The East is the East and the West goes through bouts of lunacy.

mmghosh's picture

This is what I felt when I had an interaction recently with a bunch of Afghans who appear to have started their traditional relationships with our plainspeople once again.  And why not?  Their experience with the West over the past 40 years might have finally convinced them that a view of the Hindu Kush induces lunacy in Western governments.



When American soldiers and civilians poured into Afghanistan after the Taliban's fall they were undaunted by Soviet failures or setbacks in their early efforts to develop southern Afghanistan that left fields barren and speckled with salt. Instead, they too lavished money on the country, apparently convinced they could buy a path into modernity for a place battered by war,hobbled by poverty and illiteracy and where only one in five women could read or write her name and barely half of the country's men. The US has spent more than $90bn (£55bn) on reconstruction and relief in Afghanistan since then, which, adjusted for inflation, is still far more than any country received under the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe after the second world war, according to the American government's special inspector general for Afghanistan.

I'm not sure if that $90 billion represents chump change in multi-trillion dollar economies, but it is a substantial sum over here.  And it was put to good use -

That money has bought dramatic achievements, including a leap of millions in the number of children enrolled for school (though it is less clear how many actually attend), and a significant fall in the number of women who die in childbirth and in children who die easily preventable deaths, along with a steady growth in the country's economy.

Yet this is simply a recapitulation of history.

The Soviets too spent heavily on Afghanistan and at the peak of their influence in the 1980s, Soviet projects produced well over half the country's power, three-quarters of its factory output and almost all the government's tax income, according to Aiding Afghanistan, a history of spending by the west's old enemy as it struggled to transform the country.


Despite Afghanistan's many steep valleys and fierce rivers, the biggest power station built since 2001 has been a set of diesel-powered generators in southern Kandahar which are so expensive to run that officials warn they will only stay on while the US pays for the fuel.

On to more interesting matters.


To add to the lunacy theme, after all of the decades-long the anti-Islamist, anti-terrorism posturing, it seems Mr Abdul Rasul Sayyaf is a legitimate candidate in the Afghan elections!  A canned history is provided in the lucid summary.

Born 1946. A former mujahideen leader and hardline Islamist, he is the man who first invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan after he was ejected from Sudan. He also gave his name to the Philippine insurgent group Abu Sayyaf, and the 9/11 commission reports mention him as "mentor" to the attack's mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In Afghanistan, his political contributions have included opposing women's rights provisions and helping pass a bill giving amnesty to those who committed war crimes during the country's brutal civil war. He is generally thought to be too hardline to win even in modern Afghanistan, but like Ghani has teamed up with a popular former militia leader – Ismail Khan, commander and then governor of western Herat – who can command a block vote.

I am not as convinced as the Guardian that Mr Sayyaf cannot win.  A combination of the anti-Soviet Sayyaf as President leading US-trained forces against the Taliban would appear to be too convoluted (or lunatic) a scenario for the imagination.  And yet matters may soon head that way.

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We agree

Bird Dog's picture

The U.S. has wasted billions on aid, and it's clear that both military and non-military incompetence have continued seamlessly from one administration to the next. Just as important as the election is whether or not Karzai will sign the BSA.

I don't agree that Sayyaf will have a successful run at the top job. The Afghan people are uneducated but they're not stupid. I'm guessing that Dr. Abdullah will win.


"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Abu Sayyaf


He's got more connection to serious crimes against Americans than most of the people we've droned.  Although I think we've droned enough and ought to go home,  if he did get targeted,  I wouldn't see it as a serious injustice.


OTOH, killing candidates in elections we're effectively sponsoring isn't very good messaging either.  


The main point here is that US hawks who support aggressive democracy promotion have delusional beliefs about who and what voters in other countries actually support.

Heh. Mr Sayyaf is positioning himself as strongly anti-Taliban

mmghosh's picture


He muses, though

"I really don't understand what is the issue between us and the Taliban, over what issue we are fighting," he said. "If the reason is clarified, then someone can base talks on that."

Breath of fresh air, even.

The white-bearded Sayyaf, who is in his sixties, presents himself as a voice of wisdom and a bridge between warring factions, but his appeal is limited with women.

He has allied himself with an Iranian-supported anti-Taliban commander in Herat this time round, so matters may be more complicated than they seem.

Registan predicts the end.

mmghosh's picture

Yet not a single one of us has stable employment directly related to Central Asia or Afghanistan, and many have left the field entirely. Not for lack of education, publications, credentials, recognition or respect–but lack for lack of stable, paying opportunities in the spite of all those things. Many are talented people who have already found success doing other things–but the field suffers, the bridges built to the region crumble, policymakers get bad advice, and opportunities are lost as our field contracts and significant public investment made into a generation of specialists is simply written off.


Central Asia is a good example of how funding impacts knowledge. Central Asian studies is a dying field, and many of the experts of the region are now unemployed or doing work that has nothing to do with Central Asia. Without money and jobs, the research stops. One of the best-known analysts of Central Asia is training to become a dentist. The world’s foremost scholar of Tajikistan is unemployed.

The reason is that the money is gone. [US government] funding supporting scholars of Russia and Eurasia was cut. The [2013 budget sequestration] resulted in lay-offs for Central Asia analysts working for the government. Because of the drawdown in Afghanistan, think tank positions dedicated to Central Asia were eliminated. News outlets that covered the region lost funding. There is nowhere for the younger generation of Central Asia scholars to go.

