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Russia Sells Six to Seven Billion Dollars of Planes After Syria

2016 March 28
by Ian Welsh

Not a bad return indeed:

What I wrote November 13th, 2015:

What is happening in Syria is a demonstration that Russia can be counted on to help its allies—meaning its customers. It is a demonstration that Russia’s new weapons, and particularly its cruise missiles and airpower, are comparable to US product, and maybe, even in the case of its most advanced fighter/bomber, better.

It is a demonstration that if you buy Russian you aren’t buying crap that US-supplied forces can roll right over any more.

Putin: If he’s not the world’s most capable leader, he’s certainly in the running. One doesn’t have to like him, or approve of him, to acknowledge this.


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Stopping Deflation? Dead Easy. So Why Isn’t It Being Done?

2016 March 27
by Ian Welsh

As with many problems we face today, this is a solved problem.

About half of the New Deal can be summed up as “wage and price supports.” The post-war economic paradigm in the West was also about making sure prices and wages rose.

Avoiding deflation, by the way, is mostly about ordinary people’s income. If you don’t want deflation, make sure ordinary people are getting more money, faster than inflation and that they’re spending it.

Oh, there’s a bunch of other stuff, most of which comes down to: “Don’t let any oligopolies or monopolies form without subjecting their prices to close control.” That means both “not too high” and “not too low.” Think classic regulated utilities.

“You will charge enough to pay your employees well, keep the infrastructure in good shape, and make five percent a year. No more, no less.”

(Five percent is an example, other (lowish) numbers can be used.)

We have, or are flirting with, deflation right now because we refuse to give ordinary people money in a way which makes them think they can afford to spend it.

We allow inflation in the worst possible areas, like housing and rental prices in cities with jobs, and luxury goods, but that’s pretty much it.

If you let fixed costs have inflation above income increases, then everything else is going to have to suffer deflation, because it is discretionary. Gotta eat and have a warm place to sleep, first.

If a government wanted to end inflation, it could be done easily enough.

First, you go back to progressive taxation on corporations and rich people, without loopholes, based on, “If you earn the money in our country you pay tax on it here.” Yes, there will be attempts at dodging (especially by multinationals); yes, there are ways to deal with them.

Then you spend the money in a way that produces local jobs and creates a tight market.

Here’s your dead simple idea: Every building in your country must be at least energy neutral, and all the energy infrastructure must be made “smart” so this can be done properly.

Financially, your central bank says, “We will accept “energy savings bonds at 98 percent,” thus creating a market for it.  Your government offers the loans. Your mortgage guarantee authority says, “We won’t guarantee any mortgage for a building which is not, at least, energy neutral.”

If you can grow some big ones, larger industrial countries must even slap a tariff on things like solar panels, so the manufacturing is done at home. The actual refitting of buildings, of course, can’t be offshored.

Lots and lots of jobs. A tight market. Raises for people in the building trades. A boom.

There are plenty of other ideas like this, because there are plenty of other things that need to be done.

The direction must be long term. It would take a long time to refit all of America’s building stock. Companies can invest in that, because they know it will still be going on in ten years. Likely longer.

Now, for this stuff to work, you must understand that high, progressive taxation is necessary. All that money will end up in a corporation or rich person’s pocket eventually. The government then takes it back and recirculates it. (Yes, MMT people, we could just print the money and forget the wealth effect, but that’s a terrible idea because oligarchies are terrible societies in which to lie.)

You should also go hard on monopolies and oligopolies (start with the app stores, which charge 30 percent–but that’s another article).

The point is simple enough: there’s a lot of stuff we should be doing, and doing that stuff would end deflation if we were serious about it. It would also make the economy a lot better for ordinary people.

This has been another episode of “how to do policy.” I remind readers that good policy is easy, and that I don’t write about it often because the problem is not good policy ideas, or how to fix our problems (we know how to fix most of them), but that our current political-economic organization does not want to implement policy that helps the majority of people if doing so will upset current concentrations of money and power.

Some sectors can die, yes (coal now, oil in the next 15 years), but the structure cannot change.

