Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A joyous occasion in Israel as the U.S. embassy opens in Jerusalem

Only one song seems right to celebrate the occasion


The appalling seductiveness of Karl Marx

Martin Hutchinson

The 200th birthday of Karl Marx on May 5 passed with several indications, in both Europe and China that his appeal is not dead, and indeed showing considerable signs of revival. China has significantly reversed its move away from Marxism, whereas elements in the EU High Command seem to be recognizing that a centralized Marxist dictatorship is what they are aiming for. “Big Data” possibilities bring the frightening possibility that Marxism may work – better than it did, at any rate. How can a freedom-lover fight this apparently inexorable trend?

Probably the worst prophesy ever made was Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 “The End of History.” Far from becoming universal, the liberal democracy that appeared to have triumphed with the fall of communism rapidly became “liberal” in the American sense, acquiring a thick gooey patina of political correctness, wasteful social spending, non-market interest rates and endless yawning budget deficits.  Whatever was supposed to have won in 1991, it wasn’t this. As a result, old falsehoods, which were never really killed, only scotched, made a rapid comeback in the West’s education institutions and now appear to be making a significant comeback in the West as a whole.

In this respect European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s speech in Trier, Marx’s birthplace, was typical. Saying that Marx had been misunderstood, Juncker claimed that people learned “freedom, emancipation and independence” from his works. That’s not just rehabilitation, it’s hagiography, and goes along with the 18-foot statue of Marx, donated by China, that now disfigures the pretty former capital, whose Archbishop was for over 500 years one of seven electors of the Holy Roman Empire. 

The European Union, with its dirigiste assumptions that the big decisions must always be taken by a centralized government, is moving increasingly towards Marxism, while on the other side of the world China never really left it. President Xi Jinping is now promoting Marx as a rallying symbol for the nation while economically, the move towards private enterprise seen since Deng Xiaoping took over in 1978 has reversed in recent years, with state owned enterprises taking the great majority of loans and investments, funded by a banking system that remains almost entirely state-controlled.

There are three main reasons why Marxism remains attractive: the desire of governments to exert control, the insidious philosophical influence of leftist professors in universities and the advent of Big Data, which has for the first time awakened the horrid dream that its practitioners might actually be able to achieve the universal control they seek.

It is no coincidence that the two economists most favored by the big governments of today’s world are Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. Both thought in terms, not of an economy of small producers and consumers competing for resources, but of governments allocating them. In Marx’s case, the individual consumer or producer was subsumed in a “class,” with private ownership eliminated and resources allocated by the state after negotiations between the classes.

In Keynes’ case, while the price mechanism had some relevance in ordinary commerce, interest rates had no place in allocating capital, and the overall level of the economy, as well as much capital investment, would be determined by benign government bureaucrats. Both systems, therefore, are instinctively appealing to those who choose to work for government and fear the uncertainties of commerce.    Keynes was himself highly sympathetic to Marxism/Communism, especially during the 1930s when he was locked out of influence in Britain by the capable free-market Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain.

There is no avoiding the natural proclivities of those working in government, except setting clear constitutional rules preventing them from messing up the economic system. In that context, it is a great pity that Thomas Jefferson, when drafting the Declaration of Independence, allowed his fascination with dodgy French philosophers to replace John Locke’s “life, liberty and property” with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Without Locke’s firm property right, there is no protection against government allocating private resources to itself (a fact reinforced by the infamous 2005 “Kelo vs New London” Supreme Court decision) and therefore no protection against the horrors of Marxist economics. “The pursuit of happiness” as an aspiration tends to negate property rights and provides no real protection against anything.

The cultural drift towards Marxism needs little explanation. Professors, being unconcerned with the market system and, once established, secure in their jobs feel free to advocate economically destructive nostrums. Most college systems are set up with no effective control on this, because college alumni, many of whom are committed to market mechanisms, are deliberately given very little voice. The institution’s funding is either by government or through a charitable trust that benefits from unfair tax breaks and is thereby insulated from market forces. In such circumstances, there is no check on leftist fantasy, and the idiocies which the older members of the professoriat picked up during the “Summer of Love” are perpetuated among their juniors.

The pull towards Marxism exerted by modern technology is a more interesting question. I speak now not of the likes of “Facebook” which with its PC content-censors is merely another arm of the leftist academic-charitable complex. However, the abilities of Big Data are more sinister. Suddenly the problem that wrecked Gosplan, the lack of knowledge of the myriad factors affecting production, demand and value, may in principle be soluble. To the likes of Juncker and Xi, a dream beckons: If data can only be made BIG enough, it may finally be able to reflect the efficiencies of the market mechanism, while being controlled entirely by Big Brother standing at the Off switch.

