Decline and Fall

Following on from last night’s look at institutional decay, via ZeroHedge I came across a couple of essays on the Rise and Fall of Great Powers.

 it’s not the absolute wealth and power of any one nation or empire that matters, it’s the economic growth rate of competitors and its wealth and power relative to theirs that matter. A nation whose economic base is growing at a lower rate than a competitor slowly become relatively weaker than its rival, even though its absolute wealth is still increasing.

He also notes a tendency for powers in relative decline (i.e. those growing less robustly than their neighbors/rivals) to spend more on military security as their position in the pecking order weakens. This diversion of national surplus to military spending further saps their economic vitality as funds are shifted from investment to unproductive military spending. This creates a feedback loop as lower investment weakens their economic base which then causes the leadership to respond to this weakening power with more military spending.

This feedback creates lags, where an economically weakening power may actually increase its military power, until the overtaxed economy implodes under the weight of the high military spending.

This dynamic certainly seems visible in the history of the Soviet Union, which at the time of this book’s publication in 1987 was unanimously considered an enduring superpower with a military that many believed could conquer Western Europe with its conventional forces.

US defence spending, it seems, is usually around 5% of GDP.

Though statistics from the Soviet era are not entirely reliable, various scholars have estimated that fully 40% of the Soviet GDP was being expended on its military and military-industrial complex.

During the height of the Reagan buildup, the U.S. was spending about 6% of its GDP on direct military expenditures.

In another essay along the same lines, the same author considers the Fall of Rome:

In Goldsworthy’s view, a key driver of decline was the constant political struggle for power drained resources away from protecting the Imperial borders from barbarian incursions and addressing the long-term problems facing the Empire.

Such conflicts for the Imperial throne often led to outright civil war, with factions of the Roman army meeting on the field of battle.

In other words, Rome didn’t fall so much as erode away, its many strengths squandered on in-fighting, mismanagement and personal aggrandizement/corruption.

More telling for the present is Goldsworthy’s identification of expansive, sclerotic bureaucracies that lost sight of their purpose. The top leadership abandoned the pursuit of the common good for personal gain, wealth and power. This rot at the top soon spread down the chain of command to infect and corrupt the entire institutional culture.

As the empire shrank and lost tax revenues, the Imperial bureaucracies continued growing, much as parasites attach themselves to a weakened host.

Individual contributions and institutional success are both difficult to measure in large bureaucracies, and it is tempting to define success by easily achieved metrics that reflect positively on individual contributions and the institutional management.

As the organization loses focus on its original purpose, the core purpose of the institution is given lip service but is replaced with facsimiles of managerial effectiveness, bureaucratic infighting over resources and the targeting of easily gamed metrics as substitutes for actual success.

People who have no skin in the game behave quite differently from those who face consequences. This disconnection of risk from consequence is called moral hazard…

By breaking the institutional purpose into small pieces whose success is measured by easily gamed targets, the institution can be failing its primary function even as every department reports continued success in meeting its goals. Repeated failure and loss of focus erode the institution even as those in charge advance up the administrative ladder.

In the final years of the Empire, in the 5th century A.D., this institutional failure led to the absurdity of detailed descriptions of army units being distributed within the Imperial bureaucracy, while the actual units themselves–the troops, the officers and the equipment–had ceased to exist. In some cases, it appears bureaucrats and officers collected pay for supplying and commanding completely phantom legions.

Okay, let’s compare now with then. Expansive, sclerotic bureaucracies? Check. The top leadership abandoned the pursuit of the common good for personal gain, wealth and power? Check. Bureaucracies continue growing? Check.  They define success by easily achieved metrics? Check.

All Tobacco Control’s metrics are ‘easily gamed’. They can rustle up a study in no time at all, showing how health has improved since the introduction of smoking bans (e.g. heart attack miracles). And Tony in the comments today reminded us that John Brignell thought that UK universities started deteriorating once academic success began to be measured by numbers of papers published. Public health metrics of reducing smoking prevalence and population BMI are also easily gamed.

No skin in the game? Our bankers award themselves huge ‘bonuses’, and at every level our politicians award themselves pay rises and gold-plated pensions. They’ve got nothing at stake.

The late Roman Empire was also characterised by numerous religious cults. We’ve got them too. There’s the religion of the antismoking zealots, which is based on smoke and mirrors. And there’s the religion of Global Warming. And, now as then, many of our political class have signed up to these new religions, and become True Believers.

And we also have bread and circuses, with people entirely dependent on the state (bread), sitting at home watching TV (circuses).

And at some point our overtaxed and over-regulated economy is also set to implode.

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24 Responses to Decline and Fall

  1. Marie says:

    The religion is not limited to antismoking, the name of the god is health.

