Skip to content


2015 October 3
by Ian Welsh

When I was a young man I spent a lot of time really sick, and in a pile of pain.  It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve spent days screaming.  It’s one of the reasons I have so little tolerance for anyone who excuses torture, or for anyone who stands in the way of effective healthcare, including effective pain medication.  This last week I’ve had an outer ear infection, the first in my life, which, as it turns out, is remarkably painful.  Not in the top 5 of my personal experiences, but definitely in the top 10.

(This is a re-publish of an article from June 2, 2011.  Though I did spend much of the last 24 hours in pain.  I am fine now. – Ian)

Of course, the walk-in clinic I went to today had a “even if you are on the floor, screaming, covered with 80% burns, we will not prescribe so much as a Tylenol 2” policy.  I didn’t even bother to ask.  Fortunately, Canada allows some very mild OTC codeine (8 mg, combined with aspirin or acetaminophen, so the addicts can ignore it, and destroy their livers), so I have a bit of pain medication to take the very worst edge off.

Pain is one of the reasons I believe there is no such thing as a personally interested omnipotent benevolent God, because what I know about pain is this: you can experience titanic levels of pain for far longer than you can experience the same level of pleasures.  The idea that pain is entirely adaptive is laughable, because pain very quickly gets to the point of incapacitation, and someone who’s incapacitated can’t help themselves.

Anyway, when I was around 25 or so, I wrote down the following aphorisms about pain:

No matter how much pain you are in it can always get worse.

Pain comes in infinite varieties: each type is different.

All other things being equal mental pain is worse than physical.

The human capacity for pain is infinitely greater than the human capacity for pleasure.

Despite having spent days screaming, I have to say that it’s true that mental pain is worse.  At a couple points I was on medicinal steroids, and for me, at least medicinal steroids are the devil, as they cause brief bouts of insanity.  I remember understanding the nature of infinity, in a very Cthuloid fashion (we aren’t just small, we are meaningless) and  knowing that it was literally knowledge I couldn’t live with.  Existing with that knowledge was impossible.  I would have to kill myself.  Strangely enough, I “knew” that my understanding of infinity was caused by the drugs I was on, so I very sincerely promised that if I still remembered my understanding in 12 hours, I’d go get a knife.

Needless to say I don’t still understand infinity, and I avoid medicinal steroids whenever possible.

Then there’s the “pain can always get worse”.  This isn’t, I think, actually true.  There were a couple points where pain became it’s own anaesthetic.  Of course, those levels of pain were at the point where IV morphine was having zero effect, so I guess it’s good.

Pain is also about caring.  If you don’t care, pain doesn’t bother you.  This is the pain/suffering divide, where you see folks hanging from hooks during religious ceremonies having a great old time.  Wheeee!  Narcotic pain meds work a bit like this.

Roughly narcotics work at 3 levels.  At the first level you just don’t feel the pain.  Maybe a bit of pressure or the occasional ticklishness, but no pain.  The next level you’re in pain, but you don’t care, and the level after that you’re “you sure you gave me morphine!?”

My most memorable occasion of “in pain but don’t care” was when I started getting muscle spasms.  I had a staph infection in my sacroiliac joint (the hospital did not know this yet) and every time my muscles would spasm it’d hit the joint, and I’d scream. The spasms were maybe 5 minutes apart, so objectively, most of the time, I wasn’t in much pain.

The problem, of course, is that I spent the 5 minutes between spasms worrying about the next one.  Which was totally wrecking me.  At the time my father was visiting me, and watching me coming apart was wrecking him too.  I’d been in the hospital long enough that my stiff upper lip was looking pretty quivery.  So he ran around trying to find someone to give me a shot of morphine or demerol.  Nurses aren’t supposed to do that without a doctor’s order, and no doctors were available (strangely enough, in hospital wards, doctors are often very hard to find.)  Eventually he talked a nurse into doing it (and I am grateful to her to this day, since I know she had to justify it later) and I got the shot.

