Just Published!

Martin van Creveld, Clio and Me: An Intellectual Autobiography, Kouvola, Finland, Castalia House, 2016, electronic edition (hard cover to come).


Relatives, friends, students, colleagues, and journalists have often asked me what I see in the study of history, particularly military history, and how I ever got into that esoteric field. I always answered as best I could, but never thought I would try to put my answer down in writing. In my family people only write their memoirs when they are very old and ready to go, which I am not (yet).

Years ago, my stepson and best friend, Jonathan Lewy, was bitten by the scholarship bug. As an undergraduate student of history at Hebrew University, he read Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft, which, as he was not slow to point out, was written when Bloch was exactly as old as I was in 2003. Jonathan has often asked me why I did not try to produce a similar work, and I have often evaded the question even in my own mind.

Jonathan, who in the meantime earned his PhD and did a post-doc at Harvard, is nothing if not persistent. But I did not want to produce yet another volume on the philosophy of history and the technique of teaching it. Instead, I decided I would try to answer the above questions, and others like them, by writing an intellectual autobiography. Why and how did I come to be a historian? What does the study of history really mean to me? Why, in my view, does it merit being studied, what for, and how? How did I master my craft? What problems did I meet, and how did I try to solve them? Where do I get my ideas? What does “scientific” history mean, and how does it differ from other kinds? What does it take to write a book, and what is doing so like? Can history be used for looking into the future, and, if so, how does one go about it? How should history, in fact the humanities and social sciences in general, be taught at the university level? What are the differences between civilian universities and military ones? How does one prepare a talk, and how does one deal with the media? What are the advantages of the scholarly life, and what are the disadvantages? Should one take it up?

As I got to work, I soon found myself in a dilemma. On the one hand, I did not want to appear as some sort of disembodied spirit. Like anybody else, I do have a life outside the purely intellectual one. Moreover, the two are interrelated. I have often wondered about the impact health may have on creativity and vice versa. So, incidentally, did Friedrich Nietzsche, to mention but one. On the other hand, I did not think my personal life is of great interest either to Jonathan, who already knows it all, or to other people. In the end I compromised. I tried to put in only as much of my non-professional life as I considered absolutely essential to explain where I come from and to make the narrative coherent. Unlike a few writers whom I consulted and to some extent used as my model, I do not think it matters who attended to my bodily needs when I was a child. Like them, I shall be very happy to strike out the name of anybody who feels offended by what I have to say. With the aid of word processing and e-books, which most of them did not have, doing so is easy enough.

I very much hope that this book will have something to offer the type of young, earnest students with whom it has been my great good fortune to work throughout my academic career. Nevertheless, in the end it was Jonathan whom it was written for. Therefore, whatever the reaction of others, I pray that he at any rate will not be disappointed.

Well, Yes, the War

The place: Juliana [the Crown Princes, later Queen, of the Netherlands], Street, Wageningen [a Dutch town in the center of the country]. The time: World War II, during the German occupation. The scene: No. 34, a tiny two bedroom townhouse. There is just one tap, cold water only. There is an outdoor toilet with no toilet paper, only square pieces of newspaper joined by a string. In the living room there is standing lamp. For that place and time, quite a luxury.

slotboomThis is the home of the typographer Jan Slotboom, his wife Gerritje, and their son Henk. Jan and Ger, strict Calvinists, are in their early thirties. Henk was four, or so it seems. Recently, by an extraordinary stroke of luck, I was presented with Henk’s memoirs. Written in Dutch in 2015, self-published in soft cover, and exceptionally well-illustrated with period photographs. If anyone has ever read something more direct, more modest and more honest, I’d very much like to see it.

So here are a few paragraphs.

“The morning of 10 May [1940] was restless. Many aircraft in the air and the sound of gunfire at the Grebbenberg [two miles away, as the crow flies]. ‘We are at war,’ people said. I did not really know what war was, but it seemed interesting. Some neighbors, my father and I went to ‘the tall [three-story] buildings’ down the street to take a look. How proud was I to hear my father say: ‘We shall throw those Moffen [Germans] out.’ But the Germans thought otherwise.”

[The family was evacuated. After a week, however, they were allowed to return home]. “Life went on as usual, especially for us children. On 1 September 1942 my mother put me behind her on the bicycle and took me to school for the first time.”

“My parents, by providing people with a place to stay in which they could feel relatively safe resisted the occupation. I believe that, especially during the early years of the war, they did not realize what a risk they were running.”

“From 1942 on we used to have Jewish guests. Some stayed a long time, others just the night. At times the room was full of people I did not know…. This remained the case throughout the war and also for some years after it was over… Where all those people had come from I had no idea, but I understood that my uncle, Anton de Bond [who was in the Resistance], had something to do with it… I had never heard of Jews. But I did understand that it was a secret and that the damn Moffen were not supposed to know anything. I was quite proud to be part of the secret.”

“Our neighbors were known to be fout [on the wrong side.] Their son, Hans, was in the Hitlerjugend. Everyone looked askance at them. But Hans had a brown uniform and a dagger. Secretly my friends and I were jealous of him, because he looked great. We had a love/hate relationship with Hans and his friends. Playing soldiers was fun, and we found it interesting. That’s why we regularly played together, and a moment later we would quarrel…”

“We regularly found food stamps in our mailbox. And food in front of the door. This helped us live through those difficult times. Apparently some people knew what was going on at No. 34.”

“The German soldiers, goose-stepping and singing, made a tremendous impression on me. They could sing very well. I would have liked to follow them, just as one does a marching band.”

“Early in the war some German soldiers were quartered in our street. I think the house owners got some kind of compensation. They were much better than their reputation and their behavior was impeccable. Nice guys! But appearances are deceptive. Those nice German soldiers mounted Razzias to catch young Dutch men, forcing them to hide in the alleys.”

“1942-43 [in reality, 1943-44]. Suddenly Jan Pap was living with us. I remember him as a somewhat pale man with dark hair combed backward. A quiet man who said little…. He had studied a lot, spoke excellent English, and taught my dad to say joenitedsteedsvanamerika [United States of America]. No sooner had the war ended than Jan Pap became Uncle Leo van Creveld [my father, MvC]. I did not quite understand what was going on…”

“On the back side [of the local newspaper, carrying the obituaries of Wageningen’s recently deceased] there was an article about Dutch [Waffen] SS soldiers fighting the Russians. Well, yes, the war.”

“At school we went through air-raid drill. When the sirens started wailing we knew exactly what to do: Everyone under their desks, and those near the window as close to the wall as possible… At night, blackout to make it hard for the Tommies to find us. In the evening you were not allowed to go out. Curfew, they called it… Having landed in Normandy, the Allies overran more and more land and were coming nearer. Who knows, we might soon be liberated. Well, yes, the war.”

[1944-45, following the failure of the Allied Arnhem Offensive]. “The Germans were still in control. They used their power to abuse the Russian POWs whom they made dig trenches and build fortifications. We really felt sorry for those miserable men. From time to time the Germans would throw them an unpeeled cooked potato and a piece of bread. They formed a poor, hungry group… We at least had enough to eat.”

