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The Rapid Destructon of Countries

2014 April 14
by Ian Welsh

My regular readers have no doubt noticed my near-obsession with the Ukrainian crisis.  Part of it is the risk of real war, but most of it is that the Ukraine is yet another country being destroyed.  Even if it had been kept together, even if the Russians had taken the Maidan coup sitting down, the coup signaled the Ukraine’s destruction, because it meant that IMF austerity, meaning slashing pensions 50%, increasing gas prices by 50%, selling off the industries worth selling and the agricultural land which is the most valuable thing the Ukraine has, would occur.  Massive debt would be piled onto Ukraine, at higher rates than Russia was offering, and the economy would be looted.

Since 9/11 we have been destroying countries at a ferocious rate: Iraq, Iran (sanctions there are brutal), Libya (far better off under Qaddafi), Syria, Southern Lebanon (their industry destroyed by Israel in 2006).  After the financial crisis Portugal, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Cyprus to a lesser or greater degree. Even core economies like Britain and the US, while not technically in recession, are gripped by what is a long Depression, with real standards of living for median individuals dropping, health metrics dropping and employment and wages never recovering to pre-crisis levels.  Egypt has been turned into an even worse despotism than under Mubarak, Turkey is sliding down the road to an elected kleptocratic dictatorship, Thailand is in permanent turmoil.

To be sure, some have been destroyed militarily, some by internal political strife and others by austerity but the collapse or decline is clear in all cases.  The so-called Arab Spring was to a large extent caused by the financial crisis and the soaring food prices which came in its wake.  Syria was deliberately destabilized by the West, and as bad as Assad is (he appears to just love torture), the situation is worse under him than before. Qaddafi, likewise no Saint, ran Libya better than the current near anarchy.

Though not as bad, the austerity driven destruction of countries has been even more common.  Austerity is crazy, it says “take on vastly more debt and cut spending”, but what happens is that the economy contracts due to the reduced spending, so that the debt becomes even more injurious, and the country then has to borrow even more money.  Greece is more in debt, with a smaller economy, than when the Troika started “helping” them.

This destruction is done for the benefit of various elites: the south of Europe has been shoved into poverty so that financial elites didn’t lose their money, and so that they can make even more money off loans effectively guaranteed by the IMF, ECB and northern European governments.

The correct thing to do, of course, was to force financial elites to take their losses, toss those who had engaged in fraud in jail (which is to say almost all of the executive class), and bail out ordinary workers.  The ONLY country to do this was Iceland.

Our current world system destroys countries.  And it is destroying more and more.  It drives their populations into penury, it takes whatever they have and distributes it to oligarchs, and if a country irritates our Lords and Masters too much, it will be destroyed by economic sanctions or direct or indirect military force.

This is all of a piece: the reason food prices are so high is because of financialization: because all the money has flooded to the top, and there is no money to properly oversee expansion of agriculture and to subsidize food (which is far cheaper to do than the bailouts were, so it’s not a case of being “unaffordable.”

Understand this: if you are not a member of the oligarchy, the financial elite, or a senior member of the security state, your well-being is of little interest to our Lords and Masters.  Oh, they might prefer that you don’t die, or go hungry (they might not), but if your well-being conflicts with the desires of the oligarchy, as it did during the bailouts, they will not hesitate to cut you dead.

If you’re unfortunate enough to live in a non-core country, well, even your ability to eat, or not have a nasty militia beat you, rape your daughter, and put drill holes in your son, let alone have a good job or be able to live with dignity, is of little interest to them.  This is not hyperbole, it is an exact description of how those who live in non-core countries have been treated, repeatedly.

And remember, the core is shrinking. Greeks and Italians and Cypriots and Spaniards and Irish—they thought they were members of core countries; that they were Europeans, that Germany and France and the ECB and the IMF wouldn’t destroy their countries.

The core is shrinking: the moment elites neither need nor fear you, you are disposable.  Are you willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to stay on the inside? If you are, and you can claw your way over the bodies of the others competing for the shrinking spots, well, you may live a good life as a retainer.  Otherwise one day you too will be surplus to needs.

One day sooner than you think.