    • Dirk says:

      It’s probably still the same god and the same religion, but anti-smoking, anti-obesity, anti-alcohol, anti-“you name it” are already different confessions with different fraternities inside of their organisations. They already compete against each other for fundings and public attention, with soundbites like “obesity is the new tobacco”.

      It won’t take long till the different confessions become full blown religions with gods of their own. It won’t take long till the other gods and their devotees will get ridiculed.

      It’s already taking place. You know, the meaning of “obesity is the new tobacco” is no other than “stop funding those anti-tobacco campaigners, their job is done, they’ve overcome themselves, give the money to us anti-obesity activists”. This is very similar to Martin Luther’s starting point at the time of the protestant reformation.

      This will soon change into “those anti-tobacco no-goods are not worth a single penny. Their leaders are psychos, their work is of no real-world use and their puritanical orthodoxy is corrupting people’s minds and lives. They can all drop dead. Fight them where you see them. We anti-obesity campaigners are the true friends of the people. It’s a holy war.” Well, this is similar to the starting point of modern preachers of hate.

      In our modern, fast moving world, it will not take 500 years from different groups of health activists pursuing their own cause, competing for funding and devotees to different health organsiations practically wageing war against each other, making themselves meaningless in the process.

      Frank’s civilised and well-considered critique of the nutjobs in Tobacco Control will become an example of old-fashioned politeness, once the different health movements start to openly fight each other in search for decreasing public fundings.

      I hope that this is not just my wishful thinking and I hope that it happens soon.


      • Frank Davis says:

        Most religions have gods that are ‘good’. But these religions have devils. They don’t know what’s good, but they sure know what’s evil.

      • jaxthefirst says:

        I’ve long thought that anti-smoking is getting increasingly defensive, and no wonder. Widespread, draconian smoking bans were always going to be the downfall of the anti-smoking movement for all number of reasons, not least the fact that having batted on about them for so long, and then got them, they’ve left themselves pretty much nothing else to moan about and lobby government for without showing their true colours, i.e. no more and no less as Prohibitionists in the true sense of the word. Oh, for sure, they’ve got a few measly outdoor/park/beach/away-from-entrances bans here and there, but those, in all honesty, are small beer compared with the all-encompassing nature of indoor bans. When even the likes of Zealot Bloomburg starts turning his attention to other “health” hobby horses, the writing’s on the wall for anti-smoking, and they know it. Bloomberg isn’t the only Big Cheese to look to newer and thus more lucrative pastures, and they know that, too.

        Pretty much all the non-smokers I know are now fed up with cheesy anti-smoking ads, whether State sponsored or those for NRT, and by association they’re also starting to question the validity of all those latest chummy-style “change for life” ads – particularly now that their own vices are starting to come under the spotlight. And about time, too! By refusing to hang up their hats and, like Bloomberg, look for another, more numerous group to vilify, anti-smoking – once the Great Leaders of the Healthist Cult – the remaining diehard anti-smokers like ASH et al look set to scupper the whole Healthist movement altogether. Which, as well as being deliciously ironic, is also very good news indeed. The sooner the Healthist movement destroys itself, the better. As Leg-iron has said so often for so many years, the Righteous always and without fail end up fighting amongst themselves. So – keep up the good work, ASH. The more exaggerated and extreme the claims, the better!

    • beobrigitte says:

      The religion is not limited to antismoking, the name of the god is health.

      The older you get the more you become a sinner; your health begins to fail as a part of the natural process that allows us to reproduce the way we do. I have recently been told that food production can cope with our population, although no longer if a harvest fails or viral diseases call for a cull.

      In the meantime African farmers wonder why we destroy herds of animals they themselves nurse back to health.

      By the looks of it, our GOD OF HEALTH is failing us

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    When JFK was president 40% of government revenues was spent on defense today and social programs ie welfare got roughly 10% of gov. revenues. Today thats opposite of each other. Either way its money going to nothing unless it means maintaining open seaways for free flow of trade.

    Standing armies are a peace making threat that lends to keep the peace and allow free trade to exist. Welfare keeps the poor from rioting……………take your pick the real loss is in work ethic and jobs!

  3. harleyrider1978 says: Smoker-friendly travelling and lodging

  4. Rose says:

    Three wardens hired to stop smokers outside hospital quit in disgust over the levels of verbal abuse hurled at them

    “All three walked away just days after starting the £12,000-a-year job, blaming intimidation from smokers.
    The wardens were hired as part of an NHS drive to stop people flouting no smoking rules outside hospitals.

    It was hoped they would encourage people to stop lighting up as doctors have warned the fog of smoke at hospital
    doors could harm the health of visitors and patients.”

