A Reason for Optimism

About four years ago, I wrote a post called “The Reckoning.” In it, I put forward the idea that unsustainable economic trends in the United States would lead to the emergence of populist politics and demagogues.

In the conclusion, I suggested that this incipient “reckoning” was symptomatic of a cleavage between different generations’ perceptions of the world. Basically, (1) that the generation that grew up in the post-World War II era — which by definition is responsible for the state of the union — would be incapable of adapting to a world without American primacy; and, (2) that the generation coming of age in a period of entropy and uncertainty would be willing to take on the shibboleths that have impeded political progress.

I closed with the following: (more…)

Favorite Books of 2015

The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d take to the blog once more to share some of the best books I read during the year.  Following fortuitous retweets from Marc Andreessen and Conor Sen last year, these annual posts have become the most frequently visited pages on the blog, with the 2014 and 2013 iterations attracting nearly one in five views.  So thanks!  I hope you find one or more of the books listed below to be an enriching read. (more…)

Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs

Expanding prosperity contributed to the popularity of the doctrine [of harmony of interests] in three different ways. It attenuated competition for markets among producers, since fresh markets were constantly available; it postponed the class issue, with its insistence on the primary importance of equitable distribution, by extending to members of the less prosperous classes some share in the general prosperity; and by creating a sense of confidence in present and future well-being, it encouraged men to believe that the world was ordered on so rational a plan as the natural harmony of interests.1

Politics are made up of two elements — utopia and reality — belonging to two different planes which can never meet. There is no greater barrier to clear political thinking than failure to distinguish between ideas, which are utopia, and institutions, which are reality.2

Stocks are near their all-time highs and show few signs of correcting anytime soon; debt markets appear frothy; the VIX is low—the capital markets are telling us that we’re living in “the best of all possible worlds.”3 Even TV commercials show us people dancing on their decks while telling us “the fun is back!”

But in the real world, for a while now I’ve been nagged by this feeling of entropy in global affairs; that order and institutions are giving way to chaos and ungovernability. (more…)

The Reckoning

I am unable to understand why a society that complains of unemployment should encourage and embrace every conceivable possibility of replacing human labor by mechanical devices.1

We are suffering, not from the rheumatics of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjustment between one economic period and another…We are being afflicted with a new disease…namely, technological unemployment.2

I don’t understand what’s happening to my country.3

In my previous post, I mentioned how George Packer’s latest book The Unwinding evoked a visceral sense that the country’s political and economic trajectories are untenable, and that it was hard to avoid the conclusion that we’re heading toward A Reckoning.

Over the holiday, I found myself driving along U.S. Route 220 in Virginia, about an hour north of the hometown of Dean Price, one of the central characters of The Unwinding.  As I traveled that road, which I’d cruised down several times before, I was reminded of Packer’s chronicling of the decline of the textiles and tobacco industries in the Carolina Piedmont, and how in a very real way, America has been gutted. (more…)