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The Imperial Future of China and USA May 3, 2012

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth.
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For quite a while now, every now and then, I’ve asked myself in which way the decline of the US-American empire will play out, specifically vis-a-vis China’s rise to world power status. I now have an idea of what will happen, and it’s surprisingly peaceful actually (well,  maybe not ‘peaceful’, but not via US-Chinese war)…

However, before we get into my idea, let’s briefly review the current state of geopolitics, from the perspective of the Formosa Strait:

The most important points of consideration and contention between the two powers include the fact that — geopolitically speaking — Taiwan basically is this huge US aircraft-carrier, moored just off the coast of the PR of China. It’s a military base that, in the end, China will not abide with any more than the USA was willing (during the cold war) to accept soviet missiles perched on the banks of Cuba, aiming at the southern United States.

Furthermore, the US consumer economy, together with its wealthy allies / imperial satellites, is using up world resources at a dizzying pace. China, a rapidly growing economy with the worlds largest population, is already hitting a resource ceiling. I expect that further down the road this inequality of distribution will be felt even more strongly, as reserves of key resources decline. However, breaking up the US ‘imperial wealth pump‘ is easier said than done; It is maintained by trade agreements and the US dollar as world reserve (and oil) currency, which in turn are upheld by the considerable US military presence and technological dominance around the globe. Not something that China can just get rid of on a whim.

China itself is heavily involved in this system of wealth-extraction, however not in a wholly subordinate position. To be sure, large parts of Chinese capital wealth are tied up with the US economy, and vice versa. China has also subjected large swaths of its productive workforce (which, to recall, it has in spades), to the task of satisfying the consumer needs of the (so far) US-dominated world economy. However, Chinese leadership has carefully extricated itself from any trade ties that would have made it a mere resource-exporting ‘developing’ nation.

China, by offering something it had in excess, its workforce, bought into the dollar-dominated system of resource distribution, attracted dollar-denominated investment and purchases, while tightly controlling foreign investment so as to ward off a buy-out. Thus the Chinese domestic market and infrastructure could be built and maintained with US-imperial resources. These resource, as stated previously, are largely decreasing, while the global economy is growing. You don’t have to be Einstein to arrive at the conclusion that problems will follow.

I tended to believe that the result of this would be war, and that this war would crystalize around Taiwan and the Strait of Formosa.

Going to war with the US before American power over the rest of the globe has waned would however not solve China’s resource problem. Instead, China would find itself cut off from the world market and pitted in a very deadly battle against the worlds most technologically sophisticated miltary. (Not to mention the nuclear weapons available.) So going to war with the US before its empire substantially crumbles seems rash. Hence China will continue to bide its time, and watch the US suck the world dry, while jostling for its own piece of the pie.

Once the world has been sucked dry and consumer economies across the globe come crashing down, war will come almost naturally. In this setting, I would predict the following:

  • The imperial system of the United States of America will collapse of its own accord, leaving a power-vacuum.
  • Central Europe and Russia will form a shaky block, dominated by resource-rich and underpopulated Russia.
  •  China will align with the US (or rather, the US will align with China) in a Chinese-Russian struggle for power over the remaining resources in western and southern Asia, as well as Africa, which may end in war.
  • In this struggle Taiwan will be a minor gift, given among friends.

The ongoing mutual economic ties as well as the current power imbalance between China and US, as well as the upcoming power shifts to Central Eurasia all point in the above direction. Similarly to how the peripheral British Empire aligned itself with the rising power USA in order to battle Central European Germany, eastern China will accept the US as an ally in order to battle Central Eurasian Russia. However, in this analogy the roles are slightly mixed up, as the new empire will be the one under attack, with the old one more or less just handing over the reigns out of weariness.

Even more than the British Empire, the US has not been an empire that first and foremost subjects conquered people to its workforce, rather, it has been an empire that annexes oil-wells to its workforce of machines. This empire the US is losing due to the limits of Nature. The other parts of its empire, the global economic and military dominance, will slip slower and slighter than in overtly territorial empires. Due to its geographic position, the aging empire USA will be slightly harder to attack at home. Its outposts all over the world may be expelled here and there, but this will not threaten the territorial integrity of the core United States. Instead, the US will be a threat to itself by economic and political deterioration, while the consumer economy dries up and military expeditions limp from one boondoggle to the next.

