Libya's Gadhafi struggles to hold on to power the only way that dictators of force can hold on, which is with more force. Just how brutal he will continue to be, and how effective, is still to be determined.
How far will this go, and to what effect?
The debate over the economy is still fully on between the recovery and double-dip camps, but the spreading uncertainty from Libya to Saudi Arabia may favor the latter. Chinese economist Andy Xie points to Mideast (37% of the world's oil production) instability and potential gas price increases to infer that stagflation may be just around the corner. He notes that the oil shock of 1973 triggered a market crash and laid the foundation for stagflation thereafter. OECD countries now have leverage levels that are 50% too high, and must come down, he observes. That is deflationary on its own. Meanwhile, the US continues to flood the world with dollars, which is inflationary.
What is important here is the degree of uncertainty in the system. The Libyan crisis will have its own effects in that country, and has roiled Saudi Arabia, whose leadership has just announced new levels of largesse to keep the population in line.
But what is really going on here globally?
Authority the world over is being questioned and challenged in new ways - faster, more broadly and deeply - in a new era of communication. In the mid-1990's, we postulated that the Internet would act as a universal solvent to erode authority structures of all kinds, from the top down, bottom up, inside out, and so forth. Power would shift to the "end-user." This was long before Google made answers available to most questions or Twitter allowed differing versions of the truth - as well as lies and distortions - to spread at the speed of light, 140 characters per Tweet.
We now know quickly - as can anyone anywhere who wants to ask - that the Greek government has to meet a major hospital deficit in a hospital that has 42 gardeners but no garden. We know American public safety officers bulk up their hours in their final years so they can retire on pensions of 100 percent or more. We know that Democratic state senators fled Wisconsin in order to dodge their responsibilities to address budget deficits, apparently believing in the power and efficacy of denial. Technology guru Mary Meeker has just published a report to suggest that America Inc. is functionally bankrupt on the costs of Medicare and Medicaid. These two entitlements were approved largely by and for Baby Boomers with apparent disregard for intergenerational fairness, let along practicality.
It's all coming home to roost, all over the world. It has to.
The point here is that "the authorities" have made a mess in many places, not limited to Libya. Gadhafi & Co. did not bother to build infrastructure with its oil billions, leaving a poor and uneducated populace now with a void to fill, when/if Gadhafi falls. (See here the first CNN footage in Benghazi, where Gadhafi has already been pushed out.) His is not the only regime to abuse power and abrogate the responsibilities of leadership. So his is not the only regime to sow the seeds of crisis, which cannot and will not be avoided.
The question now is, what will we do? Violence in the streets is the only choice for those who have no other choice. The US mess hopefully will be addressed by those who stay in the room and try to fix the problems with real solutions. But Wisconsin is not the only state where protesters have picked up the vibe from Middle East and staged long and persistent demonstrations against failed leaders. And material support - in the form of pizza for Wisconsin protesters - is pouring in from Egypt, Turkey, and around the world.
Authority that underestmates this unprecedented connectivity, both in how it connects and educates people, is learning fast that a new model is forcing its way forward, outward and down. It is not contained or slowing, only expanding literally at the speed of light. How does your "official future" fair against the potential for stagflation and continuing global unrest?