Why are People Poor? A Response to Bishop Camara

“When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were poor, they called me a communist.” —Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop, 1909 – 1999

c08pnclw8aapot6In Bishop Camara’s case, they might have been calling him a communist because he was an open socialist who advocated Liberation Theology. But leaving the specific case aside, let’s speak more generally: the problem isn’t that people think it’s inherently communist to wonder why there are poor people; the problem is that you are asking the wrong question.

The state that we now call “poor” was the default condition of the vast, overwhelming majority of humans for the entirety of our existence on this planet. Agriculture has only existed for 10,000 of humanity’s 200,000 years; the vast majority of your ancestors were hunter-gatherers with no more wealth to their names than what they could comfortably carry on their backs or construct in a few hours’ time out of grass and sticks. A modern guy living out of his car has more wealth than our ancestors did.

 

The important question is not why most of the world’s people are still poor. The question is why some of the world’s people (or groups of people) have become fabulously wealthy, and if whatever they did can work for everyone else.

The Dramatic Decline in World Poverty, from CATO https://www.cato.org/blog/dramatic-decline-world-poverty
The Dramatic Decline in World Poverty, from CATO

Why are people poor?

Why shouldn’t they be poor?

You want to be rich? Figure out how the rich did it.

Quality of life and human well-being have increased tremendously around the world in the past 30 years. The number of people suffering starvation has dropped precipitously. Why? Did Ethiopia and China introduce some fabulous new welfare program to provide for their poorest citizens? No. Capitalism and technological advances in food production happened. (Caveat: Russia post-USSR had collapsing well-being due to, AFAIK, terribly managed and opportunistic transition to capitalism. As always, don’t be stupid.)

chart2 cu1ko5cwaaeachw

historical-median-male-height-1 picture-2

b2eyn9-cuaaq5gr picture-1

A tragedy in three acts
A tragedy in three acts

Before you can make solve problems, you have to understand what the problems actually are–and that requires asking the correct questions in the first place.

Second, you have to answer the question properly.

Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 1/4)

Wes Brady, interviewee from the Slave Narrative Collection, Marshall, Texas, 1937
Wes Brady, interviewee from the Slave Narrative Collection, Marshall, Texas, 1937

Back in 1936, the US government decided to put people to work by sending them out to collect narratives of slavery and the Civil War from the nation’s few remaining ex-slaves.

They found more than 2,000 survivors and ended up with over 10,000 typed pages of interviews, which they titled Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States.

I have been intending to read these narratives for several years, ever since I spotted them on Amazon (though I don’t suspect I’ll get through all 10,000 pages of them.) Many of the accounts are set down in dialect, which I gather was more common in writing in the 30s than it is today, we moderns having decided that dialect is “insulting” or something, though the truth is I think some people just find it difficult to read. I have always loved dialect, ever since I was very young, so you are getting these dialect and all. After all, every single person on earth speaks with an accent to someone else’s ears.

With so many pages of material, debated with myself about what I should excerpt, and eventually decided to just go with whatever I found interesting, especially the parts I found compelling enough to read out loud to others.

As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

M. E. Abrams: Secret BBQs, Spirits, and the Conjurin’ Doctor

“Marse Glenn had 64 slaves. On Sat’day night, de darkies would have a little fun on de side. A way off from de big house, down in de pastur’ dar wuz about de bigges’ gully what I is ebber seed. Dat wuz de place whar us collected mos’ ev’ry Sa’day night fer our lil’ mite o’ fun frum de white folks hearin’. Sometime it wuz so dark dat you could not see de fingers on yo’ han’ when you would raise it fo’ your face. … De pastur’ wuz big and de trees made dark spots in it on de brightest nights. … When us started together, look like us would git parted ‘fo we reach de gully all together. One of us see som’tin and take to runnin’. Maybe de other darkies in de drove, de wouldn’t see nothin’ jes den. Dats zactly how it is wid de spirits. De mout (might) sho de’self to you and not to me. De acts raal queer all de way round. Dey can take a notion to scare de daylights outtin you when you is wid a gang; or dey kin scare de whole gang; den, on de other hand, dey kin sho de’self off to jes two or three. …

“On light nights, I is seed dem look, furs dark like a tree shad’er; den dey gits raal scairy white. T’aint no use fer white folks to low dat it ain’t no haints, an’ grievements dat follows ye all around, kaise I is done had to many ‘spriences wid dem. … Raaly de white folks doesn’t have eyes fer sech as we darkies does; but dey bees dare jes de same.

“Never mindin’ all o’ dat, we n’used to steal our hog ever’ sa’day night and take off to de gully whar us’d git him dressed and barbecued. Niggers has de mos’es fun at a barbecue dat dare is to be had. As none o’ our gang didn’t have no ‘ligion, us never felt no scruples bout not gettin de ‘cue’ ready fo’ Sunday. Us’d git back to de big house along in de evenin’ o’ Sunday. Den Marse, he come out in de yard an’ low whar wuz you niggers dis mornin’. How come de chilluns had to do de work round here. Us would tell some lie bout gwine to a church ‘siety meetin’. But we got raal scairt and mose ‘cided dat de best plan wuz to do away wid de barbecue in de holler. Conjin ‘Doc.’ say dat he done put a spell on ole Marse so dat he wuz ‘blevin ev’y think dat us tole him bout Sa’day night and Sunday morning. Dat give our minds ‘lief; but it turned out dat in a few weeks de Marse come out from under de spell. Doc never even knowed nothin’ bout it. Marse had done got to countin’ his hogs ever’ week. When he cotch us, us wuz all punished wid a hard long task. Dat cured me o’ believing in any conjuring an’ charmin’ but I still kno’s dat dare is haints; kaise ever time you goes to dat gully at night, up to dis very day, you ken hear hogs still gruntin’ in it, but you can’t see nothing.

Eastman Johnson's 1863 painting "The Lord is My Shepherd"
Eastman Johnson‘s 1863 painting “The Lord is My Shepherd”

EvX: So then the Master died and some other people came to live in the plantation house and then it got a reputation for being haunted…

“Den Marse Glenn’s boys put Mammy in de house to keep it fer ’em. But Lawd God! Mammy said dat de furs night she stayed dare de haints nebber let her git not narr’y mite o’ sleep. … Mammy low dat it de Marse a lookin’ fer his money what he done tuck and burried and de boys couldn’t find no sign o’ it. Atter dat, de sons tuck an’ tacked a sign on de front gate, offering $200.00 to de man, white or black, dat would stay dar and fin’ out whar dat money wuz burried. Our preacher, the Rev. Wallace, lowed dat he would stay dar and find out whar dat money wuz from de spirits. …

“He went to bed. A dog began running down dem steps; and a black cat run across de room dat turned to white befo’ it run into de wall. Den a pair of white horses come down de stairway a rattling chains fer harness. Next a woman dressed in white come in dat room. Brother Wallace up and lit out dat house and he never went back no mo’.

“Another preacher tried stayin’ dar. He said he gwine to keep his head kivered plum up. Some’tin unkivered it and he seed a white goat a grinnin’ at him. But as he wuz a brave man and trus’ de Lawd, he lowed, ‘What you want wid me nohow?’ The goat said, ‘what is you doin’ here. Raise, I knows dat you ain’t sleep.’ De preacher say, ‘I wants you to tell me what ole Marse don tuck and hid dat money?’ De goat grin and low, ‘How come you don’ look under your pillar, sometime?’ Den he run away. De preacher hopped up and looked under de pillar, and dar wuz de money sho nuf.”

