The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: The Twilight of Neoliberalism Page 1 of 10

Using Comparative & Absolute Advantage To Explain China’s Rise

Economists spend a lot of time talking about comparative advantage: France has just the right climate and land to make great wine, for example. In the Industrial Revolution England had good quality coal in just the right place. Germany has a lot of good industrial workers and craftsmen.

Most comparative advantage, however, is cost advantage. If it’s cheaper and you can produce it for less, it’s hard to compete against you.

Absolute advantage is different. Absolute advantage is when you are the only one who sells something other people want or need. For most of the 20th century if you wanted commercial airplanes you could only get them from the US or Europe or Canada (until Canada’s aviation industry was mostly destroyed in the 50s under threat from the President of the US.) Cars were available from the West and the USSR, then from Japan and Korea. Most advanced medicines were made only by the West, though India came on strong for a lot of generics towards the end of the century.

Absolute advantage is far superior to comparative advantage: you can charge much more.

This is the second article on the West’s situation via China. If you haven, read the first “You can’t run industrial policy or a war economy under neoliberalism.”

Absolute advantage can be created. The rise of England didn’t start with the Industrial Revolution, it started when England banned exports of wool to the Netherlands. Be clear, English weavers sucked in comparison, but it didn’t matter. England produced most of the wool, and if you wanted woolens, you had no choice but to buy them England, inferior thought they were at the start, or do without.

This sort of policy used to be fairly standard. When I was young Canada would not export raw logs or raw salmon, for example, but by the 80s we had begun to do so. African nations have recently started insisting on doing primary processing in country: refine the ore or hydrocarbons, tin the fish, and so on. It’s not the same as advanced manufacturing, but it captures more of the value. If you have a resource there is more demand than supply for, you can insist. Perhaps tinning or smoking fish in the US or Mexico saved ten cents a can, but so what, before fish farming there was never enough salmon.

The problem with absolute advantage, though, is it makes you lazy. When you’re competing on comparative advantage, you have to drive down costs or increase quality, or ideally both. People don’t have to buy your goods, so they have to be better or cheaper.

Now the problem is that for about two centuries the West has had absolute advantage. For most intents and purposes everything we made had absolute advantage outside the West. We had better weapons, machines, clothes, medicines, transport. Everything.

Japan was the first non-Western nation to catch up, but an island nation without significant resources, it couldn’t compete and was conquered and made into a satrapy. South Korea was given the same treatment, and allowed to industrialize, as was Taiwan.

I was a young adult when Japan roared in the 80s, but Japan was never a serious threat, simply because it didn’t have enough population. It was never going to unseat the US or Europe, only claim its place in the (still) Western system.

China is a different matter. The reason China is eating the West’s lunch is that it has overcome most of our absolute advantage and is now competing with us on comparative advantage: Chinese goods are cheaper and in some cases, like EVs, Chinese goods are better. This often isn’t a small difference: you can buy an EV in China for 14K, and it’s a decent car.

Further, China has a massive domestic market. Oh, incomes are still not as high in the West, but the population makes up for it, and Chinese industries mostly aren’t oligopolies or monopolies. In 2019 there were over 500 EV companies. As of 2023 there were still about a hundred. The competition was fierce. There is nothing like it in the west, where car companies are essentially an oligopoly, and don’t truly compete on either price or quality.

China moved up the technological chain. They actually practice competitive market capitalism much more than we do: their markets are closer to “free” than any western country’s. They have effective subsidies due to the exchange rate and direct government intervention, of course, but that’s not the key issue any more (though it was for a long time), it’s that they are genuinely better at manufacturing than we are, and more responsive to what buyers actually want.

Many nations in the West used to have competitive internal markets, with a myriad of companies competing, but under neoliberalism, and to be fair to a certain extent under Bretton Woods liberalism, they were replaced by oligopolies. The problem with real competition is that you might lose. Fake competition is far safer, and offers far better returns for the ownership and executive classes.

Until, of course, you run into companies which are used to real competition, and they eat your lunch and you scream to the government for tariffs and trade war.

