Archives for category: 1989 and the Global Financial Crisises.

No matter what opinion each of us entertains about ‘alternate reality’, fact is that none of us is able to grasp all relevant aspects of even the most basic concepts.

Growing under a communist regime I had learned, very quickly, to keep my mouth shut.

Like all authoritarian regimes, communism eventually crumbled.
Mostly under the pressure that had been built from within and which could not be accurately measured, simply because people were conditioned to keep their mouths shut.

Nowadays technology makes it possible for some of us to ‘look’ ‘beyond’ what most understand by ‘freedom of expression’.

… anxiety and action shouldn’t be based only on what could happen in theory as much as what’s likely to happen in practice — and how much it will affect you.

Some people are afraid of sharks. While the prospect of being eaten by a giant fish is vivid and terrifying, it’s also unlikely, old chum. In fact, the drive to the beach is far more dangerous than the swim once you get there.

Likewise, avoid getting hacked. But more important, start taking action on the bigger risk: The stuff publicly posted on social sites.

Alternate meaning of ‘freedom of expression’?

‘You are free to express yourself and I am free to use whatever information you have chosen to share’!

Actually it makes a lot of sense.

Let’s imagine, for instance, that my son comes home and tells us he is going to marry someone.
Twenty short years ago my wife would have phoned her best friend and told her about it. In two days the news would had traveled around and feed back would had poured in, specially if we were living in a small community. We would had been informed about all past indiscretions attributed to our son’s intended spouse, as long as any had ever surfaced.
Nowadays, being technological savvy, my wife would google the name first, even before phoning her best friend – if she wasn’t already privy of ‘enough’ indiscretions, of course.

Would it make any sense to blame the public authorities who do the same thing? Or the private agents who, in their attempt to fulfill their jobs, use whatever information is publicly available about each of us?
My question should have a special meaning for those of you who live in democratic countries – where the public authorities execute whatever mandate you have entrusted them with, and under an economic regime governed by the (more or less) free market – meaning that all ‘private’ agents need at least some support from their stakeholders (yes, that’s you!) in order to remain economically viable.

I’ll come back to this subject.

Meanwhile you can learn more about it by reading the article that spurred my rantings:

“Anything you post can and will be used against you”

Just click on the title.

Tallow = “the white nearly tasteless solid rendered fat of cattle and sheep used chiefly in soap, candles, and lubricants“.

bite-the-bullet

The mutiny (India, 1857) broke out in the Bengal army because it was only in the military sphere that Indians were organized. The pretext for revolt was the introduction of the new Enfield rifle. To load it, the sepoys had to bite off the ends of lubricated cartridges. A rumour spread among the sepoys that the grease used to lubricate the cartridges was a mixture of pigs’ and cows’ lard; thus, to have oral contact with it was an insult to both Muslims and Hindus. There is no conclusive evidence that either of these materials was actually used on any of the cartridges in question. However, the perception that the cartridges were tainted added to the larger suspicion that the British were trying to undermine Indian traditional society. For their part, the British did not pay enough attention to the growing level of sepoy discontent.

tallowed-five-pounder

The new £5 notes contain tallow, a substance made from animal fat Credit: AP

“…a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer…”
“As the tweet was shared, social media users expressed their disgust at the news.
“New £5 note isn’t vegan. Was everyone’s 2016 New Year’s resolution to do ridiculously insane stuff like adding meat to money?” “

What are we to learn from these two (separate ?!?) incidents?

That we have not yet learned how, or when, to use tallow?

Or that we have reached, again, such a level of generalized discontent that people might use whatever plausible pretext in order to vent their accumulated grievances?

“It is as irrational to reject all conspiracy theories as it is to accept them.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Conspiracy theories are similar to religious superstitions.
They offer comfort to the emotionally insecure and create a meeting ground for the like minded.

Unlike full grown religions they lack a proper structure but that doesn’t mean their main ideas are not used for propaganda purposes, just as all religious dogmas have been. And still are….

Another difference between conspiracy theories and religions is that while both have been produced by human minds some of the conspiracy theories had been proven true while the most that can be said about religions is that they had been useful …

But what is a conspiracy theory and what does Utopia have to do with anything?

