Old-fashioned welfare-warfare states before the dawn of the Diamond Age

I’ve been planning a long series of posts on cyberpunk in fact and fiction.

Before we can see cyberpunk in real life, we have to suffer through the failure of traditional boundaries that makes cyberpunk inevitable.

Quite a few bloggers have recognized the dissolution of boundaries, e.g., the Anti-Gnostic:

The reality that I’ve been talking about for months–that Syria and Iraq no longer exist, and Kurdistan does–is only just now creeping into the mainstream. Politically, nobody seems prepared to deal with this reality. Just like nobody seems to realize that Germany is one of the most important countries in the world and is quietly running Europe, as opposed to ever-shrinking Britain and socially-simmering France and non-entity Belgium.


In this post, I’m going to follow a link from NeoVictorian and point out the puzzle-piece that I think Fernandez missed.

Fernandez wrote:

Within the next ten years the world will be a very different place. The biggest driver of change will be the relative dispersal of power driven by the spread of information.

“US tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp have become the “command and control networks of choice” for Isis, the new head of Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency has warned.”

Legal tender is now simply information banks accept and honor. Government’s problem is ensuring they only honor what they’re supposed to. If Silicon Valley is the C3 center of ISIS, the banking system is the center of dark money. One European institution alone has been accused of holding $1.5 trillion in unreported funds, which is to say a log of transactions they honor but which they don’t want to tell the government about. Money remains money as long as its accepted. Government awareness of its existence is not a necessary attribute.

In the very near future information will control major parts of the physical world, through what is called the Internet of Things.

And now there’s 3D printing, …designers have a prototype in their hands in just hours. … jigs and fixtures may be the hottest growth area … Mass customization is the ultimate small production run: a product made for just one customer…

“what we need is a new East India company.”

…the state may actually become less important. Either that or it becomes all powerful. In any case its role will change. Clearly government cannot maintain its dominant role without considering outlawing encryption, restricting the movement of information and establishing what essentially amounts to universal surveillance.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out. The dominant ideology of the elite is based on a paradigm that is vanishing before our very eyes. Perhaps its vanished already, but they just don’t know it. The socialist systems of Europe are dying on their feet. The most amazing thing about their American admirers is their continuing belief in a socialist future rooted in the past.

The balance of probability suggests that government will become less important over the next 10 years, though many states will not surrender its prerogatives without a fight. After all, a great deal of that missing $1.5 trillion in Europe represents political corruption. But those governments which survive will focus on providing the essential state services: maintaining sovereignty, controlling borders and delivering public goods.

The states which dabble in irrelevant atheistic, 19th century social engineering are probably going to have a hard time surviving. Ironically the nation whose vision naturally conforms to this is the the United States.




GM comment:
Fernandez is wrong about the Internet of Things. It’s not a massive trend in the field. The manufacturers are pushing it, but the customers don’t want to buy it.

3-D printing has been hyped for more than 10 years. The real spark was the Ghost Gunner, but it remains to be seen whether the spark will catch any time soon.

In reference to the “East India Company,” Fernandez wrote at:

one of the problems in the US response to terror has been in the conduct of stabilization operations — the critical task of building up a country after the kinetic battles have been largely won…

Part of the reason for the failure, he explained, was that ‘nation building’ is not a good approach in countries which are not nations, but tribes. The nation state is a modern, largely Western concept, the ideal to which many post-colonial countries are supposed to conform. But in reality the world is still very much a collection of tribes. We can’t admit this, however, and continue to act as if Afghanistan were a Pashtun equivalent of Belgium and laws meant the same thing there as in Brussels.

…A few hundred years ago the British Empire recognized that the best way to deal with tribal societies was not by imposing the nation-state structure on them but to take them as they were and to impose the Pax via the far more flexible structure of enterprise. This was possible through structures such as the British East India Company — a private company whose freedom of action far surpassed that of any modern bureaucrat. The officers of the Company actually became part of the social fabric of places India and acted to improve certain outcomes without direct reference to a ‘nation-state’ as such, limited only by British foreign policy and their ability to convince the inhabitants with whom they worked.

The key… was to allow such a Company to profit from stabilization. To align the incentives of the stabilization agent with the success of the country. The only people who could make Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan a success were those who were willing to make those countries rich. The incentives of aid agencies, he said, were exactly the opposite; to keep the country poor so that the parade of victims would remain unabated and hence the fund-raising from the West would continue….

Recently retired Army lieutenant general Daniel Bolger,… said in an interview Thursday. “We committed ourselves to counterinsurgency without having a real discussion between the military and civilian leadership, and the American population —’Hey, are you good with this? Do you want to stay here for 30 or 40 years like the Korean peninsula, or are you going to run out of energy?’ It’s obvious: we ran out of energy.”

The military fumbled the ball by not making clear how long it would take to prevail in both nations. “Once you get past that initial knockout shot, and decide you’re going to stay awhile, you’d better define ‘a while,’ because in counter-insurgency you’re talking decades,”

This is even more true of Iraq and Afghanistan. The military almost never loses a fight, but the mission fails notwithstanding not because the tool fails to do its job but because it’s the wrong tool for the job. Bolger might well ask himself: “why did we lose”. But the answer is not his to give. That’s the point. The failure lies above his pay grade. It is Washington itself that must ask: is our strategy really rational?

And the answer is probably that even they know the strategy is irrational, but they stick to it as the only political course possible. It’s the old story of the drunk seeking his lost watch by the lamp-post. He didn’t lose it near the lamp-post but the lamp is the only place with light enough to look. ”Losing” is the inevitable result of pursuing certain immutable agendas in which Washington and business have a deep vested interest. It’s constrained. America can’t beat its foes without stepping on a lot of toes. In the end it is politically cheaper to “lose” rather than win.

And so the system chooses in effect, to lose, because winning cannot be put on the menu. As the world lurches towards a new era of uncertainty, there will be many proposals to buy new weapons, acquire whiz-bang technologies or invent gizmos as the answer. But these will be of only marginal value, because none of our failures have ever been tactical, they have always been strategic.

The key to victory lies in changing the politics of the thing. Our defeats are rooted in a lack of mental honesty and and a poverty imagination.

So what technologically advanced nation is capable of making a profit in various Third World countries?

In 1980s cyberpunk fiction, the key nation was Japan.

In 2014, China looks like a more likely candidate. China is the piece of the puzzle that I think Fernandez missed. The current system of capitalism might be able to limp along if many countries recognize China as the leader of the free world.

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