Didn’t make any difference to the actual pain.  Every 5 minutes, bang, the muscle would spasm and I’d scream.  But in the time between I didn’t worry about the pain that was coming up, I was chatting and joking with my dad.  Pain and suffering, not the same thing, and I can say that my Dad was suffering a lot less too.

Infinite varieties of pain: yup.  The pain of muscle spasms on a joint inflated with infected fluid is entirely different from the pain of your own body eating the large intestine from the inside out which is entirely different from the feeling of the small intestine being infected and swelling up so that every time you breath it hurts and you get a wave of nausea.

Oh, and nausea?  Worse than pain, in general.  Short of knocking you out, there are no good cures for nausea.  There came a point in that hospital (and I was there 3 months) that my liver decided that everything was an evil foreign object.  Everything.  So every four hours, when they’d give me my antibiotics, about 10 minutes later, I’d get to dry heave for five to ten minutes.  Every four hours, for a couple weeks.  Fun.

But I can’t really write this essay without coming to the real problem with pain management.  You see, I went in with ulcerative colitis, a disease where your immune system decides that the large intestine is the enemy and needs to be destroyed with extreme prejudice.  This involves a lot of bloody diarrhea and a lot of pain, but on the plus side, makes you look positively tuburcular.  First time in my life women were flocking around, too bad agony makes one uninterested.

So anyway, I go in.  I keep getting worse.  A week into my stay, my Gastro (Dr. Kempston) goes on holiday, a week after that I won’t let the nurses so much as touch me. That makes one of the nurses think “this may be bad” and she calls in the doctors around midnight on Sunday.  They cut me open, find out I had late stage appendicitis (as in a couple days from bursting) as well as ulcerative colitis.  So they take that out along with my large intestine.

Leaving aside certain logistical issues,. this is all good. My large intestine hasn’t been doing much for me that didn’t involve, oh, agony, for a couple years.  I wind up back in a ward, and my recovery is on.

But there are a couple complicating factors.  One, during that two weeks, I got an infected IV site.  Two, I’ve been on hard core immune suppressants for about a month.  It is safe to say that I don’t have an immune system.  And I’ve got this pain in my sacreal illeac joint (it’s in the lower back).  Apparently that’s kind of normal, but what’s not normal is that the pain I’m getting from it is absolutely crippling.  As in “I can’t even push myself up in bed” crippling, as in “every time I am moved, I scream, a lot.” Crippling.

And the surgeon decides, in his infinite wisdom, that since he’s never heard of such a thing in all his years, that I must be lying in order to get pain meds.

My back doctor doesn’t agree.  I have no family doctor.  What happens is that every night, around 8pm, the surgeon swings by, says “you’re a malingering little shit who should be outside running around”, and takes me off morphine and onto some oral codeine.  Around 8 am in the morning, my back doctor swings by and says “now I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not faking, so I’ll put you back on.”  Which means that I spend half the day without pain meds, and the other half of the day dreading being cut off.

Fun.  Fun.  Fun.

This goes on for some time (I’m a bit hazy, I think a little over a week), I’m nauseous, in pain, losing weight and muscle tone and they can’t figure out what’s wrong.  The surgeon keeps saying “that’s because nothing’s wrong. He’s a little drug addict who is faking it!  Hell, we should kick him out the door!”  The nurses on the ward divide into two groups, depending on whether they believe me and the back doctor, or if they believe the surgeon (who is apparently a great surgeon who has invented procedures!)

And then Doctor Kempston walks in, just swinging by, completely unaware of what is going on.  Asks me how I am.  And, and it still embarasses me to this day, I break down.  Much weeping ensues, along with the story.

Dr. Kempston goes to the nurse’s station, and writes in my file “I will be acting as Ian’s family doctor.  If his pain meds are changed, any time of day or night, I am to be called and I will change them back.”

You can hear the gauntlet falling all the way down  in the basement.  Because if Kempston is wrong, if I am playing him, if I am just trying to get morphine, well, he’s going to lose a ton of face.  This is what the back doctor wasn’t willing to do, take on a famous surgeon, publicly.

I’d die for Kempston.  I mean that totally seriously.  If somebody was about to shoot the man I’d step in front the bullet without any hesitation and count my life well spent.  Hell, I’d be grateful for the opportunity.

