Couple of US Things

Mostly, I try to stay away from politics and/or US bashing but I saw a couple of things today. In Wired.

Safe: The Race to Protect Ourselves in a Newly Dangerous World, written by three contributing writers to Wired magazine and a former editor of that publication, asks why, if our society is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, we can’t protect ourselves from threats to our safety.

Emphasis mine. In this case society means the US. I wouldn’t say they are the most technologically advanced. Neither are we (Canada). I’d give that to Japan or some Scandinavian countries like Sweden or Finland who have all the same technological advances we or the US do while being ahead 2-3 years in cellular tech and having more advanced government services, automation and web wise. Social and ecological awareness vs technology are also miles ahead. Agree, disagree?

Not directly related but also having to do with the US not dominating as much (except army wise of course). China overtakes U.S. as world’s biggest consumer

Brown warns that the United States, which is the world’s leading debtor nation, now depends heavily on Chinese capital to underwrite its fast-growing debt.

“If China ever decides to divert this capital surplus elsewhere, either to internal investment or to the development of oil, gas, and mineral resources elsewhere in the world, the U.S. economy will be in trouble.”

The commies are underwriting the greatest capitalist country. Whodathunkit!

7 Comments

aj February 17, 2005

Yeah, a lot of observers have been noting this for some time now. The Chinese hold a vast amount of US Treasury bills, as a way of underwriting vast amounts of consumer purchases from outsourced manufacturing…

So not only is Wal-Mart hurting America, it’s also helping to bankrupt it.

The personal average debt load in the US is staggering, and it’s really down to consumer overspending – the legacy of deregulation and the tech bubble. Millions of Americans use home equity loans, and have at least a half-dozen credit cards at once. The cost of higher education and downsizing means millions more are living day-to-day off credit cards and loans, too.

Many economists are waiting for a so-called perfect storm. There simply isn’t enough money going in to make up for the value going out. Add to that the Federal deficit – approaching a trillion dollars again – and the dominoes are all in place. The cost of war, and the looming question of ‘no more cheap energy’ leaves us with the question, which one will tip first?

chris February 17, 2005

don’t really understand this post.

as for the wired article, i don’t know you mean by “advanced government services” or what government websites or celluar phones have to do with a nation’s overall level of technological advancement. small countries like sweden and japan use cell phones more because, being tiny, it was easier and cheaper to cover them with cellular tower coverage than it was to cover the enormous US. canada’s cell use is stunted for the same reason.

US government websites tend not to be very slick because the US. government’s revenue intake as a percentage of gdp (excluding defense) is tiny compared with a lot of other western countries. there’s no welfare state and less bureaucracy, so people don’t really need the government for all that much.

cell phones and government websites just don’t seem to matter that much when you hold them up against things like having invented computers and the internet, silicon valley, m1a1 tanks and stealth bombers, being the global hub of info, culture and finance, etc.

as far as china goes, it’s pretty likely that china will become a superpower in about fifty to a hundred years, but no sooner. china has almost 5 times the population of the US, so they only have to be about 1/5 as productive to match the US’s gdp, and they aren’t even close to that yet. what you don’t realize about that quote is that the US has held the power to fuck up any country’s economy by witholding investment for about sixty years now. one other country starts to develop enough in order to have the same power, and holy shit! the US’s reign is over! well, not quite.

it is true that china’s economy, if it keeps growing at 8 or 11 percent or whatever it’s at now, will overtake the US economy at its current rate of growth by like 2025 i think? but the thing is, china’s economy WON’T keep growing at that rate for the next 20 years. this is a case of the ;fallacy of eternal trends.’ china’s economy is exploding, booming. things will slow down in a few years when the bust comes, especially once authoitarian government strong-arming starts getting in the way of private enterprise.

also, china is by no means a “communist” country. even though it’s still ruled by an entity called “the communist party,” the free market reforms have come so far now that their economy is probaby a little less socialist than canada’s.

really, i think this trend of forecasting the end of the US’s global preeminence owes itself to a peculiar quirk of history that we’re in right now. the US has been the world’s most dominant power for as long as pretty much everyone can remember. few alive today have actually seen one country take another’s place as the strongest, so we don’t really know what it looks like. you REALLY have to be paying attention to things carefully to realize that china’s rise, while impressive, doesn’t herald their ascendance to global dominance. at least not for the next hundred years or so. i think things are set up pretty well right now for the 21st century to be known as The American Century

Patrick February 17, 2005

Thx for the detailed input guys.

