Sunday, December 7, 2014

The American Elites Fail at Every Enterprise and Call it Expertise

Perhaps the greatest problem with the United States today is that the elites no longer care about the nation as a whole, and certainly not about the working classes.  That is, of course, to be expected from the Neoliberalism, which can be summed up as follows:

The dogma of Neoliberalism: All human relationships should be reduced to market transactions, and the market should be rigged.  The rich and powerful should have total economic and social control of a society.  The rich should even control how many children people have, as if they were cattle – because the people cannot be trusted to make that sort of decision.  Say that you believe in free markets and competition, but fix the game so that you always win and if you do still manage to lose bail yourself out with public funds.  Claim that your policies will guarantee prosperity, and when they produce results worse than the old Soviet Union, play bait-and-switch and say that nothing is to be done.  Slander your opponents in every way possible, never feel any shame, buy and censor the press, and above all, say anything at all to provide cover, even if what you say has no bearing on reality or contradicts what you said before.

However, there is a secondary problem here: the Neoliberal elites have been so isolated from the negative consequences of their mistakes that they have lost the ability to think critically.  Indeed, they have lost the ability to even realize that thinking critically is important!  If you were to ask one of them: ‘if a policy fails should we change course?’ I imagine that at first they would simply stare at you in puzzlement.  What?  What are you talking about?  Then they would have you hauled off by the police for disturbing the peace and if you were a journalist or academic your career would be over.  (Pour encouragez les autres).  But if pressed I’m sure they could blather on about need to face challenges and collect data and blah blah but these words would no more reflect their thinking than happens inside a parrot's mind when it speaks English.

Let’s consider the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  These have proven to be stunningly colossal failures, abject wastes of blood and treasure and opportunity.  After all this time and effort, ‘Islamic militants’ are as powerful as ever and nothing has been achieved but to line the pockets of politically-connected defense contractors, and spread chaos across much of the middle east.  And yet the people who have planned and continue to press these stupid wars continue to be respected as elder statesman, their advice breathlessly received by a sycophantic corporate press corps.  They do not apologize, they do not explain, but only treat any criticism as ‘not serious’.  The are given teaching appointments at the most prestigious universities, their bloviations command front-page access on the New York Times, they are on the boards of the largest corporations – all for failing in the most gaudy and total manner possible.

An early pioneer in this endeavor was Henry Kissinger, the first (but not the last!) American secretary of state to have lost a war (and this despite overwhelming material and technical advantages).  He parlayed his then-unprecedented failure into a prestigious teaching position at Harvard university, lucrative consulting agreements (where among other things he appears to have sold his insider knowledge to the Chinese communist government), and continued to be considered a diplomatic savant for decades to come.  However, compared to the current crop of American 'leaders', Kissinger is Talleyrand and Bismarck and Polk combined.  I wonder if Kissinger is at all jealous, seeing how much greater the failures of George W. Bush and Hilary Clinton and Dick Cheney and Barack Obama were than his own, and how much more money they ended up making as a result.  Nah, I doubt it.  Irony is a not a strong suite of Neoliberals.

Now even the smartest people, when they start something new, often make mistakes.  That’s part of life.  The thing here is not that these wars were started foolishly, but they have continued to be prosecuted for all this time without any change of policy!  Without any once wondering, is it wise to spend trillions on defense contractors that never deliver?  Should we be blowing up wedding parties because someone who might maybe sort of not like the United States could be there?  Should we even be doing this at all?  What the heck is our objective there?  That’s the main thing.  That there was no adjustment, no feedback, no altering the course in the face of failure.

It’s like the British generals in World War I.  Perhaps the first time or two they might have been forgiven for thinking that massed infantry charges could defeat dug-in machine guns and artillery.  After all, the situation had never arisen before.  But to do this for four years, over and over again?  That was the crime, not the initial mistake, but stubbornly repeating it without thought (another 100,000 dead?  Oh bother.  Well nothing for it but to try again next month.  Pass the champagne, will you my good man?).

Let us consider Hilary Clinton.  During her tenure as secretory of state, the highest praise that you could give her is that her policies did not actually result in the outright destruction of western civilization as we know it (so far).  And yet, Saint Hilary is widely touted as a ‘serious person’, she is currently the top-seed for next president of the United States, she gets million dollars fees for spreading her wisdom at speaking events.  Where sane people would see only a record of repeated failure, a Neoliberal sees a long resume of important positions and serious jobs (and she’s a woman!). 

How does this happen?  Others pointed out the flaws in her policies before they failed, others do not have such a track record of failure – ah, but they don’t have powerful friends.  So they are not allowed anywhere near the levers of power.  They are not given coverage in the mass media, they are not appointed to prestigious universities… Ultimately Hilary Clinton is lauded as a senior statesman because the game is rigged (and did I mention that she's a WOMAN?), because the elites in the United States are now a self-congratulating pack of cronies.  So it doesn’t matter how badly they fail – all the institutions and mechanisms for identifying and demoting failures are under their own control.  There is no feedback, there is no correction, the Neoliberals live in a golden bubble where everything they do is wonderful, regardless….

