Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘globalization’

Welcome to the 21st Century…

January 15, 2008 · 1 Comment

… where State Capitalism reigns supreme.

Less than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the West’s gleeful jig-dancing on the grave of communism, state capitalism is suddenly threatening the autonomy of the global “free” market. Wall Street’s elite banks, longtime freedom fighters for deregulation and scorners of all government intervention in the marketplace, are now begging, cup in hand, for aid from a gallery of regimes that includes some of the most authoritarian and undemocratic governments on the planet.

In Monday’s Financial Times, Jeffrey Garten, a professor of international trade and finance at the Yale School of Management, is distraught.

In the late 18th century, capitalism was replacing feudalism. In the 20th century, freer markets won the day. Now the world is flirting with another big transformation in the philosophy and rules of global commerce. Unlike the changes of the past, this new trajectory does not represent progress.

But is this change in philosophy really a huge surprise?  That people– especially people in relatively homogenous societies– are willing to sacrifice freedom in return for economic progress? 

Strong institutions beget strong economies.  Asia has recognized that the liberalization of trade in Latin America has not delivered what it promised, mostly because Latin America lacked the instititonal capacity to support the burden of free markets. 

More people in China have been brought out of abject poverty in the last 20 years than in the history of the world… combined.  Clearly there is some merit to the economic path China has chosen for itself.

Is state capitalism sustainable?  Probably not.  Eventually, a middle class wants political representation.  Eventually, hierarchical systems erode due to fraud, corruption and beauracracy. 

But is state capitalism a great means to play catch-up with the first world?  It sure looks like it.  Especially when American industry out-leverages its own markets with complicated debt instruments.

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It’s Time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations

December 18, 2007 · 5 Comments

Last Monday’s lecture in my Conceptual Foundations of International Politics class was taught by Professor Jeffry Sachs.  He is a cheerleader and an optimist and certainly has some ideas worth listening to.

One of the things Sachs spoke to that I really had been waiting to hear all semester is that “it’s time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations.”  It’s so true.

When historians are evaluating the Bush legacy, and America’s history at the turn of the century, they will be harsh not for any specific policy decisions undertaken, but the principles under which those decisions were made.  And the principle that will be criticized most harshly will not be the naive presupposition that democracy can be exported by force.  It will be the more dangerous assumption that our global society can be managed unilaterally.

Think of it this way:  when you see advertisements today like the following:

palmolivedm2711_468x478.jpg

You are somewhat appalled (or ironically amused) by the quaint anachronism implied by the advertisement.  This is because we’ve redefined cultural norms of a woman’s role in society.  We’ve read the Feminine Mystique, we’ve experienced a cultural “movement” to the extent that such previously established cultural norms now seem dangerously retrograde and unsophisticated.

Now consider the following:  In a 2004 article for the New York Times Magazine, Ron Suskind interviewed an aide to the Bush White House:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

It’s only been 3 years(!) and this quote ALREADY seems out of touch (with the reality they’ve created!)   The only thing that remains true from this quote is that solutions have, and will always emerge from the judicious study of discernible reality.  Empires create problems that empires cannot solve.  And problems exist outside of the control of empire, which is why empires inevitably dissolve, either by overreach, or overreaction.

We need a 21st century of international relations that teaches those Americans in power that a unilateral American empire is an unsustainable reality.

We need a theory that is based on the discernible realities of the problems we face in the 21st century, that are far different from the problems of the 17th, 18th, 19th and even the 20th century.

We need a theory that recognizes that a liberalized, open, global economy is the new reality for all of the world, and states must adapt accordingly or suffer the consequences of adhering to “quaint anachronisms.”

We need a theory that recognizes that the world is adding 90 million people per year, that we might already be at carrying capacity, that we are on the possible brink of a Malthusian catastrophe.

We need a theory that recognizes what  Jared Diamond teaches: that societies which destroy their own resources destroy themselves, and that today we are a de facto global society sharing global resources.

