During my brief stop-over in Moscow earlier this month, I was asked to give a lecture at the Institute for Economic Strategies about the recent political turmoil in the US as viewed through the lens of Cliodynamics. I’ve given lectures there before—last time was actually in 2009, when I explained my forecast for American political violence peaking in 2020s. Since this forecast is, unfortunately, right on track, my talk was well attended. There was a lot of discussion—in fact, more than two hours of back and forth, which followed the lecture.
There were many good questions because, generally speaking, Russian political scientists are reasonably well informed. However, it was also clear that they were still struggling to understand how the political landscape in Washington changed following the Trump victory in the 2016 presidential election. Just as an example, only two people in the audience knew who Steve Bannon is.
But the most interesting part of discussion, which really highlighted the differences between the Russian and American mentalities, was triggered when someone in the audience asked me about America’s long-term strategic plan.
It turns out that several people in the audience have been contributing to the development of the Russian national strategy. During my visits to Russia in the early 2000s I remember discussions about the need for such planning, and it was interesting to see that they led to some fairly concrete results. In 2014 the Duma (Russian Parliament) passed a Law on the Strategic Planning for the Russian Federation. This law established the framework for making strategic forecasts and plans on the national security and foreign policy, on scientific and technological progress, and on economic development at the national and regional levels. The time horizon of these forecasts and strategic plans is 12 years done every six years (apparently timed to coincide with presidential terms). But I was told that there is another federal law in the making that would extend this time horizon to 2050 or even beyond.
This is very interesting because, as far as I know, the United States has nothing like this. The American policy-planning network, made up of foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion groups, is concerned with fairly tactical and, usually, nakedly partisan issues. The foreign policy establishment is interested in predicting what other players on the international arena would do, but it doesn’t seem to be plotting the long-term strategy for the US. I am familiar with research funding programs at agencies like DoD (Department of Defense) and CIA. But again, their concern is with other countries, not domestic issues.
There is a fairly voluminous literature on “Grand Strategy”, following influential work by Edward Luttwak. But my reading of it is that it’s mostly about how to preserve the hegemonic position that the US had attained following the Soviet Union collapse. It’s not strategy, but tactics: how to keep resurgent Russia down, prevent China from extending its naval reach beyond its coastline, and the such.
Talking about China, it’s very clear that the Chinese leadership has a long-term strategy looking many decades ahead (this is clear from how successive administrations behave; I haven’t looked into whether such a strategic plan is publicly discussed in China).
But the United States, apparently, doesn’t. If I am missing something, I hope readers of this blog will set me straight!
The closest thing to a long-term strategy in the United States, I can think of, is exemplified by the decades-long work of two cabals of intellectuals that have “gifted” us with neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. In my work, I have been particularly interested in tracing how a small group of heterodox (for the 1940s and 1950s when they got started) economists and businessmen around Hayek and von Mises, known as the Mont Pelerin Society, utterly transformed the ideological landscape in America. After they triumphed in the 1980s, neo-liberalism became the dominant ideology of the American ruling elites, including both the Democrats and Republicans.
But that’s not quite the same as a National Strategy for America.
Not an answer to the question, but how would Peter, or anyone else, describe what China’s decade long strategy is?
Just look at their strategy wrt Taiwan — extraordinary patience; no abrupt moves; same steady movement to the goal, which is incorporating it without having to fight a war. Supreme leaders change; the strategy is unchanged.
There are two integral features to Chinese external strategy to bring to the foreground beyond those already discussed.
First, China makes every effort to have a relationship with China be economically very lucrative for the top of the political class of a nation it engages. This goal is greatly facilitated by the fact that the Chines government can ultimately direct as much economic engagement and monetary allocation as required, more or less at the government’s discretion. Unlike the US, China doesn’t lean heavily on what amount to bribes of ‘aid’ or guns. China’s investments in targeted nations make money for China, but they always make money for the elite hosts. China’s relationship with Australia is an excellent example. This methodology has been repeated pervasively in Africa and Latin America with considerable success. The goal is to make China a profitable, even near indispensable, economic counter-party.
Second, China is extremely careful never to criticize the political structure of a target country. Whether a closely held dictatorship or a wide open democracy, China has essentially nothing to say about how the power structure of a target country runs their shop. This is quite unusual. Certainly in the short term this makes for more stability in the bilateral relationship. Over the long term as governments topple or change , such neutrality may draw unwelcome remark. Either way, though, it tends to leave China out of political controversy with target countries. That result is significantly complemented by the fact that China provides very little military aid to target nations.
China is playing the long game where possible. In instances where China has had a prior policy relationship with a country, such as Japan and the USA, China’s policy seems to lack flexibility or initiative. Existing policy is vigorously defended, but little more or else. I suspect that this is due to the complexity which intra-China discussion on any policy revision entail. Ultimately, events will force China to innovate in some of these realms one would assume; in practice, stability may be favored even as policy utility drifts. If would be interesting to hear discussion on this third issue from those with a current view on foreign policy formation within China’s decision-making cadre.
US strategy unchanged. Policy is to create markets/ use resources of foreign countries by peaceful or peaceful means.
