Saturday, April 9, 2011 7 Comments

A small segue of subject

I have to apologize for the unusual lag. And enough with Libya, and foreign policy as a whole! And I swear to never again deploy the word "nadir" in the context of the USG.

Worse, I have not actually been ignoring UR. Rather, events have been overcoming my overgrown posts. For a while I had one draft called "Med Max 2.0: Foggy Bottom beyond Ras Lanouf," and another one called "Cote d'Ivoire: New Chocolate Somalia." These soi-disant prophecies, once perspicuous, have become jejune. They are best left to the literary executor. A third essay, "Ass-Raped Again in Deraa: A Century of Liberal Revolution," will likely never appear. Still in the works, for now, are "Grand Opening to Libya: In Their Own Words" and "From Ilyich to Ilyich: 300 Years of US Foreign Policy."

If I had to venture a general comment on the international news of the last three weeks, what I would say is that a flailing bureaucracy always has one very natural step available to it. It can double down. If it has nothing else to do, doubling down is what it will do. Hence in a sense when I look at the "international community" - ie, the whole global octopus of world-news production, but principally the State Department and the journalism-education-NGO complex - in the light of early 2011, what I see more than anything is what poker players call tilt.

At every turn, the international community (which consists, in reality, of a large number of very capable, even responsible, professionals) is full well aware that it both has screwed, and continues to screw, the pooch. And at every turn, it figures that since it's in so deep already, it might as well go ahead and try to finish its wad. Hence, bombs over Libya. Bombs? Troops! As my ex-girlfriend from Carolina once put it, I hain't had so much fun since hogs et my little brother. And I fear we are just getting started in the Middle East.

Indeed, there is no right answer here. As we saw, the policy of abandoning an incited revolt is morally untenable - it would become an instant classic of cynical disaster. At least the Hutu-Tutsi conflict was of genuine indigenous origin. (The USG, to my knowledge, did little or nothing to start or inflame that civil war - unless of course you count expelling the Belgians.) I will stick by my contention that not intervening as the rebels are defeated and Qadhafi goes zenga-zenga, dar-dar, is right up there with Stalin and the Warsaw revolt. You may recall that Stalin, too, went on the radio and told the Poles it was time to rise up.

On the other hand, in the long run, this cynical buggering of Libya's brave and gullible best might well have produced less suffering than a protracted civil war. It might still. In fact, I'd bet on it. Moreover, by our responsible protection of Libya, we have now created what looks like exactly the same dilemma in Syria. Are we really going to bomb Syria? But then, that responsibility to protect... Oops. D'oh! Oh noes! And we pound that puppy once again.

(Your foreign-policy experts at work, dear Americans. There are a lot of them. That's not to say, however, that they outnumber your lampposts - to speak metaphorically, of course. My own father was an FSO, which is the one and only reason I can see through State's Jedi mind-tricks.)

Heck, in the Ivory Coast, our IMF vice-president, endorsed by the entire international community, seems to have actually presided over a genuine cannibal genocide - if a small one. How can you beat that? Well, a large cannibal genocide, I suppose. Never the nadir. Never! Still, perhaps we could get away with "Harry Dexter White and the Cannibals: A Half-Century of International Monetary Coordination." Reader, if you want to borrow this title, feel free.

Or take the embarrassed half-silence of the neocons. A neoconservative is a liberal who actually believes in liberalism, and thus has no alternative to rational consistency. If he is against Saddam, he must be against Muammar, and vice versa. How different are they, really? Worse, he perceives USG's demented madonna-whore complex towards dictators. The ones we beat up and/or kill are our friends; the ones we adore are our enemies. Noting this, the neoconservative concludes: we should only scream at our friends, but must beat up and kill our enemies. Well, okay. It's a pretty aggressive foreign policy. But at least it qualifies as sane.

Yet the whole debate is increasingly comical, because the USG (though its scream is louder than ever) cannot beat up or kill anyone. Nor, I fear, will it ever again. Indeed, why is the Middle East catching fire only now, over two years after the Democrats' election? Perhaps because it took the apparatus this long to realize that it had really, truly escaped any semblance of adult supervision. Or at least, executive supervision.

Without a Republican in the White House, Foggy Bottom is responsible to no one at all. (With a Republican, it is responsible to a Republican.) It thus reverts to its natural and permanent attitude of bureaucratic toddler tantrum, at least until the next peasant revolt. In this inevitable but transient Washington winter, any agency which did not labor as the grasshopper in spring to expand its operations in the lush years, is sure to get squeezed out. Thus all must scream as loudly as possible for meaning, budget, and front-page space on the Times. And indeed they're getting that!