We need a theory that  stops relying on a theories of balance of power between states, and one that looks at non-state actors.  One that studies asymmetric gaps in capacities, instead of evaluating the capabilities of a single country.  One that redefines the idea of sovereignty, that universalizes the principles of human rights, that establishes and regulates the norms of global capitalism.

In the 21st century, it makes more sense to look at the galactic federations of science fiction than it does to look backward at the Holy Roman Empire.  And we have the capacities of reason, of predictive forecasting, of logic, and of history to guide us.  What we lack is the political leadership, and a progressive , normative, academic consensus.  So get on it people.

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Dropping Knowledge: On Guilty Liberals

December 9, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I found this gem while researching my paper on Globalization.  From “In Defense of Globalization,” by Jagdish Bhagwati:

I also think that an altogether new factor on the scene that
propels the young into anti-capitalist attitudes comes from a different,
technological source in a rather curious fashion. This is the dissonance
that now exists between empathy for others elsewhere for their misery
and the inadequate intellectual grasp of what can be done to ameliorate
that distress. The resulting tension spills over into unhappiness with the
capitalist system (in varying forms) within which they live and hence
anger at it for its apparent callousness.


Today, thanks to television, we have what I call the paradox of inversion
of the philosopher David Hume’s concentric circles of reducing
loyalty and empathy. Each of us feels diminishing empathy as we go from
our nuclear family to the extended family, to our local community, to
our state or county (say, Lancashire or Louisiana), to our nation, to our
geographical region (say, Europe or the Americas), and then to the world.
This idea of concentric circles of empathy can be traced back to the Stoics’
doctrine of oikeiosis—that human affection radiates outward from
oneself, diminishing as distance grows from oneself and increasing as
proximity increases to oneself. In the same vein, Hume famously argued
that “it is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole
world to the scratching of my finger” and that “sympathy with persons
remote from us is much fainter than with persons near and contiguous.”

What the Internet and CNN have done is to take Hume’s outermost
circle and turn it into the innermost. No longer can we snore while the
other half of humanity suffers plague and pestilence and the continuing
misery of extreme poverty. Television has disturbed our sleep, perhaps
short of a fitful fever but certainly arousing our finest instincts.  Indeed,
this is what the Stoics, chiefly Hierocles, having observed the concentric
circles of vanishing empathy, had urged by way of morality: that “it is the
task of a well tempered man, in his proper treatment of each group, to
draw circles together somehow towards the centre, and to keep zealously
transferring those from the enclosing circles into the enclosed ones.”

At the same time, the technology of the Internet and CNN, as Robert
Putnam has told us, has accelerated our move to “bowling alone,”
gluing us to our TV sets and shifting us steadily out of civic participation,
so that the innermost circle has become the outermost one.
So the young see and are anguished by the poverty and the civil wars
and the famines in remote areas of the world but often have no intellectual
training to cope with their anguish and follow it through rationally
in terms of appropriate action.

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How Can We Raise Awareness in Darfur on How Much We’re Doing for Them?

December 5, 2007 · Leave a Comment

This video from The Onion is tongue and cheek, obviously, but like any good satire, it exposes an important truth.

As William Easterly argues:

The obsessive and almost exclusive Western focus on them is less relevant to the vast majority of Africans — the hundreds of millions not fleeing from homicidal minors, not HIV-positive, not starving to death, and not helpless wards waiting for actors and rock stars to rescue them… Economic development in Africa will depend — as it has elsewhere and throughout the history of the modern world — on the success of private-sector entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and African political reformers. It will not depend on the activities of patronizing, bureaucratic, unaccountable and poorly informed outsiders.

Conservatives tend to get a bum rap for being heartless, utilitarian, and unsympathetic to the plights of others. But Easterly has a point: as long as the West focuses on Africa’s deficiencies instead of its possibilities, the continent will never be an attractive destination for investment capital. Blanket aid causes massive distortions in economies, shifts disproportional attention to unrepresentative issues, constrains the growth of indigenous markets, and trends to unhealthy relationships of dependency.