Maybe Ms. Kendzior


is exhibiting a bit of unconscious Eurocentrism.  Not to take anything away from her colleague's work, but I strongly suspect the actual "world’s foremost scholar of Tajikistan" is, you know, some Tajik guy,  working and living in Tajikistan, not dependent on US grants for his support,  and not hanging out in Ms. Kendzior's circle of academics and writers.  I could be wrong.



You're mistaken if you don't think Eurocentricism isn't

mmghosh's picture

exhibited by most people.  Have you seen the latest immigrations stats into the EU, Australia etc?  


The biggest news story here for the past few days is how some local lad has become the CEO of Microsoft...Microsoft!  That doesn't translate necessarily into the conclusion that immigration from poor Nepalis or Bangladeshis can be good for us, too.  

And only 46


That's great.  Let's hope that racism in the US declines faster than the populist-leftist mentality rises.   Because the combination of (a) an ethnic minority with (b) little political power that (c) is perceived to be doing too well financially is particularly toxic in a populist atmosphere. 


I think people who believe they can stir up rage against the wealthy without it turning into rage against the Jews/Indian-Americans/Asian-Americans are fooling themselves.

Rage isn't required in the US.


Just a little realism about income inequality and its increasingly toxic effects would do the trick. And "the trick" essentially would be to end subsidies, restore financial regulations, and raise taxes a bit. No guillotines or lynch mobs required.  

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Trouble is...


Apart from easily demonized people like a few oil company and agri-business executives, Americans tend to love & look up to their 1%ers: M.D.'s, for example.


And when it comes to the top 1/10th or 1/100th of that 1%, they become positively worshipful: top actors & entertainers, sports stars, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and so on and so forth.


I mean, apart from the Koch brothers, just exactly who are you out to get? George Soros, perhaps? Warren Buffet?


I'm genuinely curious.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Nobody. Seriously.


They simply keep too much of the wealth that we all work to produce, and we need to stop letting them do that. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

"They?" "we all?" "We?"


Honestly, Jordan - if you were trying to caricature a naive mid-war socialist in an Evelyn Waugh novel, you could hardly do a better job.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Even though I now realise that Americans love aristocracies

mmghosh's picture

mid-war socialists were a high point of civilisation, at least compared to the ghastly Evelyn Waugh and his ilk.  And he was Roman Catholic!

The Ghastly Evelyn Waugh


He would instantly have embraced that description of himself.


He had no "ilk." He was a one-off.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Of course he had an ilk. Do you think he existed in isolation?

mmghosh's picture

His ilk were all those who - like him - regarded the win of the 1945 Labour government a disaster.  


Imagine,  the people of Britain, and especially the majority of British soldiers serving overseas who voted in the 1945 elections had the temerity to dislike Churchill!


Imagine, after all that high-class interwar sneering at Attlee, Bevin and Bevan,  people actually voted for anti-imperialism, free healthcare and public education for themselves!


At least the previous generation of Kitchener and Cromer were honest.

Mr Ghosh:


Have you ever actually read any of Waugh's books?


If so, which ones?

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Brideshead Revisited.

mmghosh's picture

Edit - also watched episodes of the Granada Television program.  It didn't improve with dramatisation.

Ah. I see.


Not *Decline & Fall*, not *Black Mischief*, not *A Handful of Dust*, not *Scoop*, not *Put Out More Flags*, not *Men at Arms*, not *Officers & Gentlemen*, not *Unconditional Surrender*...

Well, please do carry on. Just do your best.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Why is it necessary to read every book

mmghosh's picture

Hint: it isn't. -nt-



"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

When I compare Waugh to his contemporary Orwell

mmghosh's picture

the takeaway impression is the superficiality and lack of knowledge about the world, how societies function, how knowledge informs - in Waugh's case - apart from his tiny little circumscribed world.  You're a pretty smart guy v, I'm sort of surprised you haven't seen through the fakery at the heart of Edwardian Britain.   


Have you ever read Julian Barnes?  The best writer in English IMO.

"Edwardian Britain"...


...came to an end when King Edward VII died on 6th May 1910. Evelyn Waugh was a little over six years old, at the time. He didn't write much of anything about that period. His great subject was the fakery at the heart of *post*-Edwardian Britain - the 20's, the 30's, the 40's.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

No, you didn't get it.

mmghosh's picture

Of course I know what period he wrote about.  But the "fakery" that he writes about was in counterpoint to what he considered the high point of civilisation was - which was the nobility and the "high" culture of Edwardian Britain.  He wasn't alone.  Many of the British upper classes (still) look back to the days before WW1 when men were men and the lower classes and races knew their place in both providing entertainment and an opportunity for them to direct their charity. 


I looked around for the books you mentioned, but I'll have to buy them, and I'm not interested enough to want to do that.  Instead, I found some extracts.

Here, from “Decline and Fall,” is his description of a group of Welsh musicians arriving to play at a school festivity:

Ten men of revolting appearance were approaching from the drive. They were low of brow, crafty of eye and crooked of limb. They advanced huddled together with the loping tread of wolves, peering about them furtively as they came . . . they slavered at their mouths, which hung loosely over their receding chins, while each clutched under his ape-like arm a burden of curious and unaccountable shape. On seeing the Doctor they halted and edged back, those behind squinting and mouthing over their companions’ shoulders.

