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

When People and Societies Change

Machiavelli famously noted that men do not change.  Whatever they are like, whatever their normal personality and way of doing things, they stick to it. Fabius Maximus, faced with Hannibal, retreated to fortified fastnesses and refused to engage. This was the right thing to do, but when he once again had enough men, he still refused to engage. This is how Scipio Africanus wound up being the general to defeat Hannibal.

Gentle men who abhor violence rarely become violent when violence is necessary; violent men do not become peaceful when the times call for it, and so on.

In our own times, we see that politicians raised under neoliberalism are unwilling and unable to effectively use real Keynesian policies: They can’t “do” stimulus. When they try, they give the money primarily to the rich.

They grew to power by being neoliberals and faced with a new landscape, they cannot change. In France, we saw the main center-left party (really a neoliberal party) implode because it just would just change. Throughout the West, center-left neoliberal parties are dying for just this reason. The world has changed, but the people who run those parties cannot change.

In Britain, Labour may buck this trend, but if so it will only be because of luck: Those who gave Corbyn his chance to be leader say that had they known he would win the leadership, they would never have nominated him.

And Corbyn is a man who did not change, though there was a moment when he could have, when many others did.

People change when young or in the face of extended catastrophe.

This is as true of the large masses of people as it is of individual leaders.

By the time men and women are thirty, and often by their mid 20s, they are set. They have their personality, it has more or less worked for them. There is a world around them, run in a certain way, and they want it to keep running that way because that is the world they know how to navigate.

This is true even if their lives are bad, but stagger on. A bad adaptation to the world is preferable to most people to a radical change in either themselves or their world.

Most people, including most radicals, are innately conservative in the sense that once set, they don’t like to change.

People change or support real change when their lives or their world are truly intolerable, and generally when their lives or worlds are intolerable for a long time–years, often as much as a decade or more.

Or they change when something that is actually catastrophic occurs: The most recognizable caricature being the drunk who has no couches or friends left and wakes up in a ditch. The society, like Germany or Japan after WWII, which has lost everything and is prostrate.

Intolerable means truly intolerable: “Cannot tolerate this, will chew leg off to escape trap.”

This is one reason why I warned that Trump could win: Because there are many people who consider their lives or worlds intolerable. It is why Brexit won.

The unthinkable becomes thinkable when the status quo becomes intolerable.

In politics and economics, this happens when the status quo way of running the world, the ruling ideology (and there is ALWAYS a ruling ideology), fails to deal with an intolerable problem over an extended period.

I remember, in the seventies, the price of chocolate bars and comic books going from 25 cents to a dollar in less than two years. Vroom!

The post-war liberal era was entrenched and successful. It produced the best economy the West had ever seen. Ever. But it could not handle the oil shocks, and those oil shocks turned into stagflation (high inflation and high unemployment at the same time) and enough people who had been committed to post-war Liberalism (New Dealism) flipped over to the new Neoliberal consensus, though it wasn’t called that at the time, to give the election to Reagan.

This is because post-war Liberalism failed–for over a decade–to deal with the oil shocks. People got fed up, could not take it any more, so they went for Reagan.

The so-called Reagan Democrats.

And the most successful economic regime the world had ever seen at giving Europeans and Americans a good life (and which produced better growth in the 3rd world than our current system, putting China aside for good reasons), ended.

As conservatives noted, people picked up the ideas lying on the ground. Those ideas were stupid ideas, like the Laffer curve (the less you tax people the more you will receive in taxes), but they were the ideas available and they are the ideas people picked up.

People changed. Not everyone, but enough people.

The other way people change is just by being young. Neoliberalism, shit that it is, worked for a lot of people. A lot of people got reasonably wealthy off it because it raised asset prices massively, both in the stock market and in housing, and if you were in place or able to take advantage of those things, you got a lot of money doing basically nothing.

This is what old style economists referred to as “unearned income” and rentierism: Money you got for basically just being in the right place at the right time, without adding any real value.

So, even today, a lot of older people are for the status quo economically, because at some point in their life it worked for them.

And young people are not. They flocked to Sanders, they flocked to Corbyn, because that system has never worked for them. They are willing to change (if it can be called that) because they have not yet found a combination of personal strategy and world system that works for them.