This is not to say that the Darfur conflict is not an issue worth paying attention to, be it finacially, militarily, or simply via lip-service. Only that the celebrity bandwagoning in the Sudan, Somalia or Malawi casts a long, pessimistic shadow on the entire region.

Of course, there is a counter-argument that without guilty liberal issue-domination stemming from legacies of colonialism and slavery, the West wouldn’t pay much attention to Africa at all.

Given China’s recent interest in the region, I don’t buy that argument. Africa’s important, now and in the future.

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Dropping Knowledge: Stating the Obvious

November 26, 2007 · 1 Comment

oil map of world

One thing I’ve learned studying IR Theory is that most decisions at their core are based on the theory of structural realism. That is to say, at a minimum all states make decisions to ensure their survival, and that states with greater capacities will seek to increase their capabilities (also known as “power maximization”). Great powers constrain each others’ maximization pursuits, resulting in what is known as a “balance of power.”

In today’s world, the key to power is oil. This point tends to get vastly understated in the discussions we have about current affairs. For example:

1. When we talk about the rising cost of oil (which is now flirting with $100 per barrel), we tend to neglect two important facts: first, that the price elasticity of demand for oil is extremely inelastic. That is to say, it doesn’t matter how much oil prices drop or rise, the quantity demanded remains the same. As President Bush said in this years’ State of the Union Address: “Our nation has an oil addiction.” And it’s not just our country, although we’ve got it the worst. It’s a global addiction.

Second, addiction by its very definition implies lack of control. Which brings us back full circle to the original point: whomever controls oil, controls the world. From the perspective of industry, this is because the factors of production of almost every sector include components that are sensitive to oil prices. These price sensitivities can have a direct impact on cost, as in manufacturing, or an indirect impact (via transportation costs), as in technology. And every sector has varying degrees of energy costs. So the more sensitive an industry is to oil prices, the more power whomever controls the oil supply has over that industry.

From the perspective of the consumer, rising oil prices are also felt directly (at the pump and airport), and indirectly, by both a constrained budget set (more money spent on gas means less for movies, clothes, etc.) and by the increased prices for consumer goods (the costs of which are passed along by producers). You know what they call the combination of rising prices, low interests rates, and decreased purchasing power? Inflation.

2. If I lost you above, I shouldn’t have. Go back and read it again. I’m just stating the obvious here. The first point was meant to establish just how important of a position the global control of oil is to whomever can secure it. Take a look at the map above. You see how little oil Europe has? China? The US? India? The less oil a country has, the more it is willing to give up to get oil. The more globally integrated oil is within consumption and factors of production, the more dependent consumers and producers become on oil.

Now take a look at this map. Notice how many US military bases are in the Middle East? You think that’s a coincidence?

3. The logical “next steps” everyone seems to recognize, especially given the environmental considerations of oil, is the pursuit of “alternative” sources of energy. There is of course some game theory to this though. Even if there were a cost-effective substitute for oil (and there most certainly is not, at least yet), the transition costs of adopting that alternative source across sectors would be enormous. And the countries that undertook such an enterprise would be buried by the “cheaters” who continued to use oil (and at an even lesser price due to drop-out of demand). No, oil is a fixed commodity, and unless we find some form of global governance to ration it (highly unlikely), it seems the race is on to squeeze the orange and horde the juice before its all gone in the next 25 years or so.

In the meantime, there is evidence to believe that the financial markets are grossly distorting the price of oil by placing a premium on the political risks associated with its extraction. Based on global supply and demand, it is argued that the price should not be any higher than $60 per barrel. Speculative trading creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, where oil rises to $100 because traders spread unsubstantiated rumors that China and India are insatiable, or Nigeria/Venezuela/Iran are unstable. The consumer ultimately suffers here for the reasons mentioned previously, including inflationary risks, and even risks of recession.

