THE FUTURE IS RUSHING UPON US

We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Urban Planning of Experimental Satellite Cities

Rapid urbanization in the third world offers a chance to cheaply try out urbaneering with various built from scratch functional "theme" cities. 



A resource rich continent like Africa that is experiencing an average annual GDP growth of 5-10% will soon have a lot of governments with funds to try out prestige projects. Satellite cities offer national elevation into global spotlight, economic usefulness, public works program, access to foreign technologies, and opportunity to leapfrog over the West in some infrastructure development. Other parts of the developing world already see movement towards concept theme cities built from scratch. Notable examples are Abu Dhabi's renewable energy focused Masdar City and China's 80,000 person green tech focused Great City. The latter shows the most likely design for cities of the future, that is, a densely populated walkable high tech residential core that abruptly ends into pure nature. It is more cost efficient for a developing country to surround a compact city with nature than design nature inside a spread out city. The energy inefficiencies of urban sprawl will soon be demonstrated in industrialized regions of the globe and compactness will be planned from the start.

Although an expensive project, a satellite city stands to rapidly pay for itself if it is themed (such as agriculture focused city providing fruits and vegetables not grown in that part of the world to well off people and government entities of neighboring cities). At first, many of the cities will be a net energy and monetary loss. The input will be greater than the output. However, although a drain, they do provide a public works project and a way to experiment and measure what type of satellite city actually comes closest to paying for itself (note the agri-city example above). In this regard early satellite cities are similar to Tokamak proof of concept fusion reactors. Those reactors were necessary to start building ITERThen of course it stands to rapidly pay for itself once figured out (much better allocation of resources than warfare and mass murder).

Some universities and even mega factories have membership of over 50,000 people. It is not too out there to design a compact city dedicated to a specific task that has a population capacity of 50 thousand with built in room for 100 thousand if needed (in case interest builds for foreign companies to try out a concept requiring service personnel and foreign presence).

City as a printer

A large printing station has hundreds of little parts with room for additional cartridges and paper amounts. A satellite city should be thought in these terms, as a singular unit that produces surplus objects for nearby non-planned cities. In the more distant future, the task based buildings within these cities will be thought of as printers as well. An example is a vertical automated farm building unit that will have hundreds of parts, inside room for expansion/machine replacement, and robotic harvesting/planting/growing systems that are designed to fit the building neatly the way cartridges are (this building has capacity to store harvesting systems coded 400A through 600A). This allows mass production of modular building floors and mass production of various large equipment units that efficiently fit within. The fitting would happen on construction site of modular floor units or at assembly site, whichever is closer.

Modularity from the machines inside the buildings, to the buildings themselves, to the city itself is essential to start tackling insane energy and resource waste generated currently. Although early experiments should and probably will occur in the developing world, first major and perhaps most interesting applications of satellite and planned cities will likely occur at ground zero of resource waste, North American continent.

Deconstruction of old suburban areas

The planners behind the process of satellite city creation should work in parallel with those in charge of removing and harvesting building materials from urban sprawl areas. Clearing paths for nature, total removal of ghost towns and rotting suburban/rust bell areas, and recycling materials from those areas towards satellite city construction is a multidecade global project. It stands to put millions of those displaced by automation to work during the transition period. Unlike some other job creation projects of no benefit being used in Europe currently (bus inspectors for example), this type of public works is essential for social stability and survival. It is also a type of decentralized public works as all levels of localities can begin to engage in the task of deconstruction and compact construction. City mining allows more readily available source of materials than conventional mining. For proper deconstruction to occur, material processing and reprocessing should become a lot more mobile and decentralized (at first, perhaps involving very large ships servicing coastal areas).

ships keep getting larger at South Korean shipyards
But all these grand causal chain reactions of what needs to be done first start with a prestige project of small compact city that focuses on a specific surplus creation task. Political elites of the resource rich third world (we should return to use of this term rather than developing world, since all are developing) have a chance to take global leadership through satellite city experimentation, leadership that they psychologically want but are unable to take due to military and financial weakness.

Reclaiming nature and construction of sustainable futuristic compact urban areas is the infrastructural "moon landing" of this century. All other infrastructure projects get enormous boost from such a goal. As JFK noted, "... that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills..

A focused society is a powerful society. There is no need to wait until China becomes a hegemony to create a focus for the human herd in the West. The theme of "reclaiming nature" through urban wasteland deconstruction (much easier to rapidly do than compact city creation) is very likely to capture the imaginations of the young, especially in the Western world. Thus we have two exciting processes that mutually play off each other, one happening in post-industrialized areas and one in the pre-industrialized areas. Much of the task of generating new electrical energy for Western re-industrialization is a simple matter of bulldozing and harvesting suburbia and heartland towns (that are currently in the process of depopulation).

After a certain point, humanity's measure can be which % of population lives in planned areas versus those living in old unplanned areas. 




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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Future of Kurdistan

Major challenges for the Kurds: The world's largest ethnic group without its own country sitting in a region resembling pre-World War 1 Europe and United States winding down its global oil based empire due to becoming energy independent.



Poor Kurds. Living in an era that requires novel supranational construction and deepening international cooperation on regional, continental, and global levels (to make up for US built global system unwinding over the next 20 years as American elites attempt to gradually socioeconomically re-organize and re-industrialize without a major collapse).

Poor Kurds. No country for them even when tiny Scotland is about to vote on political independence (not just autonomy) while remaining within continental framework of nations. And even Spain's Catalonia is moving in this direction.

Poor Kurds. Kurdistan sort of looks like Poland of the Middle East (pre-1914 once again), partitioned yet with potential for large expenditure of human herd energy if unified. Pre- 2003 invasion political structures in Iraqi Kurdistan for instance were more futuristic and advanced than those in Baghdad itself. A key component of solid nationalism is not only belief in uniqueness and belief in gently superior functionality of the ethnic group's way of life but actuality of this functional superiority. Even their insurgent groups and banned parties seem a bit futuristic. It is interesting that the most effective pan-Kurdish political party in the region, PKK, is secular and socialistic in nature (at a glance, like a more effective Baath party which explains why it was less tolerable for them to live under a regime perceived as less civilized). Let's go further with gently tongue in cheek analogies: If Poland is also the Ireland of central Europe (Catholic and long under the boot of fellow white skinned oppressors) then Kurds are a bit like their Gaelic cousins as well as their Polish cousins (even the supposedly more "primitive" mountain Kurds in Eastern Turkey compared to their Turkish overlords in Istanbul got that highlander thing going).

But let's get serious.

click to enlarge and read the pure madness
Unlike with say, Western Ukrainians, there was never an attempt by a regional power to artificially bolster Kurdish nationalism at any point (Soviets for instance even created alphabets for some people in central Asia to create artificial nationalisms for political reasons). This desire for a Kurdish nation is primordial and real. It is not postmodern economic nationalism as it is with the above mentioned Scottish case, as seen with some Northern Italians, or as was the case with Bellorussians seceding in the early 1990s. It is genuine nationalism born from centuries of struggle and many partial victories.

Poor Kurds. Having higher birthrates in Turkey than Turks themselves and expanding their share of the population (from over 15% in 2000 to over 18% today) yet having their activists and journalists taught the meaning of freedom in the crudest of ways. As Slavoj Zizek points out in the passage to the left.