Ezra Adams, 82 years old, reminds us that many former slaves died of hunger, disease, or exposure in the aftermath of the Civil War:

Negro Life at the South, oil on canvas, 1859,
Negro Life at the South, oil on canvas, 1859, (actually set in Washington, DC)

“De slaves, where I lived, knowed after de war dat they had abundance of dat somethin’ called freedom, what they could not wat, wear, and sleep in. Yes, sir, they soon found out dat freedom ain’t nothin’, ‘less you is got somethin’ to live on and a place to call home. … It sho’ don’t hold good when you has to work, or when you gits hongry. You knows dat poor white folks and niggers has got to work to live, regardless of liberty, love, and all them things. I believes a person loves more better, when they feels good. I knows from experience dat poor folks feels better when they has food in deir frame and a few dimes to jingle in deir pockets. …

“If a poor man wants to enjoy a little freedom, let him go on de farm and work for hisself. It is sho’ worth somethin’ to be boss, and, on de farm you can be boss all you want to, ‘less de man ‘low his wife to hold dat ‘portant post. A man wid a good wife, one dat pulls wid him, can see and feel some pleasure and experience some independence. But, bless your soul, if he gits a woman what wants to be both husband and wife, fare-you-well and good-bye, too, to all love, pleasure, and independence; ’cause you sho’ is gwine to ketch hell here and no mild climate whenever you goes ‘way.

James Hopkinson's Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63
James Hopkinson’s Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63

Victoria Adams, 90 years old: Medicine and the Yankees

“Us had medicine made from herbs, leaves and roots; some of them was cat-nip, garlic root, tansy, and roots of burdock. De roots of burdock soaked in whiskey was mighty good medicine. We dipped asafetida in turpentine and hung it ’round our necks to keep off disease.

“Befo’ de Yankees come thru, our peoples had let loose a lot of our hosses and de hosses strayed over to de Yankee side, and de Yankee men rode de hosses back over to our plantation. De Yankees asked us if we want to be free. I never say I did; I tell them I want to stay wid my missus and they went on and let me alone. They ‘stroyed most everything we had ‘cept a little vittles; took all de stock and take them wid them. They burned all de buildings ‘cept de one de massa and missus was livin’ in.

“It wasn’t long after de Yankees went thru dat our missus told us dat we don’t b’long to her and de massa no more. None of us left dat season. I got married de next year and left her. I like being free more better.”

Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype, circa 1850.
Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype, circa 1850.

EvX: Many slaves opted to stay where they were immediately after freedom, trusting the plantations they knew to the threat of hunger and homelessness in a war-ravaged land, but moved on later as opportunities arose.

Whether slaves stayed or left had a lot to do with how cruel their masters were–the crueler the master, the more likely their slaves were to leave as fast as possible. Unfortunately, given the misery and starvation induced by the war, these same people were probably less likely to survive long enough to give the folklorists their accounts. Obviously this may create a numerical bias in the accounts.

Frank Adamson, 82 years old: The Rattler and the Red Shirts

“I ‘members when you was barefoot at de bottom; now I see you a settin’ dere, gittin’ bare at de top, as bare as de palm of my hand.”

[EvX: In case it isn’t clear, “you” here is the person conducting the interview.]

“I’s been ‘possum huntin’ wid your pappy, when he lived on de Wateree, just after de war. One night us got into tribulation, I tells you! ‘Twas ’bout midnight when de dogs make a tree. Your pappy climb up de tree, git ’bout halfway up, heard sumpin’ dat once you hears it you never forgits, and dats de rattlin’ of de rattles on a rattle snake’s tail. Us both ‘stinctly hear dat sound! What us do? Me on de ground, him up de tree, but where de snake? Dat was de misery, us didn’t know. Dat snake give us fair warnin’ though! Marster Sam (dats your pa) ‘low: ‘Frank, ease down on de ground; I’ll just stay up here for a while.’ I lay on them leaves, skeered to make a russle. Your pa up de tree skeered to go up or down! Broad daylight didn’t move us. Sun come up, he look all ’round from his vantage up de tree, then come down, not ’til then, do I gits on my foots.

“Then I laugh and laugh and laugh, and ask Marster Sam how he felt. Marster Sam kinda frown and say: ‘Damn I feels like hell! Git up dat tree! Don’t you see dat ‘possum up dere?’ I say: ‘But where de snake, Marster?’ He say: ‘Dat rattler done gone home, where me and you and dat ‘possum gonna be pretty soon!’ …

“I’s as close to white folks then as peas in a pod. Wore de red shirt and drunk a heap of brandy in Columbia, dat time us went down to General Hampton into power. I ‘clare I hollered so loud goin’ ‘long in de procession, dat a nice white lady run out one of de houses down dere in Columbia, give me two biscuits and a drum stick of chicken, patted me on de shoulder, and say: ‘Thank God for all de big black men dat can holler for Governor Hampton as loud as dis one does.’ Then I hollers some more for to please dat lady, though I had to take de half chawed chicken out dis old mouth, and she laugh ’bout dat ’til she cried. She did!

“Well, I’ll be rockin’ ‘long balance of dese days, a hollerin’ for Mr. Roosevelt, just as loud as I holler then for Hampton.

Four generations of a slave family, Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862
Four generations of a slave family, Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862

EvX: These interviews were conducted in the 30s, so that’s the second Roosevelt.

As Wikipedia points out, the fact that the interviewers were white may also have affected the particular anecdotes informants chose to share or how they framed them. In this case, I wonder if the account is even true. Wikipedia claims:

The Red Shirts or Redshirts of the Southern United States were white supremacist[1][2] paramilitary groups that were active in the late 19th century in the last years and after the end of the Reconstruction era of the United States. Red Shirt groups originated in Mississippi in 1875, when Democratic Party private terror units adopted red shirts to make themselves more visible and threatening to Southern Republicans, both white and freedmen. Similar groups in the Carolinas also adopted red shirts.

Among the most prominent Red Shirts were the supporters of Democratic Party candidate Wade Hampton during the campaigns for the South Carolina gubernatorial elections of 1876 and 1878.[3] The Red Shirts were one of several paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana, arising from the continuing efforts of white Democrats to regain political power in the South in the 1870s. These groups acted as “the military arm of the Democratic Party.”[4]

While sometimes engaging in violence, the Red Shirts, the White League, rifle clubs, and similar groups in the late nineteenth century worked openly and were better organized than the secret vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Their goals were to use violence and terrorism to restore the Democrats to power and repress the exercise of civil and voting rights by the freedmen.[5] During the 1876, 1898 and 1900 campaigns in North Carolina, the Red Shirts played prominent roles in intimidating non-Democratic Party voters. …

According to E. Merton Coulter in The South During Reconstruction (1947), the red shirt was adopted in Mississippi in 1875 by “southern brigadiers” of the Democratic Party who were opposed to black Republicans. The Red Shirts disrupted Republican rallies, intimidated or assassinated black leaders, and discouraged and suppressed black voting at the polls. …

State Democrats organized parades and rallies in every county of South Carolina. Many of the participants were armed and mounted; all wore red. Mounted men gave an impression of greater numbers. When Wade Hampton and other Democrats spoke, the Red Shirts would respond enthusiastically, shouting the campaign slogan, “Hurrah for Hampton.” …

In the Piedmont counties of Aiken, Edgefield, and Barnwell, freedmen who voted were driven from their homes and whipped, while some of their leaders were murdered. During the 1876 presidential election, Democrats in Edgefield and Laurens counties voted “early and often”, while freedmen were barred from the polls.[7] …

Few freedmen voted for Hampton, and most remained loyal to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. The 1876 campaign was the “most tumultuous in South Carolina’s history.”[8] “An anti-Reconstruction historian later estimated that 150 Negroes were murdered in South Carolina during the campaign.”[9]

After the election on November 7, a protracted dispute between Chamberlain and Hampton ensued as both claimed victory. Because of the massive election fraud, Edmund William McGregor Mackey, a Republican member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, called upon the “Hunkidori Club” from Charleston to eject Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties from the House. Word spread through the state. By December 3, approximately 5,000 Red Shirts assembled at the State House to defend the Democrats. Hampton appealed for calm and the Red Shirts dispersed.

