Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It’s the Stupid Economy


Back at the end of the previous century, before the advent of browsers and search engines, during the 1992 presidential campaign in the United States, Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, James Carver, coined the phrase, “The economy, stupid.”  Very quickly, in a manner that George Orwell with his love of politics and the English language would have appreciated, the phrase morphed into its present usage, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

In this formulaic iteration, the noun “economy” is a stand-in for any concept one wishes, like loyalty, climate change, income equality, etc.; and “stupid” is a stand-in for anyone’s name.  It’s a brilliant construction.  Since no one wants to be referred to as stupid, there is an increased acceptance of the initial premise that, in this case, it is the economy that is the important issue.  Subtlety, the barriers of entering into an economic discourse for political reasons are lowered. 

Today, however, it is the stupid economy that it is the problem and the stupid manner in which it is conceptualized.
 
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Simply put, the tried and true economic measures of growth in the gross domestic product, low unemployment, low interest rates, and record high corporate profits, coupled with six year bull market in financial securities have not brought about a significant increase in the prosperity shared by the vast majority of people in North America.  In other words, what worked in the past is not working very well today.

With good reason, smart money doesn’t flow into the stupid economy, by that I mean the domestic national economy where the entire cycle of economic exchange from the raising of capital to the production and marketing of goods and services to the payment of taxes and dividends takes place within a single nation’s borders.

Indeed, greater profits for those who control North American enterprise are realized in the global economy and are generated by financial transactions, off shore incorporation, and multinational production chains that take advantage of lower production costs elsewhere.  So, if more money can be made outside of the domestic economy where people toil to bring forward goods and services for their compatriots, you would have to be stupid to invest where the return on investment is significantly lower.

According to a Bloomberg Business Report, the untaxed cash for US corporations held abroad keeps building up and few are choosing to bring it home, instead preferring to borrow for any domestic needs.  GE’s $110 billion leads US companies, followed by Microsoft’s $76.4 billion, Pfizer’s $69 billion, Merck & Co.’s $57.1 billion and Apple’s $54.4 billion.  It is estimated that US-based multinational companies have accumulated $2 trillion outside the country.

That’s a staggering amount of money that is not being reinvested back into the domestic economy.  Imagine the effect on the entire population if first these dollars were repatriated and subject to tax, thereby generating the much needed revenues that could be then reinvested in order to renew North America’s rapidly aging infrastructure.  That would create hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs as would the after tax profits if they were then redirected into the capital investments for the further production of tangible goods and services instead of being used for stock buybacks and other non-productive financial means of generating wealth.

Effective government policies could significantly reduce the amount of dollars that are being sucked out of the domestic economy by the corporate and financial sectors; however, that would take the political will of the people who live and toil in the domestic economy, and that’s something that Corporate America aided by the Supreme Court has been successful in circumventing by making the electoral process totally dependent on the ability to raise substantial amounts of money from the corporate and financial sectors, the very sectors that oppose any fundamental change to the manner in which wealth is accumulated.

To make matters worse, it has now become fashionable for our media star economists to say that our economic problems are not being caused by the rapacious greed of North American financial elites.  Instead, these problems arise out of factors endogenous to an economy that is experiencing “secular stagnation”.  Orwell would have fallen off his chair upon hearing such an assertion.

Previously, self-serving interests would invoke potential benefits to the economy if their preferred course of action were adopted.  For example, we should all remember the cant of supply side economic arguments that would have us believe that everyone would be better off by reducing the taxes of the rich, who would then reinvest their new found wealth back into the economy and, in the process, create new ventures with new jobs that would more than make up for the lost tax revenues.  Unfortunately, it was tried, and, as we know, nothing of the sort transpired.

Now, we are being asked to accept the idea the economy is very sick, suffering from secular stagnation (is that like the mumps?), brought on by an aging population, low interest rates, low inflation, and a lack of investment opportunities.  Like getting old, there is nothing that can be done.  We’ll simply have to keep a stiff upper lip and endure the sight of watching the quality of life of the vast majority sink further into decline.

