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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

That Sucking Sound is Your Brain on Journalism

I have a fair amount of expertise in a narrow field. Almost without exception, when I read a newspaper story related to aviation — typically tin-kicking — I come away knowing less than I did when I started. Okay, that's not exactly right. More accurately, if I replaced what I knew with what the story told me, then I would know less. And not just less, but opposite. I would replace knowledge with negative knowledge.

Michael Crichton called this the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. (Presumably, this has some connection to Murray Gell-Mann, but for the life of me, I don't know what it is.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward — reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

The NYT Op-Ed page perpetually gives me G-M Amnesia. Sometimes I can fight it. I know in advance that Krugman, for one notorious instance, routinely abuses reality. I dislearn less by, instead of reading him, staring slack jawed at lolcatz videos.

Other times, though, it is harder. Having been to South America all of twice, I'm very superficially aware of societies that are very different from the US, and they have some stark problems that the US doesn't.

All on account of, no doubt, reasons.

One problem that seems to be more or less endemic south of the Rio Grande is the truly jarring juxtaposition of sumptuous wealth with grinding poverty. In Buenos Aires a scarcely more than a mile is sufficient to make the journey from first world opulence to hopeless third world deprivation*. Of course, similar trips are possible in the US. Three miles is sufficient traverse the chasm between Grosse Pointe and Detroit.

The New York Times recently carried an Op-Ed about Brazil's unaffordable homes. In it, I learned prices in São Paolo have skyrocketed over the last half dozen years, to the point where "… a 970-square-foot apartment here costs the equivalent of 16 years of an average family’s total income. By comparison, this cost-to-income ratio is eight in New York, 6.9 in Berlin and only three in Chicago." Where purchase costs go, rents inevitably follow: those earning the minimum wage spend nearly all of it renting a Dantean shack in a seventh level favela.

Which can only mean one thing: Brazil has a severe housing shortage. (While that short drive from Grosse Pointe to Detroit is shocking enough, it is worth noting that at least no one is living in those Detroit tumbledowns, and they are the exact opposite of expensive.)

It’s no wonder we’re the country of favelas, urban slums built by desperate people using poor materials such as cardboard and tin. They pop up in areas without basic infrastructure or sanitation, and are sometimes vulnerable to landslides, floods and fires.

In early 2009, the government took note and began a program called Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life). The public-private partnership aimed to reduce [the housing shortage] by facilitating credit and financing construction.

But from the beginning, it favored families that earned three times the minimum wage or more. As of 2012, after the first and second stages of the program, only 40 to 45 percent of all contracts were assigned to the poorest families. The program appeared to be more about improving the economy than helping the poor. Many critics also complained about the quality of the 344-square-foot houses destined for the poorest, which were built in remote areas without adequate infrastructure.

Highlighting mine, to indicate likely onset of G-M Amnesia.

Now as if all of this isn't bad enough, the housing industry is bound and determined to scotch any reforms because it has "… deep interests in sustaining the old urbanization model marked by segregation and inequality." What those interests might be, or why …?

[One of the strongest groups fighting these issues is the Homeless Workers Movement, which also] advocates the occupation of abandoned buildings or areas that are kept vacant by real estate companies (some of them bankrupt); the resistance of forced evictions; and the government expropriation of housing for, as written in our Constitution, “public necessity.” Its leaders also quote our Constitution when saying that “property shall observe its social function,” and that the economic order is “intended to ensure everyone a life with dignity, in accordance with the dictates of social justice.”

Unfortunately for the author, the entire rest of this Op-Ed piece drives home the contradictory point that saying so doesn't make it so. Therein lies a whiff of wet streets causing rain. But not nearly as much as the conclusory paragraph:

[The Homeless Workers Movement] claims that adequate housing is a human right and shouldn’t be ruled by market logic alone. That argument is convincing, especially when you look at the numbers: There are more than six million vacant housing units in Brazil — more than enough to cover our shortage.

Prior to reading this, I knew of, but nothing about favelas. Now, I'll bet I know even less.



*With time to kill in China, I thought I would finish this. Every time I come here, I'm appalled at how gooned up the internet is, and convinced it can't get any worse. Wrongo, wonderwings. Even getting something so simple as a map of Detroit, to fill a place name gap that, no doubt, came from reading too much Krugman, is impossible to get.

Thomas Friedman, here is a pro-tip: China's throttling the webz does not bode well for your collectivist fascinations.

182 comments:

Peter said...

Friedman's wish that we be China-for-a-day certainly resonates with me. I constantly dream of how much better things would be if I were king-for-a-day. In the morning I would solve the Brazilian housing shortage chop chop by moving the homeless into all those vacant properties (Look, Ma, no hands!). Then in the afternoon, realizing there is so much more to do, I would extend my reign for another day.

I'll wait for Clovis to lead us on this one, but why in the world is the NYT running partisan advocacy pieces on Brazilian housing?

Clovis e Adri said...

Oh, boy. Where should I start?

First, it is true. Real estate prices have skyrocketed in the last 10 years or so.

A personal anecdote, to give a face for the numbers: A friend I visited last year in Florida had a nice suburban home there, in Homestead (south of Miami) in a private condo. It was big, two and a half floors, facing the Condo's private lake. She paid $190.000 a few years ago.

With the same money I can buy a one-bedroom apartment of aprox. 450 sq ft down here in Brasilia. Not much different in many other Brazilian big cities, though Brasilia does happen to be one of the more expensive ones (I let the reasons for another post).

But this is not only about housing. Prices here may vary hugely from big cities to smaller ones, but for a typical middle-class person living in a Brazilian big city, general costs of living in most places in Europe and USA many times look like a bargain.

And that's no surprise. It is a hallmark of underdevelopment to have too high costs of living - in Africa for example, Luanda (Angola's capital, with its Oil boom) usually figures among the top expensive places to live in the world. But while Angola's problem is a typical high-demand-few-supply problem, ours is more complex. And beware, Libertarians: surely many of our problems can be traced to Government and Regulation, but that's not the whole picture.


Back to housing, I'd point out three factors for the boom in prices: (i) Demographics - our population has peaked around 28-30 years old, an age when people want houses; (ii) Credit expansion - it was harder to get credit before 2004 (due to both macroeonomic and regulatory reasons), while afterwards it was much expanded by both govt. and private banks; (iii) The original sin (the one I've commented here before: great concentration of land in few hands).

I don't know how to place the above factors in order of importance, but I'd guess the main one is (ii). Right now the bubble stopped to grow, and most economists foresse a period where the prices will grow below inflation, so in the long term they may effectively fall.

So, trying explain that journalist's mind to you, Skipper, I'd guess that when she says "The program appeared to be more about improving the economy than helping the poor" (in relation to govt. financing homes for lower incomes), she probably means "The program was more about the govt finding another channel to inject money in the Economy, than to really focus on poor people problems", for it is believed some part of our GDP growth in the last 10 years was fueled by this sort of housing boom (it may look like what happened in the US prior to the Recession, but in fact it is different at many other levels too).

Questions?

Peter said...

I have one. Given Brazil's population, I confess to being underwhelmed by Ms. Barbara's numbers. What is so tragic about having to spend 30% of one's income on housing? Are there really only 44,699 families living in "precarious conditions" out of a population of over 200 million? That's not Lagos.

So my question is a cultural one. Who are these people and do their circumstances suggest that an investment in public housing would make a difference? Up here there is a homelessness problem in the bigger cities, but it can clearly be related to single parenthood, substance abuse and mental health (I am a strong proponent of more government support for the mentally disabled). The history of public housing all over the world is fraught with failures, so do you think it would make a difference there?

It's important because the problem of homelessness can be political dynamite, as great a lightening rod for the left as sick or uneducated children. On a lefty blog I sometimes play gadfly on, there was a post on Hugo Chavez. A normally intelligent fellow defended him effusively on the basis that, despite wrecking the economy and threatening constitutional government, he proved how much he cared for the poor by letting the homeless squat in semi-finished parking garages. The man was clearly a peach!



Harry Eagar said...

'The program appeared to be more about improving the economy than helping the poor.'

Not a bad assessment in 14 words. We see this all the time, notoriously in USAID programs which somehow manage to spend most of their momney where the alleged beneficiaries aren't.

Not that hard a concept to understand.

Peter said...

Nor is the concept that the whole purpose of development assistance is to improve economies.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

---
What is so tragic about having to spend 30% of one's income on housing?
---
That depends on your income. If the 70% remaining can not cover for the basic, you do have a problem.

---
Are there really only 44,699 families living in "precarious conditions" out of a population of over 200 million? That's not Lagos.
---
Wait, that number is for Sao Paulo city only, not for Brazil. So that's 45.000 families in a population of either 10 or 20 million - I don't know if the number is for greater Sao Paulo or the city alone.

---
Who are these people and do their circumstances suggest that an investment in public housing would make a difference?
---
If by "these people" you mean the Homeless Workers Movement she talks about, that's basically a Marxist group with very little real representation, though they use tactics (like invading and destroying buildings) that make them far more visible than they should be based on their numbers. Even among our Left spectrum, I'd say that's not a relevant group.

Now, if you ask who are the people who live in those poor and shady neighborhoods - the "44,699 other households living in precarious conditions and 83,011 in which more than three family members are squeezed into the same bedroom" she talks about in Sao Paulo - well, you'll find everything, but they are not the typical mentally troubled Canadian poor you mentioned.
There will be a greater incidence of broken families among them (with all the implied problems), but their main troubles are not drugs or substance abuse, many are just poor but "normal" people.

---
The history of public housing all over the world is fraught with failures, so do you think it would make a difference there?
---
I don't think the program she mentions is like the ones you are thinking about, where they get a lot of poor people and give them houses for free in some far away place.

As the journalist mentioned about that govt program, "from the beginning, it favored families that earned three times the minimum wage or more." So this is people earning at least R$2250 (aprox $1000) per month, they are not poor for our standards.

The reason the program favored them is simple: they will most probably pay back the loan. The program did not give houses to them, it only gave subsided loans with very low interests. But the problem comes next: many times, to apply for that loan, they needed to buy houses from some particular set of govt contractors, and I guess you already see the crony capitalism here. That's what the journalist may have meant (but poorly written, IMHO) when mentioning the political influences of the construction companies.

Now, that was back then (2004 to last year). Right now that program is getting more populist, with those groups she also mentioned by the end getting almost free houses lately. Or at least the promess of that - we have elections in a couple of months from now, and if the present govt does not get elected, I am sure that populist housing program will be on hold.

---
It's important because the problem of homelessness can be political dynamite, as great a lightening rod for the left as sick or uneducated children.
---
I don't think we are anywhere near that point, Peter.

But after 12 years of a Leftist party and Leftist policies, we are on the brink of achieving more lasting damage. Before it we had no affirmative action, now we have a pervasive one. Our public finances were better, now we are consistently in the red. And we are slowly but surely loosing the grip on inflation. That's not a political dynamite, but may end up nurturing one in the long term.

Peter said...

Thanks, Clovis. You are right, I misinterpreted the scope of the stats, but doesn't your response to the 30% issue point to the high cost, not of housing, but of everything else? I'm not sure where I stand on the bald statement that housing is a human right, but I'm pretty sure SUV's and flat-screen TVs aren't.

Ms. Barbara's and Harry's statements point to a growing theme among the left that general prosperity is an increasingly bad thing and at odds with social justice. The Old Left saw no conflict between socialism and economic growth. In fact, they looked forward to it. It's hard to believe today, but as recently as the seventies, progressive intellectuals regularly predicted that the Soviets would "overtake" the States.

No more. The dreaded neo-libealism that has raised the world to unprecedented levels of health and material well-being is a blight. Environmentalists rail against the destruction of the planet and the same voices that decry how the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer, lament mass suburban sprawl, excessive SUV's and out-of-control shopping. Sure malnutritian was unpleasant, but compared to obesity? I have even noticed how leftists are becoming more and more blunt about describing how raisisng a million Chinese a month out of penury for a decade was not only bad for the planet, it was just yet another example of Western cultural imperialism. Such views, I'm led to believe, are not heard frequently in China.

The left have become much like Romantic poets decrying the demise of the old rural, feudal order. In fact, many of them are becoming downright reactionary. Seriously, when you think of it, positing an inverse relationship between "improving the economy" and "helping the poor" is quite a trick of intellectual legerdemain and recalls Orwell's statement that only intellectuals could say something so stupid.

Harry Eagar said...

'whole purpose of development assistance is to improve economies.'

Or not, as the case may be. The record is spotty.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

I understand your picture of the modern anti-progress progressive. After my time here, I've come to realize that often my points are lost in translation, because we do live in different worlds. We still have real poor people down here.

Let me give you the picture of someone earning our minimum wage ($325 a month).

He won't have a car, and not even in his dreams a SUV (they are very expensive down here). He'll use a crap public transport system, and spend some money on the fare.

He won't have any private health insurance, not even if he wanted. He'll use our public healthcare, and hope to live in some place near a good health care center (but most probably, won't).

His children will use the public schools, and most probably have an awful education. They will have much less chances of getting into higher education, and much higher drop out rates.

He will more probably live in a very dangerous neighborhood, and he'll need extra care with his children for them not to hang up with the wrong people. Even then, they may end up suffering greatly due to the surrouding violence.

He'll many times be cheated on his rights by greedy employers. But he will also many times cheat on his employers too, the system (and the culture) favors the dishonest ones at both sides.

The one thing you got right was the flat screen TV. He'll buy one worth 2 or 3 months of his salary, and pay it in 2 or 3 years in small amounts per month, of wihch a good part will be interests - for he'll be also easily duped by any financial trick they may offer to him. Actually, almost every asset hell buy will be paid the same way, with 30% to 50% of the final amount paid being just interests.

Does he look like a Canadian poor?

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] The original sin (the one I've commented here before: great concentration of land in few hands).

Despite being, generally speaking, very prejudiced in the direction of free markets, it is very hard to know how market economics could deal with that.

Credit expansion - it was harder to get credit before 2004 (due to both macroeonomic and regulatory reasons), while afterwards it was much expanded by both govt. and private banks …

Sounds like our Community Reinvestment Act. Born of good intentions, supported by all sides, it turned first into a bubble, then disaster.

Questions?

Yes.

I have no idea what she means by real estate companies actively trying to keep properties vacant. That seems completely counterintuitive, unless it is due to price controls, a la New York's rent regulation. (Published in the NYT — since it amounts to an admission against interests it is possible this won't create G-M amnesia.) Is that the case in São Paolo?

There are apparently 6 million vacant housing units; unfortunately, "… in Brazil" isn't very specific. The Detroit has lots of vacant, and very cheap, housing units, because no one wants to live there. Are Brazil's vacant units anywhere near where people want to live?

What is government policy now? What do you think it should be? In what ways do you think the market is failing?

[Peter:] (I am a strong proponent of more government support for the mentally disabled).

What the US is doing now sure as heck isn't working.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Skipper;

Apparently the empty house phenomenon is happening in London as well. The key element seems to be the expectation of rapidly rising real estate prices. In that case you keep the house empty to maintain the re-sale value (like not driving a car you expect to become a collector's item).

Peter said...

Does he look like a Canadian poor?

Actually, Clovis, the way you describe him objectively, he does, with the exception of that bit about everybody cheating. But I've seen the pics and I know we're talking about a much more serious and seemingly intractable problem.

OTOH, Brazil has experienced explosive growth over the past decade and is now an economic powerhouse. Third world you ain't, not by a long shot. I am assuming it didn't only benefit a tiny number of super-rich at everyone else's cost. I have no idea what Brazil should do about it's slums and no inclination to preach. The land oligarchy issue is a bugger that might move me left, and so is corruption, which negates a lot of market thinking. Then there is your Latin Catholic culture with different traditions about things like individual responsibility and self-reliance. If you will forgive an outrageous stereotype, Catholics like to harangue the rich about sharing with the poor. Protestants are more inclined to tell the poor to stop drinking and get up earlier.

My interest is a more general one. In the past thirty odd years, the world has experienced an unprecented economic expansion that has all but obliterated penury and starvation (except the man-made kinds), increased longevity, improved health and generally resulted in a world of material security leftists of yore could only dream of. Obesity has replaced malnutrition as the world's #1 health issue and, as you note, even the poorest manage to afford flat-screens. But it's been a dynamic process with a lot of dislocations, and it has left some people behind. In light of the left's almost pathological qustionning of whether it was even a good thing and it's strident appeals to ressentiment, my question is, should we: a) accept that the poor and dysfunctional will always be among us and share our new wealth with them like good Christians; b) follow the 19th century British and attack the dysfunctions and social blights through what was called "moral improvement"(contrary to popular wisdom, they met with a lot of success); or c) emulate the Romans and just buy them off with bread and circuses (or Olympics) in the hope they won't riot and kill us?

Peter said...

The record is spotty.

I'll say the record is spotty, Harry. We've had three generations of foreign aid and the history is replete with corruption, idiocy, waste, false starts, etc. Indeed, with the exception of emergency relief and educational assistance, it's arguable whether it's been much more than a soul salve for Westerners and a candy jar for third world elites. I've seen persuasive arguments that a modest reduction of European agricultural tariffs would do more for African economic development than all of history's aid, and much more quickly too. But if you are going to slam USAID without factoring in the actions, demands and requests of the recipients, I'm going to accuse you of Western cultural imperialism.

Slightly OT, did you know there are now about 40,000 Western NGO's involved in African development. Forty thousand!!! A lot of them are zipping around in their Land Rovers handing out condoms, organizing women's co-ops, promoting "community-based sustainable development" and lecturing them on how to plan their futures. Meanwhile, the whole continent is being swept by Muslim and Christian religious revivals, and not the gentle kind. Do you think there might be a connection?

Harry Eagar said...

A connection? No, hadn't thought of that and don't see it.

The great success of development aid -- or aid, period -- in Africa and the rest of the Koran Belt has been eradication of guinea worm. Who knows that even happened?

Has it had spinoffs, particularly, has it inspired the beneficiaries to admire the west or adopt western ideas (economic or otherwise)? No. Not a bit.

I'd say the greatest positive move the west could make would not be to lower tariffs but to stop supporting thug dictators in the name of anticommunism. Anticommunism has been the curse of the hot countries.


Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
Despite being, generally speaking, very prejudiced in the direction of free markets, it is very hard to know how market economics could deal with that [great concentration of land].
---
I know. It deals like that:

Landless population will massively move to cities, where they will make huge slums.

OTOH, the landlords who end up having half a brain put their land to use, and taking advantadge of the vast resources and new technologies, build one of the most competitive and efficient agrarian industries of the world.

Our main income, as a country, still comes from agrarian exports. You may think of Rio or Sao Paulo, or the Amazon forest when you hear about Brazil, but in essence we are in fact a very big farm.

When there is an agrarian commodity boom, like in the last 10 years, that moves forward all the economy (including the poors in those slums), you can be tempted to say that part of the problem is self-corrected. Unfortunately, such booms are not the rule, and many times agrarian commodities are too cheap to move every one forward, so the problem remains.

---
Sounds like our Community Reinvestment Act.
---
It is a bit alike, with two big differences: (i) most of the loans here are being done in less risky ways, and (ii) the overall debt to income ratio of families here was in a much lower level then in the US.

That's the reason we end up with a bubble but no recession induced by massive default of borrowers. At least for now, if the level of indebtedness does not stop growing, we may get there (though the signals have been that indebtness growth is coming to a halt).

---
I have no idea what she means by real estate companies actively trying to keep properties vacant. [...] a la New York's rent regulation. [...] Is that the case in São Paolo?
---
Actually, I don't even think she meant that - it is not happening AFAIK, and I could not find which part of her writings gave you this impression.

And no, there are no rent price regulations at all in Sao Paulo, or any other place.


---
Are Brazil's vacant units anywhere near where people want to live?
---
I am scratching my head with that one too, Skipper. I've searched around and it looks to be true, that6 million number was surveyed in our last Census.

Now, in my experience I never saw neighborhoods of empty houses in big cities. You can see it in small cities, where the younger population moved for greener pastures, but the data says most empty houses are in the big cities, and I am lost at that information. I should look for the methodology they used to arrive at that number...

---
What is government policy now? What do you think it should be? In what ways do you think the market is failing?
---
Govt policy has been just one: to give ever more incentives for banks to do loans.

As I've pointed out before, it may well be the main culprit behind prices skyrocketing. Suddenly a lot of people could buy houses, and the prices started to grow a lot faster than the rest of the economy due to the general speculation. A bubble like any other.

The market responded by building more houses, but at ever higher prices and profits. But in time, part of the profits lost space to the inflation that happened with the whole sector: materials got way more expensive, wages too.

