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Read commentary from industry experts and SWP's feature writers.
In his inaugural address in 1961, new President John Kennedy gave a stirring speech in which he famously stated, “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. “ He then went on to say, “Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.” Nonsense.
In 1906, Alfred Henry Lewis stated, “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.” Since then, his observation has been echoed by people as disparate as Robert Heinlein and Leon Trotsky. The key here is that, unlike all other commodities, food is the one essential that cannot be postponed. If there were a shortage of, say, shoes, we could make do for months or even years. A shortage of gasoline would be worse, but we could survive it, through mass transport, or even walking, if necessary.
Most people in the West are familiar with the Biblical story of Moses. In this tale, a spiritual leader, chosen by God, leads his people out of Egypt to the promised land. The Israelites are saved. God provides Moses with a list of commandments that they are to live by – pretty basic stuff: Don’t kill people, don’t steal or lie, don’t cheat on your spouse, etc. But interestingly, the second commandment exhorts the Israelites not to create false gods, nor to bow down to, nor serve them.
The image above is of the Arch of Reunification in North Korea, located just south of Pyongyang. It was constructed in 2001 and features two women wearing traditional chosŏn-ot dresses, representing the two Koreas coming together. The arch spans the highway that connects North and South Korea, except that, as can be seen… there are almost no vehicles on that highway.
So, why build a highway that doesn’t have a use?
Mao Zedong was, by all assessments, not the nicest fellow. In 1964, he first published “Quotations from Chairman Mao,” which came to be known to all and sundry as “Mao’s Little Red Book.” At first, it just went out to the military, but by 1966, it gained far wider distribution. The goal was for "ninety-nine percent (of the population of China) to read Chairman Mao's book."
I first began to predict a major economic collapse back in 1999. Although I understood that it was at least fifteen years off and possibly more, I believed that it would be wise to begin to prepare for it then, as the actual date of collapse could not be predicted. (Better to be a few years early than even one day too late.) Not surprisingly, back then, this prediction appeared to most people to not only be unlikely, but laughable.
World diplomacy is, at present, on rather shaky ground. Throughout history, whenever major economies are approaching a state of crisis, heads of state typically become chronically irritable. If we step back a bit, we see that the present state of affairs was long in coming. After World War II, the US led a veritable extravaganza of productivity. Other nations got into the slipstream of this economic advance if they were able to do so and, by the mid- to late-1950s, Canada, Europe, the UK, Japan and others were hanging tightly onto the coattails of the US boom in order to advance their own economies.
Here in Hanoi resides a large building that, although quite significant historically, has faded into relative obscurity. And yet, it has a tale to tell. It’s most famous in the West as the “Hanoi Hilton,” the name given to it by American POWs between 1964 and 1973, during America’s war with Vietnam. US Congressman John McCain was famously held here after his plane was shot down, as were many other US pilots.
The larger the country, the less the likelihood of getting a leader who can be trusted with the job. On the surface of it, this would seem to be an illogical claim. Surely the size of a country has no bearing upon whether its leadership is competent or trustworthy and yet, it’s very much the case. This is due to a combination of conditions that can be found in every country.
If left to their own devices, people will tend to come up with a society in which residents treat each other with equanimity and respect each other’s property. They’ll tend to help their neighbours, yet will otherwise respect each other’s privacy. This is not just happenstance. It occurs for a reason. It’s the most effective way to ensure that peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit are maximized over the long haul. So why then, do so many societies seem to begin this way, but eventually devolve into just the opposite? The answer is that they grow to a size in which leaders are no longer equal members of the community, but are in a position above the rest. And at that point, their self-interest is no longer the same as the self-interest of those they govern.