Skip to content

A World Without Poor People (Sort of)

2017 July 27

Because the last time it was done, it was not forbidden,  because good jobs cluster in only a few regions now and because of vast influxes of foreign money, we have charts like this:

So, almost a 100% increase in five and a half years. (People living in Vancouver wish housing prices had only risen this much.)

Meanwhile, the Fed is muttering to itself about how there is almost no inflation, because they don’t measure housing price increases as inflation and consider the most important inflation that which does not include energy and food.

In other words, if the price of having a home, staying warm in your home or cool, driving your car and feeding yourself is going up, well, that’s just not very important.

A lot of people got very rich in real estate speculation and mortgages and downstream securities last time, and the vast majority of the rich ones got to keep the money they made. Even those who lost it, were mostly made whole by government. (Ordinary home owners were, uhhh, not made whole.)

Given it worked last time, given there was no real penalty for doing it and that the Fed and other central banks proved they were willing to bail out the rich to the tune of trillions of dollars, why not run the play again?  The profits are privatized, the losses at the end will be socialized. Heck, with a bit of luck the Fed will print money pre-emptively to make sure that there is never a crisis for rich people ever again, just every increasing asset prices.

(This applies to the stock market as well.)

There is, mind you, a real economy buried under all the money being funneled to rich people somewhere, and at some point that economy may just collapse.  After all, all the people who own these fancy condos and houses expect a servant class to take care of them.

But perhaps that can all be turned over to robots, as Silicon Valley wants, and the poor can just be expelled from places like SoCal, DC, New York, Vancouver and Toronto  entirely, to slowly drug themselves to death, or perhaps just starve, in the vast interior wastelands of the continent where “real” people don’t want to live.

This is, fairly explicitly, what Silicon Valley tech bros want, to not need surplus people.

I wonder, though, how many of them will find that they too, are surplus, when AI becomes able to code and write ads.

It will, at least, be amusing.

On Stubborn Facts and Partisan Identification

2017 July 23
by Ian Welsh

There is vast confusion in the more active left about this, so let’s clear it up by way of Bernie Sanders.

Clinton was more popular with POC and women than Sanders was. She was also more popular with old people.

However Sanders is well liked by POC and women. Every survey I have seen shows him with approval ratings in the 60s to 70s from POC. His approval ratings from women are usually 50-something, and higher than with men, but within the margin of error.

Sander is not unpopular with women and people of color, and people of color, in fact, are much more likely to approve of him than whites.

Whites and males are the people most likely to NOT approve of Bernie Sanders.

In absolute terms Sanders is liked by POC and women, in relative terms it depends who you’re comparing him to.

None of this is in question, and people who run around pretending Sanders is hated by black people and women are either lying or ignorant. In group terms, he is not.

Next: Clinton did better with Democrats and Bernie did better with independents, BUT Sanders is well liked by Democrats, this Hill poll had his approval rating by Democrats at 80%.

Again, relative vs. absolute.

Another fact, because we have the DNC emails, is that the DNC, run by a Clinton loyalist, put is thumb on the scales for Clinton. This is a fact.

I am not a partisan for Sanders in the same way I am for Corbyn. I strongly approve of Corbyn; I think Sanders was good enough to rate an endorsement, but his stands on, say, Israel, are awful. Corbyn has opposed Israeli apartheid right down the line, just as he did South African apartheid.

I think the best President in American history was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But I think that locking up Japanese Americans was abominable.

My judgments of fact, as much as I can, are not determined by my partisanship. My ethical judgment are not determined by my partisanship.

Rather, as best I can, I seek to have my partisanship determined by the facts combined with my ethical judgment.

This should not be a problem. If you have good reasons for supporting Hillary Clinton, you should be able to acknowledge her actual record and actions and still have reasons for supporting her.

If you must lie about a politician’s record in order to support them; or if you must pretend that evil acts they have committed or endorsed were not evil (Sanders’ Israel Support; Clinton’s Libya adventure) then you have gone deeply wrong, and you are a part of what is wrong with your country and the world.

