latter fails, technologies from plant bioengineering to energy efficiency also go into retreat.

Thus we see the emergence of capitalism’s real contradictions – not so much the impoverishment of the workers (that, too, will come eventually as industrial civilization approaches collapse), but ecology. Throughout the pre- Industrial Revolution era, peasants all over the world have traditionally viewed merchants with suspicion, since capitalism’s profit motive undermined the egalitarian village social relations and support mechanisms necessary to guarantee community survival in a Malthusian world predating modern economic growth (K. Polanyi, 1957). These attitudes will resurge with a vengeance in the coming neo-Malthusian future. Capitalism will have dug its own grave by eating away the basis of its own existence.

Socialist Sustainability

To avoid collapse, by far the safest route is to kickstart a transition to sustainability – not sustainable development, because it’s far too late for that (we should have started on that during the 1970′s), but sustainable retreat – cutting down on real “living standards” (or at least as measured by the deeply flawed measure of GDP, which counts prisons and environmental cleanup as wealth), to transition to a way of life that is compatible with Gaia.

In practice, this will probably imply a transition to a roughly Cuban way of life. The tropical island is, by one measure (developed level of HDI, low ecological footprint per capita), the world’s only sustainable society.

Predictably enough, there will be several heated objections to living like Cubans, but they can all be effectively countered.

1) Poverty. Don’t they try to swim to Florida? Yes, some do. But Cuban poverty is in part the result of US sanctions, and their punishment of foreign companies doing business in Cuba. Furthermore, it is still far more comfortable than any Malthusian-age, pre-industrial society (or any conventional Third World society). The perception of poverty is created by the “international demonstration effect”, in which images of Western consumerism (based on unsustainable exploitation of Gaia) create false needs and frustrations in poorer societies, a false consciousness hoisted upon all humans connected to the System.

If the rest of the world embraced the concept of sustainable retreat and accepted Cuba as a valid example, then it will become to look much more attractive as 1) it regains access to leading global technologies technologies and know-how, and 2) because its people will no longer be encouraged to judge success by the standards of how new and how big their SUV’s are, but by their ecological wealth, social harmony, and cultural output.

2) Political repression. Yes, Cuba locks up dissidents and is, in Western terms, an unfree society. However, note that the US has been fighting a decades-long information war against Cuba, that the Western media has an incentive to exaggerate its human rights abuses, and that Cuba’s rulers themselves have to fight against this information war and international demonstration effect to maintain Cuban sovereignty. Given that they are much poorer and less influential, the tools at their disposal are much cruder.

Furthermore, as argued by Zizek, the main impact of the communist idea (a secular successor to Christianity’s chiliastic fantasies of salvation) so far was not so much the perfection of the societies acknowledging the idea, as the elucidation of the historical laws (dreams?) by which the perfect society is to appear.

As Alain Badiou pointed out, in spite of its horrors and failures, the “really existing Socialism” was the only political force that – for some decades, at least – seemed to pose an effective threat to the global rule of capitalism, really scaring its representatives, driving them into paranoiac reaction. Since, today, capitalism defines and structures the totality of the human civilization, every “Communist” territory was and is – again, in spite of its horrors and failures – a kind of “liberated territory,” as Fred Jameson put it apropos of Cuba. What we are dealing with here is the old structural notion of the gap between the Space and the positive content that fills it in: although, as to their positive content, the Communist regimes were mostly a dismal failure, generating terror and misery, they at the same time opened up a certain space, the space of utopian expectations which, among other things, enabled us to measure the failure of the really existing Socialism itself. What the anti-Communist dissidents as a rule tend to overlook is that the very space from which they themselves criticized and denounced the everyday terror and misery was opened and sustained by the Communist breakthrough, by its attempt to escape the logic of the Capital. In short, when dissidents like Havel denounced the existing Communist regime on behalf of authentic human solidarity, they (unknowingly, for the most part of it) spoke from the place opened up by Communism itself – which is why they tend to be so disappointed when the “really existing capitalism” does not meet the high expectations of their anti-Communist struggle. Perhaps, Vaclav Klaus, Havel’s pragmatic double, was right when he dismissed Havel as a “socialist”…

