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The Jehoshua Novels


Defining the Crisis Period

We live among cycles. Economies boom and bust, populations expand and contract, the sun rises and sets, and empires grow and decline. All of these, and the countless others I haven’t mentioned, have distinct periods of motion. Some are more predictable and regular than others””you can predict the sunrise down to the second every day with only some knowledge of the sun-Earth system and your geographic location. But the fall of an empire can last anywhere from a few decades to a few centuries and the causes of imperial growth and decline are the subject of endless debate.

There is one particular cycle that should be of great interest to us right now: The Constitutional cycle of the United States of America.

I recently remembered reading what appears to be a draft of Stirling Newberry’s ”œThe Fourth Republic.” In this work he goes into great detail about the intertwining of economic and political orders in the US and categorizes our history into three distinct periods, each with its own unique interpretation of the constitution. The dates and names given for these periods are as follows:

The Federalist Republic (1787 ”“ 1860)
The Union (1861 ”“ 1932)
The Liberal Democracy (1933 ”“ 2000).

The start date for each period marks the point at which a new political/economic order was decided upon, though not necessarily implemented””the construction of the new order always takes time. If I’ve read his work correctly, the nation enters a crisis period of generally reactionary politics and division before each of these dates (1787, 1861, and 1933), creates a new solution that solves the problems of the old order right around them, and then implements that solution after these dates. The new order then rides on until the next crisis, brought about by new problems that it cannot solve (though the ride is not smooth””a lot of stuff happens along the way. As an example: Vietnam).

According to Stirling Newberry, each of these periods was distinct in its view of just what the Constitution represented. During the Federalist Republic, it was primarily a contract between the states and between the people that created government to defend property. The Union saw it as a covenant, where the parties are bound to each other by a higher power and government is simply what the people are due. The Liberal Democracy viewed the Constitution as the foundation of a consensus of the governed””one that must be inclusive and incorporate both moral and ethical dimensions.

Interestingly, the dates above correspond reasonably well with the generational cycles of Strauss and Howe. They have gone through American history and discovered that it can be divided into cycles, each consisting of four generations, stretching all the way back to the Colonial era””and possibly back to the Late Middle Ages in England. Each of the four generations has a certain general character to it and tends to fulfill a certain role in the social hierarchy at varying times during its life. They predict that the Millennials (b. 1982-2000) are the Hero generation which will fight during the next crisis.

We are currently in a crisis period””I don’t think there’s much debate about that now. But when did this crisis start? And when is it likely to end? And when is the important constitutional date that establishes the new order likely to occur?

I’ve tried to determine, in a clumsy and perhaps naïve way, when each crisis period in our history started and stopped. Drawing a clear line on something as blurry as history without sacrificing accuracy is difficult at best, but I’ve tried to find one major event that was responsible for pushing us into a crisis during each period. Certainly, these events were not the only cause, but I do believe that they were the major enabling events of the pre-crisis years that pushed us over the edge. I’ve also looked for an exit marker, a sign that the crisis is passed. Again, this is hazy, but I think it can be done. I’m a little worried about bias as well, because I assumed that crisis periods are on the order of 30 years long going into this (based upon the WWI to WWII timeframe””the clearest-cut of all of the crises, in my opinion).

Before plunging in, I should also note that Stirling’s analysis is much more in-depth, well-researched, and incorporates a very strong economic argument that pretty well overshadows my event-driven analysis here. But specific events are much easier to see and point to in our lives. So consider the following to be mostly a demarcation of the goal posts with some minimal justification.

Here are the crisis periods and their constitutional moments. Each crisis is named for the order which is crumbling, not the new one that emerges from it:

The Colonial Crisis: (1760-1763) ”“ 1789. Constitutional Moment: 1777 or 1787.

1763 is the official end of the French-Indian War, though 1760 marks the year that fighting in North America pretty much ceased. I’m not sure which to use. In any case, the war changed the economic relationship between England and the American colonies as the motherland started taxing and restricting trade in various ways in order to make the colonies pay for the cost of the war. This led directly to ”œNo taxation without representation,” the Boston Tea Party, and the outbreak of open revolt. As I’ve said above, a lot more was going on at the time, but the fiscal squeezing was administered largely as a result of this war. 1789 is the date of official implementation of the US Constitution, a date which I believe is a pretty uncontroversial end-point.