Anyway, they figure out what was wrong, a staph infection in my sacroiliac joint   That doesn’t bring an end to the surgeon’s suspicions, so later we have a case where every time I breath in, I feel pain on my left side and nausea.  Kempston kicks the pain meds back up.  Everyone on the floor knows that if they don’t find what it is, Kempston is in a world of hurt.

A couple days later, the test results come in.  I have an infection right where it would have to be to give the symptoms I described.  The surgeon crawls in, says some weak stuff about getting some more surgery in a year, and I don’t see him again except in passing.

I spend 3 months in that hospital.   At one point I was using a walker (my father and I had lots to joke about when he started suffering from the effects of old age).  When I leave the hospital, I was about 90lbs.  I had a huge bushy beard.  I looked like Jesus come in from the desert.  I took myself to a hotel, of course they are freaked out, and I had to put down a $1K depsosit on $50 room, and room service demanded cash up front.  (That ends the second my father rolls back into town.  The staff tiptoe around me for the next two days, scared not that I’m made of glass, but that they are.)  It takes me years to recover, really, I never have. The easy good health and athleticism I had before then is gone, and gone forever.

But what I remember is not just that surgeon, denying me pain meds due to paranoia and megalomania (he is a great surgeon, I should be out of the hospital already and my not being so is an insult to him) and all the other people who didn’t stand up to him, who didn’t stop him, but the one man who did.

And so I’ve always known, since then, that some good people exist.  There aren’t  very many of them, most people are chickenshit, too weak to be good or even truly bad, but they do exist.  And I know the price that good man paid, I heard him talk about his daughter, who he hardly ever saw, because he put his patients first, and I saw the regret he had.  And that he understood that when someone was screaming in pain, crying brokenheartedly or puking up blood, you know what, they come first.  And no, you can’t just assume someone else will do it if you won’t, because most people are weak, and most people won’t do it when push comes to shove.

So when I think about pain, I think about Kempston.  I don’t know if he’s the greatest man I ever met, probably not, but I am more grateful to him than anyone else who has ever come into my life.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

How Harper and the Conservatives Broke the Canadian Economy

2015 October 2
by Ian Welsh

The Canadian economy, since about 1890 or so, ran as follows.

  • When commodity prices were low, we sold manufactured goods to the rest of the world and subsidized commodity producers so they weren’t wiped out.
  • When commodity prices were high, we relied on selling them, and we subsidized manufacturers so they wouldn’t go out of business.

A manufacturer who responds to a lower Canadian dollar by increasing production increases their costs. That means that when the dollar rises, their cost structure is too high for them to survive if they are not subsidized.

There are lots of ways to subsidize manufacturers, including directly, through tariffs, currency manipulation, and so on.

Commodity production doesn’t require as much subsidy, with some exceptions. There are projects which cannot easily restart, and primary processing (canning, pulp and paper mills, lumber mills, refineries, etc.) can have significant start time requirements. This means you don’t want them to go out of business. Fewer employees, with the government supporting the out-of-work employees is fine. Actual loss of capacity is not.

Meanwhile, unemployment insurance (now called EI) is generous to whichever part of the country is in recession due to the commodity price cycle, so people don’t leave and go to the high cost area unless there are actually jobs, while the areas with lots of jobs are less generous so that people who aren’t employable there even in good times are encouraged to go to places with lower costs of living.

This is a fairly simple balancing act, though it can be complicated in detail. It has been made more complicated by restrictive “trade” deals which outlaw many types of subsidies, but it is essential to ANY country with a large resource sector which also wants to have a significant manufacturing sector.

Harper ended this. He did not properly subsidize manufacturing. Those manufacturers who, during the last period of a low Canadian dollar, expanded production, were wiped out. This is bad not just because they were wiped out, but because it means current manufacturers know they shouldn’t expand if it increases structural costs during this drop in the Canadian dollar, because if they do, when the dollar rises again (and it will), they too will be wiped out.

Harper has managed, thus, to eliminate much of the stimulative affect of a low Canadian dollar on manufacturing.  Genius.

