Kejda Gjermani her miscellaneous musings

9Apr/130

The China Bubble

Note from the author: This article was written in early 2010. It could take some editing for which I can't spare the time, so I've decided to publish as is, because its thesis rings true, and could be received with interest today.

Thousands of students take part in a stunning display of kung fu choreography at the Tagou martial arts school in China -http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2158133/China-10-000-students-perform-incredible-display-kung-fu-choreography-celebrate-countrys-rich-history.html

Thousands of students take part in a stunning display of kung fu choreography at the Tagou martial arts school in China (via The Daily Mail)

“We will bury you!”—One popular myth has Nikita Khrushchev banging the UN delegate desk with his shoe as he blurts out this infamous threat. Another one takes its gist to have been military, rather than … economic. This second myth is harder to dispel, owing to the difficulty of imagining today, decades since the spectacular failure of the Soviet Bloc economies, just how formidable their prospects had once seemed. Yet throughout the 50s and early 60s, their swift transformation from peasant societies into industrial powerhouses was generating much awe and panic. 1 Poor and backward as they started out, these economies could boast growth rates of 6 to 8 percent—unheard of in the West—sustained like clockwork year after year and punctuated by stunning technological achievements, such as the launch of Sputnik 1 and the mission of Yuri Gagarin.

These early success stories inspired many attempts at an explanation, some of the most radical of which called into question the very soundness of liberal democracy, let alone that of the free market. Voter caprice in capitalist societies was thought to wanton without control, preventing long-term planning and derailing economic growth. Command economies, by contrast, let nothing stand in the way of progress—certainly not any scruples over the well-being or civil rights of their citizenry. Disciplined, farsighted, and unmolested by electoral upheavals, they pursued a deliberate course of industrialization that would surpass the uneven, unplanned, and disjointed performance of free enterprise. Such, at any rate, were the advantages imputed to the collectivist rising powers of the East by many puzzled intellectuals in the West. But as reliable data began to leak from the Iron Curtain, it it quickly undeceived those who could understand it.

Far from representing the inherent superiority of central planning, the performance of the Soviet Union and its satellite states turned out to be fully explicable by the large share of inputs they commanded. 2 That an economy should grow faster when it employs more resources toward future production has always been understood: more input yields more output. Bringing women and rural dwellers into the workforce, uprooting illiteracy, enforcing compulsory schooling, and amassing physical capital into infrastructural and industrial projects can all lead to what economists term extensive growth.

That is what the economies of the Soviet Bloc experienced after adopting just such measures, what they owed their brief meteoric rise to, as well as their ultimate undoing. 3 For even if the workforce could be thoroughly educated and gainfully employed, its growth must run into natural constraints. Not even the sustained accrual of physical capital, with all the sacrifices and deprivations it entails, can prevent extensive growth from drooping—for the simple reason that capital-intensive production is inevitably subject to diminishing returns. To expand forever it takes intensive growth—that is, increases in output for each unit of input—achievable through improvements in technology and ever more efficient use of resources. This is what the economies of the Soviet Bloc couldn't do. In fact, by the 1960s they started deteriorating to an extent not fully comprehended until their dismal collapse.

Today the Communist experiment is nearly extinct. Only a few sad relics still linger—in Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. But there is one elephant in the room—one specimen bent on gainsaying everything the world has ever learnt from the Soviet breakdown. And that is the People’s Republic of China. As of this writing, its economy ranks the world’s fastest growing and third largest, not to mention its biggest exporter.

It was a comparative advantage in the manufacturing of cheap, labor-intensive goods that has dragged China out of the muck where it was stagnating since Mao's days. That China ever harnessed it marks a monumental break with precedent for a Communist country: the Soviet Bloc could have tapped into the very same comparative advantage, but didn't,  having decided on principle against trade with developed, capitalist countries. China broke the mold in the late 1970s with its debut in the global market and has since become the “workshop of the world.”

As evidenced by this economic miracle, Vladimir Lenin must have been ahead of his time when he urged the Politburo to relax its grip on agriculture and small businesses and to tighten it over “the commanding heights” of the economy instead. In China the Communist Party dictates top-down growth through currency manipulation, infrastructural undertakings, and demographic controls, while foreign investment, private or semi-private endeavors, and natural advantages in the manufacturing sector all contribute to bottom-up growth. If there’d ever been a golden mean between central planning and free enterprise, the Chinese must have come closest to striking it.

But how much higher will China rise as a Communist mongrel? Predictions differ, though evermore over when—rather than whether—it will overtake the U.S. as the world’s economic hegemon. Jim Rogers, hailed as a commodities-investment guru, recommends “Teach your children Mandarin” as the surest recipe for surviving not only the recent financial crisis but also others yet to storm, and is practicing what he preaches when it comes to his young daughters’ education. The late Nobel-laureate economist Paul Samuelson believed China’s supremacy to be just around the corner. In his last op-ed contribution 4 to the New York Times, he wrote: “We begin now a new era in which China will increasingly make obsolete America’s 1950-2009 world leadership. Your children and my grandchildren will live in this new and challenging era. ... [T]he day will come when China’s total real GDP will exceed America’s. Boohoo.”

Leading analysts from Deutsche Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers have divined the early 2020s as the time when the scepter shall be passed. Unnerving as the prospect of quietly falling behind the Chinese may seem, some fear an even worse outcome: active sabotage by the Chinese authorities, who control the world’s largest pool of dollar reserves and could liquidate it at any point, thus bringing the U.S. dollar—and by extension, the U.S. economy—to its knees.

So should we all resign to our fate and get busy learning Mandarin?

Before deciding the question, Americans better take into account their long history of glamorizing foreign rivals. The alarm over Soviet superiority has already been adduced to establish some perspective, and can be readily supplanted by modern equivalents, should China enthusiasts dismiss it as either dated or too “ideologically charged” to be relevant. In the 1960s and 1970s it was West Germany—that indomitable arsenal of high-quality exports, whose disciplined workforce never tired or blundered—that surely would leave the U.S. economy in the dust. Close, but no cigar.

No sooner had one threat proved unworthy of much concern than the American public fixed its feverish imagination onto the next. At some point in the 1980s, Japanese buzzwords started haunting the lexicon of business management: kaitzen, tokkin funds, baburu, keiretsu, zaitech, etc. American students—needing no prompting by Jim Rogers—were taking crash-courses in Japanese so they could speak the language of their future bosses. American businessmen, for their part, if too old to learn the language, could—and often did—at least straighten out their hair and dye it black. 5 And who could blame them?

Japanese banks had become the biggest in the world. Japanese companies were wolfing market share in every sector they had their eye on. And adding insult to injury, Japanese tycoons were conspicuously hoarding trophy properties all over the United States—among them Hollywood studios in California and the Rockefeller Center and Exxon building in New York. The Japanese were clearly the smartest race among men; their regimented variant of Capitalism, manifestly superior; and their takeover of the world, inevitable ... until 1989. That year the laws of physics broke down, leaving the stock market of Japan to crash and its economy to enter an unprecedented era of stagnation through which it is still plodding.

It looked as though Ezra Vogel’s bestselling prophecy Japan as Number One would not be fulfilled after all. Americans had scarcely heaved a sigh of relief when their anxieties rekindled, this time over the so-called Asian Tigers. That frenzy lasted well into the mid-to-late 90s, until put an end to by the Asian financial crisis. And now it’s China. But of course, this time, we are assured, it’s different.

So it is every time. The particulars are never the same. Yet all these cases of overblown alarm seem to share at least one trait. And that is the premise on the alarmists’ part that whichever up-and-coming economy is poised to take over the world will continue to enjoy nearly forever its outstanding growth rates of the moment. From this naive assumption the crudest, most unrealistic extrapolations often ensue. No predictions as to when or whether China’s economy will outdo America’s are worth taking seriously unless the growth rates they forecast for China stand a chance of reflecting reality. And for that future growth to be modeled realistically, its sources and constraints must first be understood.

The Past, Present, and Future of China’s Growth

Many forces are propelling China’s export-driven growth—the main two being a spring-back effect and a catch-up effect. The former denotes the gradual unwinding of the most debilitating policies and regulations from the Maoist past—as soon as they are rescinded, things get done less backwardly and growth bursts free. Short of removing themselves from power, the Chinese authorities cannot eliminate many more roadblocks to development than they already have. And so, the impetus of the spring-back effect is mostly exhausted. But to the more lasting benefit of China, it has precipitated a catch-up effect, which is what economists call the empirically observed tendency of poor countries to grow faster than developed ones.

For the most part, this economic convergence is a positive externality of globalization. China need not traverse the long and arduous learning curve attendant to the discovery of technologies that are now commonplace in the West. It need not devote time, capital, and manpower to the transition from the eight-bit to the 16-bit to the 32-bit to the 64-bit microprocessor. Everything the ingenuity of man has already produced, China can readily imitate, whereas technologically innovative countries must break their own records, so to speak, in order to grow. But if the Western look and feel of major Chinese cities is any indication, the country has run out of commonplace technologies to adopt.

International trade too works at bridging gaps in development. The poorer a country is, the cheaper its labor and the more attractive its exports. Yet the more China grows, the richer it gets. Workers’ wages begin to soar and so do production costs. Were it not for aggressive mercantilism, China’s comparative advantage in durable goods might soon peak—especially given fierce cost-competition from other big emerging markets such as India. Accordingly, the impetus of the catch-up effect is well on its way to teetering.

Manipulations of Labor

But Chinese authorities don’t just lubricate the export machine and leave the rest to God’s will. Rather, they do what central planners do best—that is, marshal resources on a grand scale to achieve fast industrialization.

Through sweeping educational reforms, they have slashed illiteracy and greatly improved the quality of higher learning. This ever more educated workforce has contributed a great deal to China’s growth so far. From now on, however, diminishing returns set in, as it is neither possible nor worthwhile for all Chinese youths to obtain Ph.D. degrees. Besides, the farther removed from the high-school level, the less of a commodity education becomes—and the less amenable to central planning.

Also thanks to Communist reforms, a good 45 percent of Chinese women now work—whereas almost none did before 1949. But although China can do better in this direction, it is at least halfway there. And since the 1980s, hundreds of millions of impoverished peasants have been encouraged to resettle from the countryside into the cities, where their hands can be put to industrial use. But the balance cannot be tipped much further, as today the Chinese population is split rather evenly between urban and rural.

In the 1940s, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the revolutionary turmoil that followed it had laid most of the country to waste. But as soon as China settled into Communist rule and began to enjoy some stability, a baby boom ensued, briefly interrupted only by the Great Leap famine. This population burst was at first considered a drag on economic development because it suddenly burdened families with a barrage of children—mouths to feed, too young to work. 6 To check this bothersome trend, the authorities resorted to draconian controls over people’s fertility—including but not limited to the notorious one-child policy—as a result of which, just as the baby-boomers came of working age there were fewer and fewer children to take care of. With such a surge in workers and slash in dependents, all the while the population was still growing, China’s dependency ratio fell drastically and its economy felt a staggering boost. In fact, official Chinese statistics credit this factor alone with over a quarter of the country’s economic growth between 1982 and 2000. 7

But what looms ahead now is one catastrophic reversal. In traditionally patriarchal families, the restriction to one child has often led to the death by neglect of newborn girls. Aborting female fetuses when their sex becomes known is also common. In the upshot, Chinese young men are so prevalent today that a full 17 percent of them will never find wives. This lopsidedness, together with the low fertility rates, will whittle down the Chinese population soon and fast. Worse yet, as the baby boomers reach old age, there will be fewer and fewer young workers to support them. Here it is worth noting that for all its Communist pretensions, China lacks a social safety net. Rather, adult children are charged by the Chinese constitution with providing for their parents. Starting in the 2020s, the Chinese economy will be squeezed hard between a shrinking population and a deteriorating dependency ratio.

Of these many attempts at demographic engineering, some have borne fruit already and others are about to backfire. It is obvious that the Chinese authorities like to meddle with their country’s human capital but recently they have started to play with physical capital as well.

Manipulations of Capital

Notwithstanding its market reforms, China still remains a country ruled by the five-year plan. To exalt the Communist leaders and prevent civil unrest, GDP must grow by at least 9 percent every year. This is considered an end in itself, dictated by the central committee and taken to heart by the local officials, who hold considerable sway over the sources of credit, the real-estate market, and the workings of state-owned enterprises. In turn, these enterprises control nearly half the Chinese industrial output and, being exempt from most market pressures, ground their business decisions on quotas, bribes, political favors, and propaganda value. All these entities work in concert to make the GDP numbers add up.