So, if you’re British, figure out how to get Corbyn elected in the face of the endless propaganda against him. If you’re in the US, Bernie is your (current) best bet. In general, figure out how to overthrow your current systems, which includes the people running them, and how to do it in such a way that there isn’t a counter coup. (This is a larger question than just electing a leader, as the UK’s Labor Party and media are currently at pains to teach Britons.)

We’ve blown the incremental change chance. Revolution will now be necessary. In some countries, it will be largely peaceful. In others, it will be stopped and stagnation will continue until destruction.

And in still others, it will be the guillotine.

Those who make peaceful rev…well, you know the rest.


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Hillary Clinton Is a Monstrous Politician

2016 March 23
by Ian Welsh

Ok.  I’ve had enough. Let’s speak truthfully about Hillary Clinton:

She voted for the Iraq war and defended that vote for years.

She was a primary driver behind the Libyan war.

She was involved in the cluster-fuck that is Syria.

She was for the “welfare reform” and three strikes laws during her husband’s administration. She actively spoke for them, thus, she is culpable.

She opposes the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.

She has blamed homeowners for the financial crisis.

Henry Kissinger, a man who has a great deal of responsibility for two genocides was her adviser while she was Secretary of State, and he is her personal friend.

Hillary Clinton supported the Iraq sanctions which killed half a million Iraqi children or so.

She has compared Putin to Hitler.

It is a fact that Clinton is a bad person, who has championed policies which have killed a lot of people, and which have impoverished many others.

No Realpolitik case can be made for these policies: They have clearly made the world a more dangerous place, vastly increasing failed states and terrorism. These policies were unethical both in and of themselves, and massive suffering have been direct results.

I have been told by people who know her that she is a wonderful, concerned friend, and very warm in small groups.

I care about that as much as I do about the fact that Americans thought that George W. Bush was “someone who they wanted to have a beer with.”

Clinton, as a politician, has supported terrible policies. Moreover, she has not learned from these policy failures. For example, after Iraq, she supported Libya.

I am tired of the “lesser evil” argument; but it is not clear to me that Clinton is the lesser evil.


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Toronto Ex-Mayor Rob Ford Dead

2016 March 22
by Ian Welsh

I live in Toronto.

Rob Ford was a bad mayor.

He also was caught on tape smoking crack. The Toronto police had him under surveillance and were well aware that he was doing illegal drugs.

They did not charge him.

Somehow, however, the man who filmed the incident wound up in prison.

He was also violent, nearly tackling a female legislator.

There was something sad about Ford. Something broken.

But he was a public figure. He wasn’t even charged for crimes that would have put ordinary people (and certainly poor blacks) in prison. He was a bad mayor, and overall, he was a bad man.

The fact that he is dead does not mean we should forget these things.

I would add that “Ford Nation” presaged the Trump phenomenon. Trump is smarter, better organized, and not a drug addict, but he is appealing to much of the same demographic. Ford’s followers felt he wasn’t “an ordinary politician” and that he “told the truth.” He did not parse as part of the problem.

Unfortunately he was incompetent, mean, and a drug user. Those facts had a bearing on how he ran the city.

If there is an afterlife, I wish him nothing but the best there. I ask that no person, no matter how evil, be condemned to some insane “eternal hell.”

That fact does not alter his record, which is that he did a great deal of harm.


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Slow Posting

2016 March 22
by Ian Welsh

I’ve been traveling, thus the light posting. Should be back to a more regular schedule Tuesday or Wednesday. Hope you’ve all been well and enjoying the circus!

Why Poor White Males Are the Core of Trump’s Support

2016 March 17
by Ian Welsh

This is not hard to understand. Wages for working class white males peaked in 1968, forty-eight years ago. Coincidentally, I was born 1968.

I am not young.

For their entire working lives, conditions for working class males have been getting worse.

“Free trade” has not worked for them. China joined the WTO in 2000. Here’s what happened.

Manufacturing Employment

Now, imagine that chart adjusted for population increases.

So, for damn near 48 years, poor whites have done terribly. For forty-eight years, ordinary politicians have promised to do something about it, and nothing has improved.

Do not tell me, or them, that they are “privileged.” Yes, it is better to be poor and white than poor and black, and better to be a poor white man than a poor white woman, but people who are in pain do not react well to some smug, upper-middle-class jerk telling them they are privileged when their lives are clearly terrible.

