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How a Free Market Inevitably Produces Dictatorship

Eric Zuesse

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Who rules the land? A deeper and truer version of this question is: What rules the land? Is it the money (the aristocracy), or is it the people (the public, the residents on that land)? (For the interest of paleoconservatives, the issue of residents’ citizenship will come later here, as “immigrants” instead of as “citizenship”; but our basic focus is not ethnicity/nationality; it’s class: the money, versus the voters; not the natives, versus the foreigners.)

In a democracy, the public rule — the people do — and it’s on authentically a one-person-one-vote basis, and anyone who is a resident in that land can easily vote, just like anyone else who lives there, because only the residents there, during the specific time-period of the voting, are the ultimate decision-makers, over that land, and over its laws. This is what a democracy is: it’s one-person-one-vote, and, in the political sense, it’s total equality-of-rights and total equality-of-obligations — real and total equality-by-law: equal rights, and equal obligations, for all residents. A democracy applies the same requirements to everyone.

This does not mean that individuals are equal in their abilities and in their needs, and so it’s not a statement about the economy; it is purely a statement about the government — a political question. The economy is a separate matter, though it’s highly dependent upon the government — the laws that are in place and enforced. Many people confuse these two fields, and mistakenly think that the economy is basic to the government.

So: the economy is dependent upon the government; the government determines the economy, which, in any land, is highly dependent upon the laws that are in place and that are enforced — the government.

That’s only “natural persons” who control a democracy — no collectives of any type, corporate or otherwise, can vote, because, if it were otherwise, it would be an easy way to establish a dictatorship there: persons with the financial means could create any number of “artificial persons” who could vote, or could buy votes (such as by purchasing news-media to slant ‘reality’ selling politicians and political positions to the voters), and this money could produce a country controlled more by dollars, than by owners (i.e., than by actual persons, votersnot by artificial “persons” such as the wealth-collections that are known as corporations). If wealth-collections could vote, that would invite control over the land to be by wealth (the number of dollars) instead of by actual residents (the number of persons). It could even produce control by foreign wealth. Foreigners could end up controlling the country if the number of dollars is a bigger determinant of who rules than is the number of voters.

Obviously, no democracy will allow foreigners to control the land. Imperialism is inconsistent with democracy; any empire is dictatorial, by its very nature. It entails dictatorship over the residents in its colonies, even if not necessarily over the residents in the imperial land that had conquered the colonial area.

Empire is consistent with a free market, but it is inconsistent with democracy. No empire is democratic, because each colony is ruled by non-residents. (If the colony were ruled by its residents, it wouldn’t be a colony, and there wouldn’t be an empire.)

A federation is not an empire. The difference between them is that, whereas in a federation, the right of self-determination of peoples takes precedence over the federation’s interest in maintaining the status-quo; in an empire, there is no such right — an empire is a dictatorship. In political matters, no empire has a right to be an empire; just as, in economic matters, no person can actually own another (notwithstanding any ‘slave’-‘owner’ — or ‘seller’ — falsely believing to the contrary).

The propaganda for a free market is funded very heavily by billionaires such as the Koch brothers and George Soros, because control over countries naturally devolves into control by wealth, instead of into control by people (and certainly not by residents), if a free-market economy exists there. Billionaires do whatever increases their power; and, beyond around $100,000-per-year of income, any additional wealth buys no additional happiness or satisfaction, but only additional status, which, for individuals who are in such brackets, is derived from increases in their power, because, at that stage of wealth, money itself is no longer an object, only status is, and additional status can be derived only from additional power. All of the empirical findings in the social sciences are consistent with this; and, whereas the income-point in most of those studies, beyond which additional dollars produce no additional happiness for the owner, has been $75,000 per year, there has been inflation since those studies were performed, and one might more accurately say today that $100,000-per-year is the income-point beyond which only status is increased by additional income; happiness or satisfaction is not increased by income above that point. This is a statement about nature; it is the reality in which any market — free or otherwise — exists. It is “human nature,” and that’s basic to all of the social sciences which pertain to humans, including political science, and economics.

In economic theory, the phrase that has been traditionally used to refer to this reality, even before recent empirical studies showed the reality to be this way, was “the declining marginal utility of money.” Beyond around $100,000/year, additional “bucks” are for status, not for happiness. Anyone who has no addiction to status, doesn’t care about having more money coming in beyond that amount. Beyond that amount, the additional marginal utility of each dollar received is actually zero. The wealth-addict might crave more, but it won’t do him-or-her any actual good; it won’t make the person happier. That’s the reality, now proven in numerous empirical studies.

This reality has major political consequences. One is that a country with highly concentrated wealth (the bottom 50% own almost nothing) is serving the addictions of a few, not the needs of the many — and therefore concentrated wealth cannot be sustained in a democracy, but only in a dictatorship: a dictatorship of wealth, where what determines power isn’t the voters but the dollars.