Wordsmithery it may be, but I find this description pretty repulsive at many levels - quite apart from the casual racism - but because Waugh has no historical or economic idea why Welsh working classes of the day would look and behave the way they did.  And why the NHS began in Welsh mining towns.


Watch this movie.

Waugh's apologists sometimes claim much of his


work and thought should be read as "tongue in cheek." Evidently the problem with the bestial, subhuman laboring classes is that they can't take a joke. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

I looked up a bit more on Waugh - this is Hitchens on Waugh.

mmghosh's picture


I can understand fully why an Englishman of a certain type would find these passages both delightful and memorable. 

"The Welsh character is an interesting study," said Dr Fagan. "I have often considered writing a little monograph on the subject, but I was afraid it might make me unpopular in the village. The ignorant speak of them as Celts, which is of course wholly erroneous. They are of pure Iberian stock—the aboriginal inhabitants of Europe who survive only in Portugal and the Basque district. Celts readily intermarry with their neighbors and absorb them. From the earliest times the Welsh have been looked upon as an unclean people. It is thus that they have preserved their racial integrity. Their sons and daughters rarely mate with humankind except their own blood relations. In Wales there was no need for legislation to prevent the conquering people intermarrying with the conquered ..."

Much of the remainder of Waugh's iridescent first novel is imbued with the same breezy, heartless spirit, which recurs memorably in Black Mischief, Scoop, and The Loved One.

My only comment is that to regard these writings as a major literary accomplishment needs a considerable degree of linguistic ignorance.  


Disdain for lower castes, barbarian races, women and the like are done more surely, euphoniously and with a nicer degree of magnanimous vituperation in traditional Brahminical Sanskrit literature.  

"One cannot really be Catholic and grown-up."


Ouch. It would be so fun to see Orwell's take on libertarianism. Anyhow, I can confirm that not being a Catholic anymore is no guarantee of growing up. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Waugh turned Roman Catholic

mmghosh's picture

the kind of Catholic that seeks redemption in a vision involving Italy's invasion of Abyssinia, Francoist Spain, and anti-Vatican II.  That kind of Catholic.


Alternatively, what some of my past acquaintances in the north of England would call, demotically and accurately, a posh wa*ker.

The Ghastly Evelyn Waugh (cont.d)


Just finished "Scott-King's Modern Europe." My God Almighty, what a genius with words he was.


"mid-war socialists were a high point of civilisation

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

The Ghastly Evelyn Waugh (cont.d 2)




Well, maybe in India. The bar is, after all, pretty low there, and has been for centuries. In Europe, mid-war socialism was a cultural disaster, and Evelyn Waugh satirized that disaster better than anybody else.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Hahaha! Seeing as you know little about anything in India

mmghosh's picture

I wouldn't dare to suggest that you might have forgotten your moral duty to represent/misrepresent your interlocutors!


As for socialism being a cultural disaster, you either have no knowledge about the condition of the working classes in England in the 19th and 20th centuries, or simply refuse to acknowledge its significance.  It is more likely that the first is the case.


That fact that the majority of intelligent people of Britain rejected the imperialist nonsense they were fed when they actually lived with the reality of that imperialism was/is very hard for the British upper classes to swallow.


But I find it somewhat curious to see Americans empathising with the plight of the British upper classes.


Mr Waugh's wordsmithery is neither here nor there.  Satire in the employ of cruelty and oppression is just obsequiousness masking as cleverness.  Also, English is a reasonably crude language in which to express emotions - compare it to Persian when you get the opportunity.  Fitzgerald might be somewhere to start.

It's simple Manish

HankP's picture

people look back and imagine they would be invited to visit or even live in the great manors of the day. Not that they would be shoveling sh!t for the owner of such a manor, which is about 99.999% more likely.


Oh, and they wouldn't have access to the arts and literature of the day either.


I blame it all on the Internet

No doubt, Mr. Ghosh...

(#313455) know way more than I do about the living conditions of my own ancestors in England & America.


I'm not quite sure where you thought I was "empathising with the plight of the British upper classes," but, hey. Whatever floats your boat.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

On America, I'm still being educated by the Forvm.

mmghosh's picture

And I must say my ideas about American egalitarianism have changed significantly.


But I lived and worked in Britain for 12 years.  My job involved working with every class from the peerage to the unemployed.



I figured the peerage were also mostly unemployed.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

Owning property is employment

mmghosh's picture

all that land needs management.  The "effete aristocracy" is a deliberate self-creation, designed to deflect exposure. 

More than a third of Britain’s land is still in the hands of a tiny group of aristocrats, according to the most extensive ownership survey in nearly 140 years.
In a shock to those who believed the landed gentry were a dying breed, blue-blooded owners still control vast swathes of the country within their inherited estates.
A group of 36,000 individuals – only 0.6 per cent of the population – own 50 per cent of rural land.



Their assets account for 20million out of Britain’s 60million acres of land, and the researchers estimate that the vast majority is actually owned by a wealthy core of just 1,200 aristocrats and their relatives.



Please don't deflate my silly joke with your facts.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

Sorry for the multiple posts, but...


...I can't seem to post anything longer than a tweet here without my browser freaking out. Is The Forvm compatible with Windows 8?

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Works fine for me

HankP's picture

you might want to try a different browser, and log out, delete all cookies, then log back in.


BTW, the dominant European aesthetic of the 19th century was ridiculously restrictive, racist, and far too limited to survive. Thank goodness WWI wiped almost all of it away in favor of reality. In the competition of cultures, they lost.