China has already begun propping up the US economy to maintain its investment and keep the global system of resource extraction going. Already, in the outer reaches of the world economy, Chinese envoys have come to replace US lieutenants of world trade. While the US implodes — and in the end China wants this to happen — China would like this contraction to happen in a controlled manner, so it can grow into the resulting vacuum. This will not go smoothly and other contenders will arise in the transition, which the US-Chinese continuum will have to ward off, while battling an internal transition to a very different form of economy, other than industry and bountiful consumption.

Why I’m kinda pro-nuclear April 25, 2011

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth, Economics.
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As Bill Gates succintly makes the case for, as a global society we’re running into an energy/fuel crunch at the same time as we’re heading into a global climate catastrophe. Ramifications are pretty harsh. In this environment the Fukushima reactor melted, Germany decided to take its nuklear plants off the grid and everybody else is pushing off construction of new ones. Pro-nuke flaks have been re-iterating  this one chart which supposedly shows nuklear to be so un-deadly compared to other sources of energy  while using the severly downplayed version of statistics on Chernobyl – no, I don’t believe only 40 people died as a result of that, inflating numbers for coal – anybody with a bad lung is  eligible, and ignoring the perils of long-term storage of nuclear waste (who’s going to guarantee a stable political system 500 years from now). But exactly that concern about stability makes me support widespread nuclear research and deployment. I really don’t see any of the renewable/sun-based energy sources cutting their mustard; they just do not have the necessary energy density to power an industrial society. And to make things worse, all those new-fangled wind and solar farms can only be constructed so relatively cheaply using an industrial process that’s heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Even more general, all our transportation is reliant on fossil fuels and will become much more difficult and potentially inefficient when based on electricity (which we’d have to produce somehow, don’t ask me how).

So if we don’t build lots of nuklear power plants (preferrably of the breeder type and the like, otherwise peak Uranium bites us in the butt) we’re going to run into some serious power-shortage. And with it, shortage of eerything, very much so down to food. And if those kind of things happen, people will start wars. And if wars happen, nuklear plants will become much more of a target.

So building nuklear plants might make us safer from nuklear meltdown. Because they keep us fat and happy.

Options for the middle class May 20, 2010

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth, Economics.
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Even though I study Cognitive Science, oftentimes I introduce myself as a computer scientist – as that is what I am  effectively. So I told this guy, while waiting in line at a state office that I study Computer Science. And he said “Good, you know that’s where all the money is.” My reply was kind of “um, well who knows how long..”. Here’s why:

Every Google search supposedly uses as much energy as burning a light-bulb for one hour (it makes sense that Google is getting into the energy-supply business). Computing devices are really the tip of the iceberg of a vast and complex, resource-hungry non-locally maintainable industrial complex that is geared towards constant growth and development, always making this year’s second coming next year’s plastic crap.
I don’t think this’ll go on forever. No bets when things will change, but this world of ever-expanding mass-computing won’t go on they way it is today; I am unsure what its state will be at the end of the great energy-shrinkage that I expect, because there’s no good idea what this energy shrinkage will look like, specifically when it starts and how long it will take.

(more…)

The revival of ruthless December 24, 2009

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth.
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Go and read Mark Lynas’s account “How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room” at the Guardian. (Thanks to Nic for the lead.)

To my Chinese friends, even though it may not help: please do not be offended. I’m taking your leadership as an example of a trend that has grown out of century long ruthless greed and disrespect for nature mostly on behalf of us of European heritage. It’s just in the context of this article on Copenhagen that I’m struck by the idea that the Chinese leadership’s behaviour exemplifies or foreshadows a grand comeback for worldwide ruthless leadership.

Back in the day when the Berlin Wall fell, everyone and their mother’s neighbor’s socks succumbed to the pleasant dirge of consumerist capitalism laced with cushy-feely big-media politics which was essentially one big circus of not losing image. And you lost  if you did stuff that looked bad, that was brutal and ruthless.