“Conspiracy theories as a general category are not necessarily wrong. In fact as the cases of Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair illustrate, small groups of powerful individuals do occasionally seek to affect the course of history, and with some non-trivial degree of success. Moreover, the available, competing explanations—both official and otherwise—occasionally represent dueling conspiracy theories, as we will see in the case of the Oklahoma City bombing…[but] there is no a priori method for distinguishing warranted conspiracy theories (say, those explaining Watergate) from those which are unwarranted (say, theories about extraterrestrials abducting humans).” (Brian Keely, Of Conspiracy Theories)

According to this definition a conspiracy theory is a ‘shape-shifter’. The notion covers both the true and the bogus ones while it can be used both ‘admiratively’ and disparagingly.
Again, just as it happens with religion, the mind set of those who consider each of them is of paramount importance.

Meanwhile ‘Utopia’ is, yet again, another creation of the human mind.
While religions and conspiracy theories are shared mental constructions that try to explain something which already exists Utopia is a shared mental construction which describes the ‘ideal’ state of  something that already exists and is perceived by those who experience it as being ‘perfectible’.

The link between all these being that the only two roads that lead to Utopia are, of course, ‘religion’ and ‘conspiracy theories’.

Am I being too harsh?

Utopia, “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect“, is a word coined by Sir Thomas More “for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island society in the Atlantic Ocean.“. It “comes from the Greek: οὐ (“not”) and τόπος (“place”) and means “no-place“, and strictly describes any non-existent society ‘described in considerable detail’.”

Now why would a reasonable person attempt to reach a ‘no-place’ unless conned into it by a ‘conspiration’? No matter how desirable that ‘place’ might be…

The way I see it this is yet another argument that rationality is not at all the perfect ‘balancing’ tool some of us believe it to be. In fact we are not ‘rational’ at all but ‘rationalizers’. Since it is impossible to gather and analyze all pertinent information before making a decision we try to convince ourselves, and others, that the decision we are about to make (or have already taken) is the right one. In order to do that we marshal all arguments we can find that confirm our hypothesis and we (honestly?) try to water-down those who are contrary to our views.

Until our coveted utopia becomes a real-life dystopia…

Trump's shirts

 

Did you know that Trump was selling shirts over the Internet?

Yes, Trump, the guy that so many Americans are going to vote for simply because they are convinced he will completely change the way America works.

Why?
Because he says so.
He presented himself as the quintessential anti-establishment candidate and they bought it.

OK, something has to be changed so I fully understand their exasperation with the current state of the Union.
But is he “the” guy?

And since deeds are, or should be, more convincing than words, lets see if he is as anti-system as he pretends to be.

Well… at some point he did try to use the power of the government in order to con an old lady out of her house, didn’t he?
from the vera to the Donald

And he did ‘bribe’ Senator Clinton to come to his wedding. Simply because he had the money…

clinton came because I gave

 

And now this.
The way I see it the real problem is not the fact that he makes his shirts in Bangladesh in spite of being vocal about the need to preserve American manufacturing jobs. After all it’s his job to conduct his business as he sees fit. And if he is comfortable with doing one thing while saying the complete opposite…. that’s his job too.

But how come so many people take his words for real, without at least perfunctorily checking the facts?
How come so many are they so convinced he is ‘the right guy’ when he sells himself so cheap?

Oh, you didn’t know you could buy a “Donald J Trump Signature Collection” shirt for as little as $12.56!
Why is he doing this? Because he is so anti-Establishment that he doesn’t care about money?
You’re already laughing, right?

Or he simply does it because he can get away with it!
Because we don’t really care. Not anymore…

As one of my friends said about Hillary Clinton, Trump’s ‘Democratic’ counterpart:
” Hard to fathom how someone so openly, unapologetically corrupt can be the front runner. I think that says a lot about what we really expect from our politicians.”

I’m afraid she’s absolutely right.
We are the real culprits here.
‘They’ are simply doing what they are good at, grabbing gleefully whatever opportunities are within their reach, but we are the ones providing those opportunities.

Not only in America.

Clinton, trump, unpopular

Not so long ago I was asking myself “What’s going on there?“.

Now, that my nightmare is very close to becoming reality – both major American parties are about to nominate unpopular candidates for the 2016 presidential elections, I’m wondering about the current meaning attached to the very concept of ‘politics’.

For an impersonal and very theoretically minded observer ‘politics’ would seem to describe the job of those who make it possible for the rest of us to lead our lives in an orderly fashion.