And even for those Kurds outside Turkey (whose fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers haven't repeatedly fought Istanbul), there is a danger that Syria will soon disintegrate into Libyan style enclave chaos resulting in former Syrian territory coming under Turkish sphere of influence if not outright partial occupation. The new post-Kemalist neoliberal Turkish regime of Erdogan is even more abrasive in its belligerence in many ways due to being new and growing. Turkey has been rivaling Saudi Arabia in human rights abuses recently which we don't hear about it due to it being a NATO member. As American imperial perimeter continues to shrink and controlled chaos destabilization wars of Obama are left lit, we should see Istanbul begin to really flex its muscles for the first time in a long while (we see the start of this in Istanbul's slightly more abrasive tone with Israel and its adventure in Syria). This should rattle Kurdish nerves throughout the region. If Assad's very multicultural regime is to survive in some form, it may depend on Kurdish cooperation.

A More Rational Middle Eastern Map?


Once oil and gas from oil/fracking becomes plentiful and cheap (there is roughly 7 times more oil and frack gas in the world than of current traditional deposits and technology to extract it gets better and cheaper by the day), lots of monarchies in the Middle East are likely to get replaced by republican forms of government due to instability. The Pragmatist has done a very in depth article when it comes to oil price and its relation to violence when it comes to Iraq. The hereditary mafias of various Middle Eastern kingdoms left behind as British-American proxies during the Cold War will be in for a rude awakening (especially considering half their populations are borderline slave migrants). Shale oil stands to lower price of oil to as little as $50 per barrel (in today's dollars) before 2020s (with US and primarily Texas as the epicenter of this revolution). Gas price may dramatically tumble even further as US becomes LNG exporter again.

These developments in energy markets should allow pan-Arabism to re-emerge as a way out of the crisis and for construction of a pan-Arab economic union as a supranational device for regional economic survival and instability management. Once solar, small modular fission reactors, and thorium reactors come online and Middle Eastern budgets completely messed with, we should see remnants of regional monarchic absolutism end fully. Frankly speaking, tourism to medieval anti-social libertarian destinations wont save the various chubby "princes" and "kings". The list of tangible demands that The Pragmatist offered to the Middle Eastern protesters should have included Republicanism.

What does this do to the map of the Middle East?

The end of Jordanian monarchy may make Jordan the true center of a Palestinian state considering the roughly 2 million Palestinians residing there and the multiculturalism of the kingdom. If Gaza isn't swallowed up by Egypt, Jordanian territory with remnants of West Bank should provide more than enough resources for a functional Palestinian nation with Gaza being a sort of Kaliningrad-esque exclave (Gazans should really look at vertical farming tech).

But the Kurds?

Return of Pan-Arabism when it comes to construction of a regional economic union does not interfere with emergence of Kurdistan too much. Arab on Kurd clashes occur on periphery of the Arab world and it is the Persians and the Turks who will have to deal with the Kurdish question most fully.

Kurds are on the periphery of the Arab world and
future Pan-Arab economic unions. They also
partially straddle the Shiite-Sunni border 
Iraq's future is in jeopardy since its intelligentsia has fled, since Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed of Sunni and Ba'ath remnants, and since Iraqi Kurdistan is autonomous enough to have provided a political safe haven for an Iraqi Sunni vice-president who fled a death sentence made by the current Iraqi ruler, prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (leader of a former insurgent organization that sided with Iran during Iraq-Iran war[!]). This means that the only thing preventing Iraqi Kurdistan from declaring full independence is unsettled questions over the oil spoils on Iraqi soil and of course fears over a military alliance of Baghdad and Istanbul to co-invade and re-integrate Northern Iraq in the manner that Saddam Hussein would be proud of.

Don't think that such things don't happen. Recently, an Arab Spring spill over revolt in Bahrain by Shiites was brutally crushed by Bahraini government with tanks sold to it by Germany. With US leaving the region (some of the more radical artificially created "fiscal cliff" solutions involve up to 30% closures for American military bases abroad), we'll see major regional players taking matters into their own hands regardless of what the American powered "West" thinks. Iraq may survive though, language is stronger than religion and Iraq is mostly Arab even if it's dominated by Shiite Arabs. Thus Iraq is the fuzzy border zone where Pan-Arabism ends much like Ukraine is the fuzzy borderzone where Russia sort of ends. Persians and Turks face two difficult options.

Either:

Kurdish flag.. Got a cool sun in the center
1) Create a very complicated and sophisticated 21st century pan-Islamic (including all Islamic branches) economic zone that extends influence into Turk and Persian language influenced Central Asia. Turkey is 20% Shiite and Turkish-Iranian cooperation would allow a major counterbalance to re-emergence of Pan-Arab structures if it also takes Kurds into account as relevant players. Kurds have a strong Sufi representation although most are Sunni. This option means keeping Kurdistan fragmented yet with Kurds receiving more cultural and economic rights and advantages. Some pan-Islamic understanding will be necessary anyway for regional stability. For either Istanbul or Tehran to press for cooperation based on it should provide prestige and political magnetism. Just like Europe from Ireland to the Urals has a unifying Christian heritage, policy makers in Middle East and Central Asia (who are all secular hedonists like any intelligent person) will have to reach a similar understanding. Even under rapid, inevitable, Internet led secularization (individualism building "corruption") of the younger people, Pan-Islamism is still a tool to co-opt conservative Muslim groups.  [This option is also ridiculously optimistic pie in the sky given Turkish-Israeli-American cooperation for a long time preventing Turk-Persian cooperation and considering residual imperial influences from US, Russia, China, Europe, etc. and human nature. There is also the issue of secular reversals in the name of stability.]

2) Shrink as nation states and give up any efforts at securing imperial regional "depth" and growth in the vacuum created by absence of Anglo-American forces. This means allowing Kurdistan to exist in greater and more tangible form, parting with parts of territory, and allowing Chinese and/or Russians to become the new diplomatic mediators in the region. This option is a rather involuntary one forced upon Istanbul and Tehran by economic necessity, level of Kurdish resistance, and outside pressure. [In the end, giving up imperial pretensions may allow Persian and Turkish people to have dramatically higher standards of living IF this reduces violence in the region or conversely if reduction in level of violence makes giving up imperial pretensions/territorial control more palatable.]

In the end, Beijing and Moscow will be key players in deciding how Tehran and Istanbul acts towards the Kurds (and correspondingly, how Baghdad and Damascus acts). SCO nations do sufficient levels of business with both capitals and will be left to clean up Washington's mess for years to come (in 2009 I speculated about the Afghan war being an integrative welfare life support system for the obsolete NATO structure). Although Washington's attempts to destabilize the region (if they cannot control it) may create a temporary brain drain beneficial to the West, there should be enough brains left to create a more permanent and indigenous regional security structure and to neutralize Islamic radicalism from spreading (just as it was in 1990s following Soviet defeat in Afghanistan).

Poor Kurds. Or maybe in the future, Cool Kurds? (can't believe the analysis is ended like that)


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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Myers Briggs Personality and Evolution of Leadership

16 MBTI personality types roughly correspond to different breeds of self domesticated human primates. Humans evolved to travel and feel comfortable in packs of 150-250. How has leadership among them evolved to the present day and what does it mean for the future of democracy?




