Thursday, April 05, 2012

Is Civilisation In Crisis with the Collapse of the Welfare State Model?

During the Cold War, we said there were two kinds of countries: developed countries like the western industrial democracies and Japan, and developing countries. The developed countries had reached the end of history; they had figured everything out and only had to bask in their success, growing richer and happier year by year, but not changing in any disruptive or unpleasant ways.

Developing countries were still in the process that the developed countries had completed; they just needed to catch up, and then they too could stop.

The erosion of the blue [welfare state] model throughout the west rips these illusions away. There is no such thing as a developed country. No country on earth has reached a stable end state; there is no such thing as a comfortable retirement from the stresses and storms of history and of change. France, America, Germany, Japan: we thought we had found a permanent solution to all economic and social questions.

We hadn’t.

For countries like Brazil, India, South Africa and China, this raises profound questions. What is it that they are trying to do? What are they trying to become? Is their goal to emulate the social market economies that the west enjoyed a generation ago? Are they hoping to build a stable mass middle class on the basis of big box factory work and armies of white collar middle managers that dominated American life in 1970?

And if that isn’t the goal, what is? _Walter Russell Mead
The leftist welfare state model was supposed to answer these questions in the place of traditional customs, religions, and traditions. It was thought necessary to replace tradition with ideology because in multicultural societies, no single set of tribal customs could be allowed to dominate.

But if the leftist welfare state model is in crisis, a collapse backward into warring tribal factions -- as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, or Syria -- appears inevitable.
The “developing” countries are generally sticking with the old paradigm: that development is the process of turning blue [adopting the social democratic welfare state] and that Fordist industrialization can and will yield mass prosperity.

But they are likely to discover that this isn’t true. China will not be able to build a western style welfare state as its GDP grows. The South African labor unions won’t be able to turn the country into Detroit at its peak, with lifetime employment at high wages for a unionized work force.

Manufacturing employment in these countries will not indefinitely rise, and neither will pay. Competition from other, poorer, job-hungry countries will push wages down; automation will reduce the number of workers worldwide required to produce a given level of output and by reducing the supply of manufacturing jobs automation will also depress global wages, especially for the unskilled.

Developing countries (along with the Davoisie and most commentators and “modernization theorists”) have also assumed that because development meant the establishment of a stable middle class society, to become more economically developed was to become more politically stable.

...We, the Europeans and the Japanese can probably handle a generation of wandering. Life would be poorer and nastier than it needs to be, politics would get pretty poisonous and Europe’s problems with some of its immigrants might get deeply ugly, but this might just mean the degradation of social life and the impoverishment of democracy rather than chaos, violence and the rise of new ideologies and movements based on fanaticism and hate.

I’m not nearly as sure that the rest of the world would be as calm or as stable if the blue model continues to rot but we don’t make the move to the next step.

The fight for the reforms and changes in the United States that can facilitate and speed up the birth of a prosperous post-industrial society here is deeply connected to the fight for a peaceful and prosperous world in the 21st century. It is not just that these changes will keep the US rich and strong enough to play a role in supporting world peace. It is that the example of a successful transformation here will do more to promote democracy, peace and human rights worldwide than all the foreign aid, all the diplomats and even all the ships and tanks and drones in the world could ever do.

And it is raving lunacy to expect that there is some master plan that can reveal the shape of the new society and show us how to achieve it. That isn’t what life at the cutting edge of history is ever like. The challenge of our time is invention, not implementation. The future doesn’t exist yet; we have to make it up. _WRM in The American Interest
The problem is that modern civilised nations continue to shoot themselves in the foot, by electing destructively inept clowns such as Barack Obama, and carbon hysterics such as the current leaders of Australia and the greens in the governments of several European countries.

The problems are hard enough already, without making things 10 times harder by creating faux catastrophes such as carbon hysteria to waste precious resources on.

Walter Russell Mead talks about the potential for an abundant future facilitated by advanced technologies. Such a future is possible for some parts of some countries around the world. But there are many problems of human nature and politics which will have to be overcome. Most of the world is unlikely to see its way clear to an abundant future without a great deal of violent turmoil on the way.

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