We Need A Social Revolution


Source: PeakProsperity.com
Charles Hugh Smith
August 18, 2017

In the conventional view, there are two kinds of revolutions: political and technological. Political revolutions may be peaceful or violent, and technological revolutions may transform civilizations gradually or rather abruptly—for example, revolutionary advances in the technology of warfare.

In this view, the engines of revolution are the state—government in all its layers and manifestations—and the corporate economy.

In a political revolution, a new political party or faction gains converts to its narrative, and this new force replaces the existing political order, either via peaceful means or violent revolution.

Technological revolutions arise from many sources but end up being managed by the state and private sector, which each influence and control the other in varying degrees.

Conventional history focuses on top-down political revolutions of the violent “regime change” variety: the American Revolution (1776), the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1917), the Chinese Revolution (1949), and so on.

Technology has its own revolutionary hierarchy; the advances of the Industrial Revolutions I, II, III and now IV, have typically originated with inventors and proto-industrialists who relied on private capital and banking to fund large-scale buildouts of new industries: rail, steel manufacturing, shipbuilding, the Internet, etc.

The state may direct and fund technological revolutions as politically motivated projects, for example the Manhattan project to develop nuclear weapons and the Space race to the Moon in the 1960s.

These revolutions share a similar structure: a small cadre leads a large-scale project based on a strict hierarchy in which the revolution is pushed down the social pyramid by the few at the top to the many below.  Even when political and industrial advances are accepted voluntarily by the masses, the leadership and structure of the controlling mechanisms are hierarchical: political power, elected or not, is concentrated in the hands of a few at the top. Corporations are commercial autocracies; leadership is highly concentrated and orders are imposed on the bottom 99% of employees with military-like authority.

Social Revolutions Are Not Top-Down

But there is another class of revolution that does not share this hierarchical structure, nor does it manifest in the large-scale, top-down power-pyramids of the state and private corporations: social revolutions are bottoms-up affairs, lacking centralized leadership and hierarchical control mechanisms.

Social revolutions eventually influence the state and private sector, but they do not require the permission, funding or leadership of these hierarchies; as a rule, social revolutions drag the state and corporate sectors forward, kicking and screaming, as the social fabric and values of the populace change and the state and corporate sector cling to the status quo.

Examples of recent social revolutions include the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and the gay rights movement.  The leadership of the state resisted each revolution, and was essentially forced to adapt to the new social order as it became mainstream.

Once corporations figured out ways to profit from the transformed social order, they quickly introduced new products and fresh marketing: all-Caucasian advertising, for example, gave way to targeted ethnic advertising and mixed-race national advert campaigns.

When social revolutions are suppressed by the state, they may spark a political revolution as the socially oppressed come to see the overthrow of the autocratic political order as a necessary step towards liberation.

In other cases, social revolutions may have little immediate impact on the political stage. Faith-based social secular movements–for example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century– were not overtly political; their eventual political impact (temperance, woman’s rights and support for the abolition of slavery) may manifest decades later.

In summary: social revolutions may generate political waves, but they need not be overtly political to do so, nor do they rely on political, financial or technological hierarchies to transform society.

The Decline of Social Groups and the Erosion of the Social Order

Robert Putman’s 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, documented the decline of social connections and what we might calling belonging in American society with reams of data. This erosion of social bonds is not limited to social groups such as bowling leagues; it is secular, spanning every social type of connection from family picnics to community and neighborhood groups.

If we extend Putnam’s findings to the core human bonds of family and friendships, we find the same fraying of social ties; people have fewer close friends, are more isolated and lonely, and family relationships are increasingly superficial or characterized by alienation.

The factors feeding this broad-based decline of connectedness and social capital are many: the nation’s economic mode of production has changed, requiring two incomes where one once sufficed, and globalization has increased both the demands on those with jobs and the number of adults who have fallen out of the work force.

This winner-takes-most economy has been accompanied by the rise of political divisiveness, a brand of politics that fosters us-versus-them disunity and the erosion of common ground in favor of demonized opponents and all-or-nothing loyalty to one party or cause.

The technological revolutions of broadcast television and radio homogenized the mainstream media even as they provided superficial substitutes for social engagement. The technologies of social media, mobile telephony and narrowcast echo-chambers of uniform opinion have created even more addictive forms of distraction that are not just shredding social connectedness—they’re destroying our ability to form and nurture social bonds, even within the family.

This dynamic was explored in a recent essay in The Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Any careful observer of present-day family life would add that the addictive draw of mobile telephony has also damaged the parents’ generation and the family unit itself.

Cui Bono: To Whose Benefit?

Longtime readers know I often begin an inquiry with the time-tested question: cui bono, to whose benefit? Who has benefited from the erosion of the social fabric and social capital, from the politics of divisiveness and the mass addiction to the technologies of superficial connectedness?

While we can take note of soaring corporate profits, and draw a causal connection between these profits and the modern-day “always connected to work” lifestyle of high-productivity corporate employees, it’s difficult to argue that corporations have benefited directly from the loss of social capital that characterizes American life.

Rather, it seems that the corporation’s relentless pursuit of narrowly defined self-interest, i.e. maximizing profits by whatever means are available, has laid waste to boundaries between work and home life as collateral damage.

