America is hanging by a thread. A great liquidation is underway, with many of the structures that support American society..or, in some cases, any viable society…being kicked away, sold off piecemeal, or just wantonly destroyed. I’m talking about physical structures, legal structures, and social structures.
I do not think it is too late to turn this trend around, but the situation is very serious, and I’m going to ask you to gaze into the abyss with me before I discuss some reasons for hope.
–Significant parts of America’s energy infrastructure are being destroyed or targeted for destruction. For example, the Indian Point nuclear plant, serving NYC, was closed in April, despite the fact that this closure will likely create grid instability–and will certainly result in the zero-emissions power it had previously produced being generated instead by sources which do generate emissions. (Yet at the same time, NYC is banning the use of natural gas in new buildings–which will further increase the demand for electricity!) The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the largest source of electricity in California, is also scheduled for closure in 2025. The cost of Diablo Canyon was $14.5B in present-day dollars, and I estimate that this represents at least 50,000 person-years of labor. Something like 1200 working lifetimes, being wantonly trashed. Only a society which is very rich (for now)–disrespectful of its past accomplishments–and uncaring about the future would act in this way.
And these examples represent only a small portion of the assaults being conducted on America’s energy infrastructure. Peaker plants which ensure continued output under tough conditions, are being closed, with much hand-waving about how ‘demand management’ will solve any problems. Oil and gas production are being squeezed. Pipeline construction is being suppressed, at the same time Putin is given the US green light for a Russia-Germany pipeline. Energy is being transformed from an American asset into an American vulnerability.
–Billions of dollars of America military equipment were abandoned in Afghanistan and are now in the hands of the Taliban. If we use a conservative estimate of $40 billion, that represents at least 400,000 person-years of human labor, thrown away. But that’s not the worst of it, of course: much of that equipment will now be used against us or our allies. There are already reports of formerly-American weapons on their way to Iran.
The effect of the horribly-executed Afghanistan withdrawal on our credibility as an alliance partner will be devastating. While many foreign policy types expressed worry about what expecting Germany to pay a larger % of the NATO bill would do to our alliances, any imagined impact of that was trivial compared with the impact of the current debacle. The negative effect on American military recruiting, also, will be considerable, as discussed by several commenters at this blog. Overall, America’s actual and perceived power position in the world has been greatly reduced over the past few months.
–American manufacturing has been negatively impacted by numerous policy choices and social factors, and America is no longer the world’s facto ry: that role now falls to China. We have become extremely dependent on China and other countries for many products and components of products–as we found out during last year’s Covid crisis when we were subject to threats that we would ‘burn in the fire of Covid’ if China should choose to deny us critical pharmaceuticals and ingredients thereof. We have become highly dependent on other countries for electronics manufacturing, especially microchips: a single Taiwanese company, TSMC, acts as the ‘foundry’ for a whole range of chips produced to the designs of many different American companies. A Chinese takeover of Taiwan could be devastating to our industry, and such takeover appears considerably more likely than it did a couple of months ago.
Manufacturing was, for a couple of decades, considered by the approved-expert classes to be an increasingly-unimportant industry, populated only by those with inferior and uncreative minds. There is some recognition growing lately that this field may actually matter. But American politicians generally have so little comprehension of how the economy actually works that it is hard to believe that any remedies that they propose will be efficacious ones. As example #1, I give you Joseph Biden: a man who asserted that anyone who can mine coal can ‘learn to code’, and who apparently believes that manually shoveling coal into furnaces is an actual substantial occupation in America today. Biden also said, referring to China: “They’re not competition for us.” This was in mid-2019!
America has given up much of its potential in manufacturing. and the consequences are severe for national security and for millions of people.