One ever-tempting shortcut is, of course, to make them up. Chinese statistics often contain double counting, flawed, missing, or lagging data, and sometimes fly in the face of proxy measures of GDP growth, such as electric output. All of this suggests that Chinese growth might in fact be over-reckoned—but not by much. What they cannot fake, the authorities must bring about. And they do. How?

Of all resources, physical capital lends itself to central planning the best: it can be accumulated almost at will, substituted for brute force, and put to specific use. For this reason, command economies tend to drive it hard. China is no exception: fixed-asset investment—into factories, equipment, infrastructure, commercial and residential real estate, etc.—has made up well over 33 percent of its GDP growth for every year of the last nine. Such numbers are astonishing.

Although large developing countries can be expected to amass capital apace, what we are witnessing in China is an instance of force-feeding rather than healthy appetite. That much is betrayed by the trend of the Chinese economy, which has grown at a near constant rate—however high—over the past decade, in spite of more and more capital fueling it every year. The incremental capital-to-output ratio (ICOR) has risen steeply in China since the early 90s and now measures well above that of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan at their heyday. 8 Diminishing marginal returns on capital must already be at work.

When their returns taper off, capital-intensive projects attract fewer and fewer private investors, leaving a vacuum for the government to fill. The well-known inadequacies of commend economies with respect to allocating resources profitably and efficiently get even more accentuated when fixed capital is their medium. For underused infrastructure, empty shopping malls, vacant office buildings, and idle factories must contend with the annual costs of upkeep to counter depreciation, in addition to their upfront costs. And that it to say nothing of the unseen, though all-too-real, opportunity costs—that is, the alternative uses of that capital, which free enterprise could have directed to fruitful ends. When approving such projects, central planners often forget about these strings attached. Once the true costs hit home, they are liable to throw good money after bad if by doing so they can prevent the man in the street from noticing that his leaders make expensive mistakes—skyscrapers, factories, malls, and even entire cities eaten by rust if left to their own devices.

Consider South China Mall, by far the largest shopping center in the world, twice as big as the previous record holder, built by a “local boy” undeterred by the absence of airports or freeways or bustling cities nearby. Here workers clean the water canals every day, janitors sweep the dust, shopkeepers read and listen to music, and teletubby mascots run around with no children to entertain, for the entire complex is eerily empty. Instead of filing for bankruptcy, the mall has merely changed hands and is now owned and run by the government.

 

 

Note also the splendid Potemkin villages dotting the mainland today. Huaxi, for example, right outside of Beijing, is the world’s “tallest village.” On its amenities and housing projects the government has squandered over $360 million in fixed assets. It boasts the 15th tallest skyscraper ever built, with an even taller one under construction, and bestows on each family—courtesy of the Village Committee—a brand-new Mercedes, BMW, or Cadillac; a luxurious house worth $150,000; a generous cash allowance; free education and health insurance; as well as complimentary cooking oil. Talk about idyllic bliss! The village song blaring out of the ubiquitous loudspeakers reminds the “peasants” of Huaxi that the skies above them are the skies of the Communist Party and that their land is the land of Socialism. For the benefit of stunned Western guests, a voice interrupts the music to ejaculate, in English, “Actually, we like this kind of Socialism!”

 

Huaxi Village, Jiangyin, China -

Huaxi Village, Jiangyin, China - "A model socialist village."

In recent years, lavish experiments with steel and concrete have mushroomed all over China at a manic pace, which the stimulus program of 2008-2009 has only exacerbated. In proportion to the Chinese economy, this stimulus of $586 billion dwarfs even its American counterpart of $787 billion, a good $144 billion of which merely subsumes existing liabilities of the State and local governments. Not so in China, where far from receiving relief from the stimulus, provincial and local governments are borrowing afresh to finance it. At $150 billion, the current Chinese deficit bespeaks a rate of dissaving comparable to that of the U.S. government. This fiscal rush is exciting even more infrastructural development and construction projects—which is where Chinese capital and scarce resources seem to go to die.

Take for example the new municipal building somewhere in the remote province of Anhui—an exact replica of the U.S. Capitol. And in Inner Mongolia one can find New Ordos, a city built from scratch with government money to house over one million people, virtually none of whom have moved in yet. Anyone who has bought condos there is holding them “as an investment”—a telltale sign of real-estate speculation run amok.

In fact this trend of buying two to four condos and keeping all but one unoccupied is spreading like fire among the wealthy and upper-middle-class Chinese and evokes the same exuberant mentality common in the U.S. at the height of the recent housing bubble. Even in cities of red-hot economies such as Shanghai and Beijing, vacancy rates in new housing units and office buildings are crossing 25 percent. Yet the construction orgy continues. With prices of urban real estate inflating by as much as 80 percent and now claiming up to 20 times per capita income, major Chinese cities have become expensive places to live in, almost overnight. Innumerable families have tied up their multigenerational savings into steep down-payments for condos and apartments that will almost certainly turn out to be grossly overpriced. Out of a due consideration for them, it bears repeating that China has no social safety net. When this gigantic bubble bursts, rich and poor alike will be swept away.

Manipulations of Currency

China’s exports have long claimed a disproportionate share of its GDP—40 percent last year, doubled from a decade ago. Growing a colossal trade surplus requires excellent relations with trading partners from the First World, at which prospect the Chinese autocrats are not at all thrilled. Yet much as they begrudge this prickly dependence on the West and talk of boosting domestic consumption instead, they know that the export industry has been the main source of that wealth they love to squander on such grandiose projects as empty cities and picturesque skyscrapers.

Over the past couple of years, however, the global slump in demand has put the brakes on Chinese exports. To ease the twinge, the authorities have taken some ill-thought-out steps, such as building more factories even as existing ones either lay idle or cut production by at least half. This manufacturing boom is, of course, yet another outcropping of the stimulus program, as a result of which overcapacity now plagues many sectors of the export industry—in metalwork, textiles, chemicals, etc.—and commits China to more production and more exports in the future in order to keep these new costly workshops open.

This renewed need to promote exports breathes fresh vigor into the already thriving mercenary practices of Beijing. Currency manipulation, perhaps the favorite, is growing vehement. The Chinese resort to it to fatten the goose that lays the golden eggs. Formerly de jure and presently de facto, the yuan has been pegged to the dollar at an exchange rate that makes Chinese exports irresistibly cheap to Americans.

To keep the currency undervalued, the Chinese central bank must—and constantly does—buy dollars in exchange for yuan, so that the demand for the former can grow with the supply of the latter. As a result of such transactions carried out over many years, a mountain of dollars has accrued in the coffers of the People’s Bank of China, which, until recently, it could not but sit on or invest into U.S. government debt so as to earn a modest return. Thus it is crucial to understand that the largest pool of foreign exchange reserves the world has ever seen—$2.45 trillion and counting—belongs to the Chinese not because they deliberately set out to accumulate it for strategic purposes. Rather, it is the inevitable and increasingly unwelcome byproduct of their mercantilist policies.

One frightful fantasy which the American foreign-policy intelligentsia are prone to indulge is that, thanks to these reserves, the Chinese can wield all-powerful leverage over the U.S. economy—that they can dump all the dollars in their possession and thus debase the value of the American currency. In short, that they can wage economic warfare against the U.S. and win. These apprehensions spring from a fundamental misunderstanding of the subtle interdependence between China and America. True—the Chinese are our creditors and we are their debtors, but they hold no collateral: Over the years, they have sold us an endless stream of goods for less than those goods were worth. In return, they have accumulated inherently worthless paper currency—most held as Treasuries—whose only backing is the health of the U.S. economy.

These growing forex reserves cannot serve China as a “war chest” because its currency is, if anything, vastly undervalued, and its ability to repay international debts, unquestioned. They carry immense “potential energy,” as it were, while they sit idle, but are worth very little if used. For one thing, their sheer bulk is so tremendous that the liquidation of even a small portion would precipitate such a fast and sharp depreciation of the dollar as to decimate the value of the rest. The corresponding steep appreciation of the yuan would grind the Chinese export industry to a halt and put nearly half of China out of work—yet another reason why extreme dependence on exports is dangerous.

China's Currency Bubble

Source: "What the Renminbi Means for American Inflation" (url)

As for the repercussions in the U.S. economy, they wouldn’t be entirely dreadful. The dollar as a vehicle currency might be dealt a crippling blow, though that is far from certain, given the many past indignities, such as the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, from which it has rebounded more or less unscathed. The export and hospitality industries would flourish, and after the bad blood cleared with the bad loans, confidence in future American investments would soar, for the dollar can only appreciate from its lowest low. The rocky experience might even chasten the U.S. government into confining its spending to its means and forswearing runaway debt. On the whole, the Chinese can hurt no one but themselves by liquidating their dollar reserves. Though Americans may not believe this, the Chinese themselves do, and, resigned to the prospect of holding their dollar-denominated assets indefinitely, have taken measures unprecedented in the history of finance to protect their value against inflation.

Until recently, nearly all of these assets were held in the form of Treasury and agency debt, whose meager yield could not keep up with inflation and the other transactional costs to holding a foreign-exchange peg. But in May of 2007, in a move that garnered surprisingly little publicity abroad, China invested $3 billion of its dollar reserves into a 9.9 percent equity stake at Blackstone Group LP, a major American private-equity financier. This investment marks a breakthrough in the management of China’s forex reserves: the start of a shift away from U.S. government debt, which until recently was considered a safe however low-yielding investment, and into private equities and corporate debt, always risky but of potentially high return.

The trend continued, and by the end of 2007, the State Administration of Foreign Reserves (SAFE) of China had invested an estimated $100 billion into U.S. mortgage-backed securities. By 2008, its holdings included minor stakes at Rio Tinto, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Barclays, Tesco, and RBS. According to Brad Setser, a member of the National Economic Council, “SAFE has built up one of the largest U.S. equity portfolios of any foreign government entity investing abroad, including the major sovereign wealth funds.... It appears [as though] SAFE began diversifying into equities early in 2007 and, rather than being deterred by the subprime crisis, it continued to buy.” Such ill-timed speculative dabbling into equities and corporate debt ended sourly, with losses to SAFE estimated at $80 billion as of March 2009.

But this is not all, for in September 2007 a new sovereign wealth fund was established—China Investment Corporation (CIC)—specializing in the investment of over $200 billion of China’s forex reserves into the equity and credit markets. Its holdings include a 9.9 percent stake at Morgan Stanley and a minor percentage of VISA. The governance and operations of both CIC and SAFE, though shrouded in bureaucratic fog, seem firmly entrenched in the political establishment. Their forays into equities mark the latest stage in the evolution of central banks and their subsidiary institutions from lenders of last resort to monetary authorities to, now, portfolio managers.

If China’s experiments with its forex reserves end up subsidizing American businesses as opposed to the U.S. government, so much the better. But when Chinese bureaucrats playing venture capitalists, unconstrained by any accountability to their taxpayers, throw billions of dollars not their own at speculative ventures, dislocations and inefficiencies might develop across any markets in which they invest. Moreover, the trustworthiness of firms in contractual business with the U.S. government may be compromised if investors backed by the Chinese government have any say over their operations. But these are tepid concerns overall. Of far greater importance is the harm China is inflicting on itself with its policies.

A country committed to a fixed exchange-rate regime must sacrifice its independent monetary policy and submit to that of the country to whose currency it pegs its own. So too China has little to no control over its money supply, especially now that it seems to have given up on sterilized intervention, and must import whatever inflation the U.S. economy produces in order to keep the yuan pegged to the dollar. As measured by M1, the money supply of China has ballooned by 35 percent between the end of ‘08 and that of ‘09. As measured by M2, it has expanded by 25 percent since March of ‘09. Inflation too is creeping up.

All this liquidity has flushed the pockets of ordinary citizens with cheap credit, which ends up into speculative ventures in real estate, construction, and manufacturing. Bank lending in China all but doubled in 2009 from the year before. By comparison, U.S. banks swelled up their loan book by only 10 to 15 percent each year between 2005 and 2007—at the height of the frenzy. Such overflow of easy credit provides rich and abundant nourishment to asset bubbles. And though China has known its share of market bubbles throughout the 1990s, all fueled by the government and ultimately traceable to the side effects of currency manipulation, the magnitude of the one now ballooning is unprecedented, as is the recent growth of Chinese forex reserves, which graphed, mimic an exponential function. Unprecedented fiscal abandon is also fanning the flames of speculative folly nationwide.

Not if, but when...and then what?