In a similar fashion, purveyors of smartphones and the software and content that render them so addictive don’t necessarily benefit directly from the destruction of intimate, authentic social bonds, but they certainly have prospered from the feeding of the smartphone addiction. Once again, the loss of authentic social connectedness is collateral damage.

While it seems quite clear that political groups have fueled divisiveness to their own benefit, does the state (government in all its forms) benefit from the fraying of the social order? It’s difficult to discern a direct benefit to the state, though it might be argued that a fractured populace is easier to control.

But the erosion of the social order has gone beyond fracture into disintegration, and it’s hard to see how class wars and social disunity benefit the state, which ultimately relies on some measure of social unity for its authority, which flows from the consent of the governed.

It’s Time To Take Our Future Back

In Part 2: Rescuing Our Future, we focus on the self-evident truth that governments and corporations cannot restore social connectedness and balance to our lives.  Only a social revolution that is self-organizing from the bottom-up can do that.

And we detail out the specific steps each of us can and should take to develop the values and skills required to form and maintain authentic social wealth—the wealth of friendship, of social gatherings, of belonging.

It takes courage and independence to swim against the toxic tides of our economy and society. The good news is that true wealth is within reach of everyone. The steps we each need take are clear; it’s just a matter of having the will to invest the time and effort.

Do you have it?

Read More At: PeakProsperity.com

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The Dead Giveaways of Imperial Decline

Online job opportunities available in Singapore declined two per cent ...
Source: OfTwoMinds.com
Charles Hugh Smith
June 13, 2017

Nothing is as permanent as we imagine–especially super-complex, super-costly, super-asymmetric and super-debt-dependent state/financial systems.

Identifying the tell-tale signs of Imperial decay and decline is a bit of a parlor game. The hubris of an increasingly incestuous and out-of-touch leadership, dismaying extremes of wealth inequality, self-serving, avaricious Elites, rising dependency of the lower classes on free Bread and Circuses provided by a government careening toward insolvency due to stagnating tax revenues and vast over-reach–these are par for the course of self-reinforcing Imperial decay.

Sir John Glubb listed a few others in his seminal essay on the end of empires The Fate of Empires, what might be called the dynamics of decadence:

(a) A growing love of money as an end in itself.

(b) A lengthy period of wealth and ease, which makes people complacent. They lose their edge; they forget the traits (confidence, energy, hard work) that built their civilization.

(c) Selfishness and self-absorption.

(d) Loss of any sense of duty to the common good.

Glubb included the following in his list of the characteristics of decadence:

— an increase in frivolity, hedonism, materialism and the worship of unproductive celebrity (paging any Kardashians in the venue…)

— a loss of social cohesion

— willingness of an increasing number to live at the expense of a bloated bureaucratic state

Historian Peter Turchin, whom I have often excerpted here, listed three disintegrative forces that gnaw away the fibers of an Imperial economy and social order:

1. Stagnating real wages due to oversupply of labor

2. overproduction of parasitic Elites

3. Deterioration of central state finances

War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires

To these lists I would add a few more that are especially visible in the current Global Empire of Debt that encircles the globe and encompasses nations of all sizes and political/cultural persuasions:

1. An absurdly heightened sense of refinement as the wealth of the top 5% has risen so mightily as a direct result of financialization and globalization that the top .1% has been forced to seek ever more extreme refinements to differentiate the Elite class (financial-political royalty) from financial nobility (top .5% or so), the technocrat class (top 5%), the aspirant class (next 15%) and everyone below (the bottom 80%).

Now that just about any technocrat/ member of the lower reaches of the financial nobility can afford a low-interest loan on a luxury auto, wealthy aspirants must own super-cars costing $250,000 and up.

A mere yacht no longer differentiates financial royalty from lower-caste financial Nobles, so super-yachts are de riguer, along with extremes such as private islands, private jets in the $80 million-each range, and so on.

Even mere technocrat aspirants routinely spend $150 per plate for refined dining out and take extreme vacations to ever more remote locales to advance their social status.

Examples abound of this hyper-inflation of refinement as the wealth of the top 5% has skyrocketed.

2. The belief in the permanence of the status quo has reached quasi-religious levels of faith. The possibility that the entire financialized, politicized circus of extremes might actually be nothing more than a sand castle that’s dissolving in the rising tides of history is not just heresy–it doesn’t enter the minds of those reveling in refinement or those demanding more Bread and Circuses (Universal Basic Income, etc.)

3. Luxury, not service, defines the financial-political Elites. As Turchin pointed out in his book on the decline of empires, in the expansionist, integrative eras of empires, Elites based their status on service to the Common Good and the defense (or expansion) of the Empire.

While there are still a few shreds of noblesse oblige in the tattered banners of the financial elites, the vast majority of the Elites classes are focused on scooping up as much wealth and power as they can in the shortest possible time, with the goal being not to serve society or the Common Good but to enter the status competition game with enough wealth to afford the refined dining, luxury travel to remote locales, second and third homes in exotic but safe hideaways, and so on.