On the other hand, youngsters were against Brexit, because their experience of the EU is positive: It lets them move around easily and get jobs anywhere in the EU, and that makes their lives better.

On the other hand, old left-wingers, like Corbyn, witnessed how the EU enshrined neoliberalism. Having been alive for the before-and-after, they tend to be leery of the EU. Their lived experience is that the EU helped destroy the old post-war liberal/socialist state.

The bottom line then is that the vast majority of people can only be brought to beliefs other than those held by their society and peers either when they are young, or after prolonged and catastrophic failure–either of their personal method for living life or of their society’s way of running the world.

We are now at the stage where these two forces are coming together. Our societies have failed to run themselves acceptably since 2008, and the youngs have no attachment to the status quo since it has never, ever worked for them.

Change is thus not only possible, it is now inevitable.

But what sort of change it will be depends on the ideas lying on the ground.

More on that another day.

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Under the Weather


Yellen’s Legacy Is Doing Nothing that Mattered


  1. Hugh

    The duopoly of the Democrats and Republicans have a stranglehold on the American political apparatus, and both are intellectually and morally bankrupt. So yes, the Republicans and Trump are awful, but the Democrats stand for nothing. Either way we are screwed, but they are the only choices we are allowed. They don’t change, can’t change, and most importantly have no interest in changing.

    So change will not come until it does, and it will come from outside. Just as revolutions are impossible until they happen.

  2. Hugh

    Also “prostate” should read “prostrate”.

  3. Croatoan

    There are a few of us, who stuck through and survived involuntary spiritual emergencies, that have changed despite the dualistic culture around us. This has kept me young and able to live a life without stress and with little money.

    I am past 50 now, and I try talk to young people exclusively. The older folks I talk to want to somehow keep their money and make more while trying to find some sort spiritual solace from the stress that money gives them, so I find them mostly unrecoverable.

    The dualist have ruled the world for a few thousand years, they are the phenotypical majority. When things get bad they come running to the dualists. Then they forget about us again. That is the pendulum of yin and yang.

  4. I find wisdom in Carl Jung and his theory of Psychological Type when it comes to understanding people’s behavior. Isabel Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs fleshed out his theories and developed a type indicator (not a test). After years of thousands of people taking this indicator, the MBI has the percentage of people who constitute the four main types. So NTs (intuitive thinkers) compose only 12% of the U.S. population and SJs (sensing judging) compose 38%. My guess is, and I’m sure the MBI has statistics that a good many SJs who are stabilizing traditionalists run our institutions. They are resistant to change. They are Guardians of the status quo. My other guess is that intuitive thinkers, of which I am one, hardly ever go into politics as it would be too boring and frustrating. Inventors, architects, stand up comics, engineers like to invent and build things not manage them.

    Jung also had a theory called “individuation”. Healthy mature adults after leading to their strengths in their twenties begin to explore the way other people think starting in their thirties. They try to get in other people’s shoes and try to understand why other people don’t see things the way they do. My guess/theory is that people that go to Washington never grow up and don’t want to get in anybody else’s shoes. John McCain is a prime example of a middle schooler who never grew up.

    So that might explain why they are intellectually bankrupt, as Hugh says. But how does the swamp attract so many weasels/predators? What makes them morally corrupt? I suppose if the swamp is the status quo backed up by bad ideas like Milton Friedman’s use of the shock doctrine when a crisis occurs, then people must think they have no other recourse than to become a weasel in order to survive.

    I did change starting gradually in 2006. I wasn’t paying much attention and just voted Dem. I even became a county chair. But I did not want to rise in the party if the price of admission was to become a party hack and weasel. So I left the party and began to really question everything I read or hear. And I make it a point to talk to Republicans and Libertarians and find out what they believe to be true. And read Naked Capitalism, Ian, and Moon of Alabama.
    One of my favorite movies is Alexander Payne’s “Election”. Where do most high school class presidents wind up? Washington.

  5. Ché Pasa

    The stranglehold the bankrupt parties have on the political, electoral, and governing system suggests the system itself is rotten to the core. Putting a different face on the rot doesn’t do anything about the rot at all — except perhaps make it worse.

