The city-state redux

16 Sep

Jamie Bartlett, in Aeon:

Until the mid-19th century, most of the world was a sprawl of empires, unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travellers crossed without checks or passports. As industrialisation made societies more complex, large centralised bureaucracies grew up to manage them. Those governments best able to unify their regions, store records, and coordinate action (especially war) grew more powerful vis-à-vis their neighbours. Revolutions – especially in the United States (1776) and France (1789) – helped to create the idea of a commonly defined ‘national interest’, while improved communications unified language, culture and identity. Imperialistic expansion spread the nation-state model worldwide, and by the middle of the 20th century it was the only game in town. There are now 193 nation-states ruling the world.

But the nation-state with its borders, centralised governments, common people and sovereign authority is increasingly out of step with the world.

Maybe Trump was right”

On 17 September 2016, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted: ‘A nation without borders is not a nation at all. We WILL Make America Safe Again!’ The outcry obscured the fact that Trump was right (in the first half, anyway). Borders determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s a citizen and who’s not, who puts in and who takes from the common pot. If a nation cannot defend its border, it ceases to exist in any meaningful way, both as a going concern and as the agreed-upon myth that it is.

Trump’s tweet was set against the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s offer, one year earlier, of asylum for Syrians. The subsequent movement of people across Europe – EU member states received 1.2 million first-time asylum applications in 2015 – sparked a political and humanitarian crisis, the ramifications of which are still unfolding. It certainly contributed to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU. But 1.2 million people is a trickle compared to what’s coming. Exact numbers are hard to come by, and notoriously broad, but according to some estimates as many as 200 million people could be climate-change refugees by the middle of the century.

Tough, of course, The Donald doesn’t believe in climate change. Continue reading

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Billions for War, only a Pittance for Peace: We Need a Department of Peace

16 Aug

Rex Tillerson’s reassurances about the threat of a nuclear exchange with North Korea leave me cold. My alarm bells are ringing not only because the two most impetuous fools on the planet (Trump and Kim Jong Un) are playing at nuclear brinkmanship, but because they’re doing so in the context of a militaristic culture whose default response to conflict is threats of violence.

The Pentagon spends $587 billion a year on weapons and military operations. The Defense Department includes not only the army, navy and air force but twenty agencies devoted to all manner of weaponry, logistics and intelligence. Meanwhile, the State Department’s measly budget for foreign aid and diplomacy is in the President’s crosshairs. Little wonder then that we’ve been embroiled in a seemingly endless war since 2003.

Imagine if the United States were to create a Department of Peace whose secretary serves on the Cabinet. Such an agency would provide a powerful counterweight to the choir of generals and war profiteers currently whispering in the President’s ear. If this proposal seems improbable, why is that? The more outlandish it seems, the more needed it is.

Erica Etelson

MAGA: A conspiracy of oligarchs vs. the rest of us?

12 Jul

Just a quick take: We know that prior to becoming President Donald Trump was doing business in Russia. We now know that the Trump campaign – DJ Jr., Kushner, & Manafort – had a conversation with well-connected Russians about dirt on Hillary Clinton. We don’t yet know whether or not anything illegal has been done – expert opinion seems divided. But at the very least, it’s unseemly. Is this how to make American great again, collaborate with a nation that, not so long ago, was America’s fiercest rival?

But is this about nations, or just about the oligarchs and plutocrats that run them? We know that any self-respecting Russian oligarch is going to have an apartment in London, or New York, perhaps Singapore, or Dubai? The Chinese too? And folks on Jersey City, across the Hudson from Manhattan, have been getting exercised at son-in-law Jared’s sister dangling HB-5 visas before potential Chinese investors in their projects.

It’s looking like “Make America Great Again” is just the brand name under which a loose transnational gaggle of oligarchs manipulates politics in the USofA.

Meanwhile, I keep reading these articles about the waning of the nation-state as a vehicle for governance. The most recent of these talk about how states and cities in America are going around the federal government on climate change. That is to say, on this issue, they’ve decided to conduct their own foreign policy and foreign policy, we know, has traditionally be the prerogative of the nation-state. That’s why nation-states exist, to conduct foreign affairs.

What’s it all mean?

Trump’s foreign Policy: An end to American hegemony?