4. An unquestioned faith in the unlimited power of the state and central bank. The idea that the mightiest governments and central banks might not be able to print their way of our harm’s way, that is, create as much money and credit as is needed to paper over any spot of bother, is unthinkable for the vast majority of the populace, Elites and debt-serfs alike.

That all this newly issued currency and credit is nothing but claims on future production of goods and services and rising productivity never enters the minds of the believers in unlimited state/bank powers. We have been inculcated with the financial equivalent of the Divine Powers of the Emperor: the government and central bank possess essentially divine powers to overcome any problem, any crisis and any conflict simply by creating more money, in whatever quantities are deemed necessary.

If $1 trillion in fresh currency will do the trick–no problem! $10 trillion? No problem! $100 trillion? No problem! there is no upper limit on how much new currency/credit the government and central bank can create.

That there might be limits on the efficacy of this money-creation never enters the minds of the faithful. That pushing currency-credit creation above the limits of efficacy might actually trigger the unraveling of the state-central bank’s vaunted powers never occurs to believers in the unlimited reach of central states/banks.

The possibility that the central state/bank’s powers are actually quite limited is blasphemy in an era in which the majority of the Elites and commoners alike depend on the “free money” machinery of the central state/bank for their wealth and livelihoods.

It is instructive to ponder the excesses of private wealth and political dysfunction of the late Roman Empire with the present-day excesses of private wealth and political dysfunction. As Turchin and others have documented, where the average wealth of a Roman patrician in the Republic (the empire’s expansionist, integrative phase) was perhaps 10-20 times the free-citizen commoner’s wealth, by the disintegrative, decadent phase of imperial decay, the Elites held wealth on the scale of 10,000 times the wealth of the typical commoner. Elite villas were more like small villages centered around the excesses of luxury than mere homes for the wealthy and their household servants. Here is a commentary drawn from Turchin’s work:

“An average Roman noble of senatorial class had property valued in the neighborhood of 20,000 Roman pounds of gold. There was no ‘middle class’ comparable to the small landholders of the third century B.C.; the huge majority of the population was made up of landless peasants working land that belonged to nobles. These peasants had hardly any property at all, but if we estimate it (very generously) at one tenth of a pound of gold, the wealth differential would be 200,000! Inequality grew both as a result of the rich getting richer (late imperial senators were 100 times wealthier than their Republican predecessors) and those of the middling wealth becoming poor.”

Following in Ancient Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Wealth Inequality (September 30, 2015)

We can be quite confident that these powerful elites reckoned the Empire was permanent and its power to secure their wealth and power was effectively unlimited. But alas, their fantastic wealth vanished along with the rest of the centralized, over-extended, complex and costly Imperial structures.

There is a peculiarly widespread belief that Elites are so smart and powerful that they always manage to evade the collapse of the empires that created and protected their wealth. But there is essentially no evidence for this belief when eras truly change.

Yes, Elites have proven to be adept at shifting with the political winds; thus the guestbooks of French chateaux were filled with the names of Nazi dignitaries during the German occupation of France, and with the names of Allied bigwigs after the war ended the 1,000-year Reich.

But the complete collapse of the financial system and centralized power is not a war or financial crisis–these are storm waters which the Elites have the wherewithal to survive. But when a tsunami disintegrates the entire structure and carries it out to a nameless sea as flotsam and jetsam, there is no transfer of wealth from the Old to the New.

The Roman Elites did not become Barbarian elites who just so happened to own the same villas and vast estates they did when they wore togas and dined on super-refined delicacies. They were pushed aside along with everything that supported their wealth and power.

Nothing is quite as permanent as we imagine–especially super-complex, super-costly, super-asymmetric and super-debt-dependent state/financial systems.

Read More At: OfTwoMinds.com

Another Reason Why the Middle Class and the Velocity of Money Are in Terminal Decline

Source: OfTwoMinds.com
Charles Hugh Smith
January 20, 2016

In response to a recent post on the structural decline in the velocity of money, correspondent Mike Fasano described a key dynamic in both the decline of money velocity and the middle class.
“There is another reason for falling velocity. People like me who have saved all their lives realize that they their savings (no matter how much) will never throw off enough money to allow retirement, unless I live off principal. This is especially so since one can reasonably expect social security to phased out, indexed out or dropped altogether. Accordingly, I realize that when I get to the point when I can no longer work, I’ll be living off capital and not interest. This is an incentive to keep working and not to spend.”

Thank you, Mike, for highlighting the devastating long-term impact of the Federal Reserve’s zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP): with the real (i.e. adjusted for inflation) return on savings near zero (or even negative, for those who have to pay soaring rents, healthcare insurance premiums, college tuition, etc.), those saving for retirement are losing the Red Queen’s Race: no matter how much they save, the income will be too paltry to support retirement.

This has three extremely negative consequences. Those seeking a return above zero are forced to put their savings at risk in boom-and-bust markets that tend to reward only those who get into the bubble expansion early and exit early.
These boom-and-bust markets tend to savage the assets of the middle class when they blow up, but do little to rebuild these assets in the bubble expansion phase, as prudent investors who were burned in the previous bubble bust shun risk assets.

Continue Reading At: OfTwoMinds.com