Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nihilist Left brings progressives into disrepute

Comment from an Australian Leftist who still believes in something

LAST week the world learned of the death of a misogynistic, homophobic, racist mass murderer who supported a theocratic, neo-fascist ideology posing as a liberation movement. In Washington and at New York's September 11 Ground Zero, spontaneous crowds cheered in the streets upon the announcement of Osama bin Laden's long-overdue demise.

Most of the world's population, Muslim and non-Muslim, greeted the news in a more sober fashion. But the overwhelming majority must surely have agreed with the man who authorised bin Laden's death, US President Barack Obama: justice had been done.

To be sure, bin Laden was opposed to every tenet of modern progressive politics; secular democracy, representative government, a hatred of feudal or class-based inequity, equality of the sexes, anti-racism and the core values of the Enlightenment itself.

No self-respecting social democrat mourned his death. And yet, had one's daily reading habits been confined to sections of so-called "progressive" opinion, bin Laden's death was a matter of profound regret. The extra-judicial killing was a denial of due process, celebrity lawyer Geoffrey Robertson protested, oblivious to the impossibility of capturing or trying bin Laden. "[It's] hard to celebrate one more corpse," opined Jeff Sparrow, a devotee of the violent Bolshevik thug, Leon Trotsky, on ABC's The Drum. Not to be outdone, Crikey's Hunter S Thompson-wannabe, Guy Rundle, downplayed bin Laden's crimes claiming that: "Morally speaking, 9/11 was no worse than a B-52 run over Vietnam."

You don't have to believe that American engagement in Indochina during the 1960s and 70s was foolhardy or that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was likewise ill-judged, as the present writer does, to find Rundle's commentary nonsensical. Then again this is a man who has penned such thoughtful treatises as "Zionists and Nazis Connected. Discuss."

Perhaps the most disturbing local contribution came from another Drum regular, anti-Israel activist Antony Loewenstein, who announced that "the West has much to learn". Bin Laden's "[terrorist] tactics were abhorrent and failed to attract huge numbers of followers" Loewenstein surmised, nonetheless the West's subjugation of Muslims meant that the "arguments for his organisation's force have only strengthened since 9/11".

In other words, Osama was a nasty piece of work but fighting the good fight against imperialist crusaders. (Never mind that the majority of al-Qa'ida's victims have been Muslim.) Loewenstein concluded by offering a paean of praise: "Bin Laden died a man who profoundly changed the landscape of the world."

Well, yes, he certainly changed Lower Manhattan's landscape.

If any further evidence were required to show that a segment of the 21st century Western Left has completely lost the plot and plumbed the deepest, darkest depths of moral nihilism and cultural relativism, the contributions of these so-called "progressive" thinkers is conclusive proof. As British academic-cum-blogger Norman Geras put it this week: "In the demise of a reactionary murdering theocrat they are unable to see and plainly articulate the sense of anything good".

As has been well-documented, social democratic parties are in serious decline across the West.

In part, their woes are the perverse result, as the late Tony Judt put it, of their success in conquering mass poverty and material deprivation, and other epic 20th century struggles against inequality and discrimination.

Indeed, the survival of liberal democracy in the face of the twin totalitarian threats of fascism and communism owed much to the efforts of social democrats.

Today, however, noisy elements on the far Left - think Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and our local scribblers - seem to believe that Western-style democracy is in fact the real enemy.

With monotonous regularity they excuse bin Laden and his fellow Jihadis' death-cult or rationalise Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vile anti-Semitism, instead preferring to blame the US and Israel for all the woes of the world, including partial responsibility for the September 11 atrocities.

There are of course brave souls on the Left who have challenged the ostensible status quo. One thinks here of Geras and his fellow Euston Manifesto signatories. Recently a local player emerged to put a similar case.

In his maiden speech to NSW parliament last year Labor MLC Luke Foley, from the party's Left, argued that social democrats must confront the newest "totalitarian movement of the far Right" just as they successfully opposed fascism. "This global Islamist movement is misogynist, racist and homophobic [and] based on an utter perversion of the Islamic faith.

