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Emmanuel Todd: The Specter of a Soviet-Style Crisis

Research engineer at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, historian, author of Après l'empire [After the Empire], published by Gallimard in 2002 - an essay in which he predicted the "breakdown" of the American system - Emmanuel Todd reviews for Le Figaro the serious failures revealed by the storm.
Emmanuel Todd: The Specter of a Soviet-Style Crisis
By Marie-Laure Germon and Alexis Lacroix
Le Figaro

Monday 12 September 2005

According to this demographer, Hurricane Katrina has revealed the decline of the American system.

Research engineer at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, historian, author of Après l'empire [After the Empire], published by Gallimard in 2002 - an essay in which he predicted the "breakdown" of the American system - Emmanuel Todd reviews for Le Figaro the serious failures revealed by the storm.

Le Figaro - What is the first moral and political lesson we can learn from the catastrophe Katrina provoked? The necessity for a "global" change in our relationship with nature?

Emmanuel Todd - Let us be wary of over-interpretation. Let's not lose sight of the fact that we're talking about a hurricane of extraordinary scope that would have produced monstrous damage anywhere. An element that surprised a great many people - the eruption of the black population, a supermajority in this disaster - did not really surprise me personally, since I have done a great deal of work on the mechanisms of racial segregation in the United States. I have known for a long time that the map of infant mortality in the United States is always an exact copy of the map of the density of black populations. On the other hand, I was surprised that spectators to this catastrophe should appear to have suddenly discovered that Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell are not particularly representative icons of the conditions of black America. What really resonates with my representation of the United States - as developed in Après l'empire - is the fact that the United States was disabled and ineffectual. The myth of the efficiency and super-dynamism of the American economy is in danger.

We were able to observe the inadequacy of the technical resources, of the engineers, of the military forces on the scene to confront the crisis. That lifted the veil on an American economy globally perceived as very dynamic, benefiting from a low unemployment rate, credited with a strong GDP growth rate. As opposed to the United States, Europe is supposed to be rather pathetic, clobbered with endemic unemployment and stricken with anemic growth. But what people have not wanted to see is that the dynamism of the United States is essentially a dynamism of consumption.

Is American household consumption artificially stimulated?

The American economy is at the heart of a globalized economic system, and the United States acts as a remarkable financial pump, importing capital to the tune of 700 to 800 billion dollars a year. These funds, after redistribution, finance the consumption of imported goods - a truly dynamic sector. What has characterized the United States for years is the tendency to swell the monstrous trade deficit, which is now close to 700 billion dollars. The great weakness of this economic system is that it does not rest on a foundation of real domestic industrial capacity.

American industry has been bled dry and it's the industrial decline that above all explains the negligence of a nation confronted with a crisis situation: to manage a natural catastrophe, you don't need sophisticated financial techniques, call options that fall due on such and such a date, tax consultants, or lawyers specialized in funds extortion at a global level, but you do need materiel, engineers, and technicians, as well as a feeling of collective solidarity. A natural catastrophe on national territory confronts a country with its deepest identity, with its capacities for technical and social response. Now, if the American population can very well agree to consume together - the rate of household savings being virtually nil - in terms of material production, of long-term prevention and planning, it has proven itself to be disastrous. The storm has shown the limits of a virtual economy that identifies the world as a vast video game.

Is it fair to link the American system's profit-margin orientation - that "neo-liberalism" denounced by European commentators - and the catastrophe that struck New Orleans?

Management of the catastrophe would have been much better in the United States of old. After the Second World War, the United States assured the production of half the goods produced on the planet. Today, the United States shows itself to be at loose ends, bogged down in a devastated Iraq that it doesn't manage to reconstruct. The Americans took a long time to armor their vehicles, to protect their own troops. They had to import light ammunition. What a difference from the United States of the Second World War that simultaneously crushed the Japanese Army with its fleet of aircraft carriers, organized the Normandy landing, re-equipped the Russian army in light materiel, contributed magisterially to Europe's liberations, and kept the European and German populations liberated from Hitler alive. The Americans knew how to dominate the Nazi storm with a mastery they show themselves incapable of today in just a single one of their regions. The explanation is simple: American capitalism of that era was an industrial capitalism based on the production of goods, in short, a world of engineers and technicians.

Isn't it more pertinent to acknowledge that there are virtually no more purely natural disasters, rigorously defined, by virtue of the immoderation of human activities? Isn't it the case that the "American Way of Life" must reform itself? By, for example, agreeing to the constraints of the Kyoto Protocol?

The societies and ecological incorporations of Europe and the United States differ radically. Europe is part of a very ancient peasant economy, accustomed to draw its subsistence from the soil with difficulty in a relatively temperate climate, spared from natural catastrophes. The United States is a brand new society that began by working a very fertile virgin soil in the heart of a more threatening natural environment. Its continental climate, much more violent, did not constitute a problem for the United States as long as it enjoyed a real economic advantage, that is, as long as it had the technical means to master nature. At present, the hypothesis of man's dramatization of nature is not even necessary. The simple deterioration in the technical capacities of a no-longer-productive American economy created the threat of a Nature that would do no more than take back its [natural] rights.