An important philosophical champion of free markets is the libertarian philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe. In 2001, Hoppe published his DEMOCRACY: The God that Failed, which was considered a libertarian masterpiece. Hoppe unapologetically argued there that libertarianism and conservatism are one and the same — and that he wanted it, passionately: he hated democracy. Unlike many libertarians, who falsely allege that democracy is impossible without there first being libertarianism (a free market), Hoppe acknowledged and argued for the mutual inconsistency between libertarianism and democracy. Although I don’t share his preference for a rule by the wealth instead of a rule by the residents, and thus he is an ideological opponent — the opposite of a supporter of my own position, as it’s being set forth here (and far more briefly than his tome) — I consider him to be the fullest and most internally consistent libertarian philosopher, and perhaps the most significant libertarian political philosopher in this Century, thus far. Whereas lots of people call themselves “libertarian,” he actually is — fully — that. Of course, some libertarians don’t agree with Hoppe’s view; but, on 30 August 2011, Michael Lind at salon.com headlined “Why Libertarians Apologize for Autocracy: The experience of every democratic nation-state proves that libertarianism is incompatible with democracy,” and he empirically found that Hoppe was correct about this incompatibility.

Hoppe argues not only for an aristocracy, but for a hereditary one, and he even opposes immigration; so, if he were a democrat, at all, then he’d be excluding immigrants from voting. But he’s not even that much of a democrat. And he especially approves of hereditary monarchy. His reason for that preference is traditional libertarianism, which favors the private over the public: “Hereditary monarchies represent the historical example of privately owned governments, and democratic republics that of publicly owned governments.” Libertarianism opposes public ownership, favors private.

Like any philosopher, Hoppe has ignored crucial issues in order to sell his case (after all, it’s a philosophical, not a scientific, case; it is ideological propaganda alleging that libertarianism is good — instead of being anything scientific); and the most interesting thing that he has avoided discussing in it is anti-trust, anti-monopoly, anti-oligopoly — the issues about concentration of power. He ignores those issues. For example, whenever he uses the term “monopoly,” he is referring solely to “government,” never to the economy (he assumes that in a free market there can’t be any oligopolies or monopolies). He is, after all, a crank (a free-market political theorist and therefore someone who implicitly denies that government is basic to an economy, and who assumes the converse, that the government is instead built upon the economy), though he’s an erudite one and thus acceptable to his fellow-scholars. Erudition doesn’t mean, nor necessarily include, being scientific. And the (scientific) reality is that the political issue isn’t ‘the government’s monopoly on power’, but instead it’s simply any concentrations of power — both monopolies and oligopolies — which unequalize both rights and obligations in the society, such that whereas a few people (the aristocracy) have many rights and few (if any) obligations, most people (the public) have few rights and many obligations. The latter type of society is called a “dictatorship.” The more that it exists, the more that it comes to exist — and, consequently, the less that there can exist democracy.

The basic issue in political science is not “freedom” versus “slavery” (two concepts in economics); it is “democracy” versus “dictatorship” (two concepts in politics).

Power precedes the economy; it directs the economy, if and where an economy even exists.

Democracy is natural where wealth is nearly-evenly distributed. Dictatorship is natural where wealth is extremely-unevenly distributed. The latter is true because no nation can maintain a democracy if the wealth is highly unequal. If the wealth is highly equal, then the possibility for democracy to emerge is substantial. But if the wealth is highly unequal, then the possibility for democracy even to exist to any extent, is low. All of the extremely wealthy people would have to be honest in order for them to tolerate rule by the majority. Otherwise, they’d simply be using their news-media to deceive instead of to inform the public: that’s what the ‘news’-people would be paid to do, cover-up real problems, and manufacture ‘reality’ — manipulate the public, instead of inform the public. If the distribution of wealth is highly unequal, the ‘news’people will be paid to deceive the public, instead of to inform the public. This (and it includes the ‘charitable’ foundations) is why the majority of the public have come to believe the profoudly false assertion that “having a rich class is a benefit” to the public. They’ve been deceived.

Most of the world is dictatorial. That’s because, almost everywhere, wealth, and even income, is extremely unevenly distributed. The laws and their enforcement determine the distribution of wealth and of income. The natural tendency is toward dictatorship, because a free market produces increased economic concentration. Democracy is not natural. Dictatorship is natural. What’s natural for a body-politic is to fulfill addictions, not to fulfill needs.

As inequality of wealth increases, corruption also increases. Empirical studies find that successful people tend to be bad: it’s natural for the scum and not the cream to rise to the top in organizations. So, the wealthier a person is, the worse the person tends to be. And it’s not just that, but success itself tends to make a person worse than the person was before the success. So, it’s natural that at the very top, tend to be the very worst people. Good government is not natural; bad government is natural. Good government is unnatural.

Corruption is rule by deceit. An example of how that works at the federal-government level is here. An example of that in more detail is here. Another such detailed example, but at the state-or-local government level, is here. And an example of it within academia, and at the federal regulatory agencies, is here. So, in a country that has extreme wealth-inequality, the way in which the public’s ‘consent’, to the billionaires’ rule, is manufactured, is by means of deceit — a rot that’s throughout the entire body-politic and society. This is how an extreme inequality of wealth is produced. It cannot be done honestly. Transparency International has reported that corruption and “social exclusion” or bigotry tend to go together, but has ignored the possible relationship between corruption and the economic distribution of either wealth or income. Perhaps the billionaires who fund TI don’t want such correlations to be pointed out, if they exist; so TI doesn’t investigate this.

The reason why a free market inevitably increases dictatorship, is that dictatorship is natural, just as a free market itself is natural, and power pre-exists everywhere to upset and overturn any equality that might exist in either sphere. Power is natural. No economy exists but that power pre-exists. The political sphere pre-exists the economic sphere. The basic reality, in any society, is power.