Mind you tariffs aren’t a bad idea, but if they are to work, Western companies must actually become competitive again and they don’t want to do that, it’s too much like work. Nor, as I’ve noted before, is it easy for them to do. Internal rent in the West is very high, and thus so is the cost of living. If they’re involved in a trade war, they have to sell to their own citizens, but the only way they know to reduce prices is to crush wages and if they do that, well, the internal market isn’t what it needs to be. (This is what FDR and Keynes realized, which is why New Deal and post-war capitalism emphasized having wages rising faster than inflation. It created a robust market.)

Offshoring anything another country doesn’t already know how to make is stupid, because when you offshore the locals learn how to make what you offshore and eventually they make it themselves for themselves and compete with you. “Friendshoring” can’t work, it can only crate new competitors with lower costs.

The days of the West’s absolute advantage are over. We threw it away for a few decades of high profits funneled to elites, and now we must learn to compete on comparative advantage again, something we mostly don’t have and aren’t used to being necessary.

It’s the bed we made and we have to lie in.

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You Can’t Run Industrial Policy OR A War Economy Under Neoliberalism

Washington spent 7.5 billion dollars on charging stations. The result?

Seven stations.

China has subsidized charging station as well. I can’t find reliable figures, though one source says around 10 billion dollars. How many charging stations does China have? Over seven million, 2.2 million of which are public units. The US has 186,200.

Meanwhile Tesla has abandoned its charging station subsidiary, selling it off and had plenty of complaints, while they owned it, of stations being out of service. Bottom line Chinese EVs sell for about eleven to twelve thousand dollars, though when sent to the West the companies charge multiples of that and take the profits, so if you want a cheap EV you’ll have to figure out how to buy in China and import it yourself, which most Western countries make very difficult.

What’s amusing is that the US is planning on a 100% tariff on Chinese EVs—but even so, they’d still be cheaper and sell at a profit for Chinese EV makers. (As a practical matter, it’s very hard to get Chinese EVs in America.)

A western journalist specializing in EVs went to China recently and drove their cars. The article is long and worth reading, but the summary is that they’re better cars on top of being far cheaper. And this is an American journalist who went in expecting otherwise.

So, let’s fish and cut bait: as the title said, you can’t run industrial policy or a war economy under neoliberalism. It’s impossible. Russia easily and massively increased its production of weapons and ammunition during the Ukrainian war. The West? Hardly at all.

Washington spends 7.5 billion for 7 charging stations. This isn’t just incompetence, this is corruption. Yes, China and Russia have corruption. Lots of it. It is nothing compared to American and European corruption, not even on the same scale. In China, especially, most corruption is “honest corruption” — you can take a slice, but you have to actually deliver. If X number of homes or charging stations are to be produced, you’ve got to produce them.

This is a feature of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is about unearned profits. This is seen most clearly in the stock market and in real estate. During the post-war period the stock market traded sideways. The indices basically didn’t go up at all. Under neoliberalism they went up inexorably. What is odd about this is that during the post-war period GDP growth was higher, so stock prices haven’t been rising since 1980 because of better economic performance, but rather because it’s government policy run mostly thru the Federal Reserve.

But this isn’t just true of housing and stock prices, it’s true of almost everything. Profit margins have soared during the neoliberal era. Our companies don’t compete on price or quality, they try to create oligpolies or monopolies so that they can charge more without having to provide significantly more value. The way they took advantage of Covid to raise prices far faster than their costs were rising is instructive.

Simply put, neoliberalism is about unearned money: about capital gains; PE plays where you buy a company with debt, load it with the debt and then dump it; monopolies and oligopolies and getting government to juice asset prices or pay you far more than you deserve for shoddy goods (see mil-industrial complex.)

There are, of course, partial exceptions, but even in those tend to be partial. Apple produced some real new products, but they also seek to receive monopoly prices for them. Almost all of the internet, built as a commons, has been turned into walled gardens and the small producers marginalized even as their product was stolen. AI is little more than an IP theft machine against small producers—writers and artists.

But let’s move back to “can’t run industrial policy.” Neoliberalism was very explicitly against tariffs and for free capital flows. Money flowed to the highest returns, no matter from which country. Capital goods and expertise were exported. China until very recently was a low-cost producer, so the West engaged in labor arbitrage and sent the manufacturing floor there. Take Apple, for example. They designed the iPhones and iPads and so on, but they were almost entirely produced in China, because it was cheaper.