All of this information is extremely relevant when we consider the following foreign policy “debates.”

1.)  Iran and Nuclear Energy– Notice how much oil Iran has?  Notice how much they consume?  It would be economically advantageous if they were to consume nuclear energy and maximize foreign oil sales.  When hawks argue about Iran “obtaining nuclear weapons,” they’re really pushing an agenda that says “Iran holds the potential to leverage and balance the oil oligarchy, and once they obtain nukes we can’t foment a regime change.”

2.)  “Democratizing the Middle East”– The so called “Bush Doctrine” is a fanciful liberal justification for a realist policy.  Oil rich countries really only have two options:  1) illiberal autocracies (Saudi Arabia) or 2.)  illiberal democracies (Venezuela).  The distribution of wealth obtained from a natural resource is complicated in state systems because the citizens of the state feel entitled to the financial windfalls in some form or another.  Elites must either find their power base internally (by implementing fiscally irresponsible, short-term, socialist programs) or externally (by charging rent to the United States in return for a strong military presence or other forms of foreign “aid”).

3.)  Iraq — With the above point in mind, the US objective has become to contain the sectarian violence within the confines of Baghdad.  Let politics play out on a political stage, but keep the pipelines flowing in the fringe regions.  A true power-sharing constitutional government isn’t possible as long as the US is present: because the emergent elites are reliant on the US for security provision, they will never have popular support, and vice versa.  Not to say the US prefers a disorganized central government, only that it benefits from one.  Our presence is justified for as long as there is insecurity.

So that was my Thanksgiving dinner conversation with my parents to justify my expensive Ivy education.  No solutions provided, only a survey analysis.  My stepmother thinks that Hillary will have solutions to these problems.  I introduced her to Mark Penn, the next Karl Rove.  She’s no longer so optimistic.

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Dropping Knowledge: Rentier States

October 15, 2007 · 2 Comments

“Dropping Knowledge”… where I laymenize an important aspect of social science.

A rentier state is a government that derives all or a significant portion of its national revenue from the rent of its indigenous resources to external clients.  It is a term most commonly applied to oil rich countries (such as Saudi Arabia), which grant access and management of its petroleum deposits to the United States (or the UK, Russia, etc.) in return for a “rent.”

Rentier states are inherently undemocratic.  You see, the geo-political distribution of natural resources makes certain areas extremely profitable, by random chance.  If the states themselves lack the privately developed technology and infrastructure to efficiently extract and distribute their resources, they must (or are otherwise coerced to) outsource such activities.

The thing is, democratic societies detest foreign management of domestic resources (see: Venezuela, Bolivia), and will take steps to “socialize” their industries, directly tax the exports instead of charging rent to foreign entities, and redistribute the wealth domestically, for a much bigger return.  But democratic management of a single resource economy naturally entails a heck of a lot of fighting over “who gets what, and why.”  And government industries are never as efficient as private industries in terms of production, so global trade organizations (OPEC) get antsy when a member state isn’t hitting its productive capacity.

The most efficient governmental arrangement for single-resource economies is therefore the rentier model… small, authoritarian leaderships (Saudi royal family) that placate domestic population by subsidizing EVERYTHING (except, generally, higher education, since educated elites tend to challenge authority).  The tax costs “flow” through the rent charged to Americans for pumping out oil and establishing military bases in the region for security purposes, and no taxes are levied domestically.  The royal family invests the majority of its staggering financial resources back into US securities, which solidifies the dollar and keeps oil demand and prices high.

This brings up a couple important issues:

1)  Some “experts” like to state that Islam is incompatible with democracy.  Bush is actually right when he says this is false (just look at Indonesia).  It’s actually more likely that democracy cannot exist without a diversified economy.  The less access there is to economic opportunity, the less people are involved in the management of the economy.