Thus, the question has always been: What rules? Is it the wealth? Or is it the people? The natural condition is for wealth to rule, because money (especially all excess money, all income above $100,000 per year, and certainly all income above $1,000,000 per year — what can truthfully be called 100% political money, because it can be ‘given away’ with no real loss to the current owner) is power. Although wealth isn’t the only source of power, it is a major source of power. (It can even be the major source of power.) And power rules everywhere. By definition, power rules in politics; and, by nature, the wealthy tend to rule not only in the economy, but also in the government.

That’s what’s natural. Democracy isn’t natural, but a free market, and an aristocratic government, are both natural. And the political reality determines the economic reality.

PS: You have just read here an entire online book. This article, including all of its sources that are linked-to, and the sources that are linked-to in those sources, constitute more than an ordinary book. The complete case and its documentation are fully presented in it. Anyone who finds this book valuable, might also find valuable, as a follow-up to it, a book of the traditional sort: Marjorie Kelly’s The Divine Right of Capital. Her Introduction there says, “The problem is not the free market, but the design of the corporation.” The first clause is false, but the second clause is true, and her book focuses in on that and gets it right. Any solution to either problem would need to be based on an accurate understanding of both of them. The bigger of the two problem-areas is the one that has been addressed in the present book-article. The second area is maybe 10% as large, but it too is significant, and what she says about it is true.

PPS: If you like this article, please pass it along to your friends, if only to get their feedback on it. They’re not likely to have encountered elsewhere the information it contains.

Author’s note: first posted at strategic-culture.org

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Politics as Reflection: Even in an Election Year, Real Change Must Come From “Below”

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”-Samuel Beckett, Endgame

Again and again, in vain, Americans seek progress in politics.  But as really ought to have been learned at this point, ritualistic elections can never save the United States. Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, no president or congress can ever halt the corrosive withering of heart, body and mind that now so plainly afflicts the beleaguered nation.

 Here are some pertinent details. No matter how well intentioned and capable, whether Democrat or Republican,  a  US president’s proposed “rescue program” can only tinker at the edges of what is important. Naturally, there can always be various recognizable increments of apparent progress, but nothing that could overcome America’s growing indifference to meaningful education. If truth be candidly told, the glaring detachment of America’s current president from even a modicum of historical or scientific knowledge accrues to his political benefit.

Ironically, this detachment represents anything but a political liability.

Rather, it is a resounding political plus.

Credo quia absurdum, warned the ancient philosophers, “I believe because it is absurd.”  Today, in the United States and elsewhere, revealed ignorance has  become a tangible political asset. There is nothing intentionally “cute” or obnoxious about offering such a distressing observation about politics and “mind.”  

It is simply correct.

We should begin at the beginning. Every human society represents the sum total of individual souls seeking some form or other of “redemption.”[1] Ultimately, these searching souls must be mended “at the source,” that is, at the crucially core levels of individual human learning and personal transformation.

These souls can never be  “saved”  by narrowly self-serving institutions of any government or politics.

Never.

It’s not complicated. Like certain others, Americans now inhabit a society so numbingly false that even their most sincere melancholy is wanton and contrived. Wallowing in the mutually-reinforcing twilights of submission and conformance, the people have strayed far from any ordinary expectations of serious learning.

In essence, without any real or compelling reasons, Americans have freely abandoned the once-residual elements of Jeffersonian good citizenship.

In consequence, together with the unceasing connivance of charlatans and fools, a lonely American crowd now hides without shame from even its most accurate kinds of reflection.

There will be a price to pay. Any society so clearly willing to abjure its obligations toward dignified learning – toward what American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once called “high thinking” – is one that should never reasonably expect to endure. What else ought we to expect from a society that elects a president who reads nothing, absolutely nothing at all, and who then affirms with wholly undiminished pride: “I love the poorly educated?”[2]

Today, in the United States, the evidence of abject surrender to “mass” (the term embraced by the great Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset and Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung);  to “herd” (the word favored by German/Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud[3]); or “crowd” (the choice of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard) is everywhere to be detected. Resigned, at best, to an orchestrated future of dreary work and civilizational mediocrity, Americans too often lurch foolishly from one forfeiture to the next. Now, the people  remain oddly content to wage rancorous culture wars between ideological groupings.

At the same time, treating all formal education as a narrowly instrumental obligation (“one should get better educated in order to get a better paying job”), Americans very easily accept flagrantly empty witticisms as profundities (“We will build a beautiful wall;” “Barbed wire can be beautiful;” “The moon is part of Mars;” etc.), and then consult challenging ideas only rarely.

Always, the dire result is more-or-less predictable; that is, a finely trained work force that manages to get the particular job done, but displays (simultaneously) nary a hint of  learning, compassion or worthwhile human understanding.

One never hears of any literary, artistic or cultural presence in the Trump White House, unless we should be willing to count the president’s rapper meeting with Kanye West or the humiliating appearance of Duck Dynasty as main “speaker” at Trump’s 2016 Republican Convention .

Credo quia absurdum.  Every sham can have a reinforcing patina. This president who has never even glanced at the US Constitution, might well be re-elected. How shall this glaring contradiction be explained?