I believe you are familiar with what a ‘super’ does. ‘Super’ as in ‘superintendent’ for a residential building.
“The super must be conversant with every mechanical and technical system in the building, work diplomatically to solve problems in the building, be responsive to residents and be able to work as a team member with the board and the managing agent.”
Not exactly ‘rocket science’ but a very important role. So important that when poorly played the whole thing might very quickly deteriorate beyond repair.

After all, ‘the government’ should do nothing more, and nothing else, but act as a nationwide ‘superintended’ while ‘politics’ should be nothing more, and nothing less, than what we, all the inhabitants of a country, do in order to make sure that the government, our government, does its job. Properly.
Especially when living in one of the so called ‘democratic countries’.

Then how come I’ve got a growing feeling that ‘politics’ have become just another set of means towards specific goals? Goals that are more often than not detrimental to the society, as a whole?

PS.
This is for those of you who are not familiar with how this site works.
By clicking on the pictures, or the highlighted text, you are automatically linked to the sources of the quoted material. Sometimes they might be interesting, to some of you.

It depends on the meanings we attach to these two concepts.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s ex finance minister, is convinced that ‘Capitalism will eat democracy – unless we speak up.

Since he has some experience in this matter I’ll follow his line of thinking – for a while.

His point being that you can have successful capitalism in undemocratic societies – like Singapore and China – and that effective power has slowly shifted from the political sphere of the society to the economic one – which is undemocratic by definition.

Can’t say he’s entirely wrong, can we?

But we can say he’s somewhat confused…
So, he mentions Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore and China as capitalistic success stories and then says that  the political sphere is gradually falling  under the yoke of the economic one… Well, last time I looked, in China the state was still in full control of everything that moved and the state was firmly in the hands of the politicians. Same thing was happenning during Yew’s tenure as Singapore’s good willed dictator.

Unfortunately there is some truth in his words when we look at what’s going on on the both sides of the Atlantic and that’s why I’m going to examine whether we have the same kind of capitalism in both situations.

By Google-ing the word I got two definitions for the concept.

The first definition that was offered by the search engine came from Oxford Dictionaries, “An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state” and the second one came from Merriam Webster: capitalism is “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market“.

Putting them together we have private ownership, private decision, free market and profit as a goal.

Are these enough to describe a reasonably well functioning economic system?
I’m afraid not.

Let me give you some examples.
The French state has a controlling interest in Renault and the land of Bavaria quite a sizeable one in VW. Renault is in good shape and VW was too, until very recently. So private ownership is not an absolute necessity.
In the US we had quite an interesting situation. Two out of the three big car manufacturers  had to be bailed out by the state. All three were privately owned so we must look somewhere else: the Ford family still has a powerful word in the management of the single one which didn’t had to be bailed out. In Europe the best run auto company seems to be BMW – again controlled by a single family, the Quandt’s. It seems that it helps a lot if those who call the shots have a long time interest in the well being of the company versus the situation in which the top management has (short time) profit as the single/obsessive target.
Coming back to Renault and VW, they can be compared to Singapore, China and, maybe, Spain. Singapore was able to develop a ‘capitalistic’ economy despite it being an authoritarian society simply because Lee Kuan Yew was a very special kind of ‘dictator’ – one that not only cared sincerely for the greater good of his people but also didn’t loose his head during his long stage at the helm. A similar thing happened in Spain – Franco was the sole dictator who had made preparations for a democratic evolution after his demise, while China had to wait for another good-willed dictator to grab the power – Deng Xiao Ping – before it could steer towards the present course. No other authoritarian regimes but these two have ever managed to replicate this feat – we still have to wait a little before pronouncing Vietnam as the third, and very few other publicly owned companies fare so good as Renault does.

So, we have rather strong evidence suggesting that ‘skin in the game‘ trumps blind insistence on short time profit and that a free, democratic, society offers greater chances for economic development than a authoritarian one. In fact the politicians that need periodic confirmation from the people they govern do have some skin in the game while the authoritarians are in a position that is somehow equivalent to that of the CEO’s of the huge corporations whose stock owners are so disspersed that practically don’t count much – the members of the board practically slap each-other on the back and are able to do practically what they want with the companies. Look what happened at GM, Chrysler and, for example, ENRON.

But how free should be that society in order for capitalism to thrive?