As a result of a national political compromise, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the removal of the Union Army from the state on April 3, 1877. The white Democrats completed their political takeover of South Carolina.

Graph of the enslaved population of the United States as a percentage of the population of each state, 1790–1860
Graph of the enslaved population of the United States as a percentage of the population of each state, 1790–1860

They were active in other states, too, but you get the idea.

Red is a common color, and soon appears again in Democrat lore, as Huber recounts in “Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912-1936″ (published 2006):

“They shot one of those Bolsheviks up in Knox County this morning. Harry Sims his name was…. That deputy knew his business. He didn’t give the redneck a chance to talk, he just plugged him in the stomach…” So Malcolm Cowley, writing in The New Republic in 1932, recounted a local coal operator’s response to the murder of a nineteen-year-old Young Communist League union organizer in eastern Kentucky… The contempt and ruthlessness in this comment will scarcely surprise readers familiar with the history of the violent, bloody suppression of the American labor movement, but seeing the pejorative terms Bolshevik and redneck used interchangeably may. For more than a century, the epithet redneck has chiefly denigrated rural, poor white southerners…. During the 1920s and 1930s, however, another one of its definitions in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields was “a Communist.”

Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921
Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921

During the Appalachian coal mine wars–which was a real thing that actually happened, though obviously it wasn’t actually on the scale of a real war–strikers often wore red bandanas around their necks.

Wikipedia notes:

The term characterized farmers having a red neck caused by sunburn from hours working in the fields. …

By 1900, “rednecks” was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South.[14] … A newspaper notice in Mississippi in August 1891 called on rednecks to rally at the polls at the upcoming primary election:[15]

 

Primary on the 25th.
And the “rednecks” will be there.
And the “Yaller-heels” will be there, also.
And the “hayseeds” and “gray dillers,” they’ll be there, too.
And the “subordinates” and “subalterns” will be there to rebuke their slanderers and traducers.
And the men who pay ten, twenty, thirty, etc. etc. per cent on borrowed money will be on hand, and they’ll remember it, too.

By 1910, the political supporters of the Mississippi Democratic Party politician James K. Vardaman—chiefly poor white farmers—began to describe themselves proudly as “rednecks,” even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.[16] …

The term “redneck” in the early 20th century was occasionally used in reference to American coal miner union members who wore red bandannas for solidarity. The sense of “a union man” dates at least to the 1910s and was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.[18]

The strikers, IIRC, were multi-ethnic, not just whites.

The path of the Democratic party from “anti Northerners” to “anti rich industrial capitalists” to “anti Southerners” is really interesting–Democrats haven’t won a majority of the white vote in a presidential election since LBJ made them the part of the Civil Rights Act.

It’s like they’re always red, but the meaning of “red” keeps changing.

That’s all I have time for today. See you next week.

Anthropology(ish) Friday: Albania

We are returning to Fonseca’s Bury me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey, though today’s passage focuses on Albania:

south-eastern-europe-map“A taxi from Bulgaria to Albania: twelve hot hours across the memory of Yugoslavia. Like all border posts, the frontier near Struga in Macedonia is chaotic and dull, littered with a ragged population of shufflers, pushers, and peddlers, indolent and insolent, waiting for rejection and a long-familiar journey in the wrong direction. Approaching the border we found a convoy of massive, eighteen-wheel rigs (Italian, Swiss, German, Hungarian,) which had been kept waiting for five days. …

With ostentatious indifference to the queue, and to the customhouse’s throbbing Turkish disco music, a half-dozen officials leaned against the wall and gazed dreamily out on a semibucolic, iron-red vista salted with small unshepherded goats. … Humanitarian aid is the number one import of Europe’s poorest nation. It is all donated gear, but nothing is free in Albania; everything coming in will be sold and resold several times, starting at the border.

La Vlora, leaving the Albanian port city of Durres in 1991 http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/pictures-of-albanians-fleeing-for-italian-coast-remind-us-that-seeking-refuge-is-nothing-new/news-story/fd1467dfbb7fb96d36876bf9ea8c7cf3
La Vlora, leaving the Albanian port city of Durres in 1991

We had all seen the pictures of Albanians festooning boats bound for Italy. Marcel even knew some of them. But no one in the queue, aside from Marcel, knew what to expect inside this country that no one was allowed to leave. So far, all we were confident of was that it was as hard for outsiders to get into Albania as it was for natives to get out. …

EvX: Although I am well aware that Albania is one of Europe’s poorest countries, I have no clear memory of Albanian-festooned ships, so I went in search of that story:

There, 40m off shore, La Vlora bobbed up and down and its cargo — 20,000 Albanians — squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder into every available inch of space.

They filled the cabins and hung from the sides of the giant ship. It was “torture”, but it was better than home, where the whole country was imploding. …

Things were changing in Albania in 1991 and not for the better.

Elections left the communist-backed Labour Party of Albania in power but a coalition government was soon formed and decades of communism gave way to a new outlook.

With change came social unrest. Mr Kokthi said Albania imploded.

“Everything was shut down, the whole country. The economy collapsed, factories were closing, there was nothing to do there. We couldn’t see a future there.”

Mass departures from Adriatic ports followed and huge crowds gathered to board overcrowded ships. …

When the ship docked, it was absolute chaos.

“People were jumping from the ship and using ropes to get off. Police were everywhere but they weren’t ready for us. There was no way they were ready for so many people,” Mr Kokthi said. …

Almost 20,000 people were transported from the port to an empty stadium. There, they waited to be processed, but they would eventually all be returned to Albania.

Returning to Fonseca’s account:

The lake coast at St. Naum Monastery, with Galičica Mountain in the background.
The Ohrid lake coast at St. Naum Monastery, with Galičica Mountain in the background.

“Inside Albania, keeping a lookout for our ride, we walked for a while along the shore of the vast turquoise lake Ohrid. There are no plastic spoons, no Coke cans, no scraps, no billboards, no beckonings of any kind.  But immediately one felt that Albania was more than a tourist-free oasis between the ex-paradises of Greece and southern Italy. Or less. What you can’t imagine before you get there is the emptiness. The land is so bad that even the trees come on one at a time, surrounded by more space than their spindliness can support. The particular beauty of Albania seems always to depend on isolation.”