There is no saying when this bubble will burst or how much destruction it will leave in its wake but the outlook is grim. Civil unrest and political disturbances are not out of the question, but how Chinese foreign policy will reflect the upcoming tumult is not to be guessed at. China could lean heavily on its military might to compensate for its eroding economic power. Or it could sober up and renounce or postpone its global ambitions. Economically, the fallout could signify the death of mercantilism—the root of most evil in China’s economy. Though it is just as likely that an autopsy performed by Keynesian scholars will implicate the high saving rate as the cause of the crash.

But one thing is certain: The “Chinese miracle” does not give the lie to the economic lessons of the 20th century after all. Without question, China is undergoing its own industrial revolution. The world’s fourth biggest and most populous country has lifted itself from abject poverty. Monumental changes must unravel. The momentum of transition may last for decades. The turbulent particulars can bewilder observers. Nevertheless, the overarching path of economic development happens to be schematically simple. If we look past its bells and whistles, the Chinese economy shows a core made of extensive growth, just like the Soviet Union in its heyday.

Sales people introduce properties to potential buyers at the 2010 Beijing Spring Real Estate Trade Fair on April 10, 2010 in Beijing, China.

Sales people introduce properties to potential buyers at the 2010 Beijing Spring Real Estate Trade Fair on April 10, 2010 in Beijing, China.

Slowly, steadily, and diligently, the country’s labor pool and capital base have been expanded as far as their natural limits allow. Friction is now getting uncomfortable: the demographic resources are depleted; inasmuch as education is a commodity, the workforce is already educated; and if the accumulation of capital accelerates, the economy will scarcely receive benefit but the environment will suffer such a strain as to make not only radical ecologists, but any men of common sensibility squirm.

Innovation—the Philosopher’s stone of economic growth—cannot be planned. Chinese authorities can choreograph rural migrations and erect skyscrapers to prettify city skylines. But that won’t do. It takes something very different to create a lively, self-sustaining modern economy capable of intensive growth: steady property rights, unrestricted labor mobility, developed credit markets, provisions for intellectual property, and limits on bureaucratic interference—all missing in China. Only under such conditions can Hayek’s economic calculation problem be solved, entrepreneurship thrive, and decentralized knowledge direct economic activity. But when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So instead of setting the economy free, Chinese central planners continue to experiment with mercantilist schemes and boondoggles of fiscal largess because these are the only tools at their disposal.

Any fears that China can remain what it is and still continue to grow at a breathtaking pace are, to put it mildly, unfounded. In order to compete with America, China would have to become like America; but if it did, it would no longer be a country to fear—prone to aggression or supportive of rogue regimes the world over. Instead, it would join the ranks of peaceful capitalist democracies and cease to pose a threat to the West. Such a metamorphosis should be welcomed and encouraged, not dreaded and undermined. To this end, nothing is more important than one often overlooked sector of the American export industry—that of culture and ideas. So far, the U.S. has exported to China its recklessly loose monetary policy and its penchant for wasteful fiscal “stimulus”—neither thing worth sharing. By contrast, the spirit of laissez-faire and the appreciation of liberal institutions—these most quintessentially American concepts—lie dormant today. With the U.S. sliding toward statism itself, their supply is too scarce even for domestic consumption, let alone for export abroad. If only America could become more like itself, and China more like America, the world would be a much safer and more prosperous place.

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

Notes:

  1. Paul Krugman, “The Myth of Asia’s Miracle,” (Foreign Affairs: 1994)
  2. Ibid.
  3. William Easterly and Stanley Fischer, “The Soviet Economic Decline,” (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank: 1995)
  4. Paul Samuelson, “Heed the Hopeful Science,” (New York Times: 2009)
  5. 2003, William Bonner and Addison Wiggin, “Financial Reckoning Day,” page 118
  6. For a discussion of China’s demographics and policies, see H. Yuan Tien, et al. (1992). “China's demographic dilemmas.” Population Bulletin 47; June.
  7. “Demographic Dimensions of China’s Development,” Eduard B. Vermeer, Population and Development Review, Vol. 32, The Political Economy of Global Population Change, 1950-2050 (2006), pp. 116.
  8. John Wong, China’s Surging Economy, 2007, page 260
Tagged as: No Comments
19Jul/100

RE: The Problem of Economic Calculation

In this entry, I argued that the census is of little value to central planners. The cost of over $11 billion is one fact I cited against it, but on second thought, no critique on that front holds water, because the Constitution itself mandates the taking of the census—and for a purpose wholly unrelated to the gathering of economic intelligence. So if the government must take the census, the cost of doing so does not signify.

It seems to me, however, as though the government already possesses all the information the census is meant to collect and more—neatly tucked away in the IRS Individual Master File: name, income, spouse, dependents, residence, whether you own or rent the place where you dwell, what you ate for breakfast, etc. The only question on the census to which the IRS doesn't already demand an answer—that I know of, at least—is that of race. "But ... but ... that's not what the Constitution says. The founders meant for the census to..." Yeah, sure. ... Indeed, that such an institution as the IRS should even exist in these united states would scandalize the founders if the poor devils were around to take note. No matter. The IRS is here to stay. So why not make the most of it? The government could query its database every year, instead of ten, by means of an electronic process, which would practically cost nothing. That's over $1 billion of savings a year, which could, in turn, be wasted far more imaginatively over trifles less mundane.

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

12Jul/100

The Problem of Economic Calculation

Census 2010This morning, while riding the express train to work, I stood facing one of those ubiquitous census ads and, for the first time, began considering its wording in earnest. I am sure you’ve seen it too: “If we don’t know how many schoolchildren we have, how can we know how many schools to build? … If we don’t know how many people we have, how can we know how many hospitals to build?” And so on and so forth.

That the government should still pose such questions—innocent as they are—suggests that the so-called problem of economic calculation afflicts the endeavors of central planners today no less than it did in the 1920s, when Ludwig Von Mises first set it forth. Not only that, but the government has also failed to find tools more efficacious in tackling this problem than the nationwide survey—that is, the census. And what a crude device that is!

For one thing, any information collected through it soon becomes outdated, since the census is taken at intervals of no less than 10 years, during which time a lot can happen in terms of economic development and population shifts. For another, delivering the surveys to every doorstep in the country, entreating the citizens to fill them out, and ensuring that a tolerable number of them actually do so amounts to an onerous affair not cheap to orchestrate—as is plainly evinced by the handsome budget of $11.3 billion allocated to the accomplishment thereof. And for all the pains that go into collecting it, this information winds up reaching the government incomplete and only approximately accurate—the proportion of falsified surveys that alloy the census results being a matter of contentious and largely partisan debate.

Read the rest at Commentary.

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

21May/100

Rand Paul’s Rocky Start

Rand Paul, son of Ron PaulJen, when you say of Rand Paul, “here’s some free advice: don’t trot out his father, Ron Paul, to defend him—it will give voters the sense that Rand is as wacky as his dad,” I am uncertain whether the advice goes far enough. Some of Ron Paul’s ideas and pronouncements are so disturbing and extremist that it may be incumbent upon Rand Paul not only to evade his father’s endorsement but also to distance himself from his unacceptable positions publicly.

Not only the Tea Party protests but also the silent rancor of the public at large seems fueled by outrage at this administration’s fiscal abandon—which tends to overshadow considerations of foreign policy or social issues. It is therefore unfortunate and possibly dangerous that some of the most ardent and sincere champions of fiscal sobriety hail from the Paulian circle and thus carry a lot of undesirable baggage. Voters must take or leave these controversial candidates as a whole—the good along with the bad and the ugly.

During the 2008 presidential race, I came across a great number of well-meaning people so taken with Ron Paul’s promises of fiscal constraint and economic laissez faire—as sorely wanting then as today—that they ignored, denied, or rationalized his noxious standpoint on social matters, his ridiculous prescriptions on foreign policy, his illiberal writings on race relations, and even his connections with anti-Semites. It is possible for the reverse of this phenomenon—that is, wholesale acceptance or rejection—to backfire now for Rand Paul: natural antipathy to his social conservatism (e.g., his advocacy for a complete ban on abortion), his isolationist foreign policy, and his controversial comments on the Civil Rights Act, might, by association, extend in the minds of undecided voters to his agenda of limited government and fiscal conservatism.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

2Apr/101

Cutting Angels’ Wings

Senator Chris DoddCongress has passed or contemplated so many blunders of late that I, for one, am finding it harder and harder to muster fresh outrage toward every new one. But this latest being cooked up by Chris Dodd deserves a special shout out:

First, Dodd’s bill would require startups raising funding to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and then wait 120 days for the SEC to review their filing. A second provision raises the wealth requirements for an “accredited investor” who can invest in startups—if the bill passes, investors would need assets of more than $2.3 million (up from $1 million) or income of more than $450,000 (up from $250,000). The third restriction removes the federal pre-emption allowing angel and venture financing in the United States to follow federal regulations, rather than face different rules between states.

All the prerogatives over private businesses; all the power over health care, now near absolute; all the dabbling in the inner workings of financial institutions; in short, all the regulation in the world, couldn’t satisfy this government. Are the Democrat legislators ever going to have enough? Or is their regulatory fetish feverishly looking for new, exotic objects?

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

22Sep/09147

The Other “Other McCain”

The Other McCain

The Other McCain

Unprovoked and unchallenged, Robert Stacy McCain has been harassing Charles Johnson of LittleGreenFootballs relentlessly over the past ten days—twenty posts and counting since September 15th and the archive of hatred and verbose distortions runs deeper. Yesterday, seemingly unsatisfied at the breadth and depth the coverage of Johnson’s evils had received from his own blog, he launched a new outlet for seething against him, carved out of HotAir with its administrators’ approval. From McCain’s inauguratorory remarks, we learn that creating the Green Room—as he colorfully calls it—had become necessary because both at his blog and at HotAir, “commenters have been hijacking every thread to discuss the disastrous self-immolation of Charles Johnson.” That HotAir and the Other McCain are plagued by hordes of commenters who care for nothing but trashing Johnson—to the point of needing a separate forum custom-made for this purpose—speaks more about these blogs’ readership and appeal than it does about Johnson.

But let me speak about Charles Johnson for a minute. He does not need me to defend him, but if I keep silent, a few facts may remain understated: For one thing, he never started a blog war with Robert Stacy McCain. All he did was note—in a discreet comment at his site—that Stephen Green of Vodkapundit was promoting McCain, whom Charles rightfully labeled a white supremacist. When Green responded with a passive-aggressive post making excuses for McCain, Charles provided sources to back his assertion. See that? Only two hyperlinks in the next-to-last sentence, because two posts, mainly consisting of outside sources and direct quotes—the most damning ones from McCain himself—were enough to establish McCain’s racist bona fides. Truth is succinct, truth is crisp. It does not seethe, it does not prevaricate, it is not affected.

What McCain has responded with are long-winded heaps of nothingness, shot through the ether in rapid succession. Does he ever address the direct quotes and facts Charles has laid out? No. Here is an example of what he does instead:

Johnson's attack on me at LGF depends largely on convincing his readers that, because I am an obstreperous Southerner . . . well, nudge, nudge. You know how those people are.

Except when they aren't.…People who hate the South—and I think Charles Johnson might fit that description—will not permit you the leisure of merely saying, "Well, we're not all bad."…

Charles Johnson was not [at the Tea Party]. I was. And so were lots of people from Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia… oh, wait. I forgot. All Southerners are ignorant racists, right, Charles?

One dull, pathetic lie that is…. Charles never said or suggested any of the above. He merely related a simple fact to his readers—that Robert Stacy McCain has been a member of the neo-confederate League of the South. Does McCain dispute this much? No. In fact, he digresses:

[T]he point is that I was pursuing my professional duty when I first came into contact with the League of the South, and of my subsequent involvement, there are many things that people think they know—on the basis of SPLC reports—which are not necessarily true. And there are many, many thinks [sic] that people do not know.

To what mysteries do you allude, Robert? Are you a member or not? Have you ever been? The League’s secessionist intentions are a matter of public record, as is her pro-slavery stance. One of her cofounders, Thomas Fleming, makes a cameo appearance in my exposé of Serge Trifkovic, where some of his blatantly racist pronouncements are quoted in full—no one can accuse me of taking him out of context when he openly defends the Klan and rejects the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So, Robert, care to elaborate on that subsequent involvement of yours in the League? Neither do you deny being a member of it nor do you wish to utter anything unflattering about it. Then why the caveat when you link to fellow-Leaguers (emphasis mine)?

Meanwhile, keeping in mind that a link is not necessarily an endorsement, League of the South blogger Old Rebel offers his own idiosyncratic [sic] of Chronic Degenerative Lizardmania: [Deranged screed follows—ed.]

Do hedge your bets, Robert. Leave those modifiers dangling too—they make it easier to claim later that you’ve been misunderstood in whichever way it conveniences you to be misunderstood….