The difficult task is thus to confront the radical ambiguity of the Stalinist ideology which, even at its most “totalitarian,” still exudes an emancipatory potential. From my youth, I remember the memorable scene from a Soviet film about the civil war in 1919, in which Bolsheviks organize the public trial of a mother with a young diseased son, who is discovered to be the spy for the counter-revolutionary White forces. At the very beginning of the trial, an old Bolshevik strokes his long white mustache and says: “The sentence must be severe, but just!” The revolutionary court (the collective of the Bolshevik fighters) establishes that the cause of her enemy activity was her difficult social circumstances; the sentence is therefore that she be fully integrated into the socialist collective, taught to write and read and to acquire a proper education, while her son is to be given proper medical care. While the surprised mother bursts out crying, unable to understand the court’s benevolence, the old Bolshevik again strokes his mustaches and nods in consent: “Yes, this is a severe, but just sentence!”

It is easy to claim, in a quick pseudo-Marxist way, that such scenes were simply the ideological legitimization of the most brutal terror. However, no matter how manipulative this scene is, no matter how contradicted it was by the arbitrary harshness of the actual “revolutionary justice,” it nonetheless provided the spectators with new ethical standards by which reality is to be measured – the shocking outcome of this exercise of the revolutionary justice, the unexpected resignification of “severity” into severity towards social circumstances and generosity towards people, cannot but produce a sublime effect. In short, what we have here is an exemplary case of what Lacan called the “quilting point [point de capiton],” of an intervention that changes the coordinates of the very field of meaning: instead of pleading for generous tolerance against severe justice, the old Bolshevik redefines the meaning of “severe justice” itself in terms of excessive forgiveness and generosity. Even if this is a deceiving appearance, there is in a sense more truth in this appearance than in the harsh social reality that generated it.

We must still undergo a trial, a Great March, of sustainable retreat, at the end of which (due to the elimination of materialist thinking) we will transition into what could be called Green Communism – a sustainable, steady-state human existence founded on the (ever-elusive) reconciliation between freedom and equality. How?

Roads to Green Communism

1) The hippies, Green Parties (including Green Party USA), authors of LTG, etc, stress the importance of the grassroots, of Gramscian infiltration, of gradualism – all couched in fluffy, cuddly polar bear-language like “ecological wisdom” or “community-based economics” or “respect for diversity”. The end state is to be a kind of “gift economy”, perhaps in practice encouraged into being through social engineering and widespread psychosomatic therapy. All well and good, but none of this is going to motivate many people to make real change, even in progressive enclaves like the Bay Area (people here mark “Earth Hour” and marginally tone down their CO2 emissions for one hour every 24*365 hours – news flash! it ain’t gonna do much!). Lacking any real drive or force, the elites will ignore these movements at will, and the new Caesars of the coming collapse era will suppress them.

2) The revolutionary extremist road: Alinsky-style activism, propaganda of the deed, catechism of the revolutionist, etc. Problem is that it will not win over the people, and as long as the state remains strong it will take coercive actions against these movements. Unlikely to succeed, but may be the only real chance for change. For capitalism-usury is founded on perpetual growth, by forsaking this tenet the System annihilates itself, so it will not willingly do that.

Second, most analysts are either part of, or suborned by, the System – the sum total of the texts and power relations that make up a society’s set of beliefs. The former category, which includes government policy-makers and corporate strategists, suffers from an “institutional myopia” which gives answers in advance and precludes all questions questioning the legitimacy of their own institutions.

For instance, what can a rational, capitalist state – interested in self-preservation, predicated on unlimited economic growth, and confronted with irrefutable evidence of the dire consequences of business-as-usual greenhouse emissions on the world’s climate – do to resolve these contradictions? The answers are buzzwords like “green growth”, “skeptical environmentalism”, or geoengineering; the forbidden question relates to the efficacy of industrial capitalism as a system to confront the imminent challenges of man-made climate change.

The Gramscian approach of 1) may be doomed by this Bolshevik-Zizek argument that “a political intervention proper does not occur within the coordinates of some underlying global matrix, since what it achieves is precisely the “reshuffling” of this very global matrix”. Yet even if the Revolution is successful, power corrupts; any state formed on the foundations of any such “intervention” may well degenerate into its own nemesis.