Could it be so free that a guy could come from the street and claim your house as being his own? No?

So we need a free but orderly society. One where private property changes hands only when its owner says so – or has previously entered into a contract which stipulates that in certain conditions that transfer has to take place.

Meaning that in order to have a functioning capitalist society we need not only private ownership but also private owners who have enough trust in each other to start making business together.

You see, the feudal lords of the Dark Ages did have a lot of private property but capitalism couldn’t take hold in earnest as long as the (absolute) monarch could strip a man of his property and give it to somebody else. They couldn’t enter into (longish time) contracts because the era was dominated by huge uncertainties regarding various aspects of the social and economic life.

In fact it is exactly this well tempered freedom that is the crux of functional capitalism. Enough freedom so that everybody could feel confident that he is his own master but tempered by rules enforced in a pwerfully enough manner to give everybody sufficient trust that most contracts will be executed faithfully.

In this sense for capitalism to work properly we need to have a market that is free in more dimensions that one.

It has to be free from political intrusion in the sense that the government should leave it alone as a rule of thumb but also that the same government should keep it free from becoming cornered by a single group of interests.
In fact there is no difference from a market that is run by a governmental agency or by a monopolistic corporation – no matter if the latter is private. As soon as decision making becomes concentrated in too few hands mistakes starts happening. And their effect accumulate until the system finally collapse. Or is dismantled by some ‘exasperated’ more powerful agency – as Standard Oil and  ‘Ma Bell’ were dismantled by the US government. Which, by doing so, created the premises for  the huge development of those two respective markets – oil and communications.

Only this freedom of the markets can seldom be preserved by an authoritarian regime. Yew’s Singapore and contemporary China are exceptions, not the rule. Most authoritarian regimes cannot resist temptation and start meddling in the economic life of their countries. By doing so, they introduce a lot of ‘noise’ into the system. Eventually, this noise drowns the useful signals and ‘blinds’ the decision makers.

Same thing happens – and here Varoufakis has a valid point – when economic agents become so powerful that they can dominate the policy makers. The politicians can no longer preserve a balanced stance towards the economy and give in to ‘special interests’. This way the markets loose their freedom, with all the malign consequences that come with this situation. Among them, the lack of trust that slowly creeps in the souls of those who have to do business in the no longer free markets. Which lack of trust is very bad for all those involved.

And another thing about which Varoufakis is absolutely right. A lot of money are not being moved through the ‘front doors’. Not that they are not invested at all but because they are kept somewhat hidden they do not contribute as much to the well being of the world economy as they could/should.

2.1 $ trillion have been accumulated, as of  October 2015, in off shore accounts by the top 500 American companies in order to avoid taxes and
Between $21 an $32 trillion have been hiding in 2012 in various offshore jurisdictions.

Why is that? Simply because those who are called to decide about these money do not ‘trust’ that by bringing these money home and by investing them there, after paying the taxes, will be able to generate profits equivalent to those produced by leaving them off shore?

So what should we do? Tell them ‘democratically’, by electing somebody who is crazy enough to implement such a measure, to bring them home? Or even  confiscate them, one way or another?

I’m afraid that here I part again ways with Mr. Varoufakis. And with Aristotle: the way I see it democracy is not ‘the constitution in which the free and the poor, being in majority, control government‘. That would be ‘mob rule’.
A truly democratic process starts before the vote. When every stakeholder can make its point known to those who are going to cast a ballot so they’ll be able to do that having a reasonably clear understanding about what’s going on.

Frankly I’d rather rephrase Varoufakis’ message. ‘Corporatism has a tendency to disembowel democracy and transform it into ‘mob rule’ – the situation where the poor are no longer that free simply because they are convinced through ‘unholy’ methods to vote one way or another.

What can be done? Explain, loud and clear, that if jobs disappear the same thing will happen with the aggregate demand?
Explain that by giving their workers as little money as they can in reality the results are way worse than if the wages were as high as the companies could afford?
Ford didn’t give his workers more money because he loved them but simply because he had understood that in the long run he would be better off himself by doing this, you know!

I recently shared this meme on my FB wall:

when_i_was_poor_and_i_complained_about_inequality_they_said_i_was_bitter_2014-07-23

This is what happened next:
No two people are the same.“”That’s why I prefer equal opportunities instead of equality.
No two opportunities are the same. What you might consider an opportunity I might pass up. It’s a very diverse world we live in, a wide one in which hopefully everyone can be accommodated.

