“Ohhhh what’s so fun about peace, love, and understanding…”

Might we have just had a “Minsky moment” – in the geopolitical sense? I certainly hope not. That question, however, comes to mind when contemplating the tenure of NATO, just last week celebrating its 75th anniversary, and the comments from the French President Emmanuel Macron at the occasion. The French leader called the long-standing treaty organization “brain dead”.

Macron was upset with haggling over national defense contributions toward NATO, and over whether the organization was still fit for purpose. The tone, though, was perhaps more dismissive rather than an urgent call to action.

President Macron’s remark brought to mind a leitmotif or implicit sentiment besetting European politics and by extension the world’s, which the Elvis Costello lyric seems to summarize. What really is so fun and stimulating about uninterrupted, boring success, anyway? Given that boring apparently predictable success, what could possibly change? There may reside there, in this thinking, a deep ceded complacency; and with that complacency, might there be laden risks – risks of some…some jostling, some displacement?

To that point, there has been no real, explicit, fully mobilized and hot great power conflict since 1945. The US-Soviet standoff, and then alone the influence of international treaty organizations and the US as the “quiet hegemon” precluded such a thing.

But, are we at risk of becoming victims of our own success? The economist Hyman Minsky reminds us that markets are not teleological, taking us ever onward, smoothly, to greater realms of prosperity. They are cyclical, and reflect the variety of human nature and limitations. Human nature is the constant. People being, at some level, self-interested, they seek what is good for them. And, they’ll have ever more of the same, thank you.  

To Minsky, stability – especially protracted stability – sows the seeds of its own demise, as the financial writer Jim Grant might put it. Longer financial stability entails more and more, good and bad, ideas to get rich – while receiving financing to do so – until the material world and its limits induces satiety lapsing into nausea, the Minsky moment. So many things then come undone.

There are from time to time Kumbaya moments in the global community, but history doesn’t end, and human nature, or rather its variety, remains the same. Relations among states are necessarily a grim business. Market participants must be clear-eyed. Countries must be clear-eyed with one another, too. Complacency has no place.

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