    Elections have consequences to be sure, but those consequences are generally within a very narrow range and they almost never include more than token meat for the masses, and that includes the post-WWII era. Those who lived during the era know it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. That certainly was true during the New Deal as well, but you wouldn’t know it from all the hagiography of FDR and the perceived change of governmental focus between 1933 and 1940.

    Upshot? Propaganda works. That is until it doesn’t. Nostalgia for Better Times is a powerful force.

    As we’ve been reminded over and over, a rotten edifice can stand indefinitely. Sometimes I wonder if those who fantasize about the collapse of the Empire, or somehow making positive systemic changes through electoral processes have any understanding of the nature of the system we’re dealing with.

    The impetus to Empire is baked in. It’s foundational. It can’t/won’t go away because someone else is sitting in the Oval Office. The rebellions that have broken out around the world and which now and then gain some purchase domestically have actually strengthened the Empire rather than weakened it, and at least in their current iteration are not going to bring the Empire down. Instead, dozens and dozens of cities are being destroyed in an ever widening circle of destruction, their populations massacred or dispersed, and nothing substantive is done to stop or interfere with it.

    Instead, more and more is being done to interfere with and crush rebellion.

    The direct attack or attempts to capture the levers of power through elections is not working. Maybe something else is called for.

  6. We keep talking about the adage the “power corrupts,” but all too often disregard it when discussing governance, speaking as if the problem is that only people with evil intentions seek office, and that they do so for self-seeking reasons. I suspect that is sometimes the case but that it often is not. It is very often the case that a person enters office with good intentions, but after being reelected a few times gradually comes to have a sense that he is the master of those who elected him.

    I saw an excellent example of that in the governance of our homeowners association. The Board of Directors was dominated by a man who had been reelected as president for years and was a tyrant, running a cult of personality and directing the 145-unit complex as a personal fiefdom. He finally decided to move away and there was some turnover on the Board, with a man finally settling in as Board president.

    At first he was outstanding. Pleasant to all, open minded, providing fair treatment to all homeowners, and willing to listen to input and guidance from homeowners who had expertise to offer. After being reelected as Board president for eight consecutive years, he is manipulative, tyrannical, punitive to homeowners who disagree with his policies, runs a cult of personality, screams at homeowners in board meetings. He is, in all respects, a carbon copy of the tyrant from years ago, and will not be replaced until he ages out and decised to sell his house and move.

    Power corrupts, and our government is a case in point. We keep reelecting them, and any who entered office with good intentions fairly quickly lose those good intentions to the golden song of power.

  7. Willy

    There are American organizations dedicated to changing the current system of laws which encourages the success of the corrupt power player. Theoretically, if basic anti-corruption laws were enacted (and the hard part, enforced) those players would go elsewhere, be replaced, and integrity would ‘trickle down’.

    But then… as MM suggested, the number of people hardwired for identity tribalism far exceeds those who prefer rational skepticism. More indians than chiefs. More zombies than humans. Keeps society stable, I guess. That’s why I have an interest in things like Leah Remini’s struggle against the Scientology cult zombies, and how and why obvious sociopaths can be allowed to attain power.

  8. Willy

    One weakness about this place, IMHO, is a lack of discussion about personal political self-defense. Intelligent sociopaths instinctively know how to fight and will usually have those skills well-developed. But those with a strong sense of integrity are far less naturally capable that way, since that isn’t their natural born focus.

  9. realitychecker

    I recommend everybody read Donna Brazille’s hilarious she-a-culpa just posted in Politico.

    Hillary supporters, take a million aspirin and don’t ever call me out again. 🙂

  10. S Brennan

    Slight nit to pick Ian,

    The 1st neoliberal president was Carter*. Carter was my first vote, back then, I voted for the person as portrayed in the media, [raised in a newspaper town, I had been reading the papes since mid grade school]. Had I voted more strategically then, had I voted for Ford and had he won, we could have been spared the return to the gilded age. Ford, a Keynesian Republican would have blocked a Reagan accession in 1980 and the oil shocks, artificially created by the CIA, would have not achieved their purpose.