The final effect is, for those who could buy in the begin of the bubble, or that already had a house and were smart in their dealings, things have been great: they ended up a lot wealthier, and may have also moved up considerably in their level of housing. I know people who went from a one-bedroom apt to a three floors house in 6 years.

For those (like me, unfortunately) who got late to the party, things are quite hard now, for the initial step needed to buy the most simple things is already huge.

My suggestion of policy? I am right now the most Libertarian possible about it: I want the govt out. It needs to stop the distorted incentives to loans and let the prices deflate in the long run by themselves.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

---
Then there is your Latin Catholic culture with different traditions about things like individual responsibility and self-reliance. If you will forgive an outrageous stereotype, Catholics like to harangue the rich about sharing with the poor. Protestants are more inclined to tell the poor to stop drinking and get up earlier.
---
I think that stereotype is too much 20th century. Things have moved on quite a bit.

Today 25% of Brazil is evangelical/protestant, and the remaining 60% of Catholics have been ever more disconnected from the Church.

Actually, in the more serious Protestant churches, you can see they questioning themselves along these lines: how come have we grown so much in number, but so little of the culture has changed?

A few years ago there was a famous episode here in Brasilia, where a group of Evangelical politicians were caught on tape thankfully praying for God for all the amazing money they have just received for bribery and corruption. Yes, literally.

I have been going to protestant churches for some time (in Curitiba I was in a Lutheran church, in Sao Paulo in a Free Methodist one, and here I go to a Presbyterian), so I tell you it all with a heavy heart.

---
my question is, should we: a) accept that the poor and dysfunctional will always be among us and share our new wealth with them like good Christians; b) follow the 19th century British and attack the dysfunctions and social blights through what was called "moral improvement"(contrary to popular wisdom, they met with a lot of success); or c) emulate the Romans and just buy them off with bread and circuses (or Olympics) in the hope they won't riot and kill us?
---
Those are tough choices. But maybe we won't need to choose among them at all.

If in a few (3 or 4?) generations the robots take most jobs away, there will be a tiny elite who will make those choices regarding ourselves.

Harry Eagar said...

My friend the coffee grower tells me Brazil will not export within a few years; it will consume all it grows itself. Hard to believe, but he's including that in his business plan.

If they moved from Catholic to evangelical, that didn't modernize them. The evangelicals are even more ignorant and economically unsuccessful than Catholics in the US

Clovis e Adri said...

There was a drought here that affected coffee production this year. As we provide 1/3 of the world's coffee, it promptly affected coffee prices in the stock exchange.

Maybe that's the reason for your friend's point. But please tell him to include a plan B there, for I doubt we'll stop exporting it so soon. There is no lack of conditions to grow production if demands asks for it and droughts won't happen every year.

And more importantly, our population already consumes it to what is humanly possible. Since our population growth projections are low from now on, there is no way for his scenario to materialize.

Peter said...

That's a relief, Clovis. As much as we all wish Brazil the best, if you cut off our coffee, it'll be war!

Harry Eagar said...

That was my belief, too, but I didn't want to get in an argument with him.

Hey Skipper said...

Landless population will massively move to cities, where they will make huge slums.

If they made me Head Dude What's In Charge, I'd use collective action to run electricity, clean water, sewers and public transportation to the slums. That would inevitably require redistributing income — as HDWIC, I'd have to make the moral case to the wealthy.

And let the free market take care of the rest.

There is an excellent article in last quarter's City Journal, "Uplifting the Cities of the Poor". Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall.

Ruthlessly summarized: Urbanization and wealth per capita appear mutually reinforcing. However, some countries have mega-cities, yet aren't getting any wealthier: those cities are located in poorly governed countries without stable institutions or strong property rights. Yet people continue to flock to these places because they suck less than the countryside. New York set up a separate public entity just to deal with water — relying on private entities completely failed. Similarly for garbage and transportation. The other lesson is that urban housing problems requires the iron logic of the market, not idealistic blather and gestures. The nature of, say, water provision makes government the best provider. But strong property rights makes the market far better at providing livable housing. The developing world does the worst thing: lawlessness and stifling regulation. The failure to safeguard private property makes building extremely risky; regulatory problems only make matters worse.

That's a long article in a para, but the gist seems clear enough. Some problems are inherently collective, others inherently best solved by the free market.

Peter said...

Landless population will massively move to cities, where they will make huge slums.

I wonder how true that is. Oppression and serfdom may drive some people to the cities, but modern urbanization and suburbanization seem relentless regardless of rural conditions or land regimes. Family farms have been sold or abandoned steadily for years and the brightest (and best-looking)among the young have dependably sought their fortunes in cities. Plus no matter how appalling slum conditions might be, I am unaware of any mass migration away from them by the poor except at the point of a gun or a bulldozer. Let's face it, rural life is boring once you've seen Paree.

I agree with Skipper, the solution to slums lies in improving slums.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

Think about this: the city of Sao Paulo alone had 65.000 habitants in 1890. Then 2.5 million in 1960. In 1970, it had 6 million (yes, 3.5 million more in 10 years, it more than doubled). Today it has 11 million.

You've got to ask yourself if the too-bored-with-cows theory can really explain that.

---
I agree with Skipper, the solution to slums lies in improving slums.
---
Sorry but I feel like I am watching one of those beauty contests where the pageant declares with a hopeful expression: "I dream with World peace."



Skipper,

---
If they made me Head Dude What's In Charge, I'd use collective action to run electricity, clean water, sewers and public transportation to the slums. That would inevitably require redistributing income — as HDWIC, I'd have to make the moral case to the wealthy.
And let the free market take care of the rest.
---
We have been trying that for a while, Skipper.

The slums start with nothing of that, but in time all those things, to different extents, end up existing.

And in many ways slums are more of a free market than the rest of society, since state regulations are hard to enforce there. I guess you wouldn't like to see the result of that.

My experience with our poverty is one of the things that make me skpetical of all the faith some here have in Libertarian ideas and free market. The secret sauce for societies to thrive is not in the details of the regulatory order (I am not denying they can influence a lot though).


---
The developing world does the worst thing: lawlessness and stifling regulation. The failure to safeguard private property makes building extremely risky; regulatory problems only make matters worse.
---
It is hard to argue with your article (or your summary of it) without further access to it, but I can tell I see a wrong impression in work here. This image some here may have of LA countries as lawless places, where the likes of Chavez faithful believers invade private property day in day out, is truly misguided.

Our Law enforcement may be awful here in Brazil for many things, real estate property is not one of them.

By the contrary, an usual critic among our far Leftists is that the Police apparatus is only a tool to enforce the interests of the rich. And truth is, at that it works pretty well.

So the reason the Free Market does not help much the slums is simple: they are too poor.
I just told you a small apartment, but middle-class style and location, starts by $200.000 in many of our big cities. Take it in poor (but not slums) neighborhoods and it'll be, say, $100.000 to $150.000.

Now take the income of a hard working family living in a slum, it will typically be between $300 to $600/month (and we are talking about good scenarios).

Let's take the $600 case and suppose he can save 20% of that (he can't, but let's forget this little detail) to buy a house. That's $1440 a year. In a hundred years he can surely pay a lower-class-but-with-dignity-apartment. If he doesn't mind buying a house incredibly distant from the city, maybe he can even find some worthy 60 years of his savings capacity.

How interested do you think the "free market" is about that customer?

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] You've got to ask yourself if the too-bored-with-cows theory can really explain [Sao Paolo's growth]

That article I ruthlessly and artlessly summarized demonstrates exactly what Peter said. All over the world, urbanization is relentless. The difference in outcomes between, say, Singapore and Port au Prince is what needs explaining (and fixing).

And that article provides a pretty good explanation, that runs directly counter to Vanessa Barbara's conveying negative knowledge. With strong property rights and basic infrastructure, cities will get better. It's been done.

And in many ways slums are more of a free market than the rest of society.

Except for the property rights part. (I think. Barbara's article was little help here.)

It is hard to argue with your article (or your summary of it) without further access to it, but I can tell I see a wrong impression in work here. This image some here may have of LA countries as lawless places, where the likes of Chavez faithful believers invade private property day in day out, is truly misguided.

The article was making a generalization based upon urbanization in Africa and a few other places; it didn't specifically talk about LA.

Like I said, my summary was artless.

How interested do you think the "free market" is about that customer?

At first blush, not very. Except that free markets have an astonishing, if not universally so, capacity to provide supply to demand.

One thing I noted about my very brief exposure to favellas is how low-rise they are. Compare with Hong Kong, which is pretty standard for Asian cities. Property owners can make a heck of a lot more money by multiplying the number of units per square foot of land by going into the vertical, and each unit will be cheaper because there are far more of them.

Hong Kong isn't cheap by any means, but imagine how expensive it would be if residential building was limited to several stories.

So the question seems (to me) to be why in some places that have experienced rapid urbanization (Asia) the cities are at least livable. And others, (India, Africa, LA) have produced some real hell holes.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

See "The Mystery of Capital" by Hernando de Soto which directly addresses your question. As first approximation, property rights are much larger than simply real estate.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
That article I ruthlessly and artlessly summarized demonstrates exactly what Peter said. All over the world, urbanization is relentless.
---
Sure that is happening. But it explains the secular tendency, not high peaks like the one between 1960-1970 in Sao Paulo.

That period has two things, that are in fact the same effect, happening at once: Modernization in the farms, modernization at the cities.

That mass of people who moved to Sao Paulo back then and formed shanty towns were mostly poor employees of big farmers, made less and less useful with the introduction of new technologies. So to live in a slum in the city ends up being better than famine due to joblessness in the country. Given that at the same time the industries are providing many new jobs in the city, that's a good bet to take even in awful conditions.

Were they small farmers that had any land at all, they still could move following Peter's reasoning. But they wouldn't move from having a roof and food in the country to having possibly none at the city. And they would have a land to sell and money to begin anew, so they are not part of the ones going to slums.

---
[Clovis] And in many ways slums are more of a free market than the rest of society.
[Skipper] Except for the property rights part.
---
That depends. In the begin every newcomer (starting from the first one) is invading some land whose onwer is usually the government. The possession works more like "who is there owns it", so it can be a harsh world.

But in the more advanced stages, when it is already a favela recognized by the govt, whose electricity and other facilities (many times paid for by public money, due to the lack of accountability), there is usually a system of possession half enabled by the state, half enforced by the local community.

Nowadays, most of the Favelas in Rio de Janeiro, to take the most known example, have an active real estate with people buying and selling. Don't ask me how they do the paperwork, when they do it.

---
Property owners can make a heck of a lot more money by multiplying the number of units per square foot of land by going into the vertical, and each unit will be cheaper because there are far more of them.
---
Oh, there have been verticalization going on. A favela that started 30 years ago with plastic, stone and wood will usually evolve to something made of bricks, and after that something with more floors over the initial ones.

A common fact used by middle and high class types to deride poor people is to make fun of their "churrascos na laje" (the grill they make in weekends in the top of their homes in favelas, usually hearing "samba", "pagode" or "sertanejo" (music styles associated to poor people too).

In some places, notably in Rio de Janeiro for example (the probable source of your pictures with low-rise favelas), the favela is in some pretty irregular land, with strong slopes. Given the lack of proper foundation those houses have, they can't safely build it taller. Many times they still do, and every year (really, every year) you'll see news about dozens of deaths in the rain period due to landslips.


---
So the question seems (to me) to be why in some places that have experienced rapid urbanization (Asia) the cities are at least livable. And others, (India, Africa, LA) have produced some real hell holes.
---
That's a tough one, due to my large ignorance on Asia. I'd first need to see a graph of the distribution of land and income over the population.

After that, I'd need to factor out how much the difference of the mix of races matter in each case (the homogeneity X diversity discussion Howard once touched here). And there is culture. Asiatic ones have a long tradition of civilization, while Africa and LA (with its indigenous and African mix) not so.

All in all, I really don't know.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Looks like and interesting book with an interesting thesis. Thanks for the recommendation.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Taking a look at the author's arguments at his website, I've concluded his point leads us to an interesting paradox.

He says that formalization of economies would naturally lead to greater wealthy, making hard assets into liquid ones.

Well, it is true that the poor here in our favelas have quite some difficulty with formalization. Because, after all, the land they are using there is not really theirs. It was either stolen from public lands or maybe some private owner who didn't care about it in time.

IOW, it is still about our original sin. Those people had no land back then in the country, after moving to the cities they, and their descendants, keep having no land.

So we arrive at a paradox: if prosperity has so much to do with property rights, but property rights in the hands of a few is what makes the poor unable to turn their houses into liquid assets - hence leading to more prosperity - how should we untie the knot?


Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

You are making several errors in your analysis.

First, you are confusing property rights and real estate. Property rights can be in the hands of everyone even if only a few own real estate.

Second, you are conflating "property" and "real estate". These are not equivalent. "Property rights" is a term that covers all property, not just real estate.

Third, lack of formilization can prevent the rich and goverment from selling land to the landless.

If drop those false assumptions, there is no paradox.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

On your points one and two, you are right, due to sloppy writing I've used those terms incorrectly, though I am aware of their differences.

Now, on your third point, that does not apply to the Brazilian case, so I don't know if that book's thesis is of help here. Both rich and govt. lands are well formalized. It is their irregular occupation that is not.

IOW, there is no lack of land to be formally sold for anyone who can pay for it.

So it goes back to my initial point on why the free market does not help much in this case: as those people are too poor, they end up mostly excluded from the market.

Maybe it is interesting to touch here too that concept you guys so much hate: inequality.

Were the people who own land and houses not so much richer than the ones at favelas, they would feel the need to sell what they have at prices the poor could pay. It is like both economies (one for the poor, other for the rich) barely touched each other.

erp said...

Is there any possibility of a variation on the "40 Acres and a Mule" option put into place during Reconstruction?

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

I have not the slightest idea of what you are talking about.

erp said...

I don't mean this literally, but a program that would open up federal (I don't know if you use that term, but I mean publicly owned land) to people who evidence the ability to make a go of it.

BTW - a new restaurant opened up nearby owned by a chef of Portuguese descent (I hate hyphenization) and his Brazilian wife (didn't get a chance to meet her). Had a fabulous seafood paelha with safron rice. So much I took 3/4's of it home and will have enough for two more meals.

I chose the homemade chocolate mouse with special whipped cream on side made especially for the Natas do Ceu which was described as something heavenly. Next time I'll just order that for dinner and forget about the entree.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

Now you make me to miss my mother. She does a wonderful Paella.

On Agrarian Reform, it's been done, or kind of, in the last 20 years. But IMHO it is too late, less than 15% of our population live in rural areas nowadays.

It would be a good thing to do in the 60's, when the most massive movement from rural to urban areas was to happen. Well, we've got a dictatorship because people thought about doing that agrarian reform back then, and the rest is history.

Maybe a good thing would be to formalize the situation of favelas. It's been tried before and it is a mess: people hear the govt. is giving land for free, and then you have a new favela due to the new people coming with high hopes of getting some too.

Maybe we need to find a new way to do it, so that people does not get the feeling they are getting it for free. But unfortunately we are at a point when too many politicians do their careers by exploiting that poverty, so I do not see solutions coming soon.


erp said...

This could be a variation on agrarian reform which I agree is a notion whose time has passed. Perhaps a company could be persuaded to start up something paying low wages in an area where people who were pre-screened as willing and able to build their lives on plots of land provided by the government, but their homes and towns would be up to themselves. No handouts, no welfare.

Only the strongest and most ambitious would opt for it, but the rewards in building a new community would be worth it.

The pioneers here lived in mud huts in some places (read "My Antonia" by Willa Cather) and lean-tos until they were able to build homes, schools, with their own hands from felling trees, etc. ...

Giving people stuff doesn't work to bring them into the middle class and above. That isn't even debatable anymore.

Peter said...

Clovis:

It looks like Sao Paulo has plenty of company.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

And that's not happy news.

I've lived 5 years in Sao Paulo, and now and then I pay it a visit. This week I was there, and even though I just loved living there years ago, I was most happy when my airplane took off.

Really, these mega-cities are maddening places. My theory is that people like to live there due Stockholm syndrome. You only need to breath clean air time enough to forget why you ever wanted so hard to be there...

I don't know New York, but I say the same to Paris and London.

Peter said...

Clovis:

You are preaching to the converted. I live in a city of one million and when I visit Toronto (6 million), I am so ovewhelmed by the intensity I can't wait to get out. And that's without real slums or American-style urban dangers. But apart from my personal lifestyle preference, I have a hard time articulating just why, as you say, "that's not happy news". Given that government attempts to control or reverse the flow of demographic movement range from futile to disastrous (Are there any success stories anywhere?), I would be very sceptical of government interference. Surely the case for rural land reform lies in justice and prosperity in rural areas, not as a prophylactic for urban sprawl.

But sometimes conservatives have to give a little ground to keep the left from those sweeping "topsy-turvy" prjects that cause such waste and chaos. How about a series of government TV ads showing how cows are really quite exciting? :-)

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

No need for govt to run those ads, rural tourism is booming nowadays. I do it myself a few times per years and always overhear the occasional tourist dreaming of moving to such calm places.

I think mega-cities are a way, in the developing world, to overcome drawbacks from lack of infrastructure, access to financing and connection to the business grid. If in time prosperity brings those things to smaller places - and that move looks to be happening down here - people will naturally move to better enviroments. Or so I hope.

The US is an interesting example at that, in many places they achieve a lot without mega-cities around.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

on your third point, that does not apply to the Brazilian case, so I don't know if that book's thesis is of help here. Both rich and govt. lands are well formalized. It is their irregular occupation that is not.

You're making error #2 again.

the free market does not help much in this case: as those people are too poor, they end up mostly excluded from the market.

Which market? They don't buy or sell anything at all? I find the idea they are all completely self sufficient family units not very plausible.

What a true free market can do is create wealth that's not related to real estate. You seem to be caught up with the zero sum fallacy with specialization that real estate is wealth, whcih leads directly to the zero sum fallacy.

they would feel the need to sell what they have at prices the poor could pay.

No. That's just not how free markets work.

I would recommend reading the actual book - you don't seem to be understanding its arguments based on these comments.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
[Clovis] on your third point [...]Both rich and govt. lands are well formalized. It is their irregular occupation that is not.
[AOG] You're making error #2 again.
---
If you read your cited third point again, it was explicitly and only about real estate. So no, I am not making a mistake at that comment.

---
Which market? They don't buy or sell anything at all? I find the idea they are all completely self sufficient family units not very plausible.
---
In better defined terms, their connections to the Market - both by selling and buying - is considerably more limited.


---
What a true free market can do is create wealth that's not related to real estate. You seem to be caught up with the zero sum fallacy with specialization that real estate is wealth, whcih leads directly to the zero sum fallacy.
---
Not quite. Your mistake is to assume there is a perfect free market. In markets not as free, there is no fallacy at all.


---
[Clovis] they would feel the need to sell what they have at prices the poor could pay.
[AOG] No. That's just not how free markets work.
---
Oh, no? Suppose you want to sell your house for X, and you can't ever find anyone willing to pay X. What will you do next?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Yes, point #3 was entirely about real estate. That's why I mentioned point #2. Your claim is essentially the book doesn't adddress Brazil's problems because they're caused by real estate transaction problems. I disagree, for the reason stated in my point #2.

"Limited" is not the same as "none", not just rhetorically. It's very significant.

Your mistake is to assume there is a perfect free market.

I certainly have never assumed that. Is your view the zero sum fallacy applies only to perfectly free markets?

Ah, but are the sellers not currently selling? If they're not poor, clearly they are. In such a situation, why would they lower their prices?

You might also have noted the historical trend of free markets is to lower prices but certainly not because of lack of sales or loss of wealth by the producers. Contrarily, government action almost always leads to shortages or higher prices (see Venezuela). Do you think that result is better for the poor?

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
Your claim is essentially the book doesn't adddress Brazil's problems because they're caused by real estate transaction problems.
---
Not at all. Quote me on that, if you can.

I have stayed within the topic this thread touched on, which was all about real estate. So my comments were directed to this particular problem we have, not "Brazil's problem" in general.

There are parts of our economy that have been improving due to formalization, so that book does point to a important thing for some sectors of our economy. They are not within the topic here though.

---
Is your view the zero sum fallacy applies only to perfectly free markets?
---
It needs a clean model to be defined. In a real world messed up place like Brazil, it is like posing a perpetuum mobile paradox that would never happen because there is always friction in the real world.

---
Ah, but are the sellers not currently selling? If they're not poor, clearly they are. In such a situation, why would they lower their prices?
---
That's my whole point when talking about economies that barely touch each other. Yes, selles are selling to people of near status. Rarely that part of the economy (selling and buyng real estate) mix for different socioeconomic levels though.

In practice: you won't see someone who got out of the favela buying even a decaying house from someone of middle class status.