Problems is that the best way for engineers to learn is on the manufacturing floor. So as the West sent most of its manufacturing to China, the Chinese learned. After all, they were the ones actually making the goods.

And now Huawei’s phones are out-competing Apple and Samsung. They’ve created their own OS. Their chips aren’t quite as good yet, but they’re moving fast.

As I’ve said repeatedly, wherever the world’s manufacturing floor is, is where innovation will inevitably move. There is a delay. It was about forty years when America overtook the UK. In the China/US case it seems to have been about twenty years. Which is to say, it’s already happened.

Now it’s important to note that this is no longer just about the manufacturing floor. The West’s costs are genuinely higher than China’s even now that China is no longer a low-cost labor market.  This is a feature of neoliberalism: we deliberately produced high housing and rent costs. In America, high health care costs are a deliberate matter of government policy. High living and real-estate costs mean American firms couldn’t compete with Chinese even if they wanted to and still had the capability, not even with subsidies, of which there are far more than people believe.

For about six years, I’ve heard constant complaints from Chinese that it was no longer possible to buy a home. Their housing market, like ours, was being bought up by investors, pricing out young people.

What was the Chinese response? They crashed their housing market and the government has stepped in. (From the Economist. Since it’s behind a paywall, I’m using a tweet with a screenshot):

We can’t compete with this. It’s impossible. Not because it’s impossible in theory, but because we don’t believe in doing such things and to pursue such policies we would have to hurt rich people, a lot, and they own Congress and the Presidency and our politicians in other countries.

China has repeatedly shown that if a policy is good for the majority, but hurts the rich, they’ll do it anyway. We’ve repeatedly shown the opposite.

And you can’t run industrial policy or a war economy if you want fake profits based on not actually producing good new goods at cheap prices. It can’t be done. If an entire society is based around “give me money for the least possible effort”, you’re cooked

China’s government, while not without serious flaws, works, and ours doesn’t, and that’s because China has refused to let private interests take over the government.

China is a capitalist country, there is no question about it. But the sort of capitalism they practice is the type we practiced in the 50s and 60s. You can get rich, but you have to actually produce and incomes are expected to rise faster than the cost of goods. Ordinary people’s lives are expected to get better. So much so that one Chinese I know said that many of the problems of China were essentially those of a paperclip optimizer which was intended to reduce poverty.

The West is toast. We can’t compete. It’s that simple. To compete we will have to change significantly, and while putting up tariffs isn’t actually a bad idea, it’s not enough alone. Without changing our fundamental governing and economic policies and ideology so that to get rich and stay rich you have to actually make good cheap new products in a way that improves the majority’s lives, we will never be able to compete.

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America Flails, Resorting To Ineffective Sanctions Over and Over

This has been a theme, but let’s keep nailing it shut.

My favorite recent news was this beauty:

Russia would struggle to sustain its assault on Ukraine without China’s support, Blinken said. “If China does not address this problem, we will,” he added, in a possible reference to sanctions against Chinese businesses involved in the trade with Russia.

China wants Russia to win, or at least not lose the war and needs Russia as a secure ally so that it can’t be encircled or blockaded. Russia has the food, minerals and fuel that China needs, and naval power can’t embargo supplies.

As for the effect of sanctions, well, what’s the line? “Don’t threaten me with a good time?” The effect of sanctions on China has been to make China stronger in almost every way.

Back in 2015 Xi decided on a ten year plan “made in China 2025.” The US hated it and sanctioned large chunks.

The results?

the analysis confirms that more than 86 per cent of these goals have been achieved, with some others likely to be completed later this year or next. Meanwhile some of the targets, such as electric vehicles (EV) and renewable energy production, have been well surpassed.

We all know that the Huawei and anti-chip sanctions have backfired completely. China now owns the legacy chip market and is making rapid progress in advanced chips. It created its own OS, bypassing Google, and has put out phones as advanced as those made by US and South Korean companies. The iPhone market share in China, one of its most important markets, is cratering.

