This post is entirely speculative and largely a response to Mark Steyn’s article Twilight of the West. Steyn’s basic thesis is that “the developed world is all playing the same recessional”. It’s all going down the same drain.
Steyn has explained all the whys and wherefores. The West is undergoing a demographic collapse and a loss of culture such that the current decline of the west is not “cyclical” — just a temporary downturn — rather it is more permanent. The West has forgotten how to win.
The bubble is us, and the assumptions of entitlement. Too many citizens of advanced Western democracies live a life they have not earned, and are not willing to earn. Indeed, much of our present fiscal woe derives from two phases of human existence that are entirely the invention of the modern world. Once upon a time, you were a kid till you were 13 or so; then you worked; then you died. That bit between childhood and death has been chewed away at both ends. We invented something called “adolescence” that now extends not merely through the teenage years but through a desultory half decade of Whatever Studies at Complacency U up till you’re 26 and no longer eligible for coverage on your parents’ health-insurance policy. At the other end of the spectrum, we introduced something called “retirement” that, in the space of two generations, has led to the presumption that able-bodied citizens are entitled to spend the last couple of decades, or one-third of their adult lives, as a long holiday weekend.
Since it can’t last, therefore it won’t. The West will fall. In this Steyn is entirely right. But this post is going to argue that he’s only half right.
The other half of the equation is equally important. We’re all falling. Nobody else is getting it right. Take the Middle East. It is running out of oil and food and is itself in danger of demographic collapse.
The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 percent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 percent. These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.
Japan is no better case; it is aging, indebted, turning off its nuclear plants and imports almost every barrel of oil. Across the strait the effects of China’s One Child Policy are only just kicking in. Things can only get worse.
As for Russia, it has the distinction of going to straight to population decline without even having passing the stage of bubble prosperity. Some movies go direct to DVD. Some countries go direct to misery. Steyn is more correct than he thinks. Things aren’t just temporarily broken; they no longer work. But it is not just the West which is in the midst of a paradigm shift: the whole world is. In Steyn’s compelling image, we’re all losers now.
Eurovision took the national cultures that produced Mozart, Vivaldi, and Debussy, and in return gave us “Boom-Bang-a-Bang” (winner, 1969), “Ding-Ding-a-Dong” (winner, 1975), and “Diggi-Loo-Diggi-Ley” (winner, 1984). The euro took the mark, the lira, and the franc, and merged them to create the “Boom-Bang-a-Bang” of currencies …
Ask not for whom “Ding-Ding-a-Dong” dings, it dings for thee.
But not without the prospect of recovery. Two things are almost certain to happen in the next decade: 1) the world will undergo the predicted Steynian crisis; but 2) certain countries, in order to escape the crisis, will transform themselves. This always happens in history. If nothing rises forever, nobody falls forever either. Sooner or later somebody wises up and changes course.
The transformation, when it comes, will probably take two forms. First, the attainment energy dominance. Second, the creation of a productive environment in which human and financial resources, seeking to escape from the wrack and ruin everywhere, flee to seek safety and productive security.
Whichever political entity achieves these two goals while everything goes “Ding-Ding-a-Dong” around them is going to dominate and shape the 21st century. There are several candidates for that center of renewal. We can eliminate the Middle East. They are intent on killing each other — for the present at least. We can probably, but not certainly, exclude Africa and South America as leaders of this locus. Their human resource base is still too shallow They will follow the center that emerges, but they will not lead it themselves.
This leave the usual suspects as possibilities. Western Europe, East Asia, North America and the Eurasian center (i.e. Russia). Only these have the size and human resources to serve as the basis for a new core. India and Australia, though powerful in their own right, will probably ally themselves to whatever arises from the current crisis. One of the usual suspects is going to be the first to wise up and draw in the resources fleeing the collapse of the rest.
I think North America (which includes the British Isles parked offshore Europe and Australia) represents the most credible place for such a center to emerge. But that is contingent on a big “if”. That “if” is whether or not it makes the transformation ahead of the rest. This is not a given. Until the end America will remain comparatively sheltered, and therefore the country with the least incentive to make the necessary transformation. One of the collapsed centers, having nothing to lose, may be beat it to the punch.
Even today one can watch resources frantically seeking a safe haven. But there is nowhere to turn. Everywhere productive resources turn there are shackles. The shackles of big government; the chains of political correctness, the absence of a culture that can achieve sustainable populations. The same globalized s**t. But when the Euro implodes it will have the curious effect of making globalization less than global.
Everywhere will no longer be the same place. Localization will re-emerge. So resources may temporarily flee to Britain and the America. But if finds nothing there someone else will be incentivized to make the paradigm shift to keep and attract the resources there.
More likely at least two centers will develop to compete for the pieces of the collapsing ancien regime. Two centers which will nearly simultaneously bid for resources and possess the wherewithal to declare hydrocarbon independence. Maybe that will be China, maybe Germany in the center of Europe’s wrack. Maybe against all odds it will be Russia.
But with any luck at least one of these centers will be North America. But that is not a given. Right now Washington is living through an extraordinary historical opportunity that it cannot grasp. It will miss every opportunity because Washington itself in the way. The same can be said for continental Europe’s institutions; and to some extent China and Japan.
But the grip of the old elites on power will loosen as the crisis deepens. As the institutions start to fail they will become more and more dispensable. Sooner or later, some society will want to escape the dreaded “Ding-Ding-a-Dong” which Steyn describes. Which society shall it be? Text your replies to the World Idol Contest, now accepting votes.
It’s for North America to lose. But nothing is certain in this world. Even homeless men in Korea can dream. Success can emerge in surprising places. It always has.