3) The laws of history tend to be follow the laws of dialectical materialism – opposites, negation, and transformation – on a route that may lead to a technological singularity, assuming that the ecological base remains intact long enough to sustain the transformation of the industrial System onto a higher plane of existence.

The following extract I found in one of my texts:

The history of the universe is accelerating evolution. A cursory examination of the past reveals growth to be exponential over any sufficiently long period, as can be measured by the frequency of paradigm shifts. Hence, biological life has evolved over a period of billions of years; advanced organisms over several hundred million years. The appearance of intelligent life took place ushered in a technological epoch, which also shows overwhelming evidence of exponential growth – it took ten thousand years from the beginnings of agriculture to catalyse modern economic growth, which has yielded the information revolution in just two hundred years. There are credible prognosesthat posit the appearance of molecular nanotechnology and intelligent machines within the first half of the twenty-first century.

There exist patterns to the evolutionary process itself. According to futurist-inventor Ray Kurzweil, ‘each stage or epoch uses the information-processing methods of the previous epoch to create the next’. Life emerged due to the chaotic interplay of increasingly complex carbon-based compounds. Its DNA-driven evolution eventually gave rise to agents with information-processing capabilities, which culminated in the human ability to create abstract models of reality within their brains. This capacity to conduct mind experiments created the concepts of technology and machines – the bedrock upon which modern material civilization is built. Futurist pundits, extrapolating current trends in computing, predict the coming of a ‘singularity’ that will result from a merger of human and (exponentially expanding) machine intelligence, leading to a universe saturated with intelligent life.

All epochs are based on integrated networks that can be described and mathematically modelled. The first network was based on atomic constituents, governed by physical forces. The universe’s
fine-tuned physical constants made life possible, which was born as the biosphere on planet Earth, which lies in a narrow ‘zone of habitability’. The biosphere (or Gaia) took over the geosphere as the primary architect of its own evolutionary path by evolving a feedback system which seeks to optimize the environment for life. Later, technological growth was able to increase the carrying capacity of the land, leading to demographic growth, greater scope for innovation and therefore faster technological growth in a positive feedback cycle. Agriculture permitted the uneven but inexorable coalescence of complex, stratified societies that in the long-run vanquished the biosphere, be it embodied in forests or hunter-gatherers; the world entered the Holocene, in which the environment – land, and increasing air and water – is shaped by the collective will of the noosphere. Basically, networks in evolution build upon each other. A consequence is that later, more complex superstructures, like intelligence, depends for stability on its biological foundations that regulate the geosphere – something we’re putting in jeopardy via environmental damage.

If we manage to unleash a technological singularity – and avoid its various perils and pitfalls – then the super-abundance produced by self-assembling nanotechnology will eliminate scarcity, the “dematerialization of production” will make classes obsolete, the borders between reality and virtual reality will fade into oblivion as the Earth metamorphoses into Tlön, modern society’s atoms in the iron cage will become avatars of e-Gods in an electronic cage (like on online forums), based on horizontal networks, instead of the power verticals of today. This form of Green Communism is not of the material, but of the cyber-ethereal.

However, the projections suggest that a singularity-driven transition to sustainability may elude us, for both “singularitarians” and “doomers” / “kollapsniks” mostly place their respective events (Singularity or civilizational collapse) in the 2030-50 timeframe.

So which trend will win out? Will we “transcend” just as industrial civilization begins to finally collapse? Or will the world’s last research lab be burned down by starving rioters just as the world’s first, and last, strong AI pops into super-consciousness inside?

What is to be Done?

One idea would be to look at the manifesto of the Collapse Party!, whose goals, essentially, are to ascertain and pursue the optimal road to Green Communism out of those presented above. It is quoted below in full:

The Collapse Party Manifesto

The world is finite, and so the resource stocks and pollution sinks that sustain industrial civilization (“the System”) are limited. We have been in a state of “overshoot”, beyond the “carrying capacity” of the Earth, since the 1980′s (The Limits to Growth, 2004). Limited resources have been drawn down much faster than they could be replenished, and the Earth’s pollution sinks have been overfilled much faster than they could be regenerated.