One can support the lesser evil, or the greater good, and admit that. One can support someone who is more good than bad and still acknowledge the bad.

If one cannot, one making decisions based on delusional fantasy.

You should be able to do this even for people you love or hate. I hate Obama and Bush Jr and Reagan, but where they did something right, I acknowledge it. (Reagan’s work on nuclear disarmament falls into this category.)

If your tribal identification is running your determination of right or wrong, please check yourself out of politics until it isn’t.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Shhhh! Russia Can Like Something And It Can Be Good.

2017 July 21
by Ian Welsh

I know, I know. Russia is evil, the worstest of the worst and is made worse by Trump, because it’s because of Russia that Trump is President, not because Clinton ran a terrible campaign and Obama presided over an economy that worked for about 3% of the population.

But maybe, just maybe, even though Russia is the antichrist and Trump is the devil (or the  devil’s jester), it is possible that Trump might do something that Russia likes, and it might be good?

Like Trump telling the CIA to stop smuggling weapons to rebels in Syria? By which we mean, mostly people who are nasty Jihadis?

I know, I know, Assad is bad therefore anything bad that is done to him is good, even if it means causing a civil war which has cost many lives; far more lives and suffering than if there hadn’t been a civil war.

So, since Trump is bad, and Russia eeeevil, and Assad is evil, it therefore follows that giving guns to nasty people so they can ruin an entire country is good.

Or maybe, just maybe, Assad and some Russian policies and Trump can be bad; and it can still be possible that sending weapons to cause and fuel a civil war is a bad idea? Especially one where the main opposition are a bunch of Wahhabi insurgents with a truly ugly ideology; far worse than Assad’s?

It’s just a thought that perhaps, sometimes bad people and bad countries (has Russia done more evil than America in the last 30 years? Readers may wish to think carefully), might do the right thing. They might even do the right thing for reasons you think are bad, and that right thing, despite being done by bad people for bad reasons (is having good relations with Russia by ending support for a terrible civil war bad?) might be—good?

Well, who knows. Trump is the worstest of the worst, and Putin is his puppet master, and… yeah, sorry, can’t keep up with the current story line.

Still, I can’t help but think that it might not be a bad idea to stop sending weapons to Syrian rebels, irrespective of whether I have any sympathy for any of them. It might be that helping start the Syrian civil war and keeping it going was bad policy; in both realpolitik and ethical terms, and it might be that Trump is doing the right thing here, whether or not he is doing it for the right reasons.


Perhaps, on those rare occasions when a politician we hate does the right thing, we should honestly admit it. Perhaps if we don’t, there is something wrong, not just with him, but with us?

Or heck, perhaps we prefer to live in a world where people we hate are always wrong, no matter what they do, and change our definitions of right or wrong to suit their actions?

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The End of Cash; The End of Freedom

2017 July 19
by Ian Welsh

Image by TW Collins

Recently the Indian government took high value bills out of circulation, in order to fight corruption. This has been bad for the economy, not just because the gray economy is large in India, but because India is a place where a ton of business is done by cash, not by credit.

In France, because of “terrorism”, cash purchases are now limited to one thousand euros.

In many countries there is a push to move away from cash, towards electronic payments. Electronic payments are, of course, easier for governments to track.

The obvious point is about taxation; you can tax money you know about. But the less obvious point is about control and surveillance: if everything is done electronically you can know who is doing what, because spending is doing. Nothing meaningful can be done in the modern world without money following it: people need money to live and money must be used to buy any goods involved.

If everything can be seen, everything can be controlled. Readers may remember when PayPal, Visa and Mastercard all decided to cut off payments to Wikileaks. I know it’s common on the left now to hate Wikileaks, but only a fool doesn’t understand the power involved in stopping someone from getting money.

In the legal nootropics scene (substances for boosting performance, especially mental), banks have simply refused to allow nootropics firms to do business, even though what they are selling is perfectly legal. This has put people out of business. It is not a minor matter.

In older years banks would either not lend to blacks or they would charge them more than whites.  Who or what is discriminated against varies with the fears and mores and politics of the time, but it’s almost always loathsome and nobodies business.

