Some Thoughts on Global Crisis, by Geoffrey Parker

I’m about halfway through this book. (It’s over 700 pages, not counting another about 150 of footnotes and bibliography, and info-dense enough it needs to be read in small doses.) But there’s a recurring pattern in the history here I thought people looking at current events might appreciate.

Never underestimate the ability of people in power to double down on stupid.

Granted, the book can’t claim to cover the whole word; there’s very little on Africa or the Americas. But for all of Eurasia in the 1600s? There’s a consistent pattern of those in power gripping harder and harder, demanding ever more power, control, and taxes even as the weather ruined harvests and slaughtered millions with cold, plague, and starvation. The ones that weren’t dying directly due to wars or being murdered by the soldiers billeted on them whether they liked it or not. Because, again, the universal monarch’s response to “other kingdoms around me are in difficulty” was to go to war with them, ignoring the little matter of their own people being broke and starving. Just raise the taxes, that’ll pay for it….

Over and over, we have historical accounts of the people actually on the ground governing, reporting that there was nothing left to pay taxes with. The well was dry. That’s it. And over and over, the monarchs would raise taxes, maybe back off a bit if there was a bloody rebellion, and raise taxes some more.

(I’m currently in the middle of the chapter on France. Impression: Cardinal Richelieu was a brilliant schemer who just hated the Huguenots, and thought a civil war in France to wipe them out was an excellent idea. And if people complained about the taxes that was the finance officers’ problem. You don’t want to know how many finance officers ended up murdered, especially over salt taxes.)

I’m not sure how much history of the 1600s our founding fathers had at their fingertips, but the century is an excellent argument for the Bill of Rights and the principle of solving problems at as low a level of government as humanly possible.

Especially the Second Amendment. Because the more power people at the top have, the less they want to hear the word “no”. Even when what they want is not humanly possible. Especially then, because too often the kind of people who gravitate to and concentrate power are charming, manipulative, socially skilled Cluster B personality disordered thugs, who like nothing better than other people being made to grovel and squirm at their command. And there’s nothing that gets through to them except immediate, inescapable, personal consequences. Such as, oh, being shot.

Mark Twain said history seldom repeats but often rhymes. I think I hear rhyming with the 1600s. This is not a good thing.

Let’s learn from history, and start dragging government problems back down to the local level. Who knows, we might just fix something!

39 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Global Crisis, by Geoffrey Parker

  1. I agree in principle, because the more problems are solved locally, the more the people solving the problem have a direct interest in the resolution of the problem.

    It’s just harder to make work in the modern day because of the level of globalization and interconnection that the internet, phones, modern transportation networks, etc. has created.

    It’s a lot harder to solve a problem locally when the problem is caused by company or government on the other side of the world, and most problems are probably caused by an interrelated network of decisions and policies by several different groups who affected each other’s decisions.

    There’s bound to be some way to make it work better I agree, I just think it’s a lot harder these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree to a degree; long distance problems are definitely part of the issue. But I’d say almost the bigger problem is the ability to have long distance control (at least the appearance of it) over the solution. See the military and the complete loss of any autonomy lower-ranked officers used to have in the field.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Bureaucracy is partly tech for storing information, partly tech of transmitting information, and partly tech for moving people around.

        Improvements in these give a leader a seeming improvement in bureaucratic capability.

        There is an awful temptation to use that bureaucratic capability.

        But, that effort, and the tech improvements changes the situation. Which, can change the human behavior that was an implicit assumption in the planning for the new use of bureaucratic capability.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Globalization is not a real physical thing.

      Ultimately we are talking human behavior, with properties emergent from the individual scale. Nothing that we talk about in theory at the aggregate level is all that real. It explains the past, but it is not perfectly predictive in all circumstances.

      So, don’t like globalization? There are individual behaviors that mitigate it, and populations can have a lot of control over it by toggling individual behavior in a way that gets aggregated.

      The reason why it hasn’t happened yet is that the factions that complain most strongly about the aggregate phenomena of ‘globalization’, are at the same time very determined to profit off of the fundamental behavior.