Reconstruction of Bronze Age stilt houses on Lake Ohrid, near Peštani
Reconstruction of Bronze Age stilt houses on Lake Ohrid, near Peštani

EvX: From the photos on Lake Ohrid’s Wikipedia page, it looks like Albania has gotten more crowded (and grown more trees) since Fonseca’s visit. Still, it is a lovely lake.

This photo claims to show a reconstruction of Bronze Age stilt houses, which look an awful lot like modern stilt houses, except with thatched roofs. Looks like the kind of place tourists/wedding parties would love to rent out. According to Wikipedia:

Lake Ohrid … straddles the mountainous border between southwestern Macedonia and eastern Albania. It is one of Europe‘s deepest and oldest lakes, preserving a unique aquatic ecosystem that is of worldwide importance, with more than 200 endemic species. …

The lake is otherwise densely surrounded by settlements in the form of villages and resorts in both basin countries. …

Lake Ohrid is the deepest lake of the Balkans, with a maximum depth of 288 m (940 ft) and a mean depth of 155 m (508 ft). It covers an area of 358 km² (138 sq mi), containing an estimated 55.4 km³ of water. It is 30.4 km long by 14.8 km wide at its maximum extent with a shoreline length of 87.53 km, shared between Macedonia (56.02 km) and Albania (31.51 km). Of the total surface area, 248 km2 belongs to Republic of Macedonia and 110 km2 belongs to Albania.

I admit that Albania is not a country I normally think much about. It suffers the curse of being poor, small, and unfortunate, mostly due to its communist history. It has some lovely mountains/lakes/rivers/forests, though, judging by the photos on Wikipedia.

When a place is simultaneously this pretty and this poor, it makes me think that there must be some as-yet-unrealized opportunity waiting there for someone.

Wed. Open Thread: Armies, 4chan, and the USSR

1024px-r1a1a_distributionHoly [expletive,] my baby brother just joined the military. I don’t have any other details yet, but I wasn’t expecting this. I hope he does admirably and doesn’t get killed.

In blog news, I’ve added a section where I can list books/articles/documentaries etc the readers recommend. Note that I haven’t had a chance to read/watch them all myself.

In hilarious news that you probably already heard about, 4chan claims to have trolled the CIA:

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

1024px-celtic_expansion-svgIf true, this is not just amusing–and a show of how easily our “intelligence” agencies can be duped–it also shows the development of informal citizen-based organizations actually running [what is the correct word? disinformation campaigns?] against their own government’s organs.

Or, you know, some guy on 4 chan is lying.

Comments of the Week are going to BaruchK, who knows much more than I do about the rise of communism:

I don’t think so. Marxism took off towards the end of the Victorian era, when starvation, misery and unemployment were at historic lows.

Further, Marxism/socialism were not spontaneous phenomena. Rather, they were purposely developed, sponsored, propagated and lobbied for by small, elite groups, funded by the super-rich (Carnegie, JP Morgan, etc.) working over decades.

Sutton talks about how socialism allows the transformation of target societies into captive markets. Russia and China were not a threat to the Western elites as long as they were socialist. It also allows the one-way transformation of wealth into power. In the absence of socialism, wealth can come and go. Today’s industrial titan can have his wealth destroyed through crashes, innovation, etc. However, by using his wealth to coopt a government, he can create regulations which will stifle competitors (eg Sarbanes-Oxley,) have the government bail him out during crashes (recent examples abound,) ideally even create fiat currency (effectively sucking up wealth from the rest of the economy.)

Also:

The interesting thing about the USSR was its utter economic reliance on aid from the US and Europe throughout its entire existence. …

It is interesting to ponder why the USSR collapsed when it did. I suspect that it just got so sclerotic that it was not even able to manage its own assets and the resources it got from the West, both as payment for oil and as aid. By the end, nobody knew where anything was, how much of it there was, or how to get anything done. Terror was out, the population was no longer the fanatic communists or terrified peasants and workers of the earlier days, but rather demoralized petit-bourgeoisie (private cars and motorcycles, shitty as they were, had become attainable for normal people in the 60s, for instance.) The nervous system of the USSR, which had more or less worked for decades, had just broken down and no longer sent more or less accurate signals to and from its organs.

And With the Thoughts You’d be Thinkin’ for this communist tale (see sidebar for relevant links):

Here’s a fun(?) bit of history, the Soviet central planning in Central Asia didn’t just cause massive diversions of water to plant cotton causing the drying up of the Aral sea it caused the Uzbek communist party to have thousands of members and all but one of its members purged in the 1980s, Brezhnev’s son-in-law was also implicated. Basically the Uzbekistan communist party inflated its cotton production figures stealling billions (USDs) and was only caught by the use of spy satelites.

So what have you guys been up to this week?

So Cultural Marxism is just a “Conspiracy Theory”

Search for “cultural Marxism” on Wikipedia, and you get redirected to “Frankfurt School Conspiracy Theory“:

‘Cultural Marxism’ in modern political parlance refers to a conspiracy theory which sees the Frankfurt School as part of a movement to take over and destroy Western society.[52][53][54][55]

To clear things up, here’s some Cultural Marxism in action:
cy09msqxuaaw0jb

 Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System, by Maria Lugones, published by Hypatia Press https://muse.jhu.edu/article/206329
From Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System, by Maria Lugones, published by Hypatia Press

picture-2a

ctotbhfwcaaunbaRemember:

In 1933, the Soviet government, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, recriminalised homosexual activity with punishments of up to five years’ hard labor. …

During the Soviet regime, Western observers believed that between 800 and 1,000 men were imprisoned each year under Article 121.[14] The precise reason for the new law is still in some dispute.[citation needed] … Whatever the precise reason, homosexuality remained a serious criminal offense until it was repealed in 1993.[16]

In the People’s Republic of China:

Even as late as the early 1980s, there were some Chinese men seeking asylum in other countries reported that they had faced systematic discrimination and harassment from the government because of their sexual orientation as well as similar mistreatment from family members [1]. Likewise, the Chinese government did treat homosexuality as a disease and subjected gay men to electric shock therapy and other attempts to change their sexual orientation [34]

And Palestine:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in the Palestinian territories are often spoken of in the geopolitical and cultural context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It remains one of the most taboo human rights issues in the region. Homosexuality is illegal in the Gaza Strip but not in the West Bank, although LGBT rights are not protected in either. …

Gay Palestinians frequently seek refuge in Israel fearing for their lives, especially fearing death from members of their own families.[7] “According to lawyer Shaul Gannon, from the Israeli LGBT organisation Aguda, around 2,000 homosexuals from the Palestinian territories live in Tel Aviv at any one time.”[5]

Oh, I guess I have a few more:

cyoi2oxxaaaaxcr

Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro
Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro

cylauolxcaa71uk

But sure, Cultural Marxism isn’t real. Nothing to see; move it along.

Entropy, Life, and Welfare (pt. 3/3)

Communism works so well, soldiers had to push Fidel Castro's hearse because the Cuban government couldn't find a working truck
Communism works so well, soldiers had to push Fidel Castro’s hearse because the Cuban government couldn’t find a working truck

This is Part Three of a series on how incentives affect the distribution of energy/resources throughout a society and the destructive effects of social systems like communism. (Part One and Part Two are here)

But before we criticize these programs too much, let’s understand where they came from:

The Industrial Revolution, which began around 1760 in Britain, created mass economic and social dislocation as millions of workers were forced off their farms and flooded into the cities.