Americans need more heating in the winter and more air-conditioning in the summer. If we are one day confronted with an absolute and no longer relative penury, Europeans will adapt to it better because their transportation system is much more concentrated and economical. The United States was conceived with regard to energy expenditures and space in a rather fanciful, not well-thought out, manner.

Let's not point our fingers at the aggravation of natural conditions, but rather at the economic deterioration of a society that must confront a much more violent nature! Europeans, like the Japanese, have proven their excellence with regard to energy economization during the preceding oil shocks. It's to be expected: European and Asian societies developed by managing scarcity and, in the end, several decades of energetic abundance will perhaps appear as a parenthesis in their history one day. The United States was constructed in abundance and doesn't know how to manage scarcity. So here it is now confronted with an unknown. The beginnings of adaptation have not shown themselves to be very promising: Europeans have gasoline stocks, Americans crude oil stocks - they haven't built a refinery since 1971.

So it's not only the economic system you blame?

I'm not making a moral judgment. I focus my analysis on the rot of the whole system. Après l'empire developed theses that in aggregate were quite moderate and which I am tempted to radicalize today. I predicted the collapse of the Soviet system on the basis of the increases in the rates of infant mortality during the 1970-1974 period. Now, the latest figures published on this theme by the United States - those of 2002 - demonstrated the beginning of an upturn in the rates of infant mortality for all the so-called American "races." What is to be deduced from that? First of all, that we should avoid "over-racializing" the interpretation of the Katrina catastrophe and bringing everything back to the Black problem, in particular the disintegration of local society and the problem of looting. That would constitute an ideological game of peek-a-boo. The sacking of supermarkets is only a repetition at the lower echelons of society of the predation scheme that is at the heart of the American social system today.

The predation scheme?

This social system no longer rests on the Founding Fathers' Calvinist work ethic and taste for saving - but, on the contrary, on a new ideal (I don't dare speak of ethics or morals): the quest for the biggest payoff for the least effort. Money speedily acquired, by speculation and why not theft. The gang of black unemployed who loot a supermarket and the group of oligarchs who try to organize the "heist" of the century of Iraq's hydrocarbon reserves have a common principle of action: predation. The dysfunctions in New Orleans reflect certain central elements of present American culture.

You postulate that the management of Katrina reveals a worrying territorial fragmentation joined to the carelessness of the military apparatus. What must we then fear for the future?

The hypothesis of decline developed in Après l'empire evokes the possibility of a simple return of the United States to normal, certainly associated with a 15-20% decrease in the standard of living, but guaranteeing the population a level of consumption and power "standard" in the developed world. I was only attacking the myth of hyper-power. Today, I am afraid I was too optimistic. The United States' inability to respond to industrial competition, their heavy deficit in high-technology goods, the upturn in infant mortality rates, the military apparatus' desuetude and practical ineffectiveness, the elites' persistent negligence incite me to consider the possibility in the medium term of a real Soviet-style crisis in the United States.

Would such a crisis be the consequence of Bush Administration policy, which you stigmatize for its paternalistic and social Darwinism aspects? Or would its causes be more structural?

American neo-conservatism is not alone to blame. What seems to me more striking is the way this America that incarnates the absolute opposite of the Soviet Union is on the point of producing the same catastrophe by the opposite route. Communism, in its madness, supposed that society was everything and that the individual was nothing, an ideological basis that caused its own ruin. Today, the United States assures us, with a blind faith as intense as Stalin's, that the individual is everything, that the market is enough and that the state is hateful. The intensity of the ideological fixation is altogether comparable to the Communist delirium. This individualist and inequalitarian posture disorganizes American capacity for action. The real mystery to me is situated there: how can a society renounce common sense and pragmatism to such an extent and enter into such a process of ideological self-destruction? It's a historical aporia to which I have no answer and the problem with which cannot be abstracted from the present administration's policies alone. It's all of American society that seems to be launched into a scorpion policy, a sick system that ends up injecting itself with its own venom. Such behavior is not rational, but it does not all the same contradict the logic of history. The post-war generations have lost acquaintance with the tragic and with the spectacle of self-destroying systems. But the empirical reality of human history is that it is not rational.

Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.

homepage: homepage: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/091205H.shtml

far from ideological self-destruction 16.Sep.2005 00:19

Hans Scholl

It should be clear to all here that none of these things represent the opinions widely held by the masses. Politicians are little more than actors paid by coalitions of businessmen to carry out charades to suggest the appearance of democracy, while in fact the "neoliberal" (which is in fact naked fascism in the most genocidal form it has ever appeared) eliminationist genocidal mass hysteria hellbent on killing all the blacks, all the "liberals," all the disabled, and all the poor is legislated into a clear military dictatorship replete with its own vast system of death camps and naked ethnic cleansing of the rather weak nations it's chosen to vanquish (as well as disadvantaged areas like New Orleans). Make no mistake; the competition for the most deaths at the hands of these fascist freaks has long-since been won (of course, a thin veneer of "plausibile deniability" has been erected by the reliance on puppet dictatorships carrying out the various forms of genocide at their behest).