It is a FACT that working class whites will not see any improvement worth mentioning under any normal politician, including Clinton. They may see an improvement under Trump, they certainly would under Sanders.

They are voting for what they see as their interests, and they are not necessarily wrong. Certainly, Trump is more likely to help than Clinton, as the chance of Clinton helping them is zero. Zip. Nada.

It is insanity to expect poor white males to accept 48 years of decline and not get angry. It’s perfectly reasonable for them to respond to a man who offers them a better life in a way that is different from all the politicians who have failed them in the past.

Trump does not feel or campaign like an ordinary politician. Poor whites read this as: “He might not betray us like all the normal politicians do.”

At the least, it is worth a try.

Now, when I say “poor whites,” smart people should hear “people who are willing to be violent.”

Who mans America’s actual fighting regiments? That’s right, poor whites.

Who are your police? Who are your prison guards?

Right. Even if they make decent money as a cop or guard, they’re poor whites by culture: Scots-Irish core.

These are bad people to alienate to the point where they are willing to turn, en-masse, to a demagogue.

Just saying.

You may not like this, but the cold reality is that you need to keep the people who enjoy violence under control and, ideally happy–wanting other things more than they want to crack skulls. At the least, you make sure that they spend all their time killing and hurting each other and poor brown people, not their “betters.”

You have to be real stupid to lose control of your society’s fighting class. You have to be real stupid to degrade them over a period of decades, to employ them en-masse in jobs where they beat up other people.

Demonizing poor white men as “trailer trash” has simply alienated them. Telling them they are all sexist, racist scum has not “raised their consciousness.” Strangely, they don’t think that all the people who tell them they’re bad are right. Instead, they think those people are assholes.

In many cases, they’d like to give a good beating to said assholes. For example, Kevin Williamson:

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy—which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog—you will come to an awful realization. … The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.

You have treated these people like shit. You know how you get treated at bad jobs? Like disposable trash who can be ordered to do anything?

People become how they are treated. You have to feed the better parts of them if you want those parts to win. If half the “good jobs” available to these people jobs that involve violence, if the remaining non-violent jobs (manufacturing) are disappearing, and if the rest of their jobs are ass, you should not be surprised that they become mean.

You make them this way, then you demonize them for it.

Trump does not talk to these people like he despises them. (Neither does Bernie.)

Clinton does. She’s pandering, she knows it, and it comes through. The disdain drips.

The quality of life for the average “white male” peaked in 1968. Then, you call them trash, they have almost no good jobs, and you’re surprised they’re angry? You think they aren’t human? You think they are Jesus, and can be treated like crap for longer than most of them have been alive and that there won’t be consequences? You think that because other people are treated even worse, they will sublimate their own mistreatment?

Worse, you marginalized them and then used them as your primary violent enforcers?

That’s not just immoral, that’s crazy stupid.

Remember, they don’t just hate people who are brown. They hate most rich whites. And by rich, they mean a lot more people than the actual rich.

Treat people like trash, and don’t be surprised when they come back to bite you.


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Trump Hysteria

2016 March 16
by Ian Welsh

So, yeah, I oppose Trump. (I oppose Clinton, too.)

But let’s get real, here.

America is already ruled by monsters. Bill Clinton killed 500k Iraqi children for no particularly good reason (is there a good reason to kill half a million children?). George Bush invaded Iraq. Obama green-lit the destruction of Libya. Hillary Clinton voted for the war on Iraq and pushed hard for the destruction of Libya.

These people have crippled the economy for ordinary people, immunized bankers, destroyed safeguards put in to protect us from another Depression, and so on. They have deliberately made sure the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class becomes the poor.

They have been completely inadequate on climate change. They have gutted civil liberties (remember, Obama is worse than Bush on civil liberties). They all torture. Obama deported more Hispanics than Bush, by a significant margin.

Clinton has been there for all of it and demurred for very little of it.

They are all monsters.

Every time you are offered someone better, you refuse. If someone truly decent runs, like, say, Kucinich you think that’s hilarious and would never consider voting for him because he’s not viable. Of course he wasn’t viable, because you wouldn’t consider voting for someone who’s not a monster.

So, yeah, Trump may turn out to be worse. But he’s just a greater evil, and Americans are used to voting for evil.