In response to my husband—the “an anonymous a—hole”—who calls him out on the friendship and business relation with Richard Spencer of TakiMagazine, McCain retorts:

Richard Spencer, as I have written before, is a young radical intellectual who has read too much Nietzsche. Should he be shunned therefore?

Oh dear…. I will gladly capitulate to Godwin’s Law if it means pointing out that Hitler started out as a young radical intellectual who had read too much Nietzsche (and Schopenhauer). Spencer, McCain’s friend and intermittent source of paychecks, is a notorious white nationalist—he will freely reveal himself as such if you meet him in person; at least he has to me and to MPH, the “anonymous a—hole.”

More evasions from McCain:

[Johnson’s] attack on me at LGF is a classic "ransom note method" attack—the assembling of this, that and the other to create a collage, like a kidnapper glueing [sic] together words clipped from magazines.

Pretty vivid imagery there… of a collage… stitched together from quotes and facts. The horror! But who would dare ransom this quote from McCain?

[T]he media now force interracial images into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to these images with an altogether natural revulsion. The white person who does not mind transacting business with a black bank clerk may yet be averse to accepting the clerk as his sister-in-law, and THIS IS NOT RACISM, no matter what Madison Avenue, Hollywood and Washington tell us.

This, from someone who feels reluctant to shun Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and other assorted bigots, primarily out of strategic considerations:

You cannot build a successful political movement by a process of subtraction, and building a winning coalition is impossible if you organize on losing principles. Allowing your opposition to dictate the terms of acceptable discourse is a losing principle, as Jeff Goldstein has striven to explain. Ergo, Johnson manifests a defeatist tendency when he pronounces Geller and Spencer "untouchables" because they attended a European conference whose promoters included some unsavory characters.

Robert, I assure you: If only you could discriminate less against people of different skin color, you would safely afford to discriminate more against would-be allies of stained character or reputation. And on aggregate, the numbers in your winning coalition would not suffer one bit from this shift—trust me, I’ve done the math. McCain further writes:

The point is that, in attacking me as a "neo-Confederate," Charles Johnson arrogantly supposes that the facts he knows (or rather, believes he knows, as there has been so much misinformation propagated over the years) are the only facts that matter, and that whatever facts he doesn't know must be irrelevant.

This is where the Hayekian insight comes in handy. Friedrich Hayek understood that central economic planning could not work because the information contained in prices is too complex, diverse and localized to be supplanted by decisions made by "experts."

In the same way, our individual opinions on subjects of controversy—including, but not limited to, public policy—are shaped by our personal experiences and knowledge.

Sir, I see your gratuitous invocation of Hayek’s information theory and I raise you Henry Hazlit’s elaboration of opportunity cost—from one Austrian economist to another:

A bridge is built. If it is built to meet an insistent public demand, if it solves a traffic problem or a transportation problem otherwise insoluble, if, in short, it is even more necessary to the taxpayers collectively than the things for which they would have individually spent their money had it had not been taxed away from them, there can be no objection. But a bridge built primarily “to provide employment” is a different kind of bridge….

The bridge exists. It is, let us suppose, a beautiful and not an ugly bridge. It has come into being through the magic of government spending. Where would it have been if the obstructionists and the reactionaries had had their way? There would have been no bridge. The country would have been just that much poorer. Here again the government spenders have the better of the argument with all those who cannot see beyond the immediate range of their physical eyes. They can see the bridge. But if they have taught themselves to look for indirect as well as direct consequences they can once more see in the eye of imagination the possibilities that have never been allowed to come into existence. They can see the unbuilt homes, the unmade cars and washing machines, the unmade dresses and coats, perhaps the ungrown and unsold foodstuffs. To see these uncreated things requires a kind of imagination that not many people have. We can think of these nonexistent objects once, perhaps, but we cannot keep them before our minds as we can the bridge that we pass every working day. What has happened is merely that one thing has been created instead of others.

Take that, and apply it to your strategic reasons for tolerating fascists, white nationalists, and religious supremacists in polite company. Their presence in a movement is palpable—hey show up in a head count—but how many sane thinkers who might otherwise sympathize with a cause or idea will never join, out of sheer disgust with its co-optation by fascists and bigots? We’ll never know…. This consideration applies not only to the involvement of Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, or Ann Coulter in the “conservative movement,” but also to your own trafficking in Austrian circles—Hayek is rolling in his grave as neo-confederate cranks twist his ideas in their defense.

Now, back to Charles Johnson… I may disagree with him on any number of issues and still find debating ideas with him a pleasure. He has never given me reason to doubt his integrity or his sanity, and for enduring—without so much as a flinch—the storm of excrement blowing his way from “conservative” quarters of the blogosphere, my hat goes off to him. Refusing to break bread with outspoken bigots should not constitute a tense moral dilemma. It’s basic decency—the kind we should safely take for granted in others and in ourselves. As Charles’s alter ego Lao Stinky put it, “Refusing to dive into a sewer doesn’t mean you’re cleaner than everyone else.” No one deserves a medal for refusing to descend into vitriol and bigotry, but basic virtues are becoming so hard to come by on the Right that they must be spelled out anew. And it’s embarrassing that it has come to this.

White nationalist Robert Stacy McCain now prominently blogrolls lgf2, a hate site run by a couple of dangerous whacks prone to physical violence—and encourages its commenters to congregate at Hot Air. He brings up the nicknames of commenters banned from LGF—apparently, they’re no longer "anonymous a—holes" when they play his game—and encourages them to seethe at his site. Could there be a move pettier than cultivating disgruntled ex-commenters banned for good reasons from another site? I mean, at least from “one of the top Hayekian public intellectuals in America”?

To all those "pundits" who should know better—Vodka, Allah, Insta, I am pointing at you—some candid advice: Get your neo-confederate protégée to shut up, because the more he talks, the deeper the hole he digs himself into, and the more uncomfortable you will feel when you come to his defense.

UPDATE: I've learned that Hot Air's "Green Room" was not created specifically for hosting Robert Stacy McCain's diatribes against Charles Johnson. It's rather a platform for all "outside bloggers" who contribute to Hot Air. I did not know this because I have not read Hot Air in a long time. What McCain did was use an existing platform to publish a thread exclusively dedicated to trashing Charles Johnson. There... is that better?

UPDATE: Over at “The Other McCain,” Stacy is already reacting by, you guessed it, weaseling his way around my arguments. He pretends to respond by quoting a sentence of mine—cherry-picked for its relative irrelevance to the charges against him:

White nationalist Robert Stacy McCain now prominently blogrolls lgf2, a hate site run by a couple of dangerous whacks prone to physical violence—and encourages its commenters to congregate at Hot Air.

Then he proceeds to “debunk” it by informing me that “there are these things called facts,… and there are witnesses to those facts.” These “facts” Stacy links to and their respective “witnesses” are nothing but photos of his son with his football teammates, of whom some are black and one is Asian. So his offspring has been caught on camera looking friendly among blacks, in front of witnesses. Stacy, you’ve humored me. If this is the best you can muster in your defense, I rest my case. The idea of having blacks for in-laws still repulses you. But to your credit, you have established that not only you don’t mind transacting business with a black bank clerk, but you will even tolerate your son playing with black kids. You are much more open-minded than I had realized and I am not above admitting it.

From another update:

Now we see where Kejda Gjermani is getting her misinformation. A commenter identifies her husband as software entrepreneur Michael P. Hussey…[so MPH was not an anonymous a—hole after all—ed.] Apparently "mph" encountered Richard Spencer—perhaps at a libertarian event? some sort of Paulista gathering?—in New York, where they both live, and words were exchanged…. Alas, "mph" has made serious mistakes by recycling materials of dubious credibility, and—if it is true that "mph" is Hussey—he has committed an even more serious error by involving Gjermani in what appears to be some sort of personal feud with Spencer.

Leaving aside the misogynistic presumption that it must have been my husband who fed me “misinformation” or “involved” me in anything, I must correct Stacy’s allegation that it was at a libertarian event or “Paulista gathering” that my husband and I met Richard Spencer. For someone so ostensibly committed to not jumping to conclusions without knowing “the facts,” Stacy is sure making up a lot of stuff from thin air. For the record, we met Spencer at a debate titled “Is Zionism Racism?” There was a show of hands, and guess which way Richard Spencer voted? To this day, I remain wholly confused as to what his vote revealed about his attitude to Israel, because he seems to consider racism a good thing.

To top it off, Stacy taunts us:

Pay close attention, idiots: Just because I haven't bothered to deny something doesn't mean it's true. The burden of proof is on the accuser, and good luck proving some of the things you have so flatly asserted. There are facts. And there are witnesses.

He doesn't bother denying any of the charges against him. But he does bother writing dozens of articles, each over 1,000 words long, to harass whomever brings up unflattering facts from his past. Facts that he doesn't deny, but pleads with his readers not to believe.... I need some Advil....

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

3Jun/091

Brian Deese: The New Face of General Motors

Brian DeeseBrian Deese hails from the establishment elites: the son of an engineer specializing in “renewable energy” and a political science professor at Boston College, he majored in political science at Middlebury College, went on to Yale Law School, took leave to become deputy economic policy director for the Obama campaign, then moved on to the White House’s National Economic Council. The New York Times recently profiled Mr. Deese, 31 years old, as the face behind the dismantling and restructuring of General Motors:

Mr. Deese’s role is unusual for someone who is neither a formally trained economist nor a business school graduate, and who never spent much time flipping through the endless studies about the future of the American and Japanese auto industries.

The profile quotes Lawrence Summers on Deese:

“And there he was in the Roosevelt Room, speaking up vigorously to make the point that the costs we were going to incur giving Fiat a chance were no greater than some of the hidden costs of liquidation.”

Yet Mr. Deese’s impressive legal and politically scientific education has apparently not instilled in him any basic understanding of opportunity cost. Presiding over General Motors’s operations should teach him a few lessons, which he is likely to ignore, as have scores of career bureaucrats preceding him. The argument Mr. Deese employed in favor of nationalizing General Motors — that costs to the government would be greater under dissolution due to associated unemployment and insurance expenses — betrays inability to see past the numbers in front of him.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

20Nov/082

Authoritarianism: The Left’s True Face

Never express yourself more clearly than you think. —Niels Bohr

Barack Obama and the political architects of what will be his administration have expressed themselves rather clearly with respect to their plans for imposing mandatory community service on young Americans. The puzzle is figuring out just what they are thinking!

Here we have Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff, in a 2006 interview with Ben Smith of the NY Daily News. Perhaps Emanuel was not expecting to be in a position to have to own up to his own words when this interview took place, but some of his most outrageous utterances seem to have inspired Obama's "master plan" for America.

Right before the nine-minute mark of the podcast we hear it straight from the horse's mouth:

Citizenship is not an entitlement program. It comes with responsibility.

By that phrase Emanuel perversely means "responsibility to the government", hence the tentative rationale for mandating universal enrollment into futuristic soup-kitchen armies.

Citizenship is not an entitlement program? Well Mr. Emanuel, the nation's top 1% earners who shoulder as great a tax burden as the bottom 95% would not argue with you over that. For them citizenship is more like a charity program. In fact, the nation's highest-earning one-fifth of households receive $0.41 for every dollar paid in taxes —the rest going to finance entitlement programs for the bottom one-fifth which receive $8.21 in government spending for each dollar paid in taxes.

Anyone for whom citizenship can be conceived of as a welfare program owes such privileged existence to the productive citizens whose socks are being taxed off. The government cannot expect gratitude or reciprocation from the recipients of its "generous benevolence" funded by the compulsory taxation of other people's dime.

Emanuel's pronouncement sounds like a vernacular paraphrase of John F. Kennedy's "...ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country..." regarding which Milton Friedman had the following to say (and I couldn't have said it any better):

In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, "what you can do for your country" implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather "What can I and my compatriots do through government" to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? (Capitalism and Freedom)

The political conglomerate of pseudo compassionate anti-establishment collectivists we commonly refer to as "the Left" in America, has furthered its agenda by appealing to the electorate's passion for radical personal freedoms since the 1960s. Social liberalism represents one side of the libertarian-philosophy coin, and its adoption by Leftist activists has been one of the few redeeming qualities of the Democratic Party. It seems as though in the face of ideological degeneration by the Republican Party, —manifested in its abandon of fiscal responsibility and free enterprise ideals (the other side of the coin)— Democrats are lowering their own standards too by compromising on their support for personal freedoms. In such an environment of intellectual slack the mask is finally slipping on the Left's true agenda.

Being in the opposition party no longer, being the anti-establishment rebels no longer, they have no more need for their staple "stick it to the man" oratory flaming up our culture, and no more affinity for "personal freedoms". The Left is mainstreaming and its agenda is achieving dreadful consistency.