Chris, you’re right in that it’s a weird post, like I said, I don’t usually post about that stuff and threw them together when they probably could have been split.

Also, I’m saying the US aren’t the most advanced, I agree that they have contributed the most to humanity’s technological advancement but it doesn’t automatically mean that they are also the most advanced. I’m also not saying cell phones make Sweden more advanced, just giving it as one example where they are leading. I haven’t been to Japan but I think technology is more pervasive in their larger cities and thus, to me, at a higher technological level overall. Even if innovations largely come from the US. And even that could be debated, sure the initial “thing”, might come from elsewhere but the Japanese are often the ones who push the limits of what can be done with those inventions and them implementing it on a large scale.

As for China, I know you were also speaking about the article itself but for my part I wasn’t making any predictions as to wether China will surpass the US in any field. I actually agree with what you’re saying, they do have a lot of catching up to do and a lot of the impressive numbers coming out of there are purely due to their size. I was still surprised and, in a way, impressed with the fact that the ‘states are indepted to them so much.

Finally, I agree that a lot of capitalist freedom is now given in China but they are still very communist in the “state control of personal liberties” meaning the word has come to have. Just a couple of weeks ago they closed down hundreds of internet cafes and are to this day filtering what gets in. They also infringe on human rights on a daily basis so I think comparing them in any way to Canada in their “socialist level” is an exageration.

aj February 17, 2005

The bulk of US debt – the money it borrows to float the economy and to pay for federal spending – is currently held by China in the form of T-bills. and US currency reserves. In fact, they have most of this debt.

If China decided to “foreclose” on our “store credit card” – it would cause an economic crash. There are some reports that this is planned.. It is leverage, in any case, over the US’ actions.

To address another point, web-enabled government is not about flashy websites. It has even less to do with spending or size of government. (Is this Republican Talking Point Hour? But I digress.)

E-government is about creating portals; using smart web applications to let citizens handle most of their interactions with municipal, state and Federal agencies online. The technology is there: the barriers are institutional.

You wrote:

“cell phones […] just don’t seem to matter that much…”

It was a cameraphone that exposed Abu Ghraib. Imagine if the entire crowd at Tiananmen Square in 1989 had had cameraphones.History would have been a bit different. And while you’re at it, look up “flash mobs.” Now, are you telling me cellphones not a powerful political tool?

And now I have to debate some of your following statements:

” when you hold them up against things like having invented computers and the internet, silicon valley,”

The history of computing shows the development of digital computers was parallel between the US, UK and Germany. And if a Brit working in a Swiss lab hadn’t come up with the World Wide Web, the Internet would still just be Arpanet, connecting a few university and military research labs at 200-baud speeds. Most of the silicon in Silicon Valley is actually made in Taiwan….

“m1a1 tanks and stealth bombers,”

You’re not really bragging about the size of your gun now, are you?

“being the global hub of info, culture and finance, etc.”

Debatable. Britain used to be all those things too. All the European powers had their turn and flubbed it. And before them? The Romans. Funny what happened to them in the end, eh? The US is surely not the global hub of culture for 1 billion Chinese and another 1 billion Muslims.

By the way, do you know which country owns Citibank?

An American-dominated century, or at least one that continues along its current path, is highly doubtful, because of Peak Oil – ask a geologist. Better yet, look it up on the CJR’s Project Censored – it’s number 18.

The current US domination cannot be sustained without cheap energy. The ability to project power globally is simply going to come to an end in the next 50 years. Combine that with the issues of debt that are outlined above, and you basically have the recipe for…well…massive change.

The developed world will be concerned with how to feed ourselves with permaculture and renewable energy, living locally, trying prevent famines caused by the lack of petroleum and gas-derived fertilizers. We simply won’t have the resources to send overextended armies overseas.

This does underline your last point, yes, that China will face this as well (which is troubling for another reason – having to fight them for the scraps). They will not dominate, at least not for the reasons we think they will now. Most likely, by 2100, no-one will dominate. At least, I hope not.