    Gordon Stewart, a smoking warden at the Southern General in Glasgow, said: “Around one in 10 smokers we approach are abusive. The rest either put out their fags or move outside the grounds.

    “We have even had patients in wheelchairs and on drips smoking.

    “One woman patient told me to f*** off then called me a c***.

    “She said she would smoke as many cigarettes as she liked just to p*** me off but she did apologise later.”

    “Colleague James Willison, 21, added: “The abuse is not nice. We are only trying to help. We also hand out advice to smokers on how to stop. But a small minority just do not want to know.”

    Poor lad, perhaps someone could quietly explain the denormalisation campaign to him and ask him how he would feel if it happened to him, day after day, year after year, while being forced to pay for the endless defamation and bullying out of his own pocket, so he would at least understand why some people might get a little short tempered.

    Smokers report more stress, depression, worry, anger, sadness

    Well, a great deal of money has been spent to make them feel that way, so surely it can come as no surprise.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Rose ITS BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!

    • beobrigitte says:

      Rose, I frequently take a little old lady to the local hospital for checks. As a smoker I go and have a cigarette and a coffee.

      This particular hospital administration thought it was a good idea to get the porters enforcing the smoking ban. Apparently the porters happily agreed – no-one was ever reported for smoking.

      Statistically speaking – 100% obedience. Nevertheless, the ashtray/bins returned.

  5. smokervoter says:

    Frank, how could you forget Sir Liam Donaldson? One of your earliest posts that simply floored me with laughter was Welcome Sir Liam. The bit about removing sand from beaches to guard against the threat of silicosis was precious. And the sun and the potential from drowning, why not just rope them off from the general public.

    You had a picture of him on it and I came away with the distinct impression that he was the UK equivalent of a cross between Carrie Nation and C. Everett Koop. I detested him immediately.

    When you stop and think about it, surfing is an extremely dangerous sport. I’m still waiting for the day when lifejackets are mandatory.

    Still, the attempt to ban beach camp fires on California beaches is meeting stiff resistance from the people. Proving once again that not all Californians are pussified control freaks. Especially the natives born before The Great Invasion of the Hipster Puritans, circa 1965-1975.

    I still send people I meet to that post and it was the very first link to your stuff from my (lately un-updated and slacker) website.

  6. junican says:

    I think that it was a Monty Python sketch. This little old lady is apparently waiting to the cross the road. A ‘helpful’ passer-by helps her across the road by getting hold of her arm and pulling, steering her in the right direction. The funny part was that she did not want to cross the road.
    That kind of ‘help’ is what these poor buggers who took the jobs were brainwashed into believing that they were doing. It seems never to cross their minds that they have no special right to approach people and talk to them, just because they are wearing a funny uniform. That is harassment. It’s one thing to go up to a perfect stranger and ask for directions. It is a totally different thing to go up to a perfect stranger and start telling them lies about what they can and cannot do. That is harassment and they fully deserve the abuse. In fact, they themselves start the abuse.

  7. harleyrider1978 says:

    Ellen Hahn boyz she opened her mouth up again……………..stuff her good!

    • beobrigitte says:

      Some overeager anti-smoker at work.. Harley, I can’t log in there but if you would like to reply:

      And in conclusion, Harley neglected to mention a 2012 The Lancet article which reported “…the risk of death three years post transplant is 46% higher among people who received smokers’ lungs than those who received non-smokers’ lungs.”

      Read more here:

      These 46% of higher death rate seems rather odd considering that all recipients will be given immunosupressive drugs to counteract rejection.

      Perhaps this interesting death rate could be due to what this commenter lists as 4.?
      4) These transplanted lungs are used as “…the ‘last resort’ for those with end stage lung disease.”
      I doubt that, too. A successful transplant depends on tissue compatibility. It is highly unlikely that a smoker’s organ donation will be declined if there is a good match!

      We smokers will happily comply not to be organ/blood donors if this nonsense of demonising smoker donors continues.

      Also, whilst this transplant is performed there is a requirement of 4 – 8 units of donor blood being available as well as a few emergency units of O- (O neg)/O+ (O pos).
      I am one of these emergency donors. And as a smoker, my Hb ist above 150. Just keep going to demonising me. I don’t particularly like having a needle stuck into my veins, anyway.

      You lot don’t want us to donate? Fine!!!!

      • beobrigitte says:

        btw, I’m also an ideal platelet and plasma donor. I must be made of perfect stuff.

        But, if you wish, I can stop donating.

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          The key word is ”RISK” of death,not did die! He doesnt link his so called lancet report either. But Id well bet its a TC study in the lancets tobacco control journal done by their own folks………..