2)  Democracy is about sovereignty, about the population making decisions based on the Wilsonian principles of self-determination.  If you look at Iraq, you have two major obstacles:  the first is the introduction of a political power struggle between rival populations (Sunni and Shia).  Sunnis are keenly aware of their minority position in Iraq and refuse to participate in a political framework that is illegitimately stacked against their interests.   Shias are a minority within the greater Muslim world and subscribe to a cultural narrative based on resistance to oppression and illegitimate authority.  Even if Shia leadership wanted to achieve stability under the watchful eyes (and guns) of the US, they would continue to be undermined by Iran, which has no interest in seeing a successful secular Shia-dominated democracy as a neighbor, because that would intensify domestic pressures for reform.

The second obstacle to self-determination is that clearly, the preferred interest of Iraqis is American withdrawal, if not now (in the short-term), certainly in the medium- and long-terms.  Iraqis are well aware that the Persian Gulf war resulted in the construction of permanent bases in Saudi Arabia.  And Secretary of Defense Gates has stated publicly that the US “has historically had a strong presence in the region, and we will continue to have a strong presence in the region, and it’s important for our friends, and those who might consider themselves our adversaries, to recognize that.”

The US would prefer for the political outcomes of Iraqi democratic elections to be friendly governments that actively engage in rentier relationships to assuage the masses and ensure their positions of power.   But the Iraqi population will never recognize a pro-US business government as legitimate.  We live in an Age of Information where covert regime changes or puppet governments are really, really hard to achieve.  In the meantime, as instability and civil war rage on in Iraq, the US is quietly consolidating four major bases around the strategic oil regions in the country.

3)  That last point is the most telling.  For all of the gum flapping that goes on about “the principals of liberal democracy” and “freedom,” we tend to get distracted from the realist perspective — that control of Iraq means control over the second largest oil reserve in the world.  Always keep in mind that oil is a finite resource whose price rises with scarcity.  It’s one thing for Saudi Arabia to sell oil at (relatively) competitive prices now… it’s another thing entirely for the US to be rationing the last drops of oil in 20 years, at monopoly prices (don’t forget about Alaska!).  That means the potential for wealth and global power… power over everyone who is addicted to oil… is assured to whomever controls Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news to some, but that means the business and military pressures are too great on the executive branch of the US government to expect a withdrawal anytime soon, unless Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul magically win their primaries.  The US army/state department did not spend billions of dollars on bases and the world’s largest embassy to come home any time soon.

4)  With all of this in perspective, it’s important to recognize why Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize.  The real “Inconvenient Truth” isn’t necessarily that global warming is a real threat per se… I mean, that was already pretty obvious.  It’s that oil consumption is behind global warming, and that oil demand makes actions like the war in Iraq profitable.  By raising awareness about an ancillary (but still primary concern) of global climate change, Gore is indirectly calling for the necessity to research and develop alternative sources of sustainable energy that would compete with coal, oil and natural gas, making those resources’ price demands more flexible, and reducing the profit incentive of military control and domination of them.  Hence the “Peace” rationale in the Nobel Peace Prize.

The thing is, alternative energy sources are nowhere nearly as profitable as oil, even given the tremendous extraneous costs of financing strategic military bases around the world to protect the investments.  And the transition costs to adopting alternative energy sources would be tremendous in every sector, so oil companies can continue to pass the costs incurred from political instability and deeper, harder to get to reserves (i.e. the melting North Pole) onto the consumers.  I’ve read somewhere that the McKinsey Global Institute did an analysis of gasoline consumption in America, and found that demand wouldn’t significantly falter until the price went past $5.00 per gallon.  (I’m couldn’t find the exact report via a Google search, but hey, it’s midterms… give me a break).

The key of course is then electing leaders who are seriously committed to implementing policies of consumer regulation that prevent us from letting our aggregate demand get the better of us.  Individual conscience in the US is (generally) against empire, against war, against destruction of the environment, against global injustice.  But we speak with our wallets, we make demands through our purchases and consumption, and global suppliers react accordingly, even if the outcomes violate our individual consciences.