The dichotomy between economic freedom and personal freedom had always been a faux rhetorical construction. Economic tyranny, even within an unrealistic bubble of personal freedom, can be reduced to a state of limited autonomy within bureaucratic boundaries dictating severe redistribution of the fruits of any successful efforts. Economic tyranny entails an indirect and often passive infringement of personal freedoms. Personal tyranny is directly intrusive and the active intervention required to enforce it cannot go unnoticed or un-resented by the citizenry. Infringements of either personal or economic liberties are all steps toward the same absolutist political direction, whatever their different nuances on the radicalism scale.

History reveals economic planning and social engineering to be sister tyrannies. In none of the countries where communism ever took over were personal freedoms of speech, association, or personal expression (dress code), reproductive rights, or privacy considerations respected. The absolutist self-declared representatives of the proletariat dictated not only the logistics and priorities of economic production but also conformist uniform morality to the masses. Personal freedom without economic freedom was always unsustainable middle ground.

The new administration is insinuating itself very boldly in the spectrum of personal freedoms previously assumed to be off-limits for the Left. Obama and Emanuel will not be satisfied with allowing us to lead our individual lives as we please while merely contingently burdening us with heavy taxes in case we "overly" succeed at making a living. No. They also want your sweat and blood. They want to not only ration the funds in your bank account, but also the hours in your week during high school and college, as well as a bloc of a few months between the 18th and 25th year of your life.

Is the Left getting bolder, or is it just getting consistent?

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

Filed under: Economics, The Left 2 Comments
7Nov/0828

JihadwatchWatch: Robert Spencer’s amorous flirt with European Fascism

The election is finally behind us. After initial sighs of relief and disappointment many are already beginning to re-examine the American electorate’s fault lines. What pundits call a “center-right” nation is actually a diverse culture characterized by respect for individualism, freedom, ingenuity, and by aspirations toward American exceptionalism. Articulating the tenets of this culture had been the driving force behind Ronald Reagan’s landslide electoral victories and this same ideological vigor is bubbling up again in certain parts of the Republican mosh pit.

Other elements within the American Right are insinuating corrosive tactics into the political discourse, and seek to counter Leftist-induced capitulationism with crypto-fascist madness. The ideological dilemma facing the Right is being played out in the political arena but also in the cultural microcosm of the blogosphere. The recent fallout between the libertarian Charles Johnson of LGF and the religious supremacist Robert Spencer of JihadWatch offers instructive perspective into the fractures of the Right.

For Johnson it wasn’t much of a blog-war rather a series of restrained guerrilla attacks on his open threads, where he announced the rift and reported on incoming hate mail from Spencer’s camp. However, Spencer himself along with the ever bellicose Pamela Geller did take the battlefield with public announcements or shall I say, denouncements, on their respective blogs.

Inquiring minds need to know how it got to this, so let’s trace back this affair’s developments chronologically, shall we?

September 8th, 2008: Charles Johnson posts an article denouncing the so-called Anti-Islamization Conference in Cologne, which was nothing but a congregation of European neo-fascists under the convenient shell of “opposition to Islamization.” Among the most prominent participants/organizers/speakers we can count Markus Beisicht of the Pro NRW (Pro North-Rhine Westphalia), blaster of “the-fags-running-down-his-fatherland” and fascist-slogan-waving Henry Nitzsche, white-Europe-choosing and hypothetically-black-man-mating-daughter-disapproving Filip DeWinter of Vlaams Belang, Moroccan-child-beating arsonist Mario (the “bourgeois”) Borgheze, Nazi-insignia-wearing and falafel-ophobic Heinz-Christian Strache of The Freedom Party, and the no-hyperlink-needing infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In the comment section of this article, Charles posts a lone link to a JihadWatch post supportive of the conference, silently indicating that his eyebrows are raised at Robert Spencer.

September 12th, 2008: Robert Spencer pulls down the original article from his site, offering a detailed explanation of his reasonsan account conceding that the individuals and organizations involved in the Cologne Conference have pan-fascist agendas, which no respectable counter-jihadist ought to support. His explanation for why the post was ever published in the first place and had remained on his site for four days, essentially boiled down to its author Raymond Ibrahim having been unaware of “all the issues involved” while he Robert Spencer himself had been too distracted to notice the post. From Spencer’s clarification:

One of the advantages of having other people write for this site is that it allows me, every now and again, to do other things. But that also means that occasionally I miss things that are posted here. It was brought to my attention this morning that there was a favorable post here a few days ago about Iran protesting against an upcoming anti-jihad conference in Europe that features Jean-Marie LePen, the FPO of Austria, and other prominent European far-right politicians. I took it down just now, as we do not support European neo-fascism or race supremacism (and the person who posted it didn't know all the issues involved), but I didn't want simply to take the post down without explanation.

Charles Johnson seemingly bought it, but none of this squared off with me. It certainly didn’t help that from my initial cursory glance at the vanished article, the “Raymond” author signature had been blurred with “Robert” in my mind. Deciding that my memory was more trustworthy than anything coming out of Robert Spencer’s mouth, I accused him of being the original author of the article and of scapegoating Raymond for the debacle. Despite my good reasons for deeply distrusting Spencer, Google cache proved me wrong on this instance. My visual memory is by no means infallible and I retracted my accusation when presented with compelling evidence. Robert indeed screeched that this undoubtedly proved me a liar, while it merely proved me wrong: I knew at least Charles Johnson had read the article before it disappeared and that he would have noticed the author. I wouldn’t have charged Spencer of being the author unless I was convinced that others who had also read the article before it was pulled down would also vouch for what I thought I had seen.

Sometime Between September 12th and September 27th: Said article is stealthily reposted and live on JihadWatch the same article that Robert Spencer wrote a 922-word backpedaling “clarification” to announce the retraction of. I was right not to put dirty internet tricks above him after all. I noticed it on September 27th, but who knows how much earlier it had been reinstated…

Didn’t Robert Spencer owe his readers another 1000-word enlightened clarification of why he re-posted the same article he had earlier repudiated as ill-conceived and ignorant of the disreputable people involved? Or was the initial retraction coupled with the public repudiation of the European neo-fascist participants of the Cologne Conference an insincere attempt to appease Charles Johnson nothing but a farcical little show?

September 28th 2008: Robert’s conference-crashing buddy Andrew Bostom emphatically proclaims so:

Following Johnson’s e-mail threat to another close friend — the brilliant scholar and author Robert Spencer — after Raymond Ibrahim (editor/translator of The Al Qaeda Reader) simply blogged a favorable discussion (subsequently removed by Spencer, pace Johnson’s threat!) of Diana West’s September 18, 2008 Town Hall.com column at the Jihad Watch/Dhimmi Watch website — I noticed that National Review Online had a featured link (on 9/19/08) to the same West column.

Spencer has recurrently uttered vicious personal invectives against both myself and my husband on numerous occasions, with labels including but not limited to dishonest, smearing, mendacious, swamp-fevering character assassins, malicious and slanderous, liar liar liar, inveterate and consistent liar, manifold, intricate, and subtle liar who uses formidable intellect only for evil, and my favorite, Nazi emulator. Most of Spencer’s seething attacks, not included here due to their dull redundancy, tend to compulsively charge me with ‘libel’ over the contents of my report, which barely deals with Spencer personally but rather airs out the dark closet of his friend and associate James Jatras of the so-called American Council for Kosovo the front group for a radical and violent organization called the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metojiha.

Spencer’s reaction has been so oversensitive and overblown, that I am amazed he hasn’t virulently charged Bostom (who supports the participants of the Cologne Conference and clearly alludes to Spencer also sharing such sympathies underneath the lip service paid to Charles Johnson out of fear) with making libelous accusations and smearing his character! For what could be more libelous, more smearing, more demeaning and shaming for an aspiring "scholar" than to be accused of prostituting his public assignment of grave characterizations (such as "fascist," "racist," or "race supremacist") to various people and organizations just in order to salvage his personal relationship with some blogger?!!

If I were a public figure and anyone publicly stated or implied that I don’t mean what I write or what I retract but merely act under coercion against my true convictions, I would: consider it a grave insult, vehemently deny the charge, demand an apology, and if not granted, entertain a lawsuit. In fact I would react the same way even in my own shoes of obscurity, minus the lawsuit part which I cannot afford to even entertain. Bostom has essentially ruled that Spencer does not actually believe the organizers and participants of the Cologne Conference to be neo-fascists worthy of being shunned, but “being vulnerable” (in Bostom’s own words), he acquiesces to Johnson and toes the line. If so, Spencer would ironically be guilty of the charge he loves to hurl at others libel namely making allegations he knows to be false, which give various individuals (the alleged/disputed crypto fascists) a bad reputation!

If, on the other hand, Spencer knows these organizations and individuals to be neo-fascist in agenda and character (as his post suggests), yet believes that’s all fine and dandy so long as he can subvert them toward his holy crusade again Islam his pet-boogeyman what then? What would that make him? A fascist apologist? A fascist sympathizer?

But Robert does expliticly state the anti-jihad movement should not indulge that side of the political spectrum in Europe or elsewhere. Only that Andrew Bostom claims Spencer doesn’t really mean this, and the pro-Cologne article sneakily crawling back up on JihadWatch shortly after the curtains went down on that little show Spencer put for Johnson certainly reinforces such impression. What does that make him then? A spineless hypocrite?

What kind of "scholar" triangulates his public positions so tightly between hypocrisy, fascist sympathy, and cowardice-induced libel? Then again, what kinds of "scholar" foams at the mouth over an obscure blog post of a 22-year-old college girl and goes as far as to call her a Nazi-emulator over it? Well Robert Spencer the Beetlejuice of Internet forums who magically appears anywhere his name is invoked more than twice in order to furiously intimidate any critics does.

But perhaps the points raised so far are too tangential. Robert Spencer discredits himself through his own words in much less equivocal terms. He writes:

The post in question was written by Raymond Ibrahim. I have discussed it with Raymond, who was not aware of the affiliations of the people involved when he posted it, and he was fine with my taking it down.

The only problem here is that forgetting for a moment what Raymond did or didn’t know Hugh Fitzgerald himself, the vice president of JihadWatch (whatever that means) made the following comment on the post in question on the very first day it was published:

If this Conference is left solely in the hands of those who are not only certifiably "right-wing" but lepenesque, and therefore disreputable, then it is the duty of others, the respectable anti-Islam legions, not to ignore the Conference or to stay morally pure, but rather to attend, even to swell its numbers, and change its nature, by appearing in force. Show Cologne, show Germany, show the E.U. that one can be just as sweet and liberal and anti-Fascist as all get out, and also want, for those very reasons, a complete halt to Muslim migration to Europe, and a deliberate policy of countering the Money Weapon, campaigns of Da'wa, and demographic conquest -- all over Western Europe, resulting in a greatly diminished Muslim presence in the Lands of the Infidels. This has to be done. It will have to be done now, peacefully, or later, less peacefully. It can't be avoided. It's what's to come. It is not still unsure. But, to quote an old poet, and to appropriate his more traditional use of the carpe-diem imperative, in delay there lies no plenty.

So get cracking.

Hugh knew of the lepenesque character of the conference’s protagonists and was clearly instructing his minions to not “stay morally pure” notwithstanding the neo-fascist agenda of the upcoming Cologne rally. In a lunatic leap of logic, he proposes that rallying up behind fascists and appearing in force at their events will show Cologne, Germany, and indeed all of Europe, that not only fascist agitators, but also sweet liberal anti-Fascists are concerned about Islam.

Wait… I thought anti-Fascists would never ally with fascists by definition. What about that rant regarding the inevitable clash of civilizations, demographic battles, and the need to greatly diminish Muslim presence in the lands of the Infidels? It can be done peacefully now or less peacefully in the future he says but done it must be. Is it me or this fatalistic tone foreshadows a borderline genocidal scenario Hugh sounds to be creaming his pants at the contemplation of?

Spencer’s 922-word backpedaling clarification for pulling down the pro-Cologne article from which Hugh’s comment is drawn, also absolves Hugh himself and in fact uses his articles as an example of how opposed to fascists “we at JihadWatch are.” In the meanwhile, Hugh has been drifting in an entirely different direction as we’ve just seen. So what happened? Did Hugh acquiesce to Spencer or to Johnson in towing the line? Are the internal affairs of JihadWatch so chaotic that Spencer cannot learn from his "VP" what is happening at his own blog, but rather needs problematic content to be second-handedly reported to him by readers of other blogs?

Again, why has the post been put back up on JihadWatch since at least September 27th without explanation?

