29 February 2012

The Road Ahead

I have been reading some of Walter Russell Mead's works on Beyond Blue (part one here, others at the same site) which is looking at the decay of the old Blue Model of Society, which is the Progressive model that started out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  This model had some features to it that were driven by social change, the largest of which is the productivity of farmers in the Midwest and Western US that led to a growing abundance of food.  With higher productivity rates the individual farmer could feed more people per acre and, thusly, fewer farmers were needed to feed not just the Nation but, increasingly, the world.  At the same time the Industrial Revolution's ongoing expansion meant a centralization of production at urban centers and these required a workforce to man them.  The break-up of the old farming economy was due to factors of increased productivity and increased need for workers, which meant a displacement of individuals from rural environs to urban ones.  The effect of this is to concentrate economic and political power in cities and urban environments.

Prior to the post-WWII era the traditional nuclear family transitioned from farm life, where involvement of children in the farm work was a necessity, and this also meant that learning what is necessary for a good life also was taught more at home than in school.  Education was highly valued and rare in the pre-19th century and the migration to cities and increasingly urban jobs meant that children began to be cut off from hands-on knowledge of what it takes to lead a good life and that more time was spent learning in school than learning at home.  The institution of child labor laws, one of the Blue Model's successes, came at the price of distancing children from work and learning how to make a living.  Still, prior to the post-WWII generation a child with a 6th grade education was considered to have more than enough schooling to join an adult workforce.  The Blue Model that grew up for this was also characterized by the Progressive concept of centralizing life in the urban areas and continuing to expand government authority to 'help' these new people living in this environment.  This was a process to acculturate the post-migration generation into a more highly structured life modeled, in large part, on the industries upon which it depended.

This Blue Model faced problems after the post-WWII era due to the withdrawal of government size from its war years and the tax breaks that also arrived with that.  Businesses that expanded or absorbed other businesses during the WWII years now had relatively well equipped factories that saw women leaving them to marry and create families, while men who had a good military work knowledge came home looking for employment.  Higher wages than meager government military pay meant social mobility upwards and the expansion of automobile industry started by Ford, meant actual physical mobility was also available at a low cost.  The migration to the suburban environs became, as Mead attributes to Kenneth Jackson, the "crabgrass frontier" and the suburban home became the new homestead.  To socially centralized political organizations this was a disaster as the very Blue Model they had developed required a centralized workforce that had little mobility.  The answer to this, politically, was to expand education requirements and inculcate an even further distancing from the nuclear family through requirements for higher education for jobs.  Still this was not something that every individual sought and the old industrial society continued onwards as it was at the heart of the new prosperity and supported the social model to a large degree.

In response to changing economic and social mobility women re-entered the workforce utilizing their knowledge of their ability to do that from the WWII years, and were often in entirely different career paths than their husbands.  This did not, of necessity, change society or even business models as the family run or sole proprietor business world continued to expand throughout the post-war era.  In fact it was the small business world that had always had a predominating part of the economy that came into its own in the post-war era and started breaking up the private union system which, like the Blue Model, depended on centralized workforces for survival.  This also started to remove the other part of the Blue Model support system which was the expectation you would only be employed at one business for your life and expect to get compensation from that business via a pension.

At home the expansion of technical jobs ramped up educational needs from that of the pre-war generation and a gradual move to require more than high school education became a factor in decisions made by children and families for what was necessary to actually continue on a socially upward path from generation to generation.  Sociologically American children were now spending more time in the first 20 years of their lives learning about making a life at school than at home, and as no expansion of small business start-ups could range wide enough to become all families, the experience of running a life for oneself also became a more distant phenomena.  The early Blue Model educators had given way to their successors raised totally in the Blue Model in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  A generation of educators who took part in WWII was being supplanted by those who only knew of war by what stories they heard, what they saw on television and the movies, and what their teachers taught them.  An idealized society that the very first Blue Model educators had (Dewey, et. al.) and their Progressive Dream had no viable alternatives when the post-war raised children joined the ranks of education.  The family moved from being a central part of life, with shared activities, to one in which children were increasingly separated from parents and they were taught by children who had grown up this way, as well, often with no other job experience than that of wanting to be a teacher.

