Explaining the J Curve (JOHN BATCHELOR, September 18, 2006, NY Sun)
Simply, the J curve according to Mr. Bremer’s Eurasia Group is drawn on a bar graph with “stability” as the X-axis and “openness” as the Y-axis. By stability, Mr. Bremmer means the ability to withstand shocks from the outside, such as a terror attack, as well as the ability to avoid shocking yourself, such as a market crash or a coup. By openness, Mr. Bremmer means that citizens have access to information both from outside the state and from fellow citizens, such as perfectly describes the internet. What is striking about the J curve is that a maximum tyranny such as North Korea, on the extreme left of the curve, is almost as stable as a maximum free society such as Denmark on the extreme right of the curve. The distinction with the difference is what happens to a nation when it moves from being the prison of North Korea on the left to being the liberated salon of Denmark on the right: the stability dips severely.This is the J shape, so that a country that throws off its tyranny will plunge into chaos quickly and keep sinking into Hades for some time before it can hope to rise to new enterprises as an open society. […]
Currently slipping from intolerant stability to the long depths of chaos are Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. At the depths of the curve, when all hope is murdered, are South Africa after apartheid and Yugoslavia after the Soviets. And now climbing from the depraved depths toward enhancing openness, according to Mr. Bremmer, are Turkey, Israel, and India. Coyly, Mr. Bremmer sidesteps China and calls the PRC a dilemma. […]
What hedgies do not readily entertain is that the historical record is filled with events that describe illogical possibilities that actually happened and changed the map, such as the contest between revolutionary Bonapartist France and imperial merchant England. Waiting out Napoleon’s bloodthirsty vanity would not have worked, even over half a century of patience. Further, it is unimaginable, on reading the London Times in 1805, that anyone could have constrained the Admiralty from sending out Nelson and Collingwood to find the combined French and Spanish fleets. Horatio Nelson closing on the enemy at Trafalgar can sound as if he is schooling George Bush as he closes on Saddam at Baghdad: “When I am without orders and unexpected occurrences arrive, I shall always act as I think the honour and glory of my King and Country demand. But in case signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”
Mr. Bremmer’s genius does illuminate the present bootless homicide in Baghdad, however, because in order to gain the gift of an open democracy, Iraq must pass through the depraved low point of the J curve. Elections are not the objective. Stability with free-flowing information in a capitalist forum is the mission, and that will take time and intrepidity.
Using the J curve as an analytical lens through which to view just the 20th century, it becomes apparent that given three opportunities to shove things towards the upslope of the curve, even if it would have been more chaotic, we instead favored the left, and “stability,” thereby retarding development and prolonging the Long War: when Wilson chose the League (perforce accepting the re-establishment of colonialism) over self-determination after WWI; when we failed to destroy the Bolshevik regime at the end of WWII; and when George H. W. Bush sided with the PRC and Ba’athist dictators after the Cold War. These episodes of Realism have all proved disastrous in the long run.