We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

One of the particular pleasures of twenty-first century life is that it is now easy to purchase interesting books which have been around for quite a while, cheaply and easily rather than expensively and complicatedly. I recently bought, from Amazon, We Now Know, by John Lewis Gaddis, which is about the Cold War and was published in the 1990s. I’ve been meaning to acquaint myself with this book ever since I first heard about it, which must have been well over a decade ago.

I have so far only skimmed We Now Know, but I have already encountered a rather striking passage, towards the end. (Skimming usually involves looking at the end, doesn’t it?)

The Cold War, says Gaddis, was not decided in the Third World, but rather in such places as Europe and Japan. And why, asks Gaddis (pp.286-7 – his italics in bold), did “Washington’s empire in those pivotal regions”, generate so much less friction that Moscow’s:

One answer may be that many people then saw the Cold War as a contest of good versus evil, even if historians since have rarely done so.

Let me focus here on a single significant case: it has to do with what happened in Germany immediately after the war as its citizens confronted their respective occupiers. What Stalin sought there, it now seems clear, was a communist regime in the east that would attract Germans in the west without requiring the use of force, something the Russians could ill afford given their own exhaustion and the Americans’ monopoly over the atomic bomb.

Obviously, this is not what he got. Germans first voted with their feet – fleeing to the west in huge numbers to avoid the Red Army – and then at the ballot box in ways that frustrated all of Stalin’s hopes. But this outcome was not fore-ordained. There were large numbers of communist party members throughout Germany at the end of the war, and their prestige – because of their opposition to the Nazis – had never been higher. Why did the Germans so overwhelmingly welcome the Americans and their allies, and fear the Russians?

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Samizdata quote of the day

It is not without significance that the socialist Labour Day is celebrated in the Spring, at the time of planting and promise. It is full of hope of what might be achieved. By contrast, the capitalist Labor Day celebrated in America takes place on the first Monday of September, when the harvest is in and its actual achievements can be hailed.

Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute contrasts Britain’s Labour Day (today) with Labour Day in the USA.

Can you imagine what would happen if Trump did this…

This is pretty damn funny, in a painful and excruciating way.

But just for fun, now just imagine it was Trump, not Trudeau. It would be all you read about on the front page of every major newspaper and all you heard for a week on every single TV channel (remember them?) and radio station.

Corbynization

THE CORBYNIZATION OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CONTINUES APACE: New York Times international edition prints anti-Semitic cartoon of Trump, Netanyahu.

I found the term used in this Instapundit article as interesting as the short article itself. Corbynization: now in use outside the UK to describe the mainstreaming of institutional anti-Semitism.

Some questions about US politics…

I have been fixated on UK politics lately and have perhaps not given the ‘Trump and Russian Collusion’ affair the attention it deserves.

Simply put, if the report exonerates Trump and his administration of illegality (even if not fuckwitterly), would it be a fair characterisation to say the following things are true?

1. Trump’s protestation that he was being subjected to a witch-hunt by politically motivated Federal figures has been vindicated.
2. Trump’s more questionable actions were attempts to fight back against political enemies employing now debunked accusations.
3. No one is being prosecuted for trying to bring down a duly elected President with bogus charges.

Or have I got it all wrong? Educate me as I really have not been paying attention.

Book Review: Capitalism In America by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge

Capitalism in America: A History. By Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge.

I recently read this book, published a few months ago, and it is written by a senior journalist who is political editor of the Economist, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Given their respective occupations, I had a rough idea of their broad ideology (a general predisposition towards free markets, private property and limited government) and on the whole I enjoyed reading this book a great deal.

Their core thesis is that America has been as successful as it has been because it allows a great deal of “creative destruction” – new technologies and business models disrupt and replace older ones, causing pain for specific groups but big benefits for the wider population over time. America is so big, and people have traditionally been so willing to move around to find work, that the “creative” side wins over the “destructive”. They observe the back-and-forth process of how there have been periods of intense growth and upward progress, such as the post-Civil War boom, the rise of the great business tycoons such as the Rockefellers, and then the push-back of anti-trust and the Progressive Era, William Jennings Bryan and his “cross of gold” hysteria. We get the Roaring 20s, and ooops! the Great Depression, followed by WW2 and the post-war boom; the troubles of the late 60s, then 70s; the Reagan era, supply side tax cuts and the dotcom boom. For a while, people are diagnosed with something called “affluenza”. And finally, the 2008 crash happens and there’s all the angst over declining productivity and worries about skyrocketing debt.