Communism: the world's single biggest source of murder in the 20th century
Communism: the world’s single biggest source of murder in the 20th century

The booms and busts of the unregulated (and regulated) industrial economy caused sudden, unpredictable unemployment and, without a social safety net of some kind, starvation. This suffering unleashed Marxism, which soon transformed into an anti-capitalist, anti-Western ideology and tore across the planet, demolishing regimes and killing millions of people.

Reason.com attributes 94 million deaths to communism. The Black Book of Communism places the total between 85 and 100 million people. Historian on the Warpath totals almost 150 million people killed or murdered by communist governments, not including war deaths. (Wikipedia estimates that WWII killed, between battle deaths in Europe and the Pacific, disease, starvation, and genocide, 50-80 million people–and there were communists involved in WWII, also.)

cdchqnbumaaj5sjThe US and Europe, while not explicitly communist, have adopted many of socialism’s suggestions: Social Security, Welfare, Medicaid, etc., many in direct response to the Great Depression.

These solutions are, at best, a stop-gap measures to deal with the massive changes new technologies are still causing. Remember, humans were hunter-gatherers for 190,000 years. We had a long time to get used to being hunter gatherers. 10,000 years ago, a few of us started farming, and developed whole new cultures. A mere 200 years ago, the Industrial Revolution began spreading through Europe. Today, the “post industrial information economy” (or “robot economy,” as I call it,) is upon us, and we have barely even begun to adapt.

We are in an age that is–out of our 200,000 years of existence–entirely novel and the speed of change is increasing. We have not yet figured out how to cope, how to structure society for the long-term so that we don’t accidentally break it.

We have gotten very good, however, at creative accounting to make it look like we are producing more than we are.

ceumwjhviaiaquiBy the mid-1950s, the Industrial Revolution had brought levels of prosperity never before seen in human history to the US (and soon to Europe, Japan, Korea, etc.) But since the ’70s, things seem to have gone off-track.

People fault outsourcing and trade for the death of the great American job market, but technical progress and automation also deserve much of the blame. As the Daily Caller reports:

McDonald’s has announced plans to roll out automated kiosks and mobile pay options at all of its U.S. locations, raising questions about the future of its 1.5 million employees in the country and around the globe.

Roughly 500 restaurants in Florida, New York and California now have the automated ordering stations, and restaurants in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., will be outfitted in 2017, according to CNNMoney.

The locations that are seeing the first automated kiosks closely correlate with the fight for a $15 minimum wage. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a new $15 minimum wage for New York state in 2016, and the University of California has proposed to pay its low-wage employees $15.

There is an obvious trade-off between robots and employees: where wages are low enough, there is little incentive to invest capital in developing and purchasing robots. Where wages are high, there is more incentive to build robots.

labor_forceThe Robot Economy will continue to replace low-skilled, low-wage jobs blue collar workers and young people used to do. No longer will teenagers get summer jobs at McDonald’s. Many if not most of these workers are simply extraneous in the modern economy and cannot be “retrained” to do more information-dependent work. The expansion of the Welfare State, education (also paid for with tax dollars,) and make-work administrative positions can keep these displaced workers fed and maybe even “employed” for the foreseeable future, but they are not a long-term solution, and it is obvious that people in such degraded positions, unable to work, often lose the will to keep going.

picture-30But people do not appreciate the recommendation that they should just fuck off and die already. That’s how you get communist revolutions in the first place.

Mass immigration of unskilled labor into a market already shrinking due to automation / technological progress is a terrible idea. This is Basic Econ 101: Supply and Demand. If the supply of labor keeps increasing while the demand for labor keeps decreasing, the cost of labor (wages) will plummet. Likewise, corporations quite explicitly state that they want immigrants–including illegal ones–because they can pay them less.

In an economy with more demand than supply for labor, labor can organize (unions) and advocate in behalf of its common interests, demanding a higher share of profits, health insurance, pensions, cigarette breaks, etc. When the supply of labor outstrips demand, labor cannot advocate on its own behalf, because any uppity worker can simply be replaced by some desperate, unemployed person willing to work for less and not make a fuss.

gr2009012802033Note two professions in the US that are essentially protected by union-like organizations: doctors and lawyers. Both professions require years of expensive training at exclusive schools and high scores on difficult tests. Lawyers must also be members of their local Bar Associations, and doctors must endure residency. These requirements keep out the majority of people who would like to join these professions, and ensure high salaries for most who do.

While Residency sounds abjectly awful, the situation for doctors in Britain and Ireland sounds much worse. Slate Star Codex goes into great detail about the problems:

Many of the junior doctors I worked with in Ireland were working a hundred hours a week. It’s hard to describe what working 100 hours a week is like. Saying “it means you work from 7 AM to 9 PM every day including weekends” doesn’t really cut it. Imagine the hobbies you enjoy and the people you love. Now imagine you can’t spend time on any of them, because you are being yelled at as people die all around you for fourteen hours a day, and when you get home you have just enough time to eat dinner, brush your teeth, possibly pay a bill or two, and curl up in a ball before you have to go do it all again, and your next day off is in two weeks.

And this is the best case scenario, where everything is spaced out nice and even. The junior doctors I knew frequently worked thirty-six hour shifts at a time (the European Court of Human Rights has since declined to fine Ireland for this illegal practice). …

The psychological consequences are predictable: after one year, 55% of junior doctors describe themselves as burned out, 30% meet criteria for moderate depression, and 12% report considering suicide.

A lot of American junior doctors are able to bear this by reminding themselves that it’s only temporary. The worst part, internship, is only one year; junior doctorness as a whole only lasts three or four. After that you become a full doctor and a free agent – probably still pretty stressed, but at least making a lot of money and enjoying a modicum of control over your life.

In Britain, this consolation is denied most junior doctors. Everyone works for the government, and the government has a strict hierarchy of ranks, only the top of which – “consultant” – has anything like the freedom and salary that most American doctors enjoy. It can take ten to twenty years for junior doctors in Britain to become consultants, and some never do.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want my doctor to be suicidal.

Now, you may notice that Scott doesn’t live in Ireland anymore, and similarly, many British doctors to take their credentials and move abroad as quickly as possible. The British medical system would be forced to reform if not for the influx of foreign doctors willing to put up with hell in exchange for not living in the third world.

From the outside, many of these systems, from underfunded pensions to British medicine, look just fine. Indeed, an underfunded pension will operate just fine until the day it runs out of money. Until that day, everyone who clams the pension is in deep trouble looks like Chicken Little, running around claiming that the sky is falling.

There’s a saying in finance: The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

BTW, the entire state of California is in deep trouble, from budget problems to insane property tax laws. They already consume far more water than they receive, (and are set for massive forest fires,) but vote for increased population via immigration with Mexico. California’s economy is being propped up by–among other things–masses of cash flowing into Silicon Valley. This is Dot.Com Bubble 2.0, and like the first, it will pop–the only question is when. As Reuters reported last February:

LinkedIn Corp’s (LNKD.N) shares closed down 43.6 percent on Friday, wiping out nearly $11 billion of market value, after the social network for professionals shocked Wall Street with a revenue forecast that fell far short of expectations. …

As of Thursday, LinkedIn shares were trading at 50 times forward 12-month earnings, making it one of the most expensive stocks in the tech sector.

Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) trades at 29.5 times forward earnings, Facebook Inc (FB.O) at 33.8 times and Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) at 20.9 times.

Even after the selloff, LinkedIn’s shares may still be overvalued, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data.

