It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Obama as the New Gorbachev

A bit off topic:

I ought to know better than to wave red handkerchiefs in front of raging bulls. I'm not that kind of bullfighter.

But I stupidly blurted this out on Kloor's: "We may already be doomed; sometimes I think Obama is the Gorbachev of America, heart in the right place, but far too late to save the system."

It's not the sort of thing you can un-say. So I might as well defend it.

What I mean by this is not that Obama's policies for America bear any resemblance to Gorbachev's for the USSR. What I mean is that Gorbachev was a decent person with the aim of reducing the most extreme, malign and destabilizing aspects of his nation, who attained a limited amount of power in the face of hidebound reactionary opposition too late to save the system.

If the analogy works out (and I really hope it doesn't) Obama will be stymied by reactionary elements in the US, and the whole structure of corporate capitalism will crumble.

To some extent, Obama has the worse of the deal. Things were very close to collapse when he came in. That he and Geithner managed to patch things together as well as they did is little short of miraculous. It's truly baffling and tragic how little credit he gets for this. Yet again, the press choosing neutrality over objectivity, I guess.

But we see the patience for deficit spending and government intervention failing, even though by all indications it has been exactly the right thing to do to avoid complete destabilization.

What happens when America fails? Everybody seems to have forgotten how close we were, 18 months ago, to finding out. But we're not out of the woods yet. Obama's opposition may yet trigger an absolute and spectacular failure of Gorbachevian proportions. The idea that what will be left to that opposition to control would be any recognizable vestige of what they think Obama is attacking (and of what he is actually doing an amazing job of defending) is unlikely to pan out very well.

We see now a diminished, still authoritarian Russia, at last, after 20 years, recovering some semblance of prosperity, largely by virtue of selling untapped natural resources to others: a sort of gigantic and brutal Canada. What happens to America in the event of a collapse is anybody's guess.

All of this turf is much trodden by Dmitri Orlov.


Steve Bloom said...

Just for balance, how about a gigantic and brutal Mexico?

(wv suggests "abions" are taking over -- that would explain much)

(I had to refresh, and now wv adds "malidest" -- who can argue?)

Mitchell said...

What exactly would it mean for "the structure of corporate capitalism" to "crumble"?

I'm not an American, so this is just a guess from afar, but I think what could happen is a sort of fiscal balkanization. The immediate problem is debt, right? Federal debt, state debt, corporate debt, private debt. Somehow the debts of the states strike me as a significant potential fissure. I can imagine the most indebted US states introducing financial emergency regimes that big business regards as unacceptable. The governor of such a state might be portrayed as a Hugo Chavez inside the American borders.

Anyway, what am I saying here? There are many potentially big problems, from a US dollar devaluation to environmental events to peak oil. But the US government is no stranger to emergency measures. And I cannot see the basic American political system - i.e. democracy, elections - being threatened by such crises. So instead it would be political culture and popular ideology which might change. In that regard, the individual states are places where extreme departures from the norm might occur out of necessity. The federal government won't be the place where it starts; but the federal government might take up "new thinking" that comes at the level of the states.

Steve Bloom said...

Mitchell, don't make the mistake of imagining any human institution as permanent. The present mode of government in the U.S. *will* come to an end, the only question being under what circumstances.

BTW, the trouble the states are in is illusory (for now) since a non-Draconian revision of the tax structure would fix most problems. But a lack of political will to deal wioth the situation certainly could have a bad outcome.

Steve Easterbrook said...

Orlov sounds very plausible, but there's no science here, so I have no way of evaluating it.

So I'm going to go back to worrying about climate change, as that's quite predictable from the physics.

David B. Benson said...

I give BHO a gentlemanly D so for.

No fire in him.

Lazar said...

Can I be off topic here?
.... what's Judith Curry doing here...

"I am seeing significant concerns about the solar forcing data."

... citing a blog post whose only intelligible point is the accusation of fraud against Lean and Frolich, and getting a chin-stroking response?
... are these guys really claiming that climate scientists not sitting down and discussing politely with incoherent cranks about non-issues of ACRIM vs PMOD are what's keeping Joe public from accepting the science?
... seriously?
... is the collegial social kibitzing atmosphere of let's invite Pat Michaels around and have a knees-up producing much in the way of new insights either on the science or science communication?
... is it analysing old tropes effectively?
... is it providing a cover for same-old?
And I like Keith Kloor, think his heart's in the right place, and agree that the bile in online discussions is too much. But really...