Essentially, there are two economies, one of them is primarily domestic and the other is global.  They operate by different rules, with the players in the global economy getting preferential treatment with regard to taxes, so much so that they are limiting both their operations and investments in the domestic economy to the detriment of the players whose economic activities remain within national borders.  It is the domestic economy that is stagnating, while the multinational corporations and their principle beneficiaries, their shareholders and executive officers, are flourishing as they conduct their business beyond the regulatory reach of nation-states and their governments, a condition that only will be exacerbated by the implementation of Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic trade agreements.

As the election cycles play out in North America over the next eighteen months, candidates will once again roll out their economic action plans for their respective domestic economies in Canada and the United States, and once again the electorate will be duped into thinking that these plans have some potential of making significant change in the lives of ordinary people.

However, without addressing the disparate treatment that multinational corporations and the financial sector receive, capital will be continued to be sucked out of the domestic economy and transferred to offshore accounts to be reinvested in securities and foreign investment projects that boost the economies of other nations and other individuals.

So, we can expect much to be said about the stupid economy that refuses to grow and create jobs in the months ahead and precious little about the dynamics of the global economy that creates vast riches for those who know how to position themselves to capture a portion of its vast revenue streams.

 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Has Canada Become a Post-Democratic Petro State?

Tell me it isn't so Joe.  No can do.  Sadly, over the last 40 years Canada has morphed into a mere shadow of its former self, a nation where prosperity was once shared widely and where hope for the future did not depend on the chance of birth.

If asked what did it mean to be Canadian, most of us would mention something about the creation of our social programs that increased the quality of life for the vast majority of Canadians, the demos.

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Clearly, as we approach the 150th anniversary of our confederation, we have passed the zenith of our development as a caring society.  Neoliberal values have taken hold and, as could be expected, economic inequality has increased, meaning that the rich are doing extremely well while the lower and middle classes struggle to make ends meet.

What happened?

According to Colin Crouch, professor and author of the highly acclaimed,
Post-Democracy, Canada, like other English settler states, made significant democratic gains during the first half of the twentieth century, but has subsequently moved on, not to pre-democratic period of the nineteenth century, but to something different, to a society that has not entirely relinquished the social gains provided by the welfare state, but where the provision of social services has become so modest that they have lost much of their efficacy to address the social ills which gave rise to their creation.

Essentially, the idea of post-democracy helps us describe situations when boredom, frustration and disillusion have settled in after a democratic moment; when powerful minority interests have become far more active than the mass of ordinary people in making the political system work for them; where political elites have learned to manage and manipulate popular demands; and where people have to be persuaded to vote by top-down publicity campaigns.

In Crouch's analysis, democracy is an ideal, something we either move towards or retreat from, which is important because it moves the discussion about the quality of our political institutions out of the simple binary whether we have or don't have democratic institutions.  As well, moving back towards the pre-democratic period does not mean we have come full circle.  We retain some elements of the democratization phase.  What changes is the manner the elites are able to avoid democratic rule.

For Crouch, two societal developments are largely responsible for the move towards post-democracy: the diminution of the importance and number of skilled manual workers and the rise of the global firm.  In short, we no longer live in a society where mass production and mass consumption within national borders bring about shared prosperity.  Instead, wages are now spread across international production chains and the benefits of enterprise accrue disproportionately to executive officers and shareholders.

As a result, those at the top global firm have the resources to bypass what had been the traditional political process of making decisions through the people's elected representatives and lobby with great success for whatever policies they need to add to their wealth. 

Politicians are very eager to respond to their wishes since those with the cash in hand have the means to finance the electoral campaigns that get our politicians elected.  In this symbiotic relationship, the common folk, the demos, are outside the loop and have very little say in matters that affect them.  Their role in politics is simply to respond to the public relations campaigns that have replaced any meaningful discussion concerning real political choices during elections and place their "x" beside the name of the candidate that represents their favored marketed brand, commonly referred to as a political party.