If you combine Big Data with the censorship possibilities of social media, an even more enticing vision opens to authoritarians in government. Using Big Data, they can control the economy more efficiently than Gosplan (they think) and ensure that all the little regulations they can think of for enforcing economic conformity are in fact being followed. Then using social media they can suppress any data points that suggest something might be going wrong, and ensure that any economic actors whose lives are wrecked by their Big Data economic control are never heard from. 

There are fortunately flaws in the Marxists’ dream of a super-Gosplan. Sure, you can imagine Big Data recording the production side of the economy so accurately that Big Brother has an idea of widget output to the last widget. You can even imagine Big Data recording via point-of-sale terminals every time a widget is sold, so that Big Brother knows the exact sales of widgets, second by second, together with data on where they are sold and who bought them. But there is very little he can do with this data. He can match production to sales, increasing production of fast-selling items – but any filthy capitalist can do this, and with Big Data will have as much information as Big Brother has to do it.

What Big Brother cannot do, even with Big Data, is get an accurate estimate of what consumer demand for any new product variant might be (because opinion polling is unamenable to Big Data accuracy). Further, Big Brother cannot in any way change the products the consumer wants to buy, or alter the products sold in any way that optimizes the economy beyond what is done by the market. Any attempt to produce excessive amounts of steel, because you have just decided to call yourself Stalin, will result in miserable failure, as consumers will not buy any more steel products than they would in a free market, so the excess steel will be wasted.

The instrument of control that Marx never thought of is interest rates. By pushing economies onto fiat money, and then setting interest rates at bureaucrat-determined ultra-low levels, Big Brother has over the last decade produced a gigantic mass of misguided investment, and urban housing markets that completely fail to serve ordinary people. This will doubtless eventually produce another enormous housing crash, which Big Brother will address by inventing more controls (such as abolishing cash) and distorting the economy further. Still, to be fair it is Keynes, not Marx, whom we must blame for this particular gigantic economic disaster.

Social media may offer Big Brother better opportunities for Marxist control than Big Data. If as several countries of the EU have recently done, you have through legislation acquired control of social media’s output, so that you control the political and social messages seen by the vast majority of the electorate, who do not take the trouble to make themselves properly informed, then you have gone a long way to ensuring that the electorate will vote as you want it to vote.

The EU is happy to sneer at Vladimir Putin’s version of “democracy” which draws heavily on techniques developed in the previous Marxist-Leninist state, but one can easily imagine the EU itself and its puppet European Parliament becoming a very similar one-party bureaucracy, with opposition limited to a few gadflies from unimportant countries, who can easily be quelled and overruled. As Putin has discovered, you don’t need to control 99% of the votes in an assembly to do exactly what you want; 70% will do just fine. 

Fortunately, it appears Big Data won’t bail out Big Brother, although social media may well make his task of domination easier. If a free market can be kept going, the lives of ordinary people will improve even in a non-free state, as Russians have proved over the significantly populace-enriching period of Vladimir Putin’s rule. The trick, therefore will be to preserve as much of capitalism as possible against the bureaucrats – and do something about the universities, so Marx’s pernicious doctrines are gradually relegated to the dustbin of history, where they belong.



Top Four Obama Policies Trump Has Reversed

Fulfilling a campaign promise, earlier this week Donald Trump officially withdrew the United States from the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, calling it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” For critics of the deal who recognized its flaws and did not turn a blind eye to evidence Iran was violating the terms of the agreement, this was welcome news a long time coming. Trump fulfilled his promise, and the days of kowtowing to terror-sponsoring regimes are behind us.

Naturally, Obama administration alums are throwing hissy fits. Obama himself released a statement calling the decision “a serious mistake.” Apparently, the man who gave billions of dollars and a pathway to creating nuclear weapons to the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism thinks he has any credibility on the issue. Of course, Obama, the self-proclaimed former constitutional law professor, should have known that Senate ratification is required for his deal to be legally binding. For all intents and purposes, Obama’s Iran deal was written in pencil, and Trump took his eraser to it.

Just like that, Obama’s "major" foreign policy achievement became yet another example of just how foolish Obama’s “I have a pen and a phone” approach to governing was for someone who wanted to establish a long-term legacy.

