Monday, October 30, 2017

The end of Wolfgang Schäuble's evil madness?

Wolfgang Schäuble does not have a fan club around here because he is such a perfect neoliberal. (The list of my criticisms can be found here) But he has been accepted / praised in Germany because he has been the enthusiastic face of the German financial establishment. And what an ugly face that has been. Even by German standards, he is especially homely. If someone was casting a play and needed a devil to scare little children, he would be perfect. And I am pretty certain the Greeks whose lives he was destroying had no problem thinking of him as evil personified.

But the neoliberalism he was pitching was certain to be harming the German economy as well because it is an economic philosophy that causes a great deal of collateral damage. So it is with some pleasure I note that one of the more enlightened of the German economists, Heiner Flassbeck, has produced a stunningly accurate critique of Schäuble's crackpot mismanagement. Unfortunately for the Germans, the neoliberal bench is very deep. There are probably thousands of economists spread over all the political parties ready to make Schäuble look like a kindly old man. But the fact that he has been eased out as the FM may mean that there are corners of the German economic establishment who at least have questions about the "wisdom" of neoliberalism. It is 25 years too late but a turnaround must start somewhere.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ken Burns tries to explain Vietnam

It turns out there IS something worse than being historically illiterate and that is being historically misinformed. Ken Burns is a master of historical misinformation and his latest effort on Vietnam is truly ghastly. What a tragedy! I often claim that this country's failure to come to terms with that horrible and expensive adventure in late-stage colonialism pretty much explains the decline of this once pretty-interesting nation.

Take, for example, the horror that was Agent Orange. Some "genius" came to the conclusion that because the Viet Cong were so good at hiding out in their native jungles, the "solution" was to remove the jungles. And so 21+ MILLION gallons of the most toxic herbicide ever invented was sprayed on that poor nation killing wide areas of native foliage. Agent Orange was so dangerous that the folks who merely loaded it onto the airplanes used for spraying suffered long-term health effects including having children with birth defects.

Of course, compared to the suffering inflicted on those poor people on the receiving end of all that spraying, the damage to the USA troops was trivial. There are areas of Vietnam where serious birth defects are almost "normal." That does not make the pain suffered by the young mothers who must cope with these cruel reminders of some genius's chemical warfare any easier.

There was a small burst of interest in the problems caused by Agent Orange when they began to surface in the affected veterans. But seriously, the subject has not even begun to be treated on anything but the most superficial level. For me, any serious thinking on Agent Orange would include a comprehensive examination of the wasted genius that led to this horrible war crime. In order for Operation Ranch Hand (the cutesy name for the largest deliberate environmental catastrophe in recorded history) to succeed, thousands of engineering hours were spent designing and building a fleet of aircraft that could haul large loads of heavy liquid poison, designing a herbicide so lethal it could kill jungles, figuring out how to manufacture 21+ million gallons of the stuff, and delivering this massive load of poison to the other side of the planet. It took a lot of people who studied very hard to learn difficult and complex subjects to pull off this feat—people who otherwise looked and acted like regular middle-class citizens who would do things like coach Little League baseball.

Think about this for awhile. Star students are taught the most brilliant scientific facts Enlightenment thinking can produce and then are put to work designing and executing an ethical and environmental disaster. You tell me how this cannot seriously degrade a culture. When I discovered how involved my university was with such ventures, I just wanted to run away from the academic world. My epiphany came the day I discovered that my "favorite" PolSci professor had a big contract to help design the Phoenix Program—a nasty little operation of torture and assassination targeting the rural males of Vietnam for the "crime" of being educated.

I sort of understand why Ken Burns is so diligent about telling small stories while ignoring the big ones. Most probably it is because his worldview cannot even comprehend the big stories. And that goes double for the tote-bag crowd that watches PBS. Plus he gets paid large sums of money to create a kiddie version of history. The problem I have with little Kenny's kinderspiel is that people who are historically curious wind up being more ignorant for watching his efforts.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Wiping Out Puerto Rico’s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders

Even before Hurricane Maria leveled the island of Puerto Rico, their economy was already in a world of hurt. They were attempting to refinance $74 billion in debt when Maria inflicted another $55 billion in property damage and caused $40 billion in lost economic output.