By the mid-1980's, however, the Blue Model was starting to decay as the old centralized industrial sector collapsed due to lower price and often higher quality foreign goods, and industries having few incentives to stay with a high cost, high overhead workforce, went overseas as well.  Centralized urban planning of the 1930's dream became the centralized urban decay of the 1980's due, in large part, to the very inflexibility of politics that was supposed to be a buffer against social change.  It is in this timeframe that Social Security was found not to be something that could be supported and that it would have a final date of going red sometime around 2050.  And, in a few short years, that moved back to 2030.  By 2000 that was at going red in 2020, and it finally went red in 2010.  Social services supported by government taxation, supposedly to help the poor and elderly, were joined with new regulatory regimes that began to add cost overhead to the entire way medicine was done.  Educationally the stiff requirements were those expected for any high level engineer as medicine was, indeed, learning the very basics of biology and the intricacies of biochemistry and bodily mechanics.  A doctor trained in 1990 was far superior to any of his or her counter-parts a century earlier.  Government, in doing the regulation of what could and could not be done also began to regulate how much it paid out for goods and services in medicine, and found that this was not the full fare necessary to sustain the system.  The unmet cost got moved over to everyone else, so that beyond taxation and government overhead there was cost shifting and price increases due to government being unwilling to pay the full price for costly services.  Before the last hurrah! of the Great Society and the Blue Model was to come, the cost of treatment and medicine remained relatively stable, although on an inflationary price increase it was to meet inflation, only.  Post-Medicare and Medicaid the price of medicine undergoes a rapid increase that, like all bubbles, is to this day, unsustainable.

To inject the Blue Model further via government expansion in the 1970's was folly and yet done under both Democrats and Republican Administrations, so that modest programs set up to help Veterans get loans for home mortgages required a revamping and liquidation of the entire banking system so that everyone could take part in this.  It was not, of necessity, done at a conscious level, but the moves by government to not only allow commercial banks into the mortgage business and then have a government agency securitize them, meant that the old fashioned and localized S&L was put into direct competition against far larger institutions with far deeper pockets and political clout.  Within 15 years of the new regulatory regime, the S&L system had been largely obliterated at very high cost to all concerned.

Government also tried to 'help' individuals in creating IRA accounts that were protected from bankruptcy, and this meant that investments in IRA's were safer than your home.  Until the invention of the IRA in the 1970's, the family home grew only slowly in value and the expectation was that it would be worth about the same as it was when it was purchased, adjusted for inflation.  To compensate for the death of the S&L's, government at the federal level stepped in with the Community Reinvestment Act which brought yet more regulatory control to this area which, as happens with any area with more such control over the mechanisms at the lowest level, raised the cost of getting a loan.  Luckily the government was also grading the security of that loan so individuals had raised expectations of what they could afford and sellers adjusted accordingly.  By the second set of regulations in the 1990's, the government had fully stepped in to require banks to give loans to those who had no income, no job or assets and then turned around and graded and backed the grading of those loans as secure.

At this point actually having a job in a productive sector was something that was being actively discouraged not just by regulation but by cost overhead for that regulatory regime.  Sociologically the children of the 1960's had now trained their replacements in the old Blue Model regime of centralized planning and teachers were often twice removed from ever knowing a household that had anyone who did a job that actually produced a product or provided a service directly.  It is this generation that began to think of itself not in terms of children of parents who worked at productive jobs, but as consumers of items and creators of a 'lifestyle', not a life.  Automation is only to blame in part for these shifts, while other factors include such things as crony capitalism, where favored Blue Model big businesses (and they are ALL big businesses that support this model) and the barrier to competition they can get via influencing regulations at the lowest level not just at the legislative level but at the inner workings of the machinery via a revolving door between the governed and the regulators.  These businesses established yet more educational requirements (be they needed or not) and government got into the business of backing those loans, as well.  As with all such interventions, this has created yet another bubble in the economy in the name of 'helping' individuals.