Of course, even Bush voters say they want improved social security and healthcare, but are deluded into believing these fascist genocidal maniacs will in fact improve those social programs by means of tax cuts for the wealthy! The irony is far beyond immense as they march lemming-like to their doom.

There are clear logical conclusions to the genocidal mania of the fascist dictatorship of the Bush regime (though to be honest Bush himself is little more than a puppet). The "business interests" want slave labor death camps, since feeding prisoners poison gas and capturing more of them to replace the dead is cheaper than, say, paying wages for work. And naturally, they are competing with China for the cheapest wages, which can only be accomplished via slavery and genocide a la Auschwitz.

ignores whole rogue president issue, ignores USA is Soviet Union now 16.Sep.2005 00:27


Le Figaro - What is the first moral and political lesson we can learn from the catastrophe Katrina provoked? The necessity for a "global" change in our relationship with nature?

imcista - (butting in and crashing the interview, spilling the espresso) The first lesson you should learn is to stop opening with a leading question that already answers itself, or assumes that is what happened. It totally ignores the whole HAARP issue--you can read some real Frenchmen (well, Canadians) on that if you want to keep it a francophilic discussion. I suggest Michel Chossudovsky. Stop turning it into another philosophical cafe table talk ad nasuem somewhere in the Left Bank down a dead end street. Second, it ignores the calculated malice--and garralous indifference of the neocons in power to the suffering (Bush and his 'gitar'; Condi "Imelda Marcos" Rice and her thousands of dollars of shoes; Rumsfeld goes to see a baseball game; Mike Brown gives 'em "two days" to get there, no rush, etc.) This is calculated malice. It's hardly a structure thing, particular people matter in this. It is not some "American system" breakdown, it is a strategically malicious attack once more by the Bush neocons on the whole framework of democracy. Third, it simply creates another excuse for unconstitutional Posse Commutatus Act being broken. The Congress did not authorize martial law. That is the only way it can be legally done. So what is going on in the South is totally unconstitutional and it can land the neocons in jail. Bush is once more seen as a unpunished rogue president, and an unpunished rogue only gets more rogueish.

"Today, the United States assures us, with a blind faith as intense as Stalin's, that the individual is everything, that the market is enough and that the state is hateful."

"What seems to me more striking is the way this America that incarnates the absolute opposite of the Soviet Union is on the point of producing the same catastrophe by the opposite route."

imcista - That is not what Bush stands for. Bush is creating a neocon version of the Soviet Union, it's the exact same route: in the federal inroads into schools, in the rogue presidential federal martial law at the drop of a hat, the individual becoming nothing, National Guards for particular states turned into imperialist stormtroopers overseas, and most of all the state organized mass media propoganda machine becoming everything hiding a total lie beneath of crony party apparatiks living the high life while the masses starve. Moreover, its the same bloodlines: it ignores the whole issue of the historical creation of the Soviet Union as a product of these very Bush connected families. These families that both funded Hitler (Bush, Harriman, Thyssen links), as well as the Soviet Union simultaneously (Rockefeller, Harriman, etc.) are still in power attempting to set up yet another Soviet-style centralized military state state where the individual means nothing and the secret police monitor thoughts and communciations of the whole masses. Their aim is the same whether it be Sovietization, Bilderbergization, Trialterization: to take over the world with any and all ideologies of totalitarianism that they can puppet, to destroy all religions, to destroy all independent thought, to coup total world power. Once more, it is quite well known that the neocons come out of ex-leftist global "permanent revolutionary" Trotskyites--not the conservative right wing--so there is little excuse to calling what Bush is doing an exclusively pro-corporate agenda. The neocons come from the Trotskites, and the Trostkyites were the Illuminati. Look up the life history of the Bush connected Harriman family. Look up the life history of the Gore connected Armand Hammer family. They are both in thick with the Soviet Union.

Bush is a latter day Sovietization of the USA: a federal centralization police state agenda. Like the USSR was before, it is a corporate run regime [read Antony Sutton's Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution], which, sorry for you, messes up such easy dichotomies. What they want is monopoly corporate control, period. They are doing the same thing to the United States to get it.

Stop with the leading questions and attempt to reevaluate your own assumptions in light of the real world networks first of the phenomena you attempt to analyze, and then and only then, attempt your grand theorizations. Otherwise, it's just another pointless caffiene high on the Left Bank talking airly about absolutely nothing at all except something as abstract as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Hey, it's easier to be the dictator here!
Hey, it's easier to be the dictator here!
....Harrimans, Rockefellers (Nixon a puppet of them), Bushes, Lovetts...
....Harrimans, Rockefellers (Nixon a puppet of them), Bushes, Lovetts...
Brezhnev: 'Appoint Bush to U.N, ok? Bloodlines matter more than ideology.'
Brezhnev: 'Appoint Bush to U.N, ok? Bloodlines matter more than ideology.'