Also, being, in ideological terms, an American-style “conservative,” he used their methods for artificially inflating an economy: He encouraged a housing and stock market boom. Canada’s housing bubble did not burst in 2007/8, due to concerted government action. (We basically guarantee almost all mortgages.)

Such financial games create fake growth–they are based on increasing asset prices un-anchored to actual productive increases or income increases, and transfer money from the young to the old and the poor to the rich.

They work for a time, much as stimulants work on the human body, then the user crashes. The longer one stays stimulated, the worse the damage, and long-term abuse can destroy a person or country.

I should point out (as MFI noted to me privately) that the Canadian Conservative party is actually a radical party of the right. Conservatives preserve the old; the mixed economy strategy was over one hundred years old, and had worked during that time to make and keep Canada one of the most prosperous countries in the world.

Only a moron, and a radical, ends a successful strategy that has not yet failed nor showed signs of failing.

This is the self-inflicted tragedy afflicting Canada today. Let us hope that the Conservatives are not re-elected (due to our first-past-the-post system).

We accept Democracy because it creates legitimacy. It is a way of saying, “That was fair, even if I don’t agree.” This does not meant that democratic methods always produce optimal or even good results. Canada, Britain, and Australia are all discovering this, as are many other countries.

There are many reasons for this, but in the next post, I will discuss is how constituencies for policies and parties really work.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

It’s Almost as if the Pope Is Catholic

2015 September 25

Yea, verily.

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

So. The Pope told Congress to welcome immigrants, house the homeless, feed the poor, and stop selling weapons to murderous regimes.

It is almost as if he is Catholic.

Now I’m not Catholic, or even Christian, but I had the standard Sunday school upbringing and I’ve read both the the New and Old Testament.

Reading both is a good way to leave yourself with a lot of sympathy for the Gnostic types who believed there was no way the God of the Old Testament (bash out their brains) could be the same guy that Jesus was talking about.

Because I don’t believe that God made sure the Bible is inerrant (I know just a little too much about early church politics), I tend to concentrate on the parts that seem closest to what Jesus actually said.

Perhaps, like many, I read in what I want to see. But I think it’s minimal, because I got imprinted young. It’s more likely that reading about Jesus as a child formed my opinions of right conduct than the other way around.

It seems to me that what Jesus was most concerned with, in terms of the way to treat other people, is summed up pretty well by the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would they do unto you), and the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

It’s always seemed to me that it’s better to be a good Samaritan (a non-believer who is kind to those in need), than to be a Pharisee, obsessed with the rules, but not kind in action.

Francis isn’t a radical Pope. He hasn’t said abortion is ok, or even birth control, or homosexuality. He’s pretty doctrinaire.  What he has done is shift emphasis to the issues Jesus spent more time talking about, and extended those issues to modern concerns like climate change.

A good person, according to the Sermon of the Mount, can’t be a climate denialist, let alone be funding climate denialism.  The people who are going to suffer the most from the climate crisis are “the least of these.”

To put it crudely, if you make climate refugees homeless, you’re making Jesus homeless. Those who die, well, you just killed a lot of Jesus.

When you lock people up in solitary confinement, you are locking Jesus up in solitary confinement.

When you torture someone, you’re torturing Jesus.

When you rape someone, yup, Jesus.

But when you feed someone who would have gone hungry, yes, you’re feeding Jesus.

When you give a refugee a home, you’re giving Jesus a home.

This is a powerful, and simple message. Everyone was made in the image of God. Everyone is God’s child. What you do to them, you do to Jesus, God’s only begotten son.

The holy, sacralized life, is one where you see God in other people, in the environment, and so on. Everything you see is God’s work. To mistreat it is to disrespect God. To mistreat God’s children is to mistreat Jesus.

We have had a number of Popes who a harsh, judgmental man might consider virtual Pharisees themselves. Picking no bones with church doctrine (though I might another day), emphasis matters.

Benedict, as Ratzinger, oversaw the destruction of liberation theology. This is how he made his bones, taking hope away from those who needed it most in the Latin American world. Depriving them of much of the powerful ideological, theological, and practical support of the church.

