We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Monday, August 24, 2009

All Major Problems that Affected Soviet Union also Affect United States Today

United States did not have any serious national introspection when its rival for hegemony collapsed. It thus found itself trapped in a very Soviet ideological bubble and economic difficulty. 

When the world's only supposed superpower starts coughing up blood and seems to not even have the political will to provide 1/6th of its citizens with healthcare, it's hard to not compare it to another federal union whose multitudes of small problems led to a spectacular demise. It may seem counter-intuitive to say that USA has Soviet Union's ailments (due to supposed enormous differences in the degree of state capitalism) but comparisons become eerie once they start being made.

1) Structurally and logistically determined inability to satisfy consumer demand for better and more accessible healthcare, education, and healthy food. Economic priority is on building, maintaining, and expanding vast conventional and thermonuclear weaponry rather than on improving quality of life for all Americans. Political leadership tolerates increasing suffering of the citizenry and deterioration of infrastructure to maintain military power projection capabilities abroad.

2) Rigid ideological indoctrination of most of the population and public officials that prevents pragmatic discussion on the highest levels concerning modernization efforts. All serious talk of modernization is instinctively seen as treasonous by military and major party leadership who have vested personal interests in perpetuating the status quo. Not only is state orthodoxy not questioned by major media but there is full support of efforts to violently spread American style socioeconomic organization abroad.

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3) Deteriorating food quality due to the architecture of means of food production and distribution. Inability of subsidized state capitalist enterprises to provide fresh non-adulterated produce. Rise in popularity of decentralized small farms to fill holes in supply by large, inefficient, and increasingly hazardous state supported large farms. Situation is still not bad enough for homeowners to grow food on small plots of land yet.

4) Severe military overexpansion overseas. The state is going broke supporting numerous satellite regimes in South America, Asia, Central Europe, and Middle East through maintenance of hundreds of bases and conventional deployments.

5) Lack of frank discussion on national problems since they are not allowed by a handful of state subsidized media conglomerates that provide most of the information to the citizenry (they have vested interests in the status quo just like political and military leadership does). Severe self censorship by news outlets that do not deviate from the party line in any meaningful way.

6) Inability to project soft power due to serious erosion of economic strength. Utilization of the only tools left that elites can use to project global power, namely military force and threats of force.

7) Ideological stagnation, exhaustion, and moral bankruptcy. The average educated citizen does not believe in the party line about the American dream anymore or that United States is the wealthiest and freest society and a force for good in the world. The ideological exhaustion and disbelief is increasingly present among public officials who just mouth the party lines. Spread of fatalism and apathy among the general population. Some of the educated now become rabid reactionaries and try to go back to the days when the ideological fervor was more present (libertarians, imperial reformers who want to go back to the days of state capitalism in the 1950s, elderly who remember when economic base was expanding rather than shrinking, etc). Efforts to "improve" or "fine tune" American state capitalism increasing as well as efforts to scrap it altogether.

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8) The biggest and most advanced gulag prison system that is still expanding and increasingly relying on prison labor for manufactured goods. Mass arrests are made for non-violent consensual acts even in the face of enormous economic costs and violation of human rights. Disregard for human rights as a blind eye is turned towards the prison system (now the biggest in the world) that is dangerously overcrowded and where torture (inmate rape and other abuse) is allowed to continue. Human rights violations as some ethnic groups are arbitrarily and disproportionately targeted for imprisonment (higher arrests for drug possession among blacks/Hispanics than whites disproportionate to the reported use).

9) The politically active young people do not believe what they see in mainstream media anymore. They increasingly turn to alternative or foreign sources for information about their own country rather than continue to listen to the blatant lies and propaganda on major news networks. Major news increasingly focusing on problems of other countries, trivial entertainment, and support of military establishment than introspection on declining national strength and health.

10) Increased reliance on middlemen (Wall Mart) that connect the American consumer with goods made in other countries (Japan, South Korea, Germany, etc) since quality of domestic industry and workforce is declining. Domestic industry can't satisfy the consumer demands of society even if the state officials found political will.

11) Deterioration in the quality of the American worker that cannot be reversed due to political structure's inability to provide modern education for most citizens. Education system itself is tainted by state propaganda.

