U.S. after Afghanistan loss is like Russia after World War I defeat?

Fresh from losing a war, we’re in the midst of a transformation of the role and size of government, e.g., “From Cradle to Grave, Democrats Move to Expand Social Safety Net” (nytimes). Since the old system was plainly broken, as evidenced by the failure of our most diverse people, best technology, and $trillions to prevail over villagers armed with rifles, the typical American voter now has nothing to lose but his/her/zir/their chains.

(In U.S. states other than South Dakota and Florida, Americans actually started and lost a second war in 2020, this time against coronavirus. We poured all of our money and effort into the fight. Governors suspended what had been considered Constitutional rights, e.g., to assemble. After 1.5 years sitting at home growing (more) obese and less educated/skilled, Americans managed to rack up a COVID-19 death rate higher than in give-the-finger-to-the-virus Sweden.)

A leader with near-absolute power has run out of patience with the peasants. Scapegoats for our woes have been identified:

Have we seen this movie before? Let’s look back 100 years…. “How World War I Fueled the Russian Revolution” (History):

Ineffective leadership and a weak infrastructure during the war led to the demise of the Romanov dynasty.

World War I saw the crumbling of empires, and among those to collapse was the Russian empire of Czar Nicholas II. When Nicholas declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in July 1914, he was absolute ruler of a realm of nearly 150 million people that stretched from Central Europe to the Pacific and the edge of Afghanistan to the Arctic.

Less than three years later, in March 1917, after soldiers in Petrograd joined striking workers in protest against Nicholas’ rule, the czar was forced to abdicate. The following July, he and his family were herded into a cellar by Bolshevik revolutionaries and shot and stabbed to death, ending the Romanov dynasty’s three centuries of rule. Soon, amid the ruins of the Russian empire, the Soviet Union arose to become a world power.

The war quickly turned into a disaster, with Russia suffering a brutal defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg just a few weeks into the war. Some 30,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded, and nearly 100,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans.

“Things didn’t Improve as the months dragged on,” Hartnett says. “By the end of the year, the Russian empire had lost more than one million men.” Russia’s ammunitions were all but exhausted and the country’s infrastructure was not equipped to efficiently resupply troops.

Though peasant soldiers suffered the most casualties, “for regime stability, the most serious losses were among the officer corps,” Miner explains. Their loss weakened the army so much, he notes, “that when push came to shove in 1917, the army was not a reliable defender of the monarchy.”

The parallels aren’t exact. Russia lost one war. The U.S. has lost maybe three (Afghanistan, COVID-19, and Iraq?). The Soviet Union had some elderly leaders, but never anyone as old and confused as Joe Biden, and it was decades after their war losses before they turned into a gerontocracy.

Also, is it truly the case that American voters have nothing to lose but their chains? We can’t say “Americans workers” for an exact parallel because the signature feature of the U.S. today versus the Soviet Union is that every able-bodied adult in the Soviet Union had to work while the U.S. is a work-optional society. Nobody in the Soviet Union lived on alimony or child support profits. Nobody in the Soviet Union could live indefinitely in a luxurious means-tested apartment, get free health care, shop with food stamps/EBT, and chat on an Obamaphone simply because he/she/ze/they preferred not to work.

Senorpablo, in a comment on Shut down the U.S. Army now that we know more about our limits?, expressed what has become a common American point of view:

The premise put forth by you and averros, was that the private sector would make better, more productive use of the money that would otherwise flow into the military and defense industries via the government. That represents an increase in GDP, does it not? And we know from the last 40 years, if not much longer, the vast majority of the benefit from increases in GDP flow to the top 10% and above, but mostly the top .01%. Why then, would your average American be in favor of downsizing the military? So they can work part time at Taco Bell, rather than playing will guns outside, or building tanks?

In other words, whether the economy is growing or shrinking is a matter of indifference to 90 percent of Americans. If the economy expands, the benefits will go to the top 10 percent. Necessarily, then, the flip side is that if the economy stagnates or shrinks, it will be the top 10 percent who suffer.

More concretely, if the “safety net” is expanded just a little more (or perhaps we’re already there), most Americans should rationally be indifferent to the overall health of the economy. If the economy sags, they’ll transition to 18+ months of unemployment checks and enjoy a lot of leisure time to catch up with friends and family, play Xbox, etc. If the economy booms, they’ll maybe get off the couch and give up 50 hours/week to commuting and work for wages in order to purchase some luxury items. Thus, these folks actually have nothing to lose from proposing, e.g., a 99 percent tax rate on income above $100,000 per year. If the tax discourages economic activity, they’ll go back to their couches and video games until the next government check comes. Thus, why not at least try radical transformation in order to address inequality, which is, after all, a “crisis” (see the March 17, 2021 Senate hearing “The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America”).

You might ask what the point of the above question is. Whether the U.S. 2021 is like Russia 1917 or not won’t affect what happens next, right? But maybe it could affect what happens to you and your family. You could, for example, buy some assets in a country that won’t be affected by the Democrats’ transformation of the U.S. If you own an apartment in Taipei or a basket of European stocks in a European account, you should be okay even if the U.S. spins down (maybe invest in an EU passport too!).

My personal default is to predict that the future will look a lot like today, so I would ordinarily bet against a dramatic change in the U.S. After all of the “reform” talk and think tank results, we’ll continue to piss away 20 percent of GDP on health care inferior to what folks in Singapore get for less than 5 percent of their GDP. Having sex with a dermatologist and harvesting the child support will continue to pay better than going to medical school and working as a primary care doctor (at least in Maskachusetts; see also Arkansas for a lump-sum $2.5 million tax-free profit). The rich will be able to avoid Joe Biden’s new estate taxes via Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts and perhaps some insurance action (Trump made it tougher to use the captive insurance escape). But I wonder if all of the war losses makes my stability prejudice unfounded.

18 thoughts on “U.S. after Afghanistan loss is like Russia after World War I defeat?

  1. It was a doctrine in the Eastern Bloc that there had to be “full employment”, yes. In the initial years of industrialization people were forced to do actual work. But later there were many “make work” jobs, lots of apparatchiks, people working deliberately slow and the occasional useful idiot who gave 120%.

    The above for example describes an average software project in a U.S. corporation: 5% of the people design and write valuable code, 70% churn around and rewrite the work of others for no reason, and 25% are actively a drag.

    I don’t think there will be a communist revolution, in many industries the inefficient and ideologically motivated division of labor is already there. The cultural Marxism we see in universities, mainstream media and big web corporations is a status marker for the apparatchik class. It is used to show that they are “doing something” (for some reason, hammering out mostly incoherent writings counts as “work”).

    The parallel to communism is that these people have seized power and sit in the right positions,. Real intellectual work is done by the 5% (many of whom are closet Deplorables), real manual work by deplorable rednecks, physically demanding work by migrants.

    All in all, the outcome is Animal Farm, which is the most profound book describing any human group endeavor regardless of ideology. The question is always: Who are the pigs, who are the sheep, who is the work horse. Code of Conducts are the same as the barn wall: They serve as weapons for the pigs and are quite mutable.

    • Soviet Union could be thought of as one huge corporation. With low-level employees doing quiet saborage in exchange for meager wages, bloated managerial class doing nothing of any use, totally out-of-touch upper Party management, and, yes occasional idealistic useful idiots holding all of that together. Complete with incessant corporate BS extolling vitrues of hard work and loyalty to the boss being de-facto the only virtue which counted. And, as common in big corps, actual job performance having no relation to compensation and advancement.

  2. The description of reasons for Russian revolution is wildly deficient… it wasn’t solely (or even mainly) due to war. For example the fate of House of Romanoff was in doubt long before the war due to extremely poor health of the sole male heir. Lenin was a German agent (or at least explicitly supported by Germany), etc, etc.

    The stamenent that fallen Russian empire “soon” became the superpower USSR begs the question if the author has any clue about history.

    The best parallels are not with Russia in 1914-1917 but USSR losing war in…. Afganistan. Sclerotic empire run by geriatric collectivists, falling apart, with component republics increasingly hating each other, and the bloated center trying to sustain itself by massive money printing.

    • Neither the Romanovs fall nor the 1989 Afghanistan debacle are a good analogy for what is going on in this country. These three historical situations are very much sui generis, they do not help one draw many useful conclusions, except superficially, by comparing one to the others. Take the vastly different economic arrangements in all three cases, no new inspirational ideology in this country (as contrariwise was the case during the fall of the Soviet Union, with the young people’s naive but optimistic hopes for democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, free market), etc.

      Is is also true that “an able-bodied adult in the Soviet Union had to work”. Intentionally not working could result in a criminal conviction:

      In my experience, a substantial majority of people in the Soviet Union worked quite hard, but as you pointed out with “actual job performance having no relation to compensation and advancement”. Some did manage to work around the system, but their number was insignificant, e.g. one, if smart enough, could find a relatively comfortable niche in the heavily subsidized academia doing real or pseudo scientific work.

    • Ivan: I can’t comment on the Soviet Union, but West German studies about East Germany (before the collapse) assumed a hidden unemployment of 15% – 30%. While people had to work (it was of course called “right to work”), everything was so inefficient and overstaffed that they could as well have given money to officially unemployed people.

    • Anon:

      I agree entirely with the inefficiency angle. Perhaps, that’s what the WG studies implied by translating the actual productivity into the “theoretically possible” numbers and accounting for the discrepancy by resorting to the “hidden unemployment” variable.

      The “tuneyadstvo”/”social parasitism” law was an efficient tool in the KGB’s hands to prosecute the tiny number of dissidents during those nice times too: you say something, you are fired, nobody would hire you because you are blacklisted, hey presto, you are a criminal ! A similar career path for those who tried to emigrate and were refused an exit visa. Some did manage to find a low qualification/low paying job to avoid the charge and earn some money.

    • Yep… one my friend even made a song about “generation of street sweeps and night watchmen” to reflect on the fact that only menial jobs were available to those who dared to like and make culture not approved by the fossils in power.

      The sentiment about social alienation and visible silence of dissenters is strangely relevant to today’s America.

    • East Germany also had a substantially higher number of women working than West Germany. This might account for some of the hidden unemployment. We have the same in the West now:


      Perhaps there aren’t enough jobs for the entire population, unless everyone starts painting houses and plucking strawberries? In software, hidden unemployment is definitely greater than 50%.

  3. Ah… also, Senorpablo seems to lack basic understanding of how the current corporatist system actually works. He ignores the effect of money printing by private banks as facilitated by (unconstitutional) move from hard currency to current fiat system. When one segment of population can have virtually unlimited free money to buy up assets, there is no wonder most assets will end up in their hands (this is known as “financialization”). It is very instructive to consider any metric of inequality graphed against monetary expansion (hint… the same event in 70s triggered explosive growth in both).

    That, and a million little laws (from draconian inheritance taxes to patents to medical insurance to…) specifically designed to suppress small upstarts and sustain megacorps.

    Needless to say, none of the above has any relation to free market. In fact, corporatism is opposite to free market. Socialism-lite is you wish.

    • averros: For the purposes of predicting political change, I don’t think it is important whether Senorpablo is correct. What matters is whether millions of others share this belief/perspective (which I think is true).

    • avverros – I agree with your corporatist sentiments. The examples you mention are but a tiny fraction of the endless ways our society as a whole has been rigged to provide countless advantages to the wealthy. You don’t even need to understand them in detail. All you need to know is that when the country as a whole becomes more efficient over time, but only the top 1% see any meaningful benefit, the system is rigged. Similarly, if someone in a casino is consistently beating the odds by a large margin, you don’t have to know how they’re cheating to know they’re cheating. And, unlike the welfare collecting, Xbox playing freeloaders who’s benefits are finite, the advantages to the wealthy are nearly limitless and snowball to achieve the acceleration and runaway accumulation of wealth you allude to. Why have we been printing money for over a decade now? Because the financial geniuses crashed our economy in 2007 faced zero repercussions, and they all retooled to take advantage of this new financial paradigm after their last house of cards collapsed. And, we can never do anything to disrupt the almighty “job creators.” Why do corporations keep offshoring money to avoid taxes–an advantage that the vast majority of American’s who work for a living can never benefit from? Because they can count on a republican president to come along and forgive it all every 10 years or so, almost like clockwork. The repatriation was sold as benefitting all Americans, which only republican rubes bought into. Despite “the best economy in history,” Trump appointed a Fed Chair who he knew he could count on to keep interest rates at record lows. Should be interesting when this current bubble pops, and there’s no margin to lower rates any further. Everything republicans accuse democrats of, is projection, 100%. Snowflakes? Yep, conservatives are the real fraidy cats. Can’t wear masks, get vaccinated for fear of microchips, or share a restroom with a trans person, need lots of guns to get relief from paranoia and fear of daily life. Redistribution of wealth–yep, republicans are doing that too. Witch hunts, election fraud/tampering are all mostly republican endeavors, and so forth and so on. Those are all distractions while they rig the economy for a tiny fraction of Americans.

  4. > In other words, whether the economy is growing or shrinking is a matter of indifference to 90 percent of Americans. If the economy expands, the benefits will go to the top 10 percent. Necessarily, then, the flip side is that if the economy stagnates or shrinks, it will be the top 10 percent who suffer.

    Soon, if Congress and Janet Yellen have their way, this will no longer be an issue: “Yellen calls for ‘very destructive’ debt limit to be abolished” [1].

    So that COVID and child credit check will keep coming. Rent will be taken care of via RCAP and other government money. Food and smoke for Saturday night fun? More EBT please. You get all this while glued to the blue-tube at home locked away to save the world.

    Let the good times roll.

    [1] https://thehill.com/policy/finance/574693-yellen-calls-for-very-destructive-debt-limit-to-be-abolished

  5. The free investment advice, an apartment in Taipei or European stocks held in a “European account,” does not sound all that brilliant. If the US can’t finance its military Taipei does not sound like the place to be. While Europe has basically been no growth since the GFC and the “European account” is a passport to prison since the US taxes worldwide income regardless of where the asset is held. The only way to get out from under that is by relinquishing US citizenship (not getting a new passport) and that means grossing up your assets and paying Uncle the tax on the difference. Likely way more expensive than any tax the rich schemes the dems are hatching.

    • Jack: If you don’t like the apartment in Taipei, get an apartment in London! A European bank account and/or stock account is not a passport to prison, I hope, since I just opened one (part of my project to get an EU passport for myself and then for the kids). One needs to tell the IRS about it and pay any taxes due, but it is not illegal for an American to hold assets outside of America. An American who has an account in a European bank invested in European assets always has options if the dollar’s value is inflated away, if the thought-leader Democrats make good on their equality promises (every owner of a single-family home would have to also house one or two migrant families), etc.

  6. Off topic but thought you’d like this ‘hit piece’ on the FL Governor. He should run it unchanged as a campaign ad.

  7. Humans have been enslaving themselves for 8000 years. The human body just isn’t capable of being free. Even golden retrievers have to get sex changes in order to be democrat compliant. Only lions can be free.

  8. I think it was a premise, make situation as bad as Russian defeat in WWI. But we have resilient capitalist system and were somewhat lucky having Trump in the office, although he overreacted to coronavirus too, probably due to his old friends vulnerable to coronavirus, and hurt himself by grandstanding and big mouse before vicious Democrat Party henchmen. Democrats now want to dismantle capitalism to dismantle America. Our situation is nothing like partly feudal Russian empire in WWI. Lenin was transported and financed by Kaiser security services, He gave out most of western Russia empire to Germany in treaty of Brest-Litovsk against will of other bolshevik leaders such as Zinoviev and Trotsky. But winning allies mage German army evacuate and Bolshevicks clawed it back saying it was “tactical” treaty to make allies fight by themselves and waited until Germany lost.

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