As you do unto these, the least of my children…

I suspect a result of the dismantling of liberation theology and its practitioners has paved the way for Evangelicals to make vast inroads into parts of Latin America, while the church can’t fill its ranks.

Young idealistic men, the sort of people you want as priests, don’t seem to want to be in the church.

My approval is unimportant, but I do approve of this Pope, despite the fact that I certainly disagree with him on many issues. Kindness is always admirable. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Church, and Francis has moved towards that. Yes, the Church disapproves of abortion, divorce, and so on, but Francis, step-by-step, is turning those back into sins which are much more easily forgivable.

We all sin. We all do wrong. What sins the Church, as God’s voice on earth considers more serious, as cause for being cut off from the sacraments, tells you what the Church thinks is most important.

It is here that I suggest one watch Francis’s efforts most closely, because it is here that will tell you what he most believes.  He probably won’t change Church doctrine (some deny he can, that’s not an argument I care to get into today, especially as I’m hardly an expert on the Catholic church), but he can change its emphasis significantly.

Is abortion more important than war, homelessness, or the murder of the already born?

These issues, and how they are handled, will be the truest guide to Francis’s own soul, and for those who believe in the Catholic church and its version of God, they will matter greatly.

So, I pray for Francis. Under his care, may Catholicism come to treat Jesus far better than it often has in the past. And in so doing, may many lives be blessed with the kindness and love that should be at the heart of any religion’s teaching.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

David Cameron and a Dead Pig

2015 September 21
by Ian Welsh

The allegation has been made that British Prime Minister Cameron put his privates in the mouth of a dead pig. Given how strict British libel laws are, this may well be the case.

I don’t have much to say about the content of the accusation, but it’s a good opportunity to talk about PR and damage control.

Tory PR people and friendly media should do two things and two things only.

One: Put out two explanations, meant for friendlies. The first is the “youthful hijinks” line. The second is the “It didn’t really happen” routine—not credible.

Do this for two days maximum.

Then do the second thing: Shut up. This isn’t, as people say, a conversation you want to have. No fuel. No engagement. No comment.

And, well, maybe a third thing: Advance parties should be on the watch for protesters dressed as pigs, with pictures of pigs, etc. There’s nothing they’re going to be able to do about the odd pig squeal sound, I’m afraid, that’s just going to be part of Cameron’s life, for however long that life may be.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Syriza Wins Re-election

2015 September 20
by Ian Welsh

Granted, there seems to have been a reduction in turnout and the Greek electoral system appears to vastly and disproportionately reward MPs to the largest party, I can only construe this result as Greeks saying that they are basically ok with how Syriza handled negotiations and with the current “reforms.”

Congratulations to Tsipras.

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

– H.L. Mencken

(Update: It appears 780K people who voted in the last election did not vote in this electionThat is more voters than all but the first two parties receivedOnly the Centrist Union and PASOK did not lose votes this election compared to last.)

So, You Supported Corbyn: Here Is What You MUST Do if He Is to Survive and Win

2015 September 14
by Ian Welsh

Intra-party war is coming in the British Labour party. I agree entirely with Salvage:

There is war coming in the Labour Party. Already, the bad-faith resignations and rumour-mongering of leading right-wingers signals the scale of resistance Corbyn will face—

—When their onslaught begins in earnest, they will be fighting with the party machinery at their disposal. They will be fighting with the press on their side, with the Tories as tacit allies, with business at their backs. They will have the support of the civil service and the state apparatuses. They will undoubtedly benefit from Clockwork Orange-style deep-state intrigue. But, far more fundamentally, they will benefit from the fact that Corbyn is obliged to work with a parliamentary party that is overwhelmingly hostile to what he wishes to achieve, and is apt either to force him to make damaging compromises, or to engineer habitual crises for him, or both.

So, you voted for Corbyn. You’re a Labour party member, old or new. What MUST you do to have Corbyn’s back?

Because, be clear, he will fail without you. He will lose. He and a few allies within the Labour party cannot win this fight alone. He will be destroyed by lack of cooperation, scandals, and engineered crises. The vast majority of all media coverage will be negative, etc.