23 Jun

Writing in The American Conservative, Andrew Bacevich notes a post-Trump nostalgia for a world order characterized as, “Liberalism, along with norms, rules, openness, and internationalism: these ostensibly define the postwar and post-Cold War tradition of American statecraft.” He goes on to note that such a view leaves out a few things:

Or, somewhat more expansively, among the items failing to qualify for mention in the liberal internationalist, rules-based version of past U.S. policy are the following: meddling in foreign elections; coups and assassination plots in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Cuba, South Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, and elsewhere; indiscriminate aerial bombing campaigns in North Korea and throughout Southeast Asia; a nuclear arms race bringing the world to the brink of Armageddon; support for corrupt, authoritarian regimes in Iran, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, South Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Egypt, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere—many of them abandoned when deemed inconvenient; the shielding of illegal activities through the use of the Security Council veto; unlawful wars launched under false pretenses; “extraordinary rendition,” torture, and the indefinite imprisonment of persons without any semblance of due process.

A bit later:

Prior to Trump’s arrival on the scene, few members of the foreign-policy elite, now apparently smitten with norms, fancied that the United States was engaged in creating any such order. America’s purpose was not to promulgate rules but to police an informal empire that during the Cold War encompassed the “Free World” and became more expansive still once the Cold War ended.

Rather

Trump’s conception of a usable past differs radically from that favored in establishment quarters. Put simply, the 45th president does not subscribe to the imperative of sustaining American hegemony because he does not subscribe to the establishment’s narrative of 20th-century history. According to that canonical narrative, exertions by the United States in a sequence of conflicts dating from 1914 and ending in 1989 enabled good to triumph over evil. Absent these American efforts, evil would have prevailed. Contained within that parable-like story, members of the establishment believe, are the lessons that should guide U.S. policy in the 21st century.

Trump doesn’t see it that way, as his appropriation of the historically loaded phrase “America First” attests. In his view, what might have occurred had the United States not waged war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and had it not subsequently confronted the Soviet Union matters less than what did occur when the assertion of hegemonic prerogatives found the United States invading Iraq in 2003 with disastrous results.

In effect, Trump dismisses the lessons of the 20th century as irrelevant to the 21st. Crucially, he goes a step further by questioning the moral basis for past U.S. actions. Thus, his extraordinary response to a TV host’s charge that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a killer.

Concerning the Trump resistance:

Say this for the anti-Trump resistance: while the fascism-just-around-the-corner rhetoric may be overheated and a touch overwrought, it qualifies as forthright and heartfelt. While not sharing the view that Trump will rob Americans of their freedoms, I neither question the sincerity nor doubt the passion of those who believe otherwise. Indeed, I am grateful to them for acting so forcefully on their convictions. They are inspiring.

Not so with those who now wring their hands about the passing of the fictive liberal international order credited to enlightened American statecraft. They are engaged in a great scam, working assiduously to sustain the pretense that the world of 2017 remains essentially what it was in 1937 or 1947 or 1957 when it is not.

The Nation State as an Agent of War

29 May
Tyler Cowen has a recent post consisting of the abstract to a working paper by Alberto Alesina, Bryony Reich, Alessandro Riboni, “Nation-Building, Nationalism and Wars”. Here’s that abstract:
The increase in army size observed in early modern times changed the way states conducted wars. Starting in the late 18th century, states switched from mercenaries to a mass army by conscription. In order for the population to accept to fight and endure war, the government elites began to provide public goods, reduced rent extraction and adopted policies to homogenize the population with nation-building. This paper explores a variety of ways in which nation-building can be implemented and studies its effects as a function of technological innovation in warfare.
Here’s a link to an ungated version of the paper.

Does this imply that as long as the nation-state is the focal-point of political organization we will be fighting wars? Is that why that United States has managed to engage itself in useless and immoral wars since the end of World War II? Perhaps it’s time we create other ways to organize our political life.

Here’s several opening paragraphs from the paper:

The interplay between war and the fiscal capacity of the state is well known. However, guns are not enough to win wars; one also needs motivated soldiers. In modern times, the need for large armies led to a bargain between the rulers and the population. The elite had to make concessions to induce citizens to comply with war related demands. Rulers promoted nationalism to motivate citizens and extract “ever-expanding means of war – money, men, materiel, and much more – from reluctant subject populations” (Tilly, 1994; see also Levi, 1997).