      But, basically, all you have to do is discount bureaucrats and academics. Even the ones born and grew up locally, may no longer be a part of the local culture, due to having acculturated to academia or to the wider bureaucracy. Just refuse to trust anyone who is not part of your own small group, and refuse to obey any order from outside that group that is not backed by naked force.

      These decisions are pretty natural in some cultures, and maybe a little alien to mainstream US culture.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. “I’m not sure how much history of the 1600s our founding fathers had at their fingertips, but the century is an excellent argument for the Bill of Rights and the principle of solving problems at as low a level of government as humanly possible.”

    Since most of the colonists who came to America came specifically to get away from that entire mess in Eurasia… If the Founding Fathers couldn’t lay their hands on documents about the issues, they had more than enough oral history backing up the “less government is a good thing” idea. Then again, since most of the colonial population was literate, it is very likely they knew as much about the 1600s as we would know about the ACW.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. The problem with it is that unless you manage to make the higher price from the tax part of the cachet, is that people stop buying the luxuries. Luxury taxes destroyed many bluecollar jobs making yachts.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. There’s always a price to pay– pun not intended.

        While I strongly dislike people losing their jobs because the luxury items are in less demand because people can’t afford them, it’s better than people being unable to eat even when they have a job.

        The power to tax is the power to destroy– and they will screw it up.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. And, there is a reason to predict leadership stupidity in similar sets of extremely difficult circumstances.

    Skill, expectations, and theory are shaped by the past.

    With widgets and physical material, there is some theoretical justification for ‘disconnecting’ time, and choosing to use very similar thinking for a billet of steel in 1870, 1920, and 2020. Steel is steel, so the behavior of it is not going to be radically different in very many ways.

    But, because humans very definitely have memory, and because we can read the academic theory of human behavior, and many other reasons, there is a lot more potential for complexity in human behavior, and this is much more strongly dependent on time.

    When your leadership skill is from past conditions, your expectations of results are from past conditions, and your theory is from past conditions, periods that are extremely surprising are going to be at a much lower level of effective skill and effective intelligence.

    Add on the stress of ‘new and upsetting’, and ‘expert leadership’ dumbassery is predictable.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. One of the inescapable complicating factors in the modern world is the population density around the world.

    There are more people, so solutions to government structures that might have worked once, do not work anymore, not withouth harming innocents.

    If something interrupts the complex interconnectedness of the modern world, people die.

    For example: We may complain about the UN, but when the UN fails in its mission of peace, and a single country (Russia) tries to conquer another (Ukraine) by force – well, too bad for those two, but what does that concern, say, Egypt?

    Except that the Ukraine, a country of 50 million people, feeds 500 million throught it’s agriculture. A lot of people will starve this year.

    Less goverment would not help with that.

    Like

    1. a) there is every reason to suspect that the official population numbers has been substantially overestimated.

      b) The problems are basically baked into the UN. The PRC’s permanent security council seat should still be with the RoC, Mao’s long march was basically carrying out rear area security for the IJA. After the end of the USSR, that seat probably should have gone to Poland.

      c) The only way to have reliably prevented that event would have been to exterminate the Russians. The culture of empires run out of Moscow can be expected to be as uncivilized as say, mid 19th century Great Plains Indians tribes.

      d) There are quite a lot of countries with populations that super super suck at keeping their politicians appropriately supervised. Those politicians will pollute /any/ attempt at negotiated international stuff. Negotiated international stuff will only cease being a horror show when i) almost every population has learned to supervise governments very closely ii) alternatively, the populations which have not learned are all exterminated.

      e) This is not a problem of population density. The world is not culturally uniform. Some cultures can do nothing with marginal land. Some cultures are basically lacking in the ability to deliver on peace deals with their neighbors. Less screwed up cultures can produce a agricultural profit enough to support populations in other cultures, which are too screwed up to feed themselves.

      Nations are basically the scale they are, because either i) that culture allows those populations to negotiate resolutions to disputes with some measure of civil peace (bottom up) ii) the central government has enough of a hammer to terrorize the rest into more or less compliance (top down).