WWI was also the beginning of the death knell for the dominant religious straightjacket of the 19th century, with WWII making it completely irrelevant to modern life. Within a century or two there will only be some stubborn eremites left, with no influence on the popular culture. Modern day fundamentalists will be seen for the clowns that they are.


... nope, don't seem to have any problems with Windows 8 and Firefox posting longer entries.


I blame it all on the Internet

"the dominant European aesthetic...


...of the 19th century was ridiculously restrictive, racist, and far too limited to survive"


You mean, like, Dvorak's Serenade for Winds? Or Dickens' Bleak House? or Ingres' portrait of the Comtesse d'Hausonville?

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Yup nt

HankP's picture


I blame it all on the Internet

I was afraid...


...of that.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Well, so long as it works for you...


...what else matters?



It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Did you try my suggestions?

HankP's picture

and here's a tip: if someone's trying to help you with a tech issue snarky remarks don't really motivate them to help you in the future.


I blame it all on the Internet

Yeah, tried 'em.


Didn't work.


I would have thought that being challenged to solve a technical problem might be motivation enough.



It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

Hey, I get paid for doing this

HankP's picture

so let's start with an accurate description of the problem - you say you can't post long entries. What's the symptom? Does it not let you type past a certain number of characters, or when you hit post does your comment get truncated? Or is something else happening?


I blame it all on the Internet

I think...


...that I should just keep my posts really short.

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.

I bet if you draw a Venn diagram of what I said,


and I draw a Venn diagram of what I said, our two Venn diagrams won't match.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Or A Villain In An Ayn Rand Novel*

M Scott Eiland's picture

Proving once again that she definitely had an ear for authentic dialogue from the "progressive" end of things.

*--I'm just noting what it sounds like: I do not mean to suggest that any Forvmite is gleefully trying to promote the growth of a parasitic welfare state that will bring down civilization. That would be silly, and even if it were true I don't have the energy to write any ten thousand word monologues to combat it, so I'm just going to move right along.

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

We need a villain!


I think the left just needs one or two, so the Koch bros. and that billionaire who shot off his mouth about Nazis will do.


Also, do Americans really worship Zuckerberg? Gross.



I mean, apart from the Koch brothers, just exactly who are you out to get? George Soros, perhaps? Warren Buffet?

i guess you missed the "no lynch mobs" and "let's adjust a few tax rates" part of this huh? or does all of that translate into being "out to get someone?"

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

Before I click


and use up 6 valuable minutes I could use posting "vapid" commentary,  is there any content other than "Look! Some people have more money than others!" presented in every chart form Excel has to offer?   Because I already know that.

You should try to be more like me


and post non sequiturs backed up by bad math. Anywho, the interesting part of the video is not that "some people have more money than others." The interesting part is just how far from reality are the average American's estimates of wealth inequality. The vid makes three interesting points:  


A) Americans surveyed don't want perfect equality. They believe that there should be some wealth inequality, specifically, that the top quintile should have about 4-5x as much as the bottom quintile with the middle 3 quintiles roughly proportional to that ratio. Americans in general believe that makes an ideal, fair distribution of wealth. 


B) Americans surveyed believe wealth distribution is currently quite a bit more unequal than that. Specifically: Americans believe that the top 20% control about 60% of the country's wealth, or 10x the middle 20% and about 100x the bottom 20%. So most Americans already believe the system is skewed unfairly towards the rich. 


C) But they drastically underestimate just how much it is skewed. Americans' perceptions about what wealth distribution looks like aren't even close to the reality. The actual distrubtion is vastly more unequal than Americans believe it is; they're off by an order of magnitude. The net worth of the top quintile is 860x the bottom quintile. The top 1%'s net worth is even more wildly skewed.  


The point of all this is, most Americans don't realize just how unequal the distribution of wealth in this country really is. If they did, we'd probably be having a very different discussion about tax policy. 


The video's based on a survey done by Dan Ariely here

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

That's the simple message


The slightly more complex one is: "Look! Some people have a ton more money than everyone else, your children now have little- to-no chance of being like them, and they're actually getting rich by making everyone else poorer!"

Little-to-no chance? Come on, catchy.

mmghosh's picture

You're seriously suggesting that talented, hard working kids have little-to-no chance of making good in the  USA, on average?


I would say that is so much more likely to happen here, or in Europe, than in the USA - where 50% of the world's wealth circulates.  For example - suppose a US graduate doesn't get a job in the USA - if one is American, one can get, relatively easily, a similar/better paying job elsewhere - in Asia, or a adjunct post in Europe - or even if it is just Teaching English As A Foreign Language in Africa.  


Do you think it would be that easy for my daughter to do so (she wants to major in humanities) to move from here to China or Korea?  Should I be envious?  Does someone from Vietnam have similar opportunities?  The Vietnamese people don't appear (in general) to be envious of the lot of Americans, or pushing for reparations, despite having been bombed and napalmed for 30 years for the crime of wishing to be independent.  Doesn't that show that envy is not the way?

Intergenerational income mobility is worse in America


than it has been in many generations, is now worse here than anywhere in the developed world, and is moving in the wrong direction every year.


My particular situation isn't really the point, but I'll note that the job I have in S Korea is available precisely because the university system there hasn't instituted the admin-top-heavy, low-professor-pay US model of running educational institutions. 