    But I was foolish and I bought into the “Democrats being the party of FDR”, when that reality had already shifted. As later history would reveal, there were already nihilists in the Democratic party who wanted a greater personal freedom than the stodgy GOP allowed for, but those nihilist also longed for the gilded age policies that would ensure their ability to rule over others, another freedom, the type of freedom the Caesars enjoyed.

    *How Reaganism actually started with Carter
    Think Reagan was the first modern president to preach low taxes, free markets and morality?

    *Neoliberalism refers to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century…. Early roots of neoliberalism were laid in the 1970s, during the Jimmy Carter…

    Though I was too far back in the baby-boom to benifet from FDRism, I listened to adults whose lives were, once desperate, made decent by the great man’s era. Those stories of redemption made a great impression on me, those people are now long dead and their understanding of the world gone. A sharp bard once said, progress is made one funeral at a time, but I would argue, that dark ages come from the same actuary tables, be careful what wish for.

  11. Yes, read the Brazille piece. It’s a Youzer! She calls out Clinton and Obama. I liken this to the thrashing and screaming of the dinosaurs as they sink into the tar pits. Get the popcorn. Brazille on DNC woes
    Margot Kidder wrote about the money laundering aspect last year. hillary victory fund

  12. @S Brennan
    I did the same thing not knowing what a neo-liberal Carter was. He deregulated airlines and trucking. 1979 Congress got rid of Federal usury laws which allowed banks to charge high interest. With wage stagnation, the workers started using credit and credit cards to buy things. Terrible.

  13. Sid Finster

    The Jesuits say that a person is who he is by the time he is four years old.

    This also jives with my observations.

  14. David

    S. Brennan,

    Yes, I heard those stories too. My father was brought up in poverty during the Depression and didn’t finish high school because he was needed to work. Then the second world war came, he enlisted and afterwards had his university and postgraduate studies paid by the government via the GI bill. All of his friends had similar stories and all despised Reagan and later the democrats. He told me that all those people hankering for a pre-FDR America had never lived in it which goes along with Ian’s point above.

  15. Memory

    “People change when young, or in the face of extended catastrophe.”

    Now that’s an aphorism if I ever read one. Excellent post, Welsh.

  16. S Brennan


    It’s hard to admit that one has been made a fool of…and I notice the vast majority of my fellows can’t do it, no matter how painfully obvious it becomes.

    I was made a fool of yet again in 2006, when [D]’s regained control of the government…and did nothing to stop the disastrous rise of the neocolonialist, indeed, they continued to give aid and comfort to them.

    Pelosi, when asked, came right out and said that they had no intention of using the [D]’s voter mandate to accomplish any reform, no matter how slight…the worse things got she said, the easier the romp would be in 2008…clever girl. I find today’s [D]’s a despicable lot.

    What about the Republicans, surely they are worse, we are asked, as if a choice between tyranny and despotism was the set of all things that are possible.

  17. Hugh

    Well, as Brazille helped rig the nomination for Clinton, she should know. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was always a Clinton shill, but the idea that Brazille wasn’t one too is revisionist. Brazille got pushed out of CNN after it came to light that she had given Clinton copies of the debate questions ahead of the first primary debate.

  18. @ S Brennan
    If more people would just say, “Wow, I’ve been conned. But no more, ” we would all be better off. I’ve tried that line in the local watering hole and it does actually worked. If you say it with conviction, others will follow.
    @ Hugh
    Do people really have such short memories that they forgot Brazille was an officer of the DNC and passed debate questions to Hillary? Oh and ran Gore’s losing campaign. And worked for Mondale and Gephardt. It always amazes me how people like Brazille never lose favor even with their bad track record and slimey ways. Must be that somebody higher up finds her useful.

  19. Ché Pasa

    The touching faith in our electoral and political systems’ ability to “correct” themselves if only the right candidates would appear and if only we, the voters, do the right thing for once in our lives, continues to fascinate me.

    In fact, the system itself produces the results we see and it will continue to do so — sometimes worse, sometimes less bad — no matter what we, the voters, do or don’t do.