Recently, I rather optimistically touched upon how direct democratic structures can emerge in the 21st century. One article covered the concept of a "virtual polis" that political scientist Robert Dahl brainstormed will be possible once communication technology advances enough (he wrote in the late 1980s). This polis will allow a randomly drawn jury duty type community of people to co-legislate in political units regardless of how large the population of the unit is. The other article touched upon possible groupings of people (the concept of "rogue NGOs" and some rogue think tanks) which may help organize the first virtual polis experiments and provide the organizing cadres, human talent, funding, and technological infrastructure.

Now it is time to take a more cynical look and list a few key problems with democracy in general so we can approach direct democratic architecture construction with the right tools in the future. Democratization isn't going away and such well rounded discussion is especially key in very large unwieldy states like China and India. China will first democratize the 80 million plus ruling party apparatus before moving on to allow pluralism in the general population (there are more Christians living in China than in USA, so if another large opposition party ever arises its characteristics may appear rather surprising to outside Western observers). India will have to deal with democratization at the lowest level that it currently lacks (the world's so called biggest democracy currently resembles Britain in late 19th century in terms of democracy for elites only).

The first major problem of course is that although democracy of 1 man 1 vote may exist, it does not provide results due to incredibly disproportionate amount of resources available to these men and women. A good analogy is voting within a large corporation where 1 man 1 vote obviously fails due to different number of shares per shareholder.

The second problem directly relates to the first in that the disproportionate resources allow advanced propaganda techniques to sway the 20% of population that is very suggestible, 60% of population that is semi-suggestible, and even parts of the 20% of population that is relatively immune to suggestion. It doesn't help that 80% of population is psychologically prone to status quo mentality, making the programming task all the easier.

everybody got a cutesy nickname
These two will need to be tackled head on without too many radical arbitrary solutions (like only giving college graduates the right to vote as well as professions critical to societal functioning like teachers, soldiers, social workers, police, engineers, medical personnel, etc).

The third problem is biological and is root cause of the first problem and the topic of present article. Human herds have, are, and will continue to be led by coalitions of aggressive, novelty seeking alpha males/females who drag the rest of the population behind them. Let's take a brief look at evolution of these leadership dynamics.

In simpler pre-agricultural world, detail oriented sensory experience was a lot more important than intuition. There are even theories that modern tight communication between left and right side of the brain is a relatively recent thing. Hunter gatherers lived in the moment and the Myers Briggs personality that fits them best is ESTP. Besides fitting the modern role of a soldier, ESTPs fit into caveman/tribal world neatly:

1) Heavy parietal lobe dominance for rapidly grasping and understanding tool use

2) Heavy extraversion to go outwards towards the world of food, prey, and mates and to be energized through heavy social interaction.

3) Right hemisphere dominance to rapidly switch attention from one spot to another to look out for danger and food/mating opportunities.

We can relatively safely say this is the oldest breed among us. Even emotionality of ESFPs and ESFJs is a more recent development during transition to less aggressive and more providing mating selection. Early social leadership thus probably had ESTPs use bursts of energy (which today would unfortunately be labeled by some silly "disorder" such as bipolar, borderline, manic, hypomanic, etc). The ESTP would gesticulate to others excitedly and then be the first one of the pack into the jungle. Although this breed would be on the cutting edge of the pack, the actual day to day organizing, consolidating, and leading of the pack would fall to more left hemisphere dominant and organized ESTJs. Development of left hemisphere comes with age, strong alpha parental role modeling, and discipline. Although all human babies are born with very powerful right hemisphere perception (P of 100) to learn as much as possible, inevitably the pack splits into roughly 50/50 left and right dominance.

So the pre-agricultural situation had ESTPs serve as a sort of Lewis and Clark/Columbus explorers who provided leadership by exploring brand new terrain while ESTJs provided leadership by consolidating the newly discovered terrain and marshalling the human resources of the pack to settle in it.

When a number of primate packs joined forces to engage in large scale warfare, this usually occurred when a super alpha emerged from one of the packs who provided leadership to alphas of other packs. In theory one could have a pack consisting of 150-250 alpha male leaders temporarily led in an alliance. We see examples of such tribal gatherings well into the modern times. It is hard to say whether ESTJs or ESTPs provided the most super alphas due to the complexity of such an alliance. Although it is possible that left handed/ambidextrous primates existed even back then as a sort of "bridging leaders" between alphas with left and right brain dominance.

When agriculture made human societies complex and allowed large scale primate domestication and enslavement, intuition became increasingly super important. Thus the best warriors and hunters and consolidators remained ESTPs and ESTJs but further up the hierarchy, ENTPs and ENTJs took over the leadership role. Once again, ENTPs explored new terrain, only this time in the arena of primate domestication and infrastructure development. Once new theoretical ground was broken, ENTJs led others to consolidate and make use of it. Lets use the example of Lewis and Clark again, only this time in the role of ENTPs. Here's an illustration. In earlier "caveman times", ESTPs would lead the pack of men to a new river when chasing after an animal and begin to cross the river without waiting while ESTJs would stop and figure out a way for everybody to systematically cross that river and then return to the river later as needed. As society transitions to post-nomadic exploitation farming society, we see a long line of ESTJ consolidators (who would now send out ESTP brothers to the frontier to defend it rather than be led by them) gradually father more and more ENTJs and ENTPs. The ENTPs would go forth and get packs of alphas excited about building or constructing something new like a large irrigation canal, a tall wall, a dam, etc. Like Lewis and Clark they would often be the restless early settlers of a new area and marshal ESTPs to scout it, measure it, and then proceed to device schemes for new construction. The ENTJs and their ESTJ right hand men would then undertake the boring task to fully develop and build the area to its full potential, defend it, expand it, etc.

Around this time civilization becomes complex enough that some leisure time develops at leadership level and we start seeing more and more introverts appear on the scene.

You've guessed where this is headed.

21st century society is so complex now that previous leadership types (organized as loose, often openly antagonistic, alpha mafia clans if you look at it crudely) cannot fully run it anymore. Just as at some point we had an uneasy transition from ESTP explorer led packs to ENTP explorer led packs, INTPs are the best explorers of where society should be heading in terms of technology, interpersonal relations, etc. INTJs are the consolidators of their thought. Most macro level problems in the world today can be attributed to ENTJs remaining firmly in charge and INTPs being sidelined. At some point in the ancient world, ENTJs and ENTPs have figured out a way to allow ESTPs and ESTJs to remain as warrior figureheads (since detail orientation of parietal lobe makes their weapon ability second to none) while pulling the strings behind the scenes and then in the open. We're now reaching a point where INTPs and INTJs and various other introverts are doing the same to their extraverted excitable outward grasping primate cousins. Amount of introverts in the global herd has now risen to 30% in the Western world (along with rising corresponding propaganda!) and we even see stranger new breeds come on the scene every day. The whole autism phenomenon may be a new stage in evolution to navigate complex new technologies.

Intuition is a simple symbol manipulating system in the brain. Thus up to 6% of the herd today is often classified as "crazy" since ENTJs and ENTPs rapidly arrange data in new novel ways and then extrovertedly (and often excitedly!) act upon it. INTPs and INTJs have the same thing going on, only their lack acting on it makes them appear tame. At some point in the 21st century, INTPs will be able to become more extroverted using advanced pharmacology, genetics, cybernetics and then political power will swing in their favor for the first time. It will be an interesting development to watch as former ENTP explorers get publicly sidelined and outmaneuvered for the first time.