LinkedIn should be trading at $71.79, a 30 percent discount to the stock’s Friday’s low, according to StarMine’s Intrinsic Valuation model, which takes analysts’ five-year estimates and models the growth trajectory over a longer period.

Linked in has since been bought out by Microsoft for $26 billion. As Fortune notes, this is absolutely insane, as there is no way Microsoft can make back that much money off of LinkedIn:

Source Fortune http://fortune.com/2016/06/13/microsoft-linkedin-overpaid/
Source Fortune

“Ebitda” stands for Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation. There is absolutely no way that LinkedIn, a social network that barely turns a profit, is worth more than Sun, EMC, Compaq, and Time Warner.

Shares normally trade around 20x a company’s previous year’s earnings, though right now the S & P’s P/E ratio is around 25. In 2016, LinkedIn’s P/E ratio has been around 180. (Even crazier, their ratio in 2015 was -1,220, because they lost money.)

Ever wonder where all of that money from QE is going? It’s turning into Ferraris cruising around San Francisco, and LinkedIn is not the only offender.

But these companies will not maintain fantasy valuations forever.

(While we’re at it: Why the AOL-Time Warner Merger Went so Wrong:

When the deal was announced on Jan. 10, 2000, Stephen M. Case, a co-founder of AOL, said, “This is a historic moment in which new media has truly come of age.” His counterpart at Time Warner, the philosopher chief executive Gerald M. Levin, who was fond of quoting the Bible and Camus, said the Internet had begun to “create unprecedented and instantaneous access to every form of media and to unleash immense possibilities for economic growth, human understanding and creative expression.”

The trail of despair in subsequent years included countless job losses, the decimation of retirement accounts, investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, and countless executive upheavals. Today, the combined values of the companies, which have been separated, is about one-seventh of their worth on the day of the merger.)

So, that was a bit of a long diversion into the sheer artificiality of much of our economy, and how sooner or later, the Piper must be paid.

picture-5bWhen I try to talk to liberal friends about the problems of increasing automation and immigration on the incomes of the American working class, their response is that “We just need more regulation.”

In this cheerful fantasy, we can help my friend who cannot afford health insurance by requiring his employer to provide health insurance–when in reality, my friend now cannot find a job that lasts for more than a month because employers just fire him before the health insurance requirement kicks in. In fantasy land, you can protect poor people by making it harder for landlords to evict them, but in the real world, this makes it even harder for the poorest to get long-term housing because no landlord wants to take the chance of getting stuck with them. In fantasy land, immigration doesn’t hurt wages because you can just legislate a higher minimum wage, but the idea that you can legislate a wage that the market does not support is an absurdity worthy only of the USSR. In the real world, your job gets replaced with a robot.

picture-4bThis is not to say that we can’t have some form of welfare or social safety net to deal with the dislocations and difficulties of our new economy. Indeed, some form of social welfare may, in the long run, make the economic system more robust by allowing people to change jobs or weather temporary unemployment without dying. Nor does it mean that any inefficiency is going to break the system. But long-term, using legislation to create a problem and then using more legislation to prevent the market from correcting it increases inefficiency, and you are now spending resources to enforce both laws.

Just like Enron’s “creative accounting,” you cannot keep hiding losses indefinitely.

You can have open-borders capitalism with minimal welfare, in which the most skilled thrive and survive and the least skilled die out. This is more-or-less the system in Singapore (see here for a discussion of how they use personal savings accounts instead of most welfare; a discussion of poverty in Singapore; and Singapore’s migration policies.)

Or you can have a Japanese or Swedish-style welfare state, but no open borders, (because the system will collapse if you let in just anyone who wants free money [hint: everyone.])

But you cannot just smash two different systems together, heap more laws on top of them to try to prevent the market from responding, and expect it to carry on indefinitely producing the same levels of wealth and well-being as it always has.

The laws of thermodynamics are against you.

(Return to Part One and Part Two.)

Entropy, Life, and Welfare (pt 2)

images(This is Part 2. Part 1 and Part 3 are here.)

Complex systems, because they must be homeostatic to exist at all, can absorb and disguise the symptoms of a great deal of internal stress.

The collapse of the Soviet Union remains one of the great mysteries of Political Science, not because it happened (that is easy enough to understand,) but because Political Scientists did not predict it.

The big problem with planned economies is that their incentive structures make self-correction almost impossible. For example, when the law allowed Soviet officials to confiscate unlimited quantities of grain in 1932, about 7 million people died. The people who could see the famine happening were not the ones with the power to change tax laws nor the incentives pressuring officials to confiscate so much grain in the first place. As Wikipedia relates:

Alexander Wienberger, Holodomor
Alexander Wienberger, Holodomor

From the 1932 harvest, Soviet authorities were able to procure only 4.3 million tons as compared with 7.2 million tons obtained from the 1931 harvest.[49] Rations in town were drastically cut back, and in the winter of 1932–33 and spring of 1933 people in many urban areas were starved.[50] The urban workers were supplied by a rationing system (and therefore could occasionally assist their starving relatives of the countryside), but rations were gradually cut; and by the spring of 1933, the urban residents also faced starvation. At the same time, workers were shown agitprop movies, where all peasants were portrayed as counterrevolutionaries hiding grain and potatoes at a time when workers, who were constructing the “bright future” of socialism, were starving.[51]

cybtak1veaaoko9 cygs2gyxgaafqgn

Excuse me. I need a moment.

Say what you will for libertarianism, it has at least the basic ingredients for a self-correcting system. A farmer, left to his own devices, will not sell so much of his own grain that he starves. A factory owner will not order incorrect parts for his own factory because his profits would suffer. But in a planned economy, the person doing the ordering or deciding how much grain to sell does not personally benefit (or suffer) from these transactions, and so has no interest in their efficiency. Their incentives are totally different–they have a boss higher up in the party to please; they are required to increase the efficiency of Sector G; they are supposed to hire more people people from underrepresented groups; etc.

As Wikipedia notes:

Most information in the Soviet economy flowed from the top down. There were several mechanisms in place for producers and consumers to provide input and information that would help in the drafting of economic plans (as detailed below), but the political climate was such that few people ever provided negative input or criticism of the plan. Thus, Soviet planners had very little reliable feedback that they could use to determine the success of their plans. This meant that economic planning was often done based on faulty or outdated information, particularly in sectors with large numbers of consumers. As a result, some goods tended to be underproduced, leading to shortages, while other goods were overproduced and accumulated in storage. Low-level managers often did not report such problems to their superiors, relying instead on each other for support. Some factories developed a system of barter and either exchanged or shared raw materials and parts without the knowledge of the authorities and outside the parameters of the economic plan. …

The cumbersome procedures for bureaucratic administration foreclosed the free communication and flexible response required at the enterprise level for dealing with worker alienation, innovation, customers, and suppliers. During 1975–85, corruption and data fiddling became common practice among bureaucracy to report satisfied targets and quotas thus entrenching the crisis.

cw3bumxusaavkjbCastellano writes in Causes of the Soviet Collapse:

Around 1975, the Soviet Union entered a period of economic stagnation from which it would never emerge. Increasingly, the USSR looked to Europe, primarily West Germany, to provide hard currency financing through massive loans, while the U.S. became a major supplier of grain.[1] Despite moments of anti-Communist grandstanding, the Americans and Western Europeans maintained trade relations with the cash-strapped Soviet Union, which dipped into its Stalin-era gold reserves to increase availability of consumer goods.

