Sunday, June 26, 2011

How heartwarming this is!

Communists were always good at "popular front" operations too

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has created a coalition of 17 parties, including liberal and secular groups, to form a common platform ahead of legislative elections, Egytrian state media said Wednesday.

The new political alliance, including the Brotherood's Freedom and Justice Party, the liberal Wafd party, the left-leaning Tagammu, and the newly formed Salafi (Muslim Fundamentalist) Noor party, say they joined forces to "channel their efforts... into building a state of law based on citizenship, equality and sovereignty of the people."

In a statement, the parties outlined their common principles including "freedom of belief and worship", freedom of expression and a free media, the independence of the judiciary, and "an economic system based on social justice."

The members also reportedly discussed the idea of a unified list in the coming legislative polls, but disparate sectarian goals and worldviews between the party's may render such a move unrealistic.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt's interim junta which took power following president Hosni Mubarak's ouster on February 11, has scheduled parliamentary elections for September.

A September election is expected to boost Islamic factions, particularly the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood which was banned by Mubarak, but gained broad support through decades of charity work and community projects.

Shortly after Mubarak's ouster A Muslim Brotherhood leader told an Arab language newspaper that Egyptians “should prepare for war against Israel."



Why the Jobs Situation Is Worse Than It Looks

America now has more idle men and women than at any time since the Great Depression

The Great Recession has now earned the dubious right of being compared to the Great Depression. In the face of the most stimulative fiscal and monetary policies in our history, we have experienced the loss of over 7 million jobs, wiping out every job gained since the year 2000. From the moment the Obama administration came into office, there have been no net increases in full-time jobs, only in part-time jobs. This is contrary to all previous recessions. Employers are not recalling the workers they laid off from full-time employment.

The real job losses are greater than the estimate of 7.5 million. They are closer to 10.5 million, as 3 million people have stopped looking for work. Equally troublesome is the lower labor participation rate; some 5 million jobs have vanished from manufacturing, long America's greatest strength. Just think: Total payrolls today amount to 131 million, but this figure is lower than it was at the beginning of the year 2000, even though our population has grown by nearly 30 million. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the economy.]

The most recent statistics are unsettling and dismaying, despite the increase of 54,000 jobs in the May numbers. Nonagricultural full-time employment actually fell by 142,000, on top of the 291,000 decline the preceding month. Half of the new jobs created are in temporary help agencies, as firms resist hiring full-time workers.

Today, over 14 million people are unemployed. We now have more idle men and women than at any time since the Great Depression. Nearly seven people in the labor pool compete for every job opening. Hiring announcements have plunged to 10,248 in May, down from 59,648 in April. Hiring is now 17 percent lower than the lowest level in the 2001-02 downturn. One fifth of all men of prime working age are not getting up and going to work. Equally disturbing is that the number of people unemployed for six months or longer grew 361,000 to 6.2 million, increasing their share of the unemployed to 45.1 percent. We face the specter that long-term unemployment is becoming structural and not just cyclical, raising the risk that the jobless will lose their skills and become permanently unemployable. [See a slide show of the 10 best cities to find a job.]

Don't pay too much attention to the headline unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. It is scary enough, but it is a gloss on the reality. These numbers do not include the millions who have stopped looking for a job or who are working part time but would work full time if a position were available. And they count only those people who have actively applied for a job within the last four weeks.

Include those others and the real number is a nasty 16 percent. The 16 percent includes 8.5 million part-timers who want to work full time (which is double the historical norm) and those who have applied for a job within the last six months, including many of the long-term unemployed. And this 16 percent does not take into account the discouraged workers who have left the labor force. The fact is that the longer duration of six months is the more relevant testing period since the mean duration of unemployment is now 39.7 weeks, an increase from 37.1 weeks in February. [See a slide show of the 10 cities with highest real income.]

The inescapable bottom line is an unprecedented slack in the U.S. labor market. Labor's share of national income has fallen to the lowest level in modern history, down to 57.5 percent in the first quarter as compared to 59.8 percent when the so-called recovery began. This reflects not only the 7 million fewer workers but the fact that wages for part-time workers now average $19,000—less than half the median income.