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Bourgeoisie Bullshit

August 26, 2007 · 3 Comments

Riding the express train from Brooklyn to the Bronx this morning, I read an extremely esoteric essay by Edward Said in which he argued to classify William Butler Yeats not as an Irish nationalist (as he is traditionally considered), but as a British anti-imperialist. (Note: being an unemployed student before classes start affords me such worth-less-while luxuries).

Said said something about the bourgeoisie class of colonial socieities that got me thinking:

The great colonial schools taught generations of the native bourgeoisie
important truths about history, science and culture. And out of that
learning process millions grasped the fundamentals of modern life, yet remained
subordinate dependents of an authority elsewere than in their lives.

If this were true in an era of colonialization and imperialism, is it not also true in an era of neo-liberalism and globalization? If transnational organizations truly dictate an environment of free flowing global capital, assets, and (soon) labor, and we are enlightened, passive observers of this process, aren’t we all then the “subordinate dependents”?

Not to get too crazy/Marxist about this, but “globalization” as an evolving term COULD mean something entirely different than what we currently accept and define it as, and what it is trending toward.

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Dobbsian theory

July 6, 2007 · 1 Comment


Journalism.org reports that CNN’s Lou Dobbs reaped a ratings bonanza during his coverage of the proposed Immigration Bill that was browbeaten to death in Congress last week.

In the last three months, from April 1-June 29, Dobbs devoted more than a quarter (26%) of the airtime on his nightly show to immigration. (That’s almost twice as much attention as he gave to the next leading subject, the Iraq war policy debate.)

A quick autopsy on the life and death of Kennedy’s Immigration Bill will tell you that the talking heads on the political right (led by Dobbs) singled out the “amnesty” portion of the bill, and gave marching orders to its minions of letter-writers to shoot the bill down.

Once a watchdog of corporate malpractice, Dobbs has remade his career the old-fashioned way… exploiting xenophobia. (It’s easy to pick on people who have no legal rights). At the same time, Dobbs has managed to maintain his “populist” “war on the middle-class” position, hammering domestic manufacturing industries for shipping jobs over-seas.

Lou Dobbs is the embodiment of Dani Rodrik’s impossibility theorem, which states that “democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.”

Dobbs wants to have his cake and eat it too. That is, he wants to be a small “d” democrat, a nationalist, and a populist at the same time. He sells his brand of snake-oil to an audience eager to believe its feasible for Americans to win-win-win on every front in the face of global competition, without sacrificing on any level.

Does this mean we’ve completely departed from an era where our leaders ask us to sacrifice for the sake of our collective best interests? Is the only acceptable brand of rhetorical politicking now class war-fare, taxing the wealthiest and denying benefits from the poorest? What happened to Roosevelt’s “Call for Sacrifice” or Kennedy’s “Ask Not…” premises?

You know what happened? It went out the window post 9/11, when we asked our president what we could do to help, and he advised: “Keep spending…the American economy will be open for business.”

Color me inspired.

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On Civil Society and the Internet

June 25, 2007 · 1 Comment

This photo cracks me up.

There’s been a lot said and written (especially vis a vis the Democratic primary debates) about how to best approach the emerging threat of a totalitarian, hostile and nuclear Iran.

It’s a complicated issue. The long and short of it is:

  1. We went to war with Iraq on false information.
  2. The Bush administration underestimated the fallout of a power vacuum in a post-Saddam Iraq.
  3. The same group thinking and jingoism that justified that war in the first place is now dog-piling in the “told you so” camp.
  4. The administration has failed to see immediate returns in the surge and is now spinning the extended conflict as a proxy war with Iran.

This leaves us in a tough spot. Is the Bush Doctrine of preemptive regime change a failure in principle, or in its execution? What constitutes an imminent threat? Are we really ready to add a third front to this war?

Watching the Democratic debates, every single candidate was loathe to suggest anything but “diplomatic” tactics against an aggressive Iran. Well, the New York Times Magazine suggests that diplomacy may do more harm than good in a piece titled Hard Realities of Soft Power.