[During that period we were driven from our home. In our new quarters] “I for the first time heard the Wilmhelmus [the Dutch anthem, which had been prohibited by the Germans] loudly sung [by my uncle and cousin]. That was in the kitchen, and looking back it was quite an experience. But my aunt was angry. You shouldn’t sing so loudly, for there were traitors everywhere. In this house people treaded underfoot whatever orders the Germans had issued. Yet doing so was not without risk.”

[Amidst all this] “We children played Red Cross. There were wounded and an occasional ‘dead’ body. War, a game in which everything was acceptable. Well, yes, the war.”

[Towards the end of the war the Germans requisitioned bicycles left and right.] “Including the tricycle of a paralyzed woman. I can still see in front of me three German soldiers riding the tricycle with its levers. They had great fun. For a moment, they were able to put their own troubles aside.”

“We talked to a German officer. He was very young, fanatical and loyal… Hinkel was his name, first lieutenant Hinkel… He believed in the Wunderwaffen [miracle-weapons] of his idol, Adolf Hitler. They would win the war for Germany. Hinkel had a very young batman, Rudy was his name. I think he cannot have been more than fifteen years old. He was quite nice and wanted very much to go home to his Heimat [home] and Mutti [mother].

[The Canadians having liberated Wageningen] we children received large slices of white bread liberally smeared with jam. And a piece of chocolate. And an orange. I had never seen or tasted either chocolate or an orange. Unforgettable, the taste of orange and chocolate. And chewing gum.”

“Well, yes, the war.”

Neither Heaven Nor Hell (III)

Part III


Today is the great day—four questions instead of three. And my tentative answers, of course.

7. Are the better angels of our nature taking over? Some people, especially the American psychologist Steven Pinker, think so. They point out that, relative to the global population, the number of people killed in war each year is decreasing; that in advanced countries the number of crimes committed per 100,000 people per year is much smaller than was historically the case; that the number of executions, especially such as are carried out in public, is likewise falling; and that torture, which in the past was often carried out in public and not without a certain pride, is used less often.

All this reminds me of a famous book, Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process. Elias, a German-Jewish sociologist who left Germany in 1933, made an argument quite similar to Pinker’s. The way he saw it, courteous social behavior originated in royal courts. From there it outwards, gradually causing the surrounding societies to become less uncouth than they had been. The volume was published in 1939—just before World War II broke out and, following perhaps fifty million dead, culminated in Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Enough, said.

Specifically, if the number of people killed in war is considerably smaller than it used to be then in my opinion this is due not to any moral advances but to the fear of proliferating nuclear weapons which has prevented large powers from waging large-scale war against other large powers. The decline in crime is probably related to the fact that Western civilizations are aging, with the result that the group most likely to commit it, i.e. males aged 17 to 25, is diminishing in number and in some cases almost literally disappearing. The decreasing number of executions and the declining use of torture—if, indeed, it is declining—may be due not to the spread of love and kindness but to sheer hypocrisy and, ultimately, cowardice. Finally, as the rise and careers of monsters such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tze Dong, Pol Pot, and their countless cronies and collaborators and assistants and followers remind us, we remain what we have always been. Namely, creatures capable of anything.

8. Is life becoming more predictable? Clearly if we are to build a better future we must have some idea of what the consequences of our actions may be as well as the general direction in which things are moving. The role of God, or providence, or accident, or luck, or chance, or fate, or fortune, in human affairs must be reduced; that of calculation and prudent foresight, increased.

It is true that most of us no longer trust in soothsayers, or prophecies, or crystal balls, or Tarot cards, or necromancy (though a surprisingly large number people continue to consult their horoscopes). Instead we employ “experts,” known, in the field of economics, as “analysts,” whose task is to construct models and identify trends. The more “data” and equations the models and the trends contain, the more scientific and the more reliable they are considered to be. But is there any real reason to think that our ability to look into the future has improved, say, since the Pythia at Delphi, sunk in a sort of stupor caused by gasses rising out of the earth, predicted that, if it came to war between Persia and Lydia, “a great kingdom” would be lost? Not if I judge by the fact that such events as the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the 2008 recession, were almost entirely unexpected. Not if I judge by the example of President George Bush, Jr., and his advisers when they launched their Iraqi adventure back in 2003. And not if I do so by the repeated, often contradictory, utterances of Janet Yelenn as to whether the economy is or is not “recovering.”

Above all, the basic dilemma remains in force. Very often, a predictable future is one that can be averted or altered; as, for example, when we strengthen our home following a warning that a hurricane is about to strike. In other words, the very fact that we can look into the future is likely to cause that future to change.

Do you want to make God laugh? Tell him what your plans are.

9. Are we proceeding towards a singularity? The way I understand it, a singularity is an event so critical as to completely change the whole course of human history, rendering it irrelevant and bringing about a new start. As, for example, in case we make death lose its sting and start living forever; or when we first contact an extra-terrestrial civilization, especially one that is much more advanced than ourselves; or when our brains will be first replaced, then surpassed, by computers.

Some gurus, such as Google Technology Chief Ray Kurzweil, claim that we are going to see a singularity within the next few decades. For myself, my training as a historian makes me distrust such prognoses. Great and revolutionary events, such as the American or Russian Revolutions, never happen all at once. The same applies to scientific discoveries and technological inventions; let alone long-term processes such as “the agricultural revolution,” “the industrial revolution” and the like. All without exception had roots in the past, not seldom the fairly remote past. So deep were the “roots” of the revolution known as the Renaissance that some historians have tried to push them back all the way to the time of Charlemagne. In the vast majority of cases failure to realize this is simply a symptom of sloppy research. That explains why, for every work that set forth the magnitude of the changes brought about by of the French Revolution there was one which, like Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), pointed to the things that had not changed.

An excellent illustration of the way things work is provided by the history of aviation. When the first flying machines took off a little over a century ago most people considered them toys, entertaining, perhaps, but useless. Some inventors, including the Brothers Wright, were even accused of fraud. As aircraft became more capable and more numerous the doubts disappeared. More and more, they were seen as supplements to existing machines and existing methods. Next, the wind changed. Aviation became the most important thing in the world; taking the latter by storm, it would revolutionize every aspect of life to the point of making it unrecognizable. Slowly but surely, though, people got used to it—and as they did so they realized that, while many things had changed, many others remained more or less as they had been.

Similar stories could be told of any number of other inventions: such as railways, telegraphs, electric light, motor cars, radio, TV, antibiotics, computers, and Viagra. Who today remembers that, when the last-named hit the market in 1998, it was supposed to revolutionize social life by enabling old men to have young women and young women, to link their fate with rich old men even more often than now? Each invention went through the above-listed stages. Sooner or later—quite often, sooner rather than later—each one became integrated into “modern” life while at the same time leaving much of that life intact.  

10. Are we, as a species, going to evolve? Physically, given the short timeframe I have chosen to deal with, the answer is no. Biological evolution is a slow process; there is no question but that, mentally and physically our great-great-great grandchildren will resemble us no less than we resemble, say, the first “modern” humans who lived fifty thousand years ago.