The most impressive thing about this book in my view is the way an enormous amount of information, some of it arcane, is conveyed into a fast-paced narrative. This book is written very well and packed with anecdotes and even a bit of sly humour. There are some standouts: the book gives a marvelous account of the agricultural technologies and innovations that turned the Great Plains into the breadbasket of the world; its understanding of business models and mass production techniques is first class. It largely absolves the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie and the rest of the “robber baron” tag and suggests that much anti-trust doctrine is bunk. Later, in discussing the present controversies over Facebook and other “Big Techs”, it is similarly sceptical about whether state bust-ups of such entities is a good idea.

The book points out how, by the late 19th Century, the US government was so small relative to today’s that the largest department of the Federal government was the Post Office. It generally praises the idea of the Gold Standard – Wooldridge and Greenspan are pretty rough on Bryan and others who think that printing money is a solution to economic problems. They are also pretty harsh on F D Roosevelt, pointing out that during the 1930s, unemployment averaged in the double-digit percentages, and that much of the New Deal was, on its stated terms, a failure. They give Roosevelt stick for his vindictive acts and foolish interventionism – they realise that his genius, if we can use that word, was inventing a myth about himself and in telling people that he was going to make sure everything was OK.

Needless to say, the narrative gets more awkward when it covers the period when Greenspan, a man who in his youth was an acolyte of Ayn Rand and an advocate of gold-backed money, became Fed chairman. The book argues (page 385) that critics cannot prove that the 2008 financial crisis can be blamed on loose monetary policy. Well, how jolly convenient! They say that the Fed’s ability to set interest rates, and influence borrowing costs for those with mortgages, etc, was largely restricted by the global “savings glut”. (I will come to this a bit later.) To a great extent, they blame the 2008 disaster on government-subsidised/supported sub-prime mortgages, excess confidence by bankers in risk models and the sheer complexity of financial products, such as in the derivatives markets. All these criticisms of the financial system prior to the collapse of Lehman Bros. in September 2008 look valid but there is also a problem.

A problem to overcome, the authors say, is how rising entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) has “crowded out” private savings and that, over a period of time, savings as a share of total GDP has declined. Coupled with this, and with rising regulation (which they rightly attack) has been less overall capital investment, leading to lower productivity growth. When people talk about “stagnant” wages, it is sub-par productivity that is largely to blame.

Okay, so low savings are a problem. If it is true that insufficient private sector savings is a problem to be fixed, how come the “glut” of savings in the years leading up to 2008 was a problem? If Chinese/other savers were pouring genuine savings (not central bank confetti) into the West, and investing in real capital, then why would this be an issue (other than a dislike of the origins of the savings)? When do we know that there is a “glut” of savings if, in other parts of the narrative, Greenspan/Wooldridge say there are insufficient savings because of a state “crowding out” effect? Of course, had Fed interest rates been higher than they were, yield-hungry Chinese savers might have put even money into the US, but then again it might have chilled the housing market enough to halt some of the damage.

Such points aside, Capitalism In America is a good study of some of the big shifts in the US economy since the Republic was born.

The State is not your friend, ctd

According to this report by Techcrunch, the technology publication, a bi-partisan agreement in Congress (usually a bad sign) means that a tech solution enabling taxpayers to prepare their annual returns for no charge has been blocked. The tax preparations industry, which is huge, has objected.

Sometimes the sheer brazenness of lobbying in the political systems of the world befuddles even a long-term observer of such things such as me. We should not be surprised, really. There is a large industry of people who help others navigate the reefs and shoals of taxes, and one suspects many of them fear things such as simpler, lower and flatter taxes because if people can file a return on a single sheet of A4 paper, or its internet equivalent, then much of this sector is, to put it in non-technical terms, fucked.

“Young designers can learn more working at a studio than studying at a fee-paying university …”

Internships are often denounced as the exploitation of cheap labour. Compared to paid jobs, I dare say many internships are indeed rather exploitative, and not in a good way.

But it makes just as much sense to compare internships with higher education. Internship gives you some free education. Universities charge a fortune for something similar but arguably much worse.