In my opinion, Canada has been in the post-democratic phase for at least thirty years;  corporate interests trump the interests of the people; a media circus has replaced informed political debate; and a disillusioned public, sensing it no longer has much say in what gets done, has lost interest in politics and has to be cajoled to even cast their ballots.

Given this state of affairs, Canada is moving towards becoming a petro state, meaning that although our economy does not rely solely on fossil fuel extraction for the creation of wealth, it is the focus of those global corporate interests that lobby the hardest for favourable government intervention and the focus of our federal government.  In other words, we are moving in that direction.

For instance, the power base of the ruling Conservative Party is the oil producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the Tories hold all but two ridings; our currency has become a petro dollar: its value in lock step with the fluctuations for a barrel of crude oil; Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Accord which would have placed limits on the greenhouse gas emissions, thereby exonerating oil producers for not respecting the limits the Accord placed upon Canada; the government does everything it can to get the pipelines built that would bring oil sands oil to a seaport; in the meantime, unable to overcome resistance from the environmental lobby opposing the construction of the pipelines, oil producers began shipping oil by rail at record levels (a 4000% increase from 2009) which combined with an insufficient oversight of the safety of this method of transport led to the incineration of 47 unsuspecting Canadians in the Lac Megantic derailment disaster.

It is important to note that is the post-democratic state of our political institutions that has allowed Canada to move towards becoming a petro state.  Once political power has been transferred to the political/corporate elites as a result of our archaic electoral practices, the demos just stands by and bears witness to the decisions that have been made in their name but not on their behalf. 




Thursday, February 5, 2015

Not a Fiscal But a Deficit of Empathy That Spreads Misery Across the Land

The thing about using the economy as the measure of all things is that in doing we institutionalize unbridled greed as the guiding force for our society.  It takes a huge leap of faith, if not a greater dose of magical thinking, to believe that the rational pursuit of self interest leads to the greater good.  Even Adam Smith, the father of economics, realized that self interest needs to be tempered by moral sentiment.  But we no longer have a moral compass, only the rule of law, and it is the power elites who effectively write the laws to gain advantage and see to it that the laws are enforced. 

Those who fall on hard times are simply society's losers, and they deserve what they get because deep down they are lazy and unable to control their base appetites.  So goes the thinking that drives the media controlled by private interests.

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While the American Empire Prospers, the Nation Becomes a War Zone  

The glorification of great wealth suppresses any potential empathetic response towards society's downtrodden.  We constantly celebrate success. We are always made aware of who is on top, whether it be in film, television, sports, music, business, or finance.  The stories about losers are for losers and you certainly don't want your lot to fall with them, so push them out of your mind and focus on what you really want to be, a winner, one of the beautiful people surrounded by beautiful things.  God, life is good at the top, and I want to be top dog!

What money can't buy, I can't use.  After all, it is what makes the world go round.  Or, does it?

Are there not feelings and emotional responses that transcend the temporary buzz that the possession of material things bring about, feelings that arise from witnessing the birth of a child, first steps, the glory of a sunset, the wonder of a star-filled sky, falling in love?

And are not all of  these experiences potentially available to anyone regardless of the accident of birth?

So, why do we render life miserable for countless millions, so much so that they become numb to the fundamental pleasures that make life worth living?

Well, here in North America, most of us, most of the time simply don't give a shit about those who are down and out, even if we know deep down that we are just a few paychecks from losing it all and joining their ranks.

Got to keep on keeping on, fuck the rest.

It wasn't always this way.  I know.  I had the good fortune to have come of age during the time of shared prosperity, 1946-1979.  Despite coming from a family of very limited means, I received a superior public school education, was able to participate in a host of extracurricular activities, went on to graduate from university, and now enjoy an upper middle-class lifestyle. 

Importantly, I recognize that the education I received was a gift from those in my extended community who thought it was important that access to a good education was a societal good, deserving to be properly funded by taxpayers.  I do not subscribe to the believe that I did it all on my own and that because of my efforts I deserve to keep all that I earn.