But hey, Puerto Rico is part of USA and we just spent the last nine years wiping out the massive banking losses incurred when the financial system crashed in the 2007-8 recession. The method used was a little gimmick called "quantitative easing." If we can bail out a bunch of crooked banksters, we should surly be able to rebuild an island responsible for a significant fraction of global Viagra production.

Below Ellen Brown explains just how this could be done. Of course, this does not mean it will be done. It's one thing to bail out crooked banksters—it's quite another to help poor people struggling to survive.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Saker nails it

The Saker has spent a great deal of time in the last decade writing about what it is like to be on the receiving end of USA / Western economic "wisdom"—the various elements of the wholesale destruction of people's lives. I am especially grateful for his insights because I am personally a victim of the neoliberal madness. I lost a business that I had invested every cent I could lay my hands on plus a seeming infinity of hard work to the depression of 1981-82—one deliberately caused by Paul Volcker and his idea that 21% prime interest rates couldn't possibly do structural damage to the real economy. He probably knew this move would hurt real people—he just didn't give a shit. After all, what is a "great" man except someone perfectly willing to sacrifice real people because someone they respect intellectually will assure him that destroying the lives of the peons is understandable and reasonable collateral damage.

Compared to the Russians and what the Harvard gang did to their economy, I got off pretty easy. The disastrous economics were largely the same but the difference was that USA was a lot richer to start with compared to USSR which was still recovering from the monumental damage inflicted by the invading Germans during WW II.

I knew it was especially bad for the Russians. Even so, Saker's description below puts the carnage is especially human terms. And he explains why the Russians are so grateful that Putin put some serious brakes on the neoliberal destruction of his country. Which also explains why the elites in USA are so furious with him. Suddenly, the baseless and mindless Russia-bashing seems to sound almost rational coming from the country's Predator classes. Putin is hated because he partially foiled one of the greatest thefts in history.

Of course, that is also why V. Putin is so beloved. Those constituting the collateral damage classes tend to admire anyone who makes their lives possible again.

Monday, October 9, 2017

America's Russia-gate Obsession - Sign of a Failing Nation

Can the people pushing Russia-gate possibly believe their own BS?? Was anyone so asleep during junior high math that they could believe that a $200,000 Facebook ad buy could swing an election where billions were spent on political persuasion? But the even bigger question is, How much damage can be done by the exposure of such massive stupidity on the international stage? While USA is clearly still the biggest bully in the neighborhood as measured by its willingness to spend so much money on weapons systems and soldiers in uniform, there are a LOT of ways to exercise power. Unfortunately for USA, these alternate methods rely heavily on the ability to convince the rest of the world that competent people are in charge. Between Donald Trump's inability to organize an effective government and the Democrats willingness to push the absurd storylines of Russia-gate, the illusion that USA is run by wise and virtuous people is taking massive hits below the waterline.

The imperial apparatus looks like it is in the process of collapse. The examples of this collapse are numerous but for me, the biggest sign of the loss of imperial power is the overdue attack on the petro-dollar.  So long as petroleum is traded in dollars, the USA can print as many dollars as it wants without fear of inflation because the world is effectively on an "oil standard." With the petro-dollar, multi-billion monthly merchandise trade deficits are essentially harmless. The petro-dollar advantage is so great that oil countries that attempted to opt out of the system—like Libya and Iraq—soon found themselves being destroyed by USA military aggression.