Satisfied that no rational reader at this point can escape the conclusion that this has been a disgraceful flip-flop on Spencer’s behalf, I will move on.

October 25th, 2008: Spencer posts a rather awkward article lionizing a certain long-winded smarmy European pseudo-intellectual by the penname of Fjordman, whom Charles Johnson has long exposed as a fascist sympathizer. Robert Spencer’s justification for so unexpectedly standing assuredly by Fjordman and vouching for his character must have struck his readers as out of place:

The learned European essayist Fjordman here reviews Ali Sina's Understanding Muhammad. Since Fjordman has been accused of being a white supremacist and a neofascist, some people have also accused me of being a white supremacist and neofascist, because I publish his fine essays on jihad and the Islamization of Europe. So I thought I would take this opportunity to say that while white supremacism and neofascism are wrong and should everywhere be opposed, I do not believe Fjordman is a white supremacist or a neofascist.

Who are these people who have smeared poor Fjordman with such naughty epithets? And who is trying to drag Spencer down along with him? This is a passive-aggressive thinly-veiled affront to Charles Johnson and me, respectively, though I have never called Spencer a neo-fascist or white supremacist to date, and I believe Charles has characterized Fjordman as merely a sympathizer and apologist of said unsavory ideologies.

Johnson has made his repudiation of Fjordman public for almost a year now, so why did Spencer take so long to absolve Fjordman? He was obviously trying to play nice with both sides but finally tipped over the edge. This was his way of telling Charles he had chosen Fjordman, along with the associations the latter’s endorsement carries with it (Vlaams Belang, The Austrian Freedom Party, Sweden Democrats, The National Front, the BNP, The Brussels Journal, Gates of Vienna, etc.). In fact shortly thereafter, Spencer re-blog-rolled the last two, despite their well-documented support for European fascists.

I find curious Spencer’s choice in illustrating Fjordman’s anti racialist worldview: He quotes an excerpt which Fjordman had written Spencer says long before any allegations of race supremacism were uttered against him. In this very chosen passage Fjordman defines the challenge for cultural preservation against Radical Islam in racial and xenophobic terms!

We shouldn’t idealize mass-immigration too much. When one group of people move into a territory where another group of people already live, this has usually throughout human history ended in war. Either the newcomers will be expelled, or they will subdue or wipe out the previous inhabitants, or the groups will divide the country between them.

What a gem of historical determinism we have here: classic collectivistic chauvinistic European xenophobia. Hegel would be proud! Fjordman treats people in terms of groups moving into territories, as flocks of sheep or wolves in a perpetual struggle for territorial supremacy.

He advocates “sticking with one’s own kind,” one’s "culture," one’s "race," and resisting assimilation a very ideologically and literally inbred worldview. I wonder what Fjordman makes of the American experiment where people from all cultures and races flooded into the melting pot: no invasions, no ethnic cleansing, no expulsions, no subduing, no wiping out of anybody. Fjordman is clearly stuck in cultural medievalism and considers all potential immigration as an invasion of his pure genetic and ideological pool by hordes of barbarians.

I see little reason to expect any different result where the indigenous population happens to be white. I do not see why I should have to choose between White Supremacy and White Worthlessness. It is one thing to reject the idea that your culture should be forced onto others, it is quite another thing to say that you shouldn’t be allowed to retain your culture even in your own country. The latter is simply a matter of self-preservation, the most basic instinct of all living things down to bacteria level.

No talk of institutions, no talk of what European culture is supposed to consist of: only racialist remarks and allusions to White Supremacy as the politically incorrect term for legitimate self-preservation. Yes, I can and do read between the lines.

I have a right to preserve my culture, too, even though I have blue eyes, and cannot see anything “racist” in not wanting my children to become a persecuted minority in their own country through mass immigration. That you are denounced as a White Supremacist for just stating the obvious shows how deeply entrenched and internalized this anti-white bias has become.

And what is it that your culture consists of, Fjordman, other than your blue eyes? You never elucidate on it beyond that. Why are you even bringing up unfair accusations of White Supremacy before anyone has implicated you? Are you making any "preemptive" moves in that direction?

Is this passage the best Robert Spencer can find toward exculpating Fjordman? Just what is Robert Spencer trying to get at here? He continues on:

More recently (two weeks ago), the genuinely neofascist VNN Forum (an evil site to which I will provide no link) criticized one of Fjordman's articles about Europe for not blaming Jews for the problem. VNN Forum writers called Fjordman "a neocon jew-ass-kisser who is either oblivious of the fact that jews are responsible for what is happening or is aware but doesn't have the guts to name the jew." They also pointed out that "the Brussels Journal is never critical towards the Jew" and went on to complain that "multiculturalism stops when the Jew is down and out. Those Islamophobic 'nationalist' parties accomplish nothing....I would rather see anti-synagogue marches over anti-mosque ones. The mosques become a non-issue if you defeat the wretched sheeny." I would rather stand with Israel, and Fjordman, than with those racist neo-fascists.

He would rather stand with Israel, and Fjordman, and Markus Beisicht of Pro NRW, with blaster-of-the-fags-running-down-his-fatherland and fascist-slogan-waving Henry Nitzsche, with white-Europe-choosing Filip DeWinter of Vlaams Belang, with Moroccan-child-beating arsonist Mario Borgheze, with Nazi-insignia-wearing and falafel-ophobic Heinz-Christian Strache of The Freedom Party, and with Jean-Marie Le Pen, because they too are opposed by some hard core neo-Nazis on the grounds of going after Muslims rather than Jews.

Impressive argument: So because Wahabbis claim Shias are apostates or otherwise infidels and we know Wahabbis to be indisputably Muslim, then we must conclude that Shias are indeed not Muslims because Wahabbis say so. Yes, that makes a whole lot of sense. So because the “genuinely evil” VNN Forum (as opposed to what, the “evil lite” Le Pen et al?) disavows those neo-fascist parties that are shrewdly picking their battles and choosing to demonize Muslims wholesale rather than Jews (the latter being a much less tenable target these days), then said parties cannot actually be neo-fascistic. Because they target Muslims, that is.

How mighty convenient for Spencer, who would just about sell his soul in order to witch-hunt Muslims and Islam all the world over, to have the definition of “fascist” so elegantly rewritten: “if you are anti-Muslim, you cannot be fascist because the VNN Forum would oppose you and one fascist/Nazi cannot be against another.” Whatever is going to happen now to JihadWatch’s long record of opposing Le Pen, the FPO, and Vlaams Belang? They’re magically not fascists now because they are anti-Muslim, and the two are mutually exclusive as we know from the VNN’s annals of wisdom?

It is on the comment section of this very post that Robert Spencer bursts in unprovoked despicable insults against me and starts compulsively scratching a spot that must have been itching for a while: He makes the following fascinating contention:

I went back and took a look at Kejda Gjermani's libelous "expose."

Much of her case hinges upon this assertion:

"The deceptively named American Council for Kosovo is in fact a front group for the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, whose president Milan Ivanovic was arrested by the UN administration (he took his sweet time to turn himself in after initially going into hiding) on charges of attempted murder (later dropped) and of leading a violent demonstration, during which at least one hand-grenade was thrown at the police (Ivanovic has been personally accused of this act but evidence was inconclusive for a conviction, hence the dropped charge of attempted murder), and 22 mainly Polish peacekeepers were injured. [...]

Mr. Ivanovic is a hard-line nationalist by anyone’s definition, a staunch supporter of the neo-fascist Serbian Radical Party— an ultra-nationalists‘ melting crackpot of greater scale and proportion than even its name suggests. For starters, the Party organized the recent rallies in Serbia to protest Radovan Karadzic’s arrest, in which the same Ivanovic was visibly involved...

The only problem with this is that her basic assertion, that the American Council for Kosovo is a front group for Ivanovic's group, is false, and she provides no evidence to establish it. ACK spokesman James Jatras says this:

With respect to the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija as identified in the American Council for Kosovo's disclaimer, and the suggested relationship with Dr. Milan Ivanovic: in Kosovo today there is more than one organization operating under the name "Serbian National Council," or some variant of that name. These groups, some of them quite small, have differing political perspectives -- though all categorically reject separation of the province from Serbia -- and accordingly may align themselves with different Serbian political parties. As already noted, the American Council for Kosovo reflects the views of the Kosovo Serbian community as voiced by Bishop Artemije. I am unaware of Dr. Ivanovic's affiliation with any organization connected with the Bishop. If the implication of the comment is that the American Council for Kosovo is somehow controlled or directed by Dr. Ivanovic, that absolutely is not the case. However, I have met Dr. Ivanovic in the course of my visits to Kosovo and believe the aspersions cast against him are unwarranted. There is nothing "radical" or "anti-American," much less "supremacist," about him as far as I am aware, unless one regards opposition to Washington's illegal, pro-jihad anti-Serbian policy as being anti-American.

Kejda Gjermani is an accomplished liar, but in the final analysis that is all that she is: a liar.

Cordially
Robert Spencer

Like momma said: “Don’t scratch that itch or it will only get worse!” Robert didn’t have to go there. If the investigative digs of an unknown college girl made him uncomfortable, the most sensible response for him would have been to ignore them and wait for my post to fade away in the vast cold blogo(atmo)sphere. But Robert just couldn’t let it go. He frantically calls me an “accomplished liar,” but I haven’t accomplished anything noteworthy and I only post articles at my private website once in a blue moon on miscellaneous topics of my interest.

Robert is the one who has built an entire career out of selling demagogic incendiary books demonizing Muslims and extolling the Crusaders, and out of giving public speeches trying to convince Muslims that their religion is indeed inherently and incorrigibly violent and supremacist and that they better get consistent in taking seriously any and all genocidal verses of the Qur’an quite an accomplished demagogue, wouldn’t you say? Yet Robert’s career and, most importantly, his self-esteem, depend on his ability to maintain an aura of respectability and an image of erudite “scholar.” Exposed associations with vile extremists chip away at such carefully crafted public image, so Robert can’t help foaming at the mouth and impulsively suppressing anyone shining the spotlight on his putrid closet. Indeed he is outraged that I have not been banned on LGF and has even sent his sock-puppets to intimidate me with legal threats at my own blog.

Oh, but he has done it now! I have supposedly asserted without proof that A equals A: that the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija whose leader is the outrageous violent-protest organizer, alleged hand-grenade thrower, Radical Party supporter and flaming Karadzic devotee Ivan Milanovic, is the same Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija for which Robert Spencer second-handedly works. As if linking organizations of the same exact name with the same identity begs any proof…

When doing my background research on Jatras, I was so struck by this man’s sheer maliciousness, callousness, and pathological lying pattern that I assumed he was some sort of evil mastermind concocting genial campaigns of nauseating Belgrade propaganda. But in Robert’s comment I am reminded again of the banality of evil. The claim that somehow there are many small organizations in Kosovo by the same exact name which act independently of one-another and bear no responsibility of each-others’ members’ and leaders’ acts or statements is a laughably desperate (and just plain laughable) attempt to evade the scrutiny that naturally comes with Ivan Milanovic’s disreputable background.

The claim doesn’t stand even at face value: Who has heard of multiple unaffiliated organizations by the very same name operating within the boundaries of a 10,908 km2 region? Wouldn’t people confuse them all the time among each other? Wouldn’t the self-respectable ones among these organizations, if there be any, adopt a different name in order to distance themselves from the anarchic ones which are staging riots against the police? How do they keep track of one-another? Do they have separate serial numbers by any chance?

Leadership of the Serb National Council at press conference in Belgrade Media Center, May 30, 2003 (from left to right: Dr. Marko Jaksic, Dr.  Rada Trajkovic, Bishop Artemije, Dr. Milan Ivanovic)

Leadership of the Serb National Council at press conference in Belgrade Media Center, May 30, 2003 (from left to right: Dr. Marko Jaksic, Dr. Rada Trajkovic, Bishop Artemije, Dr. Milan Ivanovic)

Perhaps Jatras is banking on casual examiners getting confused upon seeing the acronym for the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohije appear as SNV in some places and SNC in others, and concluding that there must be at least two different organizations by the same name. This is not, however, the case: SNV is merely the Serbian-language-equivalent of SNC and they both refer to the same organization led by Ivanovic and by the Bishop. I invite everyone to look at the source of this photo of the leadership of the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija, posted at the dear Bishop’s own website, with the caption “Leadership of the Serb National Council at press conference in Belgrade Media Center, May 30, 2003 (from left to right: Dr. Marko Jaksic, Dr. Rada Trajkovic, Bishop Artemije, Dr. Milan Ivanovic)”. That ain’t half bad for a smoking gun, now is it?