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Pingback: Does America Have a Long-Term Strategic Plan? - Peter Turchin
well-aware of the chinese long term planning, it is no secret. mildly surprised that people in russia have sufficient confidence in their government to call for long-term planning.
in the usa, it seems impossible. powerful segments of the elite resist government activity in commerce and science, unless support for military control of markets abroad counts for planning.
worse, coming to a position of formal power in government is a personal struggle against other people. government is a prize. there is no notion that office will result in good government, if that may conflict with holding office. there is a public service which may function as a deep state with a long view, but they are constrained by the politicians.
i commonly refer to the usa as a medieval society, with political gangs functioning as the great families, elections replacing civil war, ballots replacing bullets. the constitution was modeled on british society of the day, and that in turn was a heritage of successful banditry by normans.
china has moved on to genuine bureaucracy, it was easy for them with their heritage of mandarinate., perhaps russia will too. this must be a good thing, considered by itself, but without democracy, all human society will inevitably be self destroying, as elites feather their own nests at the expense of the people, and the future.
Also the spread of the neo-liberal philosophy resulting in the naive belief that things will arrange themselves to lead to the best outcome, without any thought or exertion on our part.
Hayek and Mises in no way suggested that things will “arrange themselves to lead to the best outcome without any thought or exertion.” A better summary of their position is that decentralized planning, thought, problem solving and coordination of billions of people and organizations small and large within a conducive structure* leads to better outcomes than top down, imposed centralized planning.
Humanity, globally, is experiencing better outcomes today than at any time ever before in terms of subjective well being, freedom, prosperity, lifespan, health, freedom from violence and so on. The areas most closely adopting this decentralized, non imposed order are the areas which have reached the highest levels of outcomes and those turning from imposed order to more emergent order are the areas which have made the most progress in the past generation (China for example).
But that’s not what neoliberalism says at bottom. It believes in a strong state to MAKE markets work. Philip Mirowski is best at capturing this, IMHO. Good summary paper here: https://www.ineteconomics.org/uploads/papers/WP23-Mirowski.pdf
It does, however, lend itself to decrying any sort of national strategy, in that you are 100% correct.
America’s historical strategic plan goes back to Henry Clay & before him Hamilton. FDR revived it somewhat, but it wasn’t centrally articulated, much less followed. Elite factions & industry formations tend to over-ride.
This is priceless, Paul.
Let me summarize the discussion so far by combining Turchin’s final paragraph and comments with Mirowski’s paper on this powerful and nefarious secret society.
According to Turchin, the Mont Pelerin Society is a neo-liberal “cabal” (started at a resort in Switzerland) which has had more influence on long term US strategic planning than any other organization he is aware of and has become the ruling ideology of the cultural elites of both parties (only a miniscule percent of which are or ever have been libertarians or classical liberals, BTW). These so called neoliberals per Turchin supposedly believe that “things will arrange themselves to lead to the best outcome with no thought or effort.”
Yet, when you look at the actual record, the members of the MPS didn’t refer to themselves as neo-liberal, they produced a quarterly newsletter, and they currently have a web site with an FAQ, and even Wikipedia has lists of their members. Perhaps we should refer to it as a not-so-secret society, or perhaps more appropriately an intellectual gathering with defined and semi-closed membership. I have already addressed the silly notion that they believe things will optimally arrange themselves without thought or effort above.
The Mirowski paper also posits that the MPS represents “neo-liberalism,” even though the group itself refers to itself as an intellectual gathering of libertarians and classical liberals. Mirowski justifies this label by finding some occasional use of the term “neo-liberal” by a couple of the thousands upon thousands of members over a span of close to seventy years. He does however, in a surprising display of rare transparency, mention that most historians vehemently disagree with him. After reading this paper, and as highlighted below, I can see why.
The actual historians who have studied the group, and the society itself states that its goal was “to focus on research and study that would win the battle of ideas, discredit socialism and outline the alternative.” In their Statement of Aims the MPS emphasizes freedom of thought and expression; preserving the rule of law; safeguarding international peace, liberty, and trade, and COMBATTING THE MISUSE OF HISTORY rampant in Socialism. All members agree that the membership is diverse though and there has been extensive disagreement and conflicting views of the myriad members. That was widely seen as as much a feature as a bug.
But Mirowski of course disagrees or dismisses all this as an elaborate ruse and throws together his interpretation of their real goals and aims which include, and I quote, “the freedom of corporations to act as they please,” because they can “do no wrong” and that this will help them “facilitate the buying of elections.” He adds that the MPS is dedicated to the belief that “people who complain about inequality are either sore losers or old fogies, who need to get hip to the way things work nowadays.” And that the MPS is dedicated to establishing a “repulsive” and “twisted” ideology supporting think tanks that “are busy riling up the groundlings with debt clocks and boogeyman statistics.”
I could give other examples of the hyperbole and blatant dishonesty of the Mirowski paper, but the take away is that we are seeing a clear rhetorical trick of creating an ambiguous label for a diverse group so that the Mirowski can make a joke out of their mission either by gathering random comments from the thousands of past members or by simply misrepresenting them altogether. When pushed, he can just pretend that this is the true secret purpose of the repulsive and twisted cabal.
This is Illuminati level of conspiracy-theorizing topped with a healthy dosage of propaganda.
Priceless, but pathetic.
Sorry, Roger, but Mirowski is a FAR more serious scholar than you seem to realize, and much more careful than you make him out to be.
I guess it depends upon how one defines serious scholarship. Unfalsifiable conspiracy theories, blatant misrepresentations, and exaggerations playing to the biases of the intended audience is not what I would consider serious. Serious demagoguery perhaps.
