I’m posting a lot about politics at the moment, but there’s a reason for that. And that’s that modern politics scares me. Apparently, it also scares this guy. In his eloquently blunt article, he expresses his astonishment and concern about the state of the UK. His main topic is the murder of British MP Jo Cox. But in the same week, we also saw the ludicrous battle on the River Thames.
I join Chris in his concern, but I am not astonished. Rather, for me, I feel a kind of gnawing inevitable dread. Why? Because of something called self-organized criticality. I chant this phrase in political discussions with ever increasing frequency at the moment. The wikipedia page drowns the notion in science, so I’ll try to boil it down, and explain why I think it’s relevant.
Complex adaptive systems, like say, forests, or ecologies, or societies, have this tendency to organize themselves to max out the capacity of their environment. They try to squeeze in more and more trees, or lemmings, or dodgy property deals, until their environment collapses to some extent. The reach of the collapse is something you can never tell in advance. And after that, the squeezing begins again.
Our civilization is a complex adaptive system. The global financial industry has squeezed it to a precipice. Partial collapse is now inevitable. That doesn’t mean that the collapse will be big, mind you. The Credit Crunch was a partial collapse, and most of us are still here to talk about it.
This time, the vehicle for the collapse is the panic buying of international property by the rising Chinese executive class, and the attendant money-laundering storm that has come with it. The thing is, rather than let that bubble burst, the Chinese government keep bolstering their economy artificially. This means that the tension in the system cannot slip. Demand for property keeps rising. This makes the probability of a large cascade that much greater.
What does this have to do with the death of a British MP? Everything. Because the West is feeling the weight of that impending cascade, and it’s affecting all of us. It is our property that is being bought to sustain the overburdened system. The middle class is meanwhile shrinking. Xenophobia is growing. People are losing money and they’re starting to behave differently.
When major political shifts happen, they take people by surprise. By definition. When people can see a potential shift coming, they anticipate it. And so they don’t change that much. This means it’s always the changes that nobody believes can happen that strike hardest.
Britain, has for years imagined itself a fusty, sensible place incapable of blind panic or mindless brutality. We look on corruption elsewhere around the world, or even our own past, with confusion and distaste. We imagine that those things can’t happen at home. But of course they can. When a social system breaks, it breaks. The social contract that everyone relied on to keep things normal just goes away. Ditto the USA. Ditto Europe.
Fixing the global political problem is something that we no longer have the means to do through ordinary channels. We cannot will sensible, non-corrupt, kind, left-leaning political parties into existence, no matter how many FB posts we share. That is because the compressed mass of impending change is already too large for us to just-believe-in-democracy our way out.
Instead, what will happen is that something will cause the Chinese log-jam to break while the West retreats into Trumpian panic. Either there will be an unanticipated spike in the price of oil that the overextended Chinese economy can’t handle, or problems from within their own property market will cause a crisis. Say, for instance, the anticipated large-scale turnover of land leases in 2019. In the wake of that change, property markets all over the Western world will undergo massive, simultaneous reorganization.
When this happens, we will have a brief window for action. There will be those who will want to blame the poor, the weak, and the different, because that, unfortunately, is human nature. They will try to start wars. If we do that, things will get worse again. Instead, we should depose our oligarchs, no matter how hard that has become to do.
Whichever country in the world has the strength and far-sightedness to carry out that braver agenda is likely to come out best from the coming crisis. Leveling the economic playing field will create an arena in which functional capitalism of a sort we no longer have can actually occur. Prosperity will follow. It’ll be interesting to see who pulls it off.
In the mean time, I recommend getting to know your neighbors as well as you possibly can. Those with strong, local social ties will weather the coming storm most effectively.