‘Can be’ or ‘will be’?

And who is the real looser here?

Let’s see what the broad picture looks like:

The world’s super-rich have taken advantage of lax tax rules to siphon off at least $21 trillion, and possibly as much as $32tn, from their home countries and hide it abroad – a sum larger than the entire American economy.”

Meanwhile

education debt

And what’s wrong with that?!?
Everyone has the right to do what ever he wants with his money and why should anyone expect to be educated for free?!?

OK, let me put it differently.

Every society is like a big community, even if its members do not share an intimate knowledge of each-other.
At least theoretically an overwhelming majority of any nation share the same set of values and the same goal – the long term survival of both the population and the afore mentioned set of values.

Now please consider which society would be better at the game of survival:

One which would make it easier for as many of its members to develop as much of their individual potential as possible or one that would make it easier for a small number of its members to spirit away so much wealth that the rest would remain crippled?

One which would use the very concept of a ‘free market’ as broadly as possible – make sure that as many as possible of its members enjoy the widest possible autonomy – or one that would allow the ‘never as free as advertised’ market to degenerate into the ‘winner takes it all‘ situation we are bound to reach if we continue on our present course?

How could enough people afford to ‘wander around’ for long enough to find the opportunities that would fit them if they are saddled at birth with a huge burden – the ever burgeoning national debt?
Would enough people risk to take on any additional debt (in order to prepare themselves to make better use of the opportunities they might find) if too many of those opportunities, even if met diligently, do not pay enough to ‘eat’ AND pay back the debt?

How is a society going to survive, let alone thrive, if a lot of ‘opportunities’ (social needs) end up being ‘plugged’ by unfitting/under-skilled/’less than enthusiastic’ individuals? Or not at all?

On the ‘supply side’, what do you think of those who choose to dodge paying taxes?
On the ‘demand side’, what do you think of those who squander public money as if there is no tomorrow?

So what should we be talking about? Equality or Equal Breadth of Opportunity?
About the Bed of Procrustes or about a ‘Free Market’ where all participants are simultaneously autonomous and fully aware of their responsibility for their children’s future?

050c31042a04e93467298c7458c219af4cbcc6-wm

For some time now I’ve been wondering how come so many people who define themselves as being Christians – “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.“, Matt 19:24 – are so passionately defending the very concept of (private)”property”.

Could it be that Marx was right after all: “Private property is the result of alienated labor.” ?!? And so many of us have been wrong for so long?

“The right to private property is the social-political principle that adult human beings may not be prohibited or prevented by anyone from acquiring, holding and trading (with willing parties) valued items not already owned by others. Such a right is, thus, unalienable and, if in fact justified, is supposed to enjoy respect and legal protection in a just human community.”

Trying to understand the source of this dichotomy I adopted a two pronged strategy. First I looked up the word itself and then I tried to deepen my understanding of the entire concept.

It’s absolutely obvious that ‘property’ comes from ‘proper’.
‘Proper’, in its turn, has two basic meanings: ‘fit for use‘ and ‘pertaining to one individual‘. The first one has evolved into ‘propriety’, “the state or quality of being correct and proper” while the second has become ‘property’, “thing owned“.

So, do all these etymological arguments make it any easier for us to accept that respecting each others’ right to private property is what introduced a certain degree of functionality in the human society?

‘But aren’t you contradicting yourself?
At the beginning of your post you suggested that ‘property’ might not be as good as advertised and now you say that the ‘right to private property’ is ‘good for you’?
Will you make up your mind, for Christ’s sake?’

Now, that I’ve reached the conceptual stage of my analyses, I must bring to your attention the fact that a right is nothing but an opportunity while each (piece of) property is a thing – even those  which are not of a ‘substantial’ nature. ‘Intellectual property’, for instance, is a ‘measurable thing’ even if you cannot put your finger on it while the ‘right to intellectual (or any other kind of) property’ is (an infinite) something which patiently waits for (a rightful) somebody to make (proper) use of it.

Maybe this is what Christ tried to tell us in the first place. That it’s not property itself that stands between us and our salvation but our (improper) attitude towards it. That it’s not the object of our property that is the problem but how we make use of our right to private property.
After all Christ told the “young rich man” “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21). ‘Go sell, give and THEN follow me’, not ‘come help me ABOLISH the very right to private property’, as Marx used to preach to his followers.

