The snap is coming. We’ve all had days where disappointment and frustration mount until a minor provocation triggers a hugely disproportionate reaction. You blow up at your spouse or kids, kick the dog, slam doors, or shout at the television; you make an ass of yourself and feel immediately embarrassed and ashamed. Societies, too, have their breaking points, and by all indications we’re getting close. The catalyst may be seemingly trivial, but it will be the camel’s spine-snapping straw after a decades-long cumulation of presumption, pretense, ineptitude, lies, and corruption in high places.
The explosion won’t be because of any diminution of ignorance: average citizens paying more attention to politics, economics, and world affairs and newly enraged, vowing to change things. Rather, decisions and actions made by remote, unaccountable powers will impinge upon their lives in ways that finally become intolerable. As circumstances are reduced, dreams deferred or destroyed, lives permanently upended, and loved ones senselessly killed, many will conclude they have nothing to lose. They’ll take actions beyond what are piously termed the permissible bounds of free expression. Crying havoc, they will let slip the dogs of riot, revolution, anarchy, and war. Looking back, the wonder will not be that they did so, but that it took them so long.
The Middle East and northern Africa have already snapped. The refugee stream into Europe is a result of US government failure. Ignoring the Sunni-Shiite schism that has defined the region for centuries, the US has blundered into various conflicts, supporting both sides, sometimes simultaneously, and conjuring a side that doesn’t exist: moderates whose passion is not their Islamic sect, but rather plurality, democracy, and human rights (“Not the Biggest Kid on Every Block,” SLL, 9/28/15). In Syria this fanciful Thomas Jefferson brigade, a product of the fervid imaginations of US neocons and their media toadies, was going to take out Bashar Assad, always the real goal of the US and its Sunni allies, then take out Sunni ISIS, the goal of US ally Shiite Iraq and US enemy Shiite Iran. All sides would be happy as a new era of peace, inclusion, and freedom dawned in Syria.
In reality, Thomas Jefferson brigades in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and now Syria haven’t worked out well for the US (“The Pentagon’s Syria Debacle,” by Philip Ewing and Austin Wright, SLL, 9/18/15, and “US-trained Division 30 rebels ‘betray US and hand weapons over to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria’,” by Nabih Bulos, SLL, 9/23/15). They have no commitment to the values of our illustrious founding father, except in some instances slavery (“The Rape of Afghanistan,” by Justin Raimondo, SLL, 9/23/15). US policymakers know this; they’re looking for puppets, not statesmen. However, to quote Vladimir Putin: “[w]ho’s playing who here?” Obviously the US has been played, and hard. Now, hundreds of thousands of refugees, rejecting perpetual war and terror, are voting with their feet.
Putin understands the game and has come down on the Shiite side, supporting Assad in Syria, allying with Iran, and bolstering beleaguered Iraq. The balance of power in the Middle East has been decisively altered; the Shiite nations now have their Russian big brother watching out for them. If Russia, Iran, and Iraq make short work of ISIS—not a sucker bet—the US will look even more foolish and venal that it already does, but there will be one silver lining: it should diminish the refugee flow from Syria.
Which would be a good thing for Europe. While the snap there has yet to come, the branch is breaking. The European Union’s governing institutions have become, in the way governments do, sclerotic bureaucratic monstrosities run by unaccountable elites. The Greek soap opera illustrates the EU golden rule: the country with the gold (Germany) gets to make the rules. In any welfare state there is always a fissure between those who make and those who take, and Greece has turned it into a chasm. The recent election in Catalonia, a referendum in support of independence from Spain, reflects the growing sentiment among the more prosperous: We’re getting screwed! The welfare state has become an unaffordable luxury, further strained by the refugees. Growth, never robust, has slowed to a crawl. Despite more debt from over-indebted governments—which the ECB has monetized while suppressing interest rates—deflation and contraction are taking hold. Sky high youth unemployment rates and rigid labor markets offer little hope for the younger generation.
The US knows all about immigration problems, over-indebted government, and unaffordable welfare state programs. Somehow a period in which real incomes are lower than they were in 2000, the poverty rate has increased, the labor force participation rate has dropped to its level in 1977 (before women entered the labor force en masse), and total US debt is at a record has been christened a “recovery.” If it is a recovery it has been tepid, a few tweaks of seasonal adjustments and price indexes away from being a continuation of the recession that began in 2008.
Old people are getting screwed by Fed-promoted microscopic interest rates. Their labor force participation rate is the only one that has bucked the trend, increasing as they cancel retirement and fill Walmart and McDonald’s jobs to keep the wolves at bay. Young people are getting screwed, burdened with college debt and a job market that throws off jobs waiting tables, crafting caffeinated concoctions, and tending bar, but not the kinds of higher paying positions that would require their degrees and allow them to pay their debt, start families, and buy houses. They are waking up to who’s on the hook for massive government debts and unfunded liabilities. Anyone younger than fifty with a three digit IQ also understands that their receipt of promised benefits is “problematic,” which is powers-that-be speak for “bend over.”
Destroy people’s hopes for a better life and you make riot, revolution, anarchy, and war inevitable. There is no way to predict which spark sets off which conflagration, but the world’s $200 trillion-plus debt load will provide abundant kindling. It’s hard to hold out much hope for the future when your future has been mortgaged. What we are seeing now—the refugee crisis, commodity collapse, financial perturbations, Greece, China, Catalonia, the rise of Putin, the US’s Syrian fiasco, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders—are mild pre-tremors before a massive seismic shock. When the big one arrives, upended political orders in Washington, Ottawa, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Riyadh, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, London, and Brasilia are conceivable aftershocks. Few of their billions of long-suffering victims will mourn the fates of powers that be who become powers that were. Now unthinkable, judicial proceedings, disgrace, imprisonment, and even worse will be the order of the day.
TOO GOOD TO IGNORE