Every time someone talks about getting rid of cash, they are talking about getting rid of your freedom. Every time they actually limit cash, they are limiting your freedom. It does not matter if the people doing it are wonderful Scandinavians or Hindu supremacist Indians, they are people who want to know and control what you do to an unprecedentedly fine grain scale.

Meanwhile we have blockchain technology. Blockchains have ledgers: they keep track of every single transaction performed.

Evangelists of blockchains seem to think that because they make encrypted electronic money possible, they are wonderful, but what I see is actually a totalitarian technology: a way of keeping minute track of every single transaction, ever.

Cash isn’t completely anonymous. There’s a reason why old fashioned crooks with huge cash flows had to money-launder: governments are actually pretty good at saying “where’d you get that from”, and you need an explanation. Still, it offers freedom, and it offers freedom most the poorer you are.  It also is very hard to track specifically: who made what purchase.

Blockchains won’t be untaxable. The ones which truly are unbreakable will be made illegal; the ones that remain, well, it’s a ledger with every transaction on it, for goodness sakes.

(Saying this will likely lead to some blockchain evangelist screaming in the comments, because fanatics can’t see the downside of what they are fanatical about, only the exaggerated upsides.)

We are moving towards a panopticon society in which everything you do can be tracked. Everything, including inside the so-called privacy of your house. As biometrics like gait tracking and infrared identification become better, as we put surveillance devices in our houses, and as we continue to carry bugs and tracking devices with us everywhere we go (and paying for the privilege) we are creating, as the tired line runs, a dystopian surveillance society far, far more reaching than anything in 1984. (Remember, Big Brother could not record, for example.)

We are creating a society where even much of what you say, will be knowable and indeed, may eventually be tracked and stored permanently.

If you do not understand why this is not just bad, but terrible, I cannot explain it to you. You have some sort of mental impairment of imagination and ethics.

Understand, however, that getting rid of cash is part of this. Understand that blockchains, “coins” do not have to ultimately be a technology of freedom, but can easily be a totalitarian technology. Understand that virtually no one in a position of power is your friend on this: they want to know, they want to control, they want to be able to decide how you spend your money and your time, and they want to have an electronic dossier on  you which is complete, and which will be usable to destroy you, because no one has never done or said something which cannot be made to look not just bad, but terrible and illegal, especially if you can pick, say, 10 quotes or actions out of a lifetime.

The only way to protect yourself against the surveillance state will be to become a complete and utter drone who has never done or said anything interesting. It’s too late for the olds, but those who grow up in it will understand, and will become nothings because of it.

We are moving very steadily towards a totalitarian state which will make the Stasi look like bumbling amateurs, and we are doing so with little murmur, and often voluntarily.

The only thing likely to derail this, oddly, is catastrophic environmental change and collapse.


The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Death of Saudi Arabia

2017 July 16
by Ian Welsh
The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recently cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar and launched an embargo, stating that they wanted the media outlet Al-Jazeera shut down, and support for the Muslim Brotherhood ended.

Or, more colloquially, and good for a belly laugh, “stop supporting terrorists”, which coming from any of those countries and especially Saudi Arabia is so flamingly hypocritical it puts the sun in shadow.

Oh my God.

Unfortunately for Saudi Arabia and its allies, Qatar has yet to give in, and it has been backed up by Turkey, who sent troops, and Iran, who is sending food.

Then we have the war against Yemen. Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen, with a huge coalition, and US support, and, well, what have they accomplished? I suspect the main accomplishment will be crippling Yemen’s next generation by starving them when they were young.

And, some time back, Saudi Arabia decided to lower oil prices to push out Western producers and—oh, look, oil prices are too low to support Saudi Arabia.

The joke in Saudi Arabia, I understand is, “my grandfather rode a camel, I drive a car, my grandson will ride a camel.”

Saudi Arabia is doomed. The current king is an incompetent, thrashing around trying to solve problems and making them worse.  He, as with his forbears, sees foes everywhere, but unlike those who came before him, he isn’t willing to simply sit and let sores fester. He wants to do something about them, and so far, what he’s done has made them worse.