In short, Robert: You and Jatras are the liars, though I would not deign you with the “accomplished” prefix, because as fevered demagogues spouting off way too many lies to keep track of, you have accomplished nothing other than discrediting yourselves anew. And don’t bother pulling down the article or deleting the cache, because I have saved everything.

Robert Spencer is the stooge of an organization whose leaders have been blacklisted by the US government for providing support to war criminals, violently opposing legal institutions, and undermining the peace process in the Balkans. What a maverick of a "scholar" Robert is!

October 31st, 2008: Robert Spencer announces the break with Charles Johnson, violently echoed by the manic fascist supporters Pamella Geller and Gates of Vienna. In his long-winded diatribe against Johnson, Spencer wraps it up like so:

Is that not absurd? I have gone on record many, many times explaining why I reject race-based approaches to the jihad threat -- most recently in connection with the Cologne conference.

But Hugh did support the Cologne conference, and JihadWatch stealthily reinstated the post it supposedly pulled down.

Hugh and I have been clear here in our rejection of LePen, the BNP, and all those who traffic in such approaches.

But Le Pen and the BNP are anti-Muslim, and by the VNN Forum’s argument which Spencer employed earlier to absolve Fjordman, they cannot be neo-fascists. Also Vlaams Belang, the FPO, Sweden Democrats, et al. all traffic in “such approaches.”

The controversy here is over whether or not some other individuals and groups belong in that category, not over whether one should support race supremacism and genocide or not. Charles has done a grave disservice by acting as if those who reject his judgments about these groups and individuals, or who even -- like me -- are willing to entertain differing points of view on these matters, are ipso facto neo-Nazi or white supremacist sympathizers.

What would these different points of view of yours on the matter be, Robert? It is nothing but unsustainable middle ground that you are willing to entertain. You either believe these European parties have neo-fascist agendas or you don’t.

Meanwhile, I note also with sorrow that the mendacious Kejda Gjermani ("medaura") is spreading her libelous attacks on me at LGF yet again, as she has been allowed to do for months. It is telling.

So mendacious that medaura, eh? It is telling she hasn’t been censored for repeating inconvenient yet indisputable facts regarding Robert’s associations.

I want to emphasize that I have not endorsed the Vlaams Belang. This whole controversy is not about the Vlaams Belang, but about whether or not one can disagree with Charles Johnson and not be defamed as a result. I have merely recognized that people of good will, who are not "seriously deluded" (as someone calls them below) and are not racists or neofascists, have mounted a case opposing Charles Johnson's assessment of the Vlaams Belang. In other words, the question is not whether or not we should support neofascists, but whether or not Vlaams Belang is neofascist. That question is hotly disputed, and those who think that Johnson has not made his case are not evil just for thinking that.

Typical Robert Spencer “open-mindedness”: his official stance on Kosovo is one of only-time-will-tell skepticism, yet he aggressively works on behalf of the Serbian lobby in order to revoke the world’s newest country’s independence. That’s so neutral indeed. He is vehemently opposed to neo-fascists and white-supremacists (and who isn’t, on record?) yet he keeps an “open mind” as to which individuals and organizations deserve such labels. While he keeps his mind perpetually wide open, he supports everyone so long as they can be instrumental to him in attacking Muslims. It is oh-so-easy to vacuously oppose fascism when you don’t believe fascists are fascists, because the opposition can thus remain purely theoretical and abstract!

Spencer also fervently opposes Serbian genocide on principle, yet his closest associates (Jatras, Trifkovic, and Gorin) are Srebrenica genocide deniers. It is easy to vacuously oppose Serbian genocide if you never believe it happened. The genocide Spencer believes in supposedly took place in Kosovo, was perpetrated by the Albanian Jihadists against the poor Christian Serbs indeed, and was aided and abetted by NATO, the UN, and the EU. Yes, they were all in on it!

Of course, it has been exposed by only an anonymous individual claiming to be a current member of the international mission in Kosovo (the unverifiability of such claim due to the writer’s anonymity somehow escaping Spencer) writing under the penname of Iseult Henry. That’s right! After all, he has to be anonymous, otherwise his life would be endangered by the evil spies of the US, UN, and EU entities which are all in on the genocidal master plan and would fall short of nothing to suppress the truth from leaking out!

What kind of "scholar" toys with genocide? Even Albanian supporters do not claim that genocide against Kosovars took place, however more reasonable such proposition would still be compared to the reverse claim made by Spencer. Stephen Schwartz writes:

Ms. Gorin states that NATO bombed Serbia “to prevent a genocide that forensics turned up empty.” Yes, the genocide was prevented. It did not take place. Nobody claimed it had taken place, only that it was attempted. Genocide means the murder of a whole people; obviously, the Albanians were not wholly murdered.

Charles Johnson, whatever one may think of his political leanings, has unequivocally exposed thinly-disguised fascists and repudiated them wholeheartedly again and again. He was never so desperate for allies as to turn a blind eye to the ideological demons swarming right under these European political conglomerates’ insincere pretensions toward "mainstreamness" and moderation. Johnson’s endorsement had been Robert Spencer’s last main reputational anchor into the sane respectable intellectual world. Now that he deservedly lost it, let him agitate away at the fringes where he belongs.

The spread of Radical Islam poses an eminent threat to the civilized world. Anyone knows it. Even brainwashed cultural-relativist Leftists know, hard as they may try to airbrush the elephant in the room.

Highlighting the need for formulating a strategic response to this menace is not rocket science. Yet it should take no towering genius either to categorically reject and denounce certain ideological proposals for being at least as abominable and dangerous to civilization as the militant islamism they purport to protect it from. The resurgence of neo-fascist activism across the Old Continent is alarming. Such regressive ill-conceived reaction to the rise of Radical Islam is yet another living testament to Europe’s ideological sterility. Disturbing shades of brown are agitating the zeitgeist of many European countries these days. Robert Spencer, James Jatras, Julia Gorin, Andrew Bostom, Pamela Geller, Fjordman, Baron Bodissey, and Dymphna are more than welcome to coalesce toward this violent brown where their ideological affinities truly lie, so long as everyone knows where they stand. It would be nice though, in fact too nice to ask, that they at least not lie to themselves about the nature of the choice they have made. Far from being friends of peace, freedom, prosperity, and civilization, they in fact belong to a hateful and subversive stripe of agitators. which must be marginalized if both progress against radical islamists and future electoral success are to be achieved.

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

Tagged as: 28 Comments
12Oct/0715

Jeffrey Sachs sucks: “Poverty Trap” debunked

I was peripherally acquainted with Jeffrey Sachs' work from a while ago, and didn't think much of it. Nothing seemed to distinguish him from the many misguided Keynesians who dominate the public arena of mainstream economics by default nowadays. But while all purist free-enterprise champions are alike in what they advocate, I guess every dull little statist economist is a statist in his/her own way, with a unique master plan for development, each involving creative offshoots of applied Communism, some more deranged than others.

Sachs' uniqueness doesn't end there: He is not your run-of-the-mill statist economist always on the perpetual brink of choking on his own triviality. He knows what he is and he certainly knows what he is doing. Unlike most laughable economists who sound so stupid only because they cannot see how overly seriously they take themselves, Jeffrey Sachs is pure self-aware evil!

Fascista Sachs

In his interview with Steven Colbert he sounds like a crook and a charlatan. Listen to him talk, pay attention to his smile, the look on his face, and tell me if you don't see a man who knows he is lying on the spot. There is nothing misguided about him, he is fully premeditated in what he is doing.

Hanging out with Bono and Angelina Jolie has got to make Sachs second-handedly feel like a superstar, and second-hand glory is more then enough for a pathetic authoritarian creature to get off on. He knows he will be long dead before his voodoo economics falls out of fashion so he's completely safe and comfortable riding the wave of popularity propelled by the cumulative mediocrity of Oprah-worshiping drones in particular, and the entire ecosystem of leftist-strife spewers in general. Good for him!economist rock-star

Note in the Colbert interview how cheaply he is pandering to the moonbat base by spewing venom on the military and W. Bush. Sachs is befuddled at how "the President" has allotted to the crusade against malaria (read: handouts to Africa) for the next five years, the measly equivalent of the daily budget of the military. That makes no sense "in his book/s", since the military is just killing people and not helping anyone, whereas Sachs could save the world with that cash! Oh brother... They just have trouble figuring out anything at all in Washington these days. Instead of signing Sachs a blank check, they give him a laughable $1.5 billion to work with.

If only "the President" were a feudal lord free to piss the spoils from his taxpayer vassals on grandiose personal-charity events to his heart's content! W. Bush is certainly under no obligation to give any money at all; it is in fact arguable that he is under an implicit constitutional obligation to not spend taxpayer money on handouts to other countries, which generally end up benefiting only their dictators and some distinguished ungrateful parasites like Sachs, whose genial administrative plans for that money are sure to entail much more than just a multi-billion-dollar mosquito-net shopping-spree.

Jollysachs

It is obvious to me that Jeffrey Sachs is a conman, but it might not be obvious to you, so I will stop pushing on that front because at the end of the day it's not so relevant whether he is a crook or just a misguided moron, but rather whether his economics adds up. So let's turn to his economic ideas and consider them on their own merits. Everything Jeffrey Sachs has said (and I expect him to ever have to say) about development pivots around the "poverty trap", a conjecture whose gist can be safely summarized as follows:

Poor countries are so poor today because they started out so poor for one reason or another, that their people cannot even minimally afford to save today to accumulate capital for investment. And it takes a critical mass of investment to achieve any tangible results in development, since for example, a bridge constructed only half-way through is of no use, but once it is fully built, it will rock the world! But the dirt-poor subSaharan Africans cannot afford to save for projects that will deliver results the day after tomorrow: they would starve by tomorrow if they cut their consumption every-so-slightly today to give rise to investment! So you see, they're stuck in a Poverty Trap, and we the West need to give them just enough aid for them to make it through the initial hump, to get out of the trap. They'd be all set from there on.

This is the focal point of Sachs' argument for development. Please watch carefully while this snotty undergrad blasts off Mr. Smarmy Harvard PhD with a single unpretentious quasi-rhetorical question:

If the key to development is escaping this poverty trap, then wouldn't foreign direct investment be perfectly capable of doing the job instead of foreign aid?

The opposite of Sachs' booga-booga poverty crap should normally be observed: countries starting out at the very bottom of the developmental ladder for "one reason or another" should grow at rates much faster than normal due to the proverbial catch-up effects. Investment in India returns a whooping 19% on average! Countries too poor to save for themselves don't need to: rich foreigners can supply the capital, the natives only have to freely accommodate it. Everybody wins, and no Big Plan is needed, just a native government that sufficiently tolerates free enterprise.

But there is no foreign investment going on in Africa. Investors won't inject their funds into those countries because the volatility of institutional thuggery that doesn't give a shit about its citizens' life, liberty, and property, let alone the property of foreign investors, is not conducive to profit-generation. Africa doesn't need any handouts: they just fatten its dictators, cripple whatever free independent spirit its people have, give parasitic jobs to an army of bureaucrats, and hold these countries back from moving towards freedom and self-reliance. What Africa desperately needs is government, of the kind that will let its people be. The best thing that could ever happen to the continent would be for America to colonize it and govern it according to its constitution for a century or so.

But Jeffrey Sachs urges governments to throw money to a cause which no private investor is willing to back. There would be no returns from it, no end to poverty through it, and no end to it, period... just handouts after handouts after handouts. He knows it too, if you read between the lines he is calling it what it is in so many words: perpetual charity.

And being the authoritarian cock that he is, he won't stop at urging people to donate individually and privately. His great cause, his Big Plan is larger than life: not only private investors won't walk the walk, but even private philanthropists will not give enough to satiate Sachs. The Government is his only hope, the only agent rich and careless enough to finance his Big Scheme. And despite receiving insane amounts of taxpayer money, he yet bites the fat hand feeding him, complaining that the US government won't just give him any number he fancies. Every cent that he does receive is taken by force, since he has not been able to raise it voluntarily through cheesy U2 concerts, private charity, and private investment combined. It's a $1.5 billion no one else but the government would give him, and it's still not enough, it's never enough.

BonoSachsJeffrey Sachs makes me sick.

I rest my case...

If you like this post - buy me a coffee

27Jun/0712

A word on modesty — Theory of (Authoritarian) Mind

ConsciousnessI understand that I am just a person, and however smart, rational, and well-guided I might be, there are others out there like me. I have changed my mind many times in life about many issues, as I explored and experimented with various currents of ideas growing up. I have abandoned many positions when I realized they were unfounded, and I don’t find it hard to conjecture that as I was mistaken in the past, I can find myself being wrong again in the future. My mind is fallible therefore I have no privileged epistemological access to universal truth.

