I don’t usually mind Twitter personality and defenestrated Vox Media founder Matt Yglesias that much. But a couple weeks back he engaged in an argument I’ve been dying to make a video about for years. So with this video I took the opportunity to complain about the irritating data point that Defense Spending has fallen as a percent of GDP, and how meaningless it is in the context of the US federal budget. I feel like I got outside my wheel house a bit, maybe diving a little too deeply into accounting I don’t fully understand, but I think it makes for a fun video.
Ray Dalio’s book on the changing World Order has been universally praised since its publication. I fear that may be because nobody has read it.
So far it seems like my “drama” videos have been more successful when they go after folks who are native to the app rather than establishment figures. Ray Dalio happens to be both. He’s one of the most successful Hedge fund investors of all time, and he racks up tens of millions of YouTube views. Here’s hoping this video is successful. Reading his book was a bit of a chore.
It’s interesting how far my politics have evolved. If you had told me in 2014 that this channel would include a full-throated call for more stimulus spending, even after a year with a near 4 trillion dollar US budget deficit, I would have been appalled. I’m in surprisingly strong company. The inflation hawks and bond vigilantes on Wall Street have mostly retired in failure. The new generation is now just as eager for a big spending government as I am. What happened to all of us was… events. An under-appreciated aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency is the way that he sort of blew up the argument for fiscal conservatism. The Republicans let him do all the economic stimulus that they denied Obama, and the economy really did kick into higher gear. The threatened inflation never happened, and while people are a little less eager to buy our debt, the Federal Reserve seems to have stepped into the breach without consequences.
The only thing standing in the way of the emerging “magic money” era is the Republican Senate. And they’re only standing in the way until they can put a Republican back in power. Which is way I think we shouldn’t let them do that, as I lay out in today’s video on Georgia’s January 5th elections. As I briefly note in this video, however, I still suspect that those failed bond vigilantes and Republican Senators may actually be right. The British Empire fell because it ran out of people willing to give them money, and I think it’s likely that will be the case with us as well. We just don’t know the time scale. And as Keynes pointed out, “In the Long run, we’re all dead”. 2021 is not the year to try to solve the national debt.
Today’s video, in addition to almost being late, and a lot more difficult to put together than most, tries something new. Rather than talk about what is, or what was, I go in depth on what could happen if we continue on our current path. Essentially today’s video is science fiction. I’d like to do more of this. There isn’t enough imagination in foreign policy discussion. There should be more thinking about where we are going. This can be pretty negative, like today’s forecast of how a war between the US and Iran would go. But it can also be positive.
There’s an assumption that politics and geopolitics should be serious, boring stuff. This is a problem, because it fundamentally misunderstands what we’re dealing with here. Everything in government and politics is based on fantasy. Everybody’s trying to figure out what comes next, and also imagine it. Not reckoning with this fact has led to people taking the past 15 years of US foreign policy seriously, which is a terrible mistake. It’s had very serious consequences, but it’s basically one big practical joke that everybody is expected to take seriously for some reason.
I read a lot. It’s roughly 75% history, and 25% science fiction. Some might see that 25% as recreational, but I don’t necessarily see it that way. History is the study of the past, Science Fiction is the study of the future. By looking at both, I think I get better at understanding the present. Which is a long way of saying I might be doing more Sci-Fi themed vids like today’s in the recent future.
Budgets are boring right? Not really. They are certainly complex, and passing them is complicated, as Washington, DC’s seemingly perpetual shut-down dance shows. But the question of paying for government is the most important one imaginable. Time and again in history we see great empires brought down by the simple question of “How do we pay for this?”
In the 1500s the Spanish Empire encircled the world, and controlled something like half of Europe, if not more. Their American territories brought a constant stream of precious metals. They were brought down mostly by the fact that they didn’t understand inflation, and defaulted on their debt repeatedly. In the 1920s the British Empire reached it’s largest extent. The “Sun Never Set” on the British Empire. 40 years later it was gone. Because they couldn’t pay for it. The holders of British debt in the United States got to dictate British foreign policy in a few crucial instances.