Paul, most neo-liberals don’t believe in the strong state. It’s certainly true for the Republican wing of the governing elite. Beginning with Reagan they’ve tried to run the state into the ground with twin policies of “borrow and spend.” I am not familiar with Mirowski, will take a look. But does he really present evidence for a strong statist component in neo-liberalism?
Mirowski is an historian of economic thought, and he’s treating neoliberalism as a coherent set of ideas developed by a specific group of thinkers. Others feeding off of them have garbled the ideas somewhat–and others still have intentionally confused or obscured them. When you’ve got neoliberals and libertarians teaming up to drown the welfare state in a bathtub, the differences can blur pretty fast. I’d argue that that’s what’s going on a good deal on the GOP side.
The paper I linked to is a good summary, but Mirowski has a book-length work that provides much more evidence: *Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown* https://www.versobooks.com/books/1613-never-let-a-serious-crisis-go-to-waste
Sorry, my name got clipped off. Not trying to hide who I am!
The USA has a well-defined international policy which is surprisingly poorly understood, in my view. It is however largely a defensive policy. Because it is defensive so as to retain an established position, it requires very little fundamental discussion. Actions like the Invasion of Iraq in no way change—or even matter—to the larger policy program which was not impacted in the least by the outcome.
The US stepped into the shores of UK policy and territorial interest in the main with the effective collapse of Imperial Britain following WW II, where possible, and subsequently attempted to pick up many of the pieces left behind by the French as well. To all intents and purposes, Churchill wrote American foreign policy in the years after that war when he was out of power, and the US has deviated very little from that. I do not mean this in the simple fact of Churchill launching the Cold War, but in a much more comprehensive fashion of keeping the sweep and lineaments of the prior Empire as well as its prerogatives functionally intact.
Britain’s policy prior to the war, to summarize it with somewhat inaccurate brevity was: 1) keep ours ours, 2) keep the Germans from leadership in Europe, 3) keep the Russians out of Europe, 4) control international waters, and 5) allow no new powers to aggregate hegemonic spheres. The determination to prevent a power projecting Iran or China is simply an extension of the last feature for example. American dependencies such as Japan and for much of the time Latin America were simply grafted onto the British schema, not least because these outcomes were in accord with prior British policy as well. American economic supremacy was taken for granted, and rightfully so because the US controlled the institutional mechanisms of investment and capital flows in an impoverished world. This last capacity has significantly eroded but is still substantially intact.
Those in the US policy elite all know the basic facts, to the point where there is no real discussion of them due to an ingrained and tacit consensus, in my view. It is not my view that most would articulate is as borrowed from the British; it is conveniently forgotten that the Brits told the Yanks how to do this during all of those conferences over WW II. There is much strum and drang from an ideological standpoint upon ribbons and bows on the policy, and regarding, putatively, why, particular actions in service of those policies are ‘currently necessary.’ This gives the illusion of chaos in a current on policy continuity. ‘Maintenance of inherited hegemonic spheres’ is not a conservative or liberal policy but almost a cultural given across the primary political spectrum. Trump’s isolationism is a direct and intrinsic challenge to this overall policy consensus, which is a salient reason why he will be repudiated in short order. Given that Trump has no party by which to mobilize his support, I do not see him withstanding that repudiation.
Much more could be said to expand this analysis, but I’ll leave it at that for now.
This is well-said, Richard, but not the same as what Peter’s talking about, as I understand it.
But it does help illuminate what may be going on: Russia and China both NEED strategic plans much more intensely than America has ever managed to realize that it does–precisely because of how lucky it’s been, some pertinent details of which you’ve just highlighted.
Richard and Paul: fair enough. If you are on top of the hill, then your strategy is pretty simple: stay on top and defeat all challengers. If you are one of the challengers, you must adopt a more sophisticated plan.
Of course, the British during the 19th century had the same strategy…
Peter, I agree completely with your comparison of the present US strategic laxness to that of Britain in the 19th century. I have no problem with long term strategic planning. American reluctance to develop any likely has deeper cultural roots than those I have stressed here, a bit glibly if I think not inaccurately.
I wonder more than casually whether we, America, will similarly retreat from indefensible and excessively costly spheres of influence in the 2040s as Britain did from much of its Empire in the 1940s/50s. Say, abandoning intervention in the Near East and around the South China Sea. Or go down fighting in the 2050s as the French played out their string. I don’t choose those dates without reason, just as you have firm reasons for the dating schemas you are evaluating. I can’t count on living long enough to see how the latter plays out, but maybe.
I have read much of your historical sociological oeuvre, Peter. There are concepts I would like to discuss in some detail from a different but compatible perspective which you may find of interest. I will contact you to that end in the near future.
Just to riff on your post, I’d say that it’s hard for the US to have national planning with any degree of rigor when so many of the elite groups have very little nationalism baked into their philosophies.
Why would a tech company executive, Goldman Sachs, a trade union, Hollywood, or foreign national recreating their homeland within US borders have any interest in the country as a whole? The ‘nation’ is a dying concept here.
You can argue that the election shows the neat split between the American nation and everyone else, it’s a pretty evenly matched divide. The real question becomes as to which side really gains traction.
America’s elites have ALWAYS been more fragmented than most. But for most of our history we’ve had two broad coalitions behind the major parties, and one of them usually dominates for roughly 36 years. That stopped in 1968. From then on, divided government has been the rule, and that’s allowed the fragments to gain more power vs. the coalitions as a whole–veto power over their own fiefdoms. Hence, no national strategy is possible. Underlying that are the disintegrative processes Peter describes in Ages of Discord.