      Neither a top down nor a bottom up method would scale up to the total set of human populations, because different cultures, and wildly different responses to specific top down approaches, as well as wildly different responses to specific bottom up approaches.

      f) Tell me again how a top down international empire is necessary for the welfare of the human populations. Who watches the watchmen? Who bells the cat?

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Some cultures can do nothing with marginal land.

        It’s especially bad in areas where the work to turn marginal land into good land will not be respected and that investment protected— it will get you killed for the now desirable land.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. The Ukraine is made more complicated because the situation didn’t come out of nowhere– a lot of the problems came out of the mistaken belief that group action was always better.
      Back in, what, ’13? Ukraine was bullied into giving up land, to avoid a fight.
      They could be bullied into that because while they’d had nukes– they gave them up, in response to promises that Europe and the US would protect them from Russia.
      They had nukes because before the USSR fell, there were some soviet nukes there– and the USSR/Russia was propped up (so their people would not starve…as much), and their various thuggeries excused (or denied), because people didn’t want to fight, largely people in other countries. Act like there’s nothing wrong, or at leastpretend to believe the “explanations,” and it’s easier.
      And this is a massively simplified and sanitized version, focusing as closely as possible on a tiny aspect of the incredible failure of Bigger Is Better, where folks thought that you could apply scientific governance and the world is still hungover from it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. May have been 2014.

        The selection of timing for 2022 seems to be largely Putin’s conviction that the world was actually being run from DC, and Putin’s conviction that Biden would do nothing to stop a conquest of the Ukraine. ‘Had’ to take advantage of the ‘window’ that he thought would close in 2025. At least one of those was a miscalculation. The internal narrative being pushed in Russia seems to be that the miscalculation was the result of a very complicated American disinformation operation.

        Based on quality of US government disinformation operations directed at Americans, I kinda doubt US government disinformation capabilities.

        Same or greater levels of government mean bureaucrats focused on international scales. Cultural differences ensure that some of these bureaucrats will be profoundly angry, and carrying some form of grudge.

        The crazy regional head of some security organization does not have to be right about being able to get away with it, to cause a lot of trouble with the attempt.

        Government can kill an awful lot of people. Maybe more than famine?

        National borders are a great safeguard, and ‘ignore the rest of the world, and leave them to their own mistakes’ is a wonderful source of calm.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I’ve got a theory that there was also the assumption that Ukraine’s anti-corruption pushes were different organized crime coming in, rather than actual attempts at reducing corruption.

        They’ve been doing some massive stuff with breaking up organized crime there for years, now. (You can mostly find it from DEA press releases.)

        Liked by 3 people

      3. @Foxfier

        Oh, yes, the DEA. I’m half convinced the DEA is a criminal organization, so those press releases make me wonder who, exactly, is really in charge over in Ukraine.

        Frankly, I’m at the point where I don’t trust any acronym-using government organization. They tend to have too much power, too little public oversight, and are staffed by too many bureaucrats with personal agendas.

        Like

      4. Fine, then listen to Russia where they refuse to turn over the “Ukrainian crime lord” to law enforcement– and he’s living openly in Moscow. (Born in the Ukraine, big guy in the Russian mafia.)

        Of course you are suspicious of law enforcement groups, given how much money a wide variety of criminal organizations spend to push selectively edited stories. Some even directly linking to a source that says the opposite of what the story claims.

        It’s simply so much easier— safer!– to figure everyone is corrupt, then choose the path that means the least work and most pride for yourself.

        Which is why handling things at the lowest effective level matters.

        Because too many people are entirely fine with selling out other folks’ lives to avoid discomfort in themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Don’t get me started on the dumpster fire that is the UN.

      I will, however, point out that there actually is no independent UN to do things. It’s all made up of the various nations of the world (and mostly the best grifters from them). And people tend to put their tribe (or if we’re lucky, nation) first.

