Previous posts in this discussion:
PostDo Societies Function Only as Well as Their Leaders? (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 10/05/20 4:16 am)
I have to agree with most of the statements by Nicholas Ruiz (October 4th), but I do want to piggyback on the question and statements by John Eipper. John's observation that the US "has often done extremely well despite poor leadership" induces the following reply.
In a democracy, the people are ultimately responsible, not the leaders. Given our strong profit motive, tendency to weaken and preclude government controls, and the primacy of big corporate power, rampant Capitalism has taken its toll and brought us to where we are today. WWII was a tremendous benefit to the USA: we became economically and militarily the most powerful nation, with our industrial base safe, our scientific community and educational system the most advanced, vibrant in technology and entrepreneurship, etc. The future was ours for us to squander and our competitors to slowly chip away. Our system was set and our leaders played along. We had no one like FDR for the workers and the consumers. The power has always been in the hands of big business. They had to compete with the Soviet system for many years, but when the USSR went under, then corporate America had total but always stealthy control.
Second, "A strong society is one that doesn't depend on any individual or individuals to keep it on track." I agree to the extent that a strong society depends on participation from most of its members. That is why I see Trump as the worst leader possible, because he tries to manipulate the overall group by dividing and pitching subgroups against each other. He has done that with America, our business partners, our historical allies, all the way down to dividing families due to his lack of stable values (or he has no values). Leadership is about joining people for a common objective, not creating widespread conflict and confusion.
Finally, "A strong society is one that doesn't depend on any individual or individuals" because it depends the most on strong institutions: a strong scientific community and educational system, new technology and entrepreneurship, a free market system protected by a flexible but strongly enforced government regulations, strongly enforced democracy, and justice and law for all.
JE comments: On several occasions Tor Guimaraes has shared his provocative thesis that the fall of the USSR directly led to the rampant inequality of today's America. The idea is that the masses no longer need to be appeased, as the Soviet-style alternative is no more. I see a lot of merit in the Guimaraes Theory, but there's also the question of timing: "trickle-down economics" and the decline of organized labor began under Reagan.
And where does China fit into this model?
There are No Leaders without Followers
(Rodolfo Neirotti, USA
10/06/20 3:50 AM)
John E asked: Do societies function only as well as their leaders?
Please remember that there is no leader without at least one follower--an indivisible unit. It's long overdue for leaders to acknowledge the importance of understanding the value of the contribution of their followers.
"What Every Leader Needs to Know About Followers" by Barbara Kellerman, Harvard Business Review, from the December 2007 issue, provides a nice description of the concept.
JE comments: Kellerman's essay is available to all:
Her thesis is that the blind obedience of yesteryear (think Stalinist Russia) is no longer applicable. Followers today (or in 2007) see themselves as "free agents." Kellerman is focused on corporate culture. I have observed a attitude shift among younger people, who no longer see their jobs as a lifelong career. "Loyal to the company," which defined the working man or woman until the 1980s, is now as antiquated an idea as the company store.
But what about political followers in 2020? Trump's supporters are anything but disloyal, and with every Trumpian misstep, they cling to him more.
- China, the "Dirty Commies" Who Are Eating Our Lunch (Tor Guimaraes, USA 10/06/20 8:17 AM)
There is abundant historical evidence that the American and the Soviet ways of life were actively competing for the hearts and minds of people all over the world. Besides their strong propagandas, whenever possible both sides indulged in political and military manipulations of groups and governments in developing nations. The US government made sure to have places like West Berlin as a powerful demonstration of the lifestyle available to every enslaved citizen of the Communist nations if they would defect. The other side could only brag about some scientific achievements and military prowess.
Therefore, to me it became simple common sense that the shocking fall of the USSR would directly allow the slow-simmering US corporate power influence over the US government institutions to shift into higher gear. John Eipper misinterpreted me by saying that "the masses no longer need to be appeased, as the Soviet-style alternative is no more." I never said that, to this day the masses have always been appeased by propaganda, ideological arguments, patriotism, and demagoguery. The only difference is that over time propaganda becomes less convincing against harsh realities, and the masses are increasing able to see they been "had" by the deep state as defined in my prior post.
John remarked that "there's also the question of timing: 'trickle-down economics' and the decline of organized labor began under Reagan." Under Reagan the USSR evil empire lost the war, and "trickle-down economics" (Bush Senior correctly called it voodoo economics) was the US establishment's highest ideological victory over the masses. Under subsequent US presidents we had ideological victory being transformed into corporate financial victory, culminating in many trillions of dollars being transferred from the US middle class to well-placed billionaires since the early 2000s. The wealth transfer has had a hiccup but continues unabated even under the Coronavirus onslaught.