Elements of this overshoot can already be seen in phenomena as diverse as plateauing crop yields, topsoil loss, accelerating climate change, peak oil, collapsing fisheries, the depletion of higher-EROEI energy sources, dying rivers, global dimming, the proliferation of “failed states”, neo-colonial exploitation, and rising antibiotic resistance. But things are yet going to get much worse…

Based on paleoclimate reconstructions of CO2 levels, an eventual global warming of above 2C is already inevitable. This will set off a cascade of climatic disasters that will speed up the rate of warming, leading to the desertification of much of the world’s land and oceans, the drying of the great Asian rivers, and massive inundations of the low-lying coasts and deltas that harbor humanity’s heartlands. States will collapse into anarchy, spawning Biblical-scale famines and floods of climate refugees.

Meanwhile, the energetic resources that power the System will be coming under severe strain. Oil production has already peaked, and natural gas and coal will follow in a few more decades. The remaining resources are much harder to extract, since the easiest pickings have already been exploited. We will have to divert ever more energy, labor, and capital towards mitigating the effects of both energy depletion (renewables, remote hydrocarbons) and runaway climate change (adaptation, geoengineering).

This will starve agriculture and the consumer sector, ushering in disillusionment, social discontent, and a longing for a strong hand at the helm of power. This will undermine liberal democracy’s political legitimacy, leading either to anarchy (“failed states”) or increasing coercion (authoritarianism). Geopolitical rivalries over the remaining energy resources will intensify, extinguishing the already dim prospects for international cooperation. Long-term thinking will recede into irrelevance, for political leaders will have their hands full with much more pressing issues – building sea walls, feeding the military, and placating (or dispersing) angry mobs.

Our only way to escape this trap is to rapidly effect a global transition towards “sustainable development”. The imperative of such a transition was recognized as early as the 1970′s, but we have yet to see any truly meaningful action. Nor are we likely to, since the defining feature of industrial-capitalist civilization is indefinite growth, based around the taking of loans against (higher) future returns. There’s a reason why Malthusian societies suppressed usury – and should we continue business-as-usual, we will soon rediscover why.

Though the System is very effective in some ways, it cannot foresee its own demise; nor can its servants even ask questions that hint at the unpalatable answer. However, the casual, detached, and informed observer can. Yes, in a purely technical sense, disaster can still be averted if one could convince people to make, or more likely force through, drastic reductions in First World overconsumption, a full-scale retooling of the industrial system towards renewables and recycling, and a global system of “contraction and convergence” on CO2 emissions.

Achieving this, however, is unlikely in the extreme; any transition to sustainability is going to be stymied by social myopia and geopolitical anarchy, as well as innate human psychological features such as the conservative bias, the denial complex, hedonism, and susceptibility to “creeping normalcy” and “landscape amnesia”. Unless we overcome these failings, or discover a technological silver bullet, we will collide with planetary limits to growth sometime around 2030 to 2050.

In that scenario, the System as a whole will become increasingly fragile, such that a large enough perturbation – say, a major war or global climatic disaster – will send it into a self-reinforcing spiral down into chaos. The electrical-industrial infrastructure supporting modern technology, especially the massive repositories of information entombed within cyberspace, will crumble away into oblivion.

After a short period of unprecedented violence, famine, pestilence, and death known as “the Collapse”, the world will get larger once more, and society will retreat back into the comforting blackness of a new Dark Age.

Faced with these grim prospects, we see it fitting to launch a multi-pronged initiative to if not avert a Collapse (as is the purpose of the global Green movement), then at least to attempt to mitigate, as best we can, its catastrophic humanitarian consequences. We do not wish on the demise of technological civilization, for we recognize that for all its ecological obliviousness and social injustices, it has enabled tremendous progress in science and many aspects of culture and human welfare. That said, we recognize that sometimes, the Second Law of Thermodynamics – the tendency for all closed, complex systems to decay – cannot be sidestepped.