---
You might also have noted the historical trend of free markets is to lower prices but certainly not because of lack of sales or loss of wealth by the producers.
---
Ideally, it happens because both (i) potential buyers got more wealthy and (ii) mass procution turned it cheaper. In our house market, (i) is happening at a much slower pace that real estate prices inflation, and (ii) is not happening much.


---
Contrarily, government action almost always leads to shortages or higher prices (see Venezuela). Do you think that result is better for the poor?
---
No, and there again you won't find me, in the many lines I've written in this thread, defending govt action in that direction. Quote me if you can.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Hmmm, quotes...let me quote you again for your first request -

"on your third point, that does not apply to the Brazilian case, so I don't know if that book's thesis is of help here" followed by, in reference to this, "it was explicitly and only about real estate".

As for the second request for a quote, you don't like me asking a question unless I provide a quote that answers the question? Seriously?

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

In case it is not clear enough for you yet, when I've written "so I don't know if that book's thesis is of help here", by "here" I mean the discussion of the housing problem, which is the topic started by Skipper. Taking it in account, read my phrase all over again and check if there is any contradiction at all.

And yes, I would prefer that when you formulate a question that implicitly attributes to myself an opinion, you could base it in the quote you believe to represent that opinion.

I am basically asking from you what you've been asking from me during our exchanges. It it too much?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

I have found that thinking outside the box can yield solutions that are not obvious to a narrowly focused effort. But whatever...

"I am basically asking from you what you've been asking from me during our exchanges"

I see it as completely different, in that "You wrote X" or "you think X" are utterly different than "Do you think X?". Every time I brought it up, it wasn't implied by a question, it was an assertion on your part. Here, for instance. No question, just an assertion of racism.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
I have found that thinking outside the box can yield solutions that are not obvious to a narrowly focused effort.
---
If you mean it would be interesting to extend the discussion to the whole economy, not one sector of it, I have no problem with that. Only please do not interpret my narrowly focused affirmations in one area as applying to the whole when I did not intend so.


But talking about thinking outside the box, have you noticed how you reflexively went to defend the free market whenever you interpreted I would be attacking it? I know it is your religion, but you ought to give a little more room out there to free thinking.

I have been trying to think about a question Skipper has made up above, on what ways the market is failing. I don't really know, so I am pointing out the experimental data and not jumping to conclusions. It would help if you keep your mind open on taking the data and interpreting it, as opposed to point out the obvious failures of Venezuela.

---
I see it as completely different, in that "You wrote X" or "you think X" are utterly different than "Do you think X?".
---
Given your frequent use of sarcasm, it is often difficult to interpret if a question like that is not an imputation.

Harry Eagar said...

'I have been trying to think about a question Skipper has made up above, on what ways the market is failing.'

Waste of your time, because when you find an example, they will say the market is not really free. And if you go back in history to when there was no regulation and cite failures then, they will either deny they happened or make up some nutty explanation.

Nevertheless, unregulated markets crash. No doubt about that.

erp said...

... but then learn from its mistakes while regulated markets get weaker and weaker and result in the fascism of crony capitalism in full swing now.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

I don't think is it so simple. Neither free markets always learn from its mistakes nor regulated markets always get over-regulated and weaker.

There are many implicit hypotheses behind the idea of a free market, and that's why you can get away by playing this game Harry pointed out.

But taking away the game of meanings, what I can summarize about our house market is that, in AOG words, if you expect that "historical trend of free markets is to lower prices", that's not happening to that particular sector of our economy. It happened for other sectors - the poor nowadays have plenty of food, TVs, even cars - but not so much for housing.

Annoying Old Guy said...

So, getting better food, and other materials goods, isn't becoming wealthier, only land ownership counts? I think that's the problematic implicit assumption here.

Did you not also tell us how the favelas improve over time? Why yes, you did - "A favela that started 30 years ago with plastic, stone and wood will usually evolve to something made of bricks, and after that something with more floors over the initial ones.". But I suppose that doesn't count either.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Yes, to get better food is becoming wealthier. That's why I also recently stated to you with regard to your phrase on free markets lowering prices over time:

"Ideally, it happens because both (i) potential buyers got more wealthy and (ii) mass procution turned it cheaper. In our house market, (i) is happening at a much slower pace that real estate prices inflation, and (ii) is not happening much."

See there, I say people got wealthier, but at a slower pace than real estate prices. That's still "becoming wealthier".

On favelas improving over time, maybe I should have been more specific: part of the improvement is not due to their residents, but due to subsidies given by society. Many times they are not paying, at least not completely, for the water, electricity and other things they get. So in part we have been doing what Skipper, playing God, would like to do - and my answer was that the free market still did not provide a real change in terms of housing for them.

THe other day I made a question to Erp by email. I've seen that, in Florida (and probably in much of the US too) you can buy truly cheap houses, of the likes of $5.000 or $10.000. She explained to me they were mobile homes, pre-built and so on, and their residents usually pay for the lot it is in.

It looks lie those homes are usually seen with some disdain within the US, but they are truly a wonderful solution in terms of affordability and comfort compared to any favela you'll see down here.

My point is basically that such solutions provided naturally by your free market are not available here. Do you know why our market is not developing them? Surely it does not look to requite much technology or resources to do. Yet, why are not our favelas a clean sequence of lots with nice mobile homes, as opposed to this?

I don't know. If you know, I will be glad to hear it. The book you referenced looks to be interesting, but I don't see his point answering so well this particular case.

erp said...

Clovis, free markets ALWAYS learn from their mistakes because once a market isn't profitable it collapses. Crony capitalism is not capitalism, it's fascism whether you want to see it or not.

aog, it's getting really irritating. People never move up to the middle class through government action, but there are plenty of examples where the middle classes are moved down to the custodial class through same.

Public housing which has been extant since at least the end of WW2 is a prime example especially in NYC and Chicago. The "projects" were simply destroyed, the parks and playgrounds taken over by hoodlums/drug dealers ...

Handouts don’t work.

erp said...

Clovis, I also said, the although people may own or rent their mobile (also call manufactured) homes, if they are in a mobile park where there are services, the residents usually do not own the land even if they own the mobile home itself which is classified as a motor vehicle and has an annual motor vehicle fee. In some instances, people can own the land their mobile home is on jointly (like a coop or condo) or people can buy a piece of land and install their mobile home on it, if permitted. Most residential communities are zoned against mobile homes. Typically these homes do not hold their value and being metal deteriorate even if well maintained and a new well-appointed mobile home can be very pricey and even a resale in an upscale community can be well over $100,000.

When we lived in Vermont, modular homes were popular. They were similar to manufactured homes in that they were completely fitted and decorated, had appliances installed, etc., but were made of wood or stucco and came in modules to be assembled on site. The one near us was large and spectacular, but of course could be made in any size using local materials. Worked well in Vermont where the cold temperatures precluded building for much of the year.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Actually the book directly addresses that point - it is, probably, the primary thesis of the book. My first guess would be government regulation that prevents it - 99 times out of 100, when you ask "why doesn't this free market things happen here?" it's because the government actually prevents it. I had some friends live in Brazil for a while and their tales of it regulations were rather brutal. This is why your focus on land as land is, IMHO, misguided.

Annoying Old Guy said...

erp;

As Instapundit says "they'll make us all beggars because they're easier to please". I don't think the destruction of the middle class is an accident, I think it's the goal of the tranzi economic theory. They are, essentially, neo-Feudalists and like the master/peasant structure, so they're trying to recreate it. But you can't have well off peasants so you need to get rid of that wealth first. The tranzis hate the values of the bourgeoisie, and it is precisely those values that make them well off instead of peasants in favelas.

erp said...

aog,

I was saying that before Instapundit was born. The reason for the Bolshevik revolution was that the peasants were getting too rich and sassy.

You should be in loftiest of the ivy towers of academe to see first-hand the disdain elitist lefties there have for the middle class kids who are, in the main, the smartest and how they fawn over the rich kids who, in the main, are, to be kind, not academically gifted, and their rich and/or celebrity parents ... and how they pander to the affirmative action kids who are, in the main, hopelessly lost both socially and academically.

It's actually so sickening, it’s very hard to not routinely lose your lunch.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
[Erp] Most residential communities are zoned against mobile homes.
[AOG, on why affordabel housing is not available] My first guess would be government regulation that prevents it
---
Ironically - even though you are fast to put blame on some generic and unknown govt regulation down here - we do not have regulations against mobile homes.

Few areas have regulations concerning the type of the house you may build, and when they do have some, often it is about the height of the building (such as in areas that can not have skyscrapers) or its destination (commercial or residential), not the materials you use.

---
I had some friends live in Brazil for a while and their tales of it regulations were rather brutal. This is why your focus on land as land is, IMHO, misguided.
---
Well, I have many friends who live in Brazil too :-)

We do have brutal regulations, of the stifling kind, in many areas indeed. But I just don't see where they would play a role in terms of housing development in most areas in and around our cities. Really, I can buy a lot in very many places where nothing denies me installing a mobile home there. I just won't find anyone selling me that manufactured home in the market.

Maybe your point is that stifling regulation can place constraints in far too many areas of the economy, such that I won't find a supplier of mobile homes not for regulations of land use, but due to a weak general economy. But then you'll need to explain why other more complex businesses have been suceeding in such an enviroment, while such a simpler thing has not.

For example, I believe building cars must be more complex than building a big metal box with furniture. 6% of our GDP (and aprox. 20% of our industrial GDP) is related to our automotive industry. It did result that getting a car today is far easier, in general, than it was 30 years ago. Why is it that's not true for real estate related things?

In that sense, there is a market failure here. A big one.

erp said...

Clovis, you should be able to figure out how to build a big metal box and fit it out. Find some investors who're are willing to take a chance and see where it goes.

That's how capitalism works.

I still think it would be far easier to make modules with local materials that can be fitted together than one large metal box that needs good roads and a very big truck to move and still needs a concrete slab and plumbing and electricity in place.

Since there doesn't seem to be a lack of manpower in the favelas, train some guys who are ambitious and smart and get the ball rolling.

Check it out. Sears Mail Order Homes saw a need and filled it.

Start thinking of things not already tried and failed.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
The tranzis hate the values of the bourgeoisie, and it is precisely those values that make them well off instead of peasants in favelas.
---
I must object here.

In real life, people in favelas are hardly ex-members of a middle class who lost their values.

They are usually people who have been born into very difficult lives. And you may not believe it, but it is true: there are among them people who work really hard and do have moral values, and still can't make it out of the favela.

If you want some proof, know that when a few of them happen to illegally move to your country, they work 2 or 3 jobs a day and make quite enough money to have a near middle class life. Some save enough to return and build houses for them and many of their relatives.

I guess your friends who lived in Brazil wouldn't know much of that, they probably took a few good measures to not ever touch those people.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

Thank you for your advices.

I would have much difficulty trying to be a enterpreuner and still do Physics, but I'll keep that in mind for some point in future.

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] That mass of people who moved to Sao Paulo back then and formed shanty towns were mostly poor employees of big farmers, made less and less useful with the introduction of new technologies …

Good, clear, concise explanation.

[Clovis:] So we arrive at a paradox: if prosperity has so much to do with property rights, but property rights in the hands of a few is what makes the poor unable to turn their houses into liquid assets - hence leading to more prosperity - how should we untie the knot?



[AOG:] First, you are confusing property rights and real estate.



If drop those false assumptions, there is no paradox.


I agree with Clovis. The lack of formalization is near the root of the problem, but there is no viable path to formalization. And the root of the problem appears to be the intense concentration of land in the hands of a very few, which led to the irregular occupation that is so resistant to formalization.

Clovis e Adri said...

BTW, Erp, this whole discussion did motivate me to learn what modular home companies (using either concrete or wood) there exist down here.

There are only a handful of them, and as far as I can see their prices are not really attractive, but I would need to get closer to them to learn more.

And there have been also a few companies adapting containers to be used in construction sites - not as houses, but as storage for materials and facilities for the workers operating around.

There were a few companies manufacturing real mobile trailers (of the travelling kind, not much like the ones used for homes in Florida) in the 80's and 90's. They look to have achieved very limited sales and mostly disappeared.

erp said...

Clovis, the life of a entrepreneur/capitalist is rife with difficulties and challenges and problems to be solved. The polar opposite of an academic whose major problems are on the level of agitating for a more prestigious space in the faculty parking lot.

You are still looking at what others have done. Find what will work and then do it.

If you were satisfied with "doing" physics, you wouldn't be commenting on non-physics blogs.

erp said...

Skipper that in a nutshell is why the US was able to develop the way we did. We were lucky to have been settled by the English, not the Spanish, French or Portuguese.

The easy solution is of course the false one of communism/socialism which is, as has been proved over and over, even worse than the status quo.

There is currently no reason for the grandees to sell their land or put it to any use that would benefit their countrymen.

Bret said...

I'm enjoying this very interesting discussion.

One question I have so far is the distinction between land and real-estate. Real-estate is land + improvements, no?

In a higher density development, you can fit about 1,000 people per acre. So the population of Sao Paolo could fit in a around 10,000 acres which is around 2% of the area of Sao Paolo.

So land doesn't seem to be the limiting factor as it's hard to believe that not even some fraction of 2% is available for sale. So I'm not getting your original sin concept. Once upon a time, land was critically important. Land hasn't been critically important for a long time in most places.

The question is why doesn't land get developed or become more developed?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

So, even my guesses have to be fully documented? Yeah, whatever.

You're also far to focused on land use. Why you treat that as the sole element of property rights and regulations, I don't know. As I have tried to point out this entire string, there are other types of regulations, many of which could cause this problem without being related in any way to land use. As for some business succeeding and some not, you could look in to corruption and differential enforcement of laws. But, no, I have no absolute and explicit proof of that, and it's wrong to even speculate without that, so never mind.

people in favelas are hardly ex-members of a middle class who lost their values.

Which has absolutely nothing to do with the statement to which you responded. I wrote "X -> ~Y" and you read it as "Y -> ~X", an invalid deduction.

I guess your friends who lived in Brazil wouldn't know much of that, they probably took a few good measures to not ever touch those people.

And, of course, we can't avoid a baseless ad hominem. As it turns out, helping and interacting with the poor was and is a personal passion for these friends, so they spent quite a lot of time in the favelas. Not that that's relevant to any of my points.

Skipper;

Bret makes my point - not all wealth is land, and you can have a lot of economic developmet even with few land owners. I would say presuming lack of land ownership is the root of the problem is a serious mistake. Bret's question is the key one.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

Yes, I am under the impression that Real-estate is land + improvements, that's why I have been lately mostly using the words "real estate" and "house market", instead of "land". (So no, AOG, I am not focused only on land)

---
In a higher density development, you can fit about 1,000 people per acre. So the population of Sao Paolo could fit in a around 10,000 acres which is around 2% of the area of Sao Paolo.
---
No. No, please no. To make Sao Paulo even more dense? God, you should spend one week there before you ever propose such a thing again :-)

---
So land doesn't seem to be the limiting factor as it's hard to believe that not even some fraction of 2% is available for sale. So I'm not getting your original sin concept. [...] The question is why doesn't land get developed or become more developed?
---
I was touching it mainly to retrace how we end up how we are nowadays, i,e. how the process of "favelization" started.

But you are right, land is no longer the main problem for new developments within cities. So the market has been delivering new condos, apartments and units in general. It's been mainly directed to fulfill the population growth of the not-so-poor class.

I went for the numbers of our last census. Between 2000 and 2010 (a period of relative bonanza down here), the number of people living in Favelas grew 75% (from 6.5 to 11.4 million), while the population growth of Brazil was 12,5% in the same period.

So there again, it looks like we have two different economies. For the richer part of it, land has been developed by market forces - although following quite a bubble dynamics in the last 10 years - but for the poorer part of the economy, very little has been touched by progress in house markets.

So my questions are: why the progress in land development (for the richer economy) has not been achieving lower prices with time, as a good free market is supposed to do? And why has been that development so small for the other part of the economy? And finally, can it be that the first question is related to the second one?

I'd say the questions above summarize what I've discussing here, Bret. I don't have the answers.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
As I have tried to point out this entire string, there are other types of regulations, many of which could cause this problem without being related in any way to land use.
---
I have listened, AOG. And I can identify a few places where regulations and govt. are everything you should blame (notably, my present city, Brasilia).

But in general, it is not so regulated a market to build houses. I know, I've seen my parents to build three of them while growing up. It was always painful - the workforce in this area is many times inefficient and untrained, when not downright dishonest - but the govt regulations were not the hardest part of the process AFAIK.

----
And, of course, we can't avoid a baseless ad hominem.
----
You are right, that one was uncalled for. I apologize.


---
I would say presuming lack of land ownership is the root of the problem is a serious mistake.
---
I believe it is quite clear it had great influence in the creation and growth of favelas throughout the XX century. In this sense it is at the root of the problem. It may be not in the root of the solution nowadays though, since I do not see all those people in Favelas moving to rural places again if land were to be available.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] Waste of your time [Clovis, to think about the ways the market is failing] because when you find an example, they will say the market is not really free. And if you go back in history to when there was no regulation and cite failures then, they will either deny they happened or make up some nutty explanation.

Nevertheless, unregulated markets crash. No doubt about that.


It's amazing what you leave completely unsaid. What constitutes regulation? What constitutes a crash? What are the limits to regulation? What if regulation (e.g., the CRA) causes a crash? Do regulated markets crash more, or less, often than regulated ones?

Worse, though, is that by asserting a negative, your marxoid statement leaves itself open to contradiction by just one counterexample.

The market in bicycles is completely unregulated. When has it crashed?

The market in government employment is very highly regulated. It is crashing around our ears.

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] In a higher density development, you can fit about 1,000 people per acre. So the population of Sao Paolo could fit in a around 10,000 acres which is around 2% of the area of Sao Paolo.

Here are some comparisons:

São Paulo, 19.9M people, density 2,500/km^2.

Hong Kong 7.2M, 6,600/km^2.

Tokyo, 13.2M, ~13,000/km^2 (Tokyo's wards range from 10,000 to 20,100 per km^2. The highest density works out to 82/acre).

Theoretically, I suppose, one could possibly fit the living space for 1,000 people in a square acre. But to do so, you would have to manage 12 times Tokyo's current density of its most densely populated area.

No way.

Once upon a time, land was critically important. Land hasn't been critically important for a long time in most places.

It remains critical in many areas. Despite the size of Alaska, terrain means land is scarce around Anchorage. The same could be said of Honolulu, Seattle, etc. Also, wherever proximity has value, then closer will always be more valuable than further.

[AOG:] [Clovis, you are] also far to focused on land use. Why you treat that as the sole element of property rights and regulations, I don't know.

I don't see how he is. Property rights apply to land; where those rights are uncertain, or are certain but not available to the occupants, then there is no possibility for a market. We can declaim all we want about the wonders of the market, but a functioning market has certain preconditions. Without them — in this case, clear title to land — then we might as well be waxing about the wonderfulness of sparkly pastel unicorns.

The inability for occupants to obtain clear title is rife throughout the developing world.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Skipper;

One, Clovis claims land titles are sufficiently formalized in Brazil, and two the issue of the demographic distribution of land ownership is distinct from formalization of land ownership.

We might also take your example of Tokyo - what percent of people actually own the land there, and how has that impacted its economic development?

"Property rights apply to land" - yes, but also to other things. I must be missing something, because I read you and Clovis as de facto asserting only real estate is wealth, that people cannot become wealthy without it. That seems completely contrary to a modern economy.

Clovis;

I must complement you - you are now disagreeing without being disagreeable. Thank you.

The root problem I have with the concept of market failures such as described here is I don't see a causal mechanism. There is apparently a market, yet no one wants to get richer serving it. That's an essential point of a free market - you don't need agreement, you just need one person or a small group to get started. To stop all of them, you generally need a government.

I would note that "The Mystery of Capital" is all about your questions. It asks precisely the question "why does this development happen here and not there?". I do not hesitate to say the author is both more knowledgeable and a better writer then me.

Also more so than in the past, one can create a thriving business without owning *any* physical property at all, much less real estate. This means you don't need widespread ownership of land for economic development. That's what I mean about being too focused on land use.

Hey Skipper said...

One, Clovis claims land titles are sufficiently formalized in Brazil ...

[Clovis:] Well, it is true that the poor here in our favelas have quite some difficulty with formalization. Because, after all, the land they are using there is not really theirs. It was either stolen from public lands or maybe some private owner who didn't care about it in time.

Without legal title to land, it is almost impossible for favella dwellers to get loans, because they have no collateral.

A lot of markets, real estate and automobiles being two prime examples, are extremely dependent upon the availability of credit.

We might also take your example of Tokyo - what percent of people actually own the land there, and how has that impacted its economic development?

