Peak Government

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Charles Hugh Smith on the Four Key Drivers of State Expansion:

"The twin peaks of oil and government are causally linked: central government's great era of expansion has been fueled by abundant, cheap liquid fuels. As economies powered by abundant cheap energy expanded, so did tax revenues.

Demographics also aided Central States’ expansion: as the population of working-age citizens grew, so did the work force and the taxes paid by workers and enterprises.

The third support of Central State expansion was debt, and more broadly, financialization, which includes debt, leverage, and institutionalized incentives for speculation and misallocation of capital. Not only have Central States benefited from the higher tax revenues generated by speculative bubbles, they now depend on debt to finance their annual spending. In the U.S., roughly one-third of Federal expenditures are borrowed every year. In Japan -- which is further along on this timeline, relative to America -- tax revenues barely cover social security payments and interest on central government debt; all other spending is funded with borrowed money.

The fourth dynamic of Central State expansion is the State’s ontological imperative to expand. The State has only one mode of being, expansion. It has no concept of, or mechanisms for, contraction.

In my book Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change, I explain this ontological imperative in terms of risk and gain. From the Central State’s point of view, everything outside its control poses a risk. The best way to lower risk is to control everything that can be controlled. Once the potential sources of risk are controlled, then risk can be shifted to others.

Put another way, once the State controls the entire economy and society, it can transfer systemic risk to others: to other nations, to taxpayers, etc.

In effect, the State’s prime directive is to cut the causal connection between risk and gain so that the State can retain the gain and transfer the risk to others. The separation of risk from gain is called moral hazard, and the key characteristic of moral hazard can be stated very simply: People who are exposed to risk and consequence act very differently than those who are not exposed to risk and consequence.

Every time the Central State guarantees something, it disconnects risk from consequence and institutionalizes moral hazard.

To take but one example of many, when the Central State guarantees mortgages so lenders and originators cannot lose and the borrower can’t lose more than his modest 3% down payment, then everyone in the chain is encouraged to pursue risky speculations because the State has disconnected risk from the consequence of a potentially large loss. The risk hasn’t vanished; it has simply been transferred to the taxpayers, who absorb the inevitable losses that result when speculation is encouraged.

Separating risk from gain inevitably generates systemic instability. The entire credit-housing bubble can be seen as proof of this dynamic.

All four of the causal factors itemized above are turning against continued expansion:

   The key energy source of global transportation, liquid fuel, is no longer cheap and easy to access.
   The demographics have reversed as the population of State dependents is soaring.
   Debt has expanded to the point that servicing that debt now threatens the financial stability of the State and its currency.
   The State’s separation of risk and consequence is generating systemic instability.

There are plenty of models of State expansion -- democracy, socialism, communism, theocracy, and so on -- and none for State contraction. This suggests that the down slope of Peak Government will be disorderly and rife with unintended consequences." (