The Neoliberals play with real armies the way a spoiled rich kid plays with toy soldiers.  If a few break, why, no worries, daddy will buy me more!  Hilary Clinton could probably have ordered an entire US army corps to destruction and it would only prove all that more just how serious and capable of making the tough decisions she is...

Sanity requires feedback.  Nobody – but nobody – is always right.  As a child we learn that turning the bicycle handlebars the wrong way causes us to fall.  We learn that putting a raw egg in a microwave is a bad idea.  And that leaving the window open during a rainstorm can ruin your carpet.  And that not studying for an exam can cause you to fail a course.  And so on and so forth.  Without this feedback, painful as it often is, we would never grow or progress.  Without this constant feedback, we would not even be sane.

Now the Neoliberal elite still do get some lessons taught – like walking in the rain without an umbrella gets you wet, or insulting someone that you want to do you a favor rarely works out.  They maintain their skills at back-dealing and political infighting and self-promotion.  But in matters of public policy, they are immune to feedback.  For them, their critics are like the sound of crickets chirping – nothing to pay attention to, none of them have any real power.  And so, the United States has a leadership class that, increasingly, can only be called insane. 

Michelle Obama’s school lunch fiasco is one minor example of this.  Perhaps school lunches should be better balanced – in Japan the school lunches are healthy but delicious, you’d pay money to get them in a good restaurant in this country.  Instead the government creates unworkable standards and produces nearly inedible lunches at twice the price (money to be made!  A bonus!) – but Michelle’s kids eat catered gourmet food at private schools, liberals treat any criticism of her plan as racist, she is still treated with respect, and so she shows no interest in fixing the system.  Why should she?  So I expect that this horrible school lunch program will continue indefinitely, kids will eat crappy meals and complain about it and the right people will make money and so it will go, on and on forever…

Now building cutting-edge military and aerospace systems is never cheap and always takes longer than expected.  That’s just how the world works (you think building a fifth-generation fighter jet is easy?  Then build one yourself!).  Inefficiencies and false starts are part of the game when you are doing something that is novel and technically complex.  However, as the nation sinks ever deeper into the morass of Neoliberalism, this may be changing.  The elites may be so wedded to their culture of failure that the nation may, finally, be starting to lose the ability to do anything. 

Take the F35 fighter jet.  As usual, it’s over budget and behind schedule and might not be able to do everything as promised.  What else is new?  In the old days the program would be either made to work, or, if that was not possible, it would be cancelled and a new program started.  But not, I think, today.  The program's costs are so astonishing it’s not clear that the nation can actually afford more than a few dozen of these planes, they have short ranges, carry limited armaments, are not very maneuverable, and possibly not all that stealthy.  But like the Afghanistan war and Michelle Obama’s lunch program, it just continues on and on and on…

Everything costs money, and nothing involving human beings will ever be 100% efficient.  We should always strive to improve, but never forget that the perfect is the enemy of good enough.  But there is some level of inefficiency and corruption where it starts to become impossible to actually do anything.  The United States may be getting to that level.

Why is it that the American space program relies on Russian-made rockets?  America can’t even launch it’s own rockets into space any more.  Now there are calls for American industry to go back to building its own engines.  So if the government gives these brave capitalists a bazillion dollars for free to re-learn what they deliberately decided to forget, our brave capitalists just might be able to make their own engines by 2020.  Or 2030.  Or something.  Or just buy the engines from the Chinese and slap a 100% profit charge and an American flag decal on them.  Who cares, I mean, the average taxpayer is footing the bill, not Hilary Clinton (I did mention that she's a woman, didn't I?).  And if eventually no American rocket engines are made, well, the pundits can continue to wring their hands and the contractors can get their subsidies and Hilary Clinton can make another million dollars giving a serious speech expressing her serious views on the topic and nothing need change…

There is an old saying: "There is a lot of ruin in a nation."  This means that most nations have deep roots, and it will take more than one or two mistakes to bring them down.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and it took centuries of corruption and mismanagement to destroy it.  By 1970 the United States had acquired so much wealth and power that the entirety of the Roman Empire at its peak would hardly count as a minor city.  It is a tribute to those American leaders that went before, that what they have built has survived the almost transcendent mismanagement of the current elite.  But not even the United States has infinite wealth, and the effects of Neoliberal corruption are growing exponentially.  The United States, at least in its current form, may fall faster than Rome did.

FDR was once asked by an aid about some policy: ‘but what if it doesn’t work?’ – and FDR replied to the effect, then we shall have to try something else.  That sounds obvious, but our current elites don’t think that way.  Because why should they?  If the whole nation finally collapses under their mismanagement they can just take their money and move overseas – like the cruise ship captain who abandoned his post when it began to sink.  And when they do they shall shake their heads in sadness that the American people were not worthy of their brilliant leadership.

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