Chinese EVs are crushing: they cost far less than Western ones (though when sold in Europe, they are marked up hundreds of percent) and the car market in China is now dominated by Chinese vehicles, where in 2015 foreign autos were preferred.

As for Blinken’s threats, the Chinese ignored them, and the US did, indeed, sanction.

Boo hoo.

Meanwhile, China has been selling Treasuries at a record clip.

China has decreased its Treasuries holdings from $849 billion to $775 billion between the beginning of Q2 2023 and Q2 2024, reaching its lowest holdings since 2009.

Can you say “reduction of exposure?” Sure you can.

At the same time, a number of African countries have removed their gold stockpiles from America. It seems that stealing Russia’s reserves for geopolitical reasons has consequences.

The largest economies in Africa and the Middle East are withdrawing their gold reserves from the United States.
Starting in 2024, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Algeria and Saudi Arabia have decided to withdraw their gold reserves from the United States.
It should be noted that South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria are the largest economies in Africa.

Huh.

Let’s circle back to the “sanction China for trading with Russia” imbroglio. Russian foreign minister Lavrov had something to say about that:

“Russian-Chinese trade and economic cooperation are actively developing, despite the persistent attempts of the states of the collective West to put a spoke in the wheels,” Lavrov said. “There has been an almost complete de-dollarization of bilateral economic relations. Today, more than 90% of mutual payments have been transferred to national currency,” he added.

“Interaction in the energy sector is steadily advancing. The supply of our agricultural products to the Chinese market is growing. Joint projects are being implemented in the investment and industrial areas. The mutual benefit from such cooperation is clearly felt on both sides of the Russian-Chinese border,” Lavrov concluded.

Are sanctions working outside of China/Russia? Not in the near region. Lavrov again:

Despite the threats that our partners have received from the US and the European Union not to cooperate with the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus under pain of so-called secondary sanctions and other penalties, trade flows across the CIS are growing. [Trade] edged up by more than six percent last year, amounting to over $100 billion.”

Now let’s talk more generally. Every sanction is an imposition of geopolitical risk. Everyone in the world understand this: cross the US or Europe, in any way, and they will sanction you. If you use the US/European financial system, these sanctions can hurt. The way out is to move away from that system—to create another one, where transfers never touch the US or Europe.

So every sanction increase the incentives to create that system and move to it. Parts are already created, more will be and in the end there will be two major financial networks: one Western, one for the rest of the world. The effect on Western prosperity will be significant, though there will be advantages to Westerners not in the elite, as it will crush rent extraction by financial elites. (Though no doubt they’ll simple double down on domestic rent extraction.)

We are living thru the end of the Euro-American era. The end of centuries of dominance. It’s fascinating, but the consequences will be vast. Understand that it’s happening.

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The Level Of American Foreign Policy Incompetence

Is breathtaking. Brzezinski was Carter’s National Security Adviser. In 1997 he wrote, not long after the fall of USSR, that:

Potentially the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia and perhaps Iran, an ‘anti-hegemonic’ coalition, united not by ideology but by complementary grievances. . . . Averting this contingency . . . will require a display of US geostrategic skill on the western, eastern and southern perimeters of Eurasia simultaneously.” — Zbigniew Brzezinski

It’s sort of hard to do commentary on this, because of the jaw dropping, head-banging stupidity of it all.

I don’t like US foreign policy after WWII thru the late 60s, but it wasn’t brain-dead. Evil, often, but not stunningly stupid. Nixon was a terrible person, but his “opening of China” was smart and policy after him thru to Bush the Elder was, while not good, or smart, was at least not always stupid.

But since then American policy has been brain-dead. Making Russia into an enemy. Making Iran into an enemy. Shipping America’s industry to China so that a few oligarchs could get richer for maybe two generations. None of this was necessary, for decades polls in Iran showed that Iranians had positive views of America. Russia was so enamored of the West that Putin, in his early years, begged to be let in.

But the US had greed and grudges. The Russkies were always bad and the Iranians had humiliated America, so there could never truly be cooperation and peace and trade which was designed to benefit both side.

And so America lost its global hegemony, precisely by doing what it was repeatedly warned not to do: unite the greatest Asian powers against it.