    In any given election, our (viable) choices are extremely limited; and once elected, our public servants, including the president, are not prevented from betraying their constituents, regardless of their election season marketing campaigns. There are few substantive controls, and the ones that exist are easily circumvented. The inducements to betrayal are often overwhelming.

    That one voted for X because one believed X’s marketing, even if it was transparently false, and one vows never to do that again, is understandable, but it has little or no effect on election outcomes. We will still have a very limited range of candidates, and many will still be inclined — or persuaded — to betray their constituents.

    On the other hand, there are many good public servants whose ability to get things done on behalf of the public is severely limited.

    Even if the Revolution finally came, we would most likely still face similar or worse conditions.

    The only way I know of to change that situation is at small scale, and then only when the most predatory among the society are kept well away from the levers of power.

    As it is, the most predatory are often granted the greatest power.


  20. S Brennan


    Thanks once again for the revolutionary thoughts on how “learned helplessness” will change the world…so inspiring, no wonder you’re on hipster t-shirts world-wide.

  21. Tom

    The FDR consensus started breaking apart under LBJ. His decision to fight for the corrupt South Vietnamese Government caused stagflation as he failed to raise taxes for it and failed to intervene in decisive force, thus causing the worst of both worlds.

    If LBJ had walked away from Vietnam, written it off, the FDR consensus would have survived three more decades, the draft would have survived, and the American Public wouldn’t have apathetic voters.

  22. LD

    \”Lifelong differential stability of personality is generally quite low\”

  23. Ché Pasa


    If you can’t learn the way things really are and really operate, you’re never going to be able to make the changes you want or you think are needed.

    How do you think the neolibcon Rs and Ds have been able to make the changes in power, focus and emphasis they have and have been able to preserve and expand them as well as they have over the past 40 years? Through denial, ignorance and fantasies? No. They intimately understand how the systems work and they use that knowledge to their advantage, rigorously, relentlessly and — in many cases — destructively.

    Elections are almost a sideshow to their will to power. Have you noticed it doesn’t much matter to them who stands for election nor does it matter who wins. They will eventually all be brought to heel and serve the neolibcon paradigm. All of them. They may have different styles but that’s about it.

    Even when a crisis such as the unexpected election of Trump to the Oval Office occurs, there is no retreat and no surrender from the neolibcon paradigm. Instead, the crisis is used — effectively — to accelerate the negative processes that harm so many people that were already underway.

    Ask yourself how that situation came to be. How did such a hostile, negative and destructive paradigm become universally adopted in US and most western governments, and why is it almost impossible to dislodge? Why can’t it be overcome through elections?

    Could it be that’s not what elections are for?

  24. V. Arnold

    Jaysus f#*king Christ!!!
    When are ya’ll going to wake up and realize you’re being/you’ve been, had?
    There’s no second coming; there’s no rescue for debt relief.
    You’ve been set adrift in a stormy sea with no craft to help; you’re on your own.
    What do you do, when you’ve become lost in the woods?
    If you can answer that; you’ll be okay; not easy, but okay.

  25. Peter

    I’m waiting for someone to produce some truly new ideas about economics and politics that might have a chance of improving the future for young folks and older folks too.

    Seeing young people, however small the actual numbers, being conditioned to try and resurrect the old, dead and failed commie collective ideology is not progressive. Who truly believes that the new commissars will be any more evolved than the old ones were.

    The Revcom is supposed to start their peoples reolution this weekend which seems like odd timing with the announcement of the lowest new unemployment claims in 44 years along with the quick rebound of new jobs after the bad weather.

  26. S Brennan


    The killing of Kennedy by the security state was a blow to FDRism, but LBJ was every bit an FDRist as was Nixon, yeah Nixon. And yeah, Viet Nam was a disaster for the US in terms of social cohesion generally, but until we get to Carter, there is no effort to return to gilded age policies, sans mercantilism.

    It’s the Agency’s use of artificial oil price to create social turmoil & discontent that created the breech through which our modern day nihilists could seize control of the two party’s apparatus and return America to the shackles of the Gilded Age that it had once slipped away from. But in it’s modern form, the Gilded Age would be stripped of it’s only saving grace, mercantilism. Under this regime, labor would be helpless to resist their enslavement, they would compete against billions of impoverished peons, serfs and outright slaves in downward spiral of personal freedom. And if you haven’t “enjoyed” decade long poverty, you won’t understand it’s oppressive incarceration.