More on point, I entirely reject your argument that because things are worse in other parts of the developing world that Americans should be happy to watch their country continue to decline. It's just not an argument against reining in the US's rapacious wealthy class from extracting all the wealth out of its middle and lower classes. 


I can see why you're not particularly concerned about this, but I would expect you to be able to see why an American might be. 

Now reflect that 63% of the wealth of those states


is owned by just 7% of the people who live there. Reflect that 85% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the people who live there.  


Let's look in detail at California. The population of California in 2013 was 38,332,521. The population of Canada was 33,476,688. Oops, now it doesn't seem so surprising that the GDP is similar, and in fact California is lagging a bit on the GDP-per-capita measure. Look at household debt: the average is around $115,000 in Canada, but around $340,000 in California. That certainly makes a different picture. Bonus fun: much of that household debt counts as an asset for the 7% of the population who own everything in California. Take a look at cost of living: food and daily expenses are higher in Canada (partly due to US agricultural and energy subsidies, so let's not get too excited -- those are wealth transfers), but major expenses like health care and higher education cost three times as much in California as they do in Canada. Canada's Gini coefficient is 0.32, California's is 0.47.


Suddenly the picture is quite a bit different, n'est-ce pas? Lower GDP-per-capita, higher cost of living, far greater household debt, greater income inequality, and suddenly the fact that California and Canada have similar GDP is good news for most Canadians, but only a handful of Californians.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

I'm not Canadian

mmghosh's picture

but I suspect many would move to California in a heartbeat, if they had the skills and opportunity.  


Look, I'm not suggesting that there aren't problems in the USA.  My point is that catchy's perspective that life in the USA, or even Europe is becoming unsustainable to the point of disaster for the middle classes cannot be wholly true.  If it were, our lives would be a bottomless pit of suffering.  Which it is for many, in real terms, not relatively, but definitely not for all.


I think we're talking about progressing - regressing to a mean.  Because you have historically advanced so far and so fast, it is necessary for your societies to cut back on benefits to the working classes.  Whereas in our case conditions for our working classes have to progress.  And indeed that is the way matters have progressed.  Huge numbers of folk have been lifted out of poverty in East and South Asia over the past 4 decades.  Look at matters the way I do - Western working classes have transferred their jobs, opportunities and wealth generally to lift the working classes of the developing world in that time - a truly internationalist and noble gesture, even if not wholly conscious or voluntary.   Consider...if Western workers had been selfish enough to elect legislators who prevented outsourcing of manufacturing, or raising of wages or taxes, all this might not have happened.  In fact why stop at the workers?  The corporate world, too, co-operated in this.


Tie this in with the worldwide reduction in violence. What is happening is necessary.  At some point in the future, working conditions for 1st world and 3rd world will coincide, or at least parallel closely.  Isn't that a good thing for the majority?


Off the top of my head - what exactly does this decline in standards mean?  You live in unpolluted urban and rural environments, with a literally microscopic effort to produce food - with access to every cultural facility and the sum of human knowledge in the sciences and arts without coercion in the matter of religious or cultural or social issues.  You can choose to live supremely healthy lives, without a necessity to have to take any risks such as compulsory anything - military or community or religious service.  Do you mean the inability to purchase the latest electronic gadget is a worthwhile measure of societal decline?

Manish, you're moving the goalposts.


We aren't talking about standards of living, we're talking about distribution of GDP and cost of living. We're talking about net worth and the declining purchasing power of the vast majority of the people in the world's wealthiest democracy. We're talking fairness, not misery.  


It's nonsense IMO to talk about "reversion to the mean" when GDP growth is more or less exactly back where it was in 2006 with no slowdown in sight (yet). If there's a mean (I doubt there is, since economics is tied to consumption and labor, which grow continually), there is no reversion to be seen. And if you're talking about the reversion of "progressivism" meaning political & economic power of the working & middle classes, why, that mean has been reverting since Reagan was elected in 1980. Most people here feel it's high time for a swing back in the other direction.  


I know we've talked before about why a high Gini score and a vanishing middle class is bad news for the US, or for any democracy, and I know that you don't see inequality as being nearly as corrosive to a US-style economy & government as I do. The cheerleaders for capitalism (hi, Mr. Friedman!) seem to have an endless ability to ignore the fact that if left unregulated, capitalism tends toward oligarchy/aristocracy with all that entails legally: a multi-tier system of citizenship where the laws are primarily designed to retain wealth & power for the elite. The US Constitution and unfettered capitalism are fundamentally incompatible, and always have been. Why is that a problem, you say? Simple, because once entrenched in power with a fully corrupted/compliant state, the capitalist's only goal is to remain there. Economic growth for all is no longer a desirable goal... in fact quite the opposite. 90% of the population should be just able to afford the necessities of life that enable them to work, and no more. That's where the US is headed, and the world with it.  


I agree wholeheartedly with one thing you say, which is that the real catalyst for change right now and for the past 30 years is the globalization of labor. In any industry where labor can be exported to the truly impoverished parts of the world, the inevitable result is that the average cost of labor (i.e., wages) will be brought down as the impoverished country sees wages rise, while the industrialized countries see wages fall. This is an iron law of economics, and I think it explains the decline in the power of western labor unions (particularly manufacturing unions), as well as the stagnant or falling purchasing power of the working & middle classes. There's no reversion to a mean going on, but there is a reversion to an average. 