Not always. As I discuss in Ultrasociety, there was a remarkable elite consensus in the 1950s and 1960s.
But that’s “remarkable elite consensus” for US history. US elites were still quite heterogeneous. Recall–you show this chart in Ages of Discord–the 2nd dimension of DW-Nominate shows a polarization SPIKE at the same time, actually peaking 1959. That’s one clear piece of evidence of how far from homogenous elites were, even at that time. More to the point for purposes of this discussion, there weren’t sufficient institutions in place to lay foundations for a national strategic plan. A decade or two of consensus without institutions to work with/through would not be enough.
p.s. The 2nd dimension captures a variety of factors, INCLUDING race/civil rights. In 1950s, northern liberal internationalist thinking saw desegregation as an international imperative in order to compete with communism in the 3rd world & this was a critical factor in why the Civil Rights Movement was able to gain ground. But Southern–and to a lesser extent Western (ala Barry Goldwater) elites objected strenuously, which is one reason why forming a national strategic plan even then wasn’t really a possibility.
That’s ok, we’ll leave it to the Chinese and Russians to do the central planning…herp-a-derp.
Last time I tried to comment I got bounced by the anti-spam device. I’ll try again.
I presume there are a lot of long term strategies on paper in think tanks and some DOD and intel agencies. Your best bet is to ask my friend Chas Freeman, he might give the best answer
Carl, as you remember, in the Stanford workshop on failed states, which both you and Chas attended, we discussed how each administration starts from scratch to painfully learn lessons about dealing with failed states. There is no long-term strategy. Instead there is a cycle, in which each new administration starts by declaring that they will not do nation building, and then they are forced to start doing something. But all they learn is lost when the next administration is installed.
There is no long-term strategy, but there is a long-term policy, which accrues action by default. “Nothing which is in our sphere will be allowed to fall away if that can be reasonably prevented.”
It is considered politically impolitic within the US to admit that we are an imperial power. Any one in the political duopoly must of course announce loudly in seeking office “I am not emperor, and we will take no imperial actions.” Once in power, they find themselves running an empire, and are forced to take the actions that support it, both from internal governmental expectations, power structure expectations, and simple inertia.
The essential reason why the US declines to develop an official long-term strategy is that any such would require an admission that we are an empire and will do whatever is necessary to remain one over the pre-estatlished extent or such actions as necessary to maintain that extent. Alternatively, the imperial position could be repudiated, and a different policy developed. But that, too, would require an admission that we are an empire, which is impossible, politically and conceptually. Pretending not to know or believe the facts of course leaves every new Administration lurching at the outset. Denial does that. Reality takes over soon, usually.
I wish our long-term planning was status quo plus (to use HW Bush’s phrase): economic liberalism, democracy, support of civil society institutions throughout the world, contain Russia and China (to redux Kennan’s policy). While Russian and Chinese society have been around much longer, there is not the political longevity that we have here in the US. I would put the likelihood of government upheaval higher in Russia and China than the US. We have institutions here that are creaking under Trump but seem to be holding.
I’m hoping that Trump will be a bit like the bad Julio-Claudian emperors (Tiberius, Caligula, Nero) and that the US can still thrive DESPITE terrible leadership.
I am afraid that the US is much more vulnerable to political turmoil in the next few years (to 2025). See my forecast
My personal fav us strategist is http://thomaspmbarnett.com
Watch 2015 “THE WORLD ACCORDING TO TOM BARNETT” BRIEF. Or read his trilogy.
Looks interesting. But he is just a single guy…
The right wing doesn’t even want us to have an “industrial policy”. They want to maximize profits now, within the current context – to hell with the future (or justice, etc). The committed idealogues among them assume that markets will take care of eveything, or at least they will work better than anything else. Others are just opportunists. They all have a deep and abiding faith that “greed is good”. And if the American empire, or even human civilization, collapses because of their unrestrained greed, they will just blame others for trying to restrain their greed. Trump is, of course, the ultimate opportunist.
Immigration as has been going on for the last few decades might be seen as a strategic project. If so, the present administration might change this long-term strategic plan.
US policy until Trump was driven by corporations – foundations, think tanks, and the big business leaders that would attend Bilderberg meetings.
Donald Trump has never attended a Bilderberg meeting.
Read some of the Bilderberg meeting reports here to get a flavour of what they have been planning. https://publicintelligence.net/bilderberg-archive/
America before Trump did not have a National Strategy, certainly not a National Strategy for America. But there was an informal national strategy written by and for corporate interests that was being implemented.
Hi Edward, I looked through the site, but I didn’t see anything about long-term strategy.
Understand your point, there is no formal strategy there the documents are quite banal to read, but formal strategy was not the game. Anything formal has to be proposed by government, and that which is openly proposed can be rejected by voters of the western democracies.
The strategy was the plan of arranging secret annual meetings during which a very select group of (almost entirely unelected) individuals have discussions on very limited agenda, which align and fix their world views. Question is who sets the agenda, what are their motivations and goals, and whether these are good for everyone.
That’s not to say policy strategy is not outright discussed directly – it is, here and there. For example:
“The last questioner, from Europe, suggested that it was time to review the mechanics of consultation between Europe and America. The panellist replied that both NATO and the EU seemed good mechanisms for consultation.”
It is up to the voters of European democracies to decide whether to review “the mechanics of consultation between Europe and America.” The documents are of huge significance for what it says about how American National strategy has been decided – not by the American people.
If these secret meetings were held by the members of the Oxford debating society nobody would care, however well they read. It needs to be stressed that the authors of the banal prose are the most powerful people in western societies. A student doesn’t have any power to immediately put their ideas into action. The members of Bilderberg meetings do, so these documents reflect their world view which informs of us their strategy.
This question is fascinating, but perhaps not entirely for the reasons one might expect.
The answer, in brief, is that the US is not a top down, imposed order, single plan society. That model is absolutely opposed to the framework of the nation. It is a bottoms up, decentralized, emergent order complex adaptive system. It is the difference between a plan, set from the top and forced on others, and the coordination and competition of hundreds of millions of plans. Indeed these are among the central insights of the Austrian school referenced in your final paragraph.
Free enterprise, science, and open access democracy are all examples of partially decentralized, emergent order. All require rules and a degree of top down influence, but they do so in a way which empowers bottoms up, decentralized planning and coordination.
One final comment on the prominence of decentralized, classical liberal thinking which emerged as dominant as the centrally planned, imposed order USSR and China imploded, and free markets proved themselves superior in almost every imaginable way. Since the start of the 80’s, global prosperity, well being, happiness, equality, lifespan and health have increased more, and in most cases at a faster pace than at any time since the advent of humanity. For example, more people emerged out of extreme poverty (a billion souls) in this era than any era ever. And even a casual review of where the most progress was made reveals it was in those places most embracing the decentralized recommendations of classical, Enlightenment liberalism.
In summary, your question seems to imply you to not understand what classical liberalism even is, what its benefits have been or how it is intrinsically opposed to top down imposed order. Most importantly, you don’t seem to realize that imposed centralized planning, beyond a minimal level, easily becomes not a feature but a bug.
That was a most spectacular and successful attack on your own strawman.
Please do be more specific, akarlin …
The central insight is that a long term strategic planning board makes no sense absent power to implement and impose its vision on the rest of society. The US has millions of long term strategic plans and visions. Google has one, Ford has one, the FDA supposedly has one, the Springfield City Council propably has one, as I am sure does the National Association for the Advancement of Clowns, and so on. But, absent the ability to impose their plans and visions on others, their individual plans and visions are being constantly adapted to the changing conditions and plans of all the others.
The closest thing the US has to a shorter term central planning process would be the strategy of the person holding the Executive office, which is deliberately restricted to four – eight years.
I did think it was amusing that Turchin managed to mention the only long term planning process he was familiar with was that of a group which is adamantly opposed to centrally imposed order.
I agree with your remarks regarding top down policy promulgation being inimical to American political culture, Roger. On the other hand, I do not agree that policy formation in the US is in any way bottom up or even an emergent process. I say that last as someone who has pursued emergent process in social structures over a prolonged problematic of historical analysis.
Think of it this way, I suggest. The US would tolerate no Pope making policy. Instead, we are more an episcopate. You get to be a policy bishop by learning what the consensus is, and repeating it with sufficient proficiency and continuity that the other bishops accept you as one. The policy episcopate is large (in the thousands), and has factions, but you only get a voice by pronouncing and enforcing all the shibboleths. That severely damps any emergent policy vectors. That’s a sloppy analogy for a larger discussion I haven’t time for now. But I suggest that it holds.
American entrepreneurial activity is a process with far more emergent dynamics, I would concur there. Science, on the other hand, requires an open allegiance to current interpretive paradigms. On can innovate, but has to have better than cast iron facts to deviate in a major way from paradigmatic interpretations. Even in the best cases, one usually has to wait for the prior true believers to die off before a conceptual development has room to propagate in a field. That’s my view.
Thanks for your thoughtful analyses.
“Think of it this way, I suggest. The US would tolerate no Pope making policy. Instead, we are more an episcopate. You get to be a policy bishop by learning what the consensus is, and repeating it with sufficient proficiency and continuity that the other bishops accept you as one. The policy episcopate is large (in the thousands), and has factions, but you only get a voice by pronouncing and enforcing all the shibboleths. That severely damps any emergent policy vectors.”
I don’t actually disagree with this analogy, but I think we are just disagreeing on the definition or perhaps more accurately the degree of it being a decentralized process. I am sure all kinds of “emergent policy vectors” are damped, but this is true of many emergent processes, often referenced as “historical contingency.” The point is that it is not a top down, imposed order system. There is no group with sufficiently broad powers to impose and command the countless other groups and factions, and even those with some central power, such as the executive branch, are elected from the decentralized political process known as representative democracy, and specifically limited in both scope and time horizons. I certainly agree it is less decentralized than markets.
What I find odd is how Turchin is scratching his head over the missing long term strategy body. This isn’t an accident. It is by design, and is a central insight of the English and Scottish versions of the Enlightenment, and is widely recognized as one reason the US continues to be abnormally successful and influential both in terms of international standing and as a role model for emulation.
My own belief on the matter (of people such as Turchin not groking decentralized problem solving) is that people have an innate teleological bias to explain complex phenomena as being caused by deliberate agents. The concept of emergent order, evolutionary design and what Adam Smith called “the Invisible Hand” just seems like magical thinking to them. In an earlier comment Turchin even called it “the naive belief that things will arrange themselves to lead to the best outcome, without any thought or exertion on our part.” That is what emergent order and decentralized problem solving seem like to them. This teleological bias may explain why the theory of free markets and evolution were discovered so late in human thought, and also why so many people find the concepts counterintuitive and keep falling for the horrific failures of central planning.
“Science, on the other hand, requires an open allegiance to current interpretive paradigms. On can innovate, but has to have better than cast iron facts to deviate in a major way from paradigmatic interpretations. Even in the best cases, one usually has to wait for the prior true believers to die off before a conceptual development has room to propagate in a field.”
Again, I agree completely, and you have just described what I would label a decentralized, emergent long term process restrained by historical contingency. Consider the completely different original top down, authoritarian, collective model of science in France (the Academie) compared to the substantially more decentralized and competitive-cooperative model of the admittedly misnamed Royal Society.
Let me end my comment by sharing a story which I believe I first read from Paul Seabight (perhaps he is a secret member of the Illuminati or the MPS, I don’t know). He mentioned that two years after the breakup of the USSR, the official in charge of the distribution of bread in Moscow asked the English who his counterpart was for London. Turchin’ question seems not too dissimilar.
Re your final comments, I found this very comprehensive.
Interested to understand how broad is this phenomenon, elite wealth shaping academic output to serve elite interests, e.g.
which discusses the turn of the 20th C.
Perhaps we have been duped into thinking that modern professional academia genuinely broke away from elite-serving theology!
Great book. I used it in Ages of Discord.
Sorry to have missed you there. Hopefully next time.
There were many good questions because, generally speaking, Russian political scientists are reasonably well informed… Just as an example, only two people in the audience knew who Steve Bannon is.
This seems contradictory.
That said, it’s good that Russia is planning ahead a long time. I was not expecting that.
Of course keeping them actually grounded in reality is another issue (GIGO problem). I suspect this might be especially hard for state or state-funded organizations since each country must maintain certain ideological blinkers.
I will also admit to some skepticism about the value of forecasting beyond a generation or so. In the 1920s League of Nations projections had the French population falling to around 25 million by the 1970s, which turned out to be completely wrong, with France becoming one of Western Europe’s demographically more vigorous states. And demographics is much easier to project forwards than economics, let alone politics or geopolitics.
This is very interesting because, as far as I know, the United States has nothing like this.
The National Intelligence Council releases Global Trends reports every four years: https://www.dni.gov/index.php/about/organization/national-intelligence-council-global-trends
The latest one stretches to 2035.
Though as you suspected, this mostly touches on foreign, not domestic, matters.
Yes, I am likely to be in Moscow again in the Fall.
“This seems contradictory.” Well, we forget how fast things have been moving here. Trump has been in office less than a month. They’ll catch up.
“Of course keeping them actually grounded in reality is another issue (GIGO problem).” True. Bureaucracies, being what they are, will try to substitute make-work for real work. On the other hand, there is a lot of interest among the expert community in Russia for a strategic plan. I think they will keep it alive.
“I will also admit to some skepticism about the value of forecasting beyond a generation or so.” Oh, true prediction is impossible. But strategy is not prediction. Strategy is setting a goal — what is the state of the world that you wish to attain. Forecasting plays a subsidiary role, helping you figure out how to achieve the desired end. But the environment is constantly changing and thus your strategy must be flexible to accommodate this fluidity. And of course you cannot do anything about certain catastrophic perturbations, like the Nemesis asteroid hitting Earth straight on.
Maybe I don’t know old American history well, but the original long term planned seemed to be as much isolationism as commerce would reasonably allow. Additional challenges seem to have arisen from post Cold War globalist policing. This results in a very “long” pseudo border, which as Peter might say, is correlated with all sorts of mid to long term problems.
But If I remember strategic demographic briefings from 15 years ago, I thought the plan to import mid-easterners instead of Africans or Central-South Americans to handle the inverted population pyramid was pretty overt.
I’d also suspect globalist micro-policing instead of punctuated great wars was also pretty strategic. This s fits with ever increasing support for international law which has been going on since WW1.
World Bank, and its attempts to generate markets & minimize national conflict due to inequality was also pretty strategic.
If I remember Gwen Dwyer, hedging in Asian expansion via lynch-pin alliances on its southern flank (India, Turkey, Phillipines, etc) was also fairly strategic.
Perhaps the question is really that US is evenly divided between soft international isolationism with punctuated large conflict and globalism and ceaseless conflict suppression? We’re stuck between two adjacent levels of selection with no clear fitness difference… can mplexity results.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Military_Strategy_(United_States) The US is fairly top down for defense strategy with the president as something close to a unitary power . This document is very important to the strategic vision of the military though largely tactical with no real effort to integrate with domestic or economic policy.
What your presentation videotaped? Can you post it on YouTube?
Sorry for the typo. I meant to write “Was you presentation videotaped?”
Not videotaped, no. Also, it was conducted entirely in Russian — not terribly helpful for the great majority of my readers!
Long term plans in the US seem to me to be powerfully influenced by science fiction. A technological paradise of a police state with universal surveillance system seems to be a goal steadily pursued. Also steadily pursued I think are Star Wars, with missile defense and preventive assaults, possibly launched by space-based weapons. Robots in factories would replace inconvenient workers. Civil disorders would be crushed by novel non-lethal weapons that save the political costs of massive bloodshed.. In the wilder dreams, the peons would be given happiness in the form of profitable pharmaceuticals, in lieu of the full life available to the elites.
Coordinated action towards these goals is currently impossible because these are largely fantasies in my opinion. But you believe capitalism is forever, so it’s unclear why you would reject this as not being a real “plan.” I’m not sure that significant long-term planning of the sort you propose is really possible in an unstable economic system, which it is. Nor is it at all clear how the vicissitudes of war can be accounted for in long term plans. At this point, we still live in a world dominated by the verdicts of WWII. The only thing that’s changed in all these decades is the overthrow of the USSR by Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin. (Unless you want to add the Chinese Revolution but that seems to me to be an inextricable part of WWII in practice, though not in the conventional dating.)
China’s long term plans, things like OBOR, seem to me to be complete nonsense, based on the ludicrous proposition that economic development happens automatically when given the magic of the market. The Chinese political system is already suffering massive strains at the top. Capitalism hasn’t been cooperating with Xi in providing a massive “middle class” to support the regime, but mostly a handful of billionaire competitors. If Xi manages to replace the party monopoly on power with a personal dictatorship, the Chinese state will be even weaker. Worse, if his efforts to advance capitalist restoration from the bottom up continue, he will sooner make the unhappy discovery capitalist economies are cyclical.
The original long-term U.S. strategy of which I am aware, was “Manifest Destiny”. Then, there was a period of “Monroe Doctrine plus isolationism”. After WWII, the long-term strategy was dictated by the Cold War, and in particular a strategy of containment rather than rollback (since the Korean War had not gone well). Astoundingly for a nation so focused on the short-term, this more or less worked, over the course of 50 years, to achieve the desired result without a direct war with the Soviet Union.
In the absence of a frontier to settle or a Soviet Union-level enemy to oppose, though, the U.S. is not very well able to make a long-term strategy because it tends to swing between opposing parties that have very different ideas of how the world works. David Axelrod (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/opinion/campaign-stops/the-obama-theory-of-trump.html?_r=0) gives a pretty good explanation, which explains the rise of both Obama and Trump; after 8 years of one president, the U.S. tends to elect somebody as different as possible. It is highly unusual for a single party to retain the White House for more than 12 years, and since the end of the Cold War there has not been an agreement between the Left and Right on what we even want, much less how to get it. Before you can have a strategy, you have to have a goal. Left and Right don’t even agree on the goal.
I have to think that the absence of a near-equal power is part of the issue. The Communist Bloc gave left and right an easy goal to agree on: don’t let Communism take over the world. Al Qaeda was nowhere near as great an existential threat, and thus the unifying effect of 9/11 didn’t last nearly as long. I wonder how this compares to, say, the periods of peak power for Rome or imperial China, when they did not have any rival near their level of power; did they see a disintegration of their ability to maintain long-term unity behind a strategy?
Ross, excellent point about the Manifest Destiny. So America did have a long-term strategy in the 19th century!
What about the annexation of the Crimea? Was this decision made according to some strategic plan or was it made up to exploit the opportunity of a power vacuum in Kiev? Did they consider potential sanction in advance and that it would change the direction of development as a whole ? I am not sure.
I think that Russian strategic planning is not very relevant (the five year plans weren’t either) – the important decisions are made by a small inner circle and everything has to follow suit, The specialists are supposed to work out the details, not the direction.
Crimean annexation was clearly an opportunist response to a new development, and Putin and his circle were clearly surprised by the fall-out — they failed to calculate the probable consequences.
I am sure that the Russian strategic planning suffers from all kinds of bureaucratic problems. But it’s important to separate strategy from tactics. Crimean annexation was tactics. And it fits well within the long-term strategic view that Putin outlined in his Munich speech in 2007.
> Crimean annexation was tactics
don’t know; some say it goes deeper and that after the Bolotnaya square protests the current establishment decided to mobilize nationalism in order to offset a growing liberal opposition (Navalny got a third of the vote in the Moscow mayoral elections of 2013). A switch from middle class (with more or less liberal world view) towards lower class support base would be a major shift.
it seems that political decisions can turn out to be the origin of major realignments, go figure if they were made out of a grand design or just made up to suite the moment.
Do you really think that the neo-liberalist slant that the US has held since the 80s is based on a faithful reading of Hayek and von Mises? Or just that their influence won out during that time?
A fascinating discussion and why Turchin’s blog is indispensable.
Does the US have a top-down long-term strategic plan? Or is it a spontaneous bottom-up emergent and benign global network that will unite all humankind in preparation for an assault on the universe?
The strategic plan was from the start for the US to be an invisible hand, Scottish Enlightenment, free market driven, new order of the ages and God blessed global hegemon. All things being equal some are enjoying a capitalist paradise, the best of all possible worlds promised us by the neo-panglossians, Mises and Hayek. Or, is it becoming (considering the disorder spun-off from spontaneous order) the inverted totalitarian feudalism predicted by Sheldon Wolin and depicted in dystopian epics like “Blade Runner” and “AI”?
As always in human history, ours is the best and worst of times, but now getting more so all the time, creative destruction on steroids, growth beyond the planet’s carrying capacity, leading to die off. Unless, of course, war, famine, and plague come to our rescue and we are saved with the promise of a new dark age, a time for rebuilding on a more firm foundation and for beginning the cycle all over.
To paraphrase the Sam Waterston character in the great “Crimes and Misdemeanors”: sometimes the best strategic plan is to have a little luck. America’s new order for the ages was built on a lot of good luck: cheap land, cheap resources, cheap labor, two oceans, docile neighbors, and a native population that could not resist the march of civilization, replaced with an immigrant population drawn from civilization’s dregs, deplorables, and risk taking criminal class, humankind’s last best hope.
How well is that luck holding up? The bottom up emergence of a swamp monster like Trump would indicate that a reversal of fortune has taken place. The emergence of a theorist like Peter Turchin is also a sign: it’s night and the owl of Minerva flies again
i was charmed by that last sentence. i have nothing against the emergence of cliodynamics as a potential science, although i believe it is still at the phlogiston level. but i am inclined to think it will prosper as a a market investment tool. as a guidance for national managers it is doomed to be cassandra’s predictions in high-falutin language. those people want what they want, and choose the predictions that suit them.
In actuality, America under the guidance of men like Henry Clay (influenced by Frederick List) was run on expressly protectionist lines, with a goal of becoming a world manufacturing superpower. The School of American Economics, as it was called, was protectionist and heavily influenced by German economic thought. It was only in the mid-20th Century that the libertarian/neoclassical folks pushed out the old guard and promulgated the falsehood that America has somehow always been a free trader.
That being said, List advocated free trade policies if you were the dominant manufacturing power in the trading region. So mid-20th century American trade policies moving toward free trade would be appropriate from a Listian perspective, but not so fruitful now that China (following Listian principles thanks to Deng) has taken up much of the world manufacturing capacity. Of course, from a Listian perspective, allowing China to rise and displace American manufacturing was madness from both the perspective of economics and national security (allowing China’s relative power to expand while America’s declined).
What is badly missing is economic analysis of interest and debt, and understanding of how financialization cannibalizes the real economy. Michael Hudson and Steve Keen have boldly gone where others fear, but it hasn’t really gotten out to the masses, as far as I can tell.
I’d just add to what KD wrote, that Clay wasn’t just a protectionist interested in one sector of the economy. He was trying to devise a system balancing all sectional interests–with different economic sectors tending to dominate different sections. That’s why I think it deserves to be seen as a true national strategic plan.
very interesting discussion, but it does remind me that counting angels on pinheads is a continuing theme of academia.
humans strive for wealth and power, and the process is not formed by theory, but by ability and opportunity. trump and genghis khan have a lot in common, although temujin was accounted to be an honorable man, and brave.
the world view of americans is commonly fantastic, dismissing vietnam as ‘a mistake’ and iraq as a trivial event, while making no mention of the effect of being continually at war somewhere on character or economy of the nation.
i have been doing various kinds of business in china since ’89, and in my experience they have a large and active middle class, dismissing them as a few billionaires is foolish. the chinese government has great problems, best summed up as too many chinese for their land and resources and dealt with by keeping a lot of heavy balls in the air at once. even so, they put resources into land reclamation, green power and pollution reduction. they do have long-term planning aimed at making china more liveable, while the plutocrats of america are pursuing personal wealth at any cost to the environment. labelling ‘no regulation’ as ’emergent management’ seems more a convenient fig-leaf than a useful policy, since the result has always been resource looting and pollution.
thx. further, i was reminded that here in oz we do not dismiss obor as trivial nonsense.
It is my understanding that the terms “neoliberal”, classical liberal, and libertarian, when used in the modern context, all refer to the essentially same thing. The “neo” in neoliberal refers to the modified version of classical (often called “free market”) economic thought in vogue today. A key difference between the modern and old-style libertarians is their views on the relation between deficits and inflation. Based on centuries of observation and insights first noted in the 16th century by Jean Bodin and others, classical economists believed balanced budgets were essential to price stability. .Hence given a forced choice between tax increases on the rich or deficits (e,g. during a war or a depression) they supported the former. Neoliberals oppose tax increases at all times. This is because with the present primary economic policy through interest rate policy by the central bank, announced in October 1979, it is now possible have large structural deficits and low inflation at the same time.
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WWhen it comes to top down plan. First follow the money…..the principal groups that have the money are – The tribal lobby. Approximately 50% of the democratic party and around 25%plus from the republican party comes from the lobby. The lobby also includes the media. The second group is the foundations which are run by intellectuals captured with certain ideas. the third group is the international businesses both main street and Wall street. Lastly you have the deep state… the bureaucracy of the many agencies that have a stake in maintaining the present direction and expanding their budget.
What is the cumulative policy? Sam Francis called it anarcho- tyranny . That is at the bottom level create multiple levels of conflict (diversity) and uncertainty, to destroy or neuter all intermediate institutions such as the church and much of civil society(Bowling alone) and to concentrate the power of the society in a small circle of oligarchs within the circle of moneyed power. Their point is that only a globalised world with atomised individuals can create a world without war. Similar policies are followed in foreign policy, creating weakness in the local society, strengthening the large international companies. However they tend to like weak governemnts that they can manipulate (confessions of an economic hitman).
The USA is in a similar state to the USSR before it fell with signs of major anomie amongst large sections of poulation, increasin distrust of the political elite and a weakening industrial base. However the USA is still a long way to go before collapse (I hope)
A comment on Chinese long terms plans is also to distribute as many chinese across the world as possible. This is to create a network of people and business that the government believes that it can work through. the chines work through a system of Guanxi rather than abstract loyalties
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