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18 Responses
  1. Glenn permalink
    April 14, 2014

    Many might consider this article to be inflammatory, but the author is right: It’s the truth. It’s coming to the point where even those in power will not be afraid for others to speak the truth and just blatantly state their objectives – Power and money that facilitates that as well as the good old tried and true move of FORCE! When will the masses wake up?

  2. thepanzer permalink
    April 14, 2014

    The obsession with Ukraine is welcome since the rest of the western media is more interested in pushing a narrative than reporting reality. So Ukraine news is sorted into two camps; info that supports the western narrative and is pushed, and info that doesn’t support the western narrative and is ignored. IE the Russian report that the CIA director visited Kiev, which the western press ignored until the WH just verified he was actually there. (Now we get to see if information leaks that verifies the rest of Russian reporting, that the CIA director was there coordinated the Ukrainian security ops that are likely kicking off to regain control of east Ukraine.)

    It’s pathetic that with all of the internet, and all of the media companies, the amount of western websites I can count on for objective reporting/analysis on Ukraine is probably less than 10.

    On the core/periphery, as you said that core is shrinking. To a similar extent a less extreme version is already happening within the domestic US, as the core shrinks from the heartland and rural areas to focus more on large cities or economic hubs. Likewise even within cities and economic hubs, they have their own core and periphery of winners and losers. The sieve that decides between the former and later continues to open so that more and more former winners join the losers camp. So the core/periphery is happening at multiple levels at the micro and macro levels simultaneously.

    Or to put it another way and using language from James Kunstler, we’re living in the long emergency.

  3. adanac permalink
    April 14, 2014

    It is the corporations that call all of the shots and they are the 1%. Harper has been quietly working on the TPP which is, just another corporate give-a-way. This gives corporations, a hell of a lot more power. Every time corporations line up at the trough and, squeal for more money? Harper gives them another $60 billion in tax reductions. Harper steals from us to, give to the wealthiest outfits in the world. Corporations also demand, cheap labor. Harper has been bringing over cheap foreign labor, for the corporations to exploit. This is from fast food outlets, right to our resources and resource jobs. Canada has the highest cost of living, in all of the America’s. Foreigners send their money home. Their countries cost of living, is a fraction of Canada’s.

    Big business is also pushing for the NAU. They only want one government to work with, rather than three. Corporations will have their huge cheap labor pool if, the three countries merge. Harper is the front man for the NAU. That is why he is using every dirty tactic to win this next election, as he cheated to win the last election.

    However? Canadians are known for, sleeping through absolutely everything. Harper can count on that.

    With the dire reports coming out on climate change? Other countries could gang up on Harper and his oil and gas barons, to shut down the tar sands

  4. April 14, 2014

    Since it’s in the news again, here’s 1 month update on Crimea/Ukraine from my wife’s family/friends still living in Ukraine (Crimea/Yalta, Kharkov, & Kiev)
    –important to note that most of LOCAL east Ukraine police
    local east military side with the anti-neo-Nazi protestors & REFUSING orders from coup-led neo-Nazi gov in Kiev(who get only 10% of the vote in national elections),
    is why Kiev is trying to send in forces from west Ukraine(where the neo-Nazis get 30%-40% of the west Ukrainian regional elections & have successful Nazi SS theme restaurants).
    East/SouthEast Ukraine is industralized, more urban, more populated, & more educated majority & is pro-Russian almost like Crimea
    west Ukraine(rural, less populated poorer, less educated) is anti-Russia.
    Vast majority of Crimeans are HAPPY Crimea is part of Russia – from my family/friends who live in Crimea/Yalta report that:
    Why east Ukraine is pro-Russia:
    In Crimea, Russia has done these things to improve it & increase everyone’s standard of living:
    1) Their social security/pensions & gov salaries from teachers, doctors, nurses, civil service etc are going up– DOUBLING to Russian standards
    2) Over 66%-80% of Crimean Ukrainian military sided over to
    joined Russian military instead, their salaries
    pensions going up 500% to Russian standard & military pensions start at age 40 instead of age 60 as in Ukraine
    3) Russia is building new hospitals, schools, & other new infrastructure in Crimea, Russia has approved BILLIONS in new investment from gov spending & private investment also
    4) Crimean Economy is improving, with Russia directing new business purchases to Crimean companies, increasing hiring
    5) In contrast, Ukraine is still in recession with the new IMF/EU austerity already taking place, gas prices/heating already up 50%-80% .. will increase to 100% up later..
    6) in rest of Ukraine, Social security/pensions already cut in half 50%
    half of all social security/pensions aren’t even being paid since the Ukrainian gov is broke without the previous billions in Russian aid