      Which is why most of the UN could not care one whit if Russia invaded Ukraine, so long as it doesn’t happen to them.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Quoting Streiff at Redstate:

        ‘Like Russia’s annexation of Crimea, this action will be rejected by anyone who matters. A short while ago, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution condemning Russia’s criminal act. The vote was 10 in favor, four abstaining (China/Gabon/India/Brazil), and Russia’s veto. ‘

        Link is:
        https://redstate.com/streiff/2022/09/30/putins-illegal-annexation-of-ukrainian-territory-marks-the-beginning-of-a-war-without-a-perceivable-end-n635498

        But, I don’t think the article is relevant to the point about the UN.

        UN has A) ‘diplomatic resources’ B) zero military resources not provided to them by an actual country.

        Diplomacy is worthless with a power that will never be willing to deliver what the diplomats ask of them.

        Military resources are significantly difficult to create. You need a population to recruit from, that has a culture, and that culture shapes what can be trained. There are populations effectively controlled by the UN. There are countries weak or uncaring enough that they would permit the UN to recruit from populations that they control.

        Then, when you have your recruits, you need to train them and equip them. Which is basically a great many different things, with very difficult to meet requirements for best quality.

        Russia seems to be wildly over hyped militarily. Yeah, sure, it was good to prepare for fighting them as if they had basic minimal competence. The projections we made for fighting them still contaminated our thinking with a greatly optimistic view of their capabilities. It is possible that Putin simply ruined them more than usual, and that the older projections were somehow sound. Still…

        The UN would still have a very hard time getting anywhere /near/ parity with the Russians.

        Beyond that, UN troops are focused on peace keeping, and ‘peacekeeping’. They are recruited and trained by other countries, and then put under UN command and control. At best, well, the Rwanda genocide happened because Kofi Annan prevented the Dutch troops from stopping it. And, Kofi Annan was promoted to Security General after. UN command and control is insane. The worse case is that UN troops are bandits, and basically add another faction to whatever conflict.

        The UN could /possibly/ maintain peace if it were basically a US sockpuppet, and if the US could be interested in more than procurement kickbacks.

        But, US already has access to alliances that would be more readily turned into sock puppets than the UN would be. And, frankly, one has been much more effective at seeking peace for /not/ being only a US sock puppet. A lot of the other NATO members have really stepped up to bat for America, for the Ukraine, for their own self interests, and for peace.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. “The worse case is that UN troops are bandits …”

        The way I heard it, worst case is that the UN troops are child rapists. I suppose I should be skeptical of that claim since I have no direct knowledge, but the rumor gets my hackles up (which would be what it was intended to do if the rumor were deliberate slander).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. STD outbreaks, and a rather large number of pregnant barely-teens-if-that, are known management issues for UN deployments.

        Along with things like “keep the Americans from killing their allies because don’t approve of that kind of behavior.”

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Several things to keep in mind.

        Historically, lots of troops have not much of the distinction the first world now draws between soldiers and bandits.

        This is cultural.

        Notions about age, age of consent, and consent are a wee bit cultural as well.

        Not all current day ‘nations’ have the same culture.

        And, armed forces occupying where another people lives are frequently horrible, and actually rather difficult to manage in a way that minimizes the abuse of the local populations.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The weird thing is that Cardinal Richelieu did not mess with St. Vincent de Sales’ various charities. Cardinal Mazarin, IIRC, thought about it and then thought better of it.

    But then, after de Sales’ death, the French government nationalized and centralized and partly secularized most of them, and totally messed them up. It was like an obsession of grabbiness.

    Like

  6. Churchill’s ridiculously long and detailed biography of Marlborough is a pretty good explanation for American constitutional law.

    British politics during James II – William and Mary – Anne were really, really terrible, and the “Glorious Revolution” was a very sordid coup. (Yeah, that perfidious Albion thing. Every so often, it seems to be very English to screw someone over and not care about the law. And yet the same guy could be very honorable. Shrug.)

    So a lot of the American Revolution was “not that crud, nope, doing something else.” The Founding Fathers tended to talk about it in terms of Rome and Greece, but a lot of it is more about the stuff that was still fairly recent history in England or in France.

    O yeah, I got the Marlborough biography on Audible, and it was just horrifying how it explained What Not to Do with Your Revolution.

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