Times have changed.  More and more people are turning their backs towards the well being of others.  We still live in an incredibly rich society, but we don't want to share the wealth.

Essentially, our capacity to be empathetic has shrivelled over the last thirty years.  We still take care of our immediate family, but our hearts have grown stone cold to those outside our inner circle.  We can no longer feel what it's like to be in someone else's shoes.  As a result, more and more children grow up in poverty with little hope for a better future.

There will be payback.  It's inescapable, only a question of time.

Notwithstanding, we would do well to remember that no man is an island unto himself, no matter the size of the castle in which he chooses to live.










  

Monday, January 19, 2015

There Are No Selmas in Cyberspace

Today is Martin Luther King day in the United States, a civic holiday, and the only one dedicated to the memory of a black man.  This would be a good day to go see the film Selma that captures very well the emotions and the historical significance of the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama marches.

Out of the violence and flagrant racism that characterized the response of the white authorities and their supporters against the predominantly black marchers, images that were broadcast to a stunned nation, who ironically tuned in on their black and white televisions, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was born.

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Fifty years later times have changed, but the underlying conditions of the black man in the United States have not.  An all-white Supreme Court struck down the key clauses of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, and voter suppression is rampant in the US, both by undue voter identification requirements and the traditional gerrymandering of electoral districts to maximize the representation of the white electorate.

And the violence remains.  Last year, the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer and the death of a black man in New York City, strangled to death by another white police officer who applied a choke hold, brought about protests, but nothing changed.  Nothing equivalent of the Voting Rights Act, not even an indictment of the officers involved.

So, what the fuck happened over the last fifty years to render Americans so uncaring, so compliant, so blasé to the injustice around them.

Some would say, and I think Malcolm Gladwell would agree, is one thing that has contributed to the demise of meaningful activism is the rise of the Internet and, in particular, the rise of social networks.  In today's digitally-linked world social networks have become the opiate of the masses.

In making his comparison between today's and yesteryear's activists, Gladwell uses a sociological analysis to say that the bonds linking the activists during the civil rights movements during the sixties, like those between the Selma to Montgomery marchers, were much stronger.  No shit Sherlock.

In my opinion, over and above the problem of the lower level of engagement that social networks afford is what Alexander Solzhenitsyn bemoaned in his 1978 Harvard address: the demise of courage.

Without a doubt, the Selma marchers and the supporters were willing to risk their lives, and, in fact, some of them were killed.  Their cause was just and they would not be denied.  The best that we can do in North America is the Occupy Wall Street movement that quickly petered out.  All that is left are photos uploaded to people's walls on Facebook.

Although meaningful protests that bring about tangible results have become all too rare, ocassionally we witness the courageous will to confront the abuse of power as was the case in the Ukraine during the Maidan Square uprising.  Ordinary citizens massed and toppled a corrupt regime.  Their story is far from over, but at least they demonstrated to the rest of us not to give way to comfort and indifference.

So, today, while our thoughts are with Martin Luther King, I would like to wish those courageous citizens in Kiev and in the rest of the Ukraine all the best in their attempt to find their way to peace and prosperity.

Hopefully, some day we will look back at your struggles and recognize their historical importance.









Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Same as It Ever Was in 2014: America's Owners Kept Themselves Far From the Madding Crowd

George Carlin
Many years ago, Thomas Gray penned these famous words that still ring true and apply to the workings of those who own America:
 
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
                   (Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard)


In fact, the year ended with a lot of "ignoble strife" in America: white police officers killing black males; a black male killing two police officers in New York City.  And let's not forget about the CIA.  The Senate Report on CIA torture reveled details on how the agency tortured suspected terrorists, brutal in its methods and ineffective with regard to maintaining meaningful intelligence.

Same old, same old.  Different year, same old shit.  Only the names have changed.