In the article, the former director of Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council says the following of US aid to Iranian NGOs:

“I was worried about the safety of those on the receiving end of the funds. But I also just wondered if this was feasible. I don’t see how a U.S. government that has been absent from Tehran for 30 years is capable of formulating a program that will have a positive effect… This may have been a very high profile, sexy project, but the likelihood of real impact was minimal.”

Now I certainly won’t purport to be an expert on the Middle East. But one of the (many) things I learned in Cuba was that in a closed society, anti-American rhetoric can completely sustain a regime. Every Cuban was vividly aware of the meddling role the United States had played in the history of their country. I am certain that Iran perpetuates and plays off the same suspicions to its citizens. Therefore, any organization that receives funding from the US, humanitarian or not, is going to be painted as a subversive front.

However, that’s not to say we shouldn’t make the effort. When the Shah was ousted from power in 1979, the intelligence community in the US was caught with its collective pants around its (swollen) ankles. Frankly, I’m hesitant to take the NSC’s evaluation as the end-all-be-all.

My take is this: for four years I lived in Westwood, which along with Brentwood and Beverly Hills is known as “Tehrangeles.” I can attest first-hand that Persian exiles living in the United States are, shall we say, “ostentatiously frivolous” with their money, much like Cuban exiles in Miami. That is to say, there are lots of designer sunglasses being purchased.

Clearly these are cross-sections of the upper-echelons which had the most to lose from a Revolution. These two ethnic groups have not only fully assimilated into the American mainstream, but have dynamically changed it. The speedy transitions suggest that the value systems of our respective cultures are not as fundamentally different as we might have otherwise assumed. Or, at least, it is misleading to paint entire populations with a broad brush, especially in non-democracies.

Moreover, this (once again) proves the universal preference for individual liberties:

There is a mass movement. There is a silent majority that does not want this regime. We’re experiencing a slow 1978 in the context of Iranian history.

As Iran Cracks Down on Dissent, we as Americans should take note. The regime is extremely insecure, and rightfully so. Controlling a society in an Information Age is no easy task.

I find it extremely interesting that Google is stepping up to the plate on this issue. In their new Public Policy blog, they outline a position that state censorship should be considered a trade-barrier.

Now, we already have a “Radio Marti” broadcast in Cuba and a “Voice of America” in Iran. The fundamental assumption of Voice of America is that the societies to which it is broadcasting are not free and that the best thing you can do to advance their freedom is to show them what fair reporting is like and, along the way, show them the good news about American values.

It’s fascinating to me that Google and its ilk could be the new Radio Free Europe of our generation. Certainly there are steps a government (like China) can take to restrict internet access, but there are also counter-measures such as IP-blocking allowing for private browsing. In China’s case, they have learned the lessons of history and are at least somewhat relaxed in allowing a space for a (monitored) civil society. This is not the case in Iran.

As Al Gore says, the internet, for all its excesses, holds the potential as the great equalizer.

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Reading Through the Lines: No White Collar Worker Left Behind

June 13, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Reading through the lines: where I take a crack at translating a mainstream article or op-ed. Responses in italicized blue text.

Today’s inaugural article: The New York Times – “Economic Life After College”

Economic Life After College

Commencement is a time for idealism.

Read: Oh shit, it’s June! Better write up that hackneyed article to hedge recent graduates’ expectations, even though they’re coming out with a more refined and productive skill set than our generation ever had.
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But economic reality is lurking everywhere, and new college graduates are vulnerable to ambush. They have been told repeatedly that a college degree is an open sesame to the global economy. But that’s not necessarily so, according to new research by two economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Frank Levy and Peter Temin.

Read: College degrees are the new high-school diploma, and employers who don’t know to value the difference between tiered institutions are keeping entry-level salaries low across the board. Which encourages the cycles of transience, as graduates from top schools flounder to find salaries to match the income they expected when they took out (x) amount of dollars in loans.