The morality of capitalism was recognized long ago in Japan

One of the great questions of historical inquiry, which I have addressed in these pages and elsewhere, is exactly how the modern world came to be so different from what went before. Since about 1750 there has been a 16-fold increase in real wealth per capita on a global scale, something completely unprecedented that has transformed the lives of everyone on the planet much for the better.

In her latest work, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World, Deirdre McCloskey argues that the critical factor was a change in how productive activities such as trade were regarded. Instead of being seen as menial, morally disreputable, and lacking in honor, they came to be regarded as respectable, dignified, and above all virtuous. This gave trade, merchants, and manufacturers (those who worked with their hands) the crucial respect formerly given only to aristocrats, priests, and even peasants. I think McCloskey gives too much weight to this explanation, but the phenomenon she identifies was undoubtedly real and important.

McCloskey identifies the Dutch Republic as the place where the cultural shift started in the early seventeenth century. In the European case this is undoubtedly true. However it was not unique. Another later but independent shift was even more self-conscious and deliberate. It happened in one of the most fascinating of premodern societies, Tokugawa Japan. (McCloskey discusses the striking similarities between Europe and Japan at this time).

From 1467 to roughly 1570 Japan went through what became known as the Sengoku, or “warring states,” period of its history. The central authority was weak to nonexistent and warfare was almost constant. Between 1568 and 1603 there was the Momoyama, or unification, period in which Japan was unified by several astute leaders. The last of these, Tokugawa Ieyasu, defeated his rivals at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and established the Tokugawa Shogunate, which would rule Japan until 1868. Tokugawa Japan was simultaneously deeply conservative and yet dynamic. The Tokugawa Shoguns, particularly after the 1630s, banned almost all contact with the outside world (the losing side at Sekigahara had generally favored greater links). Internally they sought to encourage and enforce a strict conservatism. One aspect of this was a firm insistence on traditional social hierarchies of esteem and status: emperor, shogun, daimyo, samurai, peasant, artisan, merchant. In general the countryside was seen as morally superior to the city. Another aspect was a revival of interest in Confucianism, particularly by the samurai, with development of an elaborate moral code and philosophy known as bushido—the way of the warrior.

The other side of Tokugawa Japan, however, was rapid economic development. Population grew swiftly after the 1690s, and this went along with dramatic urbanization: By the late eighteenth century the capital Edo (now Tokyo) and other centers such as Osaka and Kyoto were among the largest cities on the planet. There was also a great growth of internal trade and manufacture, as well as some trade with the outside world via a small colony of Dutch merchants on an artificial island in Nagasaki harbor. This also went along with interesting cultural developments. The merchant class in Japan did not simply concern themselves with business and physical pleasure, accepting their lowly status, as is often supposed. Instead they also explored Confucian and other ideas. In doing so they developed their own philosophy and culture, that of chonindo—the way of the townsfolk.

The essence of chonindo was developed and articulated by a series of thinkers from the later seventeenth century onward in the mercantile centers of Japan and particularly in Osaka. (Osaka had been the center of the Toyotomi clan, the rivals of the Tokugawa and the losing side at Sekigahara).

The crucial event in many ways was the founding of the Kaitokudo academy in Osaka in 1726 by Miyake Sekian and Nakai Shuan. This was a private educational institution, funded by the great merchant and trading houses of Osaka, for the exploration of Confucian ideals and in particular the establishment of the connection between productive work, trade, and virtue. The founders and teachers of the Kaitokudo argued that hard work, skill, craftsmanship, and physical labor were virtuous and forms of human excellence. More dramatically, given the traditional hostility toward it in much Confucian thought, they argued that profit was itself virtuous and that its pursuit was not only compatible with a moral life but moral in itself. The deeper argument was that there was no contradiction between the traditional virtues of restraint, loyalty, honor, and magnanimity and the life of labor and commerce. Instead all these virtues were both necessary for success in that kind of life and embodied in the successful living of such a life. What was wrong was dishonest and predatory behavior in any way of life.