As for the Constitutional Moment, I’m a bit divided. 1777 was the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and 1787 was the ratification of the US Constitution. In my view, the Articles and the original interpretation of the US Constitution are actually rather similar in their regard for the relationship between the government and the people. The former was really just an alliance between states while the latter altered that to create a loosely associated nation with a little more central power””but they both were seen as contractual documents by their originators. I’m not as sure on this argument and will have to claim ignorance of the exact differences, so I’m leaving it as either 1777 or 1787 for now.

(*Note: Stirling places the end of constitution building at 1805, so the crisis would then be from about 1776 until 1805 with the Constitutional Moment in 1787. The impact of these different dates is explored at the end of this post).

The Federalist Republic Crisis: (1846-1848) ”“ (1873-1877). Constitutional Moment: 1861.

1846-1848 was the Mexican-American War. 1845, which saw the annexation of Texas, would be an equally good year to use. The result of this war was the acquisition of enormous amounts of land from Mexico””Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and much of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming. All this new land blew open the uneasy relationship between slave-holding states and free states that had been an important cornerstone of the Federalist Republic order. The political and economic equation changed dramatically and the US entered a crisis period that eventually led to the Civil War.

1873-1877 are the approximate dates given for the end of Reconstruction (they are referred to as the Redemption, when the South reasserted control of its territory within the context of the new Union). This period marks the end of major work done to forge the new order.

The Constitutional Moment was arrived at around 1861, when it was decided that states could not leave ”œthe Union” and that the US was to be a single, unified nation. The old order, which viewed the US Constitution as more of a contract, was no more.

The Union Crisis: (1914-1916) ”“ 1945. Constitutional Moment: 1933.

1914 and 1916 are, respectively, the beginning of WWI and the entry of America into that war. 1945 is the well-known end of WWII. I don’t think there’s too much dispute about these dates, though I’m more familiar with the global aspects of the wars rather than the precise social and economic problems in the US that lead up to 1916.

The Constitutional Moment was around 1933 (the ”œFirst New Deal”), when the Union was replaced by the Liberal Democracy. The years from 1933 to 1945 saw the consolidation and growth of the New Deal and the new order””government came to be perceived as a consensus rather than a covenant.

Let’s now look at the spacing in time between Constitutional Moments, the length of time of each crisis period, and the location of Moments within their crises.

Time Between Constitutional Moments:

From Federal Republic to Union: 74-84 years (varies based on Articles vs. Constitution)
From Union to Liberal Democracy: 72 years
Average Length: 73-78 years
Safe Assumption for Time Between Moments: 70-80 years

Length of Crises:

Colonial Crisis: 26-29 years
Federal Republic Crisis: 25-31 years
Union Crisis: 29-31 years
Average Length: 26.6-30.3 years
Safe Assumption for Crisis Length: 25-32 years

Location of Constitutional Moment, from Start of Crisis:

Colonial Crisis: 14-17 years for AofC, 24-27 years for Constitution.
Federal Republic Crisis: 13-15 years.
Union Crisis: 17-19 years.
Average Time of Moment from Start: 14.6-17 years (AofC). 18-20.3 years (Constitution).
Safe Assumption for Location of Moment: 15-19 years.

The time from one Constitutional Order to the next is between 70 and 80 years. The length of the average crisis is between 25 and 32 years. The new Constitutional Moment is around 15 to 19 years into the crisis. Where does this leave us today? Unfortunately, due to the uncertainty above and my unwillingness to do some basic variance calculations, the ranges get pretty large here:

The Liberal Democracy Crisis: (1984-1998) ”“ (2018-2032). Constitutional Moment: (2003-2013).

My personal pick is 2006-2010 as the most likely range for the Constitutional Moment. This puts the beginning of the crisis roughly around 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The crisis would then end sometime around 2021-2025.

But we also can’t rule out 2004 as the Moment either. Change may come in 2008 or shortly thereafter, but if it does not then I think we may well be looking back at 2004 as the year the reactionaries won and the new order was established (or, more accurately, the old was put on life support). I have no idea exactly what happens when the old order is made to continue in the face of change. I also have no idea what the added effects of being the largest economic and military power on Earth during this crisis would be””many other nations are coupled to us and are very interested in either keeping us going or tearing us down. And perhaps some thought should be given to the increased interconnectivity of world trade in this era versus previous ones. Communications and transportation technologies have never been faster, though it’s arguable if these are the best metrics for measuring economic and societal dependencies.

