I'm fond of saying that I'm allergic to conspiracy theories. Behind our country's dismaying governance, cluelessness really rules, not plotting or scheming. Take, for example, these astounding remarks made Friday by former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on NPR's "Marketplace" show:
"As China grows -- at the current rate it's growing, in twenty or thirty years -- and becomes the number one largest economy in the world, I think China may become our nemesis."
One would think that Mr. Reich is a pretty smart guy -- former Rhodes Scholar (same class as Bill Clinton), Harvard faculty, cabinet secretary. Now, why on earth would Mr. Reich believe that China can possibly keep behaving the way it does for another two or three decades? China faces energy starvation along with the rest of the world. China has less oil left than the United States (and the US would have roughly four years worth of oil if we were deprived of imports -- 26 billion barrels used at the rate of 7 billion a year).
There is no way that China can put another one half percent of its population behind the wheel of a car without sending its army and navy out to seize foreign oil fields -- let alone continue manufacturing toasters and Christmas tree ornaments for Americans. And Americans are not going to have the the cash to buy those things, whether or not we are actively engaged in a war for the world's remaining oil. And all this trouble is going to play out in the next decade, not in "twenty or thirty years." Near the end of the segment, Reich repeated this inanity:
"As China, over the next twenty, thirty years, grows and prospers, a lot of Americans are gonna say, now, wait a minute. . . ! The endgame, we hope, is more and more economic integration, a Chinese middle class that is more and more prosperous, that is able to buy things from the United States, that looks a little bit more like middle-class Americans live, and therefore is not so different from us."
An arresting fantasy, isn't it? A Beijing that resembles Atlanta, full of strip malls dishing out cheeseburgers and other interesting foreign foods to Chinese soccer moms hurrying back to Toll Brother's starter homes in Chinese knockoffs of the Ford Explorer.
Note to Mr. Reich and the rest of the people he is smoking opiated hashish with: you've got it backwards. Over the next twenty, thirty years America gets to be more and more like Chinese peasant life in 1949. Why? Because neither America nor China (nor anybody else) can continue running industrial economies the way we have been, or even a substantial fraction of that way, in an energy-starved world. Nor will anybody come up with a miracle technological rescue remedy to keep all the motors humming.
Our second peckerhead of the day is David Brooks of The New York Times. Actually, Brooks could qualify for peckerhead of the decade among mainstream news pundits, since his fantasies about America diverge so extravagantly from the realities our nation faces. In his most recent column, Mr. Brooks asserted that the desert wastelands beyond the last ring of Phoenix's current suburban asteroid belts would become the next suburban utopia, adding an additional million people to that hopeless mega-metroplex. Note to Mr. Brooks: Arizona's groundwater basins are overdrawn. Most of the rivers are tapped nearly to their limits. The southwest is suffering its worst drought since the 1950s, and climate change signs suggest that the drought will persist. This is happening, of course, as the nation (and the rest of the world) enters an epochal depletion of fossil fuel resources that will, how shall we say, put the fucking shnitz on further suburban development of any kind. Mr. Brooks writes:
". . . half of the buildings in which Americans will live, play and work in the year 2030 don't even exist yet. We are in the middle of a $25 trillion building boom that is changing the face of the country, and most of it is happening in desert places like this one."
Another note to Mr. Brooks. An economy based on land development and housing bubbles is finished. We are going to have to make other arrangements for running a civilization, and return to traditional methods for occupying the terrain of North America, without the prosthetic enhancements of Ford Explorers.
This is the quality of thinking that we are getting from leaders in politics and opinion in our country now. It could not be more inconsistent with reality. No evil cabal of corporate CEOs is paying off either of this idiots. They arrive at their opinions by a simple failure to pay attention to what is really happening in the world. Their failure will contribute to a greater failure of authority in this country when we hit the wall of economic pain in the months ahead, and the public wonders why it wasn't informed. That failure of authority, and the angry response to it, will lead to a very dangerous politics of grievance and recrimination.