Whatever the answer, The American people should never express surprise at the breadth and depth of their present and still-impending national failures. Within the currently celebrated hierarchy of collective American  values, we may conclude, and without any hesitation, “You are what you buy.” Plausibly, without ever-more frenzied buying (aka the “retail sector”), our stock markets (together with all others) could soon find themselves in irreversible peril.

What this means, inter alia, is that American economic progress is contingent upon a ceaseless American willingness to subordinate what is truly important to whatever can readily be purchased.

There is more. In the bitterly fractionated United States, an authentic American individualis now little more than a charming artifact.  Among other things, the nation’s societal “mass,”  more refractory than ever to intellect and learning, still has no discernible intentions of taking itself seriously. To the contrary, an embittered American ‘mass” or “herd” or “crowd” now marches in deferential lockstep, foolishly, toward even-greater patterns of imitation, unhappiness and starkly belligerent incivility.

Incontestably, for Americans, searching self-examinations are fully in order. Already, it is possible for We the people to be lonely in the world or lonely for the world, and – regrettably – an anti-intellectual American mindset has simultaneously spawned both remorseless forms of  lamentation. On the plus side, there is an ascertainable antidote. Before it can be “applied,” however, and before a more harmonized nation can be detached from any such bifurcated loneliness, there will first have to be an “awakening.” The pertinent message of this call to consciousness would be as follows:  A society constructed upon willfully anti-intellectual foundations must inevitably be built upon sand.

Nothing more.

The American future is not hard to fathom. More than likely, whatever might be decided in politics and elections, Americans will continue to be carried forth not by any commendable nobilities of principle or purpose, but instead, by a steady eruption of personal and collective agitation, by endlessly inane candidate repetitions and by the perpetually demeaning primacy of extended public ignorance.  At times, perhaps, We the people may be able to slow down a bit and “smell the roses,”  but their visibly compromised and degraded country now imposes upon its exhausted people the breathless rhythms of a vast and struggling machine.

Much as many might eagerly wish to deny it, the plausible end of this delirium will be to further prevent Americans from remembering who they are and (far more importantly) who they might once still have become.

 What can be done to escape the menacing pendulum of America’s own mad clockwork?  Conveniently, though the country continues to pay lip service to the high ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution  ( no one seriously presumes that the American president has taken even a few minutes to read through these musty old documents), these lofty principles are invoked only for ostentation. For the most part,  Americans now lack any more genuine sources of national cohesion than celebrity sex scandals,  sports team loyalties and the always comforting distractions of war, terrorism and genocide.[4]

Sadly, Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once, we harbored a preciously unique potential to nurture individuals, that is, to encourage Americans to become more than a smugly inert mass,  herd or crowd. Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson (also fellow Transcendentalists Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau) described us optimistically as a people animated by industry and “self-reliance.” Now, however, beyond any serious contestation, we are stymied by collective paralysis, capitulation and a starkly Kierkegaardian “fear and trembling.”

 Surely, all must eventually acknowledge, there is more to this chanting country than viscerally-driven rallies, tsunamis of hyper-adrenalized commerce or gargantuan waves of abundantly cheap entertainments: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” rhapsodized the American poet Walt Whitman, but today, the American Selfhas devolved into a delicately thin shadow of true national potential. Distressingly, this Self has already become a twisting reflection of a prior authenticity.  Now it is under final assault by far-reaching  societal tastelessness and by a literally epidemic gluttony.

Regarding this expressly gastronomic debility, it’s not that we Americans have become more and more hungry, but rather that we have lost any once residual appetites for real life.

In the end, credulity is America’s worst enemy. The stubborn inclination to believe that wider social and personal redemption must lie somewhere in politics remains a potentially fatal disorder. To be fair, various social and economic issues do need to be coherently addressed by America’s political representatives, but so too must the nation’s deeper problems first be solved as a matter for individuals.

Should Americans continue to live within a hypnotizing cycle of blatantly false expectations, and thereby celebrate the vague and atrophied impulses of a primeval mass instinct, the sole remaining national ambition will be to stay alive. Surely America must be capable of sustaining substantially higher ambitions.

In the end, American politics – like politics everywhere [5]– must remain a second-order activity, a faint reflection of what is truly important. For now, it continues to thrive upon a vast personal emptiness, on an infirmity that is the always-defiling reciprocal of any genuine personal fulfillment. “Conscious of his emptiness,” warns the German philosopher Karl Jaspers in his modern classic Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952), “man (human) tries to make a faith for himself (or herself) in the political realm. In Vain.”

 Only a rare few can ever redeem themselves and the American nation, but these quiet and self-effacing souls will generally remain hidden, more-or-less in “deep cover,” perhaps even from themselves. Still, America’s imperative redemption as a nation and as a people will never be found among those who chant meaningless gibberish in ritualized political chorus. We shouldn’t seek more fevered political “rallies” in America; we need a population that can take learning[6] and thinking seriously.[7]

A declining civilization compromises with its most threatening afflictions, sometimes shamelessly. To restore the United States to long-term health and “high thinking” – an Emersonian task so daunting that it could sometime become a pretext for society-wide convulsions  – Americans must look beyond their perpetually futile faith in politics. Only when such an indispensable swerve of consciousness can become an impressively conspicuous or even universal gesture – that is, when Americans finally seek their “justifications” on a different plane – can the people hope to heal a splintering and nearly-broken land.


[1] This insightful metaphor is drawn from the writings of Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung.