        • legiron says:

          I ripped up my organ donor card and stopped donating blood when the ban started.

          If I am dehumanised, my parts are no use to humans.

        • beobrigitte says:

          It looks like Wales is to become the first place in which there is this thing ‘presumed consent’ to organ donation.

          So, there will be anti-smokers prolonging their life with the organ(s) of smokers? Are anti-smokers able to refuse organs from smokers?

          That still leaves the extremely difficult task of the for the transplant required blood donations to be ‘presumed consent’….

  8. harleyrider1978 says:

    If we take chantix we can become ZOMBIE parts…………

  9. harleyrider1978 says:

    Smoking in the home is next target after cars
    Monday July 1, 2013

    Could parents be prosecuted for smoking in front of their children? Brian Monteith reports.

    It had to happen sooner or later. It’s not as if defenders of individual liberty and responsibility, such as the many authors on these pages, have not been warning about the logical consequences of the false and inflated claims made about second hand smoke.

    Last week a British court made a decision that could make it possible for parents to be prosecuted for smoking in front of their children. That is what Britain has come to. The surprise for many of us is that it has not happened already.

    Sheriff Scott Pattison ruled at Ayr Sheriff Court (24 June) that a mother’s smoking had shown a “parental lack of care” and breached the Children Scotland Act 1995. The law states that “compulsory supervision” may be required if children are “likely to suffer unnecessarily or be impaired seriously in their health and development due to lack of parental care.

    The court, which has greater powers than an English magistrates court, could now decide if the mother – who cannot be named for legal reasons – is fit enough to raise her children or if the should be removed into care. The ruling also opens up the possibility that cases for neglect could be brought against parents that are proven to be smoking in front of their children.

    The Sheriff Court’s ruling took many legal experts by surprise, given that the law that was interpreted by Sheriff Pattison this way has already existed for eighteen years without any similar case arising.

    It is no shock to me because it was in the social workers’ report given to the Sheriff that the childrens’ clothes smelled of cigarette smoke – revealing the fact that the authorities already viewed this as culpable evidence worthy of presentation in the same way that the mother’s breath might be stinking of booze.

    Clearly the intent was to use such evidence to build a case against the mother with the result that possibly thousands of similar social work referrals could use such “she’s a smoker” evidence and even be built on that fact alone.

    The mother will not be the first to have smoked in her own home and for the smoke to be detectable on her or her children’s’ clothes – or the soft furnishings for that matter (often called third-hand smoke).

    That our state and municipal bureaucracies have been moving towards the punishment of parents who smoke in their own homes when children are there is barely disguised. It is the logical extension of the argument against smoking in cars when children are also present already being made by politicians such as public health minister Anna Soubry, anti-smoking backbenchers such as Bob Blackman (both Tories), the BMA – and of course ASH and the faux-charities that have abandoned objectivity and impartiality to follow the government’s money.

    Immediately the Ayrshire case came to light some Scottish politicians chose to ridicule it as state interference, ignoring the hypocrisy that their mainstream political parties, both in government and opposition, have created the very circumstances when such interference is accepted as commonplace and remain committed to supporting bans on smoking based upon the unsubstantiated demonisation of second hand smoke.

    Most hypocritical of all was ASH Scotland’s Chief executive, Sheila Duffy, who sought to give reassurance that her organisation did not support families being split up “only because of smoking”. Cheap words as she did not rule out that parents smoking should be viewed as a contributory factor and argued that smoking in another room was no defence either, despite the weakness of research that claims tobacco smoke residues are harmful.

    Indeed there are studies in New Zealand and Sweden that show mothers who smoke raise children with lower incidences of certain health risks and allergies, confounding claims about second hand smoke in the home.

    One only has to consider the continuing rise in life expectancy, going from 58 for boys and 62 for girls born in 1930 to 68 for boys and 74 for girls born in the baby-boom era of 1960 – at a time when smoking rates were still above sixty per cent for men and 40 per cent for women – to appreciate the arguments made by the anti-smoking lobby are less about protecting children from marginal risks and more about stigmatising and persecuting smokers amongst the rest of society and meeting their long term but unattainable goal of a smoke-free society.

    The next logical step from any ban on smoking in cars with children present will be the extension of the same law into our private homes and no amount of denials can dissuade me that the home will be the eventual target of tobacco control campaigners. That Sheriff Pattison has given this landmark ruling will only be the start of that campaign becoming real.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      1904: New York: A judge sends a woman is sent to jail for 30 days for smoking in front of her children.

      1904: New York City. A woman is arrested for smoking a cigarette in an automobile. “You can’t do that on Fifth Avenue,” the arresting officer says.

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