Posted in Rants on June 5th, 2016 by Ed

Given the chance to read for pleasure, about every five or six books I go through ends up being at least tangentially about the Cold War. Not the military or political aspects of it necessarily, but about some aspect of society, life, and the state of the world during that time period. It's not something I do intentionally; it's just an endlessly fascinating time period to me and if something half-decent is written about it there's a better than average chance it'll end up in the queue.

One thing that strikes me every time I read about the collapse of the Cold War paradigm and the Eastern Bloc is the oddly familiar language with which the Soviet system is described in its final stages of decline. Whenever I read someone's take on the flaws that led to its ultimate demise it sounds an awful lot like someone moderately cynical describing the United States today. When someone describes the USSR as little more than a massively expensive military and a lavish pension system for the aged I can't help thinking, hmm. And the America of 2016 is different how?

Every characteristic that knowledgeable people identify as a contributor to the ultimate "victory" of free market capitalism over Soviet-style planned economies has slowly come to be a prominent characteristic of Western societies, particularly in the U.S. The public lost faith in the system and saw its leaders as increasingly inept. The economy produced what vested interests wanted, not what was actually needed. The resources of the society and the state were diverted to an unsustainable degree to wildly expensive and ill advised military adventures and martial infrastructure. Unemployment, underemployment, idleness, and laziness were epidemic in a workforce that saw little to gain from working hard and almost inevitably saw innovation punished. Constant appeals to patriotism, nationalism, and the enemy within and without produced diminishing returns as people grew tired of hearing the same propaganda lines repeatedly. The media system was consolidated into a small number of hands and did not offer the general public a full and factual accounting of issues of importance. Increasingly heavy-handed police state tactics were employed to deal with public demonstrations and protests (which grew in frequency). The list goes on.

The point is not that the United States is on the brink of collapsing into the Dustbin of History alongside Marxist-Leninist systems of the type seen in the post-War period. It's instead an interesting intellectual exercise to try to figure out what aspects of our system allow it to survive (so far) that which the USSR and its kind could not – and how far we can push it before we suffer the same fate.