However, this transition will not be an easy one in a world of accelerating trends, when old timers hold on to their political posts for decades at a time in many parts of the world. Builders of direct democratic structures will have to take seriously into account biological inequality due to neural/brain diversity. As a starting point we will require a minimum of heavily modified proportional representation democracy as was suggested earlier to take into account biological herd pluralism. Then, every one of the 4 major Myers-Briggs groupings  (SJs, SPs, NFs, NTs) can have a political party where they will feel comfortable. Coalition can be forced upon proportional representation by constitutional limits on how much a party is represented in parliament (say a maximum ceiling of 40% representation always forcing a coalition government). There are many other tweaks that are possible. Even a sort of "psychological assembly line" is possible when it comes to crafting social policy in working groups by utilizing the talents of each breed.

Mind you, this is a starting point since even the party system has a host of its own problems as noted by one famous North African theorist:

"The existence of many parties intensifies the struggle for power, and this results in the neglect of any achievements for the people and of any socially beneficial plans. Such actions are presented as a justification to undermine the position of the ruling party so that an opposing party can replace it. The parties very seldom resort to arms in their struggle but, rather, denounce and denigrate the actions of each other. This is a battle which is inevitably waged at the expense of the higher, vital interests of the society. Some, if not all, of those higher interests will fall prey to the struggle for power between instruments of government, for the destruction of those interests supports the opposition in their argument against the ruling party or parties. In order to rule, the opposition party has to defeat the existing instrument of government."

We'll of course return to tackle the above issues. It may be time to start conceptualizing democracy as less of one giant hammer but a collection of scalpels working together.


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

2012 China Political Transition and Global Economic Uncertainty

China's 5th generation leadership is status quo prone due to lack of development in the West.




It has been been a few years since we looked at the rising east with China Mercantilism and New Global Economic Order article. Forgive that article for a certain tone of Western geopolitical chauvinism (that will be explained below).

Time to refresh.

The new Politburo Standing Committee is a leaner 7 member group with an average age of 63.4. I guess the red "princelings" in China are more in Prince Charles style. Whereas the average age in legislatures and highest committee bodies has been falling in the wider Western world (with an exception of United States), the new Chinese leadership will be prone to gerontocracy along with its tied at the hip American tango partner.

Xi Jinping, one of the youngest at 59 is a trained chemical engineer (which is serious business much like Angela Merkel's doctorate on quantum chemistry and people with such backgrounds are often benefit to the public). Another old member, 67 year old Yu Zhengsheng, has missile and electronics engineering training. Two engineers and the rest of the 7 member group are economists, statisticians, and propagandists. All very wealthy of course. This is going to be a very cautious status quo bunch and the generation that will finally start making major mistakes. It is irrelevant whether mistakes will stem from general generational/class divide, overconfidence, above mentioned gerontocracy and cautiousness, or having to make the first major uncertain step into the darkness as a regional hegemon. No country has gone longer than 30 years on such a breakneck pace and on such scale without a major misstep or at least slide into some stagnation. Even with Washington DC and Moscow "reorienting" towards the far east, a vacuum will still be opened in the region due weakness of both powers in the area (US navy is currently being gradually strategically pressured/forced out of Western pacific with Chinese "carrier killer" and "satellite killer" missiles).

The China Mercantilism article threw many analogies around concerning China. Here are some of them that we're all familiar with at this point:

1) The ruling center finally effectively centralizing after warlordism chaos period of the 1920s-1940s which is reminiscent of unification of large pieces of feudal France under 18th century monarchic absolutism. Thus effective first time creation of a modern nation state for China.

2) The current rapid Chinese industrialization and neo-mercantilist rise reminiscent of rapid rise of Germany within a multipolar world of the 1870s-1914 period. With current Anglo-American empire of today naturally playing the role of a deindustrializing British Empire hegemon of yesteryear.

3) The neo-mercantilist practices from Beijing attempting and aiming to be futuristic, evolving, and cutting edge (Deng Xiaoping was mentored by Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew [who is still alive!!] on Asian illiberal capitalism of the future). Thus Beijing aims to borrow and improve on the best of evolving neo-mercantilism of pre-1990s stagnation Japan, Kaiser's Germany of old, and of course smaller neighboring modernizers like Taiwan, South Korea and survivalist dictatorial city state of Singapore. Mercantilism, state sponsored industrialization, and protectionism have been observed to work again and again historically and so the previous article saw most of the world being pulled into the Chinese system and orbit.

[Sidenote: we may even add a new analogy of China partially learning from desires of Hamilton and Quinsy Adams in terms of development and rapid achievement of autonomy from a global hegemon. In any case, Beijing learns and absorbs from all corners much like Moscow does. This is a sign of health. The mass scale chaos and butchery from mid 19th century lasting into the 1960s taught them to never repeat such a time of troubles at any cost.]


The conclusion of the article was cold and geopolitical one since it was assumed China is becoming predictable along its heavy great power path much like Britain became predictable in 19th century. This would allow the Western progressive elites in conditions of a global crisis to out think and outmaneuver Beijing since they would know where Beijing would want to head next. The advise of the article was to use the rather narrow 10-15 year widow of opportunity for the West to get its act together and to co-divide the world in terms of influence on the southern hemisphere countries (to put it in the crudest terms).

The window of opportunity refers to time period from the present to when China moves up the value product chain and begins to effectively compete with Siemens, IBM, GE, Boeing, and EADS when it comes to manufacture of advanced value added complex products like transatlantic super heavy passenger jets, high speed electric cars, high speed train wagons (and not just construction of amazing rail lines with Western assistance), super computers, rocket engines, small next generation fission reactors, tanks, robotics, stealth jetplanes, genetic medicine, etc. Even if a second wave of the financial crisis in the Western world triggers an American 1930s depression style event in China, such harsh transition and taking advantage of Chinese window of opportunity for West to unite remain relevant suggestions. Regional, semi-global, and global unification and globalization (taking new forms) remains inevitable but it would be nice for various unifications to have more individual and human friendly political ideology. Current Chinese state capitalist illiberal dictatorship model must be resisted and much of humanity should have access to alternatives. It is up to large swaths of the Northern Hemisphere (even totally stagnant regions) to develop such alternatives.

Admittedly the article was written on May 19 of 2009 and focused on how to make Europe the "first among" equals" pole in a multipolar world arrangement (with best case scenario being Europe on friendly terms with both US and Russian Federation and perhaps even gently playing them off against each other the way Yugoslavia did with Americans and Soviets). The focus on preserving Europe as island of stability was because of European elites still having energy and desire for experimentation (unlike Americans) due to the sophisticated supranational nature of project they were engaging on (similar to what American elites of early 19th century faced). In a world of great paradigm shift due to automation, third industrial revolution, and very slow paradigm shift to post-scarcity, it was and still is very important to keep one continent as a fortress of civilizational safety with a dynamic cluster of elites overseeing it.

Now of course that was before the beggar thy neighbor currency wars between US and EU and the rest of the world, before the perpetual debt crisises born from private debts being socialized, and before it became clear of the sheer paralysis within American and European politics (although much less so in Brussels than in DC). China has moved along swiftly since then, bypassing Japan as #2 economy, humiliating Western powers at Copenhagen conference, and beginning to compete in high end products like solar panel technology with dramatic increase in subsidies. In global conditions where Western leaders decided to kick the can down the road, it is not surprising that China decided to do the same with election of the current Politburo Standing Committee. It appears Western elites don't yet fully appreciate the historical magnitude and paradigm shifting nature of the financial crisis they are facing and will not make major moves for another few years allowing China to bypass US by 2015 (the most recent estimate). Then we may see history repeat itself as a farce with Westerners asking to be financially bailed out (it has already been indirectly happening at G20 meetings) by the Chinese development and foreign investment banking organs. A Politburo with a lower average age might have stirred some worry in Brussels, DC, and Moscow.

The Chinese "overconstruction" has not been an issue so far (it is rather hilarious when economists are puzzled why China is building entire cities with nobody yet living in them). Considering how many Chinese still live in medieval conditions of poverty, eventually this infrastructure and residential areas will be filled. Yes, Japan dumped a lot of money into infrastructure in the 1990s to get its GDP and stock market growth back up without results but it didn't actually hurt the people since they got newer and faster roads, tunnels, transport, shelter, etc. In fact, preemptive dumping of mass resources and/or fiat wealth into seeming infrastructural bubbles of residential "ghost cities" is rather prudent considering robotic workers will soon make the concept of the "cheap Asian laborer" obsolete (and cheap African laborer and most of humanity for that matter. AI software and miniature electronics are finally catching up to make practical cheap robot workers possible and ever-present). These obsolete humans will need to live somewhere and Chinese may as well construct the shelter during the current paradigm. Talk of residential housing bubbles is as ridiculous as talk of bubbles in food production and such talk is a product of a sick global socioeconomic system (consider the millions of houses sitting empty in United States and the amount of the homeless). That is a story for another day but China may be one of the first countries facing the brunt of a new automation paradigm shift first and head on and with potentially the most painful of consequences.

The average age of the new politburo doesn't help with bringing potential flexibility and finesse when it comes to reacting to major issues. The accumulated wealth buffer (to be readily dumped on the problem as in 2009) is being relied upon instead of having rapid reaction flexible human leadership tools. Although most of the members of the new Politburo were not born directly in coastal provinces, their upbringing and the great power trajectory of the country will still push them to favor more resource expenditures on coastal integration than Western provincial development. The focus on the Chinese coast may allow China to play a civilizational role within trans-Pacific space that America played in trans-Atlantic space in later half of the 20th century (and that China could have played as far back as 500 years ago if it chose to). However, it will be very important for them to not forget infrastructural links with Central Asia, not forget to increasingly allocate resources to the Western provinces to create a societal shape more like Japan's than Brazil's or America's (olive shaped as one Politburo member said), and to push forward with high speed rail towards Europe.

We will return to China and look deeper after observing some of the moves this new bunch makes.


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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Internet Voting and Direct Democracy

The active and engaged consumer will transform into an active and creative political actor through omnipresent ability to conduct online voting and with the help of rogue NGOs



There is a current semi-troubling trend that will evolve and mutate into a much more benign trend of direct democratic electronic voting and popular societal management. It starts with today's process of far sighted corporations allowing their customers to crowdsource creation and design of not only products but marketing for these products (thus saving money and bypassing scientific research and focus groups) . However these "creative consumers" as the linked article calls them need not be useful idiots for shareholders of large transnationals forever.

[Sidenote: Deeply sorry for linking to The Economist. The Pragmatist usually has a boycott against that neoliberal mouthpiece magazine for a variety of reasons.]

[Sidenote #2: This process of consumer participation, direct democracy over some narrow corporate market design aspects, immediate feedback, beta testing, etc. IS actually dramatically improving quality of products and raising the standard of living for millions even if certain modern corporations try to gloss over the free labor provided as some sort of empowerment. Encouraging a paying customer to vote on the shape of his or her favorite vitamin juice bottle shape for a chance to win a spot on some volunteer designed free commercial still leaves an odd and not entirely pleasant feeling about the whole process.]

Considering that political candidates throughout the world are increasingly becoming glossy packaged well marketed human products onto which much of the public can project their societal aspirations and psychological states (as was the case with recent examples of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Barack Obama), a certain disconnect is growing. The disconnect is between:

1) On the one hand, the world of actual consumer products like electronic gadgets and restaurant food stuffs over which the masses have substantial growing voting clout (at the very least, influence over the products once they are forcefully introduced into the public domain)

2) On the other hand, the world of political consumer products like Obama and Berlusconi that the public has no influence over and in fact has diminishing influence over (how can one have crowdsource voting power over an amorphous multifaceted postmodern Ronald McDonald-esque corporate shill?)

The psychic frustration from this disconnect is so far manifested in the same way that many other frustrations are. That is, snarky sardonic memes about the political "products" and people voting on popularity of the memetic criticisms or viral praise of candidates. In this regard, a modern political product is akin to a movie as well as the actor playing within this movie (both being examples of popular consumable entertainment products). The e-voting currently is no more effective than people deciding whether shareholders of studio A or B will get the money for delivering a certain blockbuster.

But we knew that already.

The breakthrough in direct democracy (primary goal and hope of Internet voting) will NOT occur when creative people outside the establishment start delivering blockbusters of their own and when the establishment begins to co-opt the way new things are done (another analogy to movies is current embryonic trend of crowdfunding of an independent movie with substantial popular control over the content and direction). The breakthrough will have to come from outside actors that tap into the disconnect frustration mentioned above.

NGOs spreading democracy in the "free world"

The last article mentioned the concept of a virtual polis that acts as a sort of massive shadow government/cabinet that eventually begins to co-rule with existing legislatures. Something like this does not appear overnight.

Once the generation trained from young age in pro-active consumerism, social network voting, and embryonic e-democracy reaches a certain age, it will then be possible to then evolve the concept of pro-democracy NGOs into directly democratic parallel micro governments with various pools of physical resources and power projection abilities. They will then be in position to negotiate with power.

The ironic thing is that many political scientists and the educated youth in the Western world currently serve as foot soldiers in destabilizing foreign countries and foreign governments via Western government/think tank/elite funded NGOs. See the examples of color revolutions in Serbia, Thailand, Ukraine, Georgia, and current work in the Middle East. These foot soldiers (many children from well to do and/or intelligentsia families) are getting experience in parallel governance that will be turned against their sponsor masters eventually by some of them.

Today, Washington DC and London and various global think tanks are encouraging democracy/neoliberalism spreading NGOs to get creative when wrestling with authorities abroad. US state department went as far as to fund portable high speed Wi-Fi/satellite devices. This is so NGOs and opposition groups they work with in the Middle East can create mini Internets in case authorities totally block net access as happened in Egypt. Native groups and NGOs helping them are pushed by circumstance and need to cooperate to find better and better ways to find consensus, engage in direct action, network, and market destabilizing viral propaganda. Of course the various governments not yet in the neoliberal fold also get creative in suppressing such activity and we see a process of each side learning from each other rapidly.


