Sunday, April 5, 2020

Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) Policy Response Producing Risk of Catastrophic "Sudden Shock"

I am very concerned that the policy response of shelter at home (with little-to-no-testing to free people to circulate) is going to irreparably damage the infrastructures that sustain us all, despite the fact that these infrastructures are themselves unsustainable.

In my scholarship I've addressed the neoliberal order, and the financial/energy/consumption assemblages that constitute it through their global flows. I've documented that these flows too often are based on an extractive logic that is ecologically and ethically bankrupt.

But I also pointed out quite explicitly that these flows are very precariously maintained and that a sudden shock could create cascading failures tipping us over into new forms of authoritarianism or social dissolution more generally.

Today the world's global flows are being strangled by the global COVID-19 response.

The last time massive global flows were halted we entered World War I.

A global economy that is predicated on circulation of finance, energy and commodities (food, medicine, vital industrial ingredients) will crash in cascading failures should a SUDDEN STOP occur.

The concluding chapter of my book Governing Childhood into the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave, 2010) describes strategic planning for sudden shocks that disable the US economy. I think it is worth re-visting that discussion.

My book was published in 2010 and represents a western, mostly US, based history of childhood. In the final chapter I discuss likely trajectories, especially in the context of future "sudden shocks."

To avoid the scenarios described below, we must NOW develop policy responses that enable local communities to build energy and food resilience and we must strategically support the infrastructures that matter most, especially those that enable and empower people (health, education, community solar, etc). Federal stimulus programs should commit to keeping every single American housed and fed  nutritiously.


[In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial context] Growing unemployment and impoverishment across the globe are likely to produce new “security risks” for the prevailing, but deeply damaged, global economic order. These risks are exacerbating the risks already anticipated to occur due to resource and food scarcities produced by global climate change (Pincus A2). In November 2008 the Strategic Studies Institute issued a report titled “Known Unknowns: Uncoventional ‘Strategic Shocks’ in Defense Strategy Development” authored by Nathan Freier. The report summary explains its objectives to anticipate and develop contingency plans for unconventional “dangerous future shocks” that “manifest themselves in ways far outside established defense convention” (vii). Although most of the shocks are anticipated to be “nonmilitary in origin and character,” Department of Defense (DoD) planning is recommended. The types of shocks included in this planning document include the following:
Threats of context might include but are not limited to contagious un- and under-governance; civil violence; the swift catastrophic onset of consequential natural, environmental, and/or human disaster; a rapidly expanding and uncontrollable transregional epidemic; and the sudden crippling instability or collapse of a large and important state. Indeed, pushing at the boundaries of current convention, it would be prudent to add catastrophic dislocation inside the United States or homegrown domestic civil disorder and/or violence to this category as well. (17)

The report explains that most of these “contextual threats” are the origins of shocks since they operate as triggers or catalysts. The DoD will be forced to “fundamentally reorient strategy, capabilities, investments, and concepts in response” (18). Shocks emerging within or external to the U.S. would force the DoD “to radically re-role for domestic security, population control, consequence management, and stabilization” (18).

Paths to domestic civil violence that would require the DoD to reorient priorities “to defend basic domestic order and human security” include deployment of “weapons of mass destruction, unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and economic order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency,” etc (32). Civil violence might require the “use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States” (33).

Moreover, the DoD “would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance” (33). In other words, the report outlines when and how the DoD would assume responsibility for direct domestic governance.

The report considers the possibility that hostile states or non-state actors might “combine hybrid methods effectively to resist U.S. influence in a non-military manner” and notes that “this is clearly an emerging trend” (33).

The report cites the China-Russia axis as capable of holding “American interests at risk” (33). The report describes how non-military moves by political-economic adversaries could limit “American freedom of action” (34). Under the scenarios envisioned in the report, U.S. military forces would “hold little promise for reversing adverse political and economic conditions” (34).

When one reads this report carefully it becomes clear that its primary objective is to describe risks resulting from the increasing vulnerability of the neoliberal economic order that has been predicated upon, and prioritized, U.S. economic and political interests.

The report implicitly warns of imminent economic resistance by BRIC and SCO nations. The report formulates their economic resistance as a fundamental security threat requiring DoD to articulate new problem-solution frames for ensuring maintenance of what is euphemistically described as U.S. “freedom of action” (34).

The report fails to describe how the DoD might respond in the international context to anticipated threats but concludes simply by urging “preemptive examination of the most plausible ‘known unknowns’” for “strategic preparedness” (36). As outlined above, the report advises the unconstitutional use of military forces within the U.S. to ensure “domestic tranquility” (33).

Populist resistance in the U.S. in response to growing unemployment and impoverishment is therefore very likely to elicit state repression. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that DoD terrorism training materials currently employed describe public protests as “low level terrorism” (“ACLU Challenges”).

Additionally, the Pentagon plans to have 20,000 uniformed trained troops inside the U.S. by 2011, purportedly to help state and local officials respond to a terrorist attack or some other domestic catastrophe (Hsu and Tyson A1). The Washington Post reports resistance to this plan

Domestic emergency deployment may be "just the first example of a series of expansions in presidential and military authority," or even an increase in domestic surveillance, said Anna Christensen of the ACLU's National Security Project. And Cato Vice President Gene Healy warned of "a creeping militarization" of homeland security. (Hsu and Tyson A1).

The possibility exists that authoritarian totalitarianism will emerge if economic conditions continue to deteriorate significantly within the U.S. 

Anticipating how the DoD and other government agencies will respond abroad to “strategic shocks” produced by continuing economic upheaval is difficult because most responses are likely to operate covertly without media coverage.

Some commentators argue that U.S. Treasury and stock markets are already being manipulated to protect against collapse caused by declining demand and/or covert hostile market actions by foreign nations or actors. Indeed, the Pentagon purportedly held economic war games modeled upon real world conditions in the spring of 2009 (Egan). The U.S. apparently will not willingly or gracefully accept any significant decline in its status as the global superpower.....


  1. "Today, America would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order. Tomorrow they will be grateful! This is especially true if they were told that there were an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will plead to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well-being granted to them by the World Government."
    --Henry Kissenger

    I'd say that they are about ready to wrap it up.

    Thanks for what you do, Majia.

  2. Went to the grocery store today. What an abundance of goods after the big clean-out. Thank you grocery store people, distributors, producers and workers all the way up and down the food chain. THANK YOU!

    Food supply is of course the biggest indicator of our ability to keep the show going!

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