The trouble is, the people profiting from this reversion are accumulating massive amounts of wealth, along with massive amounts of power, and they aren't going to give it back in a generation or two when global wages normalize around a (low) global average.  


There's also a perverse consequence of exporting labor: cheap labor helps depress the cost of textiles, clothing, electronics, cars, and most manufactured goods, which in turn holds down costs of living in the US and other import countries. Thus there is a small compensatory benefit to Americans watching their earning & purchasing power decline every year. However, if you and I are right that wages will eventually normalize, the "cheap manufactures" benefit is going to disappear one day soon, and when that happens workers & middle class people in all countries are going to see a spike and then a steady, endless rise in costs of living. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

"consumption and labor, which grow continually" is a historical

mmghosh's picture

oddity.  In the sense that the human world grew very slowly up until the industrial revolution, and may even have regressed (the Black Death etc) at points.  The rapid growth of the past 300 years appears to have hit a sustainability barrier in the form of planetary warming from the heat produced as a result of this growth.


Indeed, the sharp rise in population has slowed terrifically over the past 4 decades.  Growth, too, is bound to slow down - as the global population hits a peak and starts to go down, I cannot see why consumption should go down too.  A reduction in consumption will be forced on us in any case from scarcity, climatic disturbances and so forth.


And you are completely right

90% of the population should be just able to afford the necessities of life that enable them to work, and no more. That's where the US is headed, and the world with it.

That would be most of human history.  The past 300 years were an anachronism because of the huge expansion of resource utilisation which opened up opportunities to the 99%.  But those resources have gone, or are not easily open to modern pioneers, as they were to those of the 19th century. 


There are compensations, though.  What we consider necessities today were luxuries of the past.  And the opportunities created are so vast that it would take many lifetimes over to experience them all.  In that sense, it doesn't matter that the 1% are enormously wealthy - both the 1% and 99% can listen to Beethoven's 6th Symphony on streaming net - and this is good, even though I may be, pretty much, a stereotypical Oriental fatalist.

The trend has been growth since humans came down


from the trees, and it is not true that most of history consisted of mere subsistence: every recorded war was fought over expansionary ambitions and the right to accumulate resources, not scraps of bread. Human beings haven't been confined to subsistence living for several millennia now. The explosion in population driven by technology and energy might be (and eventually has to) diminish, so that much I agree with. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Growth was very slow, J.

mmghosh's picture

I can't think that Julius Caesar's time was that different from the times of Julius II.  catchy demands growth increase to 1990s-2000s rates - almost blasphemous!


On the inequality theme, it seems 85 people (a majority of them Americans) have the combined wealth of 3.5 billion people!  Isn't it great that that this statistic has not brought class war nearer?  The world seems further from insurgencies led by the poor that at any time in the planet's history, so people must, in some sense, be happy with it.  An amazing triumph for the US-led corporatist-capitalist worldview.  I know catchy is complaining, but in the 19th century he would be braiding the ropes and identifying the lamp-posts.



Growth is not slow now

HankP's picture

but the fruits of that growth are being more and more unequally distributed. That's what the problem is. It has nothing to do with historical growth, other countries, etc.


There are two ways to fix the problem - laws and regulation, or we wait for things to get so bad that we start hanging heads on pikes. Which would you prefer?


I blame it all on the Internet

Neither. At the first

mmghosh's picture

real sign of catastrophe, to repeat what I wrote before, governments, using the military, will confiscate excess wealth, and enforce a "war economy".  


But not until their hand is forced.

Economics 101


The middle class of country A doesn't have to get poorer for the citizens of country B to rise out of poverty.


On the contrary, it would be better for Indians if America's labor unions were strong and (a) kept America's market of middle class consumers as healthy as possible and (b) enforced higher labor and environmental standards in India as part of the US's trade agreements. The less corporate interests engineer an unnecessary race to the bottom the better.


As for falling living standards in the US, average incomes have been falling for several years. The % of the pop. living in poverty has been holding steady at elevated levels not seen for decades. The number of working age people with jobs and the # of open positions has been reduced by many millions since 2008 and the situation is barely improving. 


Americans have higher debt, associated especially with education costs. Americans have less retirement savings, partly b/c of disappearing pensions and partly b/c they're spending more of their working years paying off education debt.


Your crack about electronic gadgets is mostly facile. If you think money, work and retirement don't matter to living standards, I don't know where to start.


Your map is also just America's GDP, which everyone knows is doing reasonably well -- 6-7% below capacity right now, but overall large and slowly growing. The problem of course is that most gains in the recent past and all the gains now are going to a tiny tiny minority.

Technically, no, I agree with your Econ 101.

mmghosh's picture

OTOH, your points are simply wishful thinking.

if America's labor unions were strong and (a) kept America's market of middle class consumers as healthy as possible and (b) enforced higher labor and environmental standards in India as part of the US's trade agreements.