We propose a program of “sustainable retreat”, to be characterized by the following policy planks:

  • use the remaining high-EROEI fossil fuel stocks in a crash program to build as large a nuclear and renewable energy infrastructure as possible.
  • clean up radioactive and toxic installations while we still have the technologies and resources to do so.
  • work on fostering global unity and a common human identity to encourage cooperation and discourage competition and resource wars.
  • preserve as much as possible of the world’s stock of technologies, bioresources, and knowledge in dispersed repositories (“lifeboats”) in durable, physical format.
  • retool the education system to disseminate practical skills and democratize it using the power of the Internet (as long as it continues to exist).
  • liberalize copyright laws.
  • promote communal-agrarian values, while ditching the individualist and accumulative mentality that is spelling our doom.
  • unite all social groups under different wings of the Party – conventional Greens, as well as socialists, feminists, right-wing survivalists, etc – that are amenable to the kollapsnik message.
  • eschew militarism, dismantle overseas military bases, and repatriate the troops; but maintain a minimal nuclear deterrent.
  • nationalization and / or regulation of the commanding heights of the economy to optimize resource conservation and pollution control.
  • establish a network of self-contained “resiliencies” across the nation and the world, modeled on the Kibbutzim, that will provide physical, mental, and spiritual nourishment to those who need it.
  • allow mostly-unimpeded free enterprise for small, non-strategic, and low-material throughput businesses, for it will still be necessary to keep the consumerist urgings satiated.
  • the Party is to be aim to operate on a horizontal and democratic basis, in which promotion and honors are to be based on the judgments of peers on one’s competence and commitment to the cause.
  • the winding-down of the prison-industrial complex in a controlled manner; the nature of law and order to be determined in further internal debate.
  • general debt amnesty to wipe the slate clean and start from Year Zero in our quest for sustainability.
  • expand resources into research on areas such as sustainable energy, geoengineering, and artificial intelligence to increase the chances of achieving a technological “silver bullet”.
(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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I would like to wish all Sublime Oblivion readers a very happy and successful New Year. One of my major motivations for writing is getting comments and feedback, so please continue – the more you inflate my ego, the more time I will feel compelled to spend on the blog. ;)

Year in Review: 2009

All in all, 2009 was rather less interesting that 2008, which saw three thresholds of portentous significance – the final peaking of global oil production, the discovery of the magnitude of the Arctic methane meltdown, and the collapse (and partial recovery, abetted by prodigious state credit infusions) of the global financial system. Simultaneously, Russia, China, and other rising powers have begun presenting a rising challenge to Western hegemony on an ever broader front. The key trends of 2009, whether leaders and pundits recognized it or not, were about managing the consequences and realities of 2008.

From the American viewpoint, 2009 was the year of Obama. He realized that the “cowboy diplomacy” pursued by Bush alienated key allies on perceived vital issues (Afghanistan, stimulus spending, etc), and sought to reinvigorate relations with its traditional allies and reach out to its enemies. Though publics tended to be enthusiastic, governments were not as moved; the European states continue stalling on commitments to Afghanistan, whereas Russia, China, and the Muslim world have decidedly spurned him on the basis that actions speak louder than words. They have a point. Obama has essentially continued post-2006 Bush policies based on a “realist” appraisal of American interests – prodigal military spending, “occupation” of the Middle East (as perceived by Muslims), support for Israel, resistance against Russian neo-imperial ambitions for the former Soviet space, engaging with China without reference to human rights, supporting sanctions against Iran while leaving “all options on the table”, etc. This creates a certain impression of schizophrenia to the administration’s actions – popular abroad but spurned by friend and foe; repudiating the Bush legacy but continuing it in practice; talking of reforming healthcare and closing Guantanamo, but stymied by discredited Republicans at home. It’s all a muddle.

So is the bind that the US is stuck in regarding Iran. Officially it supports gasoline sanctions, but they are unlikely to have much effect if Russia circumvents them (which it is likely to do given its continued geopolitical jockeying with the US) – and even if Russia acquiesces to the sanctions, enforcing the sanctions will be difficult. Israel is a loose cannon. It cannot allow the possibility of a radical Islamic regime acquiring a nuclear capability, and will do everything – including striking its nuclear installations – to prevent it. As a consequence, the US will be drawn in because of their fears that in the aftermath, the Iranian military will mine the Strait of Hormuz and interdict the Gulf oil shipping which carries 20% of world oil production. This may usher in a general Middle East war whose geopolitical, economic, and financial ramifications may veer wildly out of control, possibly culminating in the fall of Pax Americana itself. In both the US and Iran, domestic forces are driving the two countries to a confrontation. This is a geopolitical predicament that is becoming increasingly clear, with the US issuing greater threats and Iran intensifying its nuclear brinkmanship in the last few months of 2009.