It is true that people with college degrees make more money than people without degrees. The gap has narrowed somewhat in recent years, which is disturbing. But the earning power of college graduates still far outpaces that of less-educated workers.

Read: Lower standards and entry barriers to obtain a college degree deflate its value. As a result, the baby-boomer generation has expanded its bottle-necked bulge at the executive level by keeping salaries and benefits low at the entry level. (You blood-suckers… thanks for leaving me a depleted environment, an over-inflated housing market, a bankrupt social-security system, a devalued dollar and a massive trade deficit… )

The bad news, though, is that a college degree does not ensure a bigger share of the economic pie for many graduates. In recent decades, Mr. Levy and Mr. Temin show, only college-educated women have seen their compensation grow in line with economywide gains in productivity. The earnings of male college graduates have failed to keep pace with productivity gains.

Read: The male statistic is the control here because more women pursued full-time careers.

Instead, an outsized share of productivity growth, which expands the nation’s total income, is going to Americans at the top of the income scale. In 2005, the latest year with available data, the top 1 percent of Americans — whose average annual income was $1.1 million — took in 21.8 percent of the nation’s income, their largest share since 1929.

Read: As a reminder, October of 1929 began a period called “The Great Depression.” That’s what we have to look forward to. Buy your cardboard boxes now. Wait for it… we’re going to go ahead and blame this on “globalization” and “fair trade.”

Administration officials, and other politicians and economists, often assert that income inequality reflects an education gap. But Mr. Levy and Mr. Temin show that in the case of men, the average bachelor’s degree is not sufficient to catch the rising tide of the global economy.

Read: There it is! Blame the labor supply for expanding income gaps when the middle-class’ end is stagnant! Please explain: what leverage do I have? I have taken out loans, so unless I had decided to narrow my studies to an explicitly career oriented degree (which in terms of American industry means finance, computer technology, or to a lesser extent, engineering), I am forced to accept the salary offered to me. There are no unions to protect my interests, and few profit-sharing plans exist as incentive to commit myself long-term.

They argue that the real reason inequality is worsening is the lack of strong policies and institutions that broadly distribute economic gains. In the past, for example, a more progressive income tax and unions fostered equality. Affirmative action has also helped and probably accounts, in part, for the pay growth of college-educated women. But such institutions have been eroding and new ones have not yet emerged. At the same time, corporate norms that restrained excessive executive pay have also eroded, making the income gap even greater.

Read: Well that makes sense. We live in society where two employees of the same corporation, the CEO and the janitor, have a salary multiplier of x1000+. Does anyone really think that’s fair? Do you honest to God believe any one person on this earth contributes enough to humanity to deserve to be compensated 1000x more than anyone else? And all the while CEOs are bitching about how much hedge-fund managers and professional athletes make. It’s a fucking shit show. It makes me sick.

Mr. Levy and Mr. Temin conclude that only a reorientation of government policy can restore general prosperity. That’s a challenge to the nation’s leaders and today’s graduates. America needs them to build the new institutions for a global economy.

Read: Oh, ok, it’s “my challenge” to resolve the problem your generation has created for me? Is that so? How do you expect me to enter a career of public service when I have to take out six-figures in debt just to finance an education that will advance my career beyond the artificial glass-ceilings and inhibitors you have imposed upon me?

As sadistic as it sounds, these are the kinds of trends and attitudes that will influence my conscience in 15-20 years when I’m voting on whether to cut funding to prescription drug plans, to vote against capping property taxes, to lobby against patient’s rights,
to vote for massive estate taxes and restructuring the tax-code against retirement funds, to levy capital gains taxes and progressive tax-codes across the board, etc., etc.

The 2008 election very well might prove to be the consolidation of Generations X and Y against their parents. Race politics in America are played out. The future is age and class. All revolutions start with a pissed-off middle class. I don’t intend on living a life aligned to 19th century conceptions of labor and leisure because of “globalization.”


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