American and Western elites in general aren’t suited to run lemonade stand, let alone countries or an Empire.

Imbeciles, specialized only in self-promotion and accumulated money which will be worth one-tenth what it used to be when the Empire collapses.

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The Sun Sets Slowly—Then Quickly

And there are moments when you realize it is setting:

The people of the mountain have checkmated the people of the sea. As commenter VietnamVet wrote:

The Five-eyes Oceanic Empire is dying before our eyes. UK, Canada, Australia, and the USA (let alone New Zealand) simply do not have armament or manpower to occupy Yemen to push the Houthi back far enough from the Gate of Grief at the mouth of the Red Sea to reopen the Suez Canal to western shipping. A global logistic choke point has closed. The second, the Panama Canal, is limiting ships due to the drought.

The American and UK navies both have manpower shortages. When the aircraft Carrier Gerald Ford left the region, it was already vastly undermanned:

In the face of a massive shortage of Navy sailors, America’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), has downsized, cutting the crew aboard by hundreds of sailors.

The cuts appear to be deep and dramatic. Over the past six months to a year, some 500 to 600 sailors have left the USS Ford and not been replaced. In fact, the USS Ford has shed so many crew members that the ship’s company (core crew members that operate the vessel) is now below the Ford-class Carrier Program’s original Acquisition Program Baseline objective of 2,391 billets—a goal set back in 2004 that many observers considered unrealistic.

On top of this, ships can only store so many missiles. Every missile salvo reduces the amount of time before they have to return to base. America and Britain have been sending vast numbers of missiles to Israel and Ukraine and western manufacturing capacity is vastly below what is needed to refill stocks.

Meanwhile the Yemenis live in a mountainous country and their missiles are all mobile. It is impossible to take them out just with naval power: boots on the ground are necessary: a full invasion and occupation, in fact and that just isn’t happening: the US might be able to do it by going all out, but it would have nothing left for anywhere else.

So fundamentally, the US can’t invade and it can’t stop the Yemenis from shooting missiles. It might be able to bomb a lot, but that won’t stop the Yemenis: the endured one of the longest and most brutal bombing campaigns of the last hundred years just recently.

The US — the West, doesn’t have deterrence. We can’t do anything to the Ansar Allah which will make them back down and we don’t have the ability stop them by main force.

Trying to stop them by main force has made the situation worse: now even more vessels can’t enter the Red Sea—commercial cargo lines are not going to chance being shot up.

America is a naval empire. It, like the old British empire, rests on being able to keep the shipping lines open and on using naval power (and air power) to hurt nations while those nations can’t fight back. In the 19th century the Brits would park ironclads off the coast and just pound cities, and there was nothing those cities could do in return.

This is, then, one of the key moments in the end of Western hegemony. The point at which we no longer have deterrence; at which we can no longer “big foot” other nations.

The end of Western dominance is close, very close. I can taste it, like a hint of salt on a sea breeze. The Chinese are only behind in a few technological areas. Once other nations can get everything they need from China/Russia and other lesser nations they will be free to throw off the Western order, because the new and improved missiles make “stand off and bomb” far less effective than it used to be.

They don’t have to be scared of us, and soon they won’t need us.

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The Anti-China Chip Jeremiad Is The Stupidest Policy Imaginable

So, if at first, or second, or third, or tenth you don’t succeed, try try again. The Netherlands, under heavy pressure, has canceled already approved sales of ASML lithography machines to China.

The leadership of ASML had resisted these sanctions because they said it wouldn’t work: what would happen is that China would learn how to make the machines themselves.

What he didn’t say, but it is true, is that ASML would not just lose the Chinese market, they would eventually lose the world market anywhere that didn’t put high tariffs on China or ban Chinese ASML machines, because when China learns how to make their own they will inevitably be cheaper, and the quality will catch up at some point.

Sanctions work on weak nations. They do not work on strong nations, or on nations which have strong friends. Russia sanctions might have worked if China and India and most of the South had gone along, but since China was never going to let Russia be destroyed, and since Russia produces all the fuel and food and most of the minerals it needs, plus still has a fair bit of advanced and heavy industry, especially arms manufacturing, it was never going to happen.