Another aspect of the urban life of Tokugawa Japan that had a close relationship to all this was the notion of the “floating world” as represented in the artistic genre of Ukiyo-E, the well-known woodblock prints of urban life. In its physical sense the “floating world” referred to the pleasure and entertainment sectors of the new cities of Japan. As such it is often thought of as a cult of hedonism and something opposed to both bushido and chonindo. Sometimes this was true but more often there was a connection between the ideals of the floating world and those of chonindo. The common element was the belief, also found in Enlightenment Europe, that this physical world was good, not cursed, and that physical pleasure and well-being were admirable and worth seeking rather than barriers to virtue. The connection with chonindo was through the idea that in fact greater comfort and physical pleasures encouraged virtue (while discouraging predatory or vindictive behavior) and were the outcome of following the virtues of the merchant or townsman.

We may think that today the arguments of people like Adam Smith in Europe or the teachers of the Kaitokudo in Japan are unimportant because they are so obviously true and uncontroversial. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather they are now as unfashionable and deprecated as when those Japanese merchants got together and set up their academy in Osaka almost 200 years ago. Because they faced such a hostile culture they were in many ways more explicit and systematic in their arguments than their European counterparts were. (Arguably they also had a more congenial intellectual tradition to work with in many ways). Today too many of the arguments for a free economy and society are made on the basis of efficiency. Such arguments may be true but they butter no parsnips when faced with a moral rejection of the idea of profit and commerce. The argument that a free economy is a moral economy is one that needs to be made and won more than ever.



Medical Consumers or Wards of the State?

Paul Krugman wants to know: “How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as ‘consumers’?”

Let’s concede for argument’s sake there is something unattractive about viewing patients as consumers. Krugman writes, “Medical care, after all, is an area in which crucial decisions—life and death decisions—must be made. Yet making such decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge.”

All true, but not necessarily decisive in answering Krugman’s question—because if we reject the patient-as-consumer model, we must then ask: What’s the alternative?

I believe the answer is this: If the patient is not a consumer he or she will be a ward of the State or a government-empowered insurance company. If the choice is between consumer and ward of the State, consumer doesn’t look so bad after all.

To see what ward status means, ponder Krugman’s thoughts on the Independent Payment Advisory Board, Obamacare’s Medicare cost-cutting apparatus:

“About that advisory board: We have to do something about health care costs, which means that we have to find a way to start saying no. In particular, given continuing medical innovation, we can’t maintain a system in which Medicare essentially pays for anything a doctor recommends. . . .

“And the point is that choices must be made; one way or another, government spending on health care must be limited” (emphasis added).

Much of what Krugman says here is correct. Resources are finite. Choices must be made. No matter how medical care is paid for, spending will be limited—regardless of what demagogues imply. But under Krugman’s patient-not-as-consumer model (which is largely in effect today), government experts make all the important decisions. Bureaucrats will have a global budget for medical spending, and it will be their job to stick to that budget. They will not be the patients’ agents. Advocates of this scheme insist the quality of medical care will not be cut along with costs. They assure us they will prohibit only “unnecessary” and “wasteful” procedures. But how objective are those categories? And why should we trust unaccountable bureaucrats and “experts” to make the right decisions, as though there were one-size-fits-all answers in medicine?

The upshot is that anyone who has his or her medical bills paid by the taxpayers will ultimately be at the government’s mercy. If you’re not a consumer you’re a ward of the State.

But won’t private medical coverage also have restrictions? The difference is that if medical coverage were offered in a freed market—no privileges, no licenses, no protectionism—the environment would be competitive. When government is in charge competition disappears or is vastly constrained to the point where it hardly matters. In a competitive environment entrepreneurs seek to discover what services best satisfy their customers’ requirements. Note well: This environment includes nonprofit solutions, such as mutual-aid societies, which through “lodge practice” managed to provide decent medical coverage to people of modest means in earlier times (

Competition is a discovery process (Hayek). Government is the habitat of bureaucrats who pretend they know it all already.

Krugman cautions, “[B]ear in mind that we’re not talking about limits on what health care you’re allowed to buy with your own (or your insurance company’s) money. We’re talking only about what will be paid for with taxpayers’ money.” This is disingenuous.

After being taxed all their lives, how many elderly people are in a position to forgo Medicare in favor of private insurance? Government creates dependence, then exploits that dependence to justify its power.



List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


No comments: