The Masters of a Dying Universe
It was been strange gathering in Davos for the World Economic Forum this year. There were the usual titans of business, heads of state, politicos, but there is also a whiff of desperation and not from the hookers. In what should have been a self-aggrandizing roadshow, there was gnawing feeling by attendees that while they may be Masters of the Universe, said Universe is coming apart.
Representing the fella who claims to be the leader of the free world, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan dropped in on the forum to deliver some reassurances that the US had everything under control and the center would hold. Why not? the US economy had stuck the soft landing, recession avoided, which is both optimistic and plausible. Then Chinese premier Li Qiang started saying the same thing about China… which is neither optimist nor plausible. It’s delusional. But Beijing has made it illegal for foreigners to double check it’s rosy numbers so who really knows?
Global conflict is intensifying, sure, but the US has a plan. Understand that it’s best not to ask an Iraqi or an Afghan about US post-conflict planning, but they weren’t around for a reason. Then, with the feathers of the world’s best and brightest thus smoothed, Blinken went home. Or at least tried to.
Evidently, God loves not only a good joke but a solid literary metaphor: The US Air Force jet on which the Secretary of State was flying home – a Boeing, no less – was grounded for technical issues and another was sent for from Virginia to come pick the man up. The optics were bad.
It’s safe to say that the attendees wanted to believe the Biden Administration. For that matter they wanted to believe Li Qiang’s curious math. They wanted to believe in the same why you want to believe that your kid was an innocent bystander at the Homecoming incident… but deep down you know the kid is full of it. And you know this because the little terrorist learned it from you.
Being a war profiteer may secure your place in Hell, but it is unlikely to slow your 401(k) too much. The current conflicts are creeping from Freedom v. Autocracy to a war on the globalization on which the Davos set has staked its claim. Without the US security blanket – excuse me – umbrella over the world’s sea lanes, the globalization that the forum has tried for 54 years to deepen and integrate will start to come apart. China has a huge navy, but its built more for piracy and escorts that big naval warfare. Not that it matters, Chinese (and Russian) ships are getting through the Red Sea just fine.
Without globalization as the tide lifting all the ships, those sinking economic fortunes are going to revert to the old way, a sort of economic theory by default called mercantilism. If you can claw your way back to middle or high school world history, that’s where you first heard the term. P.J. O’Rourke defined it as “a ragbag of commercial regulations and tax and tariff policies resulting from special interest politics, influence peddling, and parliamentary logrolling all mixed together with some general misunderstandings about cash, capital flow, and government finances.” And that is as good a definition as we can come up with.
The Davos set, though, was nervous before the Houthis went full Ottoman and tried to choke off a major trade route. This year’s theme was “Rebuilding Trust” which is never the suggestion of the supremely confident. This is a dim echo of Mark Zuckerberg’s “I’m not as terrible as the evidence suggests” campaign a few years ago to save Facebook from a mob exploited users. No one really trusted the Zuck, or the guy who started Twitter for that matter. Or the guy who’s about to end it. Let’s face it, it is hard to trust this crowd. No less than the Godfather of the free market, Adam Smith, wrote: “People of the same trade seldom meet together … but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”
Mind, these are not people who have ever particularly cared one way or the other about being trusted. They never really ruled the world: No faceless cabal of elites would have ever put a guy like Donald Trump in office, not twice. They just got a kick out of thinking that everyone thought they were in charge. Now they just look clueless – which was always the real danger.
That explains the ovation that Argentina’s current wing-nut, Javier Milei got after his address - at a forum of the greatest business and political minds on the planet, he said something that made practical sense.
The howling MAGA set want to take power from the elites by “draining the swam” and “dismantling the deep state.” Those mouthy progressive undergrads and academics want to “dismantle the legacy of white supremacy and colonialism.” Antifa just wants to just burn it down. Fan away the emotional flatulence and they are all saying the same thing.
Humans are pretty mellow about leaders being insufferable, even deranged at times – so long as the jerks keep the system ticking along. Its not ticking along.