Once again, I don’t know how accurate my numbers are. This is not a scientific investigation. Any calculations are back-of-the-envelope with a liberal dose of estimation added on top. I have used Stirling’s work as a starting point for Constitutional Moments and then extrapolated from there. If 1991 was the beginning of the current crisis, then we are finishing up year 16. Odds are good that we’re due for something pretty soon. Holes are appearing in the mainstream’s economic picture, and they appear to be getting larger every week. Commodity prices are on the rise, with the energy basis of the dying order (oil) shooting up and the value of the dollar rapidly declining. The government is passing laws that are either unprecedented or only have precedents in previous crises. We are currently fighting two wars against two nations and there is talk of starting a third. We’re debating whether or not torture is actually torture on the evening news.

Things are getting strange and we are living in ”œinteresting times.” We are approaching a singularity of sorts””you can define its boundaries and certain properties of it, but you can’t really know exactly what the trajectory of life will be when we come out on the other side. Personally, I can’t decide whether to be optimistic or not. I really don’t like the dying order and the deception, hate, and waste associated with it””and it is increasingly a caricature of real life. But I’m also afraid of (1) what the dying order might do to continue on and (2) what the new order might look like. As Ian has said, last time around Germany got Hitler and we got Roosevelt. But there are no guarantees.

——

*Alternative Colonial Crisis: 1776-1805. Length: 29 years. Moment (from Start): 11 years. Reformulating the ranges with these new numbers makes the following changes:

Average Crisis Length: 27.6-30.3 years
Average Time Between Moments: 73 years
Average Time of Moment from Start: 13.6-15 years.

Safe Assumption for Crisis Length: 27-31 years
Safe Assumption for Time Between Moments: 70-75 years
Safe Assumption for Time of Moment from Start: 13-16 years

Then our current crisis looks like:

The Liberal Democracy Crisis: (1987-1995) ”“ (2016-2024). Constitutional Moment: (2003 ”“ 2008).

18 comments to Defining the Crisis Period

  • tjfxh

    1. Nixon’s breaking the connection between the dollar and gold established the greenback as a purely fiat currency. The implications of this considering that the dollar was and remains the world’s reserve currency cannot be overestimated in terms of the financial implications both for the US and the world. Such a concentrated relationship of money and power cannot but end badly.

    Simultaneously, Nixon established a new GOP coalition with his Southern strategy. Nixon also embarked on creating an American empire with him as emperor, announcing the transition with the introduction of an “imperial” honor guard that was promptly laughed out of existence. (At the time, the people and the media still had a sense of propriety.) However, the rest of the agenda was kept in place, and Nixon’s resignation only postponed its implementation. The architects remained major players in the GOP elite.

    2. Reagan’s rule established the dominance of neoliberalism economically and politically through the wildly successful GOP mantra: small government, low taxes, strong military, and family values. His “voodoo” economic policy was designed to massively transfer wealth to the top through regressive taxes, destroying the bargaining power of labor, privatizing the commons, favoring the military-corporate-governmental complex, and firmly establishing Big Money in control of the levers of government. (Prior to this the US had been ruled since its inception by “old money” rather than Big Money. Old money considered itself the elite committed to preserving traditional national values, whereas nouveau riche, haute bourgoise Big Money was committed to the expansion of Big Money.) Reagan realized the GOP’s imperial aspirations with the ending of the Cold War, leaving the US as the world’s only superpower. Bush I simply extended this program.

    3. Clinton shifted the Democratic Party to the center, effectively ending the Democratic policy that had been dominant since the FDR years. This shift meant that there was then only one party in the US, controlled by Big Money, with two variants. Under Clinton, Wall Street honcho Robert Rubin solidified dollar hegemony globally and crafted policy with an eye chiefly on the bond market, the bastion of Big Money. Clinton, with his Republican defense secretary, continued the role of the US as global cop.

    4. The Bush/Cheney Administration consolidated the Reagan Revolution economically lowering taxes on the wealthy, while extending it through vastly expanding privatization of the commons through cronyism and corruption. Under Bush the program was not merely transferring wealth upward through advantageous fiscal and monetary policies, as well as deregulation and absence of oversight, but by governmental collusion and establishing policies expressly for the purpose of transferring wealth to political cronies. Under Bush, top administration officials publicly proclaimed that the US is now an empire, and the doctrine of the unitary executive anointed the president as emperor who could rule by imperial fiat. At the same time, the US is becoming a two-tier society as wealth accumulates at the top and social mobility declines.