I'll bet that 100% of the people who own the buildings in which Tokyosians live have clear title to the land upon which the buildings sit.

And were therefore able to get loans with which to build the housing in which others live.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
There is apparently a market, yet no one wants to get richer serving it. That's an essential point of a free market - you don't need agreement, you just need one person or a small group to get started. To stop all of them, you generally need a government.
---
I am not sure I understand your point. There are a lot of people serving that market and getting rich by doing so. But that did not translate to either prices getting down (in a relative sense, like cars for example) or that product being affordable enough that even the poor can have it (by the contrary).

That's what I am calling a market failure, even though I agree that's a poor definition.

---
I would note that "The Mystery of Capital" is all about your questions.
---
Sure it is to some extent, and that's why I posed it as a paradox: the proposed solution - formalization of the market and enshrining property rights - is only needed here for the very same people who bypassed those property rights and invaded other people's land. They don't have the titles, and it is really impossible to dial back the situation, like asking them to now buy the land or to get out.


---
Also more so than in the past, one can create a thriving business without owning *any* physical property at all, much less real estate. This means you don't need widespread ownership of land for economic development.
---
Hey, wait a bit. You are so used to living in the most advanced of economies that you forgot how life goes for the rest of the world.

I guess real estate property must still be the main asset for 70% of people in your country. So down here it must be even more of a factor, and that's ever more true for the poorer a population/country is.

Not to mention that only a very small part of any given population will be creating a "thriving business" at any period of time. And if they try to do, the lack of affordable real estate can be a great hurdle for him: I do personally know a good number of people - some of them in my own family - who gave up their businesses because they were tired of paying most of their profit to rental companies. Physical space still matters a lot, AOG, and it can be a drag for the whole economy when it eats up most of the profit that would be used in other areas.


Annoying Old Guy said...

Skipper;

[Clovis]: "there is no lack of land to be formally sold for anyone who can pay for it".

I read that as a relatively free market in land, which means a reasonable amount of formalization and clear titles. Again, there are other ways to get money in a free market economy other than to get loans on real estate.

Clovis;

Well, I tend to call that sort of thing "dealing with reality". Almost always when someone says "market faiure" they mean "reality does not work like I want". Well, yeah. Sorry about that.

As for the book, I just don't know how to state it any more plainly - formalization and free markets are not only about land. When you write "is only needed here for the very same people who bypassed those property rights and invaded other people's land" you are treating formalization and property rights as apply only to land. I agree it matters a lot, but it's not the only thing that matters.

P.S. Why did they have to pay rent if, as you wrote, "there is no lack of land to purchase" given they had an income stream.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Thank you for the lesson on reality. Very enlightening, I sure know something now that I didn't know before.

---
[...] you are treating formalization and property rights as apply only to land. I agree it matters a lot, but it's not the only thing that matters.
---
Yes, that's silly of me. If those poor souls just stop downloading illegal stuff in the internet they will soon move to a mansion.

---
Why did they have to pay rent if, as you wrote, "there is no lack of land to purchase" given they had an income stream.
---
In three words? Location, location, location.

Try to set up an icecream shop or a lawyer office in the outskirts of the city and see how many people will show up.

Not that you would ever know about it. Since you can do all your work from your computer, at some virtual space, that location thing must be for neanderthals.

Annoying Old Guy said...

When you're reducing to sputtering ad hominems, I think we're done. You actively don't want to understand my point, so whatever.

Clovis e Adri said...

Oh yeah, you start with the sarcasm mode and then you can't take it afterwards.

Annoying Old Guy said...

One, sarcasm is not the same as ad hominem. Two, I wasn't being sarcastic.

Hey Skipper said...

That article I badly summarized above has come from behind the paywall.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
One, sarcasm is not the same as ad hominem. Two, I wasn't being sarcastic.
---
A sarcasm where you take the other part so stupid it can´t deal with reality is pretty ad hominem IMO.

If you weren´t being sarcastic, you just sincerely believe I am stupid, in which case you are more than ad hominem.

Annoying Old Guy said...

I wasn't being sarcastic, and i see nothing I wrote that implies you are stupid, nor do I believe that to be an accurate description of you.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Don't you realize the obscurantism of your position then?

We would never try to understand any process, be it a natural or social one, if we were resigned to simply call it reality and make fun of people who try to make sense of the why's.

Annoying Old Guy said...

No, apparently I don't. I think labeling things "market failure" is generally the obscurantists position, because it does away with asking "why?" and simply assigns blame in a non-productive manner.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

So labelling things that do not work within expectations a failure is... obscurantist?

Communists once were naive enough to believe their new order would lead people to better lifes. When that expectation is not fulfilled, one may say it failed. Some people even may declare that failure with words like: "Contrarily, government action almost always leads to shortages or higher prices (see Venezuela). Do you think that result is better for the poor?"

But if we find an example of a (reasonably) free market where "higher prices" is the norm too and the poor are no better, to call it a failure of the market is pure heresy, blasphemy, it's sinful. One can only call it... "reality". And preferentiably, shut up and be very quiet about it. Yeah, that's being enlightened, as opposed to obscurantist. Right?

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] But if we find an example of a (reasonably) free market where "higher prices" is the norm too and the poor are no better, to call it a failure of the market is pure heresy, blasphemy, it's sinful.

All too frequently, "market failure" is the glib, simplistic, description given by collectivists as the excuse for the government to step in and accomplish what the market itself cannot.

In some cases, it is correct. Generally, though, where it is correct, it is because some element of a functioning market is absent; property rights, typically. For instance, the market will encourage overfishing, and the more a fish stock is depleted, the faster it will become even more depleted, because the increasing price will encourage even more overfishing.

The failure is due to a missing, essential, element of a market: property rights. No one owns the fish.

Most of the time, though, when collectivists invoke "market failure" it is because a fully functional market is producing the results collectivists -- and quite possibly others as well -- desire. Non-collectivists, though, less enamored of their omniscience than collectivists, are far more apt to view these putative market failures as an effect, not a cause.

The housing collapse in the US was precipitated by the government "fixing" a "failed" mortgage market: not enough lending was going to minorities. The government "fixed" the market by first encouraging, then coercing lenders to provide mortgages without down payments or employment histories, while eliminating risk pricing.

It is worth noting that both progressives and a fair number of conservatives were in favor of this. But in this regard, whether progressive or conservative, they were acting as hubristic collectivists.

Unfortunately, they were too blinkered, or just plain stupid, to realize that jacking around with a fully functioning market could only lead to tears.

I doubt they have learned a damn thing from the experience.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,


As far as I could read of the subject, your interpretation of the house market crash root causes is not unambigously validated by data. It is one of those completely opposite views that are debated ad nauseam by conservative X liberal sides, and I really do not want to go there.

I'll only state that the liberal view here looks more reasonable to me, given similar house bubbles happening in places with no CRA.


It is interesting to point out a difference between or bubble and yours: while in your case requirements over borrowers for mortgages have been relaxed, that's not really our case.

The govt intervention here was only through interests meddling: where private banks were charging 14% interest per year for 30-year mortgages, federal owned (or majority owned) banks started to offer 8-10%. The requirements for someone to have access to that mortgage remained still quite the same though. That made private banks to lower their rates to 10-12% in general.

That's it. Our "prices boom" was still sustained with interests that would be very high for US standards anyway.

Another quite important difference is that, contrary to US markets, the practice here of borrowing money form a bank and giving your house as collateral is very limited. Very few people does that, because you can only do that with a house where you do not live - the law does not allow debts to sequester the only house you live in, so basically no bank will give you money taking your unique house as collateral. I understand this kind of operation played a big role in your bubble too.'

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

So labelling things that do not work within expectations a failure is... obscurantist?

Yes. Because it elevates the expectations over reality. Your own example of the Communists illustrates this, where the problem was having expectations that didn't correspond to reality.

to call it a failure of the market is pure heresy, blasphemy, it's sinful [...] heresy [...] preferentiably, shut up and be very quiet about it

Ah, the sputtering of ad hominems again. I didn't write any of those things, nor even implied them.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

When you're reduced to sputtering that I am sputering imaginary ad hominems, I think we're done.

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] As far as I could read of the subject, your interpretation of the house market crash root causes is not unambigously validated by data. It is one of those completely opposite views that are debated ad nauseam by conservative X liberal sides, and I really do not want to go there.

(Yes, I know you don't want to go into it, but just in case you are curious …) I wrote about the CRA here. It includes several links to in depth and authoritative articles that each conclude the CRA was necessary, but not sufficient, to the crash of the US residential real estate market.

Note that our favorite progressive's every response was to prevaricate.

I'll only state that the liberal view here looks more reasonable to me, given similar house bubbles happening in places with no CRA.

Other countries pursued variants of the CRA — Ireland, for example. And the US is such an 800 pound gorilla in financial markets that what starts in the US often has considerable knock-on effects elsewhere.

The govt intervention here was only through interests meddling: where private banks were charging 14% interest per year for 30-year mortgages, federal owned (or majority owned) banks started to offer 8-10%. The requirements for someone to have access to that mortgage remained still quite the same though. That made private banks to lower their rates to 10-12% in general.

That raises an interesting, to me, question: If mortgages were profitable at 8-10%, then why weren't private banks competing their rates down towards 8-10%? (That's an honest question, BTW.)

The second question is why are interest rates so high? I presume it is to manage foreign exchange reserves.

My interest rate is 2.85% for a 15 year loan. As much of a free-marketer as I am, I can't help but notice that long period fixed-rate loans are possible only through government supported entities: the Fanny Maes and Freddy Macs.

Very few people does that, because you can only do that with a house where you do not live - the law does not allow debts to sequester the only house you live in, so basically no bank will give you money taking your unique house as collateral. I understand this kind of operation played a big role in your bubble too.'

That law sounds like a significant reason for favellas.

And the fact that a residence is used as collateral in the US can't possibly be the cause for our bubble. It has always been the case in the US. One of the things that made the CRA so toxic was its eliminating a traditional requirement for owner equity. Before the CRA, 10-20% downpayment was the norm. That prevented bubbles, and ensured that banks would never be faced with widespread losses.

Post-crash, the housing market has returned to its pre-CRA discipline.

That, too, is a data point.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Yeah, you got me there. I should have quoted you instead of just imagining what you wrote.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
[...] the CRA was necessary, but not sufficient, to the crash of the US residential real estate market.
---
I can agree with that. But now comes a really important detail: the propagation of that crash to the whole economy was largely unrelated to the CRA, and should be mostly blamed on financial tricks devised by free market actors alone. That's the part conservatives happily ignore when pointing fingers to CRA.

---
And the US is such an 800 pound gorilla in financial markets that what starts in the US often has considerable knock-on effects elsewhere.
---
You are right, but not for the reasons you think. Countries that had banks too exposed to toxic US real estate based papers got a hit. But not only that: their banks were also investing in real estate booms of other markets (Spain, Portugal, Greece) where
nothing like CRA existed. The 800 pound Gorilla influenced them not by their papers, but by their behavior. The Western elite, in particular the one in the banks business, is very much connected.

IOW, excessive risk taking as a way of doing business was the order of the day. If the big Gorilla was doing it, why wouldn't the small ones? Monkeys - and humans - learn by emulation.

---
That raises an interesting, to me, question: If mortgages were profitable at 8-10%, then why weren't private banks competing their rates down towards 8-10%?
---
Because part of its "mission" is to provide for real estate development. So, in theory, they do so because they are willing (and have govt. funds to subsidize it) to take a lower profit to make that happen.

They have two main customers having access to the 8% rate: (i) poorer people (by govt mandate) and (ii) higher stability people (as public sector employees with safe jobs, people who can give reasonable collaterals, etc). The other customers will get something like 9% or 10%, depending on many factors, and that's near the private banks mark too.

---
The second question is why are interest rates so high?
---
Oh, that question. I have asked it to PhD economists from our Central Bank, from good Universities, from private Banks. My conclusion up to now is, no one really knows.

Our rates are among the highest in the world. You could argue, like I think Erp would, that we are untrustworthy hot-headed Latinos and banks need high interests to compensate for risks. But then you look around in LA, and our rates are higher than a lot of countries that are in much worse shape than Brazil.

The effective insterest rate is lower, since our inflation rate has tipically been around 4% to 6% in the last 15 (or more) years. Yet, if you look around in LA (or the rest of the world), you'll see a lot of countries with that level of inflation but still lower interest rates than ours.

---
That law sounds like a significant reason for favellas.
---
I don't know why you say so. Other countries have a law like that, and no favelas.

---
Before the CRA, 10-20% downpayment was the norm. That prevented bubbles, and ensured that banks would never be faced with widespread losses.
---
Oh, that's a point I've forgotten to mention when I told you that govt. banks lowered a bit their interest raises. They also introduced this big difference from previous rules: they started allowing only 10% of downpayment, when usually they would ask for 30%.

I think that made private banks to lower their requirements for 20% of downpayment only, depending on the customer history.

You see, what would be considered constrict conditions in your country, are here something of a party, sufficient to facilitate a real estate boom...

Hey Skipper said...

I can agree with [the CRA being fundamental to the crash in the US residential real estate market]. But now comes a really important detail: the propagation of that crash to the whole economy was largely unrelated to the CRA, and should be mostly blamed on financial tricks devised by free market actors alone.

True. However, even here there is room for blaming foolish government policies. The federal government created a small cartel of ratings agencies. Since they faced little competition, they were astoundingly negligent. Despite having absolutely no idea what they were looking at, they handed out AAA ratings like beads at Carnival.

There were also other serious government mistakes.

But there is no denying that top leadership at many financial institutions was, at the very least, reckless.

That's the part conservatives happily ignore when pointing fingers to CRA.

I think those pointing their fingers at the CRA are mostly concerned with its central stupidity, and much less so about other financial turmoil that was likely just waiting for anything to get it started.

I don't know why you say [prohibiting using residential equity as collateral]. Other countries have a law like that, and no favelas.

Do you have any examples? Not saying they don't exist, only that I have utterly no idea.


erp said...

Skipper, banks were forced to give mortgages to those who, on paper, could never afford to make the payments. The famous anecdote about the farm worker in California whose annual income was less than one month's mortgage payment is probably closer to the truth than fiction.

IMO the reason for this was to bankrupt many small local banks and make the fed takeover of out financial industry that much quicker. Small banks fought back by bundling their mortgages and selling them to bigger banks which did the same and so finally the bottom fell out.

This
is an interesting story showing how smart operators can take advantage of our betters manipulating our lives.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

I am transplanting the discussion of the "In Defense of Racism" thread to this one, since that one is being moderated and that's causing a lag in communications (I did not even see the last answers up to now).

---
I thought I replied to the comments above??? Are comments being monitored or did I fail to click SEND?
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Yes, that thread is in moderation mode, and it is too big already anyway.

----
Clovis, Skipper above said it. In my comment earlier I said both you and the police officer reinforced ingrained stereotypes.
----
I disagree. That particular policeman was operating on stereotypes. You too. I am not.

That policeman's colleague, for example, stayed pretty quiet the whole episode, and at some point I had even the vague impression she was not taking fun on that, contrary to her partner.

Besides, I lived in Germany time enough to meet other cops. You see, Dresden (the first place I lived) was part of East Germany. Up to this day it is easier to find people who speak Russian as a second language there instead of English. Part of their "local traditions" have some inheritance from their, let us put this way, not so democratic times. For example, the NDP (the official modern umbrella for neo-nazis) first achieved the threshold for representation in thei German Congress (5% of votes in a major election) largely due to the votes from that region (the state of Saxony), and it happened when I was there actually. Believe me, there are still small villages in that state wherefrom I was advised to stay away, for my own safety.

Later on I lived in Duisburg, near Dusseldorf, in the state of Nordheim-Westfallen, and that region of Germany is reasonably different from Saxony. It was part of West Germany, and you see that reflected even in the behavior of the police IMHO.

I wouldn't stereotype Germans, Erp. I have much respect for them. Heck, I am married to one. I was just relating facts, all experienced in first hand.

----
Re: ISIS, do you agree with Obama that ISIS is not Islamic?
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Being the non-conservative around (given that Harry is not here lately), you now want me to play Obama's interpreter.

I'll say that: it looks a healthy thing to remember the US population that people of Islamic faith should not be demonized. Maybe Obama has a point, and a necessary one as your question readily demonstrates.

erp said...

Clovis the only groups being demonized in the U.S. are those on the conservative side of the spectrum.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

I am transplanting your question in the other thread to this one too.

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Clovis: What is the proper US response to Americans siding with ISIS?
---
Gee, and I get that question from someone who piloted a fighter jet, no less.

I am sure you do not want to hear my military advice on that, right? Unless as a joke, you wouldn't be impressed by my wise and experienced opinions here.

Harry is really missing here, since I remained the last one to argue against extra-judicial targeting of American citizens. Except I think not even Harry is against that, and I am no American.

So Skipper, since you look eager to use a remote control to turn some fellow citizens into dust, first let me ask you a few questions.

And the first one is: how knowledgeable are you about your Government role towards the rise of ISIS?

The little knowledge I have is that the US and a few other actors, like Qatar and the Saudis, have given support - of the military kind very much included - to many groups interested in bringing down Syria's Assad.

How sure are you that ISIS has not directly received support from the US in past? How safe are you that US citizens of Arab background, and with interests in helping Assad out, were not helped (or even recruited through) by US-connected channels?

How safe are you that a number of those US citizens playing on ISIS' team now were not given incentives for that in past, when that looked like a good strategy to pack heat on Syria?

How safe are you that US-connected players (US companies included) are not benefitting by the cheap Oil the ISIS-connected organizations sell in the black market? (Hence indirectly financing it.)

Those are questions I'd like answered, and strangely no one in your media looks interested on asking. I wonder why.

After understanding what has been the real role of US (and its allies) in the rise of ISIS, I would feel more able to answer your question. At least that's what I'd think were I an American, binded to that little thing called Constitution.

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] Are comments being monitored or did I fail to click SEND?

So far as I know — with one inconsequential exception (I delete duplicate comments, which for some reason are becoming very rare) — there is no comment monitoring here.

Being the non-conservative around (given that Harry is not here lately), you now want me to play Obama's interpreter.

Sometimes I wonder if Obama is a complete idiot. Of course Obama has to say ISIS is not Islamic, given that he is stupid enough to bring it up in the first place. Islam may, indeed, be the reason ISIS is so vicious, but our beef isn't with Islam, it is ISIS's savagery.

So why mention Islam at all? Anyone going to be confused with some other ISIS out there? What worse — and there's a word for this that I can't for the moment remember — it is a rhetorical device to bring something up by denying its existence. Of course, since we need to keep other countries in the region on side (or avoid pushing them further off side) we need to avoid stating the obvious. The absolute best way to do that is not to bring it up in the first place.

Bozo.

[Hey Skipper:] Clovis: What is the proper US response to Americans siding with ISIS?
---
[Clovis:] Gee, and I get that question from someone who piloted a fighter jet, no less.


Well played.

More seriously, the NYT conducted a jeremiad on behalf of Al-Awlaki: IMHO, they were, at least, analytically challenged. If they were to be true to their seeming convictions, then they would be doing similarly to ensure we bring to justice those Americans who have chosen to fight with ISIS.

They haven't, and I'm betting they won't. Why? Because the difference between war and civil society is finally so glaringly apparent that even the NYT editorial board won't be able to lose sight of it.

Your questions are provocative, but, in this regard, unimportant. I don't mean to be dismissive; indeed, every one of them could have unflattering answers (although I doubt it). Unfortunately, and this is a fact to which progressives have astonishingly powerful antibodies, international relations is completely amoral. In running for president, through to about a year ago, Obama showed precious little appreciation for something that should be well within the grasp of an undergraduate.

Reality has bitten him.

Regardless of what the answers to those questions may be, there are Americans who are actively aiding and abetting a state that has declared war on the US.

That makes them legitimate targets for the US military: the law of armed conflict is clear on that.

And puts them nearly outside the realm of the US Constitution. Article III, Section 3: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
So far as I know — with one inconsequential exception (I delete duplicate comments, which for some reason are becoming very rare) — there is no comment monitoring here.
---
I have no idea why, but only at that "In Defense of Racism" thread I get a message that comments will be moderated. And in fact my answers there only appear after some time.


On ISIS:

I find your answer fine enough, it is probably the best one I could get. Yet, it is flawed IMHO.

To the legal side of it, you said it all: "Article III, Section 3: [...] No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court."

And right there you have the legal process, stated in the Constitution itself, that is bypassed by the free and unabashed use of drones to target those citizens.

It should not be an irrelevant bureacratic detail to get first a conviction - in open court, no less - before sentencing someone to death.


Now to the other point. I very much disagree my other questions are unimportant. They are not provocative because they play on our moral towards international relations. They are provocative because they play on our moral with regard to the relations between a State and its Citizens.

If I (covertly or not) receive support and assistance from the State to execute a task - and one not already forbidden by law - how should I be guilty for accomplishing it? And if that covert support is given not (only) by the State, but also by other nationals (like Corporations commanded by fellow citizens) of that state, am I guilty alone?

And finally, if am I to be found guilty in the situations above, shouldn't it be done by and through an open court?

See, I am not saying that cooperation with ISIS, after its public stated goal of waging war againt the USA, is not treason. But was it treason before that goal being established? At which point a US citizen beloging to ISIS is to be blamed then? I hope I do not need to remember you how reality here may be complicated, for after ISIS war declaration, it may be not easy for an ISIS-US-fighter to desert it alive.

I am not naive enough to expect any of the questionswill play any role in the field. For sure your army will bomb anyone at ISIS side now, no matter nationalities. But there is already, and there may be more in future, US citizens coming back with suspected ties to ISIS when abroad. What to do about them?

Bret said...

"...there is no comment monitoring here.

Umm. Well, yes and no. The no parts are two-fold:

1. Blogger has a spam filter so once in a great while someone's comment (Harry was the last one spam-filtered so it must be a conservative filter :-) gets routed to spam and I eventually get around to retrieving it. This only happens a couple of times per year.

2. Any comments on a post that's more than 90 days old are moderated. Normally, if a post like the Racism one is still active after 90 days and it was an issue, I would notice and change the moderation period to longer for a while. (By the way, Hey Skipper and Howard can do this too, so I only feel a little guilty). But I've been so busy lately, I didn't notice. Sorry about that.

Hey Skipper said...

To the legal side of it, you said it all: "Article III, Section 3: [...] No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court."

And right there you have the legal process, stated in the Constitution itself, that is bypassed by the free and unabashed use of drones to target those citizens.


I included that for a reason: to be convicted of treason requires two witnesses or a confession in open court. That requires the rule of law. Al-Awlaki and the nihilistic savages that have joined ISIS are outside the rule of US law. According to you — and the NYT — they get to act with impunity until such time as they surrender, or we capture them.

That conclusion must be wrong, because it makes an utter hash of the Law of Armed Conflict. Enemy combatants are enemy combatants, and therefore legitimate targets, regardless of their nationality.

They are not provocative because they play on our moral towards international relations. They are provocative because they play on our moral with regard to the relations between a State and its Citizens.

How? International relations are completely amoral. Even if some US provided weapons went to what became ISIS, it is because US foreign policy objectives at the time considered subverting the Assad regime sufficiently important to run the risk of some weapons getting into the wrong hands. This is really no different from the Cold War, and is a concept Harry simply refuses to take on board: the US all too often sided with some very unsavory regimes because the overarching national security strategy was first containing, then defeating, communism.

Just so here. Even if the US scarcely does anymore, the world economy relies upon secure access to oil that is underneath a part of the world plagued by degenerate regimes and a death cult religion.

That almost always means choosing the least bad from a short list of awful options.

Which is why your list of questions is unimportant to how we treat any Americans who choose to become enemy combatants.

How [sure] are you that US-connected players (US companies included) are not benefitting by the cheap Oil the ISIS-connected organizations sell in the black market?

I have no idea. However, if US companies were knowingly buying oil from ISIS, then that would make them guilty of treason. And, with sufficient evidence, they would be convicted in court. Without ever being enemy combatants.

Thanks for helping me make my point.

But there is already, and there may be more in future, US citizens coming back with suspected ties to ISIS when abroad. What to do about them?

Excellent question, probably without a good answer. Which is as good a reason as any I can think of for killing them in Syria and Iraq.

Hey Skipper said...

2. Any comments on a post that's more than 90 days old are moderated.

That's news to me. As is the spam bucket, for that matter.

Bret said...

You're an administrator. Feel free to moderate away or fiddle with the settings for the 90 day thing.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
This is really no different from the Cold War, and is a concept Harry simply refuses to take on board: the US all too often sided with some very unsavory regimes because the overarching national security strategy was first containing, then defeating, communism.
---

I'd say the failure to realize that it is indeed very much different from Cold War is at the roots of recent US blunders.

When the US sided with "unsavory regimes", no matter how "unsavory", they usually were players acting on their best interests, which means a rational game-theory scenario.

Now when you arm fanatics who can't make decisions based on their own gains - like not blowing themselves up - you are surely playing a stupid game.

So we could think the US learned a thing or two after training and arming the very same people who would build al Qaeda and blow up quite a few US targets.

But no, we see that your "Intelligence" (yeah, the quote marks are on purpose) is fond enough of doing the same mistakes all over again.

There is now way to select between good or bad terrorists, as you should be repeatedly learning the hard way by now. Except you are not learning much, it looks like.


---
Just so here. Even if the US scarcely does anymore, the world economy relies upon secure access to oil that is underneath a part of the world plagued by degenerate regimes and a death cult religion.
---
I'd thank you if you wouls stop this sorry act of dramatization. So "the world economy" is at absolute risk if not for your selfless and kind acts? BS.

You would be as affected as everybody else, since the Oil market is all connected, and your recently boosted productions wouldn't protect you much from hiking prices.

And please stop pretending to speak for the rest of the world. I live on it too, and I think US acts in Iraq from 2003 onwards have been as misguided as they could possibly be. It is a gift that keeps screwing it up. So stop giving it.


---
However, if US companies were knowingly buying oil from ISIS, then that would make them guilty of treason. And, with sufficient evidence, they would be convicted in court.
---
I am usually accused of being too naive. I am happy when I realize I am not alone.

Hey Skipper said...

Now when you arm fanatics who can't make decisions based on their own gains - like not blowing themselves up - you are surely playing a stupid game.

Who did we arm with what? What was our strategy? What should our strategy have been?

(IMHO, arming the losing side should be the answer to the last two.

So we could think the US learned a thing or two after training and arming the very same people who would build al Qaeda and blow up quite a few US targets.

Post hoc reasoning is comforting, but not particularly helpful. Nobody could have foreseen bin Laden, because they couldn't foresee the circumstances provoking bin Laden, nor could they foresee the Soviet Union ignominiously collapsing within the decade. So all policy makers were left with is what was the best strategy at the time.

Just so with Syria (and I'm completely unconvinced that handing out AK47s has had any material effect on how events transpired. Failing to negotiate a SOFA with Iraq, however, is a different kettle of fish.

So "the world economy" is at absolute risk if not for your selfless and kind acts? BS.

No nation acts in other than its perceived best interests. Even if we aren't directly dependent upon mid-East oil, choking off that supply for even a month would have drastic effects on the world's economy, and, therefore, ours.

Unless, of course, you can show otherwise.

We would not be as affected as everybody else, at least not in energy terms, because we don't have to export anything, and in such a drastic event as a Straits of Hormuz closure, the federal government could ensure continued energy supply at prevailing prices for as long as required.

Most of the rest of the world would be screwed.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
Post hoc reasoning is comforting, but not particularly helpful.
---
Post hoc is not about easy arguments, it is about learning from previous experience. I do not mention al Qaeda to make an exercise in post-vision, but to notice how little your establishment looks to have learned from that experience.

---
Who did we arm with what? What was our strategy? What should our strategy have been?
---
I guess that by now, the first question is a mistery even to your own guys.

Your strategy, as far as ISIS and Syria is concerned, has been a freakshow of rumbling and schizophrenic actions, whose greater achievement up to now has been to first escalate a bloody civil war from which no one benefited, and to give power to dangerous terrorist groups who would not exist but for your help.

What should that strategy have been? I can't honestly answer that without more knowledge and information than I have. But notice it does not go the other way around: you don't need too much more information to recognize a sounding failure. You need a civil engineer to build a building, you don't need one to notice the whole edifice going down.

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We would not be as affected as everybody else, at least not in energy terms [...].
---
FWIW the information, the same things goes down here, we are pretty much capable of energy independence too.

---
Most of the rest of the world would be screwed.
---
So why don't you let them to deal with the problem - when and if it does happen?

For if you really believe nations act on "its perceived best interests", you need to explain me why you spent 1 trillion in a war in Iraq so that China could today be its top Oil investor, while they aren't giving a damn to ISIS - or so it looks like from their inexistent helping hand at that.

They are taking you guys out on being the No. 1 Economy soon, and we wonder if that's not an outcome you truly invited.

Hey Skipper said...

Your strategy, as far as ISIS and Syria is concerned, has been a freakshow of rumbling and schizophrenic actions, whose greater achievement up to now has been to first escalate a bloody civil war from which no one benefited, and to give power to dangerous terrorist groups who would not exist but for your help.

How about some specifics? Up until ISIS blew up, the only thing the US administration could be accused of doing is close as could be managed to nothing. We didn't deliver the promised retribution to the Assad regime for using chemical weapons. What little aid we have given was mostly logistical, the rest light infantry weapons. We didn't start the war, we didn't escalate it, and both Russia and China have done their level best to oppose every collective attempt to find a way out. The result, for which we cannot in any way be blamed, is a death toll nearing 200,000.

The one meaningful thing we could have done, the Obama administration (as even some of its members are starting to take on board) was to have reached a SOFA with the Iraqi government.

So why don't you let them to deal with the problem - when and if it does happen?

Aside from the humanitarian disaster, you mean? Try to imagine what the consequences of a one month cutoff of mideast oil might mean to, oh, India. Or the Philippines. Or much of Africa. Or Japan. Try, then to imagine the knock-on effects to the entire world economy. No matter how amoral national security strategy is, there is no ignoring that last bit.

They are taking you guys out on being the No. 1 Economy soon, and we wonder if that's not an outcome you truly invited.

Bollocks. Any country that has to choke the internet nearly to death (when I was last there, two weeks ago, it was far worse than it has ever been, which was already easily bad enough) isn't going to become the No 1 economy ever.

BTW, in terms of GDP per capita, the US is eight times wealthier than China.

As for China being the top oil investor in Iraq, so what?

Peter said...

...and to give power to dangerous terrorist groups who would not exist but for your help.

Granted there is no shortage of criticisms one can make about American and Western policies in the Middle East, and granted there are a lot of troubling, unanswered quesions about the war on ISIL, but I am so sick of that theme. Whether oil companies, Israel or the U.S., the boilerplate criticism from the port side is that if, only we went away and left them to their own devices, some kind of natural Arab harmony and stability would emerge. Instead, we mess things up repeatedly, usually by backing the wrong horse (boy, they sure have a lot of horses, don't they?), and we so insult and enrage the peace-loving population that they are driven---driven, I say--to morph into Huns and behead, rape and slaughter indiscriminately. Bad Westerners. Bad, bad Westerners.

Of course, if there is one thing these people are good at, it is Western psychology and how to play us. Sure, Gaza is a hellhole, but it would be the Garden of Eden if we got rid of Israel. Sure we're enaged in a never-ending, twenty-sided civil war, but we'd be Scandinavia if it weren't for the Americans. How can you expect Abdul to forswear mass killing and rape when you've insulted his manhood so?

This entire region seems to be populated by people who have no sense of control over or responsibility for their lives and can't seem to do anything to help themselves without the Western help and protection they both depend upon and despise. They are one mass refutation of the doctrine of free will.

Harry Eagar said...

'a death toll nearing 200,000.'

and

'Bad Westerners. Bad, bad Westerners.'

Pretty bad, actually. Knowing history is kind of a curse.

When another 100,000 die in Syria, we'll be up to the number killed by the French there in establishing their Mandate.

While the French have forgotten that, and the Americans never knew, I guarantee you that the Syrians remember.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
How about some specifics? Up until ISIS blew up, the only thing the US administration could be accused of doing is close as could be managed to nothing.
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The best specifics I can provide are like this and this.

They show that no, the US was not sitting idle before ISIS happened to be an international sensation.

---
We didn't start the war, we didn't escalate it, [...]
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The US did not do so alone, but with great help from its allies - Turkey, Qatar and the Saudis - as your own VP recognized in public.

There always has been opposition to Assad's family, decades and decades ago. That opposition only grew enough to sustain a civil war after directly being helped by external forces in the last 6 or so years.

So yes, the escalation of the war is to be blamed on you guys too.

---
Aside from the humanitarian disaster, you mean? [...] No matter how amoral national security strategy is, there is no ignoring that last bit [the end of the World as we know it, in apocalyptic fashion].
---
You do have a big problem with that line of reasoning. You pose great worries and problems for much of the world - if not for the last US interventions in ME. Yet, how amazing that faced with their own "humanatarian disaster", none of those countries you cite looked much worried about it. How so?

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Bollocks. Any country that has to choke the internet nearly to death[...] isn't going to become the No 1 economy ever.
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Sorry to break the news to you, but that ship has already sailed.

If you think purchasing power parity is a bad marker, don't worry, it won't take long for other GDP measures to follow.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

---
[...] the boilerplate criticism from the port side is that if, only we went away and left them to their own devices, some kind of natural Arab harmony and stability would emerge. Instead, we mess things up repeatedly, usually by backing the wrong horse (boy, they sure have a lot of horses, don't they?), and we so insult and enrage the peace-loving population that they are driven---driven, I say--to morph into Huns and behead, rape and slaughter indiscriminately. Bad Westerners. Bad, bad Westerners.
---
Well, that's indeed a good caricature of my arguments, I give you that. I am laughing out loud, really.

---
This entire region seems to be populated by people who have no sense of control over or responsibility for their lives and can't seem to do anything to help themselves without the Western help and protection they both depend upon and despise. They are one mass refutation of the doctrine of free will.
---
As Harry would say, knowing history is kind of a curse indeed.

I don't think the ME troubles are a mass refutation of the doctrine of free will. They are instead a mass validation of the divide and rule doctrine. Their present borders were meticuously devised to make sure they would keep being just this messed up place they are. And it was done so by devious westerns indeed, who'd guess?

Were an external superpower to again rearranje them but this time trying, just for a change, to minimize conflicts, it wouldn't be so hard to find a better configuration. But you know what? Peaceful and stable countries would be able to deal better with their own Oil, and if we believe Skipper, that would be the end of the World as we know it.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "... that's indeed a good caricature of my arguments ... [t]heir present borders were meticuously devised to make sure they would keep being just this messed up place they are ... "

Peter's argument (the alleged caricature) and then what you present (the borders thing) are nearly the exact same thing, no? Or was that intentionally another self-caricature? Or do you think the inhabitants of the middle east were peaceful, fun-loving, and progressive folk prior to the creation of those borders? Or do you think that even if people have free-will, they still won't be able to say, "Ya kno, we r stuck in these borders, but everyone wud b better off if we learned 2 get along via r free-will & stopped hacking off foreigners' & each others' heads?" Or that if borders were perfect, they'd never go to war and would instead become peaceful, fun-loving, and progressive folk? Are there potentially perfect borders (rather than that they were and are so mixed around that there's no such thing as perfect borders)? And would creating those perfect borders require that Israel be wiped from the face of the map? And the Kurds too?

And do you think a superpower could just waltz in there and fix everything? And everybody over there would accept the fix? Which superpower did you have in mind? Russia? China?

Please enlighten me or provide another LOL caricature (or both).

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Peter's argument (the alleged caricature) and then what you present (the borders thing) are nearly the exact same thing, no?
---
Nearly. I doubled down on the aspect he was most ridiculing, to reinforce that's not any less true.

---
Or do you think the inhabitants of the middle east were peaceful, fun-loving, and progressive folk prior to the creation of those borders?
---
They were neither less nor more peaceful than, let us say, Europeans killing each other for many centuries on. Ops, I take that back, the ME certainly generated less corpses then Europeans in the last 500 years or so.

But differently from the Europeans - that were to a good extent allowed to fraction themselves in multiple states until they achieved some sort of peaceful coexistence - the ME was subjected to a lot of externally devised reengineering, with purposes of peace being not exactly what the engineers wanted. Please open up your goolemaps and compare borders drawn in Europe and in ME, that's instructive enough.

---
Or that if borders were perfect, they'd never go to war and would instead become peaceful, fun-loving, and progressive folk?
---
It is the other way around: if they were allowed to kill each other for time enough, eventually they'd settle for borders more peaceful.

See, I am not trying to given them a pass for all their murderous rage, nor defending they would be Switzerland if not for us bad westerners. But Peter's description reminds me much of the drug dealer who exempt himself for any trouble all those addicted punks may have. After decades of injecting money, guns and coercion at so many levels of those societies, is it too much to ask a bit of recognition of past mistakes? Heck, I'd be happy enough for recognition of *present* mistakes, for God's sake, so much of what you guys have been doing there in the last 10+ years has been such a disastrous mess.

---
And would creating those perfect borders require that Israel be wiped from the face of the map? And the Kurds too?
---
I don't know about the Kurds, but any outcome I can see of an all-out clash for those borders would involve Israel standing higher than all the others. Actually, ironically enough, it is Western external influence that limits further Israel's growth there these days.

---
And do you think a superpower could just waltz in there and fix everything?
---
Is this a question about capability of desirability (cost/benefit)? Yes to the former option, no to the later one.

---
And everybody over there would accept the fix? Which superpower did you have in mind? Russia? China?
---
By definiton, Bret, after the big guy enters the scene, only the ones accepting the fix remain. There is only one superpower actually able to do the trick these days, and it is not Russia or China. I give you a tip: it speaks the same language as the last superpower to reenginer all the place over.

---
Please enlighten me or provide another LOL caricature (or both).
---
I hope I could entertain you enough. Please throw a few coins into my hat if you'd be so kind...

Peter said...

But Peter's description reminds me much of the drug dealer who exempt himself for any trouble all those addicted punks may have. After decades of injecting money, guns and coercion at so many levels of those societies, is it too much to ask a bit of recognition of past mistakes?

Wow, Clovis, your caricatures could throttle mine any day. Of course you are right, I was just getting in touch with my inner Western imperialist and having a fun little vent. But I know the truth. Time and time again they begged us to let them leave the oil in the ground, but would we listen? Then, when they were all in a regional re-hab clinic trying to shake their arms addictions, we showed up dangling discount stingers before their eyes. Fortunately they are a plucky bunch and have produced no shortage of valiant heros to lead the resistance to the rapacious Yankee trader and his neo-colonial, war-mongering satraps. Let's see, there was Nasser, Ghadaffi, Arafat, Assad, Hussein, Hezbollah, Hamas, the mullahs, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and now those freedom-loving agrarian reformers known as ISIL. Washington and Bolivar couldn't hold a candle to those honeys.

Of course, it's tricky because we are responsible for both the actions of the corrupt monarchs and oligarachs who oppress their people at our bidding and the unpleasant, but entirely necessary and understandable, excesses of those trying to replace them and throw us out. Sins built on sins. I'll tell ya', it's not easy carrying around all that guilt.

Personally, I lie awake at night grieving for what might have been. If it weren't for the Americans...if it weren't for Israel..., etc. And, as you quite properly remind us, if it weren't for that nasty old British Empire, what glories we would be seeing today. The Shia lion would be lying down with the Sunni lamb, regional economic cooperation would be thriving, the desert would be blooming, education and learning would be flourishing in gender-equal harmony and the Middle East would be leading the global charge for everything from human rights to climate security.

Alas, because of us, it appears we'll have to suffer through a few more severed heads and mass-rapes before the Middle Eastern Arcadia arrives. Who can honestly blame them given what we've meted out? Not I. No, definitely not I.

Harry Eagar said...

No one has judged the capacity of Arabs to govern themselves more harshly than I have, but just because they were dealt a t4rrible hand (being oppressed by the Turks for 300-400 years was a bad start) and played it badly does not mean that the West did not also do everything it could to make the situation worse.

You might think that it would tax anyone to find a regime that did a worse job for the inhabitants than Mussolini had, but the US stepped up to the plate and knocked the ball out of the park with Idris.

Self-satisfied westerners should think hard about the fact that Ghadafy (in the early years) was in many ways the best ruler in the area.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "It is the other way around: if they were allowed to kill each other for time enough, eventually they'd settle for borders more peaceful ... it is Western external influence that limits further Israel's growth there these days."

LOL. Well, there's a novel perspective. It's those bad, bad westerners who, by not allowing the natives to wantonly slaughter each other at will, have slowed/halted the natural red-of-tooth-and-claw evolution of the borders towards what might ultimately be a more peaceful set of states.

When do you suppose this "eventually" might have arrived if not for us meddlesome Westerners? For example, if I look at various technological, cultural, and religious markers (for example, The Reformation), it looks to me like the Middle East is a few centuries behind Europe, so if Europe was still slaughtering people by the tens of millions 75 years ago, it would've been a few more centuries of barbarism in the Middle East before things would've settled down, no?