Even as the US was focused on the Middle East, the Kremlin has been using the resultant “window of opportunity” to continue reasserting its influence over the former Soviet space – expanding the scope of the CSTO military alliance, strengthening ties with Ukraine’s Russia-friendly political forces, pressuring Uzbekistan with a new military base in Kyrgyzstan, and making a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Though its economic crisis was deep, it did not have major negative internal effects either humanitarian or political, which put Russia in a yet stronger position relative to its Near Abroad. With the Kremlin’s simultaneous strengthening of internal control (e.g. over the oligarchs), Russia continued to return to its past-and-future as a Eurasian empire.

Driven by desperate credit infusions and fiscal spending, the US and Europe began to experience an anemic recovery in mid-2009, – but one that cannot be sustained, especially since the resource fueling it (yes, oil) has peaked, and will decline at an accelerating pace after 2010. The price of recovery is massive new debt, transferred from private to sovereign hands, and a widening of the same imbalances that caused the crisis in the first place. Yet a far worse example of eating the seed corn is the debacle of the Copenhagen summit, where the nations of the world failed to agree on emissions cuts to check runaway global warming. We need to limit the temperature rise to no more than 2C, because after that there are numerous tipping points that will make an accelerating Klimakatastrophe inevitable; this implies that at the minimum, global emissions should peak by 2015, and decline by 80% by 2050 over 1990 levels. The commitments made at Copenhagen are feeble, more so even than Kyoto – largely thanks to Chinese sabotage. (Well, at least we didn’t die of swine flu). In related news, the increasing habitability of Greenland has driven it to make further strides towards declaring formal independence from Denmark.

Riding roughshod over Ireland and the Czech Republic, the EU finally passed the Lisbon Treaty, which gives the large, pro-strong-Europe countries like Germany, France, and Italy far more voting power relative to Euroskeptic nations. Should the Franco-German bloc wish, it now has many of the tools to dominate Europe and present an economic and cultural challenge to US hegemony; whether they will manage to do so is very much open to question, given the rising pressures on European unity presented by trends such as: 1) the rising power of France relative to Germany and 2) the deep-grained economic predicaments of the Mediterranean Rim.D

The skylines lit up at dead of night, the air-conditioning systems cooling empty hotels in the desert, and artificial light in the middle of the day all have something both demented and admirable about them: the mindless luxury of a rich civilization, and yet of a civilization perhaps as scared to see the lights go out as was the hunter in his primitive night. – Baudrillard

There is perhaps no better metaphor for the spectacle of Dubai going bankrupt just as it completed the greatest monument to petro-fueled Gulf vanity, the 818-meter tall Burj Dubai.

Though the Gulf states have increased moves to band together in a customs union, and are slowly but surely transferring their alliance to China – the country likely destined to be the last hegemonic power of the industrial age.

Edit 1/5/09 – There is a better metaphor (or personification?), and best of all it was probably unwitting. From Facebook: Vilhelm Konnander has just (LOL) read today’s “The National” about Burj Dubai: “The tallest tower in the world, its feet anchored in the UAE and its crown floating in the clouds, was inaugurated in an eruption of fireworks last night.”

2010 Predictions

1) World economy continues an anemic recovery, though there are significant risks to the downside.

2) Obama’s honeymoon period is over, his approval ratings are on the downslide, and his major domestic and foreign policy initiatives have almost all failed. Republicans will carry the mid-term elections in 2010, but there is a strong mood of apathy and a sense that what is really needed is a new party, a new politics – though this will only start playing a great role in the post-Obama, or post-2012, era. Rising violence in Iraq (perhaps abetted by Iran, to demonstrate to the US the dangers of attacking it); a false quiet in Afghanistan, as the Taleban limit activity to conserve their strength while the US presence in Afghanistan is strong (they know the Americans will retreat the bulk of their forces soon enough anyway).

In the UK, Gordon Brown (New Labour) will almost certainly lose to James Cameron (Conservatives) in the mid-2010 elections.