So now the Chinese and Russia have banded together to make war on the petro-dollar. Russia has a massive resource base while China has become an industrial superpower. Both have nukes and neither likes being pushed around. But probably the deciding factor in their decision to move against the petro-dollar now are the obvious demonstrations that USA is being run by badly-educated, misinformed, wildly-incompetent, fools. Ken Galbraith used to say that successful revolutions are usually a matter of someone kicking in a rotten door. Hard to imagine a door more rotten than one composed of Trump and those buffoons who are pushing the hoax that is Russia-Gate.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

China and India get serious about sustainable development

My interest in developmental economics was first triggered by my Kansas grandfather. He was one of those farmers who thought science was the path to an easier life and greater prosperity. He was big into water management and had contoured his slightly hilly land already in the 1930s and put in two holding ponds (that grew some VERY large turtles). His father was the immigrant from Sweden (1873) who showed up with two years of university-level horticulture instruction (Lund). So my grandfather was very close to ground zero of the project to transform SE Kansas into productive farms. The successful introduction of agriculture into some quite hostile environments is easily the most poorly-told tale in USA history. This is unfortunate because it is probably the most perfect case study in development economics.

One night in the early 1970s, I sat in on a fascinating conversation held by student Indians and Bangladeshis who were my neighbors in that ratty apartment building. What was so interesting is that all the members of this little group were sons of privileged men wealthy enough to send their offspring to foreign universities and quite naturally assumed that they would have a hand in shaping the future of their nations. So mostly they wanted to discuss the best strategies for eliminating the very real pain of underdevelopment even though most of them were computer science majors. I was there because I had shown interest in their pet subject and they hoped I had some expertise on what Minnesota had done right to achieve its level of prosperity. At the time, I really didn't know much, but I have been fascinated by what works ever since so I would gladly revisit some of those bull sessions.

At one point, the most intense of the Indians exclaimed, "Our problem is that we basically have only two sources of energy—nuclear and dung!" Of course, he never even thought of solar because in those days, PV cells were so rare and expensive, only NASA could afford them. Well now they are cheap and India is extremely rich in solar power. And as the video clip below shows, India is becoming very hip to their new reality. My old neighbor is likely overjoyed.

And it looks like China is set to lead the world in fossil-fuel-free transportation. Electric cars seem like a natural fit for them and goodness knows their current automotive fleet is choking her cities so the need is quite obvious. And for my younger readers in USA, you would hardly suspect it by looking around but this country used to routinely create transformative projects like those illustrated below.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A “Meathead” foreign policy?

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, I actually celebrated with champagne. I almost never drink anything alcoholic so this was WAY out of character for me. But I wanted to celebrate in a socially conventional fashion because I really thought the Cold War was over and we could FINALLY have "normal" relations with Russia. By that time, I had already begun to understand that USSR was absolutely critical to the history of the 20th century because it was the Red Army that defeated the Germans in WW II—almost single-handedly. Besides, they are, like me, a people of the North and it is quite easy to feel a kinship with such people when it is -20° F—like it gets several times a winter in Minnesota.

So it is with horror that I look on at this latest wave of Russia-bashing. It makes no sense to me at all. This is especially true because Russia is mostly innocent of all the charges leveled at them. In over a year of relentless lying, the backers of the warmongering have offered zero evidence to back their claims. This insanity reached a new low last week when a video, starring Morgan Freeman (the Driving Miss Daisy chauffeur) and produced by Rob Reiner (the guy who starred as the Meathead in All in the Family) appeared on YouTube. In it, Freeman assured us that we are at war with Russia.

Warfare, for the Russians, is a calamity that killed 27 million people and reduced large sections of their country to rubble. Relationships between USA and Russia are strained these days but they are a LONG way from that. The Reiner-Freeman production is so preposterous, that I, like many, considered it a spoof. But since it has become quite obvious that Reiner-Freeman are indeed serious, I probably should start taking these madmen more seriously.

Below are two essays on this current gruesomely evil outburst of Russia-bashing. Both were written by Americans—one from the left and the other the right. I am far from sure either are completely accurate but goodness knows, I am trying to understand this utterly irrational phenomenon. Mostly, I just hope it goes away with the perpetrators feeling shame. That is probably a bit much to hope for because fools who would do this sort of thing define shameless.