23 March 2009

Decline of the State: Mexico Edition

Defense and the National Interest, one of the central repositories for the writings of John Boyd's acolytes, has run a recent article which examines the decline of the state in Mexico, and the conditions which led to it--conditions all too familiar to any counter-insurgency theorist.

One of the preconditions for mass insurgency, revolt, or decline into anarchy is, of course, economic disparity between the elites and non-elites. Says Timothy Gawne:

So how does the state kill itself? By the tried and true method of crushing the people into hopeless poverty so as to enrich the lords and princes at the top. When the average person can, without superhuman effort, live a reasonably decent life and raise a family with some degree of security, then the state has basically won. The people have a stake in the system, they have something important to lose should it fail, and they will, for the most part, play by the rules. But when people are crushed into the dirt, when they have no prospect for any kind of life at all, then the state has for them no legitimacy, and they will turn to gangs or ethnic militias in a quite understandable attempt to survive. Additionally, low-wage societies tend to be capital-starved and poor overall. This means that the security forces are underpaid, poorly equipped, and corrupt. An increasingly desperate and rebellious population coupled with increasingly ineffective and dishonest state forces is the typical death of states.

If you've ever been to Latin America, you'll probably understand where the author is coming from here. My trips around various communities never uncovered anything that one would consider "middle class" by American standards--which is pretty much defined as anything poorer than Paris Hilton to anything richer than the family in the trailer park. On one end, you would have splendor that, in America, would cost millions of dollars. Mansions staffed by dozens of maids, cooks and other servants. On the low end, you would have people in tin roof houses, who would go so far as to steal the guard rails off of the sides of the road on precarious mountain passes, as they were so desperate for metal for their homes.

The author goes on to state that there is a correlation between failing states and population growth. Population growth is essential to provide cheap labor, but there comes a moment when population growth exceeds a society's ability to handle the number of people, and then, there's a collapse.

Consider Mexico. Its recent population explosion was engineered by the Mexican oligarchs who waged a massive propaganda campaign to convince Mexicans to have enormous numbers of children at an early age (see “The Mexicans: a personal portrait of a people”, by Patrick Oster). They actually gave medals to women with large families! Ostensibly to make Mexico “bigger and better”, the only reason I can think of for this policy is to ensure that wages stay low.

It’s working. It’s working so well that Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state.

Consider Iran, where the ayatollahs encouraged large families so that they could use human wave attacks against Iraq rather than hire competent generals. As usual, after population growth rates picked up the Iranian standard of living began falling, and dealing with the unrest caused by all those unemployed young men became a major problem for the state.

Look for a failing state, and you are more likely than not going to find a rapidly growing population. Look for a rapidly growing population, and if you dig enough, you are likely to find government policies dating a generation or two prior.

This has important implications for evaluating current events. For example, looking at the demographics of Pakistan, we can readily see the reason for the current unrest, and further, it is a virtual certainty that Pakistan will remain chronically unstable. Tactical innovations for the security forces, democracy, or changing the marginal tax rate on capital gains, are simply irrelevant wastes of time.

I'd posit that the problem is a little more specific than too many people. Rather, I'm going to use the old adage that the amount of violence in any given society is proportional to the number of young males in that population demographic as a springboard into something new. The simple fact of the matter is that with that large a number of males in any demographic, they will be competing that much harder to achieve alpha male status, and knowing us dudes, that leads to violence.

Consider that evolutionary psychology teaches us that our primary concern is to ensure our own genetic survival. For men, that means that they must prove to women that they have the ability to allow a female's progyny to survive to breeding age. A number of other factors come into play, but they must above all demonstrate that they offer superior resources and protection than other males. In short, you need money, you need status, and you need to be able to drive off the beta males.

(Oh yeah, on a side note, here's my advice to you guys--women are kind of simple to deceive in this respect, and, strangely enough, equate things like obnoxious t-shirts with confidence and, therefore, alpha male status. Seriously, get something from BustedTees.com, work on your routine and then report back.)

Anyway, in societies where large numbers of males are not able to earn money or demonstrate status through the job market, they will typically turn to violence to demonstrate alpha-male status. It could be for the glory and status of being a powerful criminal lord, or it could be for the fact that insurgent and criminal organizations sometimes offer more money than the economy. I would posit that the drive to prove ones' self is particularly powerful in cultures where there's a strong cult of machismo, such as in Latin America or even in the Middle East.

And that's my theory: that it's all based on sex. Or lack thereof.

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