[2] In a markedly similar vein, warned Joseph Goebbels, Third Reich Minister of Propaganda: “Intellect rots the brain.”

[3] Sometimes, however, Sigmund Freud used his own version of Nietzsche’s “herd,” which was “horde.” Significantly, perhaps, Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to that country’s “shallow optimism” and its corollary commitment to a crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[4] In terms of international law, which remains an integral part of US law, such sources represent, inter alia, a violation of this timeless jurisprudential axiom: “Rights cannot derive from wrongs,” or  Ex injuria jus non oritur. For properly jurisprudential sources of authoritative “incorporation” into US law, see: See especially The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900); The Lola, 175 U.S. 677, 700 (1900); and Tel Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir, 1984).

[5] Nothing in this essay is meant to suggest that the pertinent national failings are in  any way uniquely American. To the contrary, the problem being discussed is presumptively worldwide or “generic.”

[6] See, by this writer, at The Daily Princetonian: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[7] This brings to mind Bertrand Russell’s keen observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than anything else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death.”

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Why the Weird and Uncompromising Get Elected

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Why is it that the US and Britain have chosen weird uncompromising leaders when the essence of statesmanship is calculated compromise.  Worse, if not shocking, is that 43 percent of India’s new parliament elected in May are facing criminal charges, including rape and murder.  Out of the 303 lawmakers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, 116 face charges.  He himself was not considered suitable for a US visa because of the organized 2002  killings/pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat while he was leader; he was given a visa only after he became prime minister.

Trump has just fired John Bolton his third National Security Adviser in two-and-a-half years.  Ever since taking office, he has been abrogating agreements unilaterally.  Iran now refuses to talk to him, and announced that the removal of Bolton, a notorious Iran hawk, makes no difference.  This lack of trust after Trump walked out of the previous agreement, one with the imprimatur of the Security council and major world powers, is to be expected but there is also the matter of dignity.  No self-respecting nation can tie itself to the whims of an erratic leader.

Boris Johnson meanwhile is flouting the norms and traditions of parliament.  He has prorogued the current session not for two or three days as customary but for nearly five weeks until October 14.  Uproar and an appeal to the courts against this upending of democracy followed.  A Scottish judge has now ruled the prorogation illegal.  Tellingly, the 21 Tory members, who were turned out of the Tory party in parliament, joined the opposition to pass a law requiring Boris to seek an extension preventing the no-deal Brexit on October 31 if he has not come up with an agreement by October 19.  Boris’  hands have been tied, his government losing control of the parliamentary agenda.  His scheme to end debate on the issue by proroguing parliament has backfired badly, leaving commentators wondering if Boris has been the worst prime minister this century.

One of the persons Boris threw out of his party was Nicolas Soames, a grandson of Winston Churchill and a 37-year member of parliament, another was its longest serving member.  No grace in the graceless as they say. 

Trump on the other hand is fixated on golf.  Until July this year, he had spent over $105  million of taxpayers’ money on his golfing trips.  Extrapolated over his entire tenure including re-election, he could cost the taxpayer $340 million according to Forbes, which is far from a left-wing magazine. 

So why do people elect such leaders?  Perhaps the underlying cause is income stagnation for the majority (adjusted for inflation) since the late 1970s.  Yes, GDP has grown but the benefits have been skewed to the upper 20 percent quintile.  When the voters have not found an answer from mainstream Democrats and Republicans, they have resorted to mavericks like Obama and now Trump.  In the UK it is Johnson — heaven help them if his no-deal Brexit prevails for it is expected to be an economic disaster. 

When blame is focused on immigration, as in Britain, Hungary, Poland and now the US, extreme right-wingers take center stage with crude but appealing rhetoric, and often get elected.  So there we have it, while Trump denied funding by Congress is drawing funds from the defense budget to build his wall on the Mexican border.

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US-North Korea Crisis Decision- Making: Growing Risks Of Inadvertent Or Unintended Nuclear War In Asia

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“We fell in love!”-US President Donald Trump, referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un after Singapore Summit (June 2018)

Credo quia absurdum, warned the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.” While US President Donald Trump continues to express inexplicable confidence in his North Korean counterpart  (and a simultaneous lack of faith in his own intelligence community), he also fails to understand something rudimentary: The stability of any upcoming crisis decision-making process between Washington and Pyongyang will have less to do with “loving” leader relations than with Kim Jung Un’s unmistakably  core commitment to personal military power.

 In this increasingly worrisome conflict “dyad,” one of the most understated and under-referenced risks to the United States concerns inadvertent or unintended nuclear war.

On such urgent risks, words matter. Initially, in seeking to fashion a coherent security policy, President Trump and his strategic advisors should approach all pertinent issues at the primary or conceptual level. Inter alia, it will soon become necessary for Mr. Trump to understand that the various nuclear war risks[1] posed by inadvertence must be differentiated from the expected hazards of a deliberate nuclear war. These latter perils could stem only from  those Washington-Pyongyang hostilities that had been (1) intentionally initiated with nuclear weapons; and/or (2) intentionally responded to by express retaliation with nuclear weapons.