Foreign trade and mild economic reforms were not enough to overcome the inefficiencies of the Soviet command economy, which remained technologically backward and full of corruption. Economic planners were frequently unable to diagnose and remedy problems, since they were given false reports by officials who only pretended to be productive. Soviet living standards remained poor by Western standards. By 1980, only 9 percent of Soviets had automobiles, which was actually a vast improvement under Brezhnev.

Back to Wikipedia:

One of the greatest strengths of Soviet economy was its vast supplies of oil and gas; world oil prices quadrupled in the 1973-74, and rose again in 1979-1981, making the energy sector the chief driver of the Soviet economy, and was used to cover multiple weaknesses. During this period, USSR had the lowest per-capita incomes among the other socialist countries.[49] At one point, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin told the head of oil and gas production, “things are bad with bread. Give me 3 million tons [of oil] over the plan.” [50] Former prime minister Yegor Gaidar, an economist looking back three decades, in 2007 wrote:

The hard currency from oil exports stopped the growing food supply crisis, increased the import of equipment and consumer goods, ensured a financial base for the arms race and the achievement of nuclear parity with the United States, and permitted the realization of such risky foreign-policy actions as the war in Afghanistan.[51]

Awareness of the growing crisis arose initially within the KGB which with its extensive network of informants in every region and institution had its finger on the pulse of the nation. Yuri Andropov, director of the KGB, created a secret department during the 1970s within the KGB devoted to economic analysis, and when he succeeded Brezhnev in 1982 sounded the alarm forcefully to the Soviet leadership. Andropov’s remedy of increased discipline, however, proved ineffective. It was only when Andropov’s protege Gorbachev assumed power that a determined, but ultimately unsuccessful, assault on the economic crisis was undertaken.[52]

And back to Castellano:

 By 1988, private ownership was permitted in certain manufacturing industries. Ironically, these reforms actually caused the Soviet economy to deteriorate further, as unprofitable private enterprises were now subsidized by the state, and the lack of state oversight of supply lines resulted in shortages of food and clothing, which were unknown even under Brezhnev.[8]

By the mid-1980s, the Warsaw Pact satellites had ceased to be an economic asset to the Soviet Union, and in fact Gorbachev’s withdrawal had been motivated in part by economic considerations. There was no longer a real danger of war with Western Europe, so the bloc had lost its strategic significance as well.

People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on November 9, 1989.
People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on November 9, 1989.

You know how this story ends. The Wall comes down, communism crumbles in all but Cuba and North Korea, and Russia is further assaulted by “shock therapy,” which it is in no position to cope with.

And yet, even in the months just before the Wall fell, no one predicted that it was about to happen. It was very easy to see, from an economic position, that the USSR couldn’t just keep limping on–even the KGB knew that. But “Communism is broken” is information we’d had for six decades already, and the USSR looked like it was in no hurry to finally go ahead and kick the bucket.

Socialism fails because it prevents economic feedback from directing the flow of resources to the places where they’re needed, but even a terrible system like the USSR’s can keep limping along like it’s going to last forever right until the day it falls.

There are reports now coming out of socialist Venezuela of people eating pets, rats, and worse, each other (I am not quoting the cannibalism article, you can read it yourself. This is from the one about eating cats, dogs, and garbage):

Ramón Muchacho, Mayor of Chacao in Caracas, said the streets of the capital of Venezuela are filled with people killing animals for food.

Through Twitter, Muchacho reported that in Venezuela, it is a “painful reality” that people “hunt cats, dogs and pigeons” to ease their hunger. … People are also reportedly gathering vegetables from the ground and trash to eat as well. … The week before, various regions of the country saw widespread looting of shopping malls, pharmacies, supermarkets and food trucks, all while people chanted “we are hungry.”

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s currency has become so worthless, shopkeepers are weighing piles of notes instead of counting them.

Command economies just don’t work very well.

cw1htkluuaatpa7We Americans have our own reasons why we should be concerned, from the death of manufacturing to the increasing national debt. The Federal Budget is about 20% of total GDP. The government periodically threatens to default on its debts while funding wars against non-enemies like Iraq. Obligations like pensions and Social Security are often ridiculously under-funded (to the tune of billions of dollars that investments simply haven’t produced) or depend on infinite population growth–which, of course, no nation can ever maintain. As CNBC reports:

Weak investment performance and insufficient contributions will cause total unfunded liabilities for U.S. state public pensions to balloon by 40 percent to $1.75 trillion through fiscal 2017, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report on Thursday. …

It has been a tough year for the funds, which earned a median 0.52 percent on investments in fiscal 2016 versus their average assumed return rate of 7.5 percent, Moody’s said.

Assumptions. The sheer gall of it is flabbergasting.

Steve Bannon gave this rather insightful speech about our deteriorating economic situation several years ago:

(But you know, underwear is racist so let’s ignore the economy…)

To be continued: Return to  Part 1 or continue to Part 3.)

What the hell do the terrorists even want?

IRA: Wanted Northern Ireland to be part of Ireland.

Palestinian Terrorists: Want to take over Israel

Ted Kaczynski: Wanted people to stop chopping down his forest

OK City: Revenge for Ruby Ridge and Waco

9-11: Incoherent hate of America

Madrid Train Bombing: None

Anders Breivik: didn’t like communists

Tsarnev Brothers: Incoherent hate of America

Charlie Hebdo: disliked Hebdo’s Muhammad cartoons

Paris attack: ISIS support

San Bernardino Christmas party shooting: incoherent ISIS Support

Oregon Occupation: Opposition to the BLM

Brussels bombing: ISIS Support

Easter bombing in Pakistan: hatred of Christians

Say what you will, the IRA, ETA, and PLO had clear, coherent goals. Goals they were willing to kill babies to achieve, but still goals. You knew what they wanted and could at least hypothetically negotiate with them about it.

Since 9-11, the attacks have been increasingly incoherent. Why would Pakistani-American citizens attack the US in support of one side or the other in a civil war going on in Syria? Why would the children of Chechen refugees attack the country that took them in? Why would a guy living in Afghanistan believe it is anti-Muslim for the US to protect the interests of Muslims in Kuwait? Why move to the EU and then violently object to the laws or foreign policy? For that matter, why the hell would anyone support ISIS?

We may infer a kind of pan-Islamic tribalism which regards the US (and other Western nations) as acting against Islamic interests, but even this is incoherent. Why would Osama bin Ladin feel the need to stand up for Saudi Arabia when the Saudis could do it perfectly well themselves?

In reality, the US prior to 9-11 was pretty agnostic on Muslims. Palestinians were unpopular, due to terrorist attacks against Israel, but countries like Egypt and Jordan attracted the average person’s interest only because of their pyramids and long history. Most US actions in the Middle East over the past 55 years had been motivated by Cold War or “peace keeping” concerns.

The US supported Egypt in the Suez Crisis, keeping the Suez Canal under Egyptian control, an obvious economic boon to Egypt. We have supported, at various times, the Shah of Iran, the King of Jordan, Iraq against Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan against Soviet invasion. We intervened militarily on behalf of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia.

The US gives a substantial amount in foreign aid to other countries every year; in 2013 (the Wikipedia only lists our foreign aid for 2013 and 2012,) we gave 42.829 billion dollars–or $134 from every American citizen–to Muslim countries from Afghanistan to Yemen. (See bottom of post for my list of aid dollars per country.)

