Will Any Future POTUS Matter (Other Than Launching More Wars)?

We are already experiencing the powerlessness of POTUS.

We all know the POTUS (President of the United States) has the power as Commander-in-Chief to engage the nation in senseless, costly, needless wars.We also know the POTUS has a media-saturated bully pulpit to set an agenda and fashion a cultural tone for the nation.

But beyond the power to wage war and dominate the media spotlight, does the President have the power to solve the structural problems that are eroding the nation’s economy and social contract?

This chart summarizes one such problem: wage earners are receiving a diminishing share of the nation’s output (GDP):

A second related problem is the national income that is flowing to wage earners is increasingly flowing to the top 5%:

If the president can’t solve the nation’s systemic problems, then he/she no longer matters. The President, outside of declaring war, is nothing but a source of “news” chum for the media feeding frenzy aimed at grabbing eyeballs to maximize advertising revenues for the media’s corporate owners.

Analyst Gail Tverberg explained why the political machinery of POTUS cannot change the downward trends in household earnings in a series of insightful essays, most recently Overly Simple Energy-Economy Models Give Misleading Answers.

Tverberg considers the costs of finance/debt and complex hierarchies in the matrix of energy production and consumption, and references the work of Joseph Tainter on the systemic impact of the rising cost of complexity.

In a similar vein, I have often mentioned The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization by Thomas Homer-Dixon.

In summary: successful civilizations generate sufficient surplus to invest in complex hierarchical communication-command-control mechanisms which boost productivity and generate additional surplus. The cost of these complex systems continually rises while the increases in production eventually plateau and decline in an S-Curve:

The net result is a society with higher costs and diminishing returns. Eventually the costs of maintaining the status quo exceed the benefits of maintaining the status quo hierarchy and the society decays and collapses.

My own work has focused on two dynamics of the cost of increasingly unproductive complex systems. One is privilege, which can be defined as unearned wealth and power. Privilege is by definition unproductive, and a drain on the economy and society. Once the privileged class (i.e. the protected class that shifts risks and taxes to the unprotected/non-elite classes) expands and social mobility decays, the economy collapses under the dead weight of the privileged class.

I covered the history and dynamics of this process in The Lesson of Empires: Once Privilege Limits Social Mobility, Collapse Is Inevitable (April 18, 2016).

The second dynamic is the destructive consequences of a self-serving political-financial elite that is structurally incapable of real reform because real reform will collapse the high-cost structures that enable the concentration of wealth and power.

I explain these dynamics in Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.

I know this runs counter to the media-supported delusion that POTUS is the most powerful person on Earth, but in reality it no longer matters who’s president. The inevitable collapse of a debt-based model of complexity, energy extraction and consumption is already baked in.

The only potentially positive role of any President would be to downsize the unrealistic expectations of the citizenry to align with real-world dynamics. But downsizing expectations doesn’t get you re-elected, so the political reality is that future presidents will no longer matter in terms of solving the critical problems we face in the coming decades.

We are already experiencing the powerlessness of POTUS: the campaign for the office of President has already been reduced to two poor players that strut and fret their hour upon the stage, a tale told by an idiot media, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

My new book is #3 on Kindle short reads -> politics and social science: Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform ($3.95 Kindle ebook, $8.95 print edition)For more, please visit the book’s website.

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  • This article dovetails nicely. 28.07.2016 The USA Debt Time-bomb Tocking, Ticking, Tock, Tick…

    USA in the World Most of the world has an image of the United States as the one country of the advanced industrial world that took consequent action in the wake of the March 2007-September 2008 financial crisis.


  • Nice to see someone else talking about Tainter. Jared Diamond’s Collapse is a good book too, as far as physical processes. The thesis here is correct. That’s why so much hue and cry is devoted to it. Get everybody worked up over nothing so the populace can be more effectively robbed. The last joke is on the aristocracy, though. When the bubble pops they won’t be safe. You can’t pay mercenaries/thugs enough to die for you.

  • diogenes

    The failure — or the treason, to call it what it is — isn’t the POTUS, it’s the entire government, which has abdicated to the oligarchs of the 0.1% of Americans who own 28% of America and have their headquarters on Wall Street, who own and operate the whole government-political-party-media-hired-liar-educrat show. Mr. Smith contributes to the confusion.

  • jadan

    It does matter who the president is, which is why not just anyone gets in that office. Trump is an example of one who is not chosen threatening to occupy the White House. Obama is a CIA project. Hillary is a tried and true asset. Trump is dangerous to the status quo. He threatens to annul the neo-con agenda and put the Pentagon under the control of the Commander in Chief. A president with balls could do that. Take a look at the orchestrated media assault, Smith, and tell me the establishment is not afraid of a president who thinks his own thoughts and has his own agenda. It matters very much because the POTUS is actually the most powerful office in the world if there’s a strong personality in the Oval Office. If he wants to build a wall and engage in mass deportations, he can damn well do it because there is a huge number of Americans who will fall into line behind a strong leader.

    This country is hungry for a strong leader. FDR could have become a dictator in his day. He was being pressured to do just that. People want to get things done and they’re sick of being mired in bureaucracy and going nowhere. The Democrats are trying to produce their happy face vision of America, but Trump is telling it like it is. People respond to that, Smith. Michael Moore is right: Trump could get elected. Hillary is a political whore, not a leader. Bernie told it like it is. He could have beaten Trump because he’s a decent, principled, and strong personality with a clear agenda. Hillary is not a leader. We had the first black. Now we’re going to get the first woman. The CIA is wrong in its assessment of what’s gong to fly in 2016. Accidents do happen in the rigged system.

  • Lynn Walker

    Bozo, with nothing relevant to say, peddling his nonsense books again.

    CHS fails to understand reality and all of his delusional musings amount to a mound of crap.

  • animalogic

    What a tedious council of despair.
    Resource & economic issues MAY be overcome when a majority of people decide to throw out the oligarchic dreck which passes for democracy and, rather institutes progressive socialist democracy.
    ANY despair is rooted in the sense that people’s minds are stuck forever more in the status quo…Such are appearances…No change is possible without belief and work.
    Consider this: by historical standards, ours is a corrupt & degenerate ruling class: how long could they last if their executive tools in the police, military & intelligence agencies lost belief in them ?

  • ICFubar

    I believe what many are trying to diagnose and prescribe a repair of is a system which in itself is predicated on the accumulation of wealth as the sole measure of what the human economy is to be based upon, with the distribution of that wealth as the problem when this is a false paradigm to begin with, flowing from Adam Smith to Marx and all the others concentrated on the accumulation increases of money denominated anything.The criteria should be based on whether any institution or objective of the human economy is to whether or not it is life enhancing for the planet and human kind or not as an investment gain or loss. This should apply to all aspects of human activity, from money creation to the needs of all peoples.