Belmont Club

Waiting for the Attractor

A tinker's curse

Apparently modern America can’t shut the borders but it can shut itself down. “‘We feel very confident the government’s not going to shut down,’ White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday, although he said he wouldn’t guarantee it. The spokesman wouldn’t say whether the president was willing to shut the government down over funding for the border wall.”

There are other things which once possible, are no longer so.  Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reports that attempts to repeal Obamacare would be a violation of international law. “The United Nations has contacted the Trump administration as part of an investigation into whether repealing the Affordable Care Act without an adequate substitute for the millions who would lose health coverage would be a violation of several international conventions that bind the United States. It turns out that the notion that ‘health care is a right’ is more than just a Democratic talking point.”

A confidential, five-page “urgent appeal” from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva, sent to the Trump administration, cautions that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act could put the United States at odds with its international obligations. The Feb. 2 memo, which I obtained Tuesday, was sent to the State Department and expresses “serious concern” about the prospective loss of health coverage for almost 30 million people, which could violate “the right to social security of the people in the United States.”

Andrew McCarthy points out that federal judges now feel able to rule out imagined violations of the law on the grounds that it could happen.  “A showboating federal judge in San Francisco has issued an injunction against President Trump’s executive order cutting off federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities. The ruling distorts the E.O. beyond recognition, accusing the president of usurping legislative authority despite the order’s express adherence to ‘existing law.’ Moreover, undeterred by the inconvenience that the order has not been enforced, the activist court — better to say, the fantasist court — dreams up harms that might befall San Francisco and Santa Clara, the sanctuary jurisdictions behind the suit, if it were enforced. The court thus flouts the standing doctrine, which limits judicial authority to actual controversies involving concrete, non-speculative harms.”

Something is dying and it is dying for all.  Trump setbacks don’t necessarily mean socialism is winning — just that things are falling apart as each iteration diminishes the system. Entropy increases in a closed system. A destructive zero sum game has a steadily shrinking payoff.  The parliamentary Left, as Daniel Hannan observes, has catastrophically collapsed worldwide. “I wrote a few months back about the collapse of Europe’s mainstream Left. France’s socialists are in single figures.”  “This weakness,” he adds, “should give conservatives no pleasure.”

All over Europe, traditional parties of the Center-Left have been losing badly. As I write, opinion polls show the French Socialists in fourth place, the Dutch Labour Party in seventh. Greece’s PASOK, the leading party since the early 1980s, is now polling at 7 percent. Spain’s PSOE, which had a comfortable majority as recently as 10 years ago, has been displaced by the more radical Podemos. Social Democrats in former communist countries, such as Poland and Hungary, have, if anything, fared even worse. …

But a collapse on such a scale doesn’t happen overnight. … That something has to do with changes in how we live and work. The parties of the mainstream Left were, in most cases, closely tied to labor unions. Membership of those unions, especially those representing private sector workers, is falling in every industrialized country. That fall reflects a shift from mass industrialization to self-employment. As technology accelerates, we are likelier to become portmanteau workers, specialists who constantly renew our expertise. I’m not sure my kids will ever have “a job” as we understood the concept in the 20th century.

The death knell of the Left probably also tolls doom for its counterparts.  The world is waiting for the Attractor, a new set of organizing principles around which to rebuild itself from the ashes of the old.  Until then one can only speculate what it might be? Will the future consist of a set of affinity groups striped across existing borders logically joined to accept taxes in exchange for services? Will territory be that list of places where citizens can enjoy reciprocal rights?

Imagine a LiberaLand card that allowed abode, work rights, health care, etc only in participating communities.  Such worlds already exist at the high end. One person pointed out on Twitter that membership to “Davosland. International fraternity of 1%ers, who can buy their way into elite enclaves (London, New York, Dubai etc)” has long been open.   The problem is where to put people at the low end, with affinity groups which by their nature require Other People’s Money.  Ultimately a sanctuary city residence card is only valuable if you can leave for a non-sanctuary. Otherwise its only a refugee camp.

Countries were possible in an information-poor environment, where culture could serve as a proxy for individual assessment.  Insurance self-selection is driving our fragmentation.  “In statistics, self-selection bias arises in any situation in which individuals select themselves into a group, causing a biased sample with nonprobability sampling. It is commonly used to describe situations where the characteristics of the people which cause them to select themselves in the group create abnormal or undesirable conditions in the group. It is closely related to the non-response bias, describing when the group of people responding has different responses than the group of people not responding.”  Self-selection means like group with like.  With all the winners in Davosland and all the losers dumped in Flyover Country, the landscape may soon be transformed into a series of walled cities.

Insurance self-selection is in turn driven by the information revolution.  “The amount of available information, and the statistical ability to find patterns in it fundamentally alter risk pooling. This threatens to alter the structure of the insurance industry, and potentially to destroy insurability …  too much information destroys risk pooling and rating.” Twitter has taught us too much to ever think of ourselves as countrymen again.  We are scattered. The unappreciated flip side of the Resistance’s vituperation against populism is the feeling is mutual.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

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For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.

Books:

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, Author Robert D. Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries, and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers to look back at critical pivots in history and then to look forward at the evolving global scene. The result is an interpretation of the next cycle of conflict throughout Eurasia and a future that can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties. To those who suggest that globalism will trump geography, this book shows how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan. The book tells the story of the dust storms that terrorized America’s High Plains in the darkest years of the Great Depression and the people that held on: their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black blizzards, crop failure, and the deaths of loved ones.

In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, by Eric R. Kandel. How does the brain create memories? Nobel Prize winner (2000) Kandel intertwines the intellectual history of the new science of the mind — a combination of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology — with his own personal quest to understand memory. It brings readers from Kandel’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna to the forefront of one of the great scientific endeavors of the 20th century: the search for the biological basis of memory.

Modern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr-Cas9, by Jim Kozubek. Would you change your genes if you could? As we confront the ‘industrial revolution of the genome’, the recent discoveries of Crispr-Cas9 technologies are offering, for the first time, cheap and effective methods for editing the human genome. Tracing events across a fifty-year period, from the first gene splicing techniques to the present day, Kozubek weaves together the fascinating stories of many of the scientists involved in the development of gene editing technology, demystifies how the technology really works and provides thought-provoking reflections on the ‘commodification’ of life.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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