This is the case whether such unprecedented military actions were undertaken to achieve strategic surprise,[2] or instead as the result (expected or unexpected) of enemy irrationality.[3]

 Prima facie, these are distinctly  many-sided and “dense” calculations. In any deliberate nuclear war scenario, and before any presidential ordering of an American preemption,[4] the designated North Korean leadership would first need to appear(a) nuclear-capable and (b)  irrational. Without this second expectation, any US preemption against an already-nuclear adversary would be irrational on its face[5]. Washington, therefore, must continuously monitor not only tangible North Korean nuclear assets and capabilities, but also the substantially less tangible mental health characteristics of Kim Jong Un.

Although some might mock this second intelligence imperative as unnecessary or “clinically impossible,” it remains conceivable that the dictator in Pyongyang could at some point pretend irrationality.

The decipherable differences here would not be narrowly academic or entirely linguistic.

Factually, moreover, it is Kim Jong Un’s counterpart in the White House (and not Kim himself) who has publicly mused about the potential rationality of pretended irrationality, and who takes  oddly conspicuous comfort from his assessment that the two presidents “fell in love” back in Singapore.

This is not the sort of “romance” upon which to build a core US national security policy.

There is more. When the US president and his national security advisors consider the co-existing and fearful prospects of an inadvertent nuclear war with North Korea, their principal focus should remain oriented toward more institutional directions – that is, to the expected stability and reliability of Pyongyang’s command, control and intelligence procedures. Should it then be determined that these “C3I” processes display unacceptably high risks of mechanical/electrical/computer failure; indecipherable pre-delegations of nuclear launch authority; and/or unpredictable/unreliable launch-on-warning procedures (sometimes also called “launch-on-confirmed-attack”), a still-rational American president could feel the more compelling need to consider a plausibly appropriate preemption option.[6]

Another complex factor in any such prospective decision-making process would be (a) the apparent advent of hypersonic weapons in North Korean arsenals; and (b) the extent to which this emergence were paralleled in American arsenals and/or strategic calculations.

At this already advanced stage in North Korean nuclear military progress, the probable  costs to the United States and certain of its allies accruing from  a defensive first-strike would be more-or-less overwhelming and thus potentially “unacceptable.” This foreseeable understanding seems to have escaped Trump, who first stated publicly at the end of May 2019 that North Korean tests of short-range missiles “do not worry” him. This blithe and manifestly ill-conceived observation suggests that the American president (c) is erroneously focused only on direct (long-range) missile threats to the United States, and (d) is unmindful of conspicuously challenging escalatory possibilities, especially the immediate importance of shorter-range missile threats.

Why so urgently important?

 In the first place, North Korea’s short-range missiles could target US allies South Korea and Japan; also, US military forces in the region. While an attack on these forces would carry a near-automatic assurance of a more or less measured American retaliation, aggression against regional US allies would almost certainly call for such a reprisal. In essence, therefore, Kim Jung Un’s short-range missiles could sometime bring the United States into a full-blown war, even though these missiles would never have been launched against the American homeland.

In the second place, it is improbable but not inconceivable that South Korea could wittingly or unwittingly initiate a conventional conflict with North Korea,  thereby realistically mandating a US military involvement in the conflict. Were this to happen, Seoul would have effectively “catalyzed” a North-Korea-US war. In any such many-sided belligerency, even nuclear weapons could be fired. Also worth studying in the unprecedented realm of catalytic nuclear war would be a narrative wherein an altogether different state or sub-state could arrange an anonymous first-strike against South Korea, Japan and/or regional US forces.

What about a US preemption? In principle, at least, certain calculable preemption options could not be dismissed out of hand in any balance-of-power world system.[7] More precisely, any residual American resort to “anticipatory self-defense”[8] could be nuclear or non-nuclear and could be indicated without any express regard for Kim Jung Un’s presumed rationality. Still, the well-reasoned cost-effectiveness of any US preemption would almost certainly be enlarged by including such carefully calculated presumptions.

What would be the most plausible reactions concerning a Trump-ordered preemption against North Korea? When all significant factors are taken into account, Pyongyang, likely having no meaningful option to launching at least some massive forms of armed response, would intentionally target certain designated American military forces in the region and/or high-value South Korean armaments and personnel. President Trump, still assuming enemy rationality, should then expect that whatever North Korea’s precise configuration of selected targets, Kim Jung Un’s retaliatory blow would  be designed to minimize or avoid any massive (including even nuclear) American counter-retaliations.

There is more. All such high-consequence calculations would involve adversarial policy intersections which could be genuinely “synergistic”[9] and assume perfect rationality on all sides. If, for example, the American president should sometime decide to strike first, the response from Kim Jung Un should then expectedly be proportionate; that is, more-or-less similarly massive. In this particular escalatory “game,” the willful introduction of nuclear weapons into any ensuing conflagration might not be dismissed out of hand by either “player.”

What then?

 Noteworthy, too, at least at that markedly uncertain and unstable point, any such a game-changing introduction would more likely originate from the American side. This sobering inference is based upon the understanding that while North Korea already has some nuclear weapons and missile delivery vehicles, it is also still rational and not yet prepared operationally to seek “escalation dominance” vis-à-vis the United States. For the moment, at least, it would seemingly be irrational for Pyongyang to launch any of its nuclear weapons first.

Sometime, at least in principle,  Mr. Trump, extending his usually favored stance of an argumentum ad bacculum (an appeal to force)  could opt rationally for a so-called “mad dog” strategy. Here, the American president, following his just-ordered preemption, would deliberately choose a strategy of pretended irrationality.