What we have clearly seen from the outside in the past 10 years is that 

(1) America's labour unions are not strong, and are in fact getting weaker

(2) The people who run the US economy feel, and have demonstrated amply, that the US economy and military machine can be maintained without a market of middle class consumers as healthy as possible

(3) Are uninterested in enforcing labour and environmental standards over here (or even in Canada, for that matter)


Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty liberal and and at one time even expected to see what you wish to see.  However, you cannot run away from the reality which is the exact opposite of your speculation.  As you yourself have pointed out on many occasions, the leaders of the rest of the world's large economies, your own Federal Reserve and the Government exist to promote the welfare of the 1%.  Look at England, for example, in the recent floods, while discussing the Caveat Emptor Society (h/t to HankP for creating this wonderful expression)

Question: What is a beleaguered prime minister to do in a crisis, when all else fails? Answer: chair a meeting with a cool-sounding name, like Cobra. Then tweet about it . Nothing has actually changed; nothing has been done; the savage budget cuts to the Environment Agency – which many have been warning for a long time will affect flood management – have not been reversed. It is cynically designed to make people feel better. Make people feel as if they're being listened to.


Government reaction to the floods in Somerset brings into sharp focus a central conundrum for any rightwing, neoliberal administration. It is the battle of populism versus ideology. An emergency on this scale requires them to behave, quite simply, like socialists. It requires a well co-ordinated, firm, top-down response, and the spending of tax revenue to alleviate misery, on the strict basis of need rather than worthiness. At the same time, every ideological fibre in a neoliberal's soul must rebel. What he wishes to say is: "Caveat emptor. You bought property in an area constantly hit by floods. You should be prepared for this. You should have expensive insurance that covers you." They dare not, for fear of being politically savaged.


The net effect of this internal conflict is that it makes a government reactive, rather than proactive; it is the sort of dithering we have witnessed over the last few weeks. There is a simple reason for this. Crisis prevention requires a well-funded, paternalistic state. Crisis management requires a muscular state. Dealing with the effects post-crisis requires the redistribution of wealth. Springing into action when required to is difficult when, as a government, you state openly that your objective is to shrink the state to the smallest possible size, to step out of the way and let the free market do its stuff, to reduce taxation and cut services as much as possible.

While you suggest Latin America is not, and I'm willing to believe you, even to a large extent, I have my doubts whether they will be allowed to progress to much beyond the mean by the powers that be.


The only reality that we now know is almost mathematically true (barring a theoretically possible temporary deux et machina of volcanic eruptions) is that we are progressing steadily towards a world that will be 3 degrees hotter within  our lifetimes, and that will completely change how we live and work.  It may be that emergency measures may require extremes of taxation of the rich at that point to alleviate the problems - the cash that they are holding in bank vaults may have to be forcibly disgorged by a military acting as a tool of state.


It seems sensible to focus more on how consumption can be reduced and economies get by with slower growth for everybody.  Your insistence on reproducing the growth of the 80s and 90s would make things worse for everyone much more quickly.  Growth requires energy, and the more energy we use, the more escapes as waste heat.

3 separate points in your comment


1. The rich controlling society is inevitable; 2. it's OK b/c America will still function mostly as is; 3. it's desirable b/c of global warming.


I've already addressed 1, see it as essentially pointless defeatism, and think it ignores America's hope of turning leftward.


2. is radically misguided:


What we have clearly seen from the outside in the past 10 years is that .... the US economy ... can be maintained without a market of middle class consumers as healthy as possible


No, the lousy world economy you're seeing, in which India's growth has also slowed tremendously, shows you can't indefinitely build an economy around extracting wealth from non-impoverished consumers.


3. Is an entirely separate argument that you just threw in at the end of your comment. If you want to focus on it sometime, that's fine, but I don't enjoy constantly aiming at moving targets.

Pointless defeatism...

mmghosh's picture

I used to be pretty leftwing, but I don't see that being left wing has much of a future.  That doesn't mean getting more rightwing, I'm just being more of a realist.

3 decades of relentless Reaganite/Thatcherite/Libertarian Lite


propaganda have succeeded in making it impossible for many otherwise intelligent people to grasp the concept that socializing risk carries economic benefits as well as social benefits.  


To illustrate: you're the CEO of a business concern in Bristol, and you carry on a lucrative trade with allied businesses in Somerset. Those businesses sustain heavy flood damage, but they are insured and will be able to carry the cost. However, many of their customers, Somerset residents, had no adequate insurance and now must eat much of the cost of recovery. Your business partner therefore begins to sustain business losses as her customer base loses a large amount of purchasing power, and therefore she cuts orders from you. Now the flooding in Somerset and, more to the point, the unsocialized costs to the residents, has directly impacted your bottom line. Had they been insured they could have used claims to mitigate the bulk of the economic impact, but instead you're looking at weeks or months of pure deadweight loss.  


Illustration 2: 20 years of property tax rollbacks have led to drastically underfunded public schools in your area. There are private "voucher" schools that are funded partly by tax dollars, and which accept only more qualified students, so you figure your business, which relies on a steady supply of young people to staff various positions requiring basic computer skills and literacy, will be just fine. But as time goes on, you notice a steady decline in the basic competence of your labor pool, and it turns out the voucher school graduates either leave the area to work elsewhere, or they are just as incompetent as the barely-functional morons the public schools are turning out. So again, a failure of social investment has transformed into a deadweight economic loss for your business.  


It's easy enough to imagine why this happens: taxes are an immediate line item cost to businesses, whereas social costs are indirect. But we are living in the midst of a massive, sustained myopia when it comes to the ability to perceive, much less deal with social costs and public investment. This blindness is a key requirement for admission to the Caveat Emptor Society. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Why call it propaganda?

mmghosh's picture

The fact is many love the !%, and secretly fantasize about being in that cohort.


Few IMO actually find social welfarism attractive.  And then there's Senora Vallejo.