    Why east Ukraine are protesting & against the neo-Nazi coup-led gov in Kiev:
    The neo-Nazi Svoboda & Right Sector gov in Kiev are putting in massive EU,IMF austerity & gov spending cuts, ranging from 30%-50% cuts in salaries for all gov workers
    50% cuts in social security/pensions, increasing public transportation costs & gas taxes by 50%,
    ending school kids free lunch programs & requiring all grades K-12 school kids buying their own textbooks
    increasing electricity, heating, & gas prices by 50%-80% with upcoming 100%+ prices hikes in the months to come
    Situation Report as of April 12 with more details from former hi-ranking officer(Major) NATO military intelligence officer/analyst who worked with the Pentagon as well as Russian hi-command in Moscow living in Russia for 15 years

  5. April 14, 2014

    “The ONLY country to do this was Iceland.”

    Perhaps democracy is sure to be corrupted above a certain population level. Or some population to representative(s) ratio.

    (In the U.S., the House of Representatives used to grow with the population, but that ended a hundred years or so ago.)

  6. April 14, 2014

    The vision of right wing elites is that 20 white male billionaires will own everything and rule the world with an iron whip. The vision of left wing elites is however completely different, in that not all the billionaires will be white men.

  7. Dan H permalink
    April 14, 2014


    I agree. I think size is extremely important. One of the reasons in think the US is fucked no matter all the rest… too damn big, too many cracks to exploit.

  8. EGrise permalink
    April 14, 2014

    Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed:

    Russian Fighter Jet Buzzed U.S. Ship

  9. Daniel permalink
    April 14, 2014

    Dan & Clark: Size, yes.

    And the elephant in the room, so to speak, is overpopulation. There was real discusison of overpopulation in the 60’s and 70’s, Club of Rome and all that. And now, with more than twice the population of that time, it is off the agenda. Mainstream media will not touch that issue – it is politically incorrect and one is accused of ethic profiling or curtailing people’s freedom of religion, or best yet, just believe the liberal solution of world development and wait for poor to reach middle class, when they will automatically curtail their fertility to have a higher standard of living. But by that time, this planet will be well and truly wrecked.

    But the reality is that we now are seeing ecological overshoot in many ways, from the obvious like ocean acidification, depleted groundwater aquifers and massive flooding (newscasts never mention deforestation when discussing floods in the Philippines). Consider long term misuse of aridlands, overgrazing and drought- in Syria, this caused impoverished people to abandon the land and head to the cities, resulting in conflict which developed as the current civil war. Or check out this recent article from AsiaTimes online:

    Conflicts and problems are always intrepreted in terms of politics, religion or the economy, never the underlying fact that there are just too many people in the world. But Gaia has a fever now, and she will sort this one out – and this too-clever primate which has caused so much trouble may not like the result.

  10. Celsius 233 permalink
    April 15, 2014

    @ Daniel
    April 14, 2014

    Conflicts and problems are always interpreted in terms of politics, religion or the economy, never the underlying fact that there are just too many people in the world. But Gaia has a fever now, and she will sort this one out – and this too-clever primate which has caused so much trouble may not like the result.
    Indeed; what was that old saw from the 70’s? It’s not nice to fool with mother nature…

  11. April 15, 2014

    @Daniel, @Celsius233
    Yes, the overpopulation problem will solve itself. It won’t be a pretty process. Ask the Anazazi.

  12. Dan H permalink
    April 15, 2014

    I think overpopulation is a problem, but I’m not at all sold on the hysterics. We could make staggeringly different choices which would have staggeringly different outcomes. My point re size is about these choices. I am doubting whether our species is capable of democracy beyond tribal sizes. And I think the system falls apart because gaming the system becomes easier as the size grows, as do the rewards. I’m all for a one world government… but that government wouldn’t have any power beyond recognizing basic rights. My view is ultimately more pessimistic than the typical overpopulation doomer, because that fear stems from technological and physical limits. I fear we are not wise enough to recognize our choices and accept their consequences. Too many of us would rather gamble.