Any such determined reliance, while intuitively sensible and arguably compelling, could backfire, and thereby open up a slippery path to a now unstoppable escalation. This self-propelling competition in risk-taking could also be triggered by the North Korean president, then pretending to be a “mad dog” himself. Significantly, any feigned irrationality stance by Kim Jong Un might be undertaken exclusively by the North Korean side, or in an entirely unplanned tandem or “synergy” with the United States. In all conceivable variants of crisis bargaining between Washington and Pyongyang, even those without any synergies, the highest-level decision-making processes would be meaningfully interdependent.

This means still greater levels of complexity and still lesser significance assignable to any presumptive “love” relationship between the two presidential adversaries.[10]

Regarding complexity, in absolutely all of these plausible bargaining postures, each side would have to pay reciprocally close attention to the anticipated wishes and intentions of  Russia and China. Accordingly, one must now inquire, does President Trump actually believe that China would find it gainful to support him in any still-pending nuclear crisis with North Korea? To answer such a query, it ought to be quite plain that Mr. Trump’s ongoing and potentially accelerating trade war with China would be manifestly unhelpful.

Regarding further complexity, what transpires between Washington and Pyongyang in crisis decision-making circumstances could be impacted by certain other ongoing or escalating wars in Asia. In this connection, most portentously relevant would be any substantial escalations of the Kashmir conflict, especially those that might involve an introduction of nuclear weapons. Unquestionably, any correlative crossing of the nuclear threshold in that India-Pakistan conflict dyad would fracture a longstanding taboo in world politics, and presumptively heighten the likelihood of a US-North Korean nuclear exchange.

Notwithstanding President Donald Trump’s exaggerated confidence in basing foreign policy decision-making upon extrapolations from commerce, it is all genuinely complex, stunningly complex,[11] even bewilderingly complex. Also reasonable to assume is that in any such many-sided circumstances, the North Korean president would no longer be pretending irrationality. He could, at some point, have become authenticallyirrational. Regardless of difficulty, however, the differences here would be well worth figuring out.

Relevant scenarios must soon be posited and examined dialectically. If President Donald Trump’s initial defensive first strike against North Korea were less than massive, a still rational adversary in Pyongyang would likely take steps to ensure that its own preferred reprisal were correspondingly limited. But if Trump’s consciously rational and calibrated attack upon North Korea were wittingly or unwittingly launched against an irrational enemy leadership, the response from Pyongyang could then be an all-out retaliation. This unanticipated response, whether  non-nuclear or non-nuclear-nuclear “hybrid,” would be directed at some as yet indeterminable combination of US and allied targets.

Inevitably, and by any sensible measure, this response could inflict grievous  harms.

It is now worth considering that a North Korean missile reprisal against US interests and personnel would not automatically exclude the American homeland. However, should the North Korean president maintain a determinedly rational “ladder” of available options, he would almost certainly resist targeting any vulnerable civilian portions of the United States. Still, should he remain determinably willing to strike targets in South Korea and/or Japan, he would incur very substantial risks of an American nuclear counter-retaliation.

In principle, any such US response would follow directly from this country’s assorted treaty-based obligations regarding “collective self-defense.”[12]

There is more. Such risks would be much greater if Kim’s own aggressions had extended beyond hard military assets, either intentionally or as unwitting “collateral damage” brought to various soft civilian populations and/or infrastructures.

 Even if the unimaginably complex game of nuclear brinksmanship in Northeast Asia were being played only by fully rational adversaries, the rapidly accumulating momentum of events between Washington and Pyongyang could still demand that each “contestant” strive relentlessly for escalation dominance. It is in the notably unpracticed dynamics of such an explosive rivalry that the prospect of an “Armageddon” scenario could be actualized. This outcome could be produced in unexpected increments of escalation by either or both of the dominant national players, or instead, by any sudden quantum leap in destructiveness applied by the United States and/or North Korea.[13]

Looking ahead, the only foreseeable element of the “game” that is predictable in such complicated US-North Korean calculations is the contest’s inherent and boundless unpredictability. Even under the very best or optimal assumptions of enemy rationality, all relevant decision-makers would have to concern themselves with dense or confused communications, inevitable miscalculations, cascading errors in information, unauthorized uses of strategic weapons, mechanical, electrical or computer malfunctions and certain poorly-recognized applications of cyber-defense and cyber-war.

Technically, one further analytic distinction is needed between inadvertent nuclear war and accidental nuclear war. By definition, an accidental nuclear war would be inadvertent, but reciprocally, an inadvertent nuclear war need not be accidental.[14] False warnings, for example, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction (or by hacking)[15] would not signify the origins of an inadvertent nuclear war. Instead, they would fit under clarifying narratives of an accidental nuclear war.

“Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but the simplest thing is still difficult.” With this seemingly banal but profound observation, the classical Prussian strategist makes plain that serious military planning is always problematic. Largely, this is because of what he famously called “friction.” In essence, friction describes “the difference between war as it actually is, and war on paper.”

Unless President Trump is able to understand this core concept and prepare to manage unpredictable risks of an unintentional war with North Korea, any future “love letters” from Kim Jung Un would be beside the point. While the specific  risks of a deliberate or intentional  nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea should remain front and center in Washington, these risks ought never be assessed apart from these closely associated hazards of crisis decision-making. All of these risks could be overlapping, mutually reinforcing or even synergistic, daunting circumstances in which the plausible “whole” of their effect would be tangibly greater than the simple sum of their constituent “parts.”