Yet, above the heated fray that defines daily life in America, sit the owners of America, who go about quietly doing their business of sucking up as much cash as they possibly can.  No more ching, ching.  Just the noiseless transfer of zeroes and ones from our electronic accounts into theirs.

Although their methods have changed, the tenor of their ways have not, something best captured by George Carlin in his classic rant about the power structure of American society:



So, what can we expect for 2015?  Pretty much the same as 2014: increasing inequality and more weird weather as the planet continues to heat up.  These two things go hand in hand.

Nevertheless, I would take this opportunity to wish Happy New Year to all of you that take the time to read my blog.  May your year be filled with joy and love.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The End of Empire and the Rise of the Intelligent Network


As 2014 comes to a close, a great many of us are keenly aware that something is amiss.  The great wars of the previous century are over, yet we are still not at peace.  While a tiny minority continues to amass more and more wealth, the vast majority of people in the developed world sit and watch as their living conditions slowly get worse, so much so that their is a general malaise concerning the quality of life for future generations.

Try as they may, common folk cannot bring about any meaningful change and for good reason: the political systems that we have inherited from our imperial past were never designed to promote the common good: they were designed and continue to function as a means of extracting wealth from a population and the territory they inhabit.

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From time immemorial, empires have used centralized hierarchies with their command and control structures to rule and to increase the wealth and power of those at the top.  Those at the bottom must be content with the scraps that are thrown their way, and they must be prepared to give up their lives for whatever cause the elites deem to be just and noble.

Yet, over time, technological change has brought about significant improvement to the quality of material life to entire societies.  We need just think about what consumer products now find their way into the homes of the majority and compare them to what we had as little as fifty years ago to understand the scale of the change.

And then came the Internet and its first cousin, the World Wide Web. 

Thanks to the rise of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), we now spend more and more time in cyberspace, a seamless world without borders that enables us to communicate with people around the globe twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

We now live in the Age of the Information Network, held together by competing ICT platforms and computing devices.  Indeed, power has shifted from territorial-based nation states to legal corporate entities that roam the world in search of ever increasing market share and profit. 

Years ago, real political and economic power was vested in those people who headed the ministries of the state.  Now, they appear to be little more than marionettes manipulated by their corporate masters.

Essentially, money controls the political process, especially in the English-speaking nation states.  There is a direct correlation with how much money gets spent during an electoral campaign and who gets elected.  The worst case is, of course, the most powerful empire in the world, the United States of America.  With corporations being able to invest as much as they wish in support of corporate friendly candidates, it should come as little surprise that the American Congress has literally become a millionaire's club.

The cornerstone of the political process that leads to the creation of a disenfranchised population is an electoral system that transfers the sovereignty of the people to one of two political parties, which are in reality two sides of the same coin minted by monied interests.  Low voter turnout reflects the widespread realization that the political game is rigged and that participating in such a process is pointless.

Historically, it was necessary to elect representatives because of the time and effort required to communicate information and the necessity to have the representatives come together for face-to-face meetings in order to make decisions.

However, this necessity of electing representatives in order to facilitate the process of making political decisions no longer holds true and is an anachronism of nations before the invention of  electricity -- an epoch when might made right.

Today, it is a common occurrence for someone to post an electronic document on the web and have millions of people download the document and then discuss its contents.

Why do we need intermediaries (our elected representatives) to interpret the information and make up our minds for us with regard to its relevance?  Furthermore, why do need the same intermediaries to tell us what should be done?

We don't, but the empire's elites do.

That's how they control the political process.  So, nothing changes.  We continue to elect politicians that have been bought and paid for, and they continue to pander to those who put them into office.

In order to break the stranglehold that the empire's elites have on the political process, it is necessary to knock over their command-and-control pyramid that sucks the wealth and well-being from those at the bottom and the middle to those at the very top.

Today, people no longer need others to make their decisions for them.  There is a wisdom that emerges from crowds when technology is used properly to ensure its release.