We may, however, use other methods to change ourselves. First, given the enormous attention now being paid to tests designed to identify all kinds of defects and diseases and abort the fetuses who carry them before they emerge from the womb, future populations may well display fewer such defects and diseases. That was how the Nazis did it, albeit that for lack of the necessary medical technology they used to kill people after they were born rather than earlier in their development. Second, widespread use of sperm donors and artificial insemination might lead to the spreading of qualities the mothers consider desirable: such as size, strength, blond hair, blue eyes, and, for women, the kind of curves that have always formed, and still form, their principal means of attracting men. Average, though not exceptional, intelligence may also rise.

Third, we may reach the point where we can replace the genes of fertilized eggs so as to make future people more resistant to diseases or endow them with all sorts of desirable qualities. Fourth, we may turn into cyborgs—in the sense that we shall have more and more artificial devices implanted into our bodies so as to sustain or take over or enhance the latter’s functions. Fifth, some gurus claim that we may have our minds scanned, stored on some electronic devices, and activated so as to replace our physical selves and do away with us altogether.

In which case, as I said, there will be neither heaven nor hell.

Neither Heaven Nor Hell (II)

Part II

Reminder: Last week I started a three-post series about what the future of humanity might look like. I did so by trying to provide answers to ten critical questions. The first three, discussed last week, were 1. Will War Be Abolished? 2. Will We Run Out of Resources? 3. Will Poverty Disappear?

Follow the next three questions and my answers to them.

4. Will gender equality come to pass? To many people, the “liberation” of women is one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, social change since the beginning of history. This has been taken to the point where some students talk of “the disappearing male.”

I disagree. First, as the fact that sport remains segregated shows all too clearly, the physical gap between men and women remains as large as ever; as a result, by and large only men can defend women against other men. The dreams of some feminists about “convergence” remain just that—dreams. And not even beautiful ones, I should add.

Second, there is no indication whatsoever that women are becoming less needful of protection from all the bad things men are allegedly doing to them (see on this my post, of 11.8.2016, Frauenparkplaetze). To the contrary: hardly a day passes without some others being added to the list. Judging by this criterion, if anything women seem to be getting further away from equality, not closer to it. Just as I was writing this column on 11 September I read that the British police was considering treating “misogyny” as a hate crime. A visitor from Mars, observing what is going on, might quickly conclude that the females of the species resemble the retarded, or the handicapped, or children, or even animals, more than they do adult men capable of looking after themselves.

Third, women continue to conceive, bear, deliver, nurse, and, in the vast majority of cases, rear children whereas men either do not do so at all or only to a much smaller extent. As a result, the former can spare so much less energy and time for their careers. To the extent that mothers have careers, normally they do so by shifting the burden of child-raising to some other woman; meaning that, while some women do indeed get ahead, the rest do the same work they have always done—for strangers.

Fourth, in most of today’s “advanced” countries, working women make about two thirds as much as men do. As best we can calculate, that figure has not changed much since at least the time of ancient Rome. Nor is it likely to change anytime soon. Fifth, some studies have argued that gender segregation at the workplace is as common today as it was a hundred years ago; or how else explain the fact that over 90 percent of those killed at work are men? Sixth, following Margaret Mead (Male and Female, 1948), today as ever in every known society it is what men do which is considered important. Not least by women who keep imitating whatever they do; see on this my post of 16 June, “PE? PE!”

5. Are we, as a species, becoming more intelligent? Some students, using the results of pen- and paper tests which seem to have improved from 1930 on, think so. This is known as the Flynn Effect. Against this view, several arguments might be adduced. First, it is by no means clear what the effect in question, if it does indeed exist, means; possibly all it shows is that those who participated in the tests, which were held almost exclusively in developed countries, are becoming used to think in terms of pen and paper intelligence tests.

Second, the effect, again supposing that it exists, only applies to group and populations. In other words, there is no indication that it makes the most intelligent among us more intelligent still. This is proved by the fact that, starting as long ago as ancient Greece, our ability to produce superb work in such fields as history, philosophy, literature, drama, painting, and sculpture has not improved one iota. Nor is there any reason to think that Einstein was more intelligent than Aristotle. Surprisingly though it may sound, in some ways this inability to go further than our ancestors did even pertains to the field technology. So far, no one has succeeded in emulating some aspects involved in the construction of the Egyptian temples.

Third take a look at almost any book, movie, TV show, radio show, newspaper or advertisement. Doing so will confirm that our ability and readiness to believe every kind of nonsense has remained unchanged at least since the time when Lucian around 150 CE wrote “A True Story” about men impregnating other men who carried the fetuses in their calves. He, at any rate, was speaking tongue in cheek.

6. Is life becoming better? In some ways, the answer is yes. As I wrote last week, “absolute” poverty is disappearing. Even in the most godforsaken places living standards are rising, albeit often unevenly and often by fits and starts. Life expectancy is increasing (though only at the cost of greater mortality; Japan, a wealthy country which leads the list of long-lived people, has a much higher mortality rate than poor underdeveloped Egypt does). As the growing list of treatable diseases and injuries shows, health is improving. Though only at the cost of all of us over sixties turning into ambulant medicine chests; of far more people suffering, or dying, from age-related diseases such as Alzheimer and cancer; and of being made to worry about one’s health day in, day out. “See your doctor,” is the motto of modern society.

It is also true that, starting with Thomas Jefferson and the American Declaration of Independence, more and more governments, communities and individuals have been paying at least lip service to the idea that the purpose of all social arrangements, big and small, is to enable each and every one of us to seek his or her own happiness in this world.

However, proving that we moderns lead better lives and happier lives than, say, the ancient Egyptians—let alone our ape-like ancestors—did would be difficult indeed. Or else how to account for the vast number of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, and gurus of every kind, let alone the enormous spread of happiness pills consumed with or without a legal permit?

Furthermore, currently two factors are threatening whatever humanity may have achieved in this field. First, freedom, without which happiness is surely impossible, is even now being put in jeopardy by technological developments fully capable of registering and remembering everything, forever. Also, of locating the relevant information and sending it instantaneously to whoever is authorized, and often unauthorized, to make use of it. Second, if a happy world depends on anything then it is the eradication of injustice and oppression and the spread of clemency, kindness, and love. As we shall see next week, however, there is no indication that this is in fact taking place.

“Have I played my part well? In that case, applaud” (the Emperor Augustus).

Neither Heaven nor Hell (I)

Part I

Recently I have been devoting a lot of thought to what life in the rest of the twenty-first century might be like. No doubt that is because, like so many old folks, I find myself playing with vague ideas about vague topics. Or perhaps it is the ideas that, floating in the air, are playing games with me? Anyhow. Some authors, looking forward to global peace, the suppression of poverty, advancing medical science, moral progress (yes, there are people who believe it is actually taking place) and similar goodies believe that the future will be heaven. When I was much, much younger, writing an essay about the “ideal” future and my hope of living to see it come about, I myself took this view. Others, perhaps more numerous, keep warning us that it will be hell. As, for example, when we run out of resources, or when growing economic inequality leads to violent disturbances culminating, perhaps, in war.