  13. Celsius 233 permalink
    April 15, 2014

    @ Ian;
    … Thailand is in permanent turmoil.
    Alas, that is true. But, it’s also not so simple as that either. The majority of westerners rarely inform of other than their native culture and language; and thus all judgments fall from there. Thailand was established as a constitutional monarchy in 1932 and today the politics are not so different. Which is to say normal over those 82 years.
    If one is outside of BKK (and 1 or 2 other places), one hardly notices.

    That said, I liked and agree with your thread and your closing paragraph and sentence bear particular attention, IMO.

  14. batalos permalink
    April 15, 2014

    Hi, Ian, overall a good and very true post, but as for food affordability – this point becomes obsolete atm omo. Food prices heavily depend on the energy prices, particularly the oil prices, and our industrial agriculture system itself heavily depends on cheap hydrocarbons, which is more & more questionable down the road… Perifery countries not belonging to the world economy core and not having there own significant hydrocarbon reserves – they just lack the ability to import necessary amounts of hydrocarbons, the higher the price, the less affordable that option is. Water for irrigation adds complications. The Lord doesnt make more land anymore. Topsoils are degrading. Climate changing will exacerbate the problem (droughts, floods, pests moving to the new territories, unpredictability of the given year’s weather). Population is still rising (in the poorest contries – the most)… Yep, technically the world could afford cheap food for everyone – now. But the farer in the future the more difficuld that would become without some drastic measures that our world masters are not likely to implement…

  15. Ian Welsh permalink
    April 15, 2014

    I don’t live in Thailand, but I did visit a number of times back in the 80s. There were problems, they might have had the same core cause, but they weren’t as bad, and they weren’t roiling the capital. Still, I defer to the man on the ground.

    Agriculture is indeed very dependent on hydrocarbons, but there is more to it than that. The commoditization of agriculture into a few cash crops and the concommitent destruction of small farmers and subsistence farmers has vastly increased food insecurity by making countries which were previously food sufficient, food insufficient: in part because they moved from labor intensive, hydrocarbon light agriculture to hydrocarbon intensive agriculture producing goods not intended to be used in-country.

    There are specifics in each country, as well: the damming of the Nile, in Egypt, for example, was a vast mistake, imo, given how it ended annual floods. If I were in charge of Egypt I would be doing everything I could to figure out how to change that and keep my country powered.

  16. trish permalink
    April 15, 2014

    good post.
    one thing: the austerity driven destruction of countries may not be as bad as the militarily driven destruction (and massive profits to the elites from those too), but it is more insidious…presented as benign even beneficial (freedom! democracy! free market! and in the U.S., “making tough choices”) by the elites that profit and the mainstream media that parrots.

  17. Celsius 233 permalink
    April 15, 2014

    Ian Welsh
    April 15, 2014
    I don’t live in Thailand, but I did visit a number of times back in the 80s. There were problems, they might have had the same core cause, but they weren’t as bad, and they weren’t roiling the capital.
    Thanks for that reply.
    That may well be true; but the undercurrents were there; they are always there.
    As a westerner, I have to rely on my limited language acquisition for understanding. If you look at the history, its rarely been quiet for any length of time.
    1960’s communist insurgency (fascinating history), 1973 student uprisings, the Black May uprising, in 1992, and the financial collapse in ’97.
    Maybe most significant is the Thai refusal to sign the FTA with America.
    That gives me hope…

  18. April 15, 2014

    Dan H wrote “I am doubting whether our species is capable of democracy beyond tribal sizes. And I think the system falls apart because gaming the system becomes easier as the size grows, as do the rewards.”

    This is along the lines of what I was thinking, as well.

    At a certain population level, oration replaces plain one-to-one or one-to-a-few speech. At a larger population level, surrogates are employed to give speeches and walk precincts. In a large enough (and modern) arena, mass media advertisements take the place of human surrogates, and crowd manipulation techniques (and the money to spend on it) have more impact than reasoned debate or argumentation.

    I’m thinking that electoral districts in Iceland are so small that crowd manipulation failed, and reasoned debate won.

    Also, there is accountability. Icelandic legislators live in the same neighborhoods as their constituents.

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