"Too many progressives are silent about this," Foley insisted, "or worse, deny this."

It is hard to disagree with the crux of Foley's argument. And yet if I must quibble with his analysis and that of Geras et al, it is their designation of the apologists for radical Islam, as "Left", an association that is arguably harming the electoral viability of centre-left parties across the globe. For they are no such thing.

It is high time these values-free misfits received a new appellation.

Practically speaking, they oppose mainstream Left thinking on virtually every subject. Amazingly they can see no tangible difference between a theocracy and a democracy nor denounce Islamic fundamentalism in unequivocal terms. To my mind, they should be known for what they are: nihilists.

So let them rail against liberal democracy and chant: "We are all Hezbollah" from the rooftops but do not besmirch the good name of others by deeming themselves Left. No, let them stand with like-minded nihilists, Jew-haters and other enemies of social democracy, including a recently deceased jihadist unlikely to be enjoying a judenrein paradise of virgins. On behalf of the sane Left, good riddance to the lot of them.



Only nationalism can justify a welfare state

The standard consequentialist argument in favour of the welfare state essentially says that the harm caused to rich people by taxation is outweighed by the benefit to poor people from government services. That’s probably wrong, but for the sake of argument let’s say it’s not and concede the idea that governments should redistribute resources. The question that redistributionists have failed to answer satisfyingly is, to whom should the resources be distributed?

The redistributionist argument may seem defensible if we look at one country alone – taking from the rich in Britain to give to the poor in Britain sounds good to a lot of people. But why do we only look at the poor in Britain? Compared to, say, the poor in Peru, they don’t seem to be so badly-off. The redistributionist logic would imply that money should be given to the worst-off, wherever they are. So, why give money to the poor in Britain rather than the very poor in Peru?

A redistributionist might say that a government’s job is to look after its own citizens. That argument, frequently made, has no real ethical basis. Unless the redistributionist believes that the value of, say, a Mancunian’s welfare is of greater importance than a Peruvian’s welfare, there is no outcomes-based argument for favouring the Mancunian over the Peruvian. Taking the redistributionist premise that governments can improve outcomes by taking from the rich and giving to the poor, the only moral argument for spending tax money in Manchester rather than relatively-poorer Peru is based on implicit nationalism. How many redistributionists would admit to that? Yet it is the only logical justification for preferring a big welfare state in Britain to a lot of money being spent around the world.

Some would say that it would be politically impossible to implement this kind of redistributionism. Yes, it would, but that isn’t a convincing argument. Even the argument that overseas spending delivers less bang for the buck than domestic spending is highly dubious, and returns to the question of why redistribution supposedly works inside a country’s borders and not outside them.

This is a fundamental flaw in the redistributionist manifesto. The only intellectual justification for favouring people in Britain over people in Peru for government spending would be that British people are more deserving. This is implied by arguments for a welfare state. The libertarian alternative, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from this implicit nationalism. The outcomes we argue for treat people as equals: Free markets benefit everybody, wherever they are. I’ll choose that kind of egalitarianism over the narrowly nationalistic redistributionist egalitarianism any day.



Funny money on the loose worldwide now

We humans are a slow-learning species. In the 1980s we blew up what was then the world's second-biggest economy, Japan, with loose money. In the 2000s, we blew up the biggest economy, the US, with loose money.

Not content with that, in 2008 we went on to blow up the economy of most of the world. How? With loose money. Any intelligent species would learn from this experience. But look around.

The economies that account for 96 per cent of the world economy are today running loose money policies. Most are happily handing out free money. Some are supplying money at rates so low that it's actually cheaper than free.

It's done for good cause. When money is cheap, people are more inclined to invest or spend. So it aids economic recovery. The former chief of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, was named as Time magazine's person of the year in 1999 for his ready resort to loose money.

