Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The best I can see, the way that countries seem to work when times get bad is that they break up into bits.  I cannot think of a single case, outside of military adventures, where countries responded to hard times by increasing size.

Consider the EU.  It was formed during good times, as a means of better competing with the large blocs.  Can't really say that it's formation was a response to bad, it was trying to better compete economically.  The only other country that I can think of who responded by attempting to grow would be Germany's response to the privations of the great depression in the form of anschluss and drang nach osten.

Most countries break up into smaller parts.  The warring states of ancient China, Europe after Charlemagne, the Soviet Union.  I think that large states take more energy and strength than small states. 

But I think that we will be making a decision about which way we will go soon.  Unlike most struggling states, we have a well-oiled military machine with experience.  This allows us a choice. 


NoHype said...

This is an area where the American Exceptionalism argument can be made with some persuasion. We were created out of individual states fighting with each other from widely divergent points of view. Remember that "state" at the time was a sovereign geographical entity, while "nation" referred to a group of people linked by culture, bloodlines, or economics.

This was an important semantic distinction at a time of overt empire. For instance, an Englishman born in India or Ireland was still an Englishman (nationality) living in the State of Ireland, or India.

This is also why we continue to struggle with racism, because one's nationality was used to determine citizenship and the rights and privileges one enjoyed as a result. We're all still on the cultural hangover resulting from these practices.

To deal with the realities of 18th Century political and cultural memes, our founders settled upon creating a "nation" of common interests from many "states."

Fortunately, for all of our societal faults and frailties, Americans still give lip service to the higher ideals and aspirations of equal opportunity for all. Hence, we have the institutions in place that give citizens the ostensible (if not currently practical) power to govern themselves from within accessible state capitols.

Just because our system is currently dysfunctional doesn't mean it CAN'T function. Washington D.C. could default tomorrow, throwing millions of bureaucrats out of work, and we'd still have an exceedingly good chance to hold together as a "nation" under our Constitution. People will still want to be protected from external attack, even if they're not getting a welfare check anymore (they'll look to their local governments for that, with varying degrees of success). People will still want to travel across state lines freely to visit their parents, children, and siblings.

This is the one blind spot I see in Dmitri Orlov's analysis of the Collapse Gap between the U.S. and former U.S.S.R. The residents of her vassal states didn't identify as Russians. Furthermore, they were generally not free to move about the country unhindered and leave nuclear family members strewn across the landscape.

I doubt we'll allow a shockingly visible default. We have other choices because all our debt is denominated in our own currency. This is another huge difference.

As we descend into epic economic contraction, the highest probability lies in local institutions reasserting their lawful authority to govern. One of the reasons they're not able to do this at the moment is because money is power and the center still has credit -- which in our system IS money. As long as local complicity can be purchased, it will.

But the minute it can't, local governments will have everything they can handle just keeping law and order, with varying degrees of success. They won't care about the center, and they're unlikely to fight the center as it holds on to whatever vestiges of power it can, happy to be relieved of the responsibility gearing up for the defense of external threats. And they'll be happy to pay whatever small tribute is necessary to keep that function up and running.

The most likely model for our collapse is the painful and wrenching unwinding of the English Empire. The monarchy was preserved an institution but was stripped its practical day-to-day governance, which was pushed downward to local institutions. Ireland was the only bloody casualty as it misjudged the national will to hold the original nation, bound by common ancestry, together.

Texas is our Ireland. It is the only state that has the resources and cultural mindset (many Texans are Texan first, American second) necessary to stage a credible separatist movement. Blood may be spilled there, but my wager would be placed on it staying in the union.

NoHype said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NoHype said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NoHype said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
russell1200 said...

For large political groupings, in general you are correct.

However, it is fairly common for disparate groups (often antagonistic) to band together to fight against a common foe.

You can argue that many alliance systems do just this. The Germans with their bellicose posture, and the Chinese today are a clear example of this trend. On a smaller scale, the Native Americans on a number of occasions formed alliances of previous enemies to try and stop the incoming swarm of American Settlers.