Monthly Archives: January 2018

Oh Dear…

Who could have seen that coming?

Cryptocurrency is a very good idea. It is not going to be a popular idea. At least in the real world of banking/government/central banking. And, hey, do you really think Visa is going to fight that world…they are that world.


The problem of monoculture

I used to live in one of the most productive forestry areas in Canada. It was the perfect growing environment for trees, especially conifers. And it was, as the expression goes, a “tree farm”. Every forty years the forest owner would come in and cut down hundreds of acres of trees and then, assiduously, replant them. All the trees were of the same species and all were, depending on where they were in the cycle, exactly the same height. Miles and miles and mile of Douglas Firs. The monotony was only broken in the small areas which were set aside either as old growth or as stream allowances. There you’d find cedars, broadleaf maple, arbutus and many other species. But that was only a tiny, less than 1%, of the land. It was a monoculture and very efficient if you were trying to maximize the growth of what the companies call “fiber”.

A political landscape can become a monoculture. Essentially only a limited range of ideas are allowed to flourish, ideas outside that range are suppressed or, more often, ignored. Within a political monoculture you may have a variety of parties but each is limited to the ideas within the range. Preferment – as it was called in a gentler time – is limited to people who accept the limits of the landscape.

This sort of political monoculture can persist for several generations and produce statesmen of varying talents all of whom want to accomplish one or another of the central tenets of the monoculture in preference to the others; but all of whom are in agreement as to the limits of acceptable political discourse. In a stable society this sort of acceptance of the limits of debate can make a lot of sense and create a political world in which the essential stability is preserved. A concept which is philosophically attractive to a certain sort of conservative in the small “c” sense of that term.

There are three threats to the monocultural forests where I lived: fire, blight and economics. Fire is obvious and would be a threat to any forest no matter how diverse. (We’ll leave questions of regeneration to ecologists and foresters.) Blight, whether mold or insect, is a huge threat because of the complete lack of diversity. Economics are a threat because what you planted forty years before may not be in demand forty years on. Fire is a rapid threat, blight a medium term threat and economics a constant threat.

A political monoculture has its own forms of threat but they all come down to a challenge to the stability of the society in which the political monoculture has been operating. The problem for the political monoculture is that, pretty much by definition, the assumption of stability is axiomatic. Asking questions going to the assumption of stability is outside the terms of the monoculture. So those questions and the policy prescriptions which flow from them will either be suppressed or ignored.

What can challenge the assumption of societal stability? A wide variety of things. Demographic decline, the erosion of the society’s economic foundation, runaway economic inequality, external threats or the internal inability to manage problems as they arise all can challenge the stability assumption. So can technology, communications and failures to adapt to changing conditions. If a large fraction of the society is rendered powerless or redundant, stability can be challenged.

The problem a political monoculture has is that it lacks even the vocabulary to address such systemic challenges.

Of which, more, later.



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Bannon Eruption

The internet is going a bit nuts today over purported quotes from Steve Bannon vis a vis Trump and Trump’s reaction to them. (“lost his job and lost his mind”)

A few points. The author of the book from which the quotes are taken, Michael Wolff, is a fairly notorious inventor of quotes and takes which bear only a glancing contact with reality. (See here for example.) And the quote from Bannon which is making the most waves is as follows (Guardian version):

“The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.

“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.””

I fear that Steve Bannon thought that Don Jr. and the other people involved were dummies. Which, frankly, they were.

If there were some political professionals in the White House the response to all of this would be a) Steve is entitled to his opinion, b) looks like the book has more than a few errors, c) the President has more important things to do than respond to six-month-old gossip.

As there are no political professionals in the White House – generals and ex-Ralph Lauren models are not political pros by definition – Trump took it upon himself to respond early.

The term clusterfuck does not even begin to describe Trump’s statement:

Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.

Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans.

Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself….”

And so on.

There are many things wrong with Trump and one of the biggest is his inability to simply absorb a few shots while getting on with the job. The Wolff book is no threat to the Trump Presidency and would have been discredited in due course. It would have been in the rearview mirror in a matter of days as more and more of its assertions were proven incorrect or exaggerations. However, by jumping on it before it was even published, Trump has ensured that it will sell, be discussed and, potentially, be damaging.

By doing that Trump is confirming the kernel of Bannon’s thesis, Trump and his White House are not very smart.

When Bannon left the White House my interest in defending Trump dropped to nearly zero.

I still want to see the US do well. I still think that Trump is making many of the right moves – largely by instinct – both domestically and internationally. And I still think it is vitally important to the interests of the United States that the corruption of the Obama Justice Department, FBI and White House be exposed and that the gunsels of Clinton Inc. face their day in Court. But that does not mean I don’t think that Trump is a vindictive, short sighted little man whose only claim to fame was the sheer good luck of being nominated to run against the worst Presidential candidate since WWII. Just when he seemed to be getting a handle on the job along comes a minor issue and he loses sight of the job he was elected to do.


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