To understand the difference between what Christ and Marx said about this subject let’s see how these two relate to the notion of ‘Man’.

In Christ’s book God took a lump of dirt and ‘made Man in His own image’ while in Marx’s narrow materialistic vision “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

Basically both of them start with the same ‘materiel’ – the mundane ‘star dust’ that Mendeleev distributed throughout his table – but what a difference at the end of the ‘assembly line’!

adamevebefore

Being made ‘in His Own image’ not only means that all Men (and Women) are created equal but also that each of them shares in His Divine Nature. Hence the origin of our free will, of our ability (‘right’, opportunity) to be saved. Compare this to how Marx described the human society:

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.

They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism.”

articlefiles-mv003370610000-96750_bd

As somebody who has lived for 30 years under communist rule let me translate this from ‘Newspeak‘ into plain English:
‘History suggests that those who figure out the inner workings of this world  have, from time to time, the opportunity to take over the show. Now is one of those moments. The ‘fat cats’ have been so greedy lately that the regular people are growling under the very heavy yoke that has been placed on their shoulders.  That’s why we have the opportunity to unsettle the ‘old’ from their positions and to plant our fat asses in their comfortable chairs.
And the first thing we must do in order to achieve that goal is to abolish the right to private property. People are so fed up with what was going on lately that they’ll go along. They have grown to hate so much the ‘greedy plutocrats’ that most of them won’t notice that in the (revolutionary) process they’ll lose the very last shrouds of personal autonomy they still have. Without the right to dispose of the results of their own labor they’ll be at our mercy’.

Who was right between the two?

Well… Both, unfortunately.

The communists did run the show, at least for a while. And we all know to which results.
On the other hand it seems that in the longer run miss-using the right to private property is indeed a powerful drawback. The already too long sequence of economic crises caused, ultimately, by nothing else but our own greed has indeed given birth to a generalized state of psychological malaise.

I don’t know about what’s gonna happen in the next world – or if it exists at all – but I’m sure that if we don’t learn, fast, how to use, properly, the right to private property things will become too hot for our own good in this one.

The only one we are sure about.

Further reading.
During my research for this post I found this very interesting take on the same subject:

“Zwolinksi argues that libertarians are right to support private property, but also that private property is more complicated than we sometimes think.”

forgiveness

Some say that God created the world, a long time ago, and that’s why he is the only one who can forgive.
Some others remember how the elders taught them that keeping a grudge is far worse than having an ulcer. It will eat you alive, like a cancer.

I, personally, don’t know anything about God creating the world. I wasn’t there at that time so…
What I do know is that playing God is extremely dangerous. Not only for the impersonator but mostly for those around him. Exactly those who were amused at first by his performance – enough so that they encouraged him to continue, only to find out later how annoying the show will soon become AND that the exit door had been paddled shut behind their back, while they were happily clapping after the first gigs.
At the very end, after the impersonator had left the scene – by his own will or simply carried out, he will end up shouldering the whole blame – as he should, of course.
But I can’t stop wondering how much suffering could have been avoided if the crowd were just a tad more circumspect?

Not making very much sense, do I?

OK, first take a look at this:

No mercy

Then watch this:

go hard

Do you really think this is funny? Well… more than 38 000 of the almost two and a half million who watched this say they enjoyed it and only two and a half thousand became worried enough to express their feelings.

Most of you have not experienced how it is to live under dictatorship so I’ll use another metaphor.

You are probably quite familiar with this guy:

dirty harry

He was lionized during the ’70’s and the ’80’s for impersonating a no-nonsense cop who cut through the red tape and got things done.

Mostly by shooting the bad guys.

Don’t get me wrong.

They didn’t get anything else than they actually deserved.

What I find really troublesome about Dirty Harry is the casualness with which he killed people. And his over-reliance on guns. On brute force, that is. “Go ahead, make my day.”

It is true that at that time people were exasperated with the daily occurrence of violent crime and were desperate for a way out of that situation. I’m not going to offer you statistics or stuff, you can look them up yourself. I’ll just tell you that the Romanian television was having an almost daily news bulletin presenting the latest violent acts committed Stateside. It was all part of the propaganda, of course, but the facts were real. And plenty enough to make me wonder, I was a teenager at that time, what on Earth is going on there?