The political science/international relations majors that today find meaning in their lives by destabilizing governments in Africa and Eurasia in the name of Anglo-American style "democracy" will grow up and return home eventually. That is when things start getting interesting.



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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Direct Democracy in the 21st Century

New communication technology driven democratic institutions are already in their embryonic stages and will grow to co-rule many societies in parallel with the current legislatures ( that are morally and ideologically bankrupt and losing their legitimacy) 



Direct democracy enthusiasts brought us a few innovations in the 20th century such as the recall and the referendum. The use of these mechanisms is increasing through the Western world but that doesn't necessarily mean that direct democracy is increasing. Moneyed interests just found ways to utilize these mechanisms. We saw the engineers of the European Union integration use the referendum as a popular legitimacy providing rubber stamp for their top down projects. Whenever the people voted "the wrong way" such as in France, the Eurocrats saw it as a failure on their part in terms of not marketing ("explaining") the referendum offering properly enough rather than the offering being unpopular. We thus see signature gathering efforts and popular majority approval fall under the same corporate interests as everything else.

Nonetheless, even a  broken clock is right twice a day. Just as current oligarchic legislative systems in the Western world are able to occasionally deliver what the mob really wants, referendums (such as the one that will be held on Scottish independence) may genuinely create popular breakthroughs once in a while. However, for very interesting psychological reasons that predispose 80% of the population towards the status quo, these genuinely and massively popular satisfactions are even more rare and more difficult to achieve in Western oligarchies (that call themselves democratic) than in oligarchies elsewhere in the world that don't bother with the pretense. The minority of elites that seriously know what is in the people's interest and who actually want to work towards it are always outnumbered by majority of other elites who use majority of population as rubber stamp proxies. Thus, paradoxically, in the parliamentary/referenda Western world, in some ways it is more difficult to achieve macro-level political progress than under some monarchies in the later 19th century (see the relatively advanced pre-emptive welfare and safety net provisions offered in Kaiser's Germany in late 19th century). Considering the modern need to create people's approval through mass scale marketing, there is always intra-elite battle of marketing that progressive faction loses in a more spectacular way than it did in prior times.

Therefore the future of direct democracy will not be in referendums (that come about as a result of very expensive research and marketing efforts) since the people fall under the same top down informational spell as during the election season. That is not to say that the effort should be completely abandoned since the Internet currently allows the masses to massively fund not just individual candidates via small contributions (and other tricks like moneybombs) but also to fund large scale propaganda commercial campaigns. However, even if there is a more level playing field for the money versus money game, and the propaganda versus propaganda game, the ones likely to win most of the time are those who are much more experienced, connected as a block, and resourceful. I'll leave it at that.

Direct Democracy that is not a Rubber Stamp

Let's explore some directions that are increasingly possible in the 21st century (where manufacturing your own surplus electrical energy, acquiring water from air, and making objects via 3D printing down to nanoscale level are possible not to mention more sophisticated participation in governance). The focus should be on direct democratic systems that can be scaled up somehow to be capable of ruling continental federal unions. That is more imperative than ever in a consolidating technologically complex world that is beginning to resemble ant colonies.

We should also focus on expanding direct democracy not just vertically but horizontally to areas where democracy is not usually found. That primarily means the workplace. Often to vote on in a new area, the people should also own that area (which is a whole different topic for discussion but just as necessary in this century). That means anything from residential buildings, to fission reactor facilities, and to expanding upon the cliche of worker ownership of a factory/hospital/school. Worker's self management of an industrial plant is good and all but these workers should be able to run the entire transnational industrial chain. Same applies for counties, countries, and the above mentioned EU (we're watching you Brussels). Horizontal expansion of direct democracy experiments and systems is critical since it brings greater quantity of direct democratic units, greater experimentation with different methods (to see which can be scaled up better), and since quantity has a quality of its own. In a world where 1 billion people are trained to "like" something on a social network and where their liking and disliking is increasingly brought to other areas, there develops a sort of psychological diffusion that can potentially turn an increasingly proactive consumer into a citizen of the world (in a practical  and not 1960s cliche sense).

One of America's greatest political scientists, Robert Dahl, wrote 20 years ago in Democracy and its Critics that the Internet and the jury system offers an interesting way out for mass scale direct democracy. Let's dig into but one example that could be extrapolated from his work (the web was very new at the time and Dahl couldn't have imagined the level of connectedness we have achieved so far):

One example of a transitional process: The Case of New Jersey. Yes we went there.

New Jersey has a population of 8.8 million, 13 representatives and 2 senators to federal congress, 120 members in its bicameral legislature, and access to the Internet. Mr Dahl would say that a virtual polis can be created where for example, 1,000 New Jersians are randomly selected by a computer to serve as a sort of shadow government for every state representative. This means 120,000 people or 1.36% of population are selected to serve their state as either a consulting body that suggests course of action or serve as actual co-representative collectively.

Let's see how this might function.

If Billy Bob from district 3 is elected by people of district 3 to serve in state assembly, then 1,000 random people from district 3 are notified that they are now part of a virtual district 3 polis where after deliberating for a year they can vote on what course of action Billy Bob should take. Collectively the wisdom of 1,000 individuals from all walks of life make this body as smart, coherent, and authoritative as Billy (since we're being metric for simplicity, lets call this mass of 1,000 individuals a kilopop).

Now, being in this virtual polis isn't a full time job and doesn't require too much energy (although some mild monetary and/or honorary compensation for participating for that year can be found, and no! you can't trade or sell your position to Coca Cola. More on the impossibility to bribe everybody later).

The polis can either vote thumbs up or down on various proposals in the state assembly via secure Internet connection as proposals come up or there can be certain days when proposals accumulate such as every Sunday or the first Sunday of every month. There of course can be online forums where the kilopop can debate and argue among each other. This way, the state of New Jersey has 120 popular assemblies (polises, councils, people's cogresses, however you want to call them) for each of their 120 state reps AS WELL as 15 randomly selected assemblies for each of the 13 representatives and 2 senators that New Jersians send to the federal congress.

The assemblies can vary in size of course so perhaps a state senator gets, 5,000-10,000 to shadow him while a senator to US senate gets 100,000 New Jersians to shadow him or her. There is enough people for all, no worries. Then, when the popular 1,000 or 5,000, or 10,000, or 100,000 person assembly votes an an issue one way and the assemblyman, or representative, or senator, votes an this issue another way, he can   rapidly and easily be shamed into losing the next election as having gone against the will of the people from his or her locality. Of course the politicians elected will be acutely aware of how the virtual polis is leaning on a day by day basis so the votes made via the old system are already preemptively influenced. 1,000 people have many links between them and the wider community and a lot of influential members in places one may not expect. A whole range of measures and pressures could collectively be found to deal with completely bought politicians who always vote "the wrong way" (the shoe is on the other foot now!).

Polling is done with sufficiently representative samples and these assemblies will definitely be mathematically representative of different parts of New Jersey. Mundane technicalities of encrypting computer systems to do genuinely random jury type selection, whether you had to born in district 3 or lived there for a number of years, etc can be worked out rapidly. The assemblies are not parliaments with a ruling entrenched clique and since the people who participated in them will not be able to after a year, corruption can't take hold. If, after certain amount of time, due to population of the state, one is called up again it will be for a different virtual polis altogether. In ancient Athens, almost every citizen sat on a temporary committee of some sort (usually for a year) and was never to sit on it again. This constant rotational system is easier than ever to implement online with a large population that has the a rather short attention span as of late. Lots of retired people will feel a renewed sense of importance as well as people typically excluded from public life.