    To give credence to some of what you say Tom; Viet Nam years did produce an elitist class based cadre who felt military service was for the lower classes and resented, when the deferments were ended, that they were be revealed as hypocritical cowards. After all, people forget who “supported” the war at it’s inception, [spoiler alert, it wasn’t the working class, it was the best & brightest], when the draft suddenly included them, they needed some ideology that exonerated them from their high minded call for war.

    Milton Friedman [and his fellow ideological travelers] was tailor made for the need. Here was a man, well, at least in form; singing the Satanic verses of nihilism and central to his demonic enchantment was the ending of the draft. Why should people who start wars have their children fight in them he asked? Let the lower classes do all the heavy lifting he answered and suddenly, those who were labeled as hypocrites, had a philosophy that offered a fig leaf for their naked nihilism.

    But Tom; it was skyrocketing oil prices created through artifice that prepped the population for the idea that FDRism was a failure. There was simply no indication that the people in the country were rejecting the New Deal in 1972. The Agency ties to oil and in turn, the puppet dictatorships of the oil producing states is well documented, indeed, Obama’s mother was an Agency asset in just such a capacity. Oil has been used as an agent of social control for some time by the Secret State.

  27. Ché Pasa

    Peter’s flamethrower will make short work of the Snowflake Uprising scheduled for tomorrow; time TBA.


  28. XFR

    I’m still waiting for the racist TrumpHordes to rampage through the streets.

    Where are my TrumpHordes Che? You promised. I want my TrumpHordes.

  29. Tomorrow, X, tomorrow. Read the post. Tomorrow.

    I propose a new varient on Godwin’s Algorithm: the number of posts till Pieter gets here.

  30. Peter


    You’re mixing up your nutcases confusing the, now melted, snowflakes with the Maoist Revcom. The Soros backed snowflakes don’t want a revolution just enough mayhem to enable the turnover of the US to the NWO.

  31. Ché Pasa

    @Peter Pangloss

    Don’t you remember? George HW Bush already turned us over to the NWO. Fait accompli and all that. Soros won. A long time ago.

    Now you must fight the rising of… the Zombies of the Apocalypse? Hell if I know.

    Something something snowflakes! AntiFa! Run away!

    Stay safe. They’re coming for you…

  32. With a brand new hemp rope.

  33. Peter


    No good deed goes unpunished, I was just trying to clear up your confusion and inability to see the difference between these Maoists and your Stalinist friends.

    None of these groups worry me they are cheap entertainment. Ten Beers seeems ready to join in the mayhem but he’ll wander around aimlessly looking for hemp rope.

  34. Willy

    I’m waiting for someone to produce some truly new ideas about economics and politics that might have a chance of improving the future for young folks and older folks too.

    Few who economically survived the status quo gauntlet are waiting for new ideas. They can’t even admit why the Chinese are kicking our asses.

  35. New roll behind the seat of my truck.

  36. V. Arnold

    Ten Bears
    November 3, 2017

    Tomarrow, tomarrow; I love you tomarrow;
    you’re always a day away…

  37. V. Arnold

    Ugh; make that tomorrow…

  38. prepalaw

    The biggest change in my lifetime (am 74) is the destruction of the “public interest”.

    Remember JFK: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. You would be mocked by most Americans today, if you put that provocation to them with some seriousness.

    What happened to the concept of public education at low cost; the peace corps; fair dealing from public institutions free of politicization (IRS); foundations crafted in the name of charity but functioning as a profit enterprise for the founders. Today, everything is a business.

    All persons are fair game for predation. Government, owned by the strong and being used by the strong, to make the strong stronger and all others weaker. Who protects you and me from them – no one – you are all alone.

    People do change when they have nothing to lose. They will not just gnaw off their trapped leg. They know they are doomed with a peg leg if they return to the status quo. These people will become vectors for bigger change. It has not come that far as of 2017.

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