But if there is too much for too long, it ends badly. Exactly a decade later, Time named Greenspan as No. 3 on its list of "25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis". And I think they let him off lightly.

The evidence of the past three decades should be enough, but you can go back further. In fact, every major financial crisis in the four centuries of capitalism has had its origins in loose money.

How does it work? It's simple commonsense. The basis for value is scarcity. If scarcity is destroyed, so is value. And when money loses its value, it is abused.

Human societies have always abused commodities when they're provided too cheaply or free - free fresh water, for example - and money is no different. The loose money creates a "bubble" in asset prices, which ultimately collapses, dragging the economy into a recession, or worse.

The lyrics change from one episode to the next, but the song remains the same.

This time, it's happening in so many countries that it's much easier to list the countries where it's not happening. Brazil and Australia are the only economies of any reasonable size where money is not loose.

The standout champion of loose money in the world today is the US. For 2½ years now, the US Federal Reserve has been supplying money to America's banks at an official interest rate of 0-0.25 per cent a year.

Inflation in America is running at 2 to 3 per cent. So, in real terms, the American central bank is lending at an interest rate of minus 2-3 per cent. It is, in effect, subsidising the banks to borrow money.

The US is debasing its currency so effectively that the US dollar has fallen by 14 per cent in the past year, as measured by the Fed's major currencies index. But China doesn't want to lose export competitiveness to the US, so it has maintained its peg to the dollar. This means that China's renminbi is also depreciating in real terms against its other trading partners. So the US and Chinese currencies are debasing in tandem.

In the meantime, the central banks of the EU and Japan are handing out money cheaper than free. In sum, almost the entire world has gone monetarily mad. And the cheap money is forming a bubble in the price of commodities.

Central bankers in many countries are quietly worried about this. Each thinks that his bank alone cannot make any difference. So they leave their interest rates low. Yet their collective inaction guarantees that they are all facing a problem of growing inflation and a dangerous bubble in commodity prices. This is the same problem, the "prisoner's dilemma", that we see in the case of carbon emissions.




Iran: A-jad allies charged with black magic, summoning genies: "Iran's powerful clerics have accused associates of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of witchcraft, including summoning genies, amid an increasingly bitter rift between Ahmadinejad and the country's supreme religious leader. In recent days, some 25 confidants of Ahmadinejad and his controversial but loyal chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei have been arrested and charged with being 'magicians.' ... The arrests are the latest window into the growing rift between Ahmadinejad, Iran's elected secular president, and Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the country's appointed religious supreme leader."

Navy plan for homosexual marriages on bases draws opposition: "A preliminary U.S. Navy plan to allow its chaplains to perform same-sex marriages in military chapels after the end of 'don't ask, don't tell' has fired up congressional opposition. All services are moving forward with the transition from the present ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform. Top Pentagon officials are expected to sign off on the new rules and the progress of training in coming weeks"

US Senate blocks Obama DoJ appointee: "Senate Republicans on Monday blocked President Barack Obama's choice for the No. 2 job in the Justice Department and dampened talk that Osama bin Laden's death might usher in bipartisan cooperation on terrorism matters. The 50-40 vote, short of the Senate's required 60-vote threshold, sidelined Obama's monthslong drive to make official James M. Cole's position as deputy attorney general."

Democrats trying to increase gasoline prices: "Senate Democrats said they will move forward this week with a plan that would eliminate tax breaks for big oil companies and divert the savings to offset the deficit. Senior Democrats believe that tying the two together will put pressure on Senate Republicans to support the measure or face a difficult time explaining their opposition to voters whose family budgets are being strained by fuel prices."

Egypt: Mobs set fire to two churches in capital: "Egypt's prime minister called an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday after 12 people died in bloody clashes in a Cairo suburb over the conversion of a Christian woman to Islam. About 500 conservative Islamists known as Salafists massed outside the Saint Mina Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba on Saturday demanding Christians there hand over a woman they said had converted to Islam and was being held against her will."

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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)


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