What an excellent solution! :-)

Clovis wrote: "...so much of what you guys have been doing there in the last 10+ years has been such a disastrous mess."

My personal opinion is that it didn't hardly make any difference at all and that we're centuries away from them evolving from their barbaric mindsets, whether or not we let them hack away at each other.


Clovis wrote [re: superpower waltzing in]: "Is this a question about capability of desirability (cost/benefit)? Yes to the former option, no to the later one. ... There is only one superpower actually able to do the trick these days..."

There's not a prayer that the U.S. could waltz in and redraw the borders and make it stick. Probably not even if we set that as a multidecade national goal and stuck with it (which is obviously not gonna happen).

Clovis wrote: "I hope I could entertain you enough."

Yes, you're doing a fabulous job with this one. :-)

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

---
Wow, Clovis, your caricatures could throttle mine any day.
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Oh, not by far. I am being demolished alive here by your witty sarcasm, who'd know you could get so mad for being compared to a dope peddler. I will take notice to never again clash with a lawyer on blogs, up to now Erp was making my life too easy.

---
Let's see, there was Nasser, Ghadaffi, Arafat, Assad, Hussein, Hezbollah, Hamas, the mullahs, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and now those freedom-loving agrarian reformers known as ISIL.
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Yeah, all nice examples of peaceful minded darlings.

You wisely mention them to evoke the image of despised rulers, so as to reinforce your point on how they have been doing so fine by themselves. But look, you gave me a little help too: how many in that list have been dealt with by us good, good westerners?

We may start by Ghadaffi. Would he still be alive and well if not for a a few hundred bombs our American friends - and another so many guns and bullets - dispatched there? Very probably he'd still be there, in power, raping young girls at the local universities and happily opressing his people. Other than being a real jerk though, he was ensuring a stable state, and even making it harder for al Qaeda to built up there.

After he was gone? Well, Benghazification has been the order of the day.

Why not take another name now, let us say, Arafat. How things have been gone after his departure? Some say he was nicely done by some Israeli poison tricks, who knows? I wonder how much that improved their brotherly love with the Palestines. I mean, it is not like they needed to engage in bombing them all over again, year in year out, after Arafat was gone... oh, wait.

But Hussein, oh dear Hussein, that was another guy deserving what he got. I mean, those 100.000+ Iraqis who died since Operation Iraqi "Freedom", and the whole Sunni-Shia civil war we've been witnessing since then, was surely worth the vision of Saddam's neck in that rope, wasn't it? The previous stability under him was just sooo boring.

And Assad? Now and then an American president or a rich Sultan tells me his time is ending. Beefore they sent loaded boxes of guns to make good of their promess, what was Syria? Another state under the heavy hand of a dictator, but guess what? It was pretty peaceful and stable too.

See, I am told they are all barbaric lots, and the universe will end in a big crunch before they ever evolve to be like you nice Americans and Canadians. How lucky they are for having you guys watching out for them. Whatever you touched up there, sands turned into forests of peace and happiness. Except the only states in peace there are, who would guess, the ones least engineered over by well meaning westerners. By heavens, how can we explain that?

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

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When do you suppose this "eventually" might have arrived if not for us meddlesome Westerners?
---
Since throughout the 20th century most major bloody changes of power there had a finger (or the whole hand) of well meaning good Westerners, I'd pose their settlement has been postponed by 50 (+-50) years in pre-globalization units of time.

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For example, if I look at various technological, cultural, and religious markers (for example, The Reformation), it looks to me like the Middle East is a few centuries behind Europe [...]
---
Which part of the Middle East? Or you think them as being all the same?

---
if Europe was still slaughtering people by the tens of millions 75 years ago, it would've been a few more centuries of barbarism in the Middle East before things would've settled down, no?
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I don't believe so. In post-globalization units of time, those centuries would turn into decades.

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What an excellent solution! :-)
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Well, that's not exactly the solution I'd ask for. I am defending far less intrusion in that area than we have now, but I'd not defend absolute passivity either. If we applied the same criteria in ME that we use today for intervention in Africa, for example, I would be happy enough. [By what I mean: we should stop genocides, but we should not be deciding who must be the next corrupt murderer-in-chief].

---
My personal opinion is that it didn't hardly make any difference at all [...]
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The most sad thing about modern war is that you can invade foreign countries and still think it is such a small matter so as to not "make any difference at all"...

---
There's not a prayer that the U.S. could waltz in and redraw the borders and make it stick.
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You mean, "there's not a prayer" you gonna give yourself this trouble again, for now, right? Because just a few years ago you had all the means and motives to do just that in Iraq - to make it into three more stable countries - and what did you choose?

Someone more cynic than myself could think the present situation, with degradation of the greater Iraq into civil war, is just what the Architect ordered. There is already at least one side selling Oil way cheaper, isn't it? And for sure that's not going to evolve to be a strong state, who could even wish for having, let us say, an aotmic arsenal, just like a troublesome neighbor around...

---
Clovis wrote: "I hope I could entertain you enough."
Yes, you're doing a fabulous job with this one. :-)
---
Great, that's my pleasure.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "In post-globalization units of time, those centuries would turn into decades."

Ah, yes, because the average man in the street is so well-plugged into what's going on worldwide? And is so ready to embrace cultural and societal ideas from other places? Because everybody, everywhere is likely to embrace progressive ideals? Because leaders have something to personally gain by pushing outside culture and ideals on their population? Because religion doesn't usually trump rational thought in the minds of human?

It seems to me we have far more people in the west moving towards embracing Islam and all kinds of regressive stuff than we have people in the Middle East progressing towards the future. My guess is that the world will be majority Islam in your lifetime.


Clovis wrote: "Well, that's not exactly the solution I'd ask for."

The old Then a Miracle Occurred solution. Coupled with the "baby bear" solution (not too cold, not too hot, just right!). Not too little intervention, not too much, just right, and exactly right. Because they're peace loving people underneath it all, if only we had done it right.


Clovis wrote: "...to do just that in Iraq..."

There's a bit of difference between Iraq and the whole Middle East, and just dealing with tiny Iraq badly damaged us.


Clovis wrote: "Someone more cynic than myself could think..."

Indeed. And I'd imagine that cynic would therefore realize that most interventions will get sidetracked by all kinds of special interests and will be miserable failures.


Clovis wrote: "...selling Oil way cheaper..."

The ole "spend a couple trillion dollars on a war to save a few hundred billion here, a few hundred billion there on oil," analysis. Yup, I've heard that one frequently and it makes me chuckle every time.

Harry Eagar said...

'Because just a few years ago you had all the means and motives to do just that in Iraq - to make it into three more stable countries - and what did you choose?'

While I am not signing up with every one of your points, Clovis, I agree 100% on this one. Obama's greatest foreign policy error was to stick with the one-Iraq policy.

I of course wanted to go even further and by sponsoring a free and independent Great Kurdistan to break up Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, which would have been a big step toward remapping southwest Asia in a workable fashion.

People (Skipper has been scathing on this) said it couldn't be done, but we now have Iraq and Syria broken up and a good chance of Turkey next. How much better of it had been done by the parties concerned with our encouragement.

Blood would have spilled but it is spilling anyway.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] Pretty bad, actually. Knowing history is kind of a curse.

When another 100,000 die in Syria, we'll be up to the number killed by the French there in establishing their Mandate.


Yes, it is quite the curse when it so often involves spouting unsubstantiated galloping irrelevancies.


[Clovis:] The best specifics I can provide are like this and this.

They show that no, the US was not sitting idle before ISIS happened to be an international sensation.


Did you read your own links? (BTW, they are both essentially identical.)

Clearly stated: ISIS acquired the ammunition by plundering Iraqi stocks. That cannot possibly be characterized as active US policy. On the other hand, it is quite likely the outcome of the Obama administration's inaction.

The US did not do so alone, but with great help from its allies - Turkey, Qatar and the Saudis - as your own VP recognized in public.

Yet another swing and a miss. This may come as a shock to you, but we do not control our allies. That they supported various factions in Syria has nothing to do with us.

Sorry to break the news to you, but that ship has already sailed.

Bollocks. GDP no matter how fiddled, is a foolish measure of what constitutes the world's number one economy. In terms of GDP per capita, the US is roughly four times as productive as China. Average household income in the US is eight times that in China.

By focusing on GDP alone, all you are succeeding in doing is using it as a proxy for demonstrating that China is a large country with more than a billion people.

But we already knew that.

I don't think the ME troubles are a mass refutation of the doctrine of free will. They are instead a mass validation of the divide and rule doctrine. Their present borders were meticulously devised to make sure they would keep being just this messed up place they are. And it was done so by devious westerns indeed, who'd guess?

All that without a single mention of the Ottoman Empire.

I spent some time trying to find an attribution for Harry's assertion that the French Mandate killed 300,000. After 10 minutes, I gave up. In the process, though, there were maps showing what a hodge podge of populations the entire area was, and is. There was no possible border drawing that would have made sense of that.

Or have you already forgotten the Lebanese civil war?

South America's borders are pretty arbitrary where they aren't defined by geography. Yet South Americans seem to get by pretty well without chopping heads off, or blowing their own cities to smithereens.

Peaceful and stable countries would be able to deal better with their own Oil, and if we believe Skipper, that would be the end of the World as we know it.

You are already doing a perfectly fine job of making a hash of your own arguments — how about not attributing to me something I never said, or even suggested?

After decades of injecting money, guns and coercion at so many levels of those societies, is it too much to ask a bit of recognition of past mistakes? Heck, I'd be happy enough for recognition of *present* mistakes, for God's sake, so much of what you guys have been doing there in the last 10+ years has been such a disastrous mess.

Compared to what?

You, and Harry, and the rest of the left persist in arguing a null. It's easy to do, but like unicorns, does not have any intersection with reality.

[Peter:] Time and time again they begged us to let them leave the oil in the ground, but would we listen? …

+11

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] You might think that it would tax anyone to find a regime that did a worse job for the inhabitants than Mussolini had, but the US stepped up to the plate and knocked the ball out of the park with Idris.

Would it kill you to back up your assertions with substantiation? Or would that kill your assertions?

[Bret:] For example, if I look at various technological, cultural, and religious markers (for example, The Reformation), it looks to me like the Middle East is a few centuries behind Europe …

And going nowhere fast. What keeps getting left out is that Islam is the last totalitarian collectivist ideology, and is beating the same path as did communism/fascism. Unlike the Bible, the Quran and anything more than casual belief in it are antithetical to peaceful coexistence.

The Islamists aren’t looking to behead Westerners, take over Arab countries, and then extend their terror to Americans and our allies because we stumbled into Iraq or bombed Libya in the distant past. Nor is it about our supposed sins in Iran in the 1950s or any other oft-repeated tale of Islamic woe. Rather, it is a function of a basic conflict between Islamist belief and the West and those Muslims who prefer peace and coexistence to Sharia law and endless war.

[Clovis:]After he was gone? Well, Benghazification has been the order of the day.

You make two completely unwarranted assumptions. First, that he would have remained in power absent Western intervention. Second, that he was immortal.

I mean, those 100.000+ Iraqis who died since Operation Iraqi "Freedom", and the whole Sunni-Shia civil war we've been witnessing since then, was surely worth the vision of Saddam's neck in that rope, wasn't it? The previous stability under him was just sooo boring.

How many Iraqis and Iranians died during Saddam's rule? And unless you know something the rest of us don't, Saddam was not immortal. And, again there is something you know the rest of us don't, the 100,000+ Iraqis, who were almost exclusively killed by other Iraqis, were a tragedy waiting to happen, regardless of what the US did. Which Syria is busy proving to anyone willing to draw obvious conclusions.

[Clovis:] If we applied the same criteria in ME that we use today for intervention in Africa, for example, I would be happy enough. [By what I mean: we should stop genocides, but we should not be deciding who must be the next corrupt murderer-in-chief].

So you are saying we need to defeat ISIS, by whatever means necessary?

[Harry:] I of course wanted to go even further and by sponsoring a free and independent Great Kurdistan to break up Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, which would have been a big step toward remapping southwest Asia in a workable fashion.

Harry speaks, and, mirabile dictu, southwest Asia becomes "workable". Whatever the heck that means.

Unfortunately, you fail to consider, even for a second, that there might be, ummm, issues with your diktat.

Wholly unmentioned, for instance, are the consequences that might obtain from dismembering a member of NATO. I could go on, for hours, probably, but your utter failure to consider even the most glaringly obvious barriers to your "Greater Kurdistan" relegates it to the ash heap of empty statements.

Harry Eagar said...

'Yet South Americans seem to get by pretty well without chopping heads off, or blowing their own cities to smithereens.'

I think you need to study the history of South America.

'the consequences that might obtain from dismembering a member of NATO.'

We are about to see what those are, I think, maybe even twice if the Catalans really have the bit between their teeth.

(As I write this, NPR carries a report from a private group that tracks weapons which says ISIL has weapons from 20 countries, including even Iran.)

Apparently 300,000 is the lower bound estimate:

http://books.google.com/books?id=xlD0JS16w9oC&pg=PA41&lpg=PA41&dq=syria+%2B+french+mandate+%2B+300,000&source=bl&ots=GbCl7Hs0fu&sig=5P7I9hdbF3ddlDpybKFhuGy_9cU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XWg5VLSYCcTxoASDlIGwCg&ved=0CFYQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=syria%20%2B%20french%20mandate%20%2B%20300%2C000&f=false

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Ah, yes, because the average man in the street is so well-plugged into what's going on worldwide?
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Actually, they are nowadays indeed. Have you heard about that Facebook thing? You know, even the neanderthals at ISIS are fairly acquainted with it, I've heard they even post their beheadings in the internet with a large audience and success.

---
My guess is that the world will be majority Islam in your lifetime.
---
I can bet a beer, of the good ones, that you'll be wrong.

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The ole "spend a couple trillion dollars on a war to save a few hundred billion here, a few hundred billion there on oil," analysis. Yup, I've heard that one frequently and it makes me chuckle every time.
---
Two points. First, the initial projection for the Iraq war, done by people whose competence should put Obama's administration in a pedestal, was of $60 billions. Second, someone more cynical than myself would say the many hundreds of extra billions spent were not a bug, but a feature. The American taxpayers may not be better for it, but there are no few companies who much benefitted from that war and everything that comes with it. Why don't you chuckle on that, you paid for it after all.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,


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Clearly stated: ISIS acquired the ammunition by plundering Iraqi stocks. That cannot possibly be characterized as active US policy. On the other hand, it is quite likely the outcome of the Obama administration's inaction.
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Yes, the links mention that as probable sources. They don't prove it as the only sources for US ammo, though. And I have no reason to discard other possibilities.

---
Yet another swing and a miss. This may come as a shock to you, but we do not control our allies. That they supported various factions in Syria has nothing to do with us.
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You may not control them, but you do know what they are into, and can react accordingly. If you tell me all those weapons, money and jihad fighters end up there without a hint for the US Intel, then I'll be shocked.

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Bollocks. GDP no matter how fiddled, is a foolish measure of what constitutes the world's number one economy. In terms of GDP per capita, the US is roughly four times as productive as China.
---
So it is a foolish measure and you'll use it too? For GDP per capita is still about GDP, you know. And if that's your measure, than the US is not the number one for a long shot - you are a proud 10th place. Not bad, but you have nothing on Qatar... gee, they are not only the richest per capita, but now they even call the shots in the ME, like arming ISIS to behead Americans. Gosh, with China I was at least giving you some dignity in the competition.

---
South America's borders are pretty arbitrary where they aren't defined by geography. Yet South Americans seem to get by pretty well without chopping heads off, or blowing their own cities to smithereens.
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There weren't so many bloody wars, but almost all the ones that happened all about... borders. You know, someone could say that's so obvious a source of trouble that you wouldn't need to reply a dozen posts to explain it in a blog.

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[...] how about not attributing to me something I never said, or even suggested?
---
Sarcasm, Skipper, that was about sarcasm.


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Compared to what?
---
To the exact same "null" - not diong anything a tall - that you so much despise.

Clovis e Adri said...

Hey Skipper,

---
How many Iraqis and Iranians died during Saddam's rule?
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Should I make that accounting with or without the ones who died in the Iran-Iraq war? If "with", for how many of them the guys giving the guns and support to Saddam - hey, who would those ones be? - should take responsibility?

I know the answer: none of them, after all, us good good westerners can't be blamed.

[I truly men the "us" above, for Brazil was a considerable Iraq supplier in the 80's - I just don't shy away from accountability like my fellow drug dealers here]

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[On Gadhaffi and Saddam] First, that he would have remained in power absent Western intervention. Second, that he was immortal.
---
I propose you try that one in a court of law. "Yes, Your Honor, my client here did shot and kill the owner of the drug cartel to take his place, but you know what? The guy was not immortal, he would die one day and it would be just the same messed up mafia war killing innocents over the streets. It is not his fault!".

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So you are saying we need to defeat ISIS, by whatever means necessary?
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I am foremost saying you should not have armed it to being with. Nor tacitly complied with your friends doing it.

But after you did screw it up, yes, please, by all means make them settle down to their piece of the cake.

Harry Eagar said...

Maybe 'there weren't so many bloody wars,' but the ones they had were extremely bloody. The Gran Chaco War seems to hold a record, proportionally; and the death toll in the Mexican wars was enormous.

More recently, the US sponsored genocide in Guatemala is, proportionally, worse than anything in southwest Asia.

erp said...

Harry, refresh my mind. Did we wipe out the Guatemalan population for oil or because we wanted all their children to make the trek here on foot to get away from the criminal gangs at home? Other reasons?

Hey Skipper said...

[Hey Skipper:] Yet South Americans seem to get by pretty well without chopping heads off, or blowing their own cities to smithereens.'

[Harry:] I think you need to study the history of South America.


English grammar is a fascinating subject; you really should take the time to learn it. Pro-tip: "Seem" is present tense. "History of South America" is past tense.


[Harry:] When another 100,000 die in Syria, we'll be up to the number killed by the French there in establishing their Mandate.

Apparently, 300,000 is the lower estimate.

I'm calling shenanigans.

From your source, please provide the quote that says the French killed those people. Or, even better, list the various causes that led to the death toll.

Supersonic goal posts in 3, 2, 1 …

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] Yes, the links mention that as probable sources. They don't prove it as the only sources for US ammo, though. And I have no reason to discard other possibilities.

Way more than just probable. And if you have no reason to discard other possibilities, then surely you must also include the Koch brothers, space aliens, and sparkly pastel unicorns gone rogue.

You may not control them, but you do know what they are into, and can react accordingly. If you tell me all those weapons, money and jihad fighters end up there without a hint for the US Intel, then I'll be shocked.

But that isn't your charge. What we know about, and what we can do about what we know are wildly different: the only way the two join is through omnipotence. Our inability to stop allies doing things does not implicate us in those things.

So it is a foolish measure and you'll use it too? For GDP per capita is still about GDP, you know.

Yes, but GDP per capita gives a far better idea of how productive the economy is. The US manages the same output with one quarter the people. You are relying upon a number that is, to an overwhelming extent, an artifact of population size. If you want to say China is the number one country in population, then go straight there instead of relying upon proxies.

And if that's your measure, than the US is not the number one for a long shot - you are a proud 10th place. Not bad, but you have nothing on Qatar... gee, they are not only the richest per capita, but now they even call the shots in the ME, like arming ISIS to behead Americans.

So let me get this straight, the US finishes behind extraction economies, therefore … well, what, exactly?

As for the rest of your comment, it was an even greater waste of pixels.

There weren't so many bloody wars, but almost all the ones that happened all about... borders. You know, someone could say that's so obvious a source of trouble that you wouldn't need to reply a dozen posts to explain it in a blog.

As I mentioned above to Harry, tense is a meaningful part of English grammar. South America, despite having arbitrary borders, isn't having any bloody conflicts over borders. And over the hundred years, I'll bet fewer lives have been lost in all the SA border conflicts than in one day of the Syrian civil war.

If "with", for how many of them the guys giving the guns and support to Saddam - hey, who would those ones be? - should take responsibility?

Why were we giving weapons to the Iraqis?

You and Harry seem fond of uncaused effects.

I am foremost saying you should not have armed it to being with. Nor tacitly complied with your friends doing it.

Bollocks — we did not arm ISIS, we did not provide ISIS with any support, and knowing that other actors are doing something is leagues away from being able to stop them doing it.

[Harry:] More recently, the US sponsored genocide in Guatemala is, proportionally, worse than anything in southwest Asia.

Attribution, please. It is annoying having to take time to source your pronunciamentos, which I have to do because, more often than not, they end up not withstanding scrutiny.

Peter said...