3) Possible wars. Foremost looms the shadow of Iran and the bomb, of course. I doubt the US will attack in 2010, unless Israel forces its hand. It will first exhaust its options with sanctions, etc, which will almost certainly be ineffective. The Iranian IRGC-linked hardliners in power (figurehead – Ahmadinejad), under pressure from the Rafsanjani / Mousavi clerical clan, will not yield, and will remain defiant internationally to justify increasing their hold on internal power. There will be tension, but no war – especially since the US still needs to develop its Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the next-generation bunker-buster, to have a high level of confidence that a bombing raid on Iranian nuclear installations have truly done their job. (True, postponing the strike to 2011 or 2012 makes the world economy more vulnerable to disruption because oil prices will be higher then and oil supplies tighter, but then again I highly doubt the administration takes “peak oil” into consideration in its strategic planning). Likelihood: 25%; Severity: 6.

What is much more likely to happen is a new war between Israel and Hezbollah. Since 2006, Israel may have infiltrated Hezbollah, aided by internal splits within the organization, and has taken stock of lessons learned during the unsuccessful last war; it may now want to send a signal to Iran and preemptively incapacitate one of its most effective means for retaliating against Israel into the bargain. Israeli special forces are more than capable of producing a false flag, even if Hezbollah refrains from doing it for them. Furthermore, Hezbollah is causing Saudi Arabia trouble by sending fighters and weapons to the Shia insurgency in Yemen fighting the Saudis; SA would appreciate an Israeli crippling attack on Hezbollah, and may give concessions to Israel, such as allowing it to use its airspace in a strike against Iran (the US has said it will shoot down Israeli planes flying to Iran over Iraq). This further increases the incentives for Israel to pummel Hezbollah, this time round with a real, large-scale ground invasion. Likelihood: 50%; Severity: 3.

A new Russia-Georgia war remains a serious possibility, if Saakashvili uses his rapidly rebuilding military forces to make another megalomaniac lunge at reclaiming South Ossetia, or if Russia orchestrates a false flag to give itself the justification to roll in the tanks to Tbilisi and set up a puppet regime. In the latter case, the “new cold war” atmosphere of August 2008 will begin to appear to be distinctly jovial. Likelihood: 10%; Severity: 4.

Finally, we should note that a) Azerbaijan and Armenia have a bitter rivalry, cultural and geographic over the Armenian-populated and -occupied Azeri enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, b) though it lost a war to Armenia in the early 1990′s, Azerbaijan has been implementing a rapid military modernization since 2006 with the help of oil pipeline transit revenue from the BTC, and its military budget alone is now equivalent to Armenia’s entire state budget, c) Armenia and Turkey are slowly moving towards a reconciliation under Russian brokerage, which threatens Azerbaijan’s strategic position, and d) Armenian-Azeri talks over Nagorno-Karabakh have recently collapsed. The obstacle to war is that Turkey and the US, though friendly with Azerbaijan, are very unlikely to give it direct support; but Armenia is in the CSTO military alliance with Russia. An Azeri attack will almost certainly lead to a decisive Russian response, furthermore there is a large Russian military base in Gyumri, Armenia. Unlike Saakashvili, Aliyev is a rational leader, and for now Russian and Turkey have a mutual interest in keeping things contained. That said, the possibility of a new war cannot be fully discounted – especially if it is simultaneous with the chaos unleashed by a US-Israeli war with Iran and its proxies.

Expect instability, but not collapse, in Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico, some or all of the Baltic states. Despite the occasional rhetoric, there is very little chance of a new Korean war, a Venezuela-Colombia war, or an Israel-Syria war.

4) Given that Russia’s demography has continued improving even in 2009, a year of deep economic contraction and scare stories (false) of an abortion apocalypse, it is almost certain that it will continue improving further in 2010 and that the year will see the first year of positive population growth since 1994 (or 2009). Birth rate = 12.5-13.0 (reasons), Death rate = 13.5-14.0 (a reason), Net Migration = 1.5-2.0, all / 1000. Economic growth of around 3-5% of GDP sounds reasonable. Lots of privatizations and corruption investigations as part of the Surkov clan’s struggle against the siliviki and “their” state companies. Ukraine under Yanukovych will join Eurasec or the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union, but is yet unlikely to join the CSTO or give Russian 2nd language status.