Cumulatively the bubbles coming up from the Blue Model are those of a ship already underwater and the first big bubbles should have been a warning sign: S&L's and the housing market.  Next up are Social Security, the M&Ms, and the education bubble.  Additional bubbles in commercial property and environmental areas (like energy) are also appearing and nothing done to patch up the Blue Model can work as it is now putting society on a course for insolvency from the Nation State to the Individual.

This is horrific, of course.

That is, however, not how I see the trendlines now in motion.

As I've described in other pieces there are countervailing forces also at work which are, at one stroke, destroying the last of the Blue Model and giving a pathway out of this mess.  Not all of it is decentralized, but all of the solutions are competition based or based on small groups or individuals willing to take a hand and pick up a new way of life.

Of the semi-structured systems coming to the forefront are those of biotechnology, offering solutions to ending some of the most endemic viral diseases seen in mankind's history.  Also from this semi-structured area are advances in biotechnology offering ways to treat diseases that have been challenges to every change in our knowledge as they have been sitting in a realm that no one could easily address: auto-immune diseases.  With these also comes the genetic portion of understanding which is offering the promise of treating aging as a disease and possibly even arresting it and reversing it.  That is if the regulatory regimes let them, and as the regimes are old Blue Model ones meant to exist on relatively early deaths after a productive life, the fight to remove the regulations will increasingly involve a larger segment of society that is also hemmed in by laws on working age and retirement.  A continued and energetic life obviates the need for a Blue Model plan to 'help' people as they may retain physical function and capability well beyond normal life expectancy and keep right on going.  In these areas, as we are seeing now, the concept is that for you to be convenient to government you must die soon after your working life is over by government diktat.  When you can live to be 100 and have the body and energy of a 30 year old, then government is seen as an impediment, not a 'help'.

These technologies rely upon larger firms, but also upon new startups leveraging high tech to gain a foothold in new areas of medicine.  Basic physics, long thought to be something only geared to rocket scientists, is about to make a come-back as new space start-ups finally begin to cash in on the economics of a new frontier and more efficient systems to get to space (not just rockets but by other means as well) that will open up the 1960's promised 'Final Frontier'.  This is already beginning today as the current Administration, in an attempt to kill off spaceflight under government control, has now opened up the field to everyone willing to try and get to space on their own.  This includes the last wave of high-tech financiers and backers who are taking part in this dream to deliver it not just for themselves but for everyone with a will to use it.  What is forming up is a new generation of manned, autonomous and semi-autonomous space exploration working in harmony (although not via plan) that will play upon the positive aspects each can deliver.  This High Frontier will serve as the final drainage point for those willing to make a new life with all the risks involved that any frontiersman has ever had, just delivered with the finality of the vacuum of space.

Back on earth the prior generation of machining at factories is now delivering new, low cost, machine tools that anyone with a decent job of any sort can afford.  If you can afford a high end computer, you can afford a low-end lathe or mill.  Unlike the Maoist 'Great Leap Forward' this will not be done via a centralized plan but upon individuals finally wanting to make things themselves.  There has always been a hand-craft segment of society and that will not include metalworkers, who can now custom make smaller items and even afford to automate their rigs to make a lot of them for businesses.  On the personal freedom front this means that all manufacturing laws for things like firearms will be moot: when you can construct your own devices, not made for sale, you are then out of the realm of any law and able to back it up with your own tooled mechanisms.  Already States like MT, WY and UT are seeking to remove in-state firearms sales restrictions from federal purview as no sale will cross State lines.  Of all the challenges to the Blue State Model, this one is probably one of the most lethal as it pits the old and failing centralized government concept against the even older federalist doctrine upon which the States exist.  What is even better is that these same individual or small businesses that start up (and have been for nearly a decade) will begin to supply other businesses and firms with parts.  Like the new space industry.