Others around me have opinions and attitudes about everything. I agree more with some, less with others. Some I think are complete idiots. I don’t know of a single person I agree with 100% about everything there is to discuss or speculate over. I am the only person I fully agree with all the time about everything (at times even agreeing with myself goes wrong). That’s a statistically certain indicator that I am wrong at least on some counts: What are the odds that while not having any privileged access to truth in general, I am always right about everything while everyone around me is wrong at least on their point of disagreement with me?

Why can’t I tell what exactly I am wrong about right now? Just like I can push almost anyone to a point where I am certain they are being irrational about something but just can’t see themselves being foolish, I too, being just another person, must be vulnerable to the same unaware-bullshit-harboring tendency.

In my mindThis makes me humble in my approach to truth. I keep the engine always running on the bulldozer of skepticism at the base of my most crucial intellectual pillars. Entire neighborhoods can turn out to be hastily-put-together public-housing-thought projects, with no business being in my metropolitan mind. While the government might have some life-long commitment to the parasitic beneficiaries of its stupid decisions, I have no intention to stick with my idiocies once I discover them to be such. Knowing that I have the guts to tear them down once I spot them, and the strength to erect new skyscrapers over their ruins, and most importantly, knowing that I can manage to know this without falling into complacency is my most effective formula for intellectual sanity.

So I constantly ask myself “How do I know?” about everything important. When something under consideration either implicitly or explicitly prescribes rules for others, my skepticism is attuned ever more so to its justification because telling others what to do is kind of a big deal! For starters, it's almost universally backed by a looming “or else”. I don’t care who these “others” are. I am able to empathize with them, to conceive of them as people with an identity, consciousness, free will, and potentially legitimate points to the contrary. How can I possibly know that what’s being proposed is just and necessary?

What moral and epistemological authority do the proponents of this rule have, to defy the will of those to be ruled over, who might disagree? What can they properly be justified in replying to someone who tells them to just mind their own damned business? Applying this skeptical approach with fresh rigor to innumerable cases, my evaluations have historically converged to a rather consistent position which can be safely summarized as “Nothing is superior to freedom. Only negative rights are legit. Live and let live, and screw those authoritarian cocks telling you they’ve got something better figured out for everyone.”

Not everyone thinks along those lines… I wasn’t always this way either. I don’t mean so much about the pan-libertarian conclusions I have arrived at, but the actual train of thought that happened to lead me there. Most people just don’t scrutinize themselves with such modesty or skepticism and subsequently incur a high risk of screwing up.

The ThinkFuture Radio Show is my favorite podcast (sort of by default, since it’s the only one I listen to). The host, Chris Future, has this theory that almost everyone is a libertarian underneath. It goes something like this: “Do you like having other people telling you what to do, how to live your life? Do you want the government interfering with you and pulling money out of your pocket? The bottom line is that most people would like to be left alone.” So there, most of us are closet libertarians.

The crucial counter consideration to this argument is that while most people don’t like to be told what to do, they would nevertheless love to dictate others what to do. It might very well be true that most of us want the IRS out of our pockets, but we’d still love to dig our hands into others’ pockets for all sorts of reasons. We intuitively seek freedom for ourselves but find it hard to genuinely extend that courtesy to others. Accordingly, most of us are not closet libertarians but rather closet authoritarians.

But why? Don’t we know that we can’t both have our cake and eat it? I find it incredible just how eagerly most people will renounce their own freedoms just for a chance to have a say in other people’s lives. Instead of identifying with one-another and regarding arbitrary interferences with anyone as harbingers of unjust intrusions into our own lives, we usually find it intuitively easier to identify with the invasive authority. I suspect there are psychological reasons for this.

Ah, the intriguing authoritarian personality. I keep meeting these people especially at school, la crème de la crop of authoritarianism, with many passionate convictions and one or two master plans for humankind or the country. They tend to be engineers, but this might be purely coincidental given the career demographics at the University of Waterloo. They are generally pretty smart but almost always unwarrantedly smug, a sense of self probably reinforced from repeated victories in intellectual horseplay with kids not as intelligent as themselves. They think they’re hot shit, alright.

mind sparkI find them reverse-engineering human nature or the global economy, with all sorts of ideas which I even might find interesting until I realize how seriously they take themselves. They are almost exclusively determinists: human relationships are exhaustively explained through caricatures of rationalized instincts, scale-free networks and intricate feedback loops. People are puppets bound by deterministic strings: their actions predictable and fully captured by reductionist analysis. Although they see free will as a naiveté, they usually are not perplexed at the corollary of their own thoughts and convictions being epiphenomenally preordained. They indeed see themselves as being above all this.

It is typically fashionable for them to have some background in economics or history, and they advertise the shit out of that knowledge. Contempt for ‘the ordinary person’ can be found bursting passively-aggressively at the seams of their statements. Of course people are like sheep, unable to cope left to their own devices.

Authoritarians hate free enterprise. They see poverty, progress, and social cohesion as a technical problem that can be fixed (by them) with top-down intervention from the natural sciences. Human institutions are mechanical organisms to be operated on with the incisive touch of a surgeon. Naturally the view that social problems are essentially technical in nature leads authoritarians to administrative solutions. The emphasis is on creative master plans as they are to be decreed at the top, with little concern for their implementation at the bottom. They simplify or ignore reality if it clashes with the effects of their 'right interventions’.

It seems almost cognitively impossible for them to grasp the main opportunity cost of central planning: the cumulative creativity of the ‘ordinary people’ they despise so much. They can’t understand that innovation cannot be planned. They see free enterprise as doomed to fail because it’s so stupid, without a controlling intelligence behind it, but they don’t consider how stupid and myopic their “smart” planning is, doing away with the creativity of all the interconnected ‘little people’ at the bottom. The authoritarian par excellence cannot conceive of an unspecified anonymous ‘ordinary person’ to come up with an unpredictable good idea.

This kind of person might deeply disagree with a government policy but they generally regard it as a matter of trial and error before getting it right. The issue is getting the brightest leaders in power so that the best policies are implemented to make it all right. They have an elaborate plan of what everyone should be doing to achieve the greater good and they would love to tell you about it…

I know from personal experience that this kind of person tends to be very condescending to anyone who will challenge him. Persisting rational counter-arguments can easily be interpreted as a personal attack to be responded with a personal counter-attack. If you go as far as to question their authority to prescribe everyone what to do, contempt and cynicism might ooze out of their pores before they sever all ties with you.

There is a lot to be said about the authoritarian personality. My most noteworthy personal observation is that authoritarian types tend to suffer from a poor theory of mind. I am not sure whether it is a building-block of their character or merely a consequence of deeper psychological factors, but the problem of other minds is certainly problematic for them.

the problem of other mindsDuring early childhood we emerge from our egocentric shell and start to understand that other people are not us, that everyone has a mind of one’s own and others might have different opinions and feelings from ours. This childhood revelation is just the foundation. The theory-of-mind edifice is still shaky in most adolescents, making reality checks very difficult for them and leaving little room for objectivity. The maturation of one’s personal theory of mind is marked by the realization that one's own mind is fallible just like everyone else’s. This is the first step toward dismantling our inherent megalomania. It results in an overall epistemological modesty, and an ability to vividly conceptualize being in other people’s shoes. We can respect the consciousness of others, perhaps even empathize with them, and interpret reality from multiple perspectives.

brain.jpgI vaguely remember outgrowing the authoritarian state of mind sometime in my mid-teens. I used to be very radical about everything I believed in. The truth of my convictions, whatever they were, was self-evident to me, but of course it was only so because I happened to believe in what I believed. Whoever disagreed was an idiot for not being able to see what I saw. Condescendence was a natural attitide. Only now as I think back I realize I used to be a little authoritarian girl.

Overcoming that stage was a great achievement which unfortunately is not a routine developmental milestone. A lot of teenagers never make it. In my case I suspect it had something to do with reading classic novels with great characters. Getting in the head of robust fictional personalities who can feel, think, be aware of the world around them no less intensely than I can, and plausibly convince themselves of being right when they are not, helped put other people’s minds as well as my own into perspective. Being a sucker for movies where I had to put myself in the shoes of all sorts of characters also had a strong auxiliary and catalytic effect, as certainly did the epic turmoil of the transitional period in Albania after the fall of communism. Escaping reality or my own stupidity in that environment became too dear a luxury.

Therefore I scrutinize my authoritarian friends with a certain autobiographical amusement. The subconscious assumptions underlying their thought patterns evoke these crude megalomaniacal ideas from childhood, which stripped of their innocent romanticism sound as crazy as “Maybe I will never die: so far only others have”, or “Maybe I am the only person who is ‘real’: others in the world are just cardboard-cut figures who come in and out of illusory existence as they appear and disappear from my sensory field”, or “I am always right: truth is my state of mind”, or even “Reality is all in my head: I can learn to ignore it into nonexistence or wish it into change”.

EmpathyThere are people who still hold on to this kind of regressive egocentric bullshit to some degree or another. Theory of mind can be a developmental precursor to a theory of reality. Some realizations need to happen for others to follow. Our inherent childish subjectivity is an obstacle to learning.

If at some level your sense of reality is still that of a colorful background encapsulated in your mind, then why should you bother challenging your beliefs? It’s not like there is an objective state of affairs outside your head on which you could possibly be missing out. Outlandish statements will find their way out of your mouth much more comfortably without any counter considerations to weigh them down. Other people? How can you truly respect them for being persons of their own if you cannot conceive that there are true minds like yours, thinking, feeling, and wrestling with life’s existential puzzles inside their skulls?... How much different from sheep are they to you?

They’re just ‘people’; they’re not ‘you’! They’re complicated figures bouncing around, bound by deterministic principles. But you’re not, you’re something else, you can see through it all, you can tell them what to do! Presenting your solutions to world problems can be done with unbelievable nonchalance if the people at the bottom are just grains of sand.

Theory of mind is important. Without its sensitivities cementing genuine interpersonal relationships, someone’s ability to build bridges across his own interests and those of others is fundamentally hampered. Such a person’s mode of dealing with people can easily degenerate into a regressive state of psychological functionality based on the instinct of domination: alpha male or alpha butch bringing down the house and putting the other inferior apes in their place, hence the ‘authority’ in ‘authoritarian’.

connecting with other mindsI would call it one psychological step backward from human nature. It makes evolutionary sense for the instinct of domination to be aggressively displayed in healthy animals, since they have to fight for their limited resources. But man has reason, creativity, and craftsmanship. Survival is not a zero-sum game for us. We can use our intellect to discover ways to manipulate nature in our favor and thus pull plentifulness out of scarcity’s ass. Trade is infinitely superior to domination. We take it for granted, but you need to acknowledge the other person’s mind in order to understand the value of what it has to offer. You need to recognize that it can think of something innovative which you might have not thought of yourself, in order to realize that you have something to gain from it. Without being able to respect other minds for their own sake, in your eyes your fellow men will be little more than potential threats, beasts of burden, or pieces of ass.

Did I take it too far? Is this too psychologically farfetched? I’m not sure…

I used to ask myself what the world must look like through the eyes of a genius. I am talented in mathematics, but there are people who can see in a few seconds what would take me minutes, as there are areas where I can just follow with a lot of effort but a few minds can lead, proving excruciating theorems and whatnot. So what about the world at large, all the complex patterns appearing chaotic to the profane, the beautiful structure of reality baring its secrets to those who can see through the superfluous? What kind of wisdom would that be? Impossible to even fathom, but I think I ultimately just wanted to establish if I had reason to be jealous.

beyond megalomaniaAnd well, I have met people with specialized areas of intellect close to genius. To both my disappointment and relief, their minds are very fallible. An abyss of megalomaniacal subjectivity lies between their mighty intellect and the beauty of the world awaiting to be conquered. Crossing that abyss seems to be beyond the capacity of intellect alone. I know too many intelligent people who talk like idiots when their buttons are pushed. It’s disturbing to see great minds being too cocky to take things rationally, nonchalantly taking the soundness of their positions for granted, leaving indignant emotionality as the only appropriate response to any intellectual duel. In all its impressive depths and heights, the human mind seems to be chronically vulnerable to irrationality. Modesty and skepticism can mark the line between the intelligent and the wise, or that between the intelligent and the insane. Reason is a fragile and shaky hanging bridge, of which the life-long traversal can be accomplished by only the perpetually vigilant and humble mind.

Update: These select writings from Karl Popper speak truth to power; shame I didn't learn about Popper's ideas until very recently.

If you like this post - buy me a coffee