Sanctions against China are insanity. All they do is accelerate local production.

The thing is that before the sanctions most Chinese majors preferred US or South Korean designed chips. They were considered better and more reliable. Executives would not buy Chinese chips, even when they were available.

But when the US first launched its chip sanctions they were clearly trying to take out Huawei, one of China’s largest companies.

Being reliant on western chips went from the safe choice to the insanely risky choice and China, both private and public, spent vast sums and made huge efforts to build their own chip industry (including lithography machines are alternatives.)

There was a small window to turn this around when Biden was elected, but he doubled down on sanctions.

This needs, I think, some unpacking.

I don’t like to reach for arguments are about racism, but there’s a weird assumption in the Western ruling class that the West is just superior to everyone else: that our technological lead was somehow innate and inevitable and eternal.

Given that China had the tech lead over the entire world for a couple thousand years (or may 1,500 before which it was India or Ancient Greece and before that it was always Mesopotamia or Egypt) this seems strange. Europe took the tech lead for complicated reasons, both China screwing up and European events which were historically contingent and mostly not planned.

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A full discussion is beyond the scope of this article (and fills many many books) but “Why Europe and not China” is its own genre.

But nobody with any sense thought it was because Europeans or those of European descent are innately superior to Chinese.

I’m a broken record on this, but where the industrial base goes, the tech lead goes, at least in the industrial era. Pre-industrial it’s a bit more complicated, but it’s not an awful guideline, the exceptions tend to be transient, but they do exist (the ancient Greeks were insanely advanced) and they tend to occur where there are is a group of constantly competing small nations, which is the over-simplified explanation for European pre-industrial revolution technological advancement and also explains the massive leaps China took during warring states periods.

But if you don’t have a forced competition between near equals who know they can’t sit still or a genuine breakthrough (the industrial revolution) or both, then the more normal processes mean that where the industrial base is, so goes the tech.

Now, sanctions against China would make sense IF and only IF, you were going to take advantage of them immediately. In other words, go to war or make really radical changes to try and re-industrialized.

How radical? Well, my estimate is that if the US wants to re-industrialize it needs to drop housing and rental prices by about two-thirds, and forbid all excess profits on any product which isn’t new, say less than ten years old (and a new model is not new. Smarthone producers should have been allowed to gouge on smartphone prices for ten years after the first iPhone, for example.) No food gouging, no pharma-price gouging on medicines decades old, and so on.

The US (and Europe) need a crash, not in living standards, but in price structures. That means the people at the top need to become a lot less rich, very very fast. Social welfare isn’t a problem, actually, letting ordinary people have a backup so they can take risks and start new companies is a good thing, and so is forcing companies to really compete for employees. Tech advancement and economic growth was far better in periods with when the US had more generous welfare systems.

Obviously these policies are extremely radical, and equally obviously, America isn’t going to pursue them, so anti-China sanctions are basically pointless and actually accelerate their tech progress.

China now has the lead in more techs than not. That’s not going to change: it’s going to get worse. When the US sent its industrial base to China that became inevitable because all “end of history” bullshit was, in fact, bullshit. Capitalism doesn’t require representative democracy and neither does fast technological progress. (It doesn’t need capitalism, per se, either, but that’s the only solution we know and it was necessary for China to do capitalism to get the industrial base transfer. Also, again, another book sized topic.)

Anyway, again, anti-China or Russia sanctions increase the speed with which they catch up in tech, not decrease it. The Russia sanctions could have been justified if they let Ukraine win, but obviously they didn’t, and it should have been obvious at the time they wouldn’t because of China’s very good reason for not allowing them to work.

Our leaders, still only good at making themselves richer, worthless for all other purposes. And, in the end, the policies they pursued to make themselves rich will just turn them into the people running shithole countries which don’t much matter.

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What Was Important In 2023

From most to least.

Climate Change Tipping Point

2023 is the year when climate change appears to have moved from linear to self-reinforcing in a big way. This was the tipping point many of us have been waiting for. Because of how movement between points of stability works, it may flip back and forth a few times, but this is the future. We had 30C weather in the middle of southern winter. Droughts. Vast forest fires. Way less ice in the arctic than their should have been, and so on.