There is one last matter to be clarified. This has to do with the nature  of “superpower” relations within the underlying balance of power structure of world politics.[16] Whatever the differences in preferred nomenclature, it is apparent that we are now entering (wittingly or unwittingly) an era of “Cold War II.”[17] Depending upon the dominant configurations of this new Cold War, US-North Korea nuclear decision-making will be more-or-less destabilizing. It follows, for President Donald Trump and the United States, that Washington-Pyongyang nuclear bargaining must takes its dominant cues from two different though intersecting directions.

In the end, a great deal will depend upon the American side’s willingness to base relevant policies upon intellectual or analytic foundations.

In the end, such willingness will trump any alleged benefits of having fallen “in love.”


[1] Whatever these particular risks, they could be intersecting, “force multiplying” or even “synergistic.” Where an authentic synergy were involved, the “whole” of any attack outcome could then be greater than the tangible sum of its component “parts.”

[2] In his seminal writings, strategic theorist Herman Kahn introduced a further distinction between a surprise attack that is more-or-less unexpected, and one that arrives “out of the blue.” The former, he counseled, “…is likely to take place during a period of tension that is not so intense that the offender is fully prepared for nuclear war….” A total surprise attack, however, would be one without any immediately recognizable tension or signal. This particular subset of the surprise attack scenario would be very difficult to operationalize for national policy benefit. See: Herman Kahn, Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (Simon & Schuster, 1984).

[3] Recalling the 20th-century German philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.” This insight can be found in Jaspers’ “Historical Reflections” on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

[4] Worth noting here too is that any such ordering of a preemptive attack by an American president would be exceedingly problematic under US law (especially under pertinent US Constitutional constraints). There are, therefore, critical jurisprudential as well as strategic implications involved.

[5] Nonetheless, the American president could conceivably still benefit from a preemption against an already nuclear North Korea if refraining from striking first would allow North Korea to implement certain additional protective measures. Designed to guard against preemption, these measures could involve the attachment of “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with identifiable pre-delegations of launch authority. This means, increasingly, that the US could be incrementally endangered by steps taken by Pyongyang to prevent a preemption. Optimally, this country would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of the expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks against its own or allied armaments and populations. But if such steps were to become a fait accompli, Washington might still calculate correctly that a preemptive strike would be both legal and cost-effective. This is because the expected enemy retaliation, however damaging, could still appear more tolerable than the expected consequences of enemy first-strikes  –  strikes likely occasioned by the failure of “anti-preemption” protocols.

[6] From the standpoint of international law, it is necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking first in the expectation that the only foreseeable alternative is to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack, however, is launched not out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance.  In a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is presumptively very short; in a preventive strike, the anticipated interval is considerably longer. A related problem here for the United States is not only the practical difficulty of accurately determining imminence, but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained imminence can be acknowledged could prove “fatal” or existential.

[7] The core concept of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is a particular variant – has never been more than a facile metaphor. Significantly, it has never had anything to do with creating or ascertaining “equilibrium.” Moreover, as such balance is always a matter of individual and subjective perceptions, adversary states can never be sufficiently confident that pertinent strategic circumstances are actually “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, inter alia, each side to any conflict must “normally” fear that it will be left behind; accordingly, the perpetual search for balance generally produces ever-wider patterns of national insecurity and global disequilibrium.

[8] This term is drawn from customary international law, an authoritative source of world legal norms identified at Art. 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice.  Already, international law, an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, assumes a general obligation to supply benefits to one another, and to avoid war at all costs. This core assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is not even subject to question. It can be found in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis, Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625) and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758).

[9] In any synergistic intersection – whether in chemistry, medicine or war – the “whole” of any result would exceed the simple sum of its policy-determining “parts.”

[10] Pertinent synergies could clarify or elucidate the world political system’s current state of disorder (a view that would reflect what the physicists prefer to call “entropic” conditions), and could themselves be dependent upon each national decision-maker’s own subjective metaphysics of time. For an early article by this author dealing with interesting linkages between such a subjective metaphysics and national decision-making (linkages that could shed additional light on growing risks of a US-North Korea nuclear war), see: Louis René Beres, “Time, Consciousness and Decision-Making in Theories of International Relations,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. VIII, No.3., Fall 1974, pp. 175-186.

[11] Reciprocally, of course, the White House has been seeking to persuade Americans and others by way of very deliberate simplifications.  See, on the plausible consequences of any such deceptive measures, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s pertinent observation in On Certainty:  “Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry….”

[12] For the differences between “collective self defense” and “collective security,” see this writer’s early book: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver Monograph Series in World Affairs)( (1973).

[13] This brings to mind the philosophical query by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett in Endgame: “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”

[14] Reminds Herman Kahn in his On Escalation (1965): “All accidental wars are inadvertent and unintended, but not vice-versa.”

[15] This prospect now includes the plausible advent of so-called “cyber- mercenaries.”

[16] For a related conceptual argument by this author concerning Israel’s security in the Middle East, see: Louis René Beres: https://besacenter.org/mideast-security-and-policy-studies/israeli-nuclear-deterrence/

[17] In essence, postulating the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting the world system to become once again bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of such an expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

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