The “ancient regimes” in Europe used to fight wars with relatively small armies of mercenaries, sometimes foreigners, paid out with the loots of war. As a consequence of the evolution of warfare, countries changed the conduct of war, switching from mercenaries to mass armies recruited or conscripted almost entirely from the national population. Roberts (1956) explained how warfare underwent a “military revolution” starting between 1560 and 1660 and reaching a completion with the “industrialization of war” (McNeill, 1982) that occurred in the nineteenth century. The source of this revolution was due to changes in tactics and weapons, such as, the use of gunpowder technology and the invention of new styles of artillery fortification, higher population growth, changes in communications and transport technology which allowed states to put a large army in the field, and the adoption of techniques of mass weapon production. The electromagnetic telegraph, developed in the 1840s, allowed the deployment and the control of the army at distance. Steamships and railroads moved weapons, men and supplies on an entirely unprecedented scale (Onorato et al., 2014). In the middle of the 19th century, the adoption of semiautomatic machinery to manufacture rifled muskets made it possible, and relatively affordable, to equip a large number of soldiers (McNeill, 1982, p. 253). As a result, the size of armies increased and, as Clausewitz (1832) put it, “war became the business of the people”.

This paper examines nation-building in times of war. Mass warfare favored the transformation from the ancient regimes (based purely on rent extraction) to modern nation states in two ways. First, the state became a provider of mass public goods in order to buy the support of the population. Second, the state developed policies geared towards increasing national identity and nationalism. In particular the states had to hold in distant provinces to avoid the breakdown of the country, which would have interfered with war effort, and to motivate soldiers and civilians located far away from the core of the country. In addition, nation-building in times of war also included aggressive negative propaganda against the enemy and supremacy theories.

When the armies had to increase in size, the elites needed to build tax capacity. This is a well studied point as we argued above, and we return to it at the end to close our argument. We focus here on a different issue, the selection on how to spend fiscal revenues to motivate the population to endure wars. The composition of spending is quite relevant. For instance Aidt et al. (2006) argue that total spending as a fraction of GDP did not increase that much in the 19th century up until WW2. What mostly changed was the composition of the budget: in the 19th century and early 20th century, spending on defense and policing was partly substituted by spending on public services (transport, communication, construction) and later on public provision of public goods (education and health).

Continue reading

Is Trump Out of Control?

16 May

I don’t know. I simply don’t know what to make of events for the last week so.

The Comey firing was a debacle. While I have no love for the man, it seemed pretty clear that when the announcement came last Tuesday that Comey was being fired because over the FBI’s investigation into the interaction between the Trump campaign and the Russians. The pretext given, that it was about his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, was laughable. No one bought it and the firing blew us in Trump’s face. So what does Trump do? He admits that, yes, he fired Comey over the Russia investigation – thus making his subordinates looking like fools for covering for him.

Meanwhile, the day after the Comey firing Trump met with Russian officials, Lavrov (foreign minister) and Kislyak (ambassador to the US), and gave them highly sensitive intelligence information about ISIS, information that had been supplied to the United States by a third party (now known to be Israel) with the understanding that the US would be very circumspect about sharing it. While such an action is within the authority of the President, it is, for reasons laid-out in full in this post at Lawfare, a stupid and foolish thing to do. We only learned about this yesterday (Monday 15 May).

We’re still processing this. By “we” I mean you, me, and anyone else. But also Trump, and those who serve him and must cover for him. What’s it all mean?

David Brooks, by no means a favorite of mine, argues that Trump is a child:

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

Tim Burke worries that:

Trump himself or the people around him or his loyal base of supporters [will] continue to insist on his retention of authority despite the fact that he’s impaired. We lurch from crisis to crisis, descending every day deeper into shared delirium. That happens too in history, is happening right now here and there around the world: people closest to the void at the heart of political power decide that they themselves are safest if they embrace that void, and amplify its capricious, random perturbations in all directions. We the People, already both mad and slightly maddened ourselves, become caregivers and captives of a mad king.

Is this what we’ve got, a mad king leading the most powerful nation on earth?

A Fourth Constitutional Crisis?

12 May

Over at Down with Tyranny Gaius Publius argues that we’re having a fourth constitutional crisis. He sets things up by arguing that Trump will not be impeached:

I’ll lay decent odds the administration will appoint no special prosecutor, and if they do, no independent special prosecutor. It would take a revolt from congressional Republicans to prove me wrong. That could happen, but odds that it will? Less than 50-50 as I see it now.

Which means the country stays in its current state, ruled by a man and a party actively perverting the Constitution to enable obvious corruption and — finally, what the Democrats alleged all along on no evidence — apparent collusion by that man with a foreign power to gain domestic power. Whether that collusion was decisive or not in his victory, matters not at all. […]

All of which means that if Trump’s Russia doings aren’t formally investigated, either by a special investigator or by Congress, elites who want him gone will have to force him out by extra-constitutional means.

Extra-constitutional means?

• Relentless, damaging leaks and innuendo from all quarters aimed at turning public opinion against him.