Taking a step back and looking at the entire population of United States (or France or Germany), you see that there are now millions of individuals engaged in civic duty with their sense of civic duty and education rising all the time. On a long enough timeline after testing it out (or short timeline if you're less conservative), you can have the virtual assemblies evolve from consulting bodies into co-legislative (being able to veto or override the assemblyman with sufficient votes or vote requiring both assemblyman AND the virtual polis tracking him to vote the same way). Co-legislative function of course paves way towards replacement of the system constructed by 18th century aristocrats.

Software systems can make this process as cartoony, simple, and pleasing to the eyes as facebook with big red reminders popping up concerning something. And there is no need to worry about the elderly people selected without Internet access (they can vote via TV that is all digital now) or busy bodies who monopolize the forum discussions due to not having any lives. Such problems pale in comparison to the collective wisdom of 1,000-100,000 individuals producing a decision (maybe even 500,000 person polises can be assembled in times of national emergencies that could deliberate for much shorter amount of time).

Although of course it is difficult for corporations to bribe so many millions of people, we are still left with a number of unanswered questions. The Virtual Polis system though is a bit better at corruption fighting than some other proposals that just scale up existing dysfunctional systems (such as proposals to expand federal congress to 30,000 bought off stooges rather than 435 corporate monkeys currently). Whereas the latter proposal decreases class size so to speak, the former brings additional teachers into the class to teach and watch each other.

Surely there is more?

Yes dear reader, there is more but this is turning into a multi-part article. Next we will look at actual physical assemblies consisting of roughly 10,000 people living in a locality (even if they are inside a city of 5 million). These assemblies then select a number from among themselves (say, 10) to participate in a higher Assembly #2 that can be either 1,000 or 10,000 reps (see how we're keeping it metric?). In this we can have a bottom up process where direct democracy creates a super assembly that covers anywhere from a million (megapop) to 10 million people without a middleman. Of course this would all be lubricated by the Internet and integrated with a virtual polis system simultaneously or in parallel if need be. There are a number of countries in the world that have experimented with rather advanced political systems in the last 30 years.

But more on that later.


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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Economic Case for Scottish Independence

The 2014 referendum on independence organized by the Scottish National Party may create one of the world's wealthiest and most socially oriented republics.




SNP now holds majority in the newly created Scottish parliament. Their postmodern "quality of life" arguments for sovereignty (rather than those based on primordial blood roots and culture) are already being criticized by imperialist publications as having potential to set a negative precedent worldwide. Whenever self determination comes up, the popular consciousness still brings up images of a particular ethnic group, coalition of clans, an/or an occupied/splintered nation, etc as fighting for its chance in the sun. Kurdistan is one of the better known examples currently.

However, what if a part of the population convincingly argues that being their own nation will not right some prior wrong but just improve their quality of life and consolidate a certain regional and primarily socioeconomic and ideological cultural tendency. The people of Vermont with its (and only) socialist senator Bernie Sanders or New Hampshire with its libertarian "free state" streak are examples of regions that can offer this new type of argument. The example would go like this: "We want to be independent not because we have millennia old history as a unique ethnic group and long history of revolts and serious grievances (such as Kurds in eastern Turkey) but we feel that we do have different values that we evolved and that our way of life can become dramatically more efficient, streamlined, consolidated, and materially better if we ARE independent".

Considering:

1) Scotland's population of 5,200,000 people with 66 people per sq kilometer out of  78,387 sq km land area versus 345 people per sq km in the rest of the UK.

2) GDP per capita (nominal and PPP) being higher in Scotland than in the rest of UK on average (which is $38,591 and $36,728 respectively outside of Scotland)

3) Scotland has more claim to North Sea oil than the rest of the UK due to closer proximity and expertise in extraction.

4) Long tradition of socialist and social democratic government mindset and expenditures on the local population that makes Scotland closer to its Scandinavian neighbors in some respects than to its austerity pushing English master.

With these conditions, it may not become a new Norway (that only has 12 people per sq mile and PPP GDP per cap of $53,470) but it can definitely give Denmark a run for its money (which has 128 people per sq km and $37,000 PPP GDP per cap).

European Union has nothing to lose or fear by Scottish independence. Indeed, secession, separatism, and sovereignty questions begin to have less meaning when Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are both in the EU. When Basques may form their own country and still be in the Eurozone, independence does not have as much of a ripple effect anymore considering the current tendency of the world towards continental supranational economic unions. If anything, Eurocrats should encourage Scottish independence as it would declaw the old militarist UK a bit and the anachronism that is the British monarchy. 5.75%  of UK's GDP and 8.36% of its former "subjects" would be gone and the Trident submarine base near Glasgow either kicked out or charged rent. UK would become a more pliable (and hopefully less murderous and swaggering abroad!) partner with the EU if it is cut down to size. Its population would also be positively influenced by a republic being shared on one island giving anti-monarchists a boost. The remaining monarchies in Europe are becoming an embarrassment in 2012 not just for the continent but for the wider Western world.

The relatively domesticated population of UK needs a wake up call for reform themselves. Independent Scotland can have positive effects that go beyond its internal domestic politics. UK has long been the ringleader and legitimacy provider for many of the world's hereditary mafia "monarchies". UK's poodle of Qatar sending out mercenaries to Libya and currently to Syria to do UK's dirty destabilization work is but one of many examples. Middle East is currently in a free for all struggle between republican and monarchic blocks with UK playing the most unhealthy role in terms of which forms of government emerge victorious within the region (mentality appears to be that if you cant own it then you break it for the rest of the world).

The people of Scotland in 2014 thus have a unique chance to send a message that will be felt in ways we can't yet conceptualize. No longer will they be asked to fight abroad every few years and if London financial establishment wants to saddle them with some of its absurd debts, then perhaps SNP's Alex Salmond can provide an Icelandic answer to boot.

if only it was this easy more often





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Monday, October 8, 2012

Technocracy Movement Becoming Popular Again

There is a potent reason why the Western world is seeing alternative samizdat publications and sites spread like wildfire. The quote below encapsulates it and is from the online Technocracy Study Course (Available in PDF.  Emphasis on pages 121-143 if you don't have much time.) 


What is all the more shocking is that Technocracy Movement was very popular in the 1930s (the quote above is from the 1947 version) and stood as an all American alternative to some of the more European systems being proposed at the time. Educational conferences like the one pictured below were common and many prominent technocrats went on to serve in helping build the new FDRist state in the 1940s-1960s period.


The continental plans at the time appear grandiose to a post-industrial, post-cold generation but considering the pace in construction of continental economic unions and mega engineering being back in vogue due to China, we may return to similar thinking soon.





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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Eurasian Railroad Development

in a bit saner world...
Beijing to London freight delivery in 2 days as well as peaceful integration of Middle Eastern economies are some of many possibilities. Recent APEC meeting in Vladivostok should accelerate the long awaited development of Trans-Asian Railway project. 