You must take over the locals—the branches and constituencies. Flood them. If the officers don’t act how you think they should, let them know. And by “let them know,” I mean, get in their faces.

Make sure your local MP, who probably doesn’t like Corbyn or support him, know that if he doesn’t get onside, he won’t be the nominee in the next election. Make his/her life personally unpleasant. If s/he votes against Corbyn, picket him. Mock her. Make sure there is a cost. Because on the other side, that MP will know that if they oppose Corbyn, they will be taken care of by the City and the other usual suspects.

You must prove there is a cost for opposing the democratic will of the majority of Labour party members. MPs and officials must know that if they try to sabotage Corbyn, their days in the party are numbered and will be extremely unpleasant.

The carrot is that if they get onside, they’re gold. They can keep their positions, they can feel like they’re part of a swelling horde.

But if it isn’t clear to officials and MPs that the cost for opposing Corbyn is too high, they will, and they may well win.

You elected Corbyn, but without your staying in his corner, and fighting, he’s just a sacrificial goat. A real leader is only as good as his followers. You have a real leader now, a man who genuinely wants to create a kinder, fairer Britain, a man who has lived his life in line with his beliefs.

This is what and who you wanted. Now go and make him a success. If he fails, it will be as much on you as on him.

If he succeeds, the same.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Human Crop of War

2015 September 14
by Ian Welsh

There is little question that absent the Iraq war there would be no Syrian refugee crisis.  The line draws direct between the two.

Germany, today, is closing its borders to refugees after earning the world’s praise (for a change) for its compassionate acceptance of those who needed its shelter, and those whom it certainly can afford to shelter. As the richest European state, Germany can take more refugees, feed and house them and even find work for them.

Ethically, the countries who should be taking most of the Syrian refugees are those responsible for Iraq and who have directly fueled the flames of the Syrian conflict: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, America, Britain and so on.

There is a deadly price for posturing that leads to war: be clear, Assad, however bad he was was not as bad as the Syrian civil war.  To be sure, there is often a case for ending the reign of tyrants, but one does need to check the price tag.

And, along with checking the price, one might want to to check the motivation. Wrong ends generally feed back to into wrong means: it is not credible, given their own records on human rights, that most of those who are trying to overthrow Assad actually are acting out of good motives.

This is power politics, not humanitarian action.

There is little more to say about this.  We could take care of the refugees if we wanted to, we have the resources, this is not in question.  In question is if we want to.  In a western world whose baseline policy is austerity—who do not even want to care for their own citizens, the answer tends to be no.

Jeremy Corbyn, who suggests (to mainstream laughter) that the solution to the Syrian crisis is not to bomb Syria more, is the beginning of the repudiation of the nonsense that doing more of what didn’t work in the past is the solution.  Let us hope he is Britain’s next Prime Minister, and the beginning of a wave of repudiation of the austerity and war.

Until then the weak will suffer what they must, and powerful will do as they will.  And then whine about the results of their actions.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

So, Corbyn Is Now the Labour Leader in the UK

2015 September 12
by Ian Welsh

I am more than pleased. First round victory. Given how vilified he has been by most of the UK press, this is remarkable. We can expect that such attacks will continue.

Some shadow cabinet ministers are resigning. This is good; if they can’t be onside, they shouldn’t be in the shadow cabinet. (Though one suspects they are getting out before being kicked out.)

I’ll have more to say on Corbyn going forward. Also of great interest are Sanders in the US Democratic Primary and the ongoing Canadian election. While Sanders and Mulcair are both problematic on foreign affairs in ways that Corbyn isn’t, both are a big upgrade from the status quo.

We may be at the beginning of a realignment of possibilities, where the electable spectrum changes radically. The last one, in the Anglosphere, ran from 1976 to about 1984, and destroyed the old left.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The First Task for Prosperity Is Ending Artificial Scarcity

2015 September 8
by Ian Welsh

We have more empty homes than homeless people.

We have more food than necessary to feed everyone in the world.

This is not an era of actual scarcity. It is an era of artificial scarcity.