That wave of violence has subsided, as we all know. Some say it happened because of ‘broken windows policing’, some ‘freakin’ others ‘blame’ ‘Roe vs Wade’ for it while I suspect that all of the above had something to do with it but that the main ‘culprit’ was the economic upsurge that followed the ‘stagflation’ period.

Nowadays we find ourselves in another economic and psychological down-turn. With a twist though.
The recent economic troubles were brewed at home while then it started with the Oil Crisis. Much of the violence no longer starts as a robbery but has a psychological motivation – disgruntled and socially disconnected young people commit multiple acts of homicide, either by indiscriminately shooting their victims or by blowing themselves up, along with a huge amount of explosives, in densely populated areas.

And how do we respond to this fresh wave of violence?
By turning a blind eye to heavy policing? By digging fresh trenches that further divide our already highly polarized society? By another wave of over reliance on guns?

“I said it was only me and, hands still raised, slowly descended the stairs, focused on one officer’s eyes and on his pistol. I had never looked down the barrel of a gun or at the face of a man with a loaded weapon pointed at me. In his eyes, I saw fear and anger. I had no idea what was happening, but I saw how it would end: I would be dead in the stairwell outside my apartment, because something about me — a 5-foot-7, 125-pound black woman — frightened this man with a gun. I sat down, trying to look even less threatening, trying to de-escalate. I again asked what was going on.”

Go ahead, click on that quote and read the entire article. My post won’t go anywhere.

What’s the connection between what happened to Kyle Monk, the Dirty Harry movies and Putin?

For starters all those involved were …human individuals.
Kyle’s neighbor who called the police and who, when asked by Kyle ‘why did you do it’, chose to end up the conversation with “I’m an attorney, so you can go f— yourself.”
All of the nineteen policemen who played a role in this drama – and who treated a 125 pound, scantily clad, woman as if she were an armed and dangerous criminal were also human individuals.
The heads of the public administration, those who adopt and enforce policing policies are also human individuals.
The financial wizards who engineered the recent crisis belong to the same species as we do.

We, the guys who admired Dirty Harry for his toughness, are the parents of the hapless generation who blows itself up or mindlessly shoot their colleagues in campuses.

We are also the guys who are amused when bored magazine writers attribute to Putin such silly quotes as ‘it’s my job to send them to Him’.

And it’s us who applaud the Putins of this world. Only to find out, on our own skin but too late to be able to do anything about it, that the ‘hug of the bear’ is not that comfortable as it seemed from a distance.

you're Callahan

 

The current spate of dissent on this subject has been spurred by this guy, Angus Deaton, being presented with The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel

“A Nobel prize in economics implies that the human world operates much like the physical world: that it can be described and understood in neutral terms, and that it lends itself to modelling, like chemical reactions or the movement of the stars. It creates the impression that economists are not in the business of constructing inherently imperfect theories, but of discovering timeless truths.”

I’m afraid that the author had been so disgusted by the obvious mistakes that have been committed by so many of the supposedly reputable economists of this world that he has become amenable to throwing out the baby along with the bath water.

First of all we must remember that “Science is wrong. By definition.” All theories are imperfect and there is no such thing as ‘timeless truths’.
Ever since Karl Popper introduced the idea of ‘falsifiability’ as the litmus test for determining if any piece of information has any scientific value and Berger & Luckmann noticed “The Social Construction of Reality” it had become apparent both that science is being updated constantly – hence always ‘wrong’, or at least incomplete – and that people are ‘doing science’ on purpose – hence any discussion about reality being ‘described and understood in neutral terms’ is unrealistic, to say the least.

Coming back to Popper, Hermann Bondi had declared that ‘There is no more to science than its method, and there is no more to its method than Popper has said.’
True enough but as any ‘scientific declaration’ this is highly ‘updatable’.

In fact Science is, above all, a human enterprise. It’s a human that picks up – or devises – which method to use in a certain situation when he wants to find out something about a certain subject. Furthermore that method is applied by human individuals, not by robots. The same as those who had chosen it or by others, doesn’t make much difference. And, at the end of the cycle, some other people will evaluate – and sometimes try to replicate – the results.