    5. ???? The next step is still hanging in the balance. There are several possibilities. It is possible that there will be another GOP administration that continues the neoliberal, neo-imperial and neocolonial agenda. Or it may be that the Democratic Establishment will moderate it while effectively continuing it at some level. It is possible but unlikely that the cycle will end with the accession of a populist reformer who will set America on a progressive course. We are still in the throes of this cycle that began with the Nixon presidency. If Big Money has anything left to say, this cycle is not yet over, and I suspect that BM still has a lot to say. This cycle will not end in the absence of a catastrophe that sufficiently angers enough peasants for them to pick up their pitchforks and end the rule of Big Money.

    Admittedly, things seem to be going badly for the economy at the moment, and it is possible that we will see the onset of another Great Depression, in which case all bets are off. However, the US economy has a lot of momentum going for it, and a lot of influence in the world. Big Money will not give up easily. They are on the verge of establishing neoliberalism as the global economic order through growth (asset appreciation coupled with a large enough labor pool to obviate corresponding wage growth). The big challenge now is price stability. If that can be managed, then neoliberalism will have essentially won, and it will be difficult to dislodge. Essential to price stability is abundant cheap energy. The simplest and most profitable solution is petroleum, since the economy is already set up for it. So look for the US to seek to dominate world petroleum reserves, aggressively if need be instead of promoting conservation and alternative energy sources. The US will also do all it can to avoid addressing global warming and when it must, count on it to be promoting centralized solutions like nuclear power, “clean coal,” and agricultural biofuels, instead of decentralized ones like solar and wind.

    Moreover, all the levers are in place — the surveillance state, repeal of Habeas corpus and posse commitatus, etc. — to target and suppress dissent, so it will be difficult to organize effectively against the ruling powers.

    This neoliberal, neo-imperial and neocolonial cycle may have a good bit of wind in it yet, as long as overreach doesn’t force their hand or blow up in their face, which it could very well do, and pretty abruptly. At present, a credit meltdown stemming from both over-indebtedness and financial overreach, as well as a dollar crisis, threaten to end the current cycle and pitch the US, and the global economy, into uncertainty. However, uncertainty is the bane of the risk adverse and a boon to those who operate well in high risk. This favors the US executive class, who are virtually risk-addicts and operate well even under shock. A global catastrophe could just present another chance to apply the shock doctrine.

    It is pretty generally agreed that the US is now in constitutional crisis, with the executive branch claiming imperial powers and the legislative branch challenging that interpretation of the Constitution. Seems that we are now either at the point of or approaching a constitutional moment, where a major decision is going to be forced upon the country regarding where it is going and how it is going to get there.

  • jo6pac

    Hi
    I think your about right and even if there is a change in the WH will they have the will or need to turn the country back to pattern in were it actual helps it’s citizens and doesn’t think it needs to spread US style democracy the heathens. I would be nice to just help people of the world and let them decide on the type of goverment they want not one forced feed. The other side is well orginized and the minute there a chance to subject this country another round of tough love it will happen. The citizens will be the loosers in the WS mess as we were in the SL melt done. I still think we can pull out of it but most believe that a political victory will solve the problem and have forgotten/don’t know how entrenched they are in the system.

    jo6pac

    Thanks for the story and your input and lets hope help is one the way.
    No spelling corrections today.

  • mauberly

    with clear, apolitical watersheds.

    http://mauberly.blogspot.com/

  • Ian Welsh

    wrong, but I think Stirling would say the crisis started in 2000.

  • Tony Wikrent

    I think it is incorrect to lump together the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution in the same historical era. The Constitution was a distinct break, especially in the view of some of the most important actors of the time: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Wilson. The Constitution, in fact, was largely a reaction against the Articles of Confederation, specifically the Confederation’s failure to erect and maintain a strong central government able to overcome the centrifugal forces of the various states and sections, but most especially its failure to create a functioning national economy.

    An excellent book that covers this in detail is The Great Challenge: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic, by Frank Bourgin (1989, George Braziller Inc., New York, NY; 1990, Harper & Row, New York, NY). As Borugin writes near the beginning of the book, James Madison said that the credit problems of the economy:

    ”contributed more to that uneasiness which produced the Constitution and prepared the mind for a general reform” than any political inadequacies of the Articles. The public credit was gone, due to inability to pay foreign bankers and debts owed to the demobilized army officers. As conditions worsened, debtors pressed the state legislators for relief to pay off their debts in cheap paper money. In the autumn of 1786, there had occurred in Massachusetts the uprising of farmers and others demanding that further judgments for debts be suspended. It was this so-called Shay’s Rebellion and the issuance of unfunded paper money by seven states in 1786 that more than anything helped crystallize public opinion that a new system of government was necessary.