Below are the top four unilaterally implemented Obama policies Trump has successfully reversed:

1. The Trans-Pacific Partnership

It may have been Obama’s signature trade deal, but Trump was not “down with TPP” and he often referred to it as a bad deal while on the campaign trail. Trump made good on his promise to end it just days after taking office. The move was no surprise, and the fact that Obama didn’t go to Congress to approve the deal made it an obvious choice for President Trump’s chopping block.

2. Planned Parenthood Protections

In January, the Department of Health and Human Services rescinded Obama-era “legal guidance” that would have punished states for defunding Planned Parenthood, the nation’s number one abortion provider and big money donor to Democrats. The regulations “warned states that ending Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood or other health-care providers that offer abortions could be against federal law.” Of course, for many pro-life conservatives, while this was a welcome reversion of an Obama regulation, the subsequent omnibus bill that fully funded Planned Parenthood was not so welcome.


Perhaps one of Trump’s more brilliant moves in undoing Obama’s legacy was how he handled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Aside from being pseudo-amnesty, one of the primary objections to DACA was that Congress, not the president unilaterally, is supposed to make decisions regarding issues of immigration. In place for five years at the time Trump ended it, nearly 800,000 people were protected from being deported under DACA, and reversing it was no simple issue. So Trump put the onus on Congress to work out a permanent solution. Trump said of his decision: "We will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion -- but through the lawful Democratic process -- while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve.”

Obama may not have understood how our constitutional republic works, but Trump clearly does. Currently, Republicans are trying to force a vote on DACA in Congress.

4. The Paris Climate Accord

Once again, this was another multinational treaty that Obama knew he couldn’t sell to Congress, so he didn’t even try. It has been just under a year since President Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord. So far, no climate apocalypse has occurred. Sea levels haven’t eaten up our coastlines and the air is still breathable. We’ve survived.

It is true that Trump has signaled that rejoining the treaty is still a possibility, but if he punts that to the Senate (where it should be), it will never happen.

Keep in mind, this list is by no means complete. Trump has reversed or weakened many Obama-era policies that were enacted without the consent of Congress. Earlier this year, Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden lamented: “All he seems to be trying to do is undo everything that President Obama has done.”

Yeah, that is why he won. But Obama was the one who chose to take an unconstitutional unilateral approach to governing. Obama took office with comfortable majorities in the House and Senate. Bipartisan compromise was unnecessary, and was never sought. When Democrats lost their majorities, Obama never felt the need to meet Republicans in the middle to achieve consensus the way his predecessors had. Obama was counting on Hillary Clinton to win the presidency and keep his unconstitutionally enacted agenda in place.



Bolton: Iran's Economy 'Quite Shaky,' So Effect of Sanctions 'Could Be Dramatic'

Regime change in Iran is "not the policy of the administration," National Security Adviser John Bolton told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "The policy of the administration is to make sure that Iran never gets close to deliverable nuclear weapons," he said.

But on CNN's "State of the Union," Bolton noted that getting out of the Iran nuclear deal will result in the reimposition of American sanctions on Iran: "And I think what we've seen is that Iran's economic condition is really quite shaky, so that the effect here could be dramatic," Bolton told CNN's Jake Tapper.

Tapper noted that Bolton repeatedly pushed for regime change in Iran before he became national security adviser. "I know that is not the current position of the United States government. But are you behind the scenes pushing for it to become the position of the United States government, regime change?" Tapper asked Bolton.

Bolton replied that he has "written and said a lot of things over the years when I was a complete free agent. I certainly stand by what I said at the time. But -- but those were my opinions then.

"The circumstance I'm in now is that I'm the national security adviser to the president. I'm not the national security decision-maker. He makes the decisions, and the advice I give him is between us."

Meanwhile, CBS's "Face the Nation" started on Sunday with a report from foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer in Tehran. Host Margaret Brennan asked Palmer how Iranian citizens are reacting to the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal:

"Well, the hard-liners hit the streets after President Trump's decision, with the old cries of 'Death to America,'" Palmer responded. "But they and everybody else are actually much more angry with their own government. They're fed up, because they haven't had salary increases. There are no jobs. There's corruption. And, most of all, they say the Iranian government can offer nothing but a bleak future.

"I have never heard people so angry here. At the moment, the government is keeping a lid on little protests that have been springing up everywhere, but it's anyone's guess how long they can maintain stability," Palmer concluded.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


No comments: