Tinkzorg, Greer, and The Fourth Turning as applied to the Negative-Sum Economy


The coming war against the American kulak likely cannot be avoided, no matter what anyone does or does not do today, because it is not a war over ideology or culture, but a war of survival for the elites. They have no choice but to do what they do.

The reasons for why many so-called political dissidents on the Right seem to harbor an equally strong hatred for their own countrymen as the Left they supposedly oppose, is an interesting topic that would require an essay all on its own. But if you put that fairly self-serving fear and loathing of ordinary Americans aside, the future of the American republic looks both chaotic and uncertain.
-Tinkzorg

A writer called Tinkzorg reminded me of Archdruid Greer. Tinkzorg argues that the USA might be getting closer to civil war, and Tinkzorg also cites Greer. Whereas Greer does not seem to be too concerned with the next eight years, many people are predicting that a crisis will come to a head in eight years, so I consider the analyses of both Tinkzorg and Greer in a relatively short timeframe.

No one really knows how long the winter of the Fourth Turning will last. Neil Howe claims it might last until 2030:

I dislike his happy-clappy tone. He claims power and wealth will be transferred from the old to the young. That plays well to crowds, but I suspect he is less than honest. He seems to be very pro-Baby-Boomer. This is not surprising because he was born in 1951, so when he lavishes praise on Boomers, he is really praising himself. His rhetoric is “Stop whining about how Winter will kill you, Winter is necessary.” That does not address the fact that Winter is probably going to kill a bunch of people, and immiserate many others. He is dodging that issue because he is fat and happy and he wants to squeeze money out of similarly fat and happy people.

He starts the “high” in 1946, which makes for some wonky numbers. Assume for a moment that we are on a 22-year cycle. Then the cycle is:

1941: The conformist “high” starts with FDR demanding blind obedience to his dictatorship

1963: The rebellious “awakening” means Baby Boomers start spreading chlamydia with mindless hedonism

1985: Gen-X gets stuck with the “unraveling,” i.e. Reagan’s War on Civil Liberties

2007: Wall Street starts the mortgage crisis, ensuring that Millennials will never have enough money

2029: New conformity — not necessarily survivable, possibly totalitarian

Regardless of whether this “Fourth Turning” idea will be justified by history, it seems clear that the USA is in economic crisis. Logistics are disrupted. Food prices are high. The news media talk as if Biden had actually won the election when in fact that election was stolen.

In the midst of all of this, a writer based in Sweden who might actually have some Swedish ancestors has written an interesting analysis of a possible civil war in the USA, and he has justified his analysis, in part, by reference to the Archdruid Greer. I think Greer knows less about ecology than he claims to know; I will argue that point after considering Greer’s texts.

Relevant Foreword:

Modern Washington is Rome, and once you have a figure with a hold on high office — the White House is the ultimate, but a House or Senate committee will do very nicely too thankyou — it’s common for satellites to set up “consultancies” where petitioners to the King may empty their purses. …

Everyone in Washington knows this game, and the basic premise is the same on both sides of the aisle. Companies with ties to big-time politicians exist to be paid, and what “services” they offer in return is more of a TBD-type thing.

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/bidens-first-family-corrupt-or-merely-crazy

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And now, our feature presentation:

For context, he is not predicting an imminent civil war, he is arguing that the healthy structures that restrain civil war have been stripped away for years:

https://archive.fo/lxYke

Quote:

Whether all of this can potentially lead to real civil disorder and possibly even actual civil war is an interesting question. If one believes that the average American is incredibly stupid, lazy, immoral, rotten and feckless, so uniquely cowardly and without honor (indeed, this position of absolute loathing and hatred toward the American people is a position many self-described american nationalists fall into) – then the answer is probably something along the lines of ”lol, no, because people are just too fat and stupid!!”. If one however believes that Americans are in fact fairly average human beings – neither history’s chosen villains, nor unique paragons of virtue – the answer is more open. The coming war against the american kulak likely cannot be avoided, no matter what anyone does or does not do today, because it is not a war over ideology or culture, but a war of survival for the elites. They have no choice but to do what they do.

The reasons for why many so-called political dissidents on the Right seem to harbor an equally strong hatred for their own countrymen as the Left they supposedly oppose, is an interesting topic that would require an essay all on its own. But if you put that fairly self-serving fear and loathing of ordinary Americans aside, the future of the American republic looks both chaotic and uncertain. Going to war against your own population without having that population fight back is, to understate things just a tad, a very delicate process. It is an ancient political lesson that one should give gifts and bestow privileges sparingly, because once given, it becomes nearly impossible to safely take those things away. In a country like the US, with its very real federated political structure, with each state having its own citizen militia that takes orders from the state governor, with huge regional and cultural differences and more registered guns than people, a great many things once granted, will now have to be taken away. It would, putting it mildly, take some incredibly skilled politicians and gifted statesmen to pull such a feat of political and economic sleight-of-hand off without the marks getting awfully restive, or having critical parts of the bureaucracy shatter due to the system’s growing contradictions.

https://tinkzorg.wordpress.com/2021/09/24/the-war-on-the-horizon/

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Tinkzorg’s argument is that the USA has what Greer calls a Negative-Sum Economy. I agree; that appears to be evident.