    As Bourgin notes a little further on, the Founders clearly regarded the Revolution, despite the War being over, as an ongoing ongoing process, and quotes a pamphlet urging ratification of the new Constitution written by Benjamin Rush:

    “The American War is over, but this is far from being the case of the American Revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the great drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our form of government, and to prepare the principles, morals and manners of our citizens for these forms of government after they are established and brought to perfection.”

    Bourgin shows that contrary to the “Adam Smith” myth that has reigned supreme in the U.S. the past half century, the Constitution was carefully crafted to make sure the national government would have the authority and the power to intervene forcefully in the economic life of the new nation, so as to ensure a rapid enough and broad enough level of economic development that would render the U.S. truly independent of the economic and financial influence of any and all European princes. The key individual, of course, was Hamilton, both at the Convention, then as the first Secretary of the Treasury, and also as the cabinet member Washington most depended upon.

    Anyone that is truly interested in how the United States was actually formed, must read this book. Interestingly, Bourgin originally wrote this as a Ph.D. dissertation in the 1940s at the University of Chicago, but it was rejected. When Arthur Schlesinger saw it in the 1980s, he speculated that it ran afoul of the radical free market “Chicago boys.”

    Also, Bourgin utterly shatters the myth that the U.S. economy began life a radically “free market” ala Milton Friedman. This book is an incredibly valuable weapon that can be used to beat back the radical free market direction of the past half century.

    Also, I agree with tjfxh above, regarding the importance of the August 1971 abandonment of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates. Just look at the table and discussion in the Wikipedia page on Financialization I created last week. As you can see from the bottom two lines in the table (I’ll put it in below), there is a qualitative shift in the financial markets in the 1970s.
    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

  • tjfxh

    1. US established on free market capitalism.

    Also, Bourgin utterly shatters the myth that the U.S. economy began life a radically “free market” ala Milton Friedman. This book is an incredibly valuable weapon that can be used to beat back the radical free market direction of the past half century.

    2. US founded as a Christian nation.

    This is contradicted by there being no mention of Christianity in founding documents, together with First Amendment Establishment Clause.

  • vader

    Think of all the Jesuses seen in splotches of peanut butter, dust, or other random things or the pictures your mind forms in clouds.

    Take the civil war, was it fought over states right to leave or slavery? After all the Southern States did not leave the union over federal harbor improvements, canals, forts or arsenals. Even so, State Rights did not get really whacked until the 1950-1970s.

    One could look at the History of the US being bound up in either what to do with the Negroes, Indians and Empire. Slavery being a festering problem from the War of Independence to Reconstruction and the attending civil rights problem until the present day.

    I just see a series of problems that are solved by generations, the best explanation is that when any group is dominant, it tends to keep power in increasing older folks whose passions and energy lay in the past, but who can hold the ‘levers or power’ simply because they have them. They freeze out ambitious younger folks who must find other ways to power. Be it revolt or elections.

    As proof, look at the line up of the GOP vs Dems candidates in the 2008 presidential election. Or the Religious leadership where the old firebrands are dropping dead or looking like it.

  • Bolo

    the crisis started in 2000. His document definitely says that the Liberal Democracy died in 2000, but that’s the equivalent of my “Constitutional Moment.” But we must have entered a crisis period before that–on average, about 15 to 19 years beforehand.

    Also, his estimation of the reign of the Liberal Democracy was from 1933-2000, “just” 67 years. That’s a slightly shorter cycle compared to the other two–not by much, but its enough to make me think that 2000 probably wasn’t the Moment. Still, it’s a judgment call I suppose.

  • Bolo

    to see patterns where there are none, and that is what I was worrying about when selecting my entry and exit events for each crisis. But the Constitutional cycles (Stirling) and generational cycles (Strauss and Howe) are rather well documented now. Even if my choice of crisis events and endings is wrong, I believe the cycles remain.

  • Bolo

    so I don’t have time to fully address everything you say. But the main point between choosing the Articles or the Const. was that (I think… not sure) they both had the same basic view of what the government did and how it related to people–it was a contract. This doesn’t mean it was some mythical free-market fundamentalists dream though :).