So here are some thoughts on the matter. spread over this week and the two following ones. They are framed in terms of tentative answers to ten critical questions, arbitrarily selected and here presented in no particular order like fruit in a salad. Enjoy the feast!

1. Will war be abolished? Whether war is due to the fragmented nature of human society, which never in the whole of history has been subject to a single government, or to the fact that resources are always limited and competition for them intense, or to tensions within the various war-waging polities, or the aggression and will to power that are part of our nature, I shall not presume to judge. Probably all these factors are involved; as indeed they have been ever since the first band of nomadic hunter-gatherers, wielding clubs and stones, set out to fight its neighbor over such things as access to water, or quarry, or berries, or women, as well as things vaguely known as honor, prestige, deterrence, etc.

One and all, these factors are as active, and as urgent, today as they have always been. That is why all previous hopes and efforts to put an end to armed conflict have come to naught. In the words of the seventeenth-century English statesman and jurist, Francis Bacon: There will never be a shortage of “seditions and troubles;” some of which will surely lead to politically-motivated, socially-approved, organized violence, AKA war.

2. Will we run out of resources? The fear that the point is arriving, if it has not done so already, where we humans exhaust the earth’s resources has been with us at least since the Christian writer Tertullian in the second half of the second century CE. And not without reason, as it seemed. At this time about one quarter of the population of the Roman Empire died of plague, perhaps reducing the total number from 80 to about 60 million.

Bad as it was, the crisis did not last. Over the two millennia since then the number of people living on this earth has increased about thirtyfold. No other plague, no war however destructive, has succeeded in permanently halting growth. During the same period the amount of resources extracted and/or consumed each year has grown by a factor of a thousand or more. Tet thanks to techniques such as saving, substitution, recycling and, above all, broadly-based technological progress, world-wide more people can afford to buy and consume a greater variety of resources than ever in the past. Recently the growing use of fracking for extracting shale oil has brought about a situation where even energy, which for over four decades has bedeviled the world by its ups and downs, has become available at a reasonable price and looks as if it will continue to do so; instead of peak oil, it seems that prices have peaked.

In brief: Tertullian, Malthus and their countless fellow prophets of economic doom, major and minor, are wrong. Local and temporary bottlenecks have always existed. One need only think of the shortage of wood and charcoal that led to their being replaced by coal, helping usher in the industrial Revolution in England. They will, no doubt, continue to do so in the future too. Pace Al Gore and his fellow “environs,” though, shortages so serious as to disrupt global economic life for any length of time are not in the cards. One could even argue that, given the background of continuing economic recession, many raw materials are underpriced; just look at what happened to the shares of Anglo-American from 2008 on.

3. Will poverty disappear? Some people think so. Pointing to the fact that, over the last two centuries or so, the standard of living in the most advanced countries has increased about thirty-fold, they expect prosperity to spread like ripples in a pool. It is indeed true that, except when it is deliberately manufactured as part of war, famine, famine of the kind that used to be common even in Europe before 1700 or so, has largely become a thing of the past.

That more present-day people can afford more and/or better food, hygienic facilities, clothing, warmth, housing, transportation, communication, entertainment, and many other things than ever before is obvious. No ancient treasure trove, no Ali Baba cave, could offer anything like the wares on display in any large department store. Even the Sun King himself did not enjoy many of the amenities which are now standard in any but the poorest French households.

There are, however, three problems. The first is that poverty is psychological as well as material. Of the two kinds, the former is much harder to eradicate than the latter. This is brought out by the fact that, even in Denmark which has the lowest poverty rate of any OECD country, just over five percent of the population say that they cannot afford food.

Second, poverty and its opposite, wealth, are not absolute but relative. People do not look just at what they themselves own, earn, consume and enjoy. They are at least as interested in the same factors as they affect their neighbors, role models, and enemies.

Third, the scale along which poverty operates is not fixed but sliding. When new products appear they are almost always luxuries, at any rate in the sense that, before they did so, no one felt any need for them. As time passes, though, luxuries have a strong tendency to turn into necessities. The histories of automobiles, personal computers, and mobile telephones all illustrate this very well. Each one caused life to re-structure itself until it became absolutely indispensable. Once this happened anyone who could not afford the product in question would define himself, and be defined by others, as poor; even if his economic situation was satisfactory in other respects.

Quite some economists go further still. They claim that inequality is growing. Also that, unless some pretty drastic measures, such as a 100 percent inheritance tax, are implemented, serious upheavals are going to upset even the richest and most advanced societies. But such a tax itself is likely to cause quite as many upheavals as it was designed to prevent. In brief: wealthy as future societies may become, there is no reason to believe that poverty will be abolished.

How is that for a starter? See you next week.

Guest Article: The Big List of Reasons Why America Will Fall (with rebuttals)

By Larry Kummer*

Summary: Here is a compendium of gloomy news about America, the news that drives political campaigns, fear-mongering op-eds, and advertisements for guns and gold. These stories cloud our minds with misinformation and dampen our spirits. Why are they taken seriously by so many people? Debunkings like this are the only antidote. Pass it on!
america-at-the-endToday’s post examines an unusually detailed prediction of doom for America. Like most doomster writing, the content is almost entirely exaggerated or wrong, but it shows us people’s fears and ignorance — both largely fed by propaganda. The author’s key points are given in quotes.

The US Position is Untenable
By Karsten Riise

(1) The rising US public debt will crush the US dollar

“The CBO analysis shows that Federal debt is on path to increase from 75% of GDP to 146% of GDP in 2046. …such high public debt figures are bound to lead to a fundamental crisis of non-confidence in the US dollar.”

Riise starts with the usual doomster favorite (as it has been since the New Deal): the US fiscal deficit. The wolf will always be at the door in 30 years! This is from the CBO’s 2016 Long-Term Budget Outlet. Also see the CBO’s slide deck.
Federal spending, revenue, and debt
These long-term predictions are useful planning tools, but range from unreliable to quite wrong. To treat them as indicators of certain doom is absurd. The many variables create a wide range of possible futures. In brief, the US government’s liabilities are among the easiest solved of America’s major problems (details here).

  • The government can change policies. Small changes can have large effects for 30 years such as increased taxes and reduced military spending (need we spend more than our rivals and foes combined?).
  • Forecasts of higher interest rates are one of the two major drivers of rising liabilities. The CBO’s economists assume rates will rise, as they have incorrectly assumed they would since the recovery began. Perhaps their forecast will prove correct during the next decade, or perhaps secular stagnation and low rates will continue.
  • The other large driver is rising health care costs. This is among the easiest solved of America’s major problems, as our peers have built and tested many ways to provide equivalent levels of care at half or one-third the cost (details here). The transition will be painful, but at least we know the way. If only our other problems had known fixes!

