ASSORTED DISMAL BLEATS OCCASIONED BY AN AVERAGE DAY'S BLOGSURF
VALE MARGARET HASSAN
reminds us a wonderful woman has been brutally butchered. Tim is opposed to needless wars, and is not being inconsistent in bewailing the viciousness of this murder. Of course, if needless wars are okay be you, as long as it's 'our' side starting 'em, you need to be reminded of the brutal butchery of about 20000 other wonderful women in Iraq. I shouldn't keep quoting Joe Stalin, lest I give people altogether the wrong idea, but I do believe it was he who said 'one death is a tragedy; a million but a statistic'.
And I shouldn't keep quoting Colonel Kurtz, who suggested those who go to war must be prepared to make a friend of horror. The horror of which he spoke is precisely the horror that was Margaret Hassan's appalling murder. The colonel would advise us to resist invitations to see Ms Hassan's murderers as mere evil psychopaths. They are merely the necessary product of guerrilla warfare.
Uncle Sam has been finding it difficult to find a decently uniformed enemy - to engage between the white lines of a good old-fashioned battlefield - for the simple reason none has been able to oppose him on those terms for somewhere between thirteen and fifty-three years now. For the foreseeable future, wars involving Uncle Sam shall be "asymmetric" wars.
The rules of asymmetric war don't look much like rules, but I'll try to put a few into words. To defeat an invasion by The Greatest Military Force The World Has Ever Seen:
- gradually and persistently chip away that invader's legitmacy, aspirations and morale;
- to do that, ensure the occupier never ceases spending lives, treasure, self-belief and prestige; ensure relations between occupier and occupied do not improve, and ensure the occupier does not succeed in restoring or improving the security and prosperity of the occupied population.
In that light, poor Margaret Hassan was the perfect target for as brutally eloquent a public murder as possible. She was a saver of lives, a builder of hope and a pourer of oil on troubled waters; in this sense not unlike the thoroughly decent - and equally late - Sergio Vieira de Mello.
The Americans could not countenance a successful Iraqi reconstruction after their first invasion and now the guerrillas will do anything to ensure there won't be one after the second.
Pity Margaret Hassan and her poor devastated family.
And pity poor devastated Iraq.
IS COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE TO YOUR ABSOLUTE ADVANTAGE?
The indispensable John Quiggin
surprises me by wondering why Comparative Advantage hasn't become common sense. I'm sure economists think it's because the rest of us (especially those of us dulled by too long a wallow in those pretentious humanities) are too thick to grasp the theory's subtleties.
Sense demonstrably can (alas) become common when it's not supported by reality, but this, (thankfully) does not guarantee it will become common. In its own terms Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage proves itself every time, and uncommon prettily, too.
But I am left wondering at the assumptions and double standards the theory's advocates ask me to tolerate.
The self-styled economic realist insists we must struggle for a world in which all nation states trust each other to specialise only in those enterprises the theory suggests they must, to export the product they are least-worst at producing, to do so costlessly, to sell it to all as cheaply as a 'fair' return would allow (even if they have monopoly), to trade with friend and foe alike for ever, and never to experience the sort of disaster that might destroy its capacity to produce its specialty and buy the specialties of others.
In short, the economic realist insists that all nation states have to do to optimise global production and consumption is trustfully and seamlessly to co-operate.
Yeah, but curse the lefty who dare ask for that self-same international cooperation for the unrealistic, looney idealogue she is, eh?
So I don't see Ricardo passing the reality test.
I don't see him passing the utilitarian test, either. Of course, that all depends on how we evaluate 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number', but I doubt we can leave such items as security, agency, dignity and serenity out of the evaluation altogether ...
Whatever we've been told 'globalisation' might be, it's got an awful lot more to do with the mobility of capital than it has with the mobility of people. And an awful lot more to do with the point of view of capital than it has with that of labour.
Given capitalism is a definitively dynamic system, constantly revolutionising the means of production and, if allowed its definitive tendency, to close down whole sectors here and others there (for where does it say each nation shall maintain the same comparative advantage tomorrow it has today? Just change the rules - or nature - of water distribution and watch what happens to Australia's rice and cotton industries), it seems essential to ensure all that in-built uncertainty and volatility is visited upon the workers. After all, uncertainty is bad for business.
So uncertainty for workers (relatively immobile, and therefore not able to go where their own least-worstness might be utilised) is good economics, whilst uncertainty for owners (effectively mobile, and at the speed of light at that) is bad economics.
Kinda tells you who gets to write the rules of economics, eh?
But I digress. As the theory of comparative advantage is demonstrably correct, to slow the transition to that happy state is simply irrational. So close that shop down quickly, eh? The workers'll have a new job next week, just you wait and see. Shit, they'll have jobs that won't even exist until next week, just you wait and see.
And anyway, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
This last argument is one neatly taken to task by the out-of-fashion-but-ever-so-current JM Keynes and the fashionable-but-only-if-you-don't-read-the-whole-chapter Joe Schumpeter. If creative destruction (the changing of what you're least-worst at) is allowed to assume gale proportions, it'll instantly and constantly interrupt, and often wipe out, livelihoods of masses of people, whose utility will be intolerably afflicted (and whose allegiance to authority sorely tried).
For the worker who asks little more than enough security of tenure to raise a homeloan, ensure his kiddies' health insurance and education, avoid an ulcer and fund his retirement, it all looks like breaking eggs today so they can be broken again tomorrow - serene equlibrium ever promised and never delivered.
For many, many workers, then, the omelette never comes.
For the mobile cappo, it's just a matter of closing down this plant here and opening that one there; sacking this receptionist here, subscribing to that callshop there. His future is in his hands - as was that of the workforce he had yesterday..