    As far as 1971, Bretton Woods, etc. goes–that was approximately the halfway point in the Liberal Democracy cycle and halfway points tend to contain social turbulence and some economic shifting as new members are brought into the economic in-group. Stirling explains it much better, but I’m not sure how easy it is to find his work on this topic online.

    Edit: The financialization you show, imo, is a sign of the decaying of the LIberal Democracy order as it fails to cope with new economic realities. It’s also a sign of imperial decline.

  • GordonMcMillan

    but I’m not sure I’d put that much weight on length of periods. Kevin Phillips points out that good management can postpone a crisis (or really good management can avoid it), and bad management can precipitate one.

    That said, I think the crisis moment is here and probably even passed. I don’t think anybody sees America or the Constitution the same way we used to.

  • vader

    Otherwise all that is happening is the categorization of events in some pattern which may or may not have validity. For a theory to have value, it must be predictive. In fiction, Psychohistory, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohistory_%28fictional%29 is an example. The predictive nature of a theory allows for its validation.

    That all said, we are entering a crisis that will stretch for a long time out. For example for the first time since the industrial revolution, an non western power(s) is/are likely to be more powerful than the western nations. At some point this will result in a military crisis that will not be fixable by good hair or sound bites.

    Likewise our economic system is challenged both externally by non western countries and internally by the inability to provide for our citizens.

    The conservatives have lost it, simply because this cannot be solved by conservative ideology and the leaders are old. The progressives have the new ideas, but not enough support to implement them but have the enthusiasm, they have the new leaders. The powers that be are discredited, have the money and power to continue, but their inventiveness is limited to making more money from a poorer citizenry.

    How it plays out will be interesting.

  • Lasthorseman

    a transition date of 1992, NAFTA. The beginning of the real end as industry did just what Ross said it would. The gigantic sucking sound did commence. The “industries” which survived in this country became based more upon scamming and exploitation than they are about producing useful tangible goods.

  • tjfxh

    I think that the recent trend of financialization over investment ways it all. There is little new investment because there is nothing new being contributed by the old leaders. As a result, schemes for moving wealth upwards, like financializtion to increase the value of assets without an increase in productivity, and privatizing the commons have replaced investment toward increased productivity.

    The new frontier is alternative energy, pollution control, non-petro vehicles and the like. The vested interests are now standing in the way of such developments. Big Oil, for example, has virtually ended exploration and is liquidating its assets in the ground. The US automakers are resisting retooling, which is very expensive, and pushing the old technology. And so on.

    The US is eating its seed corn, as the government and populace go deeper in debt, and vested interests are doing all they can to perpetuate the status quo.

    This is an unsustainable direction, however, and a new leadership is arising. It will likely take an economic or political shock to sweep the ancien régime out, however, and a perfect storm is brewing as we speak.

  • Bolo

    something I simultaneously hope for and fear–that the perfect storm will come and sweep them away, but also sweep away plenty of innocent people in the process.

  • Bolo

    What we cannot predict is exactly what happens within the confines of the pattern. It’s very much a chaotic system–you can define its boundaries and do some rough, high-level analysis, but using past and current information to predict where you’re going to be in the future is very tricky. The tiniest perturbation in conditions can drastically alter the trajectory of events.

    And there’s no guarantee that the pattern will continue (imho). It is the result of a particular cultural/economic/political setup that generates cycles. If conditions are altered enough, a new periodicity could be established or perhaps we’d leave the cycles altogether.

  • Bolo

    but I think the end of the Cold War was a much bigger, more immediate change. NAFTA has certainly had profound effects, but ending the Cold War ended the global political balance that had kept both nations (relatively) in check. The Communist boogey-man, long haunting the dreams of many Americans, disappeared almost overnight. There was no longer anyone who could credibly stand up to us as an equal.

    Also, although my familiarity with the period is sketchy (I was 9 when the USSR collapsed), that’s about the time when our politics started going batshit insane. The Soviet presence at least enforced some level of bipartisanship on our politicians–they could usually find common ground against the Soviets. After the collapse, this agreement disintegrated. We began to think of ourselves as the sole superpower, able to do just about anything we wanted.

    The logical conclusion of that idea, from a domestic political perspective, was that whoever could control America could control the world. There was no longer a common enemy–only ourselves. And whichever half of ourselves could beat down the other half would have it all. The Republicans jumped on this bandwagon before the Democrats and proceeded with their pummeling all through the 90s, through the 2000 election, and continuing until today.

    That’s why I think the collapse of the Soviets was the beginning of this crisis. The free-for-all began about then.

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