Conceptually, we need to scrap our belief that we need to organize ourselves into command-and-control pyramids and begin to organize ourselves into something we already belong -- intelligent networks.

In other words, let's use the organizational structure that gives rise to human intelligence as the organizing principle to guide our social lives.  The human brain, the organ at the very core of our existence, embodies a network structure.  Indeed, our very sense of being in the world emerges from a neural network interacting with the other systems of the body where no command and control center exists.  All human experience arises from the interaction of the brain's and the body's component parts.

Like the neurons in the brain, humans can function similarly.  Deciding yes or no are the human equivalents of a neuron being turned on or off.  Just as intelligence emerges from the pattern of which neurons are turned on or off, the same can be said of the intelligence that arises from a veritable democratic assembly in which the participants simply vote yes or no to the motions presented to the assembly.

Importantly, the work of a democratic assembly deliberating in terms of a network logic does not experience the same limitations imposed by the physical constraints of time and place experienced by a traditional elected body.  In short, a virtual assembly can have its members carry on the work 24/7.  Working documents are easily posted and people can participate in smaller groups through the use of applications and in larger groups via webcasting.  In such a context, having the financial means to liberate oneself from the time it takes to earn a living is no longer a prerequisite to meaningful participation in the political process.  Today, those with limited means no longer need the well off to represent them, which is a good thing since the immediate interests of these two groups seldom coincide.

For the most part and for most of the time, political power should reside primarily with the polis, a group of citizens who live in close proximity to each other and who consequently share a common concern about the quality of life to be had in their locality.  Concerns of a greater scale, the well-being of the network of networks, and of a longer time period, what we would like to happen in the future, can still be deliberated by representatives, but there is no need to transfer the sovereignty of the local network to a single individual who will decide on behalf of his or her constituents.  Modern technology allows for decisions made at the level of the local network of citizens to work their way upwards in concertation with other local networks very rapidly in a manner that mimics the way the brain functions.

Of course, the motivation for implementing a network structure of governance is to harness the collective intelligence of the people in order to advance the common good.  As a result, those who are interested in accumulating wealth have no interest in seeing such a model of governance come about.  The model represents the antithesis of the wealth extraction normally found at the heart of all empires.  It goes against the immediate self interest of the elites who seek at all costs to obtain and maintain a disproportional share of a nation's wealth.

Therein lies the challenge.  Presently, the existing political structures are designed to perpetuate themselves and the privileges that they confer to the elites that control them.  To bring about the necessary organizational changes to bring about a network form of governance requires people that are willing and able to disperse political power to the masses and to safeguard the integrity of the new political process from those who would try to coop it for their own benefit.

It's a tall order, one that is totally out of the realm of possibility for the English-speaking nations.  Perhaps, a late bloomer, a nation recently liberated from its colonial past and that believes strongly in the advancement of the common good could make it happen.          













Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Challenge of the 21st Century Is To Extricate Ourselves From Existing Empires

Some empires change outward appearance over time.  For instance, the British Empire has morphed into the American Empire; the Russian Empire went from the czar to the communists to Vladimir Putin; not to be undone, the Chinese Empire also had a flirt with the communists before returning back to oligarchic rule; finally, the European Union today looks a lot like the former Holy Roman Empire. 

Some Empires shrink back to their original territory.  I am thinking of the former French, Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese Empires.  These were the losers in the struggle for imperial conquest.  Each one had its day, only to be eclipsed by a rival empire: the French, Dutch, and the Spanish lost out to the British, while the Japanese were crushed by the Americans.

Perhaps, the world's greatest empire, the Roman Empire, did not disappear altogether but simply shifted its focus from military conquest to the struggle to control men's souls.  Taking into consideration the expanse of the Roman Catholic Church's assets and revenues, the fear of god is as much a potent force to subjugate a population as is a Roman legion.

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At the heart of each empire, regardless of the manner in which it is constituted or the means employed, is the desire to reduce people to subjects, which is to place them under the power of another, the king, plutocrats, oligarchs, or a sovereign assembly.