The cappo is human, and Kant said humans must ever be treated as an end in themselves. In Ricardo's theory, as in capitalist economics at large, the worker is a factor of production, thus a means, and thus NOT human.
If greater aggregate production and consumption do ensue (and how we apply Ricardo's examples of cloth and wine - staples of early nineteenth century European political economy - to this fabled information economy of ours, well, a chap could go on a tad too long), they come at the price of much that the majority of us would value more than the proliferation of widgets.
Anyway, I don't see America closing down its primary and secondary sectors (even though neither would have found support in either Smith's theory of absolute advantage or Ricardo's of comparative advantage).
Maybe it has even occurred to some of our economic realists that a salient benefit of information technology lies in its application to those very sectors - but then I promised I wouldn't go there.
After all, the sainted Ricardo didn't ...
SAVING THE WORLD WITH NUKES
It may be that Ken Parish
is right, and that nuclear power will have to make a comeback if the world is to power its current pulse of economic development without cooking the planet. It may also be that arguments based on employing nuclear power as a 'bridge' to the promised clean'n'renewable future shall have to confront the role said bridge is likely to play in stunting research and blocking innovation of said clean and renewable technologies.
Oh, and call me a clinically commie cassandra if you must, but don't expect hydrogen/photo-voltaic arrays to take the curse off the world's transport fleet within any timeframe that might make it relevant.
In short, market forces need some serious messin' with if we're to avoid one hell of a global mess.
Oh, and just in case the whole planet is not already doomed within the next century - don't be thinking about building that nuclear plant near my kids, eh?
VALE BACK PAGES
Just adding my congratulations on Chris's stunningly successful blogging career
and my sadness at his blog's untimely (for us, anyway) passing.
LAZY SUNDAY AFTERNOON
When you have a day that doesn't quite work - doesn't quite compensate you for getting up, I mean - it's usually not news worthy of imposition on anything up to seven innocent readers. After all, we all have 'em. And it's not as if my Sunday has been That Bad. It's just that today was the first day in a good while that might have been all good.
I stayed in bed till late. I wanted to sleep in, but awoke at eight, and lay there until noon listening to PNN and imagining what my perfect country would be like. A few Dutch cafes, English pubs, South African breakfasts, Turkish dinner parties, Namibian nights, Melbourne football grounds, Irish stouts, Scottish accents, French kisses and Latin American electorates later, I gave that up and thought about Emma Peel for a bit (one of many reasons the formidable Mrs Peel is worth thinking about). Then I read a Nathaniel Drinkwater story for a while and fondly imagined it might be a quarterdeck heaving under me and not a planet. I was determined not to Enter The Day too soon as I'm resolved to stay up till 5.00am on account of the Newcastle/Man Utd game (which had better be the fixture form suggests) and I'd promised the bride I'd move an agony of sleepers to her new flowerbed around the watertank and the loinfruit I'd take 'em on a big bike ride - all the way to the servo out on the highway for some al fresco cafeing and concomitant protobloketalk. Ms Blogorrhoea is more used to disappointment than the sprogs are, but all that really meant was that morality obliged me to move said sleepers and pragmatism to walk my bike up a Himalayan escarpment in the wake of my scoffing offspring.
Spent from noon to two (no relation of mine would dare interrupt my first two hours of official wakefulness) ingesting coffees and Rothmans in the shed and writing a long blog on why the world economy is playing dice with the lives of billions (drawing inspired linkages between Australian housing, Indian commodities, Chinese banking, strong Euros and American everythings) and how it's been headed that way since about 1972 (just imagine Immanuel Wallerstein, Eric Hobsbawm, Stephen Roach, Joe Stiglitz and Robert Brenner sharing a gin hangover) and was just about to get to that fun inserting-the-droll-adjectives bit when the difference engine threw a sprocket and I lost the lot. Pausing only to doosra a hardback edition of Doug Henwood's Wall Street into the new print (a fate neither fine work deserves, btw) and remind myself I'd have had a new Mac by now if some pimply little tealeaf hadn't zippoed my beloved Falcon, I sacked the muse and strode off to the bikes for The Big Day Out.
The ride out was much as expected. The kids loved it and bloody sputum escaped my lips in warm frothy spurts. The al fresco bit was okay, too. My $4.00 coffee was cold but a coupla Rothamns recongealed the contents of my respiratory system enough to allow me fondly to share with the children my predictions of global depression, carnage and famine.
On the way back, Number Two lost his front wheel and Number One was sent ahead to fetch The Admiral (who'd always thought the ride too ambitious and would doubtlessly remind me of it upon our rescue). During the wait, Number Two contented himself with a detailed survey of his wounds and a close study of his new Simpsons fold-out, and I discontented myself with The Telegraph (which I'd had to buy to obtain said Simpsons fold-out, and which kindly informed me Count Ricardo and Amtrak would indeed have made me rich had I not lost my roll when 23 jockeys decided last Tuesday that the inside running at the best-drained track in Australia was slow and one didn't).
Then I got home and I couldn't watch a docco on the First World War because a Brand New Episode Of The Simpsons was on, and then Number One vomited so he couldn't do his homework and Number Two needed to sleep with Mum coz he wasn't feeling so well either and I couldn't get good reception on the shed telly (a Canadian job that was old when Molly Meldrum and Aunty Jack first graced it) when I wanted to watch that Mary-Queen-of-Scots show (I could make out enough, needless to say, to know I was missing something good).
Then I read this
, and this
Then I drank some 100 Pipers (dunno why it's so cheap; it has me drooling miserably at my keyboard quite as quickly as its dearer rivals), remembered to write into Word before pasting into Blogger, and blogged this. Not quite what you'd have had if my effort of this morning had survived, granted, but dismal all the same, I like to think.