Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Will Any Future POTUS Matter (Other Than Launching More Wars)?

We are already experiencing the powerlessness of POTUS.
We all know the POTUS (President of the United States) has the power as Commander-in-Chief to engage the nation in senseless, costly, needless wars.We also know the POTUS has a media-saturated bully pulpit to set an agenda and fashion a cultural tone for the nation.
But beyond the power to wage war and dominate the media spotlight, does the President have the power to solve the structural problems that are eroding the nation's economy and social contract?
This chart summarizes one such problem: wage earners are receiving a diminishing share of the nation's output (GDP):
A second related problem is the national income that is flowing to wage earners is increasingly flowing to the top 5%:
If the president can't solve the nation's systemic problems, then he/she no longer matters. The President, outside of declaring war, is nothing but a source of "news" chum for the media feeding frenzy aimed at grabbing eyeballs to maximize advertising revenues for the media's corporate owners.
Analyst Gail Tverberg explained why the political machinery of POTUS cannot change the downward trends in household earnings in a series of insightful essays, most recently Overly Simple Energy-Economy Models Give Misleading Answers.
Tverberg considers the costs of finance/debt and complex hierarchies in the matrix of energy production and consumption, and references the work of Joseph Tainter on the systemic impact of the rising cost of complexity.
In a similar vein, I have often mentioned The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization by Thomas Homer-Dixon.
In summary: successful civilizations generate sufficient surplus to invest in complex hierarchical communication-command-control mechanisms which boost productivity and generate additional surplus. The cost of these complex systems continually rises while the increases in production eventually plateau and decline in an S-Curve:
The net result is a society with higher costs and diminishing returns. Eventually the costs of maintaining the status quo exceed the benefits of maintaining the status quo hierarchy and the society decays and collapses.
My own work has focused on two dynamics of the cost of increasingly unproductive complex systems. One is privilege, which can be defined as unearned wealth and power. Privilege is by definition unproductive, and a drain on the economy and society. Once the privileged class (i.e. the protected class that shifts risks and taxes to the unprotected/non-elite classes) expands and social mobility decays, the economy collapses under the dead weight of the privileged class.
I covered the history and dynamics of this process in The Lesson of Empires: Once Privilege Limits Social Mobility, Collapse Is Inevitable (April 18, 2016).
The second dynamic is the destructive consequences of a self-serving political-financial elite that is structurally incapable of real reform because real reform will collapse the high-cost structures that enable the concentration of wealth and power.
I explain these dynamics in Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.
I know this runs counter to the media-supported delusion that POTUS is the most powerful person on Earth, but in reality it no longer matters who's president. The inevitable collapse of a debt-based model of complexity, energy extraction and consumption is already baked in.
The only potentially positive role of any President would be to downsize the unrealistic expectations of the citizenry to align with real-world dynamics. But downsizing expectations doesn't get you re-elected, so the political reality is that future presidents will no longer matter in terms of solving the critical problems we face in the coming decades.
We are already experiencing the powerlessness of POTUS: the campaign for the office of President has already been reduced to two poor players that strut and fret their hour upon the stage, a tale told by an idiot media, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


My new book is #3 on Kindle short reads -> politics and social science: Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform ($3.95 Kindle ebook, $8.95 print edition)For more, please visit the book's website.

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