Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tom brought an excellent post by Curtis Gale Weeks at 5GW to my attention and then offered his own commentary. Here are the posts:

"On the Barnettian 5GW" by Curtis Gale Weeks

"Nice post by Curtis on 5GW" by Dr. Barnett

I have to agree with Tom and Shane that Curtis really hit his stride with that post. I have a few comments of my own on their 5GW exchange.

Curtis wrote:

"—There is a term used variously and vaguely in these discussions; I myself conflated two interpretations of the term. The Robbian view seems to depend on unequal distribution of “-powerment”, in which some individuals or groups become more powerful than the general human population; whereas, at heart Thomas Barnett’s Core/Gap paradigm and strategy seem to depend upon an eventual equalization, or a relative equalization (which is a type of oxymoronic phrase), of individual empowerment across the globe"

I don't think Curtis' use of " relative equalization of individual empowerment" is actually as oxymoronic as it seems. This is an astute normative economic observation on Week's part. Instead, it illustrates the aggregate effect of Schumpeter's creative destruction rippling across the globe as the spread of economic connectivity and information technology proceeds apace. The spread, of say, cell phone-based wifi internet access to states with sketchy (at best) landline telephone service, is a quantum leap forward for equalization of empowerment on the macro- scale even as certain small networks or individuals of those states on the micro- scale, possess the ability to leverage still greater levels of empowerment to become "more equal than others".

This seeming dichotomy are flip sides of the same coin in any true market action and is always ongoing to some degree, provided the market is permitted to function. Unless the comparative advantage is artificially locked in by force ( this is what tyrants of disconnectivity, like Mugabe and Kim Jong-Il, do - force everyone else to remain still in order to retain their own local "super empowerment"), any individual or entity's "super empowerment" is apt to be a fleeting condition unless constantly maintained by adaptive improvements.

Much later, Curtis opined:

"Many people seek saviors of one sort or another; many are happy to delegate responsibility for the things they themselves cannot touch or do not have the time or motivation to fix themselves — or do not understand, themselves. The crux of the Barnettian paradox involves the manner and method of assigning these delegations so that the general man-on-the-street can rest easily knowing his prosperous future is assured. Even within the Core, much doubt about this process of delegation exists; various superempowerments within and without the Core threaten to upset faith in the systems of the Core. "

Visible super empowerment within a society is a condition representing both change as well as inequality; two phenomena against which it is nearly always possible to rally anger, envy, fear and political opposition.

Tom Barnett wrote:

" Instead of trying to be all things to all individuals in Vol. III, I'll explore the one thing I know well. I do that because I feel the knowledge is important in its own right, addressing a serious gap in our tool kit vis-a-vis other, rising societies of SEIs (especially China and India).

....The book on SEIs remaking the world in their vision--positively--is a book I could see writing with Steve a few years down the road."

The accent on positively remaking the world by Dr. Barnett is a noteworthy point to keep in mind. Numerically speaking, most highly intelligent, energetic, creative and task persistent individuals who function as change agents are overwhelmingly positive actors. Maslow wrote of a stage of self-actualization and in a certain sense, exceeding oneself by changing society in a positive direction may be an expression of both self-actualization as well as super empowerment The Ted Kaczynskis and Osama Bin Ladens are perverse and statistically rare anomalies; exceptions that prove the rule, in a sense.

Unfortunately, the exceptionally negative super empowered individuals do and will exist and have the potential to inflict system perturbations, at least on a one-shot, " black swan", basis. Deep uncertainty regarding the nature of such future superempowered individuals' actions has to be dealt with in terms of proactively engineering systemic resilience to cope with these malicious one-hit wonders. Steve's Development-in-a Box paradigm at Enterra is one effort to begin comprehensively addressing these deficits. Tom's Sys Admin is another. Building new, highly decentralized, "Wikinomic" mass-collaborative platforms from scratch, may be yet a third.

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I saw your Mr Barnett on C Span this morning. Good to know there's someone who's even more of a dinosaur than I am! yay, globalist good times, 9/11 and the iraq war never happened, people love us and there's no harm in spreading our reach to scary places. yeah, no way our attack on the islamic courts in somalia is going to, oh i don't know, spread al queda to that region. nah, muslims are very quick to forget US hegemonical murders of muslim civilians. history has shown that time and again. I never thought I'd be glad to have a democrat for president, but at least with the military budget more or less completely eliminated we won't have to contend with chubby faced schoolboys like barnett playing chess with our lives.

I've been a little swamped and somewhat brain dead, failing to anticipate the new turns on the subject of "Barnett's 5GW" -- here and at his blog -- so I've been letting these two posts sink in. (I'm really annoyed when my steam goes out just as excellent observations, deserving of response, appear. It's an odd thing, to read interesting replies and have some sort of blank looking back at me from inside my own head when I think about incorporating the new takes on whatever I've written...)

To Lester's excellent analysis -- ahem -- I'd add the following:

On your market analysis, I would agree somewhat. Just as Jesus said there'd always be poor among us, my more pragmatic side accepts the sliding-rule analysis of 'equalization.' However, I also think that even in America -- which doesn't have an absolutely free marketplace, in any case -- wealth and capital tend to heap up around certain nodes, over the generations. To the degree that many of the extremely wealthy go largely unnoticed, that's fine; but then you have Paris Hilton. She's no big deal, mostly because she doesn't do much besides make a fool of herself. Bill Gates is a philanthropist, and even if he weren't conspicuously trying to help the downtrodden, most people would accept his superempowerment because they're thankful for their computers! Should the superempowered Americans actually adopt a more nefarious role, perhaps in conglomeration, we'd see more conflict. Or, should more Katrina's happen, we could have trouble. So I don't see the sliding-rule being entirely absolved by a lack of overt state or strongman interference -- although I do see much potential friction resulting from how the present-day superempowered Americans have great influence on the political process, particularly if, in the case of more Katrina's or other civil strife, they begin to wall themselves in.
Tom's getting chubby ?

Don't feel badly Curtis, sometimes after a major exposition of ideas, it's time to reflect and let things gestate before moving the ball further down the field.

Most moderately wealthy families fritter away their wealth within a few generations as the pool is divided amongst a greater number of less competent heirs. Gates is an exception. He turned moderate wealth into becoming the wealthiest private individual on earth but chances are he could have done that regardless since his insight was hardly one that required an enormous amount of capital (" Hey...can I patent the operating system ?").

Paris Hilton's main claim to superempowerment appears to involve a video camera. ;o)
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