It has only been since 9-11 that Americans really become aware of the “Muslim world” as a coherent entity (if such exists) with which “we” are supposedly in conflict.

Before then, as mentioned before, our concerns were largely leftovers from the Cold War era. The “modernizers,” like Kemal Ataturk, King Hussein of Jordan, the Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein were “the good guys,” capitalists intent on modernizing their countries and promoting free market economic opportunities.

I recall a conversation I had with a high-ranking US government official in the weeks before 9-11. He pointed out a picture of the King of Jordan he had hanging in his office, and referred to the king as “a good guy” and “one of our friends.”

The “bad guys” were the Communists. If you’ve read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, then you know that the Iranian Revolution was a communist revolution. The triumph of “radical Islam” in Iran was a Communist revolution against Western Capitalism.

Saddam was our guy against the Ayatollah, until he invaded Kuwait (which may be partially our fault due to our ambassador inadequately conveying the idea that we would invade if he did.)

The Palestinians are supported by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Cultural Marxists, and regular Marxists.

Anti-capitalism is anti-colonialism is anti-modernism is anti-Westernism is radical religious fundamentalism.

The Muslim world is split between two factions, modernizers who want capitalism and are happy to work with the West, and radical internationalist who oppose Western influence and want to return to religious fundamentalism through out the Islamic world.

This is why the invasion of Iraq failed and could not help but fail: we took out our own guy, the modernizer, the capitalist. Who would replace him? Another capitalist? No, we got the opposition party, the fundamentalist, the communist, ISIS.

We took out the capitalist and put the communists in power.

We fucked ourselves, to the tun of 3 trillion dollars and thousands of dead soldiers. (And Iraqis.)

 

 

Table of 2013 US Aid to Muslim countries in millions of dollars (I picked Bosnia, on behalf of whose Muslim population the US intervened following the breakup of Yugoslavia, as my “minimum Muslim %” cut-off for inclusion in this list.) My apologies if I’ve missed any.

Afghanistan 5265.95
Albania 298.38
Algeria 207.96
Azerbaijan -63.13
Bangladesh 2669.1
Bosnia 550.04
Burkina Faso 1040.11
Chad 399.33
Comoros 81.9
Djibouti 152.95
Egypt 5505
Eritrea 83.69
Gambia 110.8
Guinea 499.5
Guinea Bissau 103.6
Indonesia 53.3
Iran 131.3
Iraq 1,541.4
Jordan 1,407.9
Kazakhstan 91.3
Kyrgyzstan 536.6
Lebanon 626.4
Libya 129.4
Malaysia -119.4
Maldives 22.9
Mali 1,391.3
Mauritania 291.2
Morocco 1,966.1
Niger 773.1
Nigeria 2,529.4
Pakistan 2174.1
Senegal 982.8
Sierra Leone 443.7
Somalia 991.9
Sudan 1,163.1
Syria 3,626.7
Tajikistan 382.2
Tunisia 713.6
Turkey 2,740.5
Turkmenistan 37.3
Uzbekistan 292.5
Yemen 1,003.5

Does the Growth of Cities Contribute to Revolutions?

Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are ostensibly “working class” candidates (and draw their support overwhelmingly from white voters,) and yet, Trump and Sanders voters don’t see themselves as allied or their candidates as advocating for the same people.

As usual, I’ve actually been reading about the French Revolution, rather than modern American electoral politics.

To summarize quickly, just in case it’s been a while since you read anything on the subject, much of the revolution was driven by hoards of hungry peasants roaming around the streets of Paris, marching on Versailles, breaking into the democratic assemblies, etc. These hungry, mostly urban peasants are generally credited with helping start the revolution and driving it to the left.

Their most frequent and vocal demand, quite sensibly, was bread. France had some very bad winters/harvests around that time, and liberalization of trade policy with Britain put a lot of textile workers out of business. The result was high grain prices and unemployed people, which leads, of course, to starvation, and if you’re going to die, you might as well do it trying to get food from the king than just succumbing in an alleyway.

The trend in the countryside tended to be the opposite of that in the cities–rural peasants felt the pinch of taxes and bad harvests, but at least they had their own farms to depend on, and rarely had the population density to march on anything, anyway. The peasant revolts in the French countryside during the revolutionary years, like that in the Vendee, tended to be counter-revolutionary and intended to push the country in a more conservative direction.

The counter-revolution in the Vendee was ruthlessly suppressed, unlike uprisings in the city.

Peasants in the city got listened to, at least early in the revolution–perhaps simply because they were in the city; they could both put pressure directly on the government, which happened to be located in the cities, and they had more opportunities to converse with and gain the ears of government officials.

Revolutionary changes that made life better for peasants in the city often made life worse for peasants in the country (whence the counter-revolutions in the countryside.) City peasants chiefly desire lower grain prices; country peasants chiefly desire higher grain prices.

In both the French and Russian Revolutions, the urban poor became convinced that high grain prices were some sort of rural conspiracy–perhaps an anti-revolution urban conspiracy–with rural peasants supposedly hording grain instead of selling it in order to drive up the price and, perhaps, destroy the revolution.

In both cases, the revolutionary governments responded by forcibly confiscating grain from the peasants (in Russia, this led to mass starvation in the countryside, as the peasants truly had not been hoarding grain!) and introduced price controls.

Communism (or more mildly, socialism,) is supposed to be about all of the poor, but in practice it often pits the needs of one group of peasants against those of another group. The growth of cities themselves may contribute to the tendency toward instability by creating a new group of people who do not have their own farms to fall back on when food prices rise and whose income is dependent on economic cycles/factors outside their own control, leading to hungry times in the city whenever a factory has to lay off workers due to a slowdown in production.

 

Bernie Sanders’s supporters basically see themselves as supporters of the urban poor; Donald Trump’s supporters basically see themselves as supporters of the rural poor.

On a related note, from the NY Times, 2/13/16 (h/t Steve Sailer)

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow,” Mrs. Clinton asked the audience of black, white and Hispanic union members, “would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the L.G.B.T. community?,” she said, using an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. “Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

At each question, the crowd called back with a resounding no.

Short thoughts on French and Russian Revolutions

The French Revolution was caused, primarily, by a confluence of three factors:

  1. Bad harvests=> to starving peasants. Starving peasants will risk death for food.
  2. The gov’t went deep into debt to fund expensive wars and could extract no more taxes from the starving peasants.
  3. The legal system was crusty and inefficient, due to old age.

The Russian Revolution was primarily caused by WWI:

  1. It was far more expensive than Russia could afford,
  2. Unarmed peasants ordered to fling themselves in front of German machine guns react a lot like starving peasants told to go eat cake
  3. Probably a lot of starving peasants.

I don’t know if the Russian legal system was as crusty as the French one, but the whole thing was run by Nicholas, which is not a good sign.

In both cases, the immediate priority for the revolutionary gov’t ought to be halting the deaths of the peasants. Things like standardizing weights and measures or executing the monarch, whether you like those ideas or not, far fall, fall below “getting people bread” and “getting rid of the machine guns.”

Unfortunately, at least in the Russian case, instead of replacing their old, peasant-starving gov’t with a gov’t sensitive to the caloric needs of its people, they replaced it with a gov’t that was massively better at not getting overthrown by starving peasants.

Leading promptly to the starvation of millions of people.