I suspect that the point where we could stop climate change with anything short of massive geo-engineering (and I am not endorsing geo-engineering) is now past. Before, the problem was politics. Now it’s physics, chemistry and biology.

As I always note, environmental collapse is just as important, and 2023 also so a collapse of Alaska fisheries and continued degradation of coral reefs, insects, birds, and pretty much everything else.

Climate change and environmental collapse, when historians look back at this period, will be seen to outweigh everything else by a couple magnitudes, at least. Everything else is a footnote, except in in in understanding how it contributed.

Covid Continues And Long Covid Numbers Keep Moving Up

Yeah, almost no one’s paying attention, but a pandemic which is also mass disabling event and which we’ve given up even trying is one of those brute facts which matters whether you believe it does or not.

Huawei and China Handle the US/Euro Sanctions

All those chip sanctions didn’t stop Huawei in the end. They made a top end phone. China became better and better at making their own chips, and even the US forcing an end to exports of the best chip lithography machines won’t matter. China is now ahead of the US and Europe in more fields of science and engineering than it is behind in, and catching up fast in those few.

Russia Sanctions didn’t work

Notice a theme here? With the support of China, India, Iran, and the Global “South” Russia did just fine. In fact, sanctions have lead, as they did in China, to increased industrial progress and “teching-up”. Western sanctions also finally forced Russia’s oligarchs to stay at home and invest in Russia.

Russia Sanctions Did Hurt Europe / Europe’s Continued Decline

Lots of energy intensive industry had to move out of Europe over the last couple years, since replacements of Russian energy cost a lot more. Meanwhile the EU is no longer a scientific leader: China, the US, Japan and South Korea are all moving much faster. Europe’s in decline, probably terminal decline, in the sense that there’s no effort being made to do the right things to reverse it. Africa’s rebelling and kicking the French out, since they don’t need France any more as they have China.

BRIC Expansion

The BRICS are now the most important trading bloc. It isn’t close, actually.

Movement Away From the US Dollar

As everyone with half a brain has expected for a long time. Slowly, then quickly. The US dollar is still number one, but a lot of deals are now being cut in other currencies, including for petroleum products. This will continue, and you can discount all the garbage about how it’s impossible. Once it was impossible that the British Pound would be replaced. This will still take some time.

This is, almost 100%, happening so soon because of US sanctions, especially freezing so much Russian money. Money that the US can and will just take away whenever it feels like makes other countries twitchy.

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Ukraine Lost The War

Yes, there’s still a lot of shooting to go, but the failure of the counter-offensive and the fact that Russia has more manpower,  and that it and its allies can produce far more weapons and munitions than Ukraine and NATO mean the war is lost. It may go one for another couple years, but peace will made on Russian terms at the end. This was predictable day one (and I did) but now it should be obvious to everyone whose job or emotional integrity doesn’t require them to ignore the obvious.

The Gaza War

What’s interesting about this is that Israel isn’t winning. Oh, it’s committing genocide, but it’s not winning. What’s also interesting is that the US can’t bigfoot Yemen, because as I pointed out over a decade ago, the new generation of weapons are cheap and can easily be afforded by and made by third tier powers. A movement as fundamentally weak as the Houthis can tell America to bugger off. Missiles and drones aren’t just weapons of the rich and powerful any more.

Continued Collapse Of American Elite Consensus

The various prosecutions of Trump, all by Democrats, and the efforts to keep him off the ballot indicate America’s elite consensus is breaking down. This is low on the list because it’s just a continuation of previous trends. And no, it wasn’t actually started by Democrats: the theft of the 2000 election (and yes, it was stolen), and the attempted insurrection at the capitol were Republican.

In a way what’s happened is that the Democratic party is finally fighting back. They are no longer willing to just let Republicans do what they want. but Republicans aren’t backing down either, and so the elite is splitting. We’ll see how it plays out, but historically it’s either resolved by someone winning resoundingly and creating a solid new coalition around a shared ideology (FDR, for example) or by civil war.

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Welcome to 2024. It’s unlikely to be a better year than 2023.