12) Most of the population is isolated from the outside world and has no idea what it's like to live in an advanced society. The elderly are particularly affected. Only 1/3 of population have passports and have been abroad (mostly state officials/businessmen/educated/urban/suburban upper classes and their families). Increasing psychological restlessness among the young and escape from cities in the rotting industrial heartland. Increase in mindless hedonism and drinking as a form of escape.

13) Western Europe is now seen as a model civilization to emulate and aspire to rather than just a different system of development. Psychological and moral surrender in trying to conceptualize and evolve American state capitalism towards greater heights. Western Europeans increasingly looked at as more fun and developed in terms of knowing how to live and what values to have.

14) Both wings of the pro-oligarchic political establishment (The more nationalistic and introspective Democratic wing that wants to fine tune American style state capitalism and the more internationalist Republican wing that wants to spread it abroad) suffering from gerontocracy rule. Elderly and mentally infirm now predominate in the legislative like they did in the 80s in China and Soviet Union. They are unable to effectively conceptualize modernization efforts and thus defer to reactionary defensive mindset while suppressing more youthful reformers. The two political wings were always nearly identical at the center but are now practically merging as a result. Younger knee jerk reactionary militarists, regional politicians, and EU leaning reformers increasingly find themselves completely without an outlet for expression.

15) Increasing physiological and psychological suffering in the land of plentiful natural resources. Insufficient provision of livable shelter due to structural inefficiencies of the economic and political system. Collapsing infrastructure that is decades behind the most developed countries on the planet (and often even behind developing nations) and that is not designed to meet the demand placed on it.

16) Serious and irreversible budgetary gaps between collected money to fund the functioning of the country and the money needed. Irreversibly large debt from military commitments and ideologically based management of society.

17) Restlessness in the satellite countries, desire of military allies to choose their own developmental path, and Washington DC's decreasing international credibility.

18) Inability of the top leadership to integrate the diverse ethnic groups of the Federal Union. As Emmanuel Todd (who predicted collapse of the Soviet union accurately) has pointed out, the child mortality of blacks has actually risen while the white child mortality declined. Demonstrative lack of national ethnic consolidation and thus lack of emergence of a unitary American nationality. Ethnic and regional groups still looking out for themselves rather than the whole of society.

19) Slow trickle of educated elites out of United States to countries where they can get better opportunities to materially expand.

20) Militarization of police to keep social order. Blatant suppression of genuine reformist political candidates from having any airtime. Increase in power of the intelligence organs.

21) History of violent belligerence abroad as well as continuing abuses and occupations (Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia). Militarized, warlike, and often xenophobic mindset of the population that is more concerned about imperial glory than peace, development, and human rights. After WW2, United States actually killed a lot more foreign peoples directly and indirectly than Soviet Union (which was under siege for decades by NATO armor).

The list can seriously be expanded to have 40 items. The reader is free to think of other key things that caused the slow rot and inefficiencies in Soviet Union and find an American equivalent. In the end, the summary of the cause of decline can be that the contradictions in the social fabric of United States (ideological emphasis on equality even though there is horrid ever increasing inequality) combined with the decades of state propaganda to create a serious inability to adapt and cope with national problems.

All the problems that Obama is now facing Gorbachev has also faced. He is seen as not moving fast enough when it comes to reform or is seen as moving too fast. In the meantime, he is constrained by status quo entrenched political interests and elites in almost every major organizational hierarchy. Historically, this is a very dangerous political situation since major social discontent begins when things start to improve but aren't seen as improving fast enough (or there is a bit of a reversal). We've seen this in late 19th century China, in late 18th century France, and of course Soviet Union itself. It seems United States has only postponed serious economic difficulty due to the collapse of its rival and by flooding Eurasia with dollars in the 1990s.

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  1. you are doing a lot of fantacies on some global phenomenons.Do you have proofs? actual proofs?

  2. clarify your comment so I know what to respond to

  3. Orion was a bit tipsy from the looks of it! You seem well reasearched, and I am guessing that you either lived in Russia, or are very close to someone who did! My friend Olga says alot of the same things you do. She was born in "Leningrad" and moved to U.S. in 1995, she watches the news and says "I've seen THIS before" in reference to governement or economic behavior. Keep posting, I will read as much as you can write! I will add a link to your blog from mine (not that I have wide readership yet)

  4. hah, you're correct and thanks a lot. Ive added your site as well and am looking forward to checking it out and its affiliates