Through similar mechanisms, the Reagan ideology that government is the problem, regulations on corporate activities have been increasingly relaxed or wiped out over time. Today significant segments of employees and consumers are now on their last financial legs, with huge piles of debt they can never pay off. Further, the corporate thirst for quarterly profits remains intense, including the continuous environment destruction (still extremely well disguised, dismissed as just a hoax) beyond reason.
Last, John wants to know "where does China fit into this model?" Like a glove. We barely had just a few years for bragging how Capitalism won over the dirty Commies, and we are now in a ditch while another version of dirty Commies is eating our lunch. Yes, I am a true believer in Capitalism: true democracy, hard work, reward for performance, personal savings, decent profits for value provided, continuous innovation, free markets, flexible but enforced regulations, justice, law and order for all. But only an idiot can't see that the Belt and Road Initiative is a stroke of genius compared to our forced freedom and democracy pill that we use our military to enforce all over the world.
I am afraid by the time the US establishment (the US government and corrupt partners in the deep state) wakes up from sucking profits somewhere and somehow, the US dollar increasingly becomes a has-been major reserve currency, and our image as a nation will be devastation. Where will our huge military budget come from to fight all the enemies we have accumulated by our misdeeds for power and profit? Our deep state will increasingly look like the Brazilian deep state with corresponding standard of living. Can anyone see the way out now?
JE comments: The Belt and Road Initiative is a masterstroke of Chinese "soft power," although it is not altogether "soft." Increasingly the Chinese are indebting developing nations and then (literally) grabbing ports and even swaths of territory when they cannot pay. See the example of Sri Lanka, where China now owns a port and a 99-year lease on the surrounding district. Hong Kong in reverse.
Veteran China journalist Mary Kay Magistad has an excellent podcast on the Belt and Road Initiative. I've listened to several episodes. Eye-opening stuff--especially for an increasingly insular and dysfunctional United States.
China's Belt and Road Initiative
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
10/07/20 4:28 AM)
The sad thing about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is that we did not invent it. Compared to the Colonialism and gunboat diplomacy that Western nations put on for generations on militarily weaker nations all over the world, the BRI is a blessing from the heavenly Middle Kingdom.
I have had some experience with Chinese authoritarianism, so I am a bid jaded about their government in general.
However, how else can any poor nation get an offer to have billions of dollars for developing communication and transportation infrastructure? Western nations had their chance but the short-term profit motive does not allow it; we can only do what we have always done--Colonialism and gunboat diplomacy. Our specialty has been government replacement. Also, why build infrastructure in a foreign country when you invade it, destroy their infrastructure (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Latin America, etc.) and let some corporations exploit their goods? Unless of course in cases where we were worried the Soviets could make us look bad; then we did the Marshall plan for Europe, and a few similar gifts.
To my surprise, John Eipper was a little one-sided with the remark, "Increasingly the Chinese are indebting developing nations and then (literally) grabbing ports and even swaths of territory when they cannot pay. See the example of Sri Lanka, where China now owns a port and a 99-year lease on the surrounding district." Yes, the Sri Lanka experience looks really bad for the regular folks, but there are dozens of projects throughout the world that are looking better and better. There are also cases where the Chinese got stiffed (Papua New Guinea). Investing money can be risky, you know.
Consider, there are different type of projects. One type is government to government (Sri Lanka) long-term infrastructure projects with hope that the local business community will jump on and build on the infrastructure project. These will take decades to play out. Also, local governments have to control their excitement and negotiate better terms. The Chinese is not putting a gun to their head to sign anything, but sometimes the host government can be corrupt or just bad business managers. The World Bank and IMF have been far worse over the years with their sneaky deals for desperate nations. Why did John pick the Sri Lanka port and not the dozens of other similar projects all over the world: Italy, Greece, Pakistan, etc?
A much more cheerful project type are the ones between Chinese companies and local companies. The Chinese got incredible food and other retail imports from Kazakhstan and many other "Stans." At the same time, our great nation looks like a bumbling idiot which can only threaten nations with tariffs and sanctions. It is terribly embarrassing. I get depressed thinking that, unless we have WWIII, in the next forty years, China will be doing business everywhere and we will have to choose between joining their party or slowly look more and more like a giant banana republic, minus the bananas.
JE comments: Point well taken, Tor. To the argument that the BRI is not as benign as it appears, you can counter that the "altruistic" nation-building efforts of the US have been largely destructive. All things equal, it's better to build than to tear down.
A scary thought: History teaches us that a rising superpower and a reigning (or declining) one inevitably come to blows. Think Germany and the UK in 1914. The exception to this rule happened in the Cold War, although the Soviets and the US fought several proxy wars.
- China, the "Dirty Commies" Who Are Eating Our Lunch (Tor Guimaraes, USA 10/06/20 8:17 AM)