Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wizards at War - IV

Where we get back on track and consider the musings of one of the aforementioned wizards, an actual one in this case, Joseph George Caldwell, who cut his eye-teeth working for Hugh Everett at Lambda Division and whose prolix writings on Minimal Regret warfare makes for some of the most fascinating food for thought about how and why things are unfolding as they are.

I stumbled upon Caldwell several years ago and devoured all of his writings at the foundationwebsite at that time. A powerful influence on my own thinking, Caldwell is very helpful in terms of providing insight into the fact that events are proceeding (for the most part) in accordance with well-laid plans, and, in keeping with systemic incentives designed by an Elite with motives quite different from the civic care and feeding of common citizens that we have been taught to impute to leadership and government.

This miscellaneous snippet written in response to Katrina is profoundly apropos as we watch the slow motion catastrophe unfolding in the Carolinas and Georgia whose major ground zero metropolitan impact point will be Atlanta.

Why Did the US Government Choose Not to Plan to Avoid A Clumsy Response to a Large Hurricane?

In the preceding discussion, I did not address the issue of the government’s slow and bungling response to dealing with the Hurricane Katrina refugees – I addressed just the issue of why it was in the best interest of the government and the oligarchs that control it to allow the destruction to occur (by allowing development in areas that were at high risk of storm damage). Why, for example, since the government’s own studies showed what was going to happen, did it simply let the refugees fend largely for themselves, dependent on the compassion and largesse of the private sector, instead of immediately relocating them in an orderly fashion to other parts of the country? This uncoordinated response does seem a little strange, since the economic activity associated with an efficient and prompt response would not have differed much from the helter-skelter nonresponse that was demonstrated. And why, since the cost of a fully interoperable emergency communication system is about the same as the Tower-of-Babel hodgepodge current system in which different emergency services cannot communicate with each other, did the government not fund the former instead of the latter? These slow, clumsy, uncoordinated, unplanned responses were evidently the result of thoughtlessness, inattention and incompetence – there was no strong economic incentive to respond otherwise. The point is that these two quite-different responses to handling refugees in the hurricane aftermath don’t differ much with respect to their associated economic activity – they differ mainly with respect to the misery of the common masses, and that is not a great concern of the wealthy elite.

From an economic perspective, it was lucrative to let the hurricane destroy New Orleans and the Mississippi coast, so that the country could engage in the economic activity of rebuilding. It was rather irrelevant whether the refugees were cared for and relocated in an orderly fashion, or left to suffer and die on their own, since either one produced about the same amount of economic activity. From the government’s viewpoint, however, there was a major public-relations cost associated with letting the refugees fend for themselves when it would have cost about the same to care for them properly: its total lack of caring has been exposed. This may cause the public to vote for new faces in the next election, but it will not cause any substantive changes to the system, or cause it to try to avoid economic disasters in the future. (Plato’s observation about a democracy’s defect of electing poor leaders who pander to the population are applicable here.)

In the case of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the government claimed that no one could have possibly foreseen an attack of this sort, and it refused to admit that the attack was a direct result of foolish national policies (of open borders, mass immigration, and massive international free trade). In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the government claimed that this is the nation’s largest “natural disaster,” and so it is reasonable to expect that their response to a new situation would be a little slow and uncoordinated. (Moreover, characterizing the disaster as a “natural” disaster absolves the government of any responsibility for it.) As in the case of the 9/11 attack, the political leaders will pat each other on their backs, commending themselves for a job well done, and denying their blatant culpability. The government has consistently condoned or encouraged building in risky areas. It not only does not care that people’s homes in these places will be blown away someday, it looks forward to such events, since they will boost GDP. In today’s economy, they also create more demand for illegal aliens (to help rebuild, doing the construction jobs that “US workers refuse to do”) leading to further weakening and dissolution of the nation’s once-strong culture. From the government’s viewpoint, the human misery and loss of life that accompany these disasters are simply irrelevant “externalities.” Like the soldiers who died in Vietnam and Iraq, they are not included in the GDP indicator that drives the nation.

President Bush may apologize for the bungling lack of coordination in planning for the handling of the refugees. He may even apologize for not building stronger levees. But the fact remains that he and the oligarchs were fully aware of the consequences of allowing the economic destruction to occur (by allowing building in risky places), and they are now reveling in the fat contracts to rebuild New Orleans and the Mississippi coast.

The situation is a little reminiscent of the war in Iraq. The war is very profitable to the US arms industry, but the average American is getting fed up with having his sons and daughters die in brutal combat just to further economic activity in this lucrative sector. As a result, the war in Iraq will probably fizzle out before long, and America will withdraw, just as occurred in the war in Vietnam before it. The war in Iraq was planned from the beginning. Hurricane Katrina was just good luck.