We either already have, or we have the ability to create, a surplus of every necessity that is needed.

This includes housing, food, and clothing. We still have enough water, globally, if we are wiling to be smart about how we use it, and where there are geographical problems regarding access, the problem of access is easily solved. In general, we need to be a bit flexible in how we grow our food; we need to stop draining aquifers and help those farms that over-use aquifer water to grow crops that use less water, or help those farmers find other livelihoods.

Early research shows that intensive urban agriculture creates between three to ten times the food that traditional agriculture does.

We are also short of security. This is another artificial shortage, though it’s harder to fix. Most countries that have been destroyed recently were destroyed in large part because of outside intervention, whether from Western, Eastern, or Jihadi influence. We are in a cycle of blowback after blowback, with the first step being to stop doing things that will cause devastation.

Education is unequally spread throughout the world, but this is another problem which is solveable: We have the books, which cost cents to reproduce, the telecom networks are almost everywhere, and we can train the teachers. If we wanted to spend more money on teachers and less on finance, we wouldn’t have a problem.

Again, most of this “scarcity” is artificial. It is imposed through a money system where a few people have the right to create money, and everyone else has to access it from them. That money is nothing, more or less in this context, than permission to use society’s resources, whether it’s people’s labor or the results of that labor.

The only real restrictions on our ability to supply what people need are overuse of sinks (like carbon) and overuse of resources, whether renewable or non-renewable, but we either have the necessary technology to move away from that overuse, or we have scientists and engineers who would love to create it for us, but who can’t get the resources/money they need to do so.

But much of this is low hanging fruit; we already have enough food and housing and far more textile capacity than we need.

Dividing up the world as we do between countries is a huge problem in which our resources are wasted where they aren’t needed, while others go without. Colonial powers have drawn ineffective and nonsensical borders, as is the case with most of Africa and the Middle East.

By centralizing the production of various resources (and that includes both ideological and intellectual resources) in a few areas and to a few people, we have pooled necessities in places they aren’t needed and denied them to other people.

These are social problems, with social solutions. The idea that technology will “fix” them is somewhat (though not entirely misguided.) We already have the material means to care for everyone, we do not.  This cannot be laid directly at the feet of technology–we have had this capacity for at least a century or so.

Oh, and the shortage of spare time for so many; with the shortage of work for others? Complete social construction. We are doing too much of the wrong kinds of work, and too little of the right kinds of work, and those choices are also social.

In the end, scarcity of the goods humans need most is almost always, in the modern world, artificial: It’s a social choice.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Is Russia About to Send a Thousand Troops to Syria?

2015 September 5
tags: ,
by Ian Welsh


Russia is building a military base in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s heartland, according to American intelligence officials, in the clearest indication yet of deepening Russian support for the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The anonymous officials say Russia has set up an air traffic control tower and transported prefabricated housing units for up to 1,000 personnel to an airfield serving the Syrian port city of Latakia.

Why would they do that?

Syria is already home to Russia’s only base outside the former Soviet Union – a naval station in Tartus.

The humorous part is that Russia is claiming that they want to expand their role to “fight terrorism” and “ISIL.” Everyone claims whatever they’re doing in Syria is to fight ISIL and terrorism, of course, including the Turks, who are bombing the Kurdish forces who are the only people to consistently win against ISIL.

Of course what Russia is really doing is supporting its interests, which don’t include allowing a loyal client state to be overthrown by Islamic forces which are hostile to Russia and supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Or to lose a warm water port it cannot easily replace.

Or to be shown to let down a loyal ally.

Everyone else seems to think they have the right to bomb Syria in the guise of “bombing ISIL,” why not the Russians?

As for the morality of it, well, I see no “good” actors in Syria. However, it is a simple fact that Syria was a better place to live before the civil war and those who have encouraged that civil war either: a) shouldn’t have, or; b) should have applied the necessary force to end it quickly. (At which point, Syria would have probably become a failed state, like Libya.)

As anyone was unwilling to do either, and then rebuild properly (which, again, no one is willing to do), perhaps Assad, as nasty as he is, should have been left alone?

Just a thought.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.