• Privately issued threats and rewards — sticks and carrots — to induce him to step down. Remember, intelligence agencies of various stripes likely have almost all the goods on almost all officials who matter to them. Imagine what’s hoarded in NSA databases, or what FBI background checks reveal. Imagine what secrets angry CIA field agents might dig up. […]

• Threats amounting to blackmail and, if not physical violence, violence to his wealth, business interests, and “brand.” (“We will destroy your brand forever, you will never do business again, if you don’t get out. Here’s how we’ll do it. First…”)

And that leads us to the fourth Constitutional crisis:

• 1789, the Revolutionary War and transition from colony to slave-holding republic.

• 1865, the Civil War and transition from divided slave-holding nation with two competing economies to united freed-slave state. This change took down the Southern agricultural aristocracy (by depriving it of the nearly free labor it depended on); made the Northern industrial economy nationally ascendant; and put us firmly on the path to first-world industrial powerhouse.

• 1933, the Great Depression and transition from a light-handed pro-business government to a heavy-handed regulatory state.

• And now, this.

What will the next American Constitution look like? Turkey’s and Hungary’s, with their dictators and single-party governments wrapped in the old constitutional forms? A naked kleptocracy, where constitutional forms are simply ignored, like those in many third-world countries? A state in which forms are observed but the hand with real power belongs mainly to the “security” apparatus? In many countries, coups by segments of the elite, blatant or covert, are welcomed as correctives and tacitly approved (another way constitutions are revised without being rewritten).

If Trump is not successfully impeached, and it looks for now like he won’t be, our government as practiced will once more dramatically change, as it did when Bush’s crimes were not addressed, and Obama’s after him (never forget that targeted assassination is an innovation Obama made lawful).

But whatever happens next, whether Trump is impeached or not, I think we’ve already been changed as a nation forever by what’s already led to this moment. After all, in 2016 the nation wanted someone like Sanders to be president, wanted an agent of change, and look what it got. This is in fact our second failed attempt this century at change that makes our lives better.

I don’t think that point’s been lost on anyone. We’re in transition no matter what happens to Trump. Transition to what, we’ll have to find out later.

And something else to consider. The last three times the government fundamentally changed, we got lucky. We found leaders — Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt — up to the task, in chaotic and troubling times, of steering an altered ship to calmer water and a safer port.

RESISTANCE – Resistance to Trump

21 Apr

Over at Blogging Heads, Robert Wright talks with Erica Chenoweth, a student of non-violent resistance who is Professor & Associate Dean for Research at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Along with Maria J. Stephen she’s published Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia UP, 2011).

Early in the discussion she specifies the kind of resistance they studied (c. 3:26):

People that rely on techniques of resistance that don’t physically harm the opponent or threaten to physically harm the opponent can be categorized as nonviolent. And that when people rely on those type of techniques of resistance, whether or not they have a moral commitment to passivism or a moral commitment to non-violence per se, that the accumulation of those non-violent techniques activates a number of different political dynamics in a society that makes them more likely to succeed.

They discussion spends some time on Egypt and Syria, noting that things were going well with primarily non-violent methods in Syria (17:39 ff.) until regional and international actors began interfering (by supplying arms, etc.). Toward the end Chenoweth about current resistence to the Trump administration in America (c. 52:14):

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/45863?in=49:25&out=52:14

The nice thing about studying nonviolent resistance in dictatorships and in territorial independence movements is that we picked those cases deliberately because they were thought to be the hardest for these campaigns to succeed. And so if there are lessons that can be learned from them that can be applied in cases where there are more freedoms of association and freedom of speech that people enjoy right now, we should expect those lessons to be easily translatable.

And really I’ll just say that the four things that succeed in these difficult situations do, is that first (1) they get large and diverse participation. Second (2) they switch up techniques so that they’re not always protesting, or petitioning, or striking. They’re doing lots of different things that are sort of sequenced in a way that continually puts pressure on the site of oppression in order to dismantle it or transform it. The third thing (3) they do is they remain resilient, even when repression escalates against them. So, meaning they have a plan and they’ve figured out a way to prepare for the repression, they expect it, and they remain disciplined and the stick to the plan even when it starts.

And the fourth thing (4) they do they elicit defections or loyalty shifts from within the opponent’s pillars of support. So in this case it would mean getting a bunch of congress-people who are in the GOP to start coming out more openly and resisting the Trump agenda in Congress. It could mean police that refuse to crack down in certain ways or like deportation officials who refuse to comply with orders they think are unjust, or excessive, or disproportional.