This is fairly standard: all dynasties go bad eventually because the kings-to-be grow up in wealth and power and think it’s the natural state of things: that they are brilliant and deserve it all, when it was handed them on a platter. Perhaps they are good at palace intrigue and think that extends beyond the palace.

It doesn’t.

But it is worse than that. Saudi Arabia is just an undeveloped country sitting on oil. It’s that simple. Their particular ideology did not allow them to control their population, oil was always going to be replaced as the world’s most important energy source at some point, and that some point is now close.

Electric cars are coming. It is that simple. And when they do, oil will never recover.

As with all such windfalls, the only correct way to deal with resource windfalls is to siphon them off from the regular economy, and develop the economy. That is almost never done, and the story is always the same. Sometimes it takes decades, sometimes centuries, but the resource is always either replaced or depleted and the country or area, never having developed an actual economy, goes into terminal decline.

I live near one such place: the Canadian Maritime provinces. Once this was the main supplier of ship’s masts in the British empire. Since the entire empire ran on sailing ships, this made it important. Then there were no ship masts left, and steam took over and the Maritimes have never recovered.

Alberta, Canada’s oil patch, will likely experience the same story, with the added problem of having destroyed much of its soil, so that it cannot even go back to its full agricultural roots.

Saudi Arabia is DONE. Like other rich and powerful countries, and Saudi Arabia is a great power, though not a super power, its death throes will be terrible. Yemen is collateral damage; part of the early collapse. Qatar likewise. From the long point of view, this all just has to play out; for those on the ground, it will be ugly.

There are good Saudis, even as there are good Americans, and they have my sympathy, but I have little hope to offer them. Saudi Arabia is a classic example of over-development, on top of the resource sickness: the land cannot support the population, and relatively soon, in historical terms, it will not be able to afford the necessary imports.

Civil war and implosion; famine and catastrophe are all next to certain. If you live in Saudi, it is probably time to get out. What is to come is unlikely to be avoided, it would take vast amounts of luck, luck Saudi Arabia, in making so many enemies, has made unlikely to occur.

And a lot of people, close or far from Saudi, will suffer as it destructs.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


Why There Is More Reason To Hope Today Than In Decades

2017 July 12
tags: ,
by Ian Welsh

Somewhere between the late 80s and the early nineties, with Clinton’s election, hope died.

The post-war era had serious issues, but the post-war era, as the civil rights movement and 70s feminism showed, was handling those issues. It was moving in the right direction. Until it didn’t: until it couldn’t handle the cascade of problems from the rise of oil prices.

In Britain Thatcher got into power, in America Reagan.  They were opposed by people who preferred to try and fix the older world, those people lost.  So there came the third way, which said “if you can’t beat them, join them.”  Clinton and Blair and all the various folks like them wanted to do Thacherism and Reaganism but with less cruelty.

That couldn’t, and wouldn’t, work. Clinton set up large chunks of the financial crisis; gutted welfare, set up truly cruel standards for incarceration which gutted poor black communities especially, but hurt everyone else who was poor, even if less.

Blair, the British epitome was onside with Iraq, and blah, blah, blah.

None of them did anything about climate change worth speaking of. Their solution to pollution in the developed world was to ship the most polluting industries to developing countries, mostly notably China, and pollution there is as bad as it ever was in the first world.

Meanwhile, as we all know, they pursued a raft of policies whose effect was to funnel money to the rich, gutting the middle class over time (though the middle class benefited at first) and impoverishing many.  This created oligarchical power structures throughout the west, abetted by technocrats insulated from control by elected politicians.

The point here is that the trends were mostly bad. Those few good trends, such as improvements in parts of the developing world were not a result of neoliberalism (China used mercantile policies to industrialize), and in fact, as Ha Joon shows in “Bad Samaritans” growth in the developing world was slower in the neoliberal era than in the post-war era.

We were driving ourselves towards, not disaster, but catastrophe, and not one catastrophe, but many.