Education is also in the cross-hairs of new technology and the harbinger of free courses offered by high name recognition institutions (like MIT) are now offering a new venue for self-education.  When basic courses can be instructed once, and offered at a self-paced and self-determined course, then the need for centralized education declines.  The 14th century model of an educator at an institution with a roomful of students will be supplanted  by one of a distributed, self-paced system that has no centralized theme to it.  The idea of home schooling currently offers not just a system for interaction between parents and children, but amongst parents and children who are home schooled.  It is possible to cooperate with other parents on getting lab and science time from instructors at low cost or to share costs amongst a group of parents for children so as to learn about scientific subjects at a more personal level and get hands-on experience.  Increasing use of networks of parents not just locally but regionally and nationally will become a new theme of this era that is coming, and educational institutions that want to exist past the first decades of this century will begin to decentralize to meet them.  Boutique and cloistered teaching systems of the old style will continue for those backwards enough to want them, of course, but that old Blue Model cannot even begin to understand the way this new model will work.

Unlike the views ahead of the cybernetics community that have given us such visions as Colossus, Skynet and the Singularity, there is no direction towards greater centralization to attempt to abolish individuality through a communal consciousness or movement towards a centralized cybernetic consciousness.  A decentralized set of cybernetic beings, however, is within the scope of this and that will grow out of the individualized wants and needs from within the human spirit, not dictated by a government bureaucracy or some 'inevitable' outcome of technology.  Prior generations of futurists had the Blue Model to deal with and they either incorporated it (in full or at least in general theme) or moved from it to utilize older paradigms and recast them into the future utilizing future recursion concepts based on past history.  This playing out of themes in human history, dominated for most of human history by centralized authority, is playing out yet again.  The long and epic history of failure of centralized systems from hydraulic Empires to the USSR, demonstrates a lack of capacity and flexibility necessary to deal with an unknown future.  Today that future is neither assured nor even possible if we do not, as a species, survive the next two decades.  To survive these new times requires the very flexibility and capacity to adapt that is lacking in centralized visions of society (be they only human or some cybernetic amalgam).  To put it more clearly: a collective state is not only a short term loser in history (for all the fact it keeps coming back), but a long term dead end as it is not a guarantee of success but of failure.

Is the old Blue Model of society, economics, and politics dying? Yes and without question, it is not just bankrupt of cash but of morality as well.

Is what will follow a guarantee of success? No, it offers a possibility for success and our chance to make of ourselves better individuals and, from that, a better society as a whole by recognizing that not only our rights but responsibilities and accountability for them start within us and do not rest in any collective organization we create.  Government, at its best, only has power to remove those who exercise negative liberties against society that is the only set of morality type that government knows and it is power.  To create a better society requires far, far more than government and each and every time government tries to 'help' it absorbs liberty it isn't designed to deal with and lessens our responsibilities and liberty, both, to the benefit of none and the detriment of all.  The future belongs to those willing to step into this future and its unknowns with open eyes and a willing soul to experience the joys and horrors of it as they go together when we exercise our liberty and freedom.  Tyranny and repression awaits on this other path we are on that ends at the abyss.  Many are trying to shove us over this edge by lying to us about it and what happens on that next step over it... and they are the dinosaurs who are already dead as the shockwaves of the impact of the next Great Awakening are already on the move and that will sweep all in its path if we aren't all killed, first. 

That is our simple choice, to live free or die. 

It always has been no matter what your Blue Model teachers have taught you, because they cannot live thinking it is true and will gladly end your liberty to deny it.

They are always willing to sacrifice others to their ends, never themselves.

Are you willing to sacrifice yourself from this comfortable Blue Model coffin to gain a better world for all of us by choosing a different path?  Will you stop the lid from coming down on your liberty or not?

One path offers opportunity and the hope of a better life, the other assured misery for generations... which do you choose?

Because if you don't make a choice, it will be made for you by those who seek power and only end up with ashes.

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