  5. Although the US has its fair share of problems today, your essay is riddled with inaccuracies and misleading statements. You claim that modernization is resisted by the government/military - ever heard of nanotechnology, stem cell research, or R&D subsidies? And "deteriorating quality of food"? Not in any of my supermarkets, which have some of the best tasting fruits and vegetables in history - longer ripeness, larger size, shorter growing times, more durable. We still have the largest economy in the world, our government most certainly does not commit gross violations of human rights (especially on its own citizens, although on anyone is unacceptable). And what do you mean, most of the population has no idea what its like to live in an advanced society? Last time i checked, we were on the cutting edge of research in biotech, nanotech, healthcare, and entertainment. And the slow trickle of intellectual elites? Doesn't pretty much every country send their best and brightest to study at our universities? Looking around my college, that seems to be the case. You would think a "pragmatist" would refrain from gross hyperbole that "all major problems that affected the soviet union also affect the united states today" right, like the slaughter of 55 million citizens during Stalin's rule? Or the infertility of soil resulting from forced overproduction on government controlled farms? Or the murder of dissenters (which, by the way, is still going on in Russia today)? I had hopes that my generation (I'm 20) would analyze the world in a rational way and reflect on the lessons of history to teach us the best path for the future, but the swooning over Mr. Obama (a man I voted for as well, regrettably) and blind acceptance of his plans has led me to believe that my voice will be the voice of the minority for a long time to come.

  6. It would be naive to say that there are no similarities between the United States and the Soviet Union, but you're missing several important differences that separate the two.

    1.) The Soviet Union was never as solid a Union as the United States is today. The United State has enough history as a united Republic that our citizens do not see each other as "Pennsylvanians" or "Floridians" or "Coloradans." Bottom line, you can never have the breakup in the US like you did in the Soviet Union.

    2.) The United States does not exist in the same world system today that the Soviet Union did twenty years ago. Back then, it was a dual hegemonic system with really only two players. Today, There are at least four, maybe more, including the US, China, Russia, and the European Union - with possible additions of the Muslim World, and India. This means that there is far less pressure on the US to control the World system the way there was in the late 80s. Many in the US still have this perception, that we must be the world's police, however this will pass in time as we decide to focus more on internal problems.

    3.) Your ascertain that, like the USSR, "Militarization of police [is necessary] to keep social order" is just plain not true when it comes to the US. Think of the most significant outpouring of disgust when it comes to the dissatisfaction with Obama's polices - either the Town Hall Meetings or the T.E.A. Parties come to mind. Although full of emotion, there were no marines having to suppress protesters, no tanks in the streets. There just is no evidence for your claim that there is a military police presence.

  7. to Andrew,

    - continuing research and development into exotic weaponry and international collaborative projects on advanced tech is different than full commitment to national modernization of infrastructure, education, health, workforce training, etc. Soviet Union was also spending a lot of money to modernize its armed forces and develop cutting edge weaponry until the day it collapsed (which was one of the reasons it collapsed, military wanting money to go towards weapon development and not infrastructure and quality of life reform).
    - As for quality of food, the financially better off and educated (20% of population) of course can get access to locations with quality food choices. The average citizen though is increasingly poorer with diminishing capacity to get (financially and logistically)food that doesn't do damage. Obesity and diabetes are still growing problems as well as death rates from them. Food today in your average small town midwestern US non-organic supermarket is more packed with chemicals than 30 years ago.
    - 2/3 of people don't have passports that are needed to travel abroad thus most people haven't been to western Europe to see more advanced socioeconomic systems and infrastructures with their own eyes. Once again most people will not see improvements from advanced tech developed in places like MIT as readily as Europeans will
    - As for human rights abuses, the entire drug prohibition is one giant human rights abuse considering the overcrowding of prisons and the torture and rape being allowed to happen to people for years because of consensual acts. This happens on a large scale with more people behind bars than all of EU combined.

    To Eshelmsc,

    - Structurally, it's even easier for US to break up than for SU due to weaker federal government. You might not have as big of loyalty to individual states but there is very serious regional cultural loyalty (deep south vs northeast vs cali, etc)as well as ethnic/racial splits that are more severe than in SU. Splits between blacks, whites, hispanics, rural religious, urban secular are ridiculously acute (segregated neighborhoods) and conflicts are often vicious to the point of political irrationality (reaction to Obama).
    - As for militarization of police you just need to study the effects from the drug prohibition on police forces as well as the recent struggles with large Hispanic gangs in southwestern US region