Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Unintended Consequences

Today remains Wednesday, 15 August 2007.

On this day in 1945, Japanese radio broadcast the “Imperial Rescript of Surrender”, in Emperor Hirohito’s own voice, signaling the end of the Great Pacific War.

The war had begun in 1853, when an American naval task force under Commodore Perry sailed into Uraga arbor.

The American warships were there because of the inherently unstable nature of capitalism: American industry desperately needed additional foreign outlets to absorb excess production, thus smoothing the cycle of boom-and-bust (ingenuously named, by certain reactionary economists, “The Business Cycle”, as if it were something as immutable as gravity, and not a social artifact).

One of the prime sources of instability under capitalism is that, while individual producers plan production, there is no overarching coordination. For example, after the American Civil War, in which the importance of railroads had been demonstrated (both militarily and economically), everyone wanted to cash in on railroads, and soon there was a glut of trackage and many went bankrupt.

Similarly, a decade ago, when American fiber-optic cable networks were all the rage, they were overbuilt, much of the mileage stayed dark, and bankruptcies resulted. In the last few years, too many rushed to cash in on sub-prime mortgages (“Don’t bother to prove you can re-pay; sign the contract and take the cash!”), and we’ve seen the results in the past weeks.

In 1853, Japan’s feudal rulers had isolated the nation from the outside world for centuries. They had deliberately retarded the advancement of industrial and military technology, and thus were unable to refuse when Perry showed up with his message, ‘Open your markets, or we open fire’.

American imperialism awakened modern Japanese imperialism, culminating in an economic, and then military, struggle for Pacific hegemony, in Pearl Harbor, millions of deaths, and the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

The Law of Unintended Consequences: Be very careful how you act, for it will usually lead to consequences far beyond your imaginings.


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