Heck, if Trump means what he says about foreign affairs, he may turn out to be the lesser evil. Oh sure, he’ll be horrible for people with melanin inside the US, but if he doesn’t attack any countries while President, the net math will be in his favor.

So calm down. All that’s happening is that more of the violence America has so casually exported to the rest of the world might be coming home. If you didn’t mind it for other people, on what ethical grounds do you now object to it in your own country?

Trump will probably be bad, if he’s President. But net worse than your other Presidents? That’s yet to be seen.


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Trump and Clinton Win

2016 March 15
by Ian Welsh

Sigh.

It’s not over until it’s over, but something needs to change fast if it isn’t to be Trump v. Clinton.

I know polls show Clinton beating Trump, and demographics are a powerful thing, but I think Trump’s campaign is almost tailor-made to defeat an elitist associated with practically every economic and political failure of the past 30 years.

We shall see.

Book Reviews in My 2016 Series

2016 March 15
by Ian Welsh

The $6,000 tier for this year’s fundraiser was a series of book reviews. I haven’t decided which of all the books I will review yet, but I have chosen some. For those who wish to read them before the review and discussion in comments, they follow.

Justice, by Michael J. Sandel

Sandel divides the world’s ethical traditions into three. Maximizing welfare, freedom, and virtue. Utilitarianism, “the most good for the most people” is a welfare tradition. Both anarchism and libertarianism (and classic liberalism) are freedom traditions. Aristotlean ethics are virtue ethics, as are classic biblical ethics “don’t be greedy, prideful, or gluttunous,” do be kind, charitable, and brave. Victorian society was also big on virtue ethics, and schools and society were expected to make students and citizens virtuous.

This isn’t a book which creates a new system, it is a book which delineates and explains traditions which already exist and shows where they break down and conflict. It is the clearest book I have ever read on ethics.

The Economy of Cities; Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Jane Jacobs

I consider these two works to be one book split in two. Jacobs offers a theory of how new work; new economic activity is created; places the creation of new work in cities; and offers a theory of how economically vital cities (not all cities are) are created, sustained, and affect the rest of the world, including non-economically active cities and non-city areas.

This is a compelling view of the world, and includes an essentially complete view of how trade should work. It also says something about how the world should be divided up into political and economic units and what areas should have their own currencies. It has not been properly appreciated and Jacobean principles offer a pretty complete set of rules for how the world should be set up to maximize economic activity. Combined with her other works, it adds principles for how to make this world work ethically and in the details of every day life, so that human welfare is maximized.

For all that Jacobs is a well-known writer, her work has still not been properly understood for what it is: A complete world view which could organize a global society. I read her as a far greater thinker than many who have had far more impact thus far (like Friedman), and as someone whose principles, added to a properly ecological view of the world, could be the basis for a new world.

Sociological Insight, an Introduction to Non-Obvious Sociology

Max Weber, a Skeleton Key, Randall Collins

I will most likely review these two books together. Collins emphasizes a different Weber than most are familiar with. He does not consider “The Protestant Ethic” to be the most important of Weber’s works.

As for non-Obvious sociology, it includes a sociological understanding of the difference between natural and man-made law; a theory of religious belief and a sociology of power and control.

These two books together, along with Collins’s much longer “Credential Society” and “Conflict Sociology” were probably the most important books I read in the early nineties when I was at York University.

Society, contra-Thatcher, does exist, and while it doesn’t bat last, it controls most of our lives.

Confucius

I am tending towards H. G. Creel’s Confucius and the Chinese Way. It is old, published in 1948, and it may be difficult to find, but of the rather large number of English books on Confucius I have read, it is by far the best at untangling what Confucius was actually trying to accomplish, how much worked and how it was later perverted.

That it was published in ’48 is not surprising, Confucius was still taken very seriously then; his star has fallen since the Communist Party’s victory in China. But Confucius was one of the most important social philosophers in history, and the most important cultural area and empire, for most of history, ran, in large part, based on his ideas.

How he did it, how it succeed, how it went wrong; this all matters. The same pattern is repeated in many other great social philosophers, most of whom were far less successful than Confucius. Or, as Marx said, “I am not a Marxist.” I doubt Confucius would think much of most Confucians past about the fifth Emperor, and would have loathed the neo-Confucians.