All this is not to bash the US, if you think I’m doing that.

I’ve been all over the States, have relatives everywhere, and I love it dearly. I rebut your points because all the evidence just points in the opposite direction. Physics, geology, and economics are not on the side of an energy-intensive civilization.

chris February 17, 2005

sorry, i don’t get the first few paragpahs about cell phones and “e-government.” some things you said there are true, others are false and yet others are inchoerent to me, but they’re all fairly irrelevant to what we’re talking about here, so i’ll skip them.

you said:

If China decided to “foreclose” on our “store credit card” – it would cause an economic crash.

yeah, and if the U.S. somehow collectively forclosed on China’s debts to it, then that would cause an economic crash too. nothing of that type is going to happen, because it doesn’t make any economic sense to forclose on debtor institutions that have billions upon billions of dollars in equity squirreled away all over the world. it’d cause a worldwide recession and everyone involved would lose money, so really—who cares?

There are some reports that this is planned..

i’d like to see those ‘reports’ and who they came from

The history of computing shows the development of digital computers was parallel between the US, UK and Germany

sure, i guess, if you want to go back to the Turing Machine, then i guess you could make a case that the brits invented computing. why stop there though? we can go back to the abacus, and voila, the chinese (arabs?) invented it. but realistically, MITS and Apple came up with the modern idea of the microcomputer

And if a Brit working in a Swiss lab hadn’t come up with the World Wide Web, the Internet would still just be Arpanet, connecting a few university and military research labs at 200-baud speeds.

not sure if i’d go that far, but yeah, i never claimed that an american invented the web

By the way, do you know which country owns Citibank?

it’s owned by a consortium of investors, a plurality of whom are americans—why?

The US is surely not the global hub of culture for 1 billion Chinese and another 1 billion Muslims.

i beg to differ. have you ever been to china or the middle east? both are filled with starbucks, mcdonalds, x-boxes, nfl/nba gear, hollywood movies, hip hop and dell and ibm computers running microsoft windows. i remember reading an article in 2002 in which one of bin laden’s attendants hiding out in afghanistan was interviewed. he said that bin laden’s favorite food is kraft macoroni and cheese. apparently he’s also partial to fritos. US culture is definitely ubiquitous EVERYWHERE; whether or not it deserves to be is another matter

anyway, i don’t really share your confidence that there is going to be some sort of energy apoclaypse in the next 50 years. when renewable sources of energy become cost-effective, then they become cost-effective. that’s the beauty of a truly free market. if only the US and other governments would stop subsidizing fossil fuels, we’d probably be well on our way towards long-term sustainability right now—early— without any help from the government whatsoever. so, since i disagree with your premises, i’m not gonna comment on your conclusion.

later,

aj February 17, 2005

You said:

“sorry, i don’t get the first few paragpahs about cell phones and “e-government.” some things you said there are true, others are false and yet others are inchoerent to me, but they’re all fairly irrelevant to what we’re talking about here, so i’ll skip them”

No, they’re completely relevant to the point Patrick originally made: that technological advancement is relative.

And you’re not allowed to skip points you don’t like, sorry.

Objectively, among developed nations North America has the least advanced cellphone infrastructure; Canada has only a slight edge over the US in its early adoption of GSM to supplant multiple standards like TDMA, CDMA and the like.

But overall, Asia and Scandinavia are way ahead. They consistently produce the most desirable and innovative phone form factors, and deploy the newest and most advanced features, networks and services, like video calling and m-commerce. In Korea you can get phones with 5 megapixel cameras on them; I doubt we’d see those before 2008.

Similarly, many countries also offer much more advanced e-government initiatives, precisely to do more with less, to be more efficient, and to serve their citizens better.

Your response to that point was:

“US government websites tend not to be very slick because the US. government’s revenue intake as a percentage of gdp (excluding defense) is tiny compared with a lot of other western countries. there’s no welfare state and less bureaucracy, so people don’t really need the government for all that much,”

I mean, where to begin with that one?

It’s not about slickness: I doubt anyone would care if the site had the aesthetic appeal of an Excel spreadsheet, as long as it was easy to use, and that they could do all their e-government activities there, such as the examples I gave above.