It's an investment that pays.


If making smart economic decisions isn't attractive, then who are the free market fetishists trying to fool?

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Despite the pain


of agreeing with nilsey,  I'll have to say he's right about the Canadians.   If anything they tend to be a bit smug,  and believe everything about Canada is superior.  


Also,  in California some people have guns and more than a few of the Canadians I've met are literally afraid of anyone except authorities having a gun. Remember why Canada exists - it was founded by people shocked by the idea of disrespecting King George.


Sometimes we forget that there weren't 13 colonies,  it was more like 20+ ranging from Newfoundland down to the Antilles.  Many chose not to rebel.


Is somebody dumping on Canada? I'm in.


I like to point out St Pierre and Miquelon and remind Canadians that follow-through isn't their strong suit.

In the medical community, death is known as Chuck Norris Syndrome. 

And That. . .

M Scott Eiland's picture

. . .when the War of 1812 went hot, Mr. Madison sent some troops north with the idea of grabbing some Canadian real estate partially as retribution for the cause of the war (the Brits had been attacking our ships and impressing their crews into the British Navy) and partially because, well, it was land. To make a long story short, our boys got their @$$es handed to them, which probably played a big role in the US backing down on the second part of the whole "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!" thing four decades later. Sad to see our neighbors to the north have gotten so skittish about those icky gun things since then.

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

One thing I noticed from six years in Canada


is that the Canadian view of the War of 1812 is basically of a war in which Canada defeated the U.S. 

Which Isn't Really Wrong

M Scott Eiland's picture

The US/Great Britain part more or less came out a draw (with the most famous US victory coming *after* the peace treaty was signed, thanks to crappy 19th Century communications), meaning that the main clear result was that the US decided not to f*** with Canada any more due to thorough @$$-kickage.

On the bright side, we got the National Anthem out of that war, and (much later) an amusing song:

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.



I suspect many would move to California in a heartbeat

actually, i doubt that. they can always visit on a vacation.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

That was probably

mmghosh's picture

ardent love for Americana showing through, there.  Oh and agree with eeyn, too, (although that isn't saying much seeing as one has to agree with almost everything he writes).

It's not worse

Bird Dog's picture

It's unchanged. Quote:

Our analysis of new administrative records on income shows that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution relative to their parents as children born in the 1970s.


"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Thanks for the link to the mobility study


I'll have to take a look at this when I have time -- Emmanuel Saez from UC Berkeley's Dept. has his name on it and I respect what work of his I've read. 

They're about the only ones to get those results

HankP's picture

most studies I found show an increase in income mobility 1940 - 1980 and a decrease 1980 - 2010, like this one:




Also, there's a strong correlation between inequality and income immobility known as the "Great Gatsby" curve.


This is a problem that's getting worse.



I blame it all on the Internet


Bird Dog's picture

What would Harvard and Berkeley economists and winners of the John Bates Clark Medal know. Bunch of ignoramuses.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

In fairness there have been a lot of studies


by equally reputable economists on this topic that have come up with different results. 


I'd like to hear what more people make of this research before adopting it. That's the epistemically responsible thing to do, not just love the conclusions so much you immediately dismiss all competing research.

Jumping to conclusions?

Bird Dog's picture

Hardly. Their study is credible.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

And the competing research?


Are those studies not credible?

Didn't say they weren't

Bird Dog's picture

But it wasn't me who made the declarative statement that "intergenerational income mobility is worse in America."

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

So we're both agnostic on whether it is or isn't?


B/c we're both supsending belief in the face of conflicting evidence?


Or is only one of us being responsible?

I could only hope that...

Bird Dog's picture are being responsible with your declarative statements.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Incomplete projects.

mmghosh's picture

Afghanistan is littered with incomplete projects.  The Kajaki dam is an example.  Part of the overall craziness that surrounds Afghanistan is that various aid agencies from the US plan to finally complete the dam after withdrawal of Coalition forces.


How is this possible?  The hundreds of tonnes of cement needed to complete operations could not be delivered even when the Coalition did have control - for example in the aftermath of Operation Kryptonite.  And now the dam will supposedly be completed in 2015 - when the Taliban will be in control?

More than two years later, what's left of the U.S. military and civilian presence in Afghanistan is trying, finally, to complete the project, which began in 2002 and has cost an estimated $500 million. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide oversight as Afghanistan's power utility launches a contract competition to decide which company will install the third turbine. The two-phase project will likely cost about $75 million, according to a recent letter from John Sopko, the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR). And it won't be completed until 2015, well after the last U.S. combat forces leave the country.
USAID also has reached a new two-year, $3 million with Black and Veatch, the Kansas-based engineering company that has worked on the dam for years.


But the work to install the final turbine, said to be collecting dust at the dam since it was delivered in late 2008, will come at a tenuous time. The U.S. military no longer has control of the region or the road it cleared in 2011 to make way for the supplies needed to complete the project. Marines left their last base in Kajaki in December, turning over control of the security to Afghan forces, 1st Lt. Garth Langley, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Foreign Policy.

What on earth is going on?

mmghosh's picture

Imran Khan, a friend of the TTP?

PTI spokeswoman Shireen Mazari told AFP that because a senior party figure, Rustam Shah Mohmand, was already on the government team, Khan's presence was not needed.

“The core committee of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf appreciated Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's offer to our chairman Imran Khan to become part of their committee,” Mazari said.

Crazy like a fox?