So, people thought I was pessimistic. I wasn’t. I never was. I was realistic. Because it was government and corporate policy; it was the policy of all of our elites, to do things which would have forseeable bad consequences. That was policy and they were very determined to keep doing it.

So, there was no room for what some people mistake as optimism. Hope. The only hope was that at some point this would change. As long as we kept electing people like Clinton or Obama, there was no hope because they didn’t want to change the way the world was run. They didn’t intend to do anything which would avoid catastrophe.

That is just how it was.

So now everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and I’m the calm one.

Because there is now reason for hope. Large masses of people are now willing to vote for politicians who want to do the right thing. It is too late to avoid much of the consequences of what we have done; it is simply too late. We have methane release in the arctic, we have a great die-off of species, and it’s too late.

But it is not too late to mitigate. It is not too late, as the first rule of holes states, “when you find yourself in a hole, first stop digging.”

We haven’t even done that yet, really.  There’s a small amount as solar becomes cheaper than coal, something which should have happened 20 year ago thru government intervention, but it’s too late.

There is, however, now reason, with Sanders and Corbyn’s near successes: with the fact that so many would consider voting for them; with Melenchon in France coming so close, to hope that we now have an electorate willing to consider actual change to do the necessary things.

This was not true in the past. People like Sanders and Corbyn were not taken seriously as national candidates. The idea was laughable.

So this is hope, a bright, shining, slender thing.

We have it now. And yet people are running around like the sky is falling.  The only reason they are doing that is that most of them didn’t understand that the decisions which caused all the problems we’re having today were taken and reaffirmed for decades.  If you knew where they were going, and it wasn’t hard to, you just had to look and not flinch, then nothing that is happening today; nothing, is surprising in general terms.

The only thing that is interesting is that a large number of people, and especially young people, are turning away from doing the wrong thing, and show openness to change. Now they may choose something worse, or something better.  I think they’ll take something better when offered: we saw that with Corbyn, and polls now show he’d win an election held today.

Of course, they’ll take something worse if it means change from the status quo, too. We’ve seen that.

But they are willing to Change, and that means there is Hope.

So, the sky is creaking, but that’s already pre-determined and running around screaming about it as if surprised is pathetic.

Meanwhile, we may be able to reduce the worst of what is to come, rather than continually trying to make it worse.

And that, my friends, is reason for hope.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

There Is No Major “Good” Government Leader

2017 July 9
by Ian Welsh

I can think of few things more pathetic than watching the reaction to something like the G20, and seeing regular people cheering for one leader over another.

There are no non evil major leaders. I see a lot of Merkel praise lately, but this is the woman who destroyed Greece, causing many deaths and much suffering, because she wanted to bail out German banks indirectly, rather than directly. Over 90% of the money sent to “Greece” has actually gone back to banks, but the cost has been great misery.  Merkel could have just bailed out the banks without harming the citizens.

Merkel is a truly, profoundly, evil person. If you think she isn’t, your moral compass is in your nether regions. Now, of course, like most leaders, Merkel has done some good, even praiseworthy things, but when you kill and impoverish an entire nation because your commitment to your ideology won’t let you just bail out banks directly, you’re evil.

This makes every major decision maker at the IMF evil (and for far more than just Greece) and certainly makes the EU decision makers involved evil.

Putin has many admirers, but he is a bad man, and if you don’t believe it, it is because you don’t want to know.

May is clearly evil. Trump has continued wars he could have and should have stopped. Those of you who love Obama, who is not there, love an evil man, who destroyed Libya for no good reason and expanded and ran a huge assassination program. Macron is scum, he ran Hollande’s economic policy, which was a mess, and he has spent the summer fighting unions. His economic policy won’t work, but will hurt a lot of people. Bill Clinton was scum; his embargo of Iraq cost about a million civilian lives, half of whom were children. He was ok with that.

There are almost no exceptions: everyone who runs a major country in this period is evil, and generally it isn’t a case of “well they’ve done some bad things, but the good they’ve done outweighs it”. None of them are FDR, where you can say “that’s clearly evil, but at least he did more good than evil.”