Harry's and Clovis's criticsms of U.S. policies are typical of a logical inconsistency that is common today, and also of a revealing paternalism respecting Iraqis. Recall how opposition to the war was grounded initially in fears of quaqmires and other military disasters. It would be Vietnam all over again, with the mighty U.S. military outmatched by patriotic peasants doing clever things with scrap metal. Then, once the war was won with lightning speed, criticisms shifted to second guessing endless numbers of actions and inactions from the perspective of American omnipotence. ISIL's looting of Iraqi arms becomes an intel failure for Clovis, who may have been reading too many airport thrillers. Why didn't the U.S. just zap them with something? Harry wonders why the U.S. didn't just re-draw boundaries like 19th century European imperialists and create new countries ("Suck it up, Turkey!"). I wonder whether he thinks the main failure of American policy in postwar Europe was that they didn't reconstitute the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Clovis's argument that Iraqi deaths (inflicted mostly by Iraqis)imply that leaving Hussein in power would have been preferable is one heard surprisingly frequently on the left today. Leaving aside the underlying amorality and implication of perfect prescience, it suggests to me that, for all the hand-wringing about civilian casualties, they don't see Iraqis as much more than dumb animals. It is almost incontrovertable that, if the Allies had done a deal with the Nazis mid-war, millions of lives, including Jewish lives, would have been saved, as might have been Eastern Europe. Yet the only people who argue we should have done that are reactionaries on the fringe. Perhaps it is because we have enough respect for the Europeans to know that they don't just measure such things by counting bodies.

Serious criticism of the Iraq mess should be grounded in political realism and a drawing of lines in the sand that define the national/Western/global interest more clearly. But that would imply allowing others to fill the consequent power vacuums and becoming tone deaf to human rights outrages. Also, I think the U.S. and the West has a very hard time today separating war from nation-building and understanding that, as in gift shops, if you break it, it's yours, at least in this part of the world. The reasons for this have as more to do with American & Western domestic politics than with Middle Eastern entitlements and expectations. However, trying to rewind the tape of history and argue what might have been is little more than a parlour game.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
And if you have no reason to discard other possibilities, then surely you must also include the Koch brothers, space aliens, and sparkly pastel unicorns gone rogue.
---
Well, I've not discarded them either :-)

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Our inability to stop allies doing things does not implicate us in those things.
---
Right. But one wonders about how selectively you like to portray the American power.

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South America, despite having arbitrary borders, isn't having any bloody conflicts over borders. And over the hundred years, I'll bet fewer lives have been lost in all the SA border conflicts than in one day of the Syrian civil war.
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I had higher hope you'd be better informed, Skipper.

I gave a pass for Harry above, who cited only wars of North or Central America when the topic was South America. But I can't extend that to you.

Take one war only, the Paraguayan war (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay, in 1864). It was much about borders. Better yet, it was really *only* about borders. Number of dead? Near 400.000. Paraguay lost 300.000 of that alone. (To this day, they try to extract concessions from us arguing we'd have practiced a genocide on them).


---
Why were we giving weapons to the Iraqis?
---
Because you have an addiction to betting on the wrong horse?

---
we did not arm ISIS, we did not provide ISIS with any support [...]
---
You can't actually prove that, can you?

Harry Eagar said...

Oh, I think we have got being tone-deaf to human rights outrages down pat.

Of course, anybody who thinks that routing a restive, conscript army was equivalent to winning a war will have a different impression of the situation than someone (like me) trained up in the Army doctrine of success as imposing your will on the enemy.



Harry Eagar said...

'As I mentioned above to Harry, tense is a meaningful part of English grammar. South America, despite having arbitrary borders, isn't having any bloody conflicts over borders.'

Oh, I understand English tenses OK. I also know history and am not so foolish as to imagine that Oct, 12, 2014 represents it.

The reason S. America is not fighting wars over arbitrary borders today is that it did that yesterday. Bolivia no longer has a seacoast.

And Skipper is way off base in thinking that it was all more than a century in the past. Perhaps the bloodiest war of modern times was the Gran Chaco War which -- surprise! -- made a big alteration in national boundaries in S. America.

History really is interesting stuff.

I seem to recall a war even more recently among those paragons the westerners that had dramatic effects on borders. But since then, very little combat amongst them. So those are two regional examples why I think a wholesale revision of borders in agreement with national principals would lead to long-term increases in order and stability in southwest Asia.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

---
ISIL's looting of Iraqi arms becomes an intel failure for Clovis, who may have been reading too many airport thrillers. Why didn't the U.S. just zap them with something?
---
LOL.

I recognize I may be asking too much causal responsibility for the US here, but as youself claimed, "if you break it, it's yours", so I am directly complaining to the owner.

---
Leaving aside the underlying amorality and implication of perfect prescience, it suggests to me that, for all the hand-wringing about civilian casualties, they don't see Iraqis as much more than dumb animals.
---
I'd reverse the argument and say you look to think just that about Iraqis.

I am defending that a country's issues should, as far as possible, be let to their own citizens. I am assuming they are adults and responsible for whatever internal mess they are into. But if you think they are indeed dumb animals, you better go there and open the barn for those poor little puppies.

And your comparison to Nazi Germany is ludicrous. No one entered in WWII to save the Jews, what books have you been reading? Had Germany decided to exterminate all Jews within Germany, but never bothered to invade Europe all over, no one would have moved a finger to save them from the concentration camps. [But if you cared to read what I've written above, genocides are the main exception I've marked in the sand for my "don't interfere" rule.]

---
However, trying to rewind the tape of history and argue what might have been is little more than a parlour game.
---
I was calling our guys here to own up the mess our societies helped to sow, not to take a time machine.

But I realize I've been forcing my hand here. Giving so much emphasis to outsiders, I may give you the impression I don't take the insiders to the task. But I do: I agree most problems they have are more their fault than anyone else.

But where we differ, underneath this whole discussion, is on how we treat human falibility. Our conservatives friends here, just like with welfare matters, tend to stress the point that, whatever mess you are into, it is mostly your problem - and don't bring them to me. So it does not matter if your problem is to be poor due to the troubles life gave you, stand up and get out of here! Or, it does not matter if you are in a big civil war mess after I invaded your country, killed your leadership and dismantled your state. Don't be such a crying barbaric baby, grow up and put yourself together!

Those positions are too easy to hold when you are not in their shoes. In fact, to be honest, were you in their shoes chances are high you'd not deal much better with those troubles. But we like to portray ourselves as so stoic and strong willed that any weakness is for the others, right?

But when similar troubles happened to the forefathers of many here, what did they do? Bret's family run away from the mess they were into, if I recall correctly, for example. Can all Iraqis just take their bags and run away too? If they can't, and they need to deal with so much trouble they already have, is it too much to ask for you not to needlessly kick their doors with bombs and destroy all the place to finish exactly the people keeping the little order they had?

Peter said...

I was calling our guys here to own up the mess our societies helped to sow...

OK, how about "We are sorry for failing to realize that the brutal totalitarianisms we tried to overthrow in Afghanistan and Iraq are the only things that keep these people from dissolving into bloody sectarian, regional or tribal slaughter."





Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Our conservatives friends here, just like with welfare matters, tend to stress the point that, whatever mess you are into, it is mostly your problem

No. You still utterly fail to understand my, and I think conservative / libertarian's, viewpoint.

It's ironic because your argument here is very close to the standard libertarian one - that as bad as the situation was, intervention made it worse. How you see this is how I see the welfare state.

Clovis e Adri said...

Thanks, Peter, you've made my day.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

I think I am being coherent. I 've defended intervention in case of disasters (genocides), right?

I am analogously defending intervention in case of humanitarian disasters, like people living in nasty favelas and in famine. Thy are not in famine now, but many were before the social program started 12 years ago.

Harry Eagar said...

'How you see this is how I see the welfare state'

Exactly. Intervene to help the poor people and all you do is release their inner savagery.

That is exactly how I see the antagonism to rha;itarianism.

Very revealing statement.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Mr Eagar;

Intervene to help the poor people and all you do is release their inner savagery

No. As usual, you didn't pay any attention to what I wrote.

Although I deeply appreciate the term "rha-itarianism". It so perfectly describes the world view of the MAL, phonetically and symbolically.

Clovis;

No, because there are disasters and there are chronic problems. You say the West should have taken far more care about the unintended consequence of intervention, yet to seem to blithely dismiss doing so in the other case.

It might also be the case that were the welfare state limited to only preventing starvation I might well not object. But what if, as a hypothetical, such aid increased the amount of starvation in the future, by stifling what food production was extant (by bankrupting the food producers as the competed with free food)?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Here is an article about foreign aid to Africa making things worse. Presuming this was accurate, what do you think the correct policy would be?

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
Although I deeply appreciate the term "rha-itarianism". It so perfectly describes the world view of the MAL, phonetically and symbolically.
---
It must be a language thing beyond my English skills, I did not get it at all.

---
No, because there are disasters and there are chronic problems.
---
Also there are chronic problems that are disastrous.

---
You say the West should have taken far more care about the unintended consequence of intervention, yet to seem to blithely dismiss doing so in the other case.
---
Blithely dismiss? What about some quotes here?

---
It might also be the case that were the welfare state limited to only preventing starvation I might well not object.
---
Wow. I will mark that as the greatest concession I've ever seen from you in our discussions. I think I'll even get a beer to celebrate.

---
But what if, as a hypothetical, such aid increased the amount of starvation in the future, by stifling what food production was extant (by bankrupting the food producers as the competed with free food)? [...] what do you think the correct policy would be?
---
By which you have Africa in mind, as in the link you followed with.

It is a bit ironic your mention of Africa, because that's an example much related to spontaneous private donations - in good Libertarian fashion - as opposed to a State financed (and devised) welfare system.

Within a country, I hope you realize that your example makes no sense - either the govt. buys food to give it to people (a bad model, IMO) or gives money for people to buy their food, but in both cases the food producers are selling it anyway, so welfare can not possibly impact them.

Of course, the internal analogy to your example would be that, if people are getting their income from govt., they may well give up on working. But the answer is easy: you choose your level of welfare to explicitly minimize that collateral damage. Down here, research shows that nearly 75% of what people get from their allowances (the "programa bolsa familia", or "family allowance program" in loose translation) is directly spent on food, so I'd say that's pretty close your surprising concession above on "the welfare state limited to only preventing starvation".


As for Africa, I believe we should take the information you linked seriously. Which means the legions of private donors around the world, and the many NGOs channeling their contributions, should rethink their strategies. As far as I know, that's already happening.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "Actually, they are nowadays indeed [well-plugged in]. Have you heard about that Facebook thing? You know, even the neanderthals at ISIS are fairly acquainted with it."

Uh huh. And you consider being able to use Facebook sufficient (or even necessary) to be considered well-plugged in? I guess that makes teenage girls the most well-plugged in people on the planet. And note that my implication was that plugged in meant knowledgeable enough to be competent at running things. I'm not convinced (that's an understatement) that using social media means well-plugged in in any meaningful way.

Clovis wrote: "Why don't you chuckle on that, you paid for it after all."

I am. It's fun watching you tie yourself in knots.

Harry Eagar said...

rha;itarianism was supposed to be egalitarianism. That's what I get for typing in the dark.

Bret said...

"if you break it, it's yours"

Really? Is that even legally true? It's certainly not enforced in any shop I've ever been in.

In fact I've had the opposite happen to me numerous times. Recently for example, I picked up a dozen eggs, made sure they were okay, put them in my cart, and when I got to the checkout, one of them was broken - clearly my fault. I told the checkout dude that it was my problem (since somehow I caused its breakage) but he said, "no, no, no, we'll get you an intact dozen" and he was quite insistent.

Ultimately, "you break it, it's yours" is only useful if the breaker is willing to pay and/or the shopkeeper can force him to do so at reasonable cost. My vote for the United States is to let the shopkeepers (the inmates?) of faraway lands clean up the shop (asylum?).

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "I hope you realize that your example makes no sense - either the govt. buys food to give it to people (a bad model, IMO) or gives money for people to buy their food, but in both cases the food producers are selling it anyway..."

You've left out another and quite common third possibility: aid comes as shipments of food from a foreign source. The United States almost always has a substantial food surplus and would often send it abroad to where people were hungry.

In any case, I think that you might want to consider thinking through your analysis again. An influx of free food (or government bought food that's free to consumers) from any source will lower the market price of food which will lower the price that local farmers can charge which will reduce their future output. In other words, increase supply, price goes down, that's pretty fundamental with very few exceptions.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

You didn't answer what your policy would be, if those criticisms were accurate. Just to show that they may not be all that hypothetical, here's a critique from the MAL and one from the libertarians.

As for the welfare state, certainly the one here is far beyond preventing starvation (when the First Lady is campaigning against childhood obesity in those populations, you've got yourself the spectacle of the government paying for food the kids shouldn't eat so much of).

The problem is history shows such a system is rarely stable. There is too much short term electoral advantage in upping the payments in exchange for votes. The Democratic Party here is very open about it - listen to their advertisements, they consist mostly of two themes - Republicans are evil theocrats who will lock you up for not wearing a burqua, and we, the Democratic Party, will give you lots of stuff (say, contraceptives). As has been said, democracy collapses when the population decides it can vote it self bread and circuses.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

A couple of links on my last paragraph - one about Brazil and another more general one.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] Oh, I understand English tenses OK. I also know history and am not so foolish as to imagine that Oct, 12, 2014 represents it.

And Skipper is way off base in thinking that it was all more than a century in the past. Perhaps the bloodiest war of modern times was the Gran Chaco War which -- surprise! -- made a big alteration in national boundaries in S. America.


Only the most tendentious reading possible would derive Oct 12th, at the very instant I posted my comment, as what I meant.

By "yesterday" you really meant to say something earlier than the Oct 11th, or the 21st century, or the fall of communism, or 1970's fashions, or the moon landings, or The Beatles, or my entire lifetime, or even WWII; indeed, what you mean by "yesterday" happened before almost everyone alive today was born.

The Gran Chaco war happened in 1935; most of casualties were from malaria.

So when I say that South Americans seem to get by pretty well without chopping heads off or blowing their own cities to smithereens that is true in the present, in the recent past, and over a past sufficiently extensive that hardly anyone has ever heard of that war.

Knowledge of history is a curse when the primary consequence is to trot out irrelevant details, or fatuous assertions.

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] Take one war only, the Paraguayan war …

Ummm … errr … perhaps my comment should not have been quite so sweeping.

[Hey Skipper:] Why were we giving weapons to the Iraqis?
---
[Clovis:] Because you have an addiction to betting on the wrong horse?


How about taking another guess.

I think I am being coherent. I 've defended intervention in case of disasters (genocides), right?

But that position has no basis in the amoral reality that is international relations. If it wasn't in the US's national security interests to be in the Middle East, we wouldn't be, no matter how many hecatombs, anymore than we intervened in Rwanda or Sri Lanka. Moreover, unless there is already some sort of presence in place, the kind of intervention required to stop a genocide is, logistically speaking, extremely difficult.

However, let's follow your reasoning to see where it leads. Syria has proven, as if there really was any doubt, that genocide is already baked into the entire area. Presumably you are basing your argument for intervention in the event of genocide on moral grounds. Clearly then, interventions taken to prevent a foreseeable genocide must be even more justifiable than those in the actual event.

Finally, you are putting a particular moral obligation on Americans. The US is the only country in the world with the power projection assets to do any of this in any more than derisory amounts. Why should Americans pay for these sorts interventions, both financially and physically, when the US otherwise has no interests?

Compare and contrast with our actions in the former Yugoslavia. Unlike Harry, whose historical expertise somehow manages to miss the fact that national borders almost never change without accompanying hecatombs, it was in the US's national security interests to maintain existing borders and minimize refugee flows, either of which could have had serious consequences for Europe and, by reason of economics alone, the US.

[AOG:] It might also be the case that were the welfare state limited to only preventing starvation I might well not object.

Unfortunately, no one in the US — you included — or any economically advanced country, is willing to live with the results.

That's not to say that our welfare policies haven't frequently victimized those who they were ostensibly designed to help. But save for the mentally ill, we are saved having to face destitution.

[Bret:] I guess that makes teenage girls the most well-plugged in people on the planet.

Thankfully, I had just swallowed my coffee before I got to that.

Harry Eagar said...

'It's certainly not enforced in any shop I've ever been in.'

Very common sign in antique and china shops. I don't know the legality of it.

Harry Eagar said...

I agree that hardly anybody has heard of that war. I fail to see that dying from malaria makes it not count. Most deaths in most wars have been from disease.

Harry Eagar said...

'seem to get by pretty well without chopping heads off'

I chose the Chaco war because you specified a century, and it happened much less than a century ago and was perhaps the most lethal war of modern times. This is true whether you like it or not.

As for not chopping off heads, the style there is to disappear people. And we can come forward much later than the Chaco war to find them blowing up their cities, if you care to read the news.

Hey Skipper said...

I chose the Chaco war because you specified a century, and it happened much less than a century ago and was perhaps the most lethal war of modern times.

You are right, 79 years is much less than a century. My mistake.

Congratulations are still due, you, though, for epic point-missing and tendentious obfuscation.

The reference was to conflicts over borders. South America hasn't had any for quite some time.

"Disappearing" people was a consequence of murderous collectivism, so, granted, that's like ISIS.

And I'm sure with your sweeping, encyclopedic knowledge of history, you can list the South American cities that have seen anything like the blowing up of oh, say, Beirut.

Oh, and thanks for reminding me no one ever dies of malaria outside of war.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Skipper;

Unfortunately, no one in the US — you included — or any economically advanced country, is willing to live with the results.

I remain unconvinced those results would be worse than what we have now and many (most?) people live quite well with such.

Harry Eagar said...

'"Disappearing" people was a consequence of murderous collectivism'

Yeah, the collectivists forced the rightwingers to do it.

I would not say there hasn't been bordercrossing violence recently; there is a kind of quasiwar on between Colombia and Venezuela. Raising our sights a little, there was that invasion by El Salvador (our allies, yay us!).

I suppose the reason ISIL doesn't throw teenage girls out of helicopters is that they didn't manage to steal any helicopters from the Iraq government. But once they do, watch out below!

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
You didn't answer what your policy would be, if those criticisms were accurate.
---
Indeed. The reason being I don't feel qualified to give a meaningful answer. Sorry for my lack of omniscience.

---
[On welfare systems] The problem is history shows such a system is rarely stable. There is too much short term electoral advantage in upping the payments in exchange for votes.
---
Doesn't look like an unstable system to me.

---
A couple of links on my last paragraph - one about Brazil and another more general one.
---
And this time I know where you've found your links. I suggest you read the comments up there.

---
The Democratic Party here is very open about it - listen to their advertisements, they consist mostly of two themes - Republicans are evil theocrats who will lock you up for not wearing a burqua, and we, the Democratic Party, will give you lots of stuff (say, contraceptives).
---
I don't aspire to say I understand your fellow citizens better than you, but I must say that's quite not the impression I have from them.

Their prejudice against religion is a cultural clash far removed from our welfare discussion, and the contraceptive thing has a lot more to do with showing up their position "in your face" (still the cultural war) than with saving money on some cheap pills.

Still, I may be wrong, I don't live in your country after all.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
So when I say that South Americans seem to get by pretty well without chopping heads off [...]
---
And that's another thing where you "should not have been quite so sweeping".

You compare a recently populated region, where the culture (after the indigineous people were wiped out) is reasonably homogeneous, with one where a mix of different races, culture, religion and external border fiddling made the perfect storm.

And the little thing SA has in common with the ME - a few arbitrary borders - proved enough to give us a few bloody wars too. So if anything, your mention of South America only helps my point.

---
[On supporting Iraq in the 80's] How about taking another guess.
---
OK. Hmm... your military industrial complex foresaw that was the perfect guarantee for great contracts for the next 30 years?


---
Clearly then, interventions taken to prevent a foreseeable genocide must be even more justifiable than those in the actual event.
---
Surely not. Contrary to you, I don't claim to have a spacetime travelling machine.


---
Why should Americans pay for these sorts interventions, both financially and physically, when the US otherwise has no interests?
---
They shouldn't, if they don't want to. My moral guideline for intervention were an answer for another moral guideline for intervention ("Hey, if they are ruled by a brutal murderer-dicator, we should free them and install democracy!").

If you want no moral involved, I will just settle with the "don't intervene, ever, unless that's a direct threat to you". And by driect threat to you, I really do mean one with the standard causality relation we observe in nature, Skipper, so please spare me from another discourse like "Hey, we might need to invade them in future if awful things happen, so let'us invade them now!".

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Ultimately, "you break it, it's yours" is only useful if the breaker is willing to pay and/or the shopkeeper can force him to do so at reasonable cost. My vote for the United States is to let the shopkeepers (the inmates?) of faraway lands clean up the shop (asylum?).
---
Where is Skipper when we do need him?

