At the beginning of each year I used to make it a custom to write a list of tongue-in-cheek predictions about things that might happen in the 12 months to come. I tried to make the lists pertinent, but also somewhat funny. I tried to include some big-picture, global predictions but also a lot of “in jokes” for people in my home country and city.
Faced with the blank wall of 2023 I feel like I’ve lost my mojo. I can’t look at the trends that have swollen through the past few years and pretend I find anything very funny about what they signify to me.
Frankly, it looks ugly. I wish it didn’t.
I can see glimmers of hope here and there, but things in general are heading in directions that don’t look promising for humanity or the world we live in.
It seems to me that the great powers in the world are consolidating their grip in the most sinister of ways. What are those powers? Money, most of all, centred on the dominant US dollar hegemon. That power sits at the apex of the great, diffuse machine that seems to have the world in its death-grip. Next, the famous military-industrial complex – a transnational cartel of killer corporations that profit vastly from war and misery. Next, the miraculous propaganda apparatus enabled by the pervasive surveillance technology born in Silicon Valley.
Much of what happens in the world, no matter how it is presented to us by the propaganda narrative, is part of a campaign to preserve, consolidate and expand the power of those who already wield it. The masters of money, armaments and propaganda – aware of potential threats – are moving decisively to head them off.
The first and greatest threat, I think, is the threat to the dominance of the dollar. Forcing and persuading as many countries and entities as possible to stay with the dollar as a reserve currency maintains the postwar system in which the rest of the world pays for the US military – the de facto enforcement arm of global finance capitalism. Essentially a protection racket, this system is either a mechanism for extracting tribute from compliant allies or a hammer of war that threatens the potentially disobedient.
Dollar protection racket
Over past decades the empire has been toppling recalcitrant dominoes that have persisted in trying to escape the racket. Each time a would-be escapee is slated for punishment, it is characterised by the propaganda machine as an evil threat, then smashed into submission and ruthlessly plundered. The surprise election of Donald Trump – instead of the planned Hilary Clinton – changed little other than the order of the domino cascade, with Iran getting a reprieve and Syria being hammered instead. Now Russia is being hammered ahead of schedule with a set-piece proxy war operation, having been goaded into an invasion of Ukraine that can have no good outcome. China is unquestionably the empire’s ultimate target, since it is the only non-subject nation with any real potential to transact significant business beyond the reach of the empire’s owners. China knows it is in the cross-hairs and that, one way or another, it will eventually, almost certainly, face massive attack. It can either fold and pay tribute to the empire, or resist and face the usual relentless campaign that always culminates in military action. My guess is that China will pretend to play along with the empire, in order to buy time, while desperately trying to ready itself for what it has to assume will be the inevitable onslaught.
It’s an extremely high-stakes situation. The US empire can’t afford to permit the growth of a major trade axis that excludes the dollar. If such an alternative is allowed to exist then many nations might find the possibility of escape from the dollar hegemon too attractive to ignore and the greatest pillar supporting the empire would crumble, bringing down the whole edifice.
With that in mind, the deliberately provoked Ukraine war can be put in context. Russia was becoming too influential in Europe, too wealthy from its energy resources and too useful to China as a buttress for its future ambitions. Hence Russia was forced to choose between two bad options. If Russia had accepted more US/NATO bases on its borders it would have been in a much weaker position in future. Instead, it acted as expected with a military retaliation and is now bleeding slowly to death via the proxy war, the related economic sanctions, the pipeline sabotage and the propaganda campaign.
The US wins in multiple ways from the war. Its military industrial complex is making huge sales and profits, Russia’s true military capabilities are unveiled and weakened further and US energy corporations are profiting wildly from the crippling of a major competitor. The US also wins from the collapse of European manufacturing which, crushed under the weight of high energy prices, is now being transferred to safer ground in other parts of the world. The possibility of an integrated Russian-European market has been eliminated – a win for the empire. The extraction of the UK from Europe – via Brexit – might be seen as another hint at possible long-term planning behind this larger process. Now out of Europe, the UK is focussed on reducing wages and social safety nets and creating free trade zones where the corporate shareholders of the empire will be able to operate with costs comparable to developing countries. This strategy can be assumed to be empire-wide.
The Ukraine war has also provided cover for a massive expansion in US-NATO military spending, with a particular focus on the Pacific and China. A massive investment in space-based weaponry is also under way, and it might be assumed that some of the enormous fleets of satellites being launched by US-based corporate entities may ultimately find military applications. The US nuclear posture review has made it clear that there will be no reduction in nuclear weaponry and the right to a first strike has been explicitly left on the table. Tactical nuclear weapons designed for use in regional and sub-regional conflicts are now a reality.
