Rise of strong man or decline of nation-state?

February 25th, 2010

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Here is a quick question for our readers to ask themselves: In view that the world is facing increasingly serious problems (e.g. climate change, Peak Oil, geo-political tensions, debasement of fiat money, food shortages, environment degradation, pollution, ageing population, e.t.c.), do you think these challenges will be increasingly insurmountable and as a result, lead to the:

  1. Decline of centralised government control (more disorder, more control by non-state actors, e.t.c)? OR
  2. Stronger government control of every aspect of our lives?

One of the repeated implied themes that we come across in our readings among contrarian literature is that 2007 is the peak of global prosperity. That means from now on, life is going to get harder and harder, for us, our children and grandchildren.

The basic point of this theme is actually quite simple. The amount of life-sustaining resources (e.g. clean water, oil, food, clean air, e.t.c.) for each human being in the planet is declining (due to natural forces and human stupidity). That does not necessarily mean that the absolute quantity of resources is declining. In some cases, it will be due to the fact that the increase in supply of resources is not growing fast enough to catch up with increasing needs.

With the world more interconnected than ever before and due to the global nature of the problems, everyone in this world will be affected. No doubt, humans will attempt to rise up to overcome them and there will be victories and setbacks along the way. But the important thing to remember is that governments will be increasingly unable to solve its citizen’s problems as the challenges will become increasingly insurmountable. Along with that (and because of that), the authority of the state will decline.

The big question to ask is how the journey will look like:

Increased cooperation among nation-states?
Global problems require global response. If the US and China cannot agree on Chinese tyres and American chicken, how can they possibly cooperate together to solve real problems?

The root of this is that whilst everyone agrees that something needs to be done to solve global challenges, everyone would prefer that someone else foot the bill. For example, on the issue of global warming, the developed nations want developing nations to offer their fair share of effort. But the latter sees that since it is the former that started the problem over the past couple of centuries, it is the latter’s responsibility to contribute a bigger share of the effort.

We can rule out this outcome.

Rise of a strong man/institution?
If increased global cooperation cannot be achieved, then in the face of acute global challenges, there will be increased conflict between nation-states, ethnic groups, non-state actors (e.g. terrorist, mafia, armed militias). The genocide in Dafur, Sudan is such an example.

In desperation or in an attempt to pre-empt conflict, mandate may be given to a strong man who can twist arms and pull fingernails to solve the problems that traditional nation-state governments can’t.

Can this happen? We read many accounts of life under Weimar Germany in the 1920s/30s. It was tough, brutal and erratic. Hyperinflation and the Great Depression made the people desperate. Back then, Germany was a highly divided nation. The state was weak, which allowed political parties and organisations to form disciplined armed groups. Hitler’s Nazi party was an example. Prior to the Nazi takeover, the Nazi Party already had its own uniformed thugs (e.g. the SS and SA stormtrooppers). They were also already secretly acquiring weapons. Eventually, the German people gave Hitler the mandate out of desperation.

Already, we have people like Lord Mockton alleging that the Copenhagen Agreement is part of plot to rise up a world government.

Increasing decentralisation of state power, disorder and even anarchy?
Indeed, this is the idea raised by Phil Williams from the Strategic Studies Institute of the United States Army War College. In his book, From the New Middle Ages to a New Dark Age: The Decline of the State and U.S. Strategy, he wrote that

Underlying the change from traditional geopolitics to security as a governance issue is the long-term decline of the state. Despite state resilience, this trend could prove unstoppable. If so, it will be essential to replace dominant state-centric perceptions and assessments (what the author terms ?stateocentrism?) with alternative judgments acknowledging the reduced role and diminished effectiveness of states. This alternative assessment has been articulated most effectively in the notion of the New Middle Ages in which the state is only one of many actors, and the forces of disorder loom large.

Failure to manage the forces of global disorder, however, could lead to something even more forbid-ding?a New Dark Age.

A very good modern-day example of the decline of the state is Pakistan. Today, the Pakistani government is only one of the powers in the country. There are the Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qaeda and local tribes with inter-locking and overlapping allegiances and control. Mexico is another example, with the drug cartels undermining the power and authority of the state.


The BookDepository

Editor’s note: Thanks to Kevin Rudd’s parallel import laws, which makes books in Australian bookshops even more expensive than books ordered through the Internet. We found one technical/professional book that is 33% cheaper in Book Depository than from the local Dymocks book shop! If you find any Internet book shop that is even cheaper than Book Depository, please let us know.

Regardless of whether we will face the decline of the nation-state or not, the first symptoms we will face are price inflation, which will be exacerbated by monetary inflation. Even our friend, Professor Steve Keen, who is firmly in the deflation camp, believes that the only things that can potentially wreck his deflation economic model are global warming and Peak Oil.

When we see the challenges facing the world in the years to come, we believe that there is a high chance that the current way of life and standard of living, is the best it can get and that it will be downhill from now on. In other words, life will be harder, more volatile and we can expect less help from the government. Therefore, to thrive well in the future, you will have to acquire self-sufficiency equipment/skills, stockpiling of supplies and self-defence equipment/skills.

For our Australian readers, it may look like this is the view of survivalist nuts. But if we are not wrong, the mood in the United States turning towards increasing anxiety, as if the modern world is on thin ice. The good news is, the downward path will be very gradual, which means we have plenty of time to prepare. The bad news is, the slow pace will lull the majority into complacency.

We will explore this theme more in the future. With this, we will show you a video of Marc Faber’s interview by ABC’s Ali Moore 11 months ago:

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