Developing infrastructure has always been risky if you're not well protected by geography or by standing armies. The German-Ottoman/Baghdad-Berlin railroad link construction plans threatened British shipping interests and thus helped start the 20th century. And as Libyan experience shows, any small country outside Western alliances determined to become the "next Norway" of this or that particular region has a high chance of being bombarded by warplanes.

Having said that, transportation links are as essential as monetary unions when it comes to strengthening regional political integration. This point has been brought so often on this site that we may as well be called The Infrastructuralist. In fact, current political gridlock and disunity within USA would be a lot less intense if this union put as much effort into high speed freight/passenger delivery as is usually put into decades long military occupations. Transcontinental railroad continued being built even during American civil war and was instrumental in political integration of United States. That was big for its time but the key issue of the 21st century is connecting and creating harmony between the various poles of the multipolar world.

This primarily means socioeconomic and cultural integration of Asia and the West the way California, Texas, and New York (and more recently, France and Germany) have been united by transport. Elites understand the supranational symbiosis that transportation links bring and even the potential for a larger and more dynamic economy to swallow up neighbors. Because of that, we often even see reluctance to begin projects such as the Korea-Japan undersea tunnel even if it is mutually enriching.

Such notions need to be put to rest. Fears of freight links are not the same as fears of removing all trade protectionism. Tight railroad links and busy rail arteries can co-exist wonderfully with 20% tariffs (as shown by repeated successes of protectionism over the last 200 years). What is more dangerous than easy freight movement among neighbors is not so much mutual digestion by historical enemies. The danger is that lack of cooperation on transnational freight movements creates:

1) Economic and popular disharmony potentially leading to violence (some blood vessels in the regional body blocked, some deprived, some oversaturated, some non-existent, etc. inefficiencies, inequalities, bottlenecks, and chaos is the order of the day)

2) Stops spin off processes from getting off the ground whether economic (creating cooperation where economies of scale can be tapped) or political war averting ones (see below)

Full high speed railroad Eurasian integration is the obvious next step that United Nations saw as an essential violence preventing project for the largest land mass on earth. Projects of this nature always require soothing relations beforehand. Obviously Pakistan and India need to find ways to cooperate, as well as South and North Korea, Japan and Russia, Japan and South Korea, Iran and Arab neighbors, Israel and Egypt, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia, Turkey and Russia, and Afghanistan sufficiently stabilized so as not to build railroads and pipelines around it.

In effect, in a world with nuclear weaponry, the shareholders of various railroad monopolies have to pressure for peace in order to get more business. High level governmental working groups approaching something as mundane as transborder high speed railroad development create a foot in the door towards preconditions for peace. Seoul and Pyongyang seem to be the early adopters of this understanding with railroad construction connecting their two countries (along with a free trade zone lubricating the project) being used as an ignition towards eventual reunification. Although some critics point to France and Germany being the most interconnected in terms of transportation in 1913, interdependence before conflict appears more of a historical exception rather than the rule.

post-scarcity civilization will think of how to tap
and transport resources from still
overlooked northern peripheries
Considering the current historical conditions in the Middle East (a patchwork of barely consolidated "states" each in its own historic development that roughly mirrors Europe anywhere from 1850s to early 20th century), a supranational government approach combined with links to indigenous civil society and business groups with infrastructuralist mindset and demands is essential to potentially prevent early 20th century Europe 2.0.

Let's quote from a previous article that compared 3 fastest rail lines in the world to better grasp a future Eurasian land bridge.

"The "best" is determined here by a combination of:

A) Average speed in between terminating points since the faster the distance covered, the more a train system cuts into air industry's profits. This in turn pushes airplane makers to conceptualize cheap travel by hypersonic passenger aircraft which in turn benefits humanity.


B) The distance that the high speed line covers since the longer the line, the bigger the project in terms of resources and parts and the more economies of scale are utilized. A society's commitment to triggering economies of scale for heavy industry shows its determination to improving the welfare of its citizens. Ultimately, going as big as possible with infrastructure projects (see Erie, Panama, Suez Canals and Transcontinental/Trans-Siberian railroads) is not just cheaper but creates mass employment (during transition to post-scarcity mechanization), rapidly stimulates real physical economy, and gives a super boost in wealth creation."


Industrial cartels behind the Chinese government also seem interested in free trade zones at the end of 3 major high speed Eurasian railways that are being proposed. India and southeast Asia being China's South America and Russia being China's Canada appears the immediate future for the region. Beijing needs to approach the situation in an integrative developmental language that FDR would have used to build common prosperity and avoid the imperialist mindset. The possibilities of freight entering North Korea from Russian Federation and then entering South Korean land to continue on via the underwater tunnel to Japanese consumers would do more for peace than 6 party talks ever did. Recent decision by the Kremlin to forgive 11 billion dollars of North Korean debt appears to be part of this particular mission. Energy and transportation projects can go through when borders are finally delineated and decades long issues forgiven. The Christian Orthodox Patriarch on a visit to Poland recently used the word he considered the most important. It was "forgiveness".

An economically booming region connected by Beijing, Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, Pyongyang finally healing with high speed transport links would be an example to follow across the world from central Europe to Middle East to Africa. It is said people get used to a good thing very quickly and the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan demonstrates that as passengers don't worry about being searched and stopped as their train crosses the border. As Mexico continues to grow in economic power, eventually the planners behind North American Union need to consider similar easing of restrictions and add high speed rail in addition to the high speed highway linking the continent.

Besides break of gauge, the way high speed tracks should be constructed should take into account possible future conversion to Mag-Lev standard. This means wide clearance around the track to allow parallel Mag-Lev construction once sufficient number of fission reactors are built to support it. Dual use construction or built in expansion for potential dual use is essential. Any type of transcontinental infrastructure built in 21st century should have major upgrades in mind to save on costs. Historically, once a major project begins, the tools for it itch to find use elsewhere as the pipe laying ships for Nord Stream already want to be used to lay pipes between Russian far east and South Korea and Japan. Initial investor capital creates a critical mass and a snowball effect for specialized machinery built for the original task. Governments and sovereign wealth funds are essential to create this type of ignition. Elites like Sarkozy, various think tanks, and The Pragmatist itself have already discussed an international Tobin tax to fund a truly global infrastructure development bank. It would rapidly help in what was previously thought as unapproachable "mega" projects such as terraforming the Sahara Desert, Gobi Desert, Central Asian Desert, etc.

2-3 trillion dollars (or 4% of world's GDP) to properly connect the far East and Western Europe will rapidly pay for itself through reversal of austerity mindsets, direct energy savings for the most populous landmass on earth, airplane construction cartels finally pushed towards development of cheap hypersonic freight and passenger jets, and greater lubrication for business than even economic and monetary unions. Even if European Union got its finances in order, it wouldn't function well if people still used horses and buggies. At the risk of the article sounding like another high speed commercial, there are also possibilities for passenger (and even freight trains!) that are always in motion and that unload their cargo onto another regional/city train system. Schemes like this can make high speed function smoothly with normal speed as well as allow experiments for non-stop high speed train systems of smaller size to operate within large urban areas.

As Immanuel Wallerstein's World Systems Theory and global climate change efforts (requiring world climate system approach) take hold in popular imagination, we'll see world systems finally applied to planetary transport and energy grids as we progress further.


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