Power and Prosperity, Mancur Olson

I’ve written of this book a few times, most particularly in my article on the fall of Communism. Olson looks very practically at the strengths and limits of centralized power; on how feedback works and is perverted; on how faction saps central strength, and so on.

This work is applicable both to Communism and Capitalism. It is also key to understanding the elites’ hopes for the surveillance state. The surveillance state, which includes such things as micro-monitoring of employees by enterprises such as Amazon, is about overcoming the limitations on central power and Taylorism identified by Olson.

If it succeeds, it will usher in a world of such minute control of everyday life as the world has never seen; a technological dystopia of terrifying scope and one which may be nearly impossible to overthrow.

This is an important book.

Descartes’ Error, by Antonio Damasio

We do not make rational decisions. We make emotional decisions. Many people have written a book saying so, but, of these, Descartes’ Error is my favorite. The point is vastly important if we are to understand how and why humans act. Without a model of human nature, nothing we do in the social sphere will truly stick. Every great social philosopher, including the great religious figures, has had a model of human nature, even if they didn’t call it such.

Rational animal is a fine thing to call humans as long as you write it “rational ANIMAL.” We will discuss that.

Further Reading

As I choose further books, I’ll let you know. Likely candidates include The Sovereign Individual by Rees-Mog and Davidson; something on industrialization (probably Polanyi’s Great Transformation); something on the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture (Pandora’s Seed is the current front-runner) and something on European Imperialism (possibly Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History).

A proper discussion of early money and markets is needed, including Mesopotamia, because an understanding of money is seriously lacking (and no, MMT does not cut it, it is too particular). I may use Graeber’s Debt, if I can’t find anything shorter and better, or I may put together a few papers for people to read.

Kuhn’s scientific revolutions is likely, and I may review Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Something on ecological industrialization is also needed, and I will likely use Natural Capitalism, mostly because it shows that even by the late 1990s we had most of the technology necessary to do what was needed.

Read Along

Your enjoyment of the reviews will be enhanced by actually reading the books. Of course, you may wish to read them after the reviews, using the reviews to help you decide if they are worth your time.

I am not touching here on all the vastly influential books you should have already read. You know you should read the Bible, even if you don’t believe, right? Shakespeare even if you don’t like him, and so on. Instead, these are books which have massively influenced myself and which I think are important to others. In some cases, I will use more recent books than the ones which first introduced me to important ideas (for example, Pandora’s Seed is not where I first read about the effects of going from hunter-gatherer societies to agriculture, but it is shorter, clearer, and more available than the alternatives.)

The world is kludge. It is an accretion of ideas and stories and oughts which we have made real by instantiating them through our physical culture or the roles we choose to play. We have made this world by our collective choices, and we can neither understand the world nor change it consciously for the better if we do not understand this process and its unintended side-effects.

How that has happened will be sketched out in my booklet “The Construction of Reality,” but the book reviews are also related to this project. All donors will receive a free copy of the Construction of Reality, but it will also be available for purchase (and there will be a free excerpt).


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The UK Referendum on Leaving the European Union

2016 March 14
by Ian Welsh

If Britain had adopted the Euro and the referendum was about leaving that, I’d be for it.

As it stands, I’m still for leaving, but only slightly.

The EU is brakes. It has significantly slowed down and limited the abominable policies of the Conservative party. As such, it has been good for the British.

But it is also brakes on a lot of what a real left-winger would want to do–especially in the arenas of trade, state ownership, and so on.

Corbyn wants to stay and argue for a more socially progressive Europe. But if he actually becomes Prime Minister, he will find Europe will act as a shackle on any power he has to implement his plans.

I’m generally in favor of sovereignty for nations under the current world regime.

However, and in short, the EU makes Conservatives better than they would be otherwise, and will make a real left-wing government worse than it would be otherwise.

Of course, what Corbyn or any other real left-winger will be really crippled by are all the so-called trade deals.

In general, institutions which were created or have evolved to serve neo-liberalism, even neo-liberalism with a social democratic face, like the EU, are not suited to actual left-wingism, even of the updated 60s variety favored by Corbyn.


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