Tinkzorg does not specifically endorse Greer’s notion of “green wizards” to make the world a better place, which is good, because while I agree that Greer is right about many aspects of the USA’s problems, I think Greer’s battle plan would be suicide for most Americans.

Hereafter are quotes from Greer and his cohorts:

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Back in the nineteenth century, John Ruskin pointed out that this concept needs to be balanced by another: illth. As wealth is to weal (and well and will), illth is to ill. To have illth is to be burdened by things you don’t need and don’t want, things that harm your well-being and prevent you from doing what you like. Every economy produces both wealth and illth: that is to say, every economy produces goods and services, but also harms and hindrances. The relative proportion of wealth and illth varies across time, for reasons we’ll discuss later. The distribution of wealth and illth is the great problem of economics. One essential reason modern economists make bad predictions and bad policy so reliably is that they ignore half of this problem, and pretend that the production and distribution of illth isn’t relevant to their discipline.

During the long era of expansion made possible by the exploitation of fossil fuels, the world’s industrial nations had positive-sum economies: that is to say, the total amount of wealth in those nations increased on average from year to year, and it increased faster than the total amount of illth. Since the arrival of the first energy crisis in 1973, the world’s industrial nations have effectively had zero-sum economies: that is, the total amount of wealth—not of money, but of nonfinancial goods and services—remained largely static on average, while the total amount of illth rose to equal it. We are now moving into an age of negative-sum economies, in which the total amount of wealth decreases on average from year to year, while the total amount of illth rises steadily for a while.

In a negative-sum environment, trying to preserve wealth by stockpiling tokens is a fool’s errand, and no, it doesn’t matter what tokens you stockpile.

The Negative-Sum Economy

I think that in retrospect, the decision to lock down entire societies to stop the coronavirus will end up in the history books as one of the most spectacular blunders ever committed by a ruling class. Partly, of course, the lockdowns didn’t work—look at graphs of case numbers over time from places that locked down vs. places that didn’t, and you’ll find that locking down societies and putting millions of people out of work didn’t do a thing to change the size and duration of the outbreak. Partly, the economic damage inflicted by the lockdowns would have taken years to heal even if the global industrial economy wasn’t already choking on excessive debt and running short of a galaxy of crucial raw materials. But there’s more to it than that.

If you want people to put up patiently with long hours of drudgery at miserably low wages, subject to wretched conditions and humiliating policies, so that their self-proclaimed betters can enjoy lifestyles they will never be able to share, it’s a really bad idea to make them stop work and give them a good long period of solitude, in which they can think about what they want out of life and how little of it they’re getting from the role you want them to play. It’s an especially bad idea to do it so that they have no way of knowing when, or if, they will ever be allowed to return to their former lives, thus forcing them to look for other options in order to stay fed, clothed, housed, and the like. (We can set aside the question of vaccine mandates for now—that’s another kettle of fish—but of course those feed into this same effect.)

So there’s a labor shortage, and it’s concentrated in exactly those jobs that are most essential to keeping the economy running. These are also the jobs most likely to have lousy pay and worse conditions. This isn’t accidental. It unfolds from one of the most pervasive and least discussed features of contemporary economic life: the metastatic growth of intermediation.

Let’s unpack that phrase a bit. The simplest of all economic exchanges takes place between two people, each of whom has something the other wants. They make an exchange, and both go off happy. If what one of the people brings to the exchange is labor, and the other person brings something the first person wants or needs in exchange for labor, we call that “employment,” and the first person is an employee and the second an employer, but it’s still a simple exchange. So long as there’s no overt or covert coercion involved on either side, it’s a fair trade.

What happens as a society becomes more complex, however, is that people insert themselves into that transaction and demand a cut. Governments—national, local, and everything in between—tax income, sales, and everything else they can think of. Banks charge interest and fees on every scrap of money that passes through their hands. Real estate owners drive up the cost of land so that they can take an ever larger share of the proceeds in rent and mortgage payments. Then you have a long line of other industries lobbying government for their share of the take.

Universities are a great example. A century and a half ago most people didn’t go to university. Doctors and lawyers entered the field by apprenticeship—you went to work for an established practitioner, learned the ropes, and passed state exams. Engineers and architects did the same thing. Schoolteachers had an even simpler route: bright kids who didn’t have other prospects got put to work teaching younger children, and as soon as they graduated from school themselves they’d find a job in a school somewhere. The system worked very well, not least because it was an effective means of social mobility: young people could enter the professions irrespective of the social class of their parents, so long as they were smart and willing to work hard.

The rise of the universities after the Second World War put an end to that system. Universities lobbied state governments to require job candidates in professional fields to have four-year degrees, so that the universities could insert themselves into the relationship between the professions and the pool of young people interested in them. You couldn’t simply find a physician, get taken on as an assistant, and proceed from there to qualify as a physician in your own right. No, you had to go to college and jump through an increasingly elaborate set of hoops in order to get to the point of passing your board exams and hanging out your shingle. If you didn’t have the money and free time to go to college, you were shut out.

It was a very effective scheme for limiting access to the professions to the children of the middle and upper middle classes, which was probably its original purpose. It was also a very effective scheme for decreasing the number of people in the professions, so they could drive up salaries to absurd levels, another likely goal. In the long run, finally, it has also turned into a very effective scheme for limiting access to the professions to conformists who never have a single original thought of their own. A century ago this wasn’t the case; physicians, for example, did their own original research and published papers in the medical journals. Now? Not so much.

Ultimately, of course, employment itself becomes a form of intermediation. By and large you aren’t hired by people who want what you produce, you’re hired by a corporation that inserts itself between you and the purchaser, takes most of the money, and gives you a pittance, while directing a big share to managerial staff. Since the corporation is also subject to intermediation, other shares go to governments, banks, and a whole ecosystem of other intermediaries who insert themselves into the same transaction. In the end, you get a small fraction of the value of your work, and that fraction has been shrinking steadily with each passing year.

That Untraversed Land

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Greer’s ally, the Green Wizard, offers the following analysis of climate change:

Resource depletion, especially that of oil and energy, is going to place severe limits on what we can do. Over population will stretch the basic fabric of our supply chain as our mono-culture of industrial farming learns it can’t keep stripping the top soil bare and dumping pesticides onto crops as a way to cope with weeds and insects grown strong by natural selection. …[American crony capitalism] has stressed the ecological limits of the planet near the breaking point. Financial and economic bubbles have gone on and on to the point that one of them will wreck it all. Decline is all around us …

Then there is climate change. …

I ran across an article recently, whose author was laughing at climate change because it hadn’t happened fast enough for him. That the changes he had seen and now dismisses, just hadn’t matched the hype of the warnings from the 80s and 90s, so clearly climate change was bogus. Like 30 years is a long time.

[Thirty years is] not…[a long time]

Comment:

Thirty years IS a long time for childless people who are sixty years old. If you expect to be dead in thirty years, thirty years is the remainder of your life. If Greer is selling us an action plan that won’t produce results for thirty years, Greer himself might be dead of old age by the time his frustrated customers knock on his door to demand refunds.

The Green Wizard is probably right about the problems of monoculture industrial farming. However, I have no faith that he can do anything to improve the problem.

The Green Wizard continues:

… Early science didn’t understand the complexity of the World’s ecosystem, nor the sheer inertia that a vast reserve of mass like the Oceans could have.

…one of the things the soon-to-be-deindustrializing world most needs just now: green wizards. By this I mean individuals who are willing to take on the responsibility to learn, practice, and thoroughly master a set of unpopular but valuable skills – the skills of the old appropriate tech movement – and share them with their neighbors when the day comes that their neighbors are willing to learn.

https://www.greenwizards.com/node/1
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Counter-argument: Greer does not actually know ecology. Predictions of climate change are nearly useless; that does not mean climate is staying steady, but it does mean that climate scientists cannot predict where it will go in the next 30 years.

For the sake of argument, assume Greer and his group really do know ecology. Their advice is for concerned individuals to sacrifice their well-being to learn unpopular skills in the hope that someone will listen to them at some point in the future.

If you follow Greer’s advice and you try to learn unpopular skills, you may very well pursue the wrong skills. But for the sake of argument assume you pick the right skills. How do you propose to get people to listen to you during a future crisis? You can’t get political power just because you have necessary skills. Greer’s group thinks that 30 years is a short time to wait. Suppose you spend your best years acquiring skills, plus you somehow manage to have a loyal family or support group. Then, at age 50 or 60, you will need your family or support group to stay loyal and obedient while you fix the planet, because you are not going to survive without somebody watching your back. How exactly are you going to get a loyal support group if you spend your best efforts on unpopular technical skills?

If, on the other hand, you decide to develop your skills of building a political power base, developing loyal cronies, and convincing people to follow your orders — you are going to be a self-serving despot, just as bad as the despots we already have in power.

Epilogue:

This tinkzorg guy might be smart enough to teach me something. I don’t know what he is all about yet.

He is apparently on WordPress, and some of his posts appear to be worth digging into:

https://tinkzorg.wordpress.com/2021/09/24/the-war-on-the-horizon/

https://tinkzorg.wordpress.com/2021/08/16/farewell-to-bourgeois-kings/

https://tinkzorg.wordpress.com/2021/07/09/send-them-back-your-fierce-defiance-stamp-upon-the-cursed-alliance/

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1 Response to Tinkzorg, Greer, and The Fourth Turning as applied to the Negative-Sum Economy

  1. Interesting economic analysis. Another aspect is the protection racket of the US Empire. A trade deficit is an ‘investment surplus’. When USD is not reserve currency, when US Empire can’t remove foreign leaders it does not like, the investment surplus will go away, and all the financial smoke and mirrors. Considering the longevity of the Roman Empire, that might not be any time soon. Sheeple thrive in non-lethal captivity. It is truly amazing, everywhere I turn.

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