The author also neglects to mention that the US government’s finances are among the best of the major developed nations. For example, its pension liabilities (for employees and public) as a percent of GDP are far lower than those of most (only Canada and Australia are lower). See figure 15 in this March 2016 research report by Citi.

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
— “Problems and Not-Problems of the American Economy” by Herbert Stein (economist) in The AEI Economist (of the American Enterprise Institute), June 1989. It is the key thing to know about the US health care system.

(2) The US is not competitive!

“The US economy is becoming less and less competitive.”

The author gives no definition or evidence for this bizarre statement, which is wrong in almost too many ways to list. First, look at growth in real GDP of the US vs. its peers. This graph from the OECD shows that the US (red) has grown slightly faster than the OECD average (black) since the crash, and is among the faster growing in the G-7 (light lines). Quite good for a large rich nation!
Real GDP of the US vs. the OECD average
Second, look at a narrower measure of competitiveness: exports — an American success story since 1972 (when Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard, reducing its over-valuation), not just growing but doing so faster than US GDP (rising from 5% to 12% of GDP).
GDP shares of Exports of Goods and Services - 2015
Third, look at a leading indicator of economic growth: nationality of corporations in the fastest-growing industries. Eight of the top 13 technology companies are American; this is the pattern in most high-growth tech industries (e.g., software, internet, biotech).

“as pointed out by the economic guru Michael Porter, who also points out, that the level of bureaucracy and red-tape hindrances to business are enormous in the USA.”

The World Bank ranks all the world’s nations by “ease of doing business”. The US ranked as the 7th best in both 2014 and 2015.

(3) The US has a weak education system

“Furthermore, American public schools, hampered as they are by violence and other problems. are not exactly the best in the world. The US level of education is going down…”

The Program for International Student Assessment runs one of the best global assessments of comparative performance of national grade school systems. Their data shows that the US schools perform roughly at the OECD average. We are “not the best in the world”; our poor schools are a disgrace for one of the world’s richest nations. But ratings of the US are stable since 2000 by most measures, not “going down”.
The low rating of our grade schools is a result of inequality, as the US has some of the best schools in the OECD — and some of the worst. For more about this see “Education Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Growing Wider” in the NYT, “The Inequality in Public Schools” by Michael Godsey in the The Atlantic, and new research in “Local education inequities across U.S. revealed in new Stanford data set“.
Omitted from dirges about US education are our colleges and universities. Their large number of foreign students shows that they’re regarded as some of the best in the world.

(4) The US middle class is dying

“The middle class is disappearing in the USA, with now barely 50% of the population perceiving themselves as middle class. Median incomes have barely improved or even gone down the past 40 years, significantly reducing the middle-section of the tax base, which is normally the most reliable.”

The US middle class is dying, as is the middle class in most developed nations. See “A hollowing middle class” by Peggy Hollinger in the OECD’s Observer, and “Germany’s Middle Class Is Endangered, Too” in Bloomberg. The causes are similar to those afflicting the US.

“The American Dream is a night-mare for most Americans.”

Like most such confident assertions by doomsters, no source is given for this. There are many surveys of personal happiness and opinions about the “direction of the country”. These seldom agree with each other, or show any trend. As Dean Obeidallah shows, “We’ve Been on the Wrong Track Since 1972” — and perhaps longer (i.e., we always worry, since “only the paranoid survive”). Gallup’s “satisfaction with the United States” survey shows that peoples’ opinions have fluctuated with the economy since 1979. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows no change since 2008.

(5) We can’t raise taxes on the rich!

“The Laffer-curve, stating that heavy tax-burdens on the rich will incur less total tax-revenues, still applies for the top-section of the US tax base. Any attempts to heavily taxate (fiscate) the upper 10% (or 0.1% !) of the US tax base will lead to US dollar capital-flight, and acute economic crisis.”

First, that’s not what the Laffer Curve means (see Wikipedia for an intro; also note Laffer’s explanation for the curve has changed over time). Second, there is no reason to believe that the current US tax structure is at the peak of the Laffer Curve (above which increases in the marginal tax rate decrease revenue). Third, research on this complex subject has given wildly different estimates for the peak rate — often in the 65-75% range (far above current peak rates).
Perhaps the most interesting contrary evidence is that that the top marginal tax bracket in the US was 70% – 90% during the high-growth decades after WWII.

(6) America’s poor just need more education

“Poor Americans lack education and training to make them competitive in the global labor-market. America’s left erroneously blames the high percentage of unemployed poor on free trade, but the real problem is the lack of education which prevents the under-class from obtaining productive jobs.”

There is no evidence that there are skill or education shortages in American, jobs ready to be filled by newly-educated poor people. For details see this, and Ignore the hype. There are few shortages of skilled workers in America. Not even the in the STEM fields.
More likely the problem is a shortage of jobs paying a living wage, let alone a wage allowing a middle class lifestyle.

(7) America’s poor at risk of starvation!

“The risk of starvation amongst the poorest in the USA remains high: In Obama’s presidency, one in seven Americans (14%) face the risk of not having enough to eat.”

This misrepresents the USDA’s conclusions. They found that in 2014 14% “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources” (roughly 5% of them reported losing weight). The number even remotely at risk of starvation is much smaller: “5.6 percent of U.S. households (6.9 million households) had very low food security … {where} intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources” (~45% of them reported losing weight).
People starve to death in America (most estimates are several thousand per year), usually from causes other than lack of money (e.g., socially isolated children or elderly, drug abuse, mental illness). Anyone familiar with America’s poor knows that obesity is a far more widespread health problem than starvation.

(8) America’s military grows weaker!

“At the same time, the US military inventory is aging, and declining. The number of US ships and combat aircraft is declining, their average service-age goes up and their operativeness goes down. New US military hardware often take the form of useless ‘white elephants’, meaningless prestige-products like the 20-30 billion dollar Zumwalt class destroyer.
“…In absolute strength levels, the American military is standing still or going backwards. …If military budgets are not increased, the aging of the US military will be tough in the 2020’ies. …and the US military is going down in absolute as well as in relative strength.”

Other than China (playing catch-up in the great power game), the great powers are shrinking their conventional military strength. In the age in which the dominant forms of force are nukes and 4GW, conventional military power has use only in limited forms. US military spending accounts for ~37% of the world total — equal to the sum of the next 7 combined (4 of whom are our allies). While every nation’s military spending fluctuates, not only is there little evidence of America’s loss of military hegemony during the past few generations — it has grown immensely since the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe’s joining the West.
As for the Zumwalt destroyer, a trial production run cancelled after 3 ships is a bizarre basis to draw dire conclusions about the US military (continuing to build these expensive ships would have been evidence of a dysfunctional military). Also, the per ship cost was $6 billion — not $”20-30 billion” (including the program costs for a planned fleet of 32 on the 3 actually built is absurd).

(9) The US economy is unsustainable!

“The US economy is unsustainable.”