So there are lots or ways we can imagine these taking place in the US and I would argue that many of those have already started, as you mention, the courts for example. I think there are lots of ways that the lessons from the hundreds of other countries that I’ve studied over the last century could apply to our case and there are tried and true methods of nonviolent resistance that apply absolutely in the American context today.

GOOD: Global Organization of Democracies

5 Apr

Here’s a triple, a trifecta, a trinity, from Charlie Keil. It’s about a Global Organization of Democracies (GOOD). Let him explain it.

An Open Letter to Citizens of the World

Dear Citizen:

I think we need a common GOOD, a Global Organization Of Democracies, one nation one vote, (so that a confederation of indigenous peoples up the Amazon can have the same voting power as the USA, Okinawa the same vote power as Japan, etc.) [big so-called democracies may not want to be members at first], to be meeting year round to suggest ways of: stopping “ethnic cleansing” and “administrative massacres,” terrorism, and wars; sharing air, water and resources fairly; raising global carbon taxes for local carbon sequestration (planting trees, fostering permacultures) going strong everywhere; planning and fostering a global literacy campaign focused on young women, etc., etc.

For every real problem you can think of, the world needs to hear these discussions, suggestions, planning sessions year round so that hopes can realistically be raised about stopping climate destruction, reducing global storming, etc. Can you give these “self-determination of peoples” and “conserving the speciation” ideas 8 minutes a day? 12 minutes a day on Saturday and Sunday?

Peace is the Way! (to ecological balance)

Charlie Keil

For the common GOOD

To stop the ecocatastrophe and build world peace processes a Global Organization of Democracies (GOOD) supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC) could coordinate efficient regional police forces to help prevent “administrative massacres” and terrorism, thereby enhancing the security of all peoples and encouraging states to redirect a growing portion of their military budgets to economically sustainable problem-solving over time. Continue reading

The cost disease, e.g. education and health care cost more, but teachers, doctors, and nurses don’t earn more

11 Feb

Scott Alexander, in a long post:

So, to summarize: in the past fifty years, education costs have doubled, college costs have dectupled [10 times], health insurance costs have dectupled, subway costs have at least dectupled, and housing costs have increased by about fifty percent. US health care costs about four times as much as equivalent health care in other First World countries; US subways cost about eight times as much as equivalent subways in other First World countries.

I worry that people don’t appreciate how weird this is. I didn’t appreciate it for a long time. I guess I just figured that Grandpa used to talk about how back in his day movie tickets only cost a nickel; that was just the way of the world. But all of the numbers above are inflation-adjusted. These things have dectupled in cost even after you adjust for movies costing a nickel in Grandpa’s day. They have really, genuinely dectupled in cost, no economic trickery involved.

And this is especially strange because we expect that improving technology and globalization ought to cut costs. In 1983, the first mobile phone cost $4,000 – about $10,000 in today’s dollars. It was also a gigantic piece of crap. Today you can get a much better phone for $100. This is the right and proper way of the universe. It’s why we fund scientists, and pay businesspeople the big bucks.

But things like college and health care have still had their prices dectuple. Patients can now schedule their appointments online; doctors can send prescriptions through the fax, pharmacies can keep track of medication histories on centralized computer systems that interface with the cloud, nurses get automatic reminders when they’re giving two drugs with a potential interaction, insurance companies accept payment through credit cards – and all of this costs ten times as much as it did in the days of punch cards and secretaries who did calculations by hand.

But:

I don’t have a similar graph for subway workers, but come on. The overall pictures is that health care and education costs have managed to increase by ten times without a single cent of the gains going to teachers, doctors, or nurses. Indeed these professions seem to have lost ground salary-wise relative to others.

I also want to add some anecdote to these hard facts. My father is a doctor and my mother is a teacher, so I got to hear a lot about how these professions have changed over the past generation. It seems at least a little like the adjunct story, although without the clearly defined “professor vs. adjunct” dichotomy that makes it so easy to talk about. Doctors are really, really, really unhappy. […] Read these articles and they all say the same thing that all the doctors I know say – medicine used to be a well-respected, enjoyable profession where you could give patients good care and feel self-actualized. Now it kind of sucks.

Meanwhile, I also see articles like this piece from NPR saying teachers are experiencing historic stress levels and up to 50% say their job “isn’t worth it”. Teacher job satisfaction is at historic lows. And the veteran teachers I know say the same thing as the veteran doctors I know – their jobs used to be enjoyable and make them feel like they were making a difference; now they feel overworked, unappreciated, and trapped in mountains of paperwork.

And we don’t know why this is happening.

H/t Tyler Cowen.