Frankly, this spectacle is as depressing as it is predictable. As in the late Carter years, US foreign policy faces a long period of unrelieved public-relations disasters, each more spectacular and hilarious than the last. I cannot help but find myself applauding this sick comedy, until I remember that actual human beings are suffering - etc. Then I reproach myself for Christian slave morality, especially as applied to an out-group, and go back around again. The process, reaching both extremes, is as philosophically draining as viscerally nauseating.

So I wanted to get back to the roots of this blog, for a change, and talk about finance. It's almost 5 years ago that my first-ever posting on teh Internets, the "John Law" post (tip to aspiring bloggers: pick a pseudonym that people can search), predicted the immediate death of the financial universe. A prediction that, by its nature, was falsified almost instantly. Then again, I still feel the prediction would have come true if not for one of its supporting assumptions - infinite collective rationality.

Nonetheless, if we discard the blue-eyed men on the island, and look at real human markets, we would expect to see a collective rationality not finite, but not zero either. Thus we would expect the instantaneous events predicted by "John Law" to happen, but slowly.

Indeed we seem to see, not over a day but half a decade, something like a self-accelerating increase in gold and silver prices. That is, we see people buying gold because gold is going up, since gold is going up because people are buying it: the Nash equilibrium strategy, exactly as described by "John Law." This phenomenon is found especially in China - where demand, while still relatively low, is increasing at high exponents. Fortunately, it is not because all the old ladies in Macau have read "John Law." But their version of the theory, while anything but refined and analytical, works more or less as well as mine.

Silver, however, is going up even faster. As a result, the gold-silver ratio is falling. What does monetary standardization theory say about the gold-silver ratio? You may recall John Law's discussion of the "fission primary." Tune in Thursday the 14th, however, for an update.


Blogger TGGP said...

Robin Hanson on U.S policy doubling down (across a variety of fronts) here.

I think Bush' Sr.'s abandoning of the revolting Shi'ites worked out pretty well. He would have won that election too, if it weren't for that meddling economy (just as Clinton won despite Rwanda).

April 9, 2011 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Also, I think you give today's neoconservatives too much credit. There has been a lot of support among them for attacking Libya and complaints that Obama "dithered" too much.

April 9, 2011 at 9:29 AM  
Anonymous RS said...

> Then I reproach myself for Christian slave morality, especially as applied to an out-group, and go back around again. The process, reaching both extremes, is as philosophically draining as viscerally nauseating.

I experience the same, to some degree. There's no philosophical solution, that I know of. Only a judgement by instincts, that seem 'arbitrary' to a committed super-rationalist, which is not what I am. One simply follows one's intelligent instincts toward a balance. Universal justice v self-interest of individual and tribe, in balance, because it's man's biological nature to want them in balance. Decent is decent, not indecent. And grovelling, disgusting altruism is grovelling, disgusting altruism. We know, really, what is what, and though we don't totally agree with each other, or even different moods of the self, we largely do.

I would say negative justice unto others is the priority, not positive justice. I would not spend the money on HAART in Africa. Dozens of billions, I think? Too much. It's most important simply to not fuck people up in direct ways. The HAART in Africa can be done by private charities to the extent that people want to do it.

April 9, 2011 at 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In this inevitable but transient Washington winter, any agency which did not labor as the grasshopper in spring to expand its operations in the lush years, is sure to get squeezed out. Thus all must scream as loudly as possible for meaning, budget, and front-page space on the Times. And indeed they're getting that!"

if that line doesn't sum up our whole system of government...
amazing, the level of authority we allow nameless, expendable mid-level functionaries to exercize. the permanent government, which foseti talks about, has tremendous power, but is made up of so many dispensable individuals, that it can only assure its own importance by creating and spreading chaos. this is power in the hands of people without any sense of security in their position, or any accountability as individuals for their actions, nor answerable to any overarching public goal. each regulatory branch is given free reign to create policy that serves its own particular interests as a parasitic body.

April 9, 2011 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

TGGP> There is a sensible point to be made there. Had we supported the rebels when they were winning they might have, you know, won. Instead we waited a week until they were about to be wiped out, then acted surprised when our magical Tomahawk blessing didn't result in instant triumph.

April 9, 2011 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

RS, I grappled (at length) with the tensions of universalism vs particularism here.

April 9, 2011 at 4:08 PM  
Anonymous CX said...

Referring to the John Law post (which I had not read before): it still seems to me that if gold is a Nash equilibrium today, then it would have been one in 1960 (or thereabouts)...yet it clearly wasn't, then, as you could have made a lot more money investing in almost anything else. Nonetheless, I bought some GLD back at $98, partially because of our host's unsettling prose.

It is interesting to see that his attitude about the goodwill of the various components of USG has hardened somewhat, eh? A lot of fecklessness in the mean time...

April 9, 2011 at 8:55 PM  

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