There’s something rutheless to any war, but even the Bush administration vs. the phantom of Islamic extremism, or Palestinians vs. Israelis were all wars drenched in fear-mongering or moral outrage. You couldn’t just do it because you can. We have these strange asymmetric wars, where asymmetry doesn’t mean anihilation of the other force, instead it means that wars get drawn out forever. E.g. the war in Afghanistan. Or consider how the way Cheney/Rumsfeld pulled off the invasion of Iraq is clearly different from Germany’s Blitzkrieg to gobble up Poland. Back then they just did it because they could. In the last Iraq war we had to lie and squirm our way into it like weasly maggots.
I say, all of this is coming to an end. Good old Obamination’ll be just another spike in direction of the media-moral complex before the US and with it global society and culture moves on to the next big thing: Good old ruthlessness. Already, if you compare Clinton’s wars (mostly Yugoslavia) to Bush you can see a trend. Resources will be scarce, memory of past atrocities gone stale, weapons lying around in heaps and piles…

But this post is not about war.. So what with China and Copenhagen?

Well, the writing on the wall is that climate change will happen. And also that going on polluting won’t help. Furthermore it’s the case that great parts of China already are suffering from pollution and will suffer severely when ocean levels rise. Then let’s assume the Chinese leadership is not stupid; What could be driving them to position themselves against helping the climate?

First of all they certainly know that their current power is based on galloping economic growth. Not only that, they furthermore are aware of the fact that natural catastrophe hardly ever hurts autocratic rulers. It’s more or less immediate and obviously anthropogenic economic downturn that does. So I guess they’re just playing to their own advantage, sacrificing their own costal population (plus the rest of the world then going to be living below sea-level, which is quite a lot).

Rather bad-ass but normal for politicians you think? But this is not where the ruthlessness ends. If you view the world as a block of wood, there’s not only geopolitics, there’s also geo-engineering. The Chinese elite (and their friends in power all over the world, i.e. Russia, US) might not be above a bit of tampering with (toxic) methods of artificial darkening and other weather-manipulation. Which brings us back to the supposition I made above: “Let’s assume the Chinese leadership is not stupid.” Well, if they believe they can tamper in a massive manner with a complex system such as our climate (which is already under severe stress) without running the risk of eradicating the very basic dynamics on which our supporting ecosystem runs — and with it human society — then they are, truly, stupid.

Sharing A Currency System October 6, 2008

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth, Economics, Money.
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One of the fundamentals of sharing an economy-around-a-currency:

You share the responsibility to retain the currency’s value.

This fundamental responsibility has been and is being trodden upon by the federal reserve system in the US — in the effort of mending prior irresponsibility by financial institutions. If one for some reason thinks one has to use standard fiat money (money not backed by commodities, i.e. gold) then one should either not go for fractional reserve banking or totally not go for free-wheeling, no-state-intervention, market capitalism. Simply because this free-wheeling market, combined with fractional reserve banking can be exploited for short-term gains, which then necessitate big governmental intervention such as the current bailout. So — as people have been pointing out — all this necessitates the opposite of non-interventionism to keep the economy going.

What the current situation will create is inflation in dollar and dollar-backed currency. Which will increase US-depression. I’m a little bit worried about that country and its economy, especially if one takes into account that it consumes 50% of the worlds oil-production. You know, oil isn’t going to be getting significantly cheaper, unless something really strange happens.

I’m looking forward to my time in the states. I might have to find work there, so I’m a bit worried about the job market too.

Edit: Solely predicting inflation is not quite on spot. We have already seen massive deflation in the housing market and there will be further deflation in other parts of the material economy as it will probably be much harder to receive credit! There also has been deflation on the financial markets so far, however, expect to see inflation creeping up, due to the simple fact that there are, acutely, more dollars floating around that have been conjured from thin air at the federal reserve. Also, US treasuries will most probably be leaking onto the market, as primarily asian stakeholders will try to diversify away from the dollar.

Inflationary and deflationary effects may cancel each other out in part, making development look more moderate, in the end however, i would say that decline in trust in the US economy would lead to inflation.

Times of Declining Energy June 16, 2008

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth, Humans.
Tags: , , , , ,
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David Holmgren really spells it out: PERMACULTURE & PEAK OIL: Beyond ‘Sustainability’ (youtube video).

He talks about some of the basic facts: that we soon will be having less and less energy available, that there will have to be other methods to adapt to this situation. In a thoughtful, realistic and kind manner. I am highly impressed!