5) Oil production in 2010 will be around the same as 2009 – increased demand will collide with geological depletion to keep output stable. Oil prices in H1 will remain at 70-90$, and will rise to 90-110$ in H2 on the basis that background geological depletion will be cancelled out by OPEC going back on its 2009 production cuts to fuel the ongoing global recovery. Of course, if there are serious confrontations with Iran, the oil price will veer right off the historical charts.

6) No major AGW-related physical events (except for a heatwave or two), given that solar irradiation remains at an unusually long trough – expect the fireworks by 2012-15. AGW skepticism will become more popular in the wake of Climategate. China and its proxies will prevent any more significant action being taken at the next UN climate change summit in Mexico, than was “achieved” in Copenhagen. By year-end the performance of the world’s top supercomputer will exceed 3 petaflops (repeat of 2009 prediction).

7) China’s growth will slow from around 8% in 2009, to perhaps 5% in 2010 as it cuts back on the loose credit in recognition of the problems this is going to create further down the line (this is already happening). Otherwise, expect China to continue keeping a low profile as the US insists on shooting itself in the foot.

What about the 2009 Predictions?

How did my previous set of 2009 predictions go?

1) Correct about the American H2 2009 stimulus-boosted recovery, though too pessimistic about its strength. That said, doesn’t change the fact it’s unsustainable, even in the medium-term.

2) Correct about the end of deflation, resumption of credit flows, and rebounding commodities.

3) I was completely, 100%, totally right on my oil price predictions.

However, an incipient global recovery in the second half will result in a rebound in oil prices from around 40-50$ per barrel in the first half, to 60-80$ in the second.

Not so much on food, admittedly.

4) Right on Germany’s and Japan’s steep GDP declines, not so much on China’s anemic growth – massive credit expansion and fiscal stimulus in the People’s Republic has resulted in the building of ever more unneeded capacity, resulting in a growth rate of around 8% instead of the predicted 2%. Correct on rising protectionism, and the economic collapses in the Baltics and Ukraine.

5) The “flight to safety” ended, and as predicted the US $ weakened relative to the Euro (1 Euro = 1.41$ on Jan 1st 2009, = 1.46$ on Jan 1st 2010, now with an upward rather than a downward trend). The pattern for the yen has been similar. The latest CBO figures suggest that the US budget deficit will be 9.9% of GDP for 2009, within my predicted band of 8-13%.

6) Very wrong on Russia’s GDP growth – instead of 1%, it will decline by around 7-9%. I misunderestimated the depth of its consumers’ and companies’ reliance on credit, and the extent of its credit crunch. Nonetheless, the core of what I predicted, such as the declining influence of the oligarchs and the lack of any significant fall in real wellbeing, has been correct. There have been no serious political challenges to Putvedev, as Russia’s ruling tandem retain extremely high approval ratings. And as predicted, the RTS has recovered to above 1000 (to around 1500 in fact).

7) Wrong that Yushenko and Saakashvili would not survive 2009 as political leaders. Well, Yushenko will almost certainly (95%+) be kicked out of the Presidency in the coming Ukrainian elections, probably in favor of Yanukovych. Saakashvili, with his deepening megalomania, has managed to hang on, despite spirited defiance from the opposition and an attempted military coup. If he survived 2009, most likely he will survive for a few years more.

8) My optimistic forecasts on Russia’s demography, which bucked the conventional “wisdom”, have been fully validated, and in the case of the death rate even substantially superseded.

In Russia, the birth rate will be between 11.5 and 12.5 / 1000, the death rate at 14.5 and 15.5 / 1000 and net migration will fall substantially to 0.5 / 1000. For comparison, the figures for the first ten months of 2008 were 12.1, 14.8 and 1.7 respectively.

According to Rosstat figures for Jan-Nov 2009, the birth rate was 12.4, the death rate was 14.1, and the net migration rate actually rose to 1.8 / 1000 during Jan-Oct.

9) No major new wars.

10) Slightly wrong on supercomputer performance, totally correct on oil production fall. Contrary to prediction, no major AGW physical “event”.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.