Friday 8 June 2012

Running out of time.

Cameron and Obama have called for the Eurozone to do something 'quickly'.
They have indicated that the lack of a really strong, panic ending, response over the last 4 years, has just left the crisis simmering and they are worried that it might now boil over.

They might even be right. We tend to believe that because things are OK, they will remain OK. 

We, as people, to tend to think it will all turn out all right, even though there is no real reason that it should. It might just as easily get worse.

 When civilisation collapses, it does so very quickly. When empires end, they end unbelievably fast.

The Austrian empire  had been existence as a major European power since 1804. Merged with the also powerful Hungarian empire in 1867, central Europe was dominated by the Austro-Hungarian empire. It seemed a pretty secure and settled state, albeit probably the weakest of the great powers.
At the end of the great war, in 1918, it dissolved completely. 

The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) of China, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history" collapsed in just 10 years, bought down by a financial crisis.

The Roman empire. In Britain it was a slow decline, over some 100 years. But in Italy, one day the richest nation, next day the city is overrun by barbarians.

Take our own empire. The British empire was at its peak in 1930, even though we'd lost the thirteen colonies of the USA a century and a half earlier. 1930 was just before dominion status was granted to the senior nations and the self governing commonwealth came into existence. 458 million people, one fifth of all the people on the planet and quarter of the earth's land area was under more or less direct British control. Just thirty years later the mightiest empire the world had ever known was gone. Today, 80 years on, we don't even like to talk about it. It seems so ..distant.
Winston Churchill was under no illusions about why Britain should fight on in 1940. To protect the empire. Clearly, he failed in his goal.

In truth the British empire, and all those other empires, had been in decline for a long time. They looked fine, and maintained their  surface image of greatness, but underneath there were weaknesses that only later would appear so obvious. 
The British Empire, ever since the Boer war of 1899, had really been losing market share. It was being out produced in steel, coal, and food. British Empire power, influence and preeminence was waning, though few would have believed it. America already had more economic power, and Germany, in some areas, too. And Germany had only been a united country for the previous 30 years, since 1871. 

We tend to think of empires and civilisations ending gradually. A decline in power over decades and decades. A tipping point occurs from which there is no return. 

A shortage of silver did in the Mings. Defeat in war did for the Aztecs and the Austo-Hungarians.
Financial ruin did for the British empire. Rigid, inflexible state control did for the Spanish empire.

  But the end can also be very quick.

The USSR. Born of revolution. Beset by enemies. Became one of only two global superpowers and terrified the west. Fell to bits in 1991 so suddenly and unexpectedly that it was years before world leaders really acknowledged it was gone for good.

So it would probably be for the best if Mrs Merkel could be a little more flexible in the current euro crisis. Just because the EU has been around for 50+ years is no guarantee of anything.


Cotswolds B&B said...

"We, as people, tend to think it will all turn out all right, even though there is no real reason that it should. It might just as easily get worse."

Self-fulfilling. The longer we go without calamity, the less we think it likely to happen, and the more likely we are to cause it by our lack of action.

I'm only glad I'm not involved in making these decisions..

andrew said...

So, how do you get a loan in euro from a greek bank?
So, how do you open a german bank account - one that pays interest

Please don't say that because we are british we cannot - the whole point of the EU is to be able to do these things.

On the theme of sudden collapse, I like the Ottoman Empire as well, but to balance that I suggest the interested read The idea of decline in Western History

Bill Quango MP said...

The philosophy of history, Andrew?
Might be too arty for my scientific mind. I never liked any of A.N. Wilson's various explanations of history through philosophy and culture.

However, it is undeniable that the rise of the west came about with/because of the Reformation, printing press, literacy and the Renaissance.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Actually I am quite happy for Mrs. Merkel to be as inflexible as she wants: the sooner the whole thing collapses in ruins, the sooner we can start recovering.

Jan said...

This time is different though as the whole world is involved in one way or another........unless you are an indiginous person in the Amazon/Borneo rainforest perhaps.

Budgie said...

"Rigid, inflexible state control did for the Spanish empire."

Really? there was me thinking it was inflation caused by a surfeit of gold.

Bill Quango MP said...

Budgie: Well, that too. But a lack of political reforms never allowed the spread of a proper democratic system with all the innovation and growth that brings.

Hence the basket case of Latin America compared to the superpower status of the USA. Canada has been a stable, prosperous country almost since formation.
Mexico has been a country in near permanent revolution.

Some say that's all about property ownership. And that the Spanish insistence on owning all the land, even in the colonies, never allowed a proper democratic system to develop.

Anonymous said...

I foresee a rapid collapse of the West(say over 20 years) due to the complexity of our social, political and economic systems.

Systems and order require effort and energy on our part to establish and maintain. At the margins, the effort to resist an increase in entropy or choas approaches the infinite and no weasel politician will seek votes on that message, instead offer 'easy' options.

An increase in chaos, or societal collapse, is certain since everyone is making that effort.

Instead we have perverse incentives that reward those who increase chaos (banksters), those who 'shirk' or freeload (lifestyle choice idle) and those irrationality must ve 'valued' (people of faith)

asquith said...

The Spanish empire was also done in by its adherence to an especially shit for brains brand of religion, both in its general effect, and in particular because faith-headed attitudes led to the persecution of the Jews, who were by far the most dynamic and purposeful section of society.

You can see similar effects in antisemitic countries and those which have persecuted minorities playing a similar role, such as the Huguenots, and the Chinese in several south-east Asian countries.

To a lesser extent Theresa May is doing a similar thing, by no means do I support open borders but if we're going to have immigrants we might as well make sure they're highly skilled ones, and bear in mind that many asylum seekers fall into this category.

Bill Quango MP said...

Cotswolds B&B : quite so. Long periods of peace lets those who favour the EU claim that that institution has made the peace. They overlook the presence of a million us troops on euro soil and the demilitarisation of Germany.
BTW nice B&B: if your post was spamming it was still a good point.

Weekend Yachtsman : but if the Eu goes boobs up it will take us out too. Cameron is probably right trying to save the damned thing.
The future will be a big leap not the unknown. Either a much more powerful, political and federal EU one nation state. Or a fractured, broken, bankrupt weak one.

Jan: I suppose it all makes little difference to a Natal Zulu. Things are unlikely to get much better or worse for the true poor.

Anon: I don't know if the west is really finished. I doubt it. In decline seems likely. But how do the BRICS rise without the power of he west?
The 20 year point is pertinent. Empires and civilisations that had stood for centuries disappeard for good in less time.

Asquith. The Ottoman Empire was halfway across Europe at its height. But that was also its last hurrah as a rise in the power of the religious Islamic faction meant the great scientific and medical advances all but ceased.
Much like the Spanish. The Church wanted to stop the spread of literacy. Which it did.

Would the Spanish colonising North America have meant the United States ending up as 20 odd countries instead of one?

Budgie said...

BQ I understand what you say about Spain and agree with you.

However I have another niggle: "Cameron is probably right trying to save the damned thing." No he isn't. It would be much (much) better for us if the euro failed. And we should help it fail.

Not only would Germany then have to have its own more valuable currency (instead of playing mercantilism with the euro) but we would not have to pay to prop up a competitor currency any more, and finally the colleagues in Brussels wouldn't be so powerful.

Peter Whale said...

Bill you probably understand the urge for power and control more than the average person.The power freaks in Brussels will do everything they can to maintain their controlling positions. The wannabees in the British government along with the "Sir Humphries" also like the bigger stage and want their turn at perceived power and influence. This will be a hard landing for us all because the guys with the power want it to be that way to teach us a lesson for their loss of status.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, strategic thinking has all but gone from Westminster and the Civil Service, replaced by 'triangulation' and total faith in private sector spivs. British fuel security, water security, food security, national security, etc. has therefore gone to hell in a handcart.

The likes of Clegg will be reacting the Euro collapse only in far as his sinecure in Brussels with massive gold-plated pension is affected.

Bill Quango MP said...


We're not big fans of Bruxelles here.
Its just about ok to have many countries in a single market.
Stops all those trade tariffs and import restrictions that were a big driver to owning natural resources, and so on to colonialism that we were looking at.

However, I'd rather the EU had collapsed on someone else's watch.
There is no way the Euro is going to go quietly.
There is a Brownian faith in Europe of the EU project. Any price can be paid to keep it on course.

That's any economic or social price. not out of malice. but from a firm determination that a united federal Europe is the only way to remain competitive in the modern world.

I disagree. But that won't prevent the European governments trying to keep the whole thing going.

The problem for us is if they fail, we're in a critical and long depression. If they succeed we have a more united Europe to deal with.

Electro-Kevin said...

I think the world is shifting towards corporate entities rather than national ones.

Allegience to those you work for rather than a national flag. Small enclaves of wealthy in gated communities surrounded by the impoverished.

That there is no ripple effect from the London housing boom is telling.

Electro-Kevin said...

...Ease of market transfer, production etc.

The UK has sold off a large bulk of its corporations and continues to do so.


Nick Drew said...

USSR ... Fell to bits in 1991 so suddenly and unexpectedly

and unintentionally too but hey, ain't that just the way things go?

@ Peter W: a hard landing for us all because the guys with the power want it to be that way - I am inclined to agree, there will be some mighty lashing-out

& we will look pretty lonely the day the eurists turn on us, what with our worst total debt position on the planet etc etc

just have to buckle down to it, that's all: we've a younger population than them & growing, too (and they seriously don't understand finance ...)

Airstrip One, United States of Oceania, anyone ?

Dick the Prick said...

Sort of off topic but I was doing my A Levels in 1992 when Blighty dropped out of the ERM which I think cost the BoE £7bn and effectively lame ducked the government and ended both Tory reputation for economic competence and their electoral chances for 3 terms. Now we've got QE at £350bn, something akin to £100bn in bank loans, guesstimates for IMF exposure and another £80bn spunked into Spain this aft.

Fuck me Toto, in 20 years we've kinda napalmed Kansas and have razed Grandma's house to the ground. Just sayin' - there are points in history that kids will study and not realize how different it could have been.

Have a good weekend folks.

Anonymous said...


And the post war rise of both Germany and Japan is explained how?

Have you seen the photographs of Berlin or Cologne in 1945?

Electro-Kevin said...

Now would be a good time for the Queen to abdicate.

It's downhill from now on. If she plays it right the historical connection will forever be associated with the ending of the second Elizabethan era.

WintonHouse said...


Not intending to spam, only killing two birds with one stone. - I'm an avid reader, and always enjoy CAW. Will be more thoughtful in future :)



Bill Quango MP said...

Winton: Advertise away. I enjoyed looking around.