I’m at a loss as to why you would bring up the supposed low revenue of the government – the government that’s blowing $200 billion on its war of choice has no money?

Government revenues are irrelevant – if much smaller countries like the Netherlands, with correspondingly smaller real revenues can produce workable e-government solutions, that’s an issue of priorities, not one of cash.

You then go on to make unsupported, on the face of it patently false statements about ‘no welfare state, less bureaucracy, people don’t need the government.’ Gosh, didn’t Newt Gingrich say that once?

If people don’t need the government, then why is there: Social Security; Medicare; The Food and Drug Administration; the Securities and Exchange Commission; antitrust legislation; the Departments of Education and the Environment; the department of Transportation? And most of all, the Department of Homeland Security?

Yeah, scrap ‘em all. Let the free market rule.

Maybe some people will get sick from mad-cow hamburgers or Ebola, or die old and poor, having lost their savings in a stock swindle, because they never learned to read. Maybe only a few hundred or so will get depleted uranium poisoning from a weapons plant, or lose their memory because the river they fished in was poisoned by pfisteria from a hog farm waste tank spill, or get blown up by Bad People. And cities? Well, they vote blue, so screw ‘em.

But look how much money they get to save compared to countries with high taxes – like Sweden!

As Senator Moynihan once said, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts. The US government is now the largest, the most deficit-ridden and expansionist it has ever been in history, and plans on expanding during W’s 2nd term, according to this recent WaPo story:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9307-2005Feb8.html

Finally,

A laundry list of US consumer products and franchise chains sold worldwide does NOT equate to global culture.

No, really. It doesn’t.

By your reasoning, because I can get frozen Indian food at every Loblaws, and Indian movies from a store in my neighborhood, and use partly-Indian-written software on my computer, and call India for tech support, and that there is an Indian travel agency on the corner, and a new restaurant up the block, and because I saw a woman in a sari on the street the other day, and Gwen Stefani has a bindi and a nose ring, and that I can find these things in any decent-sized city, means that in fact North America looks to India for its culture!

Oooh. Sorry. The answer we were looking for was “Who is David ‘Bobo’ Brooks, Alex?”

Here in Quebec, we have every chain franchise (except Taco Bell, for some reason) and US consumer product imaginable—and our culture is radically different from Ontario’s much less that of the States.

Whyzzat? Did we not read the instruction manual right?

If you really think we’re all alike because of the presence of some transnational corporations over which citizens exert little control, I suggest you read Environics pollster Michael Adams’ book “Fire and Ice.”

And yes, I’ve been to India, all over Europe, all over the States. I have family everywhere (literally), and friends all around the world thanks to the Internet.

From my own experiences, what I read and what they tell me, cultures thousands of years older than ours are not easily changed by the presence of new shiny baubles.

Other nations take our products and adapt them to their own cultural contexts, in ways that sometimes go counter to what we would expect or even desire. That is something you don’t see if you don’t speak the language or bother to look below surface details.

As for energy..well…the two strains of thought are prudent conservationism that is proven to work, or reckless “cornucopianism” that depends on a lot of technological and political ifs to maintain the most energy-intensive culture imaginable.

As an analogy, consider the logic of a rational, lower-calorie diet and a long-term commitment to daily exercise, vs. eating all you want now – in fact, overeating – because at some point in the future, someone might invent an instant slimming pill.

You’ll die of a heart attack, or starve because you ate more than your share, before that pill ever comes to be.

Applied to societies, that’s the basic premise of Jared Diamond’s new book Collapse, and also the Annenberg exhibit of the same title which you can visit here. Some interesting lessons for the West, I think.

http://www.learner.org/exhibits/collapse/

And on Peak Oil – here’s Texas energy banker Matthew Simmons’ latest. He advises the W. White House on energy policy. His latest energy papers are available here:

http://www.simmonsco-intl.com/research.aspx?Type=msspeeches

and he’s coming out with a new book called, ooh, can you guess: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/047173876X

Check out the related books, too, particularly Deffeyes and Heinberg’s.

É February 22, 2005

shorter comment :

http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/023113102X/qid=1109095568/sr=1-3/ref=sr_1_3_3/701-3678057-1398765

very interesting perspective on the american empire…

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