So the mere fact that a certain set of results could not have been replicated by a certain team of evaluators doesn’t mean that much, by itself. This has been silently acknowledged by Andrew C. Chang and Philip Li in a paper published by the Federal Reserve in 2015: “Is Economics Research Replicable? Sixty Published Papers from Thirteen Journals Say ”Usually Not””. The couple admitted they needed some help from the original authors to replicate the results in a few instances and in some-others they didn’t have access to the same computer software as the first publishers.

But the most interesting fact is that in no instance the authors have been able to positively determine that the results published in any of the analyzed papers are inconsistent with the data presented by the original authors and/with the method invoked. In all instances when they failed to replicate the original results that happened because the original authors didn’t present at all the initial sets of data, they were incomplete or the method/sofware used to  process that data was incomplete, altogether missing or proprietary. And all this despite in some cases the papers being published by journals specifically requesting that all data/methods/software being made available at the moment of publication.

In this situation I find the conclusion reached as being both correct and highly objectionable. And above all lacking any scientific value.
“Because we successfully replicate less than half of the papers in our sample even with assistance from the authors, we conclude that economics research is usually not replicable.”

Yes, it seems that too many papers published by presumably reputable journals are not replicable. But that is due exclusively to the journals themselves not observing their own rules or by some of the authors acting less than ‘over the table’. This phenomenon has nothing to do with ‘economics’ being less of a science than, say, physics and everything to do with humans being… well… human!

Let me go back to where I started, to Joris Luyendijk claim that “Don’t let the Nobel prize fool you. Economics is not a science.”
The author ‘illustrates’ his claim by remembering the infamous LTCM – a hedge fund set up by, among others, a couple of economists who had received a … you guessed it… a ‘Nobel prize for economics’ less than a year before the hedge fund went bust. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?
But the problem remains. The fact that LTCM went bust doesn’t prove anything except the fact that its management was completely inadequate.
The point is that trying to assert that ‘economics’ is not a science only because some guys used a couple of economic theories and failed, abysmally, is akin to claiming that physics is not a proper science because no weather bulletin is 100 percent accurate. Or that biology is not a full blown science because medicine has not yet found a cure for cancer. Or to claim that chemistry is bogus simply because Big Pharma is ripping us off.

At the end of their paper Chang and Li offer some very pertinent advice about how things could be vastly improved. Their main idea being that everything must be ‘above the table’ – both the raw data and the method/software used to process it must be made available for whomever wants to replicate the results. In fact this exactly what science, real science, is about. People have to be able to check thoroughly whatever the proponents of a theory are trying to ‘peddle’. This is the only way for a theory to be proved true or false. Or incomplete so further research might be declared necessary.

Similarly, at the end of his article Joris Luyendijk points his finger at the real culprit.
In reality economics, as a space where people try to gather information, is different from, say physics, only because we, the people, approach them with different attitudes.
Time has taught us, repeatedly, that every-time we’ve tried to deny the obvious we ended up with a bloody nose. The problem is that not all of us are, yet, able to recognize the obvious.
No one in his right mind will pretend, nowadays, that the Earth is flat. Meanwhile some people still pretend that vaccines may induce autism. They don’t. But some of the ‘anti-Vaxxers’ continue to pretend this even after a study partly funded by themselves demonstrated that there is no link between the two.

As suggested by Luyendijk and demonstrated by these examples the real culprit for what is going on, not only in the economic field, is our arrogance.
Arrogance that has led to the survival of what is known as ‘tehnocratic thinking’ despite more and more people learning of the role ideology plays in our decision making.

After all what can be more arrogant than pretending that you have ‘scientific reasons’ for what you do, despite the obvious fact that every one of us acts according to his own ideology?

I’m not going to pretend now that there are good and bad ideologies. I obviously think they can be classified but I cannot pretend that my classification is the correct one.
But I can pretend, and you should too, along with Joris Luyendijk, Andrew C Chang and Philip Li, that each of us should honestly state its point of view along with his opinion when ever discussing something.

After all each of us having an ideology is a reality while pretending that any of us can act as if it doesn’t is a rather pathetic lie.

To conclude I’ll have to keep the promise I’ve made at the beginning of all this and ‘update’ Bondi’s statement about Popper:
‘There is no more to science than its method and there is no more to its method than Popper has said’ but we should always bear in mind that science is exclusively ‘performed’ by human individuals.

 

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