The author provides no evidence for this big assertion. Quite confident on the eve of a new industrial revolution (which might also void all the author’s other forecasts).
Note: the author does not mention one staple of the America is doomed crowd — private debt. It is high, but not unusually so vs. our peers. The US has the fourteenth highest private sector debt/GDP ratio in the OECD (2015, source here), and the fifteenth highest ratio in the OECD of household debt to net disposable income (2014, source here).


The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong
— Wonderful title to a 1984 book by Ben J. Wattenberg.

The doomster analysis of America is, yet again, not just unsupported but largely false. When reading these confident claims of End Times for America, remember that misinformation seldom just happens. It usually comes from well-paid propagandists working for special interests. These float through our minds until coalescing into predictions of doom, clouding our vision and sapping our spirits.

For More Information


* Lawrence Kummer is the editor of the Fabius Maximus website.

“Health and Fitness”

For those who do not know, Yediot Ahronot (“Latest News”) is the largest paper in Israel, easily outselling all the rest combined. For those who do not know, too, on the list of countries with the highest life-expectancy Israel occupies the eighth place (2015 data). Ahead of it are Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Spain, Iceland and Italy. Behind it are not only the United States—which, in this respect, is a notorious failure—but some of the world’s most admired welfare states. Among them are Sweden, France, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Finland, and Germany. And Denmark. That Denmark, incidentally, which by some data has the happiest people and highest quality of life in the world; making one wonder what the various statistics really mean, if indeed they mean anything at all.

And what, the reader may well ask, does this list have to do with Yediot? Simple. Opening the paper’s electronic edition, known as YNET, I have collected, over a period of one month, all the headlines in the column devoted to explaining the terrible things that threaten the health of ordinary Israelis. They are as follows:

31.7.2016. “How to Guard against Dangerous Apps;” “Dangers Post-Partum Women Are Not Aware of;” “Warning Signs that Show Your Baby is Not Developing Properly.”

1.8.2016. – – – –

2.8.2016. “Danger: Trampolines;”

3.8.2016. “Dangerous Water: How We Started Drinking Too Much.”

4.8.2016. “Report: A Product Containing Salmonella May Have Been on Sale;” “Air Conditioning in the Children’s Room; Healthy or Dangerous?” “Can Tests for Papilloma Be Trusted at All?” This issue also contained reports about the dangers of serving beer from glasses that do not show the amount of liquid they contain and of getting drunk while on board aircraft.

6.8.2016. “A Guide for Those Who Ate Cornflakes and Suffer from Diarrhoea.”

9.8.2016. “Coffee and Cake as Caloric Disasters.”

10.8.2016. – – – –

11.8.206. “Readers’ Comments on Health-Related Articles Might Be Bad for You.”

12.8.2016. “Because of the Heat: Damage to the Body;”

13.8.2016. “The Deadly Cycle of Smoking;” “Not Just Salmonella; the Pollution We All Suffer from” [air pollution]; “The Wikipedia of Disasters; Can Smartphones Save Humanity?” “Came for a Checkup—and Were Infected with Hepatitis C.”

14.8.2016, “Watch the Salmonella Germ Entering the Body—Stage by Stage.”

15.8.2016. “Children’s Dreams, a Cause for Worry.”

16.8.2016. “Look What Happened to a Boy Who Swallowed a Toy Dog.”

17.8.2016. “Dangerous Screens: How Smartphones and Computers Damage Eyes;” “To Increase Peoples’ Awareness of Rare Diseases.”

18.8.2016. “Five Exercises You Do Not Get Right in the Gym;” “Where Half of All ‘Deaths in the Cradle’ Take Place;” “How Jetlag Makes You Fat;” “The Dangerous Germs that Enter Your Food.”

19.8.2016. “When the Body Wears Out;” “The IVF Treatment that Endangers Fetuses;”

21.8.2016. “Obese Women Have Obese Children;” “The Children Run a Temperature? Wait with the Medicines” (so as not to damage the immune system); “Are You Addicted to Sugar? Let’s Check;” “A Doctor Explains; The Danger of Home Delivery.”

22.8.2016: “When Deficient Hearing Arrives: From Denial to Acceptance;” “Who Conceals the Damage Caused by Natrium;” “Incredible: The Amount of Salt in Supermarket Food.”

23.8.2016: “Forty Million Shekel (about $ 10,000,000) for Combating cutaneous leishmaniasis (a rare disease affecting people who live in the Dead Sea area); “Does Your Mouth Feel Dry? Ten Possible Reasons;” “Antibiotics for Children; Increased Risk of Diabetes.”

24.8.2016: “Healthy or Unhealthy? How Many Cups of Coffee You Should Drink Each Day;” “Thousand-Calorie Salads; Culinarian Mines in Restaurants;”

25.8.2016: “Why Widowers Die Earlier.”

26.8.2016: “Prepare for Problems: When Chronic Disease Meets Your Pension Fund;” “Why Native Israelis Suffer More from Lymphoma;” “Went Abroad for a Kidney Transplant and Came Back Deadly Sick.”

27.8.2016. “Why Mosquitoes Bite You” (this, immediately following an announcement that Israel’s health authorities have decided to launch an anti-Zika campaign).

28.8.2016. – – – –

29.8.2016. “Nurses in Baby Ward: Only by a Miracle Was a Disaster Prevented;” “Seven Bad Things You Didn’t Know Running Does to the Body;” “Sweet Corn of Breakfast; Think of Healthier Alternatives.”

Since the website changes several times a day, I may have missed a few. Over 30 days, the total number of identified dangers was 47. The maximum number per day was 4, the average 1.56. Only 3 days, or 10 percent of the total, were danger-free (an oversight, in all probability). Some dangers are common, others so rare that few people have heard of them. Some are widespread, others limited to certain groups of the population. Some are occasioned by food, some by exercise (or by the lack of it, though this particular list does not contain any such), some by doctors and medicines, and some by all kinds of activities or gadgets. At least one is caused by public opinion as reflected by the “talkbackists” (as Israelis call those who respond to newspapers articles).

In Israel, and by no means only in Israel, some people would argue that a long life expectancy and the drumfire of warnings are two sides of the same coin. The warnings, they say, lead to awareness and awareness leads to preventive action. But one could equally well maintain that they lead to stress and stress, to illness. In other words, that health and life expectancy would have been higher without them; for surely one of the most important, perhaps the most important, benefit of good health is not having to worry about it.

And the name of the column in which all these terrible disasters are listed? Nothing else than “Health and Fitness.” George Orwell would have laughed.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Alice Schwarzer is probably not a name that means a lot to many of my readers. Now seventy-three years old, for good or bad she is the doyenne of German feminism, a movement she helped found back in the 1970s. In spreading her message, her main instrument has been her bimonthly (formerly, monthly), Emma. In 2012 it was said to have a circulation of 60,000.

Personally I am convinced that feminism is one of the worst things that has ever happened to women and, through them, to half of humanity. By some research, all it has ever done is to make women unhappier than they were some decades ago. That is why I never expected to have common ground with her; yet reading a recent interview with her in Der Spiegel, the leading German news magazine, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with her on many points.

So here are some highlights, translated word by word.

Der Spiegel (DS): Ms. Schwarzer, Angela Merkel has now been ruling Germany for eleven years. Some weeks ago Theresa May became British prime minister, and Hillary Clinton may become the first female president of the United States. Will women’s rule make the world into a better place?

AS: It will surely be different. That is because women have a different history and live in a different world from that of men. So the experience they bring with them is also different… Now as ever, women are judged by different standards. When a woman wants to make her way to the top she is called ice-cold and a careerist. Not so men who, trying to do the same, are praised for being competitive and assertive.

DS: The platform of the SPD [Social Democratic Party] says that “whoever wants a humane society, must overcome the male element.” Isn’t that a little naive?

AS: No. It is simply the right of women to claim half of all power for themselves. Full stop. I never entertained the illusion that women would run the world in a way that is more just, or more moral, than that of men….

DS: Taking your idea to its logical conclusion, do you think that one day we might have a female Hitler?

AS: History doesn’t know too many monsters like Hitler. But yes: if more female rulers appear, some of them may abuse their power.

DS: Could one regard the rise of right-wing populist female politicians such as [France’s] Marie Le Pen and [Germany’s] Frauke Petry as some kind of normalization?

AS: Yes. Some women are left wing, others right wing. Some are fair, others mean, cunning and foolish….

DS: Do you believe that female politicians are obliged to support feminism?

AS: Not at all. I hope they do, but I do not expect them to….

DS: Many American feminists were angry with Hillary Clinton because she did not leave her husband when it turned out that had been cheating on her.

AS: For decades on end, no woman in the world has been attacked and humiliated as Hillary was. For me, the miracle is that she has retained her sanity… When the Monika Lewinsky affair broke people said: She may be intelligent, yes, and Bill can talk to her about politics. But he does not desire her. That was unfair and offensive…

DS: Your biographer Bascha Mika wrote that what you are really after is power. Do you see that as a compliment?

AS:… What interests me is independence. And the ability to do what I can to improve the way things are…

DS: What have women accused you of?

AS: Of being too strong and too dominant. Of not having cried often enough. And then there were political problems. I have always stood for a non-biological kind of feminism… I never knew what to do with women who appealed to their so-called femininity, exalted motherhood, and turned those qualities into the center of their existence. I also came under attack by left-wing women who saw feminism merely as part of the class struggle. Right now this part of the story seems to be repeating itself…

DS: What do you mean?

AS: Many so called Internet-feminists are terrified of being called racists. Doing so, they even justify the burka, this shroud that covers women’s bodies…

DS: You say that violence is the key to masculinity. However, there also exist other kinds of men; such as fathers who take time off to be with their children.

AS: … Unfortunately, women have always been fascinated by Dunkle Liebhaber [Dark Lovers, the mysterious, often rough if not violent, stranger who supposedly turns up out of nowhere and takes women by storm, MvC]. High time for them to get rid of that image, damn it!

DS: British prime minister May has no offspring, Merkel has no offspring…

AS: And Alice Schwartz has no offspring.

DS: Is that the price of power?

AS: If I had a child Emma then could not exist. There were times when I spent nights at my desk. And when I consider Merkel’s life, my God…

DS: You say that women have been told a lie?

AS: Yes. They are told that they can do everything—motherhood, career, no problem. But that is not true. Not even when a woman gets herself a good partner with whom she can share the housework…

DS: Why don’t women demand more sharing of their men?

AS: Because women are afraid men won’t love them. That is the main problem of those female shitheads: They want to be loved, never mind the price. It makes them unfree and opportunistic.

To which I, Martin van Creveld, would say: Straight from the horse’s mouth.

Germany: Holding Down the Lid

As some readers know, my wife and I spend part of each summer in Potsdam. On the face of it the city has remained what it used to be. The relaxed atmosphere on the most important throughway, the Brandenburger Strasse with its eighteenth-century, two-story, houses; the beautiful flat countryside, fit for walking; the even more beautiful lakes, ideal for swimming; and the superabundance of cultural facilities both in Potsdam itself and in neighboring Berlin.

Yet under the surface Potsdam, and with it Germany as a whole, seems posed for the greatest challenge since at least re-unification back in 1989 and possibly even since the end of World War II back in 1945. How to best explain what has been going on? Perhaps by referring to the position of Frau Angela Merkel, the long-time chancellor who has now been in charge of the country’s destiny for eleven years. Two years ago she was on top. Both in Germany and abroad, many saw her both as the best chancellor Germany had ever had and as the most successful woman in the world; by contrast, her opponents seemed to be bleating in the wilderness. I myself was able to witness this, watching the spontaneous applause with which she was received when, in her typical unassuming way, she attended a Bundeswehr ceremony in Berlin.

No longer. Perhaps in Germany more than abroad, Frau Merkel is now the topic of fierce debates, not seldom accompanied by the kind of language we have come to expect of Donald Trump and his ilk. By some polls, no fewer than two thirds of voters want to get rid of her. The reason? The way she has dealt with the hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing into the country. In particular the words, “wir schaffen das” (we shall make it, i.e. successfully “integrate” the newcomers) have become by far the most famous ones she has ever uttered. Unless something truly dramatic happens, they are likely to be remembered as her legacy.

Frau Merkel grew up in the former East Germany. Such being the case, she at first seemed a strange choice for dealing with Germany’s past; that past which her native country had always firmly refused to confront but which, in both Germanies, simply does not want to go away. Both abroad and, except for the usual lunatic fringe, in Germany itself, her ability to create the impression that she not only understood but cared was one of the main reasons why people admired her as much as they did. Perhaps the fact that her father was a Protestant clergyman helped.

In come the refugees. From Albania, from Libya, from Syria, from Iraq, even from places as far away as Afghanistan. They do not speak the language. They have no education. They have no skills—in Germany, a country in which skills are acquired by means of lengthy and carefully organized apprenticeships, that counts as one of the worst sins of all. They have nothing and have to be supported, economically, at a cost that sometimes makes Germans who are on welfare or simply pay their taxes green with envy and resentment.

Some refugees resolutely refuse to “integrate,” insisting on retaining their own culture in respect of food, clothing, and the treatment of women and homosexuals. Contrary to what one sees on the media, which likes to present veiled women and innocent children being carried by their parents, the great majority are unattached young men; that fact, as well as sheer poverty, explains why they commit far more crimes than their numbers would warrant. Including some which can only be described as terrorism, and including some which their perpetrators themselves describe as such. I am told that, in the Rhineland, there are entire prisons inhabited exclusively by immigrants.

Some other EU countries, notably those of Eastern Europe, have resolutely challenged Brussels and refused to accept Muslim immigrants. Others, though subtler, also do what they can to put all kinds of obstacles in their way and, where possible, get rid of them. However, partly because it is a central pillar of the EU—which, without German support, would quickly far apart—and partly because of its own past, Germany cannot do the same.