For he should remember you, Bret, that the same interests that led to Iraqi invasion also lead to pretty high costs for the breaker if things there go still more South.

---
I guess that makes teenage girls the most well-plugged in people on the planet. And note that my implication was that plugged in meant knowledgeable enough to be competent at running things.
---
Well, I do think teenage grils are pretty well-plugged in many senses. And I don't think your implication above was obvious at all.

---
You've left out another and quite common third possibility: aid comes as shipments of food from a foreign source.
---
I didn't, my comments made clear I find it credible to be the case in Africa. But since AOG introduced that when I was talking about welfare in relatively modern form (and societies), that's changing subjects. Welfare is, by definition, a within-society thing, so I don't understand why you are mixing up both subjects here.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Doesn't look like an unstable system to me.

Your data is too narrow. When I say "welfare state" I mean all transfer payments, as that is the standard meaning of that phrase. The federal budget continue to grow and almost all of that growth is in such payments (defense and discretionary spending are shrinking or stable).

the contraceptive thing has a lot more to do with showing up their position "in your face"

I think that's a major movivation for the activists, but they sell it to the American Street as a freebie. That is why I specifically used the term "advertistments", not "motivations".

by driect threat to you, I really do mean one with the standard causality relation

Does that include sponsoring terrorism against one's nation, ciAtizens, and/or allies? Iraq was doing that.

As for welfare vs. foreign aid, I think people are people and the basic mechanisms of society are consistent, and therefore the underlying causes of failure in one are the same as the other. Again, it ends up at "what if aid for problem X makes problem X worse through unintended consequences?". You asked earlier for a quote of you blithely dismissing this concern - well, there you go again :-).

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
Your data is too narrow. When I say "welfare state" I mean all transfer payments [...]
---
Actually, as far as I can tell by looking around, those graphs are very near what you get if all transfers are accounted for.

I went for the kind of piece that would most probably represent your views, and the graphs there (in GDP) are very alike. See his Fig 5.

He surely shares your opinion of an unbounded system, but I don't think the data agrees with that.

---
Does that include sponsoring terrorism against one's nation, ciAtizens, and/or allies? Iraq was doing that.
---
You mean, like supporting al Qaeda?

---
As for welfare vs. foreign aid, I think people are people and the basic mechanisms of society are consistent, and therefore the underlying causes of failure in one are the same as the other.
---
I think that conflating both is misleading. What they share that you look to be pointing out - possibility of perverse incentives - is a smal thing compared to much they don't share.

And at what they share, I think I argued effectively that you can and should minimize those perverse incentives. You look to be skeptical about that possibility, arguing this is a slippery slope, but it does not follow recent (last few decades) evidence, when many countries made cuts to their social programs benefits for example.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

I went for the kind of piece that would most probably represent your views, and the graphs there (in GDP) are very alike. See his Fig 5.

I disagree. Your original graph showed a strong decrease at the right edge, these don't. That along is quite different. There is also a much clearer long term upward trend in the CATO data.

You mean, like supporting al Qaeda?

I mean "sponsoring terrorism against one's nation, citizens, and/or allies?", exactly as I wrote. But your question shows your ulterior motive of trying to disagree with me, rather than address my question.

I think that conflating both is misleading

I don't. I think the underlying mechanism, a variant of Gresham's Law, is a strong unifying factor. Bad activity (government spending) drives out the good activity (real, that is private sector, economic activity). Whether it's farmers or people working other jobs, the song remains the same.

I think the evidence of the last few decades supports my point of a slippery slope. Look at your most recent cite for one example. You also need to be aware that most of the time "cuts" means "not increasing as fast as it has in the past". That's certainly the case here in the USA and frequently elsewhere as well. The few cases where there are real cuts are generally because the OPM has run out, which again is in line with my view, that such spending increases until that point.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] Yeah, the collectivists forced the rightwingers to do it.

History is often quite interesting. Give it a try sometime.

Almost as interesting as your continuous eliding of collectivist atrocities.

And your unattributed pronunciamentos.

[Clovis:] You compare a recently populated region, where the culture (after the indigeneous people were wiped out) is reasonably homogeneous, with one where a mix of different races, culture, religion and external border fiddling made the perfect storm.

The point is that arbitrary boundaries do not guarantee conflict: most are arbitrary to one degree or another, and the vast majority of them aren't sources of conflict. Harry's blithe pronunciamento about arbitrarily redrawing arbitrary boundaries overlooks how intermingled religions, languages, and, to a lesser extent, races are in the region. One of the reasons that wars have become so much less common over the last 25 or so years is because countries have almost universally accepted national boundaries as sacrosanct.

As with all international problems worthy of the term, the current schlamozzle with ISIS, and the Kurds, and Turkey, and Syria, and minority sects, and the Shia, and Sunnis, and Persians and Arabs has no good options. At any moment the choice is between the least worst.

It is safe to say, though, that Obama in designedly failing to reach a SOFA with the Iraqi government, managed to choose the worst worst.

[Hey Skipper:] [On supporting Iraq in the 80's] How about taking another guess.
---
[Clovis:] OK. Hmm... your military industrial complex foresaw that was the perfect guarantee for great contracts for the next 30 years?


Thanks for relieving me of the bother of taking you seriously.

Surely not. Contrary to you, I don't claim to have a spacetime travelling machine.

Which makes your putative policy incoherent. When would you have intervened in Rwanda?

If you want no moral involved, I will just settle with the "don't intervene, ever, unless that's a direct threat to you". And by direct threat to you, I really do mean one with the standard causality relation we observe in nature …

That is meaningless. An essential part of national security strategy is preventing affairs from ever reaching the point of a "direct threat". Aside from leaving a gaping hole where a definition would be, you would allow death by a thousand cuts.

Would a month long closure of the Straits of Hormuz constitute a direct threat to the US?

[Bret:] Ultimately, "you break it, it's yours" is only useful …

"You break it, it's yours" is merely an empty collection of words that progressives use instead of thought.

Peter said...

[On supporting Iraq in the 80's]

Well, Clovis, the first response might be "So bloody what?", but no need. You have succumbed to an urban myth beloved by the left and now so widely belived that it has become holy writ. The Swedish Institute for Peace and Security, hardly a rabid American booster, did a comprehensive study of where Hussein got his arms from the late seventies to the first Gulf War. 1% came from the U.S. and the U.K. 87% came from Russia, China and France. But don't let that spoil the good time you are having plucking the eagle's feathers.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
I disagree. Your original graph showed a strong decrease at the right edge, these don't.
---
And that says something about the CATO institute, doesn't it?

My first link original one showed the graph up until today, while CATO's fig 5 plotted it only up to 2003.

Interestingly, the CATO piece has other graphs plotted until 2011 (the piece is from 2012), but that particular per GDP chart ranged only up to 2003. Had it gone to other years, it would show the recent downward trend of the first one. One wonders why the author neglected that.

You can see what it looks like in the fifth graph appearing in this piece. I find this analysis far better than CATO's, even though it also paints a somber future. It does so with a bit less disingenuity though.

---
I mean "sponsoring terrorism against one's nation, citizens, and/or allies?", exactly as I wrote. But your question shows your ulterior motive of trying to disagree with me, rather than address my question.
---
You mean, if I ask for examples of a too general argument you write, it means I am discussing in bad faith? Or that I am not addressing your question? Go figure.


---
I don't. I think the underlying mechanism, a variant of Gresham's Law, is a strong unifying factor. Bad activity (government spending) drives out the good activity (real, that is private sector, economic activity).
---
AFAIK, that is usually treated in the economics literature in terms of govt spending "crowding out" the private sector. There are many discussions on when and how it happens, and it is not such a one-to-one correspondence you look to imply.

I have the feeling that most of our discussions here start with you taking a simple relationship and generalizing it to where it is no longer valid. Bret likes to do that too. You guys think that's "wisdom and experience", I give it another name.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

---
The Swedish Institute for Peace and Security, hardly a rabid American booster, did a comprehensive study of where Hussein got his arms from the late seventies to the first Gulf War. 1% came from the U.S. and the U.K. 87% came from Russia, China and France.
---
A very good point, Peter. Yet, you won't see up above any writing of mine specifically accusing the USA of directly arming Iraq in the 80's. Scroll up and see for yourself. Why to give arms if you can give money, contacts and influence?

So I certainly accused it of giving support in general, and that it did. In many ways. Some people could say that those good, good westerners behaved in hipocritical ways too.

And since you gave no link to the Swedies, I think they hardly could have done a better job than the RAND Institute at this matter. Brazil is listed there a few times too.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

I looked at your latest link and its graph, and it looks more like the CATO graph than your original one. Again, the original had a dramatic drop off, neither the CATO nor th 538 one does. I think it says something about your original cite.

As for your other question, yes, I would consider supporting Al Qaeda as sponsoring terrorism against the USA.

you taking a simple relationship and generalizing it to where it is no longer valid

How does generalizing make it invalid? I thought that was what physicists did to create a new theory. Are those invalid too?

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
[Clovis:] OK. Hmm... your military industrial complex foresaw that was the perfect guarantee for great contracts for the next 30 years?
Thanks for relieving me of the bother of taking you seriously.
---
I see. If I were a five-star general and Supreme Commander of US Forces, would you take me more seriously?

---
When would you have intervened in Rwanda?
---
When the UN forces there stationed made me a call asking what to do. I would answer "Help comes on wings", instead of "Get the hell outta there!".

Too naive? Maybe, but you asked, I am answering.

---
That is meaningless. An essential part of national security strategy is preventing affairs from ever reaching the point of a "direct threat". Aside from leaving a gaping hole where a definition would be, you would allow death by a thousand cuts.
---
For the record, I don't know what you are talking about here. Can you provide specific examples of where and how my strategy would be troublesome?

---
Would a month long closure of the Straits of Hormuz constitute a direct threat to the US?
---
Today, yes. Not necessarily in future, with possible development of other pipelines. Yet you are sure you could foresee that such a closure would be catastrophic in a far in future new Iran-Iraq war, and that alone was good enough reason for an invasion. Or something like that. I don't know anymore, this "back to the future" machine makes me dizzy.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

This one is part of the soundtrack I am making to be part of your album, "Songs of the future past".

Enjoy!
(I really like this one, I've found the guy recently).

Harry Eagar said...

You have a funny way of looking at it, Skipper. I say violence was rampant in S America and you say no. You say beheadings are especially reprehensible and I say no more than style differences between regions. I note that rightwingers doted on disappearances. And somehow you object that I have not sufficiently condemned left violence.

I am the one who says there was violence and you are the one who said there wasn't. Please keep that straight.

Hey Skipper said...

You have a funny way of looking at it, Skipper. I say violence was rampant in S America and you say no. You say beheadings are especially reprehensible and I say no more than style differences between regions.

Harry, I've asked before, and I'll ask again. Please do NOT tell me what I've said without quoting directly. You would also do well to do the same with yourself.

I know you can't do so, because you never said "violence was rampant in SA", so I couldn't possibly have responded to what you didn't say.

Same for right and left wing violence. Quote what I actually said -- "elide" is a great word, BTW. Its meaning seems to have eluded you.

I don't know what it is about Progressives. When I dove into that fever swamp at Crooked Timber, commenters there never quoted me, but instead told me what I had said.

They invariably got it wildly wrong. Which made me wonder about their reading skills, intellectual acuity, or honesty.

I have never known conservatives or libertarians to do that.



Hey Skipper said...

When the UN forces there stationed made me a call asking what to do. I would answer "Help comes on wings", instead of "Get the hell outta there!".

Too naive? Maybe, but you asked, I am answering.


That is where your "policy" becomes incoherent.

A "genocide" is like a drought. The assessment is invariably past tense. You wouldn't intervene until the genocide has already happened, which means the intervention would happen long after it would have been most useful.

For the record, I don't know what you are talking about here. Can you provide specific examples of where and how my strategy would be troublesome?

Easy. We didn't intervene against Al Queda — despite several acts of war — until after the direct threat became reality.

China is being very provocative in the Western Pacific and China Sea. None of those provocations present a direct threat to the US. You would have the US do nothing until China is presenting a direct threat, which means China is in a stronger position, and the US position is weaker.

You take no account of how US allies — who are always acting amorally — would react to a situation where the US won't exert its strength compared to another country that will.

[Hey Skipper:] Would a month long closure of the Straits of Hormuz constitute a direct threat to the US?
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[Clovis:] Today, yes. Not necessarily in future, with possible development of other pipelines.


Our actions in the region must be viewed first and foremost, perhaps even exclusively, in ensuring the free access of Persian Gulf oil to world markets. Remember: US national security strategy is amoral. If a closure of the Straits of Hormuz was to result only in a humanitarian disaster in energy or economically poor countries, we wouldn't be lifting a finger.

But such an occurrence would have, in addition to the humanitarian aspects, a drastic effect on our economy.

Hypothetical: graphene leads to economical fuel cells using natural gas as feedstock. As a consequence, all surface transportation achieves more than three times current thermodynamic efficiency.

We will no longer give a damn about the Persian Gulf, no matter how much of a dystopia the place turns into when the market price of oil drops to $10 a barrel.

But a hypothetical then is not now, or the past.

[Clovis:] OK. Hmm... your military industrial complex foresaw that was the perfect guarantee for great contracts for the next 30 years?

[Hey Skipper:] Thanks for relieving me of the bother of taking you seriously.


Why I'm not taking you seriously is that you haven't spent one syllable analyzing the situation in the Persian Gulf at the time. If you had, you might have demonstrated to yourself what a nasty business international relations invariably is.

(BTW — great song, thanks for the link.)

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

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A "genocide" is like a drought. The assessment is invariably past tense.
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Not really, and not always. Rwanda is a case where bells were ringing loud and clear about what was to happen.

And look how you are playing it: you believe to be omnscient enough to take preventive action, but feel absolutely incapable of acting on the here and now.

I don't know why you walk your dog with a gun then, for if you can't foresee that bear one day before, you surely won't be able to take action when it appears right in front of you.

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Easy. We didn't intervene against Al Queda — despite several acts of war — until after the direct threat became reality.
---
And what could you have done before knowing the extension of their operations? It is not like you didn't try anyway.

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You would have the US do nothing until China is presenting a direct threat, which means China is in a stronger position, and the US position is weaker.
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Wait, now you are making this up. I am not defending the US should not prepare itself, and use soft/hard power, diplomacy and strategic alliances to project its will. Or that it should not redraw its military strategy and assets to answer to possible threats. That's all very different from directly rushing to misguided action, like invading a country.

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Our actions in the region must be viewed first and foremost, perhaps even exclusively, in ensuring the free access of Persian Gulf oil to world markets.
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And then again, that can not possibly explain Iraq 2003, unless you blindly believe in your own omnscience.

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Why I'm not taking you seriously is that you haven't spent one syllable analyzing the situation in the Persian Gulf at the time.
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I am aware that's the kind of answer you wanted, but you won't like it a bit too, for I am basically dismissive of the supposed importance of "containing" the Islamic Revolution.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

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Again, the original had a dramatic drop off, neither the CATO nor th 538 one does. I think it says something about your original cite.
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It says indeed: the 538 one takes a good deal of its data from that original site, as you'd see if you had read the piece.

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As for your other question, yes, I would consider supporting Al Qaeda as sponsoring terrorism against the USA.
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So may I infer the same applies for countries supporting ISIS too? When does the campaign against Qatar and Saudi Arabia begin? For I guess they have done already more damage than any petty terrorism charge you may have against Saddam times.

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How does generalizing make it invalid? I thought that was what physicists did to create a new theory. Are those invalid too?
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You may appreciate reading this nice piece of blogging. I will quote a relevant part for you:

"This reminds me of a point made in a TV interview by the late Richard Feynman back in the early 1980s. His point was that most people have fragile knowledge. They do not know under what conditions some ideas are valid and when they are not, analogous to some mathematical techniques being applicable in limited domains."

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

If they used the same data and got different graph shapes, one of them is being dishonest.

We could spend forever arguing about the perceived shape of the graphs, but I would point out that we started this with my claim this type of spending is unsustainable over the long run, and you are now citing articles that agree with me. I think you should admit it makes your counter claim disputable.

As for supporting Al Qaeda or IS and the foreign policy reaction to such, you are confusing justified with advantageous. A campaign against the Saudi Entity may well be the former without being the latter.

As for your quote, I am quite aware of that and therefore think carefully about such analogies. But I see that such effort cannot stand against your blithe dismissal of it.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

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If they used the same data and got different graph shapes, one of them is being dishonest.
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Or, which is the case, they plotted different things.

The 538 graph does present a slightly negative derivative today, when all transfer payments are included (which was your requirement to portray "welfare", and is the difference between said graphs). And the long term tendency looks to be roughly linear. In that sense, they don't look to be an exploding (non-linear) system. And that was my initial point when saying "Doesn't look like an unstable system to me".

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I would point out that we started this with my claim this type of spending is unsustainable over the long run, and you are now citing articles that agree with me. I think you should admit it makes your counter claim disputable.
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I hope to have clarified my "counter claim" above.

As I see it, the initial dispute was not about sustaintability, but about stability. A system with linear behavior usually allows for route correction. So they are only unsustainable in the long run if society was to function in automatic pilot for the next decades, with no new input to the system. That is not usually the case.

And the fact that I am citing data and analysis that favors your view should be evidence that my "ulterior motive" is not "trying to disagree with" you, but to find truth.

Annoying Old Guy said...

My reading of history is that government will ride that linear route right off a cliff, at which point I claim it becomes non-linear. Why didn't Venezuela stop digging their economic hole? It was linear all the way down. Or Greece. Or Detroit. Or Peronist Argentina? My own state of Illinois is cruising straight on in the same place, linearly running toward the cliff.

But let's look at the 538 article, in particular the graphs labeled "Total Government Spending as Share of GDP" and "Entitlement Spendin as Share of GDP". Both of those look to have a clear upward slope. Let's quote just past that

--
Specifically, overall government spending on entitlement programs increased at a 4.8 annual rate in the 40 years between 1972 and 2011, net of inflation. Health care spending increased at 5.7 percent per year (and federal government spending on health care increased at a 6.7 percent pace). In contrast, the gross domestic product grew at a rate of 2.7 percent over this period, with tax revenues increasing at about the same rate as the G.D.P.
--

I suppose we can quibble about words, but to me ever increasing spending is not stable*, and spending that grows faster than tax revenues and GDP is even more not stable, or is stable in the sense that if you jump off a 100 story building, your path is stable for 99 floors. This kind of system has a tipping point and consistent movement toward it, linear or more than linear, is simply not stable. It will collapse at some point in the future and in a rather sudden and catastrophic manner. History is full of examples, of which I noted but a few.

I'll end with another quote from the article, which supports my initial claim

--
To clarify: all of the major categories of government spending have been increasing relative to inflation. But essentially all of the increase in spending relative to economic growth, and the potential tax base, has come from entitlement programs
--

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

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My reading of history is that government will ride that linear route right off a cliff, at which point I claim it becomes non-linear.
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Do you realize that, by your reading, every democracy should be a resounding failure?

For in every one of them people would be voting themselves bread and circus, and kabum. But then, why is it that all the examples you cited are more the exception than the rule?

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or is stable in the sense that if you jump off a 100 story building, your path is stable for 99 floors.
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What? Are you claming you achieve terminal velocity after just one floor? It is more like 40 floors before that happens. See, it is not only in economics that you present and oversimplified view.


As for the fiscal outlook of the US, you don't need to argue further, I am by now convinced its long term projection is a bit worrisome. You were right.

What I am not convinced is that there is no going back and possible changes before you get anywhere near that cliff.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Do you realize that, by your reading, every democracy should be a resounding failure?

No, I don't realize that. Enlighten me. Did you realize my point only applies to governments that over long periods consistently consume larger fractions of GDP?

It is more like 40 floors before that happens

You're really reaching for points of disagreement now.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

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You're really reaching for points of disagreement now.
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What, you can't make that kind of claim in front of a physicists and expect no reaction.

I remember you did mention getting a minor on Physics, right?

erp said...

Update on election in Brazil from this morning's 10/27/14 local liberal rag:

Brazilian President Rousseff re-elected

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has been re-elected to a second term to lead the world’s fifth-largest nation.

Official results released Sunday by Brazil’s top electoral court show that the left-leaning Rousseff beat opposition contend­er Aecio Neves.

...

Rousseff’s victory ex­tends her Workers’ Party rule, which has held the presidency since 2003.

During that time, they’ve enacted expan­sive social programs that have helped pull mil­lions of Brazilians out of poverty and into the middle class. — Associated Press


Apparently, the news hasn't reached Clovis yet that he need not worry anymore. Problem of poverty in Brazil is solved.