The takeaway message from all this is that the “cold” war between the dollar empire and China can be expected to intensify on all fronts: direct military spending, economic sparring, cyber warfare and – especially – propaganda. We’ve already seen furious bursts of anti-China propaganda in regime-linked old-media outfits like the Murdoch corporations and in the curated echo-chambers of the equally regime-linked “social media”. Expect this to intensify in ways both overt and subtle.
Another challenge faced by the empire is that populations may become too restive and start to organise in ways that don’t suit the beneficiaries of the status quo. Potential sources of disquiet include economic and environmental factors. Living standards for average citizens across the empire are slipping, even as corporate profits in some sectors go sky-high. Drug companies have been making a killing on the pandemic. Energy companies are making a killing on power bills and transport costs. Defence contractors are making a killing on killing. But for average people, the combination of corporate predation, lack of rewarding and secure work, expensive shelter and higher costs of living is taking a toll. Rising interest rates are the icing on this unpalatable cake. Across the empire the push is for higher rates “to combat inflation”, with the apparent aim of killing demand for goods and services in the economy by forcing huge number of debtors to spend more money servicing their loans, thus taking the pressure off prices. The theoretical ability of governments to restrain price gouging by corporations does not appear to be factored into the equation. Indeed, empire governments are so wedded to corporate interests that such ideas are unthinkable.
On the environment front, repeated weather disasters are continually drawing attention to the issue of climate change which, along with other concerns about environmental degradation, is prompting many people to complain. To head this off, empire governments are enacting, almost in unison, anti-protest laws that criminalise dissent and threaten protesters with hefty fines and jail sentences. Increasing profits depend more and more on environmental destruction, so from the corporate perspective outlawing protest is highly desirable. It may still be possible – for a time at least – to complain about corporate attacks on the environment, but it won’t be possible to do anything to prevent them, on pain of crippling punishment. The whole bevy of prior anti-protest measures naturally remain in place, including militarised and unaccountable police ready to use extreme force to shut down demonstrations, surveillance of “suspects” and demonisation via the propaganda mechanisms of state-linked media corporations. It will perhaps be seen in time that these measures will be available for deployment against protests of all kinds, not merely those directed at the defence of the environment.
The takeaway message from this is that the empire’s constituent governments are becoming less democratic, more corporate-controlled and far less tolerant of dissent or protest in any form, as well as far more willing to deploy brute force to shut down opposition.
In the new era warfare is multi-faceted, perpetual and independent of the requirement for an external enemy. The modern war is fought – day in and day out – on economic, cyber and propaganda fronts. Enemies now are more likely to be empire citizens than hostile foreign entities and their weapons are ideas that run counter to the empire narrative. In the endless battle for hearts and minds speaking against the interests of the empire is becoming increasingly dangerous and unacceptable. The concepts of “fake news” and “disinformation” have been weaponised to shut down arguments that run counter to the dictated narrative. A war is said to be “unprovoked” and it is unpopular to disagree. A target nation is responsible for atrocities and must be held accountable. Scrutiny of the claims is unwelcome. An empire-affiliate nation suffers no such criticism and may deal with “terrorists” and “separatists” and “rebels” as it sees fit without fear of condemnation. No amount of truthful reporting will force such issues onto the mainstream agenda.
Not only has the concentration of information technology made it easier than ever to saturate populations in approved propaganda, it also makes it easier to censor – either subtly or overtly – viewpoints that undermine the empire narrative. It has been revealed again and again just how deeply committed are empire governments to narrative control. Examples are now myriad, but in case of doubt the continued imprisonment of Julian Assange stands as the clearest indication that “democracy” in the empire is a rather skin-deep illusion.
The takeaway message here is that freedom of thought and speech is being restricted more and more. There is no reason to suppose this trend will be reversed, especially as the empire moves closer to a hot war footing with China.
So, based on current trends, what can we expect this year and the next and the next? More inequality, less democracy, more fascism, more economic hardship for ordinary people, more environmental destruction, less freedom, more corporate interference in government, harsher treatment for dissenters and protesters, more intense propaganda, more weapons spending and a drift towards more large-scale military confrontations.
I’m sorry these “predictions” seem bleak. I will be glad if I am proven wrong.