Unfair? Yes. After all, a quick calculation shows that even the grandparents of young Germans under 25 cannot have participated in Nazi crimes in any meaningful way. The same goes for the parents of anyone under sixty years or so. To have been eighteen, the age at which, back in 1945, people were drafted into the Wehrmacht or Waffen SS, one must be at least 89 today. That only applies to less than one percent of the population.

So the sons, the grandsons, and in some cases even the great-grandsons are paying for their ancestors’ sins. One and all, they have been nailed to the swastika from which nothing and no one can liberate them. No wonder the “extreme” right, in the form of newspapers such as the Junge Freiheit and parties such as AfD (Alternative fuer Deutschland, An Alternative for Germany, which, incidentally, is led by a woman) is flourishing). Let me emphasize: neither the Junge Freiheit nor the AfD are in any sense Nazis. To the contrary, well aware that their opponents are doing whatever they can to describe them as such they do whatever they can to stay away from any such accusations. The Junge Freiheit, for example, is conservative. Knowing them well, as I do, I sometimes feel they would like to turn the clock back to 1871 if not before.

And how does Frau Merkel respond to the problem? By denying that there is any. So far she and the establishment she heads, consisting of the moderately right wing CDU and the moderately left wing SPD, have been able to hold down the lid on their people’s growing resentment. But for how long? And what happens then? As Hamlet might have said, those are the questions.

Guest Article: US Position is Untenable


by Karsten Riise

The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has newly released a projection of Federal debt 2016-2046.

US Fed debt 2000-2045

The CBO analysis shows that Federal debt is on path to increase from 75% of GDP to 146% of GDP in 2046. These figures exclude state & local government debt of approimately 16% of GDP (source: Fed.Reserve Z1,D1 and BEA.gov), meaning that the total public debt in the USA is on track to increase from 90%+ to 160%+ of GDP.

A public debt of 100%-200% of GDP is possible in Japan and Italy, where nearly all public debt is owned nationally—in Japan, by (often state-promoted) enormous private entities. However, for the USA, such high public debt figures are bound to lead to a fundamental crisis of non-confidence in the US dollar. 

Falling dollar rates and rising interest rates will incur still higher deficits to pay the interests on the public debt. 

A vicious circle threatens the US economy.
When and how it may start, we don’t know.

The biggest driver of the US Federal debt is the aging of the US population. Today 15% of Americans are aged 65+. This percentage will increase by two thirds, so that by 2060 about 24% of the US population will be 65+. Until now, the USA has benefited from a young population. The strain on medicare and social spending of an aging population, even with the still limited entitlements in the USA, will be enormous.

The CBO has calculated, that just to keep the Federal debt at its present level, the balance between tax revenues and federal expenditures must be improved by 1.7% of GDP—every year the next 30 years. In other words, tax revenue must increase and government expenditures must be curtailed.

The US economy is becoming less and less competitive. One reason for this is because the USA has some of the worst 3rd world-like public infrastructure in the western world. Roads, bridges and railways in the USA are a sham. High-speed trains are non-existent. Not only is China building far more kilometers of inter-state high-ways than the US, but it is also one of the world’s leading countries in the field of high-speed trains; in fact, China may become the main-supplier of America’s first high-speed railway line.

Furthermore, American public schools, hampered as they are by violence and other problems. are not exactly the best in the world, The US level of education is going down, as pointed out by the economic guru Michael Porter, who also points out, that the level of bureaucracy and red-tape hindrances to business are enormous in the USA. The middle class is disappearing in the USA, with now barely 50% of the population perceiving themselves as middle class. Median incomes have barely improved or even gone down the past 40 years, significantly reducing the middle-section of the tax base, which is normally the most reliable. The American Dream is a night-mare for most Americans. The Laffer-curve, stating that heavy tax-burdens on the rich will incur less total tax-revenues, still applies for the top-section of the US tax base. Any attempts to heavily taxate (fiscate) the upper 10% (or 0.1% !) of the US tax base will lead to US dollar capital-flight, and acute economic crisis. 

Ueber-rich people in the US will prefer to dump their American passports and go with their money to the Bahamas, Belize, the UK, Australia, Singapore, UAE, or even South Africa, or Brazil, if doing so is what it takes to protect their enormous fortunes from high taxes.

Poor Americans lack education and training to make them competitive in the global labor-market. America’s left erroneously blames the high percentage of unemployed poor on free trade, but the real problem is the lack of education which prevents the under-class from obtaining productive jobs. Poor Americans are too expensive compared to Asians, and too badly educated and trained, and the infrastructure around them too lousy, to make them able to earn a higher pay. The risk of starvation amongst the poorest in the USA remains high: In Obama’s presidency, one in seven Americans (14%) face the risk of not having enough to eat.

At the same time, the US military inventory is aging, and declining. The number of US ships and combat aircraft is declining, their average service-age goes up and their operativeness goes down. New US military hardware often take the form of useless “white elephants”, meaningless prestige-products like the 20-30 billion dollar Zumwalt class destroyer. The US addiction to over-investments in such relatively useless symbols of “strength” as the Zumwalt, in spite of economic problems and American city-disintegration, violence and poverty, is in the USA a sure sign of decay and decline – just like Rome in its latter days. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO report 15-364 ) has demonstrated, that the US military, in spite of spending 4% of US GDP (source: BEA.gov – extra spending is hidden in separate budgets), has no overview of its own economic needs, and the economy of the mega-expensive F-35 aircraft, according to GAO, has a big chance of not being economically sustainable over time, even for the USA.


The US military is simply on its way to run smack into a wall of economic impossibility.

In absolute strength levels, the American military is standing still or going backwards.

The US military now delays military purchases in order to keep overall military expenditures flat the next 5 years. 


If military budgets are not increased, the aging of the US military will be tough in the 2020’ies. In light of the overall budget problems of the USA from now on until 2045 (as mentioned above), it must be expected that the US military will be economically forced to cut down on absolute strength levels the next 10 years. 

At the same time, absolute strength levels of militaries in Russia and China is going up. 

The qualitative lead in high-precision weapons, cruise missiles, and high-quality combat aircraft has come to Russia and China too. Though the USA still has a number of unique capabilities, especially its carrier fleet, advanced submarines, other ships, and “stealth” aircraft, Russia and China are specifically building up (and exporting!) cheaper weapons to off-set US advantages. 

Military lobbyists in the USA dream of a new US “revolution in military technology” to regain American tech-lead in weapons, but so far such US “wunder-weapons” as rail-guns, laser-cannons etc. have shown to be elusive and too costly, even for the USA. 
On the political front, the UK exit from the EU is a devastating blow to the US system of alliances.

The US economy is unsustainable – and the US military is going down in absolute as well as in relative strength.
Costly wars like Libya have been counter-productive. Afghanistan is becoming a failure. China is getting the upper-hand in the Straight of Taiwan, and Russia surprises (though still under-estimated in the west).
Without the tools-of-power or greater wisdom, Mrs. Hillary Clinton wants to increase the force-confrontation against Russia, China, and others.

A new world order is already developing. Mr. Donald Trump seems to have realized the new situation of the US. Mrs. Hillary Clinton has not – which makes her dangerous in world affairs.