Sunday, January 29, 2017

Everybody Just Needs to Chill

Donald Trump has been President of the United States for less than two weeks and many people seem to be coming unhinged by this fact.  The rhetoric that is flying fast and loose out there is outrageous and overblown.

"He is going to get us into a nuclear war"  they say.

"He and his supporters are facsists using the techniques of Adolf Hitler to undermine democracy" they cry.

"The Republicans hold all three branches of the American government and they will use that to undo decades of progress" they howl.

While I agree that Donald Trump is a rube, a boor, a misogynistic racist and that he is probably wholly unqualified for the office he holds his ability to cause real trouble is very limited.

First, he is unlikely to cause a nuclear war because the United States has a MASSIVE military bureaucracy which will prevent him from doing so.  They are hardwired to not enter the US into wars that could lead to an attack on the continental US, such as going to war with another nuclear power, and they are a little gun shy after their latest wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.  Mr. Trump may be able to convince his military to take military action against Iran but that is probably it and anything they do will be designed to satisfy him without endangering too many Americans.  It goes without saying that the only thing such an attack will do is convince the Iranians to build nuclear bombs and to seek an alliance with China.

Second, many point to his tactics for getting elected, such as vilifying the media, blaming foreigners for America's troubles and even bastardizing an old Nazi slogan with the "Let's make American great" slogan.  Many pointed out that Adolf Hitler was elected and then used the power of government to take complete control of that government and they fear the same will happen in the US.

The problem with that is Adolf Hitler won the election to the government of the Weimar Republic, in 1933, a country that had absolutely no democratic tradition and whose democratic institutions had been established in 1919.  To compare Donald Trumps election to the White House to Adolf Hitler's election as Chancellor of Weimar Germany is to compare apples to elephants.

Further, the greatest fear of the writers of the US Constitution was that one of their number would use the Presidency to set themselves up as a King so they created a system of government that makes any kind of change to that system virtually impossible.  In fact, as powers of political leaders go the powers of the President of the United States are weak compared to many of the other leaders of democratic governments around the world. Indeed, if Prime Minister Trudeau was bent on really rocking the boat and making wholesale changes to Canada and its society he would have much more power to do so than the President would have to do the same in the US.

That has just been demonstrated by the fact that a federal judge in New York just stayed his Executive Order stopping immigration from the countries he selected.  He signed the order on Friday and before the weekend was out it was deemed invalid and illegal and is not to be enforced.  I am certain that this is not over yet but this demonstrates that Donald Trump will not be able to run roughshod over America's democratic values and institutions.

Third, the Republicans now hold both chambers of Congress but all of the Members of the House of Representatives and more than a third of the Members of the Senate face an election in 22 months.  In reality that means they need to be in full re-election mode in about 14 months.  If Donald Trump is really proven to be incompetent, as many expect, and he does not have the political smarts to curb his baser instincts, the path to re-election for these members of Congress will be the one that takes them as far away from Donald Trump and his actions/policies as possible.  That will essentially neutralize his Presidency.

Further, the major changes the most ardent Tea Partiers want to make will be very difficult to pull off from a political point of view.  We are seeing that with the Affordable Care Act, aka, Obamacare.  Many Republicans in Congress have Obama derangement syndrome and are therefore bound and determined to remove anything associated with him. Unfortunately, many traditional Republican voters find themselves with much better medical insurance coverage, at a cheaper price, than before Obamacare.  Taking that away from them could have very negative effects on Republican legislative representatives' election chances in a couple of years.  The solution of course will be to replace Obamacare with Obamacare, only it will have a different name.  The change will be cosmetic and symbolic and nothing more.  

The job of an elected politician is to be re-elected.  Republicans will push their agenda to be certain but their desire to be re-elected will temper that effort to a very great extent.  

The election of Donald Trump is unfortunate.  At least that is my opinion.  However, it is not the end of the world.  His ability to cause real trouble is limited by the system he needs to operate in and he has no ability to change that system.  

So everybody needs to step back and take a breath.  Vigilance is definitely warranted but I would say that about all of the leaders we entrust our governments to.  As well, those who oppose him have to be ready to push back against this policies and actions,  But again, the same would be true if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would have won the White House.

In other words, it is really just more of the same and nothing more.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Technology Revolution

Back around the end of the 17th century the world of economics began to change.  At first it was slow but then it really took off with the invention of the steam engine.  By the middle of the 18th century thinkers actually began to give it a name, capitalism, and historians have come to name that whole era as the "Industrial Revolution".

Like all revolutions it brought great change and great upheaval.  That upheaval really took off in 1848, when virtually the whole of continental Europe erupted in political revolution, which resulted in changes in how Europe's governments rules their citizens and introduced the world to what was considered a viable alternative to capitalism.  The revolution and the resulting upheaval continued for 70 years finally culminating in the creation of totalitarian governments in Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia.

Ironically it took a devestating world war to bring a period of relative normalcy to the world, sweeping out most of the totalitarian regimes with the big exception of the Soviet Union and its vassal states.

That normalcy lasted for about four decades until the first rumblings of the next revolution began.  We call those first rumblings "Globalization" and that revolution has continued and morphed into a "Technology Revolution".  

For now that Revolution has been largely positive.  Our access to devices and technology makes most of our lives easier.  However, the flip side of that Revolution is the impact it appears it will have on the very concept of employment.  I have read a fair amount about how technology will change the way we work and live and even the most conservative estimate of the impact of the Technology Revolution states that at least half of all of the current jobs on the planet will be lost to technology by 2050, and the greatest impacts will actually be felt in the industrial countries where technology can be put to the greatest use. So Canada and the other G20 countries can expect to see a disportionate number of jobs being replaced by technology, including recently industrialized countries like China, India and Brazil.  Less conservative estimates put the job losses at around two-thirds of the current jobs.

These same studies indicate that most of these jobs will not be replaced with as many new jobs as those lost and what jobs are created will not be of comparable incomes and benefits to the ones lost.

That is a recipe for potential disaster.  As jobs disappear and wages fall it is going to lead to a great deal of unrest amongst those who come out on the losing end of this trend.  That is going to result in change in how politics is done.  It still remains to be seen just how wide and deep that change will be but I think it is a certainty that we will see some profound changes in the politics of the rich nations of the world in the coming decades.  I am not just talking about changes in government.  The next few decades are going probably to test the resiliency of the Western democratic institutions like they have never been tested before.

After about 150 years the Industrial Revolution spawned the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.  Along the way it created a whole new way of distributing wealth call capitalism and it created its alternative in communism.

Considering the speed in which our modern world progresses we probably will not have to wait that long for profound changes to occur during the Technology Revolution.  That revolution is only about 30 years old and it has already created Corporatism and its first "right wing" demogogues.  I suspect that the articulation of what will be considered a viable alternative to that economic system and the "left wing" demogogues who will rise up and attempt to use it to overthrow the current economic order are not that far into the future. 

All revolutions bring great change and the Technology Revolution will be no different.  Just like the economic and political world in 1950 was extremely different from the economic and political world of 1917 I imagine our world in 2050 will be completely different from the world of today.