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National Futures In The Age of China & Collapse

The baseline is that China is now the dominant economic power: the greatest great power. This is not evident to everyone yet, it will be soon. They produce more science, are ahead in most technological areas and have the largest industrial base. I’ve written about this plenty, so I’ll leave it at that.

The next baseline is that we have three onrushing issues: climate change, ecological collapse and running out of various resources. The third isn’t obvious to most people yet, but it will be. China has won the lead horse position on a style of life and economy which is genuinely unsustainable, in the sense that continuing to run our economies on planned obsolesence: building lots of stuff to just throw it out in a few years, cannot be sustained because it’s destroying the conditions which allow for human life and a predictable economy.

This doesn’t mean that taking lead horse isn’t useful to China: if they have sense they can use all that industrial capacity and scientific and engineering expertise to speed thru the necessary transition. So far they aren’t, beyond some steps towards the renewable electrical economy, which is necessary but insufficient.

To put it simply, civilization collapse is on the way. Everyone is going to be hit by it, even China and America. I’d expect China to hold on longer than most, unless there’s an early inundation of their croplands in the North, but by 2070 to 80 at the latest, China will be in warlordism again.

However, let’s run thru some shorter term notes about various nations.

Europe is in terminal decline. Maybe a few parts will avoid this, but they are no longer leaders in new science and engineering (China, the US, Japan and South Korea are all ahead of them) and are losing their industrial base because of their high input costs, primarily energy. Making Russia their enemy is costing them their legacy heavy industry, since American energy costs much more than Russian.

Of the major European countries, the UK is in fastest decline, since they sold all their industry long ago and decided to try and live off finance but the entire subcontinent is moving back to its usual place in Eureasian affairs: a backwater.

India isn’t going to make it. Sorry, too many internal problems, too little time. To much corruption and the authoritarianism is clumsy and stupid (there is smart authoritarianism, India is not practicing it) and climate change is going to hit India fairly hard and early. But overall, the signs of takeoff aren’t there, and there isn’t enough time. India will be broken up by 2050 to 2060 and 2035 to 40 is entirely possible: when they have real crop failure, they will have famines which kill hundreds of millions and cause vast violence and displacements. And they are going to have vast crop failure.

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South Korea and Japan are the American allies which actually matter. Everyone else is meaningless. These two countries still have industrial bases and fast scientific and engineering advancement. In per capita terms South Korea is first in the world, Japan is second. For now they’re fairly firmly on the US side, but if China is smart and willing to cut them a good deal and they’re smart, they make their peace with the other side. The sooner they do this, the better deal they’ll get.

Russia was done a vast favor by western sanctions, which have forced its oligarchs to actually spend money at home and which has allowed Putin to create new oligarchs based on seized western assets. No more wasting money on British football teams. The Russians are working hard on civilian aviation, they’ve vastly increased their military industrial output and in general sanctions have forced them into industrial policy. Their risk is being swamped by China, and they will have to be smart and cut deals where China lets them keep and extend certain industries.

Saudi Arabia and the oilarchies are screwed. They’ll have their little days in the sun, but they have no real industry or research and aren’t going to be able to ramp up enough. As the age of oil ends, and it is, they will fall into well-earned obscurity and meaninglessness. The only one which stands a chance is Iran, since sanctions forced it to create its own industries. As with Russia and pretty much everyone else, they’ll have to cut a deal with China to keep and extend that industry, but as early allies, that’s easily doable if neither they nor the Chinese get too stupid.

The Developing Nations have a window in which to cut good deals with China. I wrote an entire article on how to cut good deals with China, so I’ll leave it at that. If they don’t, well, the new order will still be more friendly than the late neoliberal order, but most such nations are not in a position to handle climate change and ecological collapse well. It’s going to be ugly. That said, for a few, there will be an opportunity to come out the other side comparatively much better off.

Overall we are moving into a period like that from 1914 to 45 or any other major power reset: the old power is falling, the new power has risen. America was actually ahead of Britain by 1890, and it took quite a while for the British to fall, but this isn’t an exact analogy, because in this case the old and new powers are in conflict and there is an onrushing global near-apocalypse.

There’s only so much time left before everything starts falling apart in ways which can’t be ignored. Smart nations and smart people will use that time to prepare.

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