None of these people are your friends. None of them have your best interest at heart. None of them care about your civil liberties, freedom, or prosperity; whether you live or die is a matter of indifference to them.  (Well, there is a small class of people they do care about. If you’re one of those people and happen to read me, you know who you are.)

The reason I got behind Corbyn so hard is that for the first time in my life there is a candidate with a serious chance of running a major power who isn’t “the lesser evil”. Even Sanders was a lesser evil candidate; albeit a heck of a lot lesser. Corbyn was against all the wars. He supports Palestinians, etc, etc. He isn’t perfect, but he’s easily in the “far more good than evil” camp. Note just how much the press and almost everyone else in the elite hates him.

We’ll see, if he gets in power, how he does, but at least he has an actual record of integrity and doing the right thing, when he had every reason to believe that it meant he’d never be in power.

None of that is true of Merkel; of Trump; of Obama; of May, etc…

You are their meat. You are their subjects. Your existence matters to them only to the extent you serve their ambition and their ideology, and no more.  They have somewhat less care for you than a farmer shows for his cows.

Knowing who has your best interests at heart: who actually cares about you and will act on it is the most basic human survival skill. We were very good at it back when we lived in bands of 40 to 60 people, but we are terrible at it when living in societies of millions, where we don’t know who everyone is.

We’d best learn, because our failure is costing us dear; and will cost us more in the future.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


France’s Macron Wants a Technocratic Presidential State

2017 July 6
by Ian Welsh

Rizal Park Tricolor

So, Macron has a huge majority, won on historically low turnout.  He has spent the summer fighting France’s Labor unions, his first priority being to overhaul France’s labor law. For example, workers right now can’t be made to answer emails outside of work hours. Macron will end that.

Of course the changes are far more wide ranging than that. The long argument has been that France’s economy isn’t all that it could be because it is not flexible: it’s hard to fire people, and you can’t make them do anything you want when you manage them. Arguably, you can make them do little.

Macron, who ran the vastly unpopular economic policy of the last government (something people seem to have forgotten) is a dedicated technocrat.

In his recent speech Macron said he wanted to shrink the legislature by one third, from over 900. And he thinks that the legislature should legislate less, and just judge what the executive does. This amounts, of course, to passing only bills suggested by him. Of course, his party controls both houses of parliament right now, but this goes beyond normal French politics, where bills are not just suggested by the President and Prime Minister.

(The President appoints the Prime Minister, and he’s generally seen as following the President in most things.)

So this isn’t a small thing, it’s Macron saying he wants the power of a Westminister style Prime Minister with a solid majority. In such countries, while parliament in theory can not do what the President says, in practice these days of tight party discipline, a PM with a majority is close to being an elected dictator.

Such strong executives have their advantages, no doubt, but Macron does want a change that gives him more power, and he’s willing to go to a plebiscite to get it.

Then he will use it to remove French rights and reduce their wages and benefits.  Because that is what he wants, that is the core neoliberal project and that is what Macron believes.

Macron is “young” but he’s not very young, he’s of the generation where if you wanted to be taken seriously, and have any power, you had to sign on to neoliberal verities.

The French are going to get what they voted for, good and hard.

But little to none of what Macron does cannot be undone, and his making the executive more powerful may turn out to be a mistake in 5 or 10 years, when someone like LaPen or Melenchon becomes president and has the powers that Macron fought for.

Simply put, neoliberal policies never actually work. They can produce brief sugar highs of frothy economies, and France may get some of that, as money boils away from the middle and up to the top and housing bubbles and others stupidity are engaged in. But this is late neoliberalism, the French middle class and poor are already suffering and I don’t think enough bribes will be given to them to keep them onboard.  They gave Macron a huge majority, yes, but on low turnout. This is neoliberalism’s last big chance in France.

When it fails, and it will, the French will turn to either the right or the left.  Within a decade, most likely.

And the boy prince, riding so high now, will be left spluttering like Tony Blair, wondering why all his wonderful plans didn’t work out, and assuming that those who reject his brilliance are buffoons.

So it shall be.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.