Belmont Club

Planning the Great Escape from House Arrest—and From Communist China

Alcatraz Island (Frank Schulenberg via Wikipedia)

As the northern hemisphere begins to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, political punditry is focusing on two issues: how to reopen the economy and how to decouple from China. The two subjects are related because a large part of the Western economy is joined at the hip with Beijing. To a substantial degree, China produces what America consumes. Each country’s holdings in the other are enormous. They are bound by innumerable contracts, deals, projects and cross-posted personnel that are not easily severed.

This system of cross-dependency was consciously pursued to vaccinate the world against a repetition of the two world wars. However, globalization also significantly eroded the independence and freedom of action of individual nations, though not each to the same degree. It permitted asymmetries to arise between the more aggressive and secretive regimes at the expense of  those which, perhaps naively, adhered more closely to the posted rules.

The Great Firewall of China, currency manipulation, the infiltration of network equipment, island grabbing in the South China Sea and technological espionage are examples of asymmetry which the great economic interests were willing to turn a blind eye to to preserve existing deals, though the populist uprising in the West served notice that things could not continue that way forever. When the coronavirus erupted in Wuhan in mid-December 2019 and Beijing misled the world to catastrophe, the model was no longer viable. “Dr. Anthony Fauci says that human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 diseases erupted in China in mid-December, yet the communist regime told the U.S. and the world that the virus was only transmitted animal-to-human.”

Dr. Fauci, an influential member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, told the Fox News show “Watters’ World” … the Chinese government said that human contagion was minimal, a fact that shaped for weeks the outside world’s sense of the danger and the appropriate response …  “clearly not correct … misinformation right from the beginning”.

It was a lie too far, but there’s no easy way to quickly distance from China. Undoing current arrangements is tantamount to rolling back decades of policy. However, the system will start to reopen in the direction of subsidiarity, where the interests of the component take precedence over maximizing the system as a whole. Under pressure from an enraged public, politicians will be driven toward an economy that is globalism-compatible, not globalism-dependent. Things are moving to a new normal. The coronavirus lockdown has made the Internet a key enabler of socially distanced business.

In fact, far from bringing networks to their knees, covid-19 is driving the most rapid expansion in years. To make sure they meet demand, internet giants like Netflix and Equinix, which operates 200 data centers around the world, are rushing out upgrades as quickly as possible. Equinix is in the middle of upgrading its traffic capacity from 10 to 100 gigabytes. The work was going to have been carried out over a year or two—but it is now being done in a few weeks.

But adaptation is also making a renegotiation of globalist integration imperative. Single points of failure are no longer acceptable.

If supply chains break down, internet companies may also find it hard to get hold of equipment and hardware. China is the largest producer of optical fiber and other essential hardware, such as semiconductors, for example. An interruption in supply could mean that plans to install new broadband connections to rural parts of the world are put on hold.

The failover capability, with clustering and load-balancing in their supply chains necessary to prevent a repeat of the 2020 catastrophe, requires establishing a component-centric accounting system where the guiding principle is reciprocity to maximize the welfare of the members first and only secondarily the “system as a whole.” Only by componentization can the danger of the whole system being brought down by the most ruthless members be averted.

The club must be run for its members and not the other way around. At a moment of gravest danger, the states became more important relative to the federal government than they had been in a long time. Nor was it a coincidence that the members of the EU acted like individual countries when survival was at stake.  Far from being retrograde and bigoted, component logic supervened because globalism had magnified the dangers of the principal–agent problem to an intolerable degree. International organizations like WHO proved vulnerable to capture, forcing national populations to turn in desperation to elected leaders who at least spoke their language.

Perhaps nothing will prove more difficult to salvage from the train wreck than individual rights, the fundamental building block of subsidiarity, which are being eroded at an unprecedented rate. The need to track the whereabouts of literally every citizen in the name of “contact tracing” the public means government will demand to know exactly where you’ve been and who you’ve ever met with. Scrupulous records will be kept on the public’s biometric profile to make offices habitable again. Moscow will “gradually’” introduce a pass system controlling movements based on viral status. A similar scheme is being considered by American authorities. “Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, revealed Friday the federal government is considering issuing Americans certificates of immunity from the coronavirus, as the Trump administration works to better identify those who have been infected and restart the U.S. economy in the coming weeks.”

Perhaps the only response to the trend toward mass surveillance will be to treat personal information as protected speech and property, whose use must be paid for at a price to be later negotiated. By this and other efforts populations can gradually emerge from confinement and rebuild autonomy and prosperity. The tragic irony is that our attempts to innoculate ourselves against the horrors of the 20th century led to an unanticipated nightmare in the 21st.  The promise of a world without borders turned into indefinite detention with the most ruthless regimes in the world for cellmates.

Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should,
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.
Not on a single issue, or in one direction or twain,
But conclusively, comprehensively, and several times and again,

Were all our most holy illusions knocked higher than Gilderoy’s kite.
We have had a jolly good lesson, and it serves us jolly well right !
— Rudyard Kipling

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Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, by Jim Mattis and Bing West. This is a book on leadership as seen through Jim Mattis’s storied career, from his wide-ranging leadership roles in three wars to ultimately commanding a quarter of a million troops across the Middle East.

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Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.

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.