Monday, 24 October 2016

A case for pessimism

I grew up mostly during the Cold War.

I read about nuclear weapons in my impressionable youth. About how the USSR had enough nuclear missiles to destroy the world 10 times over.

But it's ok, 'cos the US had enough to destroy the world 20 times over.

(Figures not checked. ALL figures, including those to follow, are based on memories.)

Of course, we tried to comfort ourselves that Singapore would not be directly targeted in a Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) war between USSR and USA.

Until I read that the nuclear winter that followed would wipe out 98% of life on earth. Or 99%.

(With Global Warming now, a Nuclear Winter doesn't seem so bad.)

And there was the "Doomsday Clock" or something, where scientists (or some other experts) would assess the risk or chance of a MAD War, and move the clock closer to midnight of Doomsday. I think we are always about 3 seconds from doomsday.

And then the USSR collapsed. Poland broke away (or something). And the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and East and West Germany united.

And suddenly the Cold War was over.

Samuel Huntington wrote "The Clash of Civilisation" and Francis Fukuyama wrote "The End of History", and the US was the sole Superpower in the world,

And we lived happily ever after.

Except we didn't.

Well, we did for a while. The 90s were kinda quiet. Or so it seemed. (There was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the first Desert Storm, and I think Afghanistan was involved. But all that was far from Singapore. And not our immediate concern.

The 90s were pretty good as I remembered.

Then there was 9/11 in 2001.

And the Cold War was replaced by the war on terror. The Middle East, always simmering and occasionally boiling over, demanded attention. From Libya to Iran.

And the US as the sole superpower was sort of the policeman to the world. Intervening in the Kuwait invasion by Iraq. Reeled in by the war in Afghanistan (partly their fault, really). And then trying to fight Al Qaeda and terrorism.

But while there were dangers in the last 20 years or so, they were mostly regional, or low-risk.

At least, I don't feel like we are in any significant risk of a terrorist attack here in Singapore.

It might happen. But the chances of it seems rather low.

So, generally, it was "happily ever after".

Ok, domestically, our economy hasn't done as well as we had. But this is math. When your GDP is low, and your people are uneducated, and unskilled, it is easy to educate them, increase labour participation, and every dollar of increase is a significant percentage growth in GDP.

But when you are a richer nation, when your GDP is higher, then every dollar increase is less percentage-wise. And when most of your population is educated and 60% or more of your labour force is active, there is not much more you can do to increase growth by brute force.

Then there was the 2008 Financial Crisis. But we have "recovered" from that.

Or have we?

Growth is still anaemic. Interest rates are still low. Investments are not forthcoming - at least not at the levels we need them to be. Economists are asking (or if not economists, then I am) if Capitalism has run its course.

And in the last 5 years, Russia under a aggressive Putin, has been flexing its muscle, and trying its luck as it seeks to increase its power and influence.

China, is similarly getting more impatient about her inevitable rise.

And the US, fatigued by a series of war, is trying to extricate itself from other military adventures.

Then there is the election for POTUS. With The Donald appealing to the baser instincts of the disadvantaged.

In the last few weeks we have seen scandals and missteps from The Donald that have alienated the Donald from voters. And yet, his core supporters have stayed with him.

And The Donald emboldened (or perhaps deluded) by this show of support still believes that he can win, and that if he loses, it is because of a "rigged" election.

So he has pledged to accept the outcome of the election. IF. HE. WINS.

And this undermines the foundation of Democracy on which the legitimacy of the US government is based. If democratic process in the US cannot be trusted, if elections are not fair, if the fourth estate (the media) is part of a conspiracy, then the bastion of democracy is a lie.

If The Donald alleges fraud or "a rigged election" when he loses - yes, he will lose - what will happen then? His core supporters have promised "civil war".

Of course, that could just be the hard-core supporters. And the Republican Party is not going to support a civil war. There will be attempts to crimp the more extreme views and protestations. Whether it will be enough is the question.

But even as the US is dampening civil unrest within, Russia awaits without. Ready for Cold War 2.0.

There are signs, if not irrefutable evidence, that Russia has been interfering with the US Presidential Election. That Putin has been tilting for The Donald. Why? Because,
...even if he lost his bet on the Republican candidate, Russia would have succeeded in another objective: heaping ridicule on and even discrediting the American political system. Revelations of backstabbing in the Democratic party, of Mrs Clinton promising donors one thing while offering voters another, all serve as perfect examples for what Mr Putin argued all along: that the US political system is as corrupt as those of other countries, that US democracy is a myth, and that America has no business telling others how to fix their political systems.
And all this is the moral-psychological attack in the new cold war. 

Then there is Syria, where the alliances and factions are so complicated, I do not pretend to understand the situation. But on this convoluted stage, it is the perfect place for a proxy war between the US and Russia to be played out. 

All this while the US is being challenged by China.

But China is slowing down and that means they will have no room to spare to challenge the US.


No. It is precisely because China is slowing down, that their internal stability is being threatened, that the legitimacy and authority of the Communist Party is being questioned, that China needs to do a Galtieri.

What's a "Galtieri"?

It is to identify (or create) an external threat to distract from internal problems. 

It is what Leopoldo Galtieri did for Argentina in 1982:
When he was appointed president in November 1981, Galtieri's government was confronting a severe economic crisis. To divert attention he acted on Argentina's historic claim to the Falklands, which it calls Las Malvinas. He later admitted he thought Britain would not put up a fight.
The recent actions of Global Times is in line with such a "strategy". Singapore is a "softer" target, an easy surrogate for the US, and makes for a good whipping boy on social network where Chinese Netizens can exercise (and exorcise) their need to demonise an external threat. 

And the signs of China's slowdown is undeniable. 

Sure, the Chinese Govt will try to reverse the slowdown, but the mechanisms in place are inflexible, inefficient, and designed to be manipulated. So we can never be sure if reported growth is really accurate, if there is even growth.

In any case, the effects are already felt in Singapore.

And the more China slows down, the more she will need an external threat, the more bellicose she will be.

So no world policemen. Or at least one who is distracted by internal civil unrest.

A new cold war by a resurgent Russia.

An a rising China interrupted, who wants to overcome the interruption, if she can.

And Singapore in a recession.

Harng Cheng Pai, ah!

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