The means of maintaining empire consist of using military conquest or the threat thereof, ideological domination that excludes alternative ways of thinking about organizing a society and its economy, and religious zealotry.  Most often, a ruling elite will make use of more than one of these methods to maintain its ironclad grip on the reins of power.

As a Canadian citizen, I live in a country that is a vestige of the British Empire.  As a result, I am subject to the laws of Parliament, a most undemocratic elected assembly, that provides oligarchic rule in which its adopted laws must receive the Royal Assent from a representative of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, before they come into force.

Only in rare circumstances are people capable of escaping the clutches of those who want to expand or maintain an empire without a massive amount of bloodshed.

For instance, the wars in the Middle East followed the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the retreat of European colonialism, plunging the region into successive bloody conflicts between rival factions.  The same can be said of the Balkans, whose peoples had the misfortune of being subjected to repeated imperial conquests of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Soviet empires.

To make matters worse, "a drowning man will clutch a dragon."  Taking advantage of a people's desire to escape the repression of imperial occupation, despots first seize power and then extract a nation's wealth for their own purposes.  This was the case in Libya Iraq, Syria, and Romania.

But there are exceptions.  The Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) were able to escape from Soviet rule without armed conflict just before the collapse of the Soviet Empire.  Similarly, Tunisia, the pearl of the Arab Spring, having been freed from French colonial rule, overthrew a despot and has become a democratic nation.

It should be noted, however, that each of these countries is rather small with regard to territory and possesses a highly homogeneous population, making it much easier to channel the desire to create an autonomous state.

Today, we are witnessing the Ukrainian struggle to create an autonomous state from a former empire.  Historically, they have been the victim of successive imperial conquests.  As well, in seeking independence from Putin's Russia, they must also deal with their own recent history of widespread corruption throughout their newly minted political system and the ethnic divisions that exist within the present Ukrainian borders, due to the melding of national groups into a single political entity, a throwback to the old divide and rule mentality of former empires.  Moreover, given the recent austerity measures adopted by the European Union, which reflects the domination of a neoliberal ideology that rewards financial elites at the expense of the common people, alignment with a competing empire may simply mean changing one set of problems for another.

The overwhelming challenge for the Ukraine resembles the struggles for the creation of veritable democracies in other former colonies, both in the developed and developing world.  The question that needs to be asked is whether it is possible to dismember existing nation states that were born out of imperial expansion into smaller democratic nations, where the principles of democracy trump the politics of nationalism.

This is not an easy task since those who maintain empire, for the most part, control the media and the use of state-sanctioned coercion.  It is extremely difficult to mobilize a population to confront the oppression from within; it is even more so to move toward a political system that is based upon the fundamental equality of its citizens and to have this equality reflected in the political process.

But this is the challenge. 

Previously, we could think that it was just a matter of time, quite often a very long time, before an empire collapsed.  Today, we can no longer afford to wait such long time because the economic exploitation of the planet brought upon by ever-improving technological advances threatens the planet's ecosystem.  In the face of catastrophic climate change, there will be no place to take refuge.  All humans, the powerful and the powerless, will have to confront the possibility of a massive die off.

Importantly, only smaller political entities that provide government of, by, and for the people are up to the challenge of making the necessary changes to effectively reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. 

Empires by their very nature are geared for continual economic expansion because it is only through expansion that those who rule can attempt to satisfy their need to ostentatiously display their wealth.  In reality, this need is unsatiable, and those who have their hands on the hands of the steering wheel give no second thought at the possibilty that they are driving us off the cliff.  If anything, they are pressing even harder upon the gas pedal.

Consequently, our shared future on the planet will either go in one of two directions: the breakup of the existing empires established in the twentieth century into smaller democratic nations, or the planet-wide devestation of the planet's ecosystem.

No wonder more and more films like Interstellar, depicting humans fleeing earth in search of other habitable planets, are making their way to the cinemas worldwide.  The theme has become part of the Zeitgeist of the 21st century.