Karim Rashid argues exactly this, when it comes to learning how to be a designer:

New York designer Karim Rashid has defended the use of unpaid internships, saying young designers can learn more working at a studio than studying at a fee-paying university.

“I believe some of the universities are far more exploiting than a small brilliant architecture firm that can inspire and be a catalyst for a student’s budding career,” said Rashid in a comment on Facebook, responding to Dezeen’s post about unpaid internships at Chilean architecture studio Elemental.

“In a rigorous office with a respectful mentor, an intern can learn in three months more than a year or two of education, and education in USA is costing that student $60,000 to $100,000 a year,” the designer wrote.

Instapundit, which has for years and quite rightly been banging on about the “higher education bubble“, and about how the “business model” of higher education is broken, should be alerted to what Rashid says. Do the Instapunditeers read Dezeen, where the above report is to be found? I’m guessing: not that often.

Also, has this piece, I wonder, been picked up on the Insta-radar? It’s entitled “The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education”?

Whenever the Subsidised and Subsidising Classes stop defending one of their strongholds and instead start denouncing it as a capitalist plot, you know that the stronghold in question is staring some serious trouble in the face. The S&S Classes can see that trouble looms for higher education, because it’s coming for them and because of them. Large swathes of it are an overpriced racket and they can’t any longer pretend otherwise. So, before this becomes as widely understood as it soon will be, they need a narrative that says that this wasn’t their fault, but was instead the fault of their political enemies.

The Trump conspiracy that, er, wasn’t

As a purely journalistic failure, however, WMD was a pimple compared to Russiagate. The sheer scale of the errors and exaggerations this time around dwarfs the last mess. Worse, it’s led to most journalists accepting a radical change in mission. We’ve become sides-choosers, obliterating the concept of the press as an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction.

A part of a long article on something called “Hate Inc.”, produced by a chap called Matt Taibbi.

I recommend the entire article.

Here’s another paragraph:

We had the sense to eventually look inward a little in the WMD affair, which is the only reason we escaped that episode with any audience left. Is the press even capable of that kind of self-awareness now? WMD damaged our reputation. If we don’t turn things around, this story will destroy it.

Much of the US and indeed Western media (the BBC here, for example) has been dying to see hard evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. That has not been obtained, and the reason is that it did not exist. So much of the MSM and the liberal-left establishment has been in denial about why Mr Trump was elected to the White House, as it is in denial about the UK referendum result to leave the EU. (In the latter case, much of the media/political establishment is trying its best to stop it from happening and may succeed in the short term, at terrible cost to the UK).

I am not a Trump fan and his protectionism is something I abhor. But as some of my libertarian friends have said, the fact that he has got so many on the socialist side of the fence to go stark, raving mad, to have exposed their arrogance and sense of entitlement, is a public service by Mr Trump not just to the US, but the wider world. When I occasionally point this out to people who go into automatic “Isn’t Trump awful?” mode, I often get funny looks, or the occasional glint of awareness.

As an aside, it is pretty clear that on the basis of dodgy evidence, the former Obama presidency illegally spied on the Trump campaign. Such has been the deification of Mr Obama (he still gets warm words in the UK, for instance), that he is likely to get away with it. Or so he hopes. A lot of people in his circle will be sweating a bit if, as I hope, the Democrats fail to retake the White House in 2020. It would be amusing to see this vain, poor ex-president have his collar felt by the FBI, even if he got away with it.

At present, the Democrats remain in a state of denial, and that party’s drift to the Left makes its winning power ever less likely, although you never can tell. In my gut I just cannot see the US going for what Elizabeth Warren, AOC and the rest of them, even old Joe Biden, have to sell.

A final point I have is that these episodes remind us that it is high time the US presidency was not invested with the importance it now has, and to achieve such a happy diminished state requires a serious rollback to the size of the federal government. To have a less imperial presidency, you need smaller government. The cult of the presidency, as it were, can only be dealt with if the cult of government in general is pushed back.

Has higher education had its Bernie Madoff moment?

A big story is developing about claims that financiers, Hollywood celebs and others engaged in criminal fraud to enable their children to get into posh Ivy League universities and other such places.

Beyond the salacious details about such a story – and you can imagine how this plays to the “poor ordinary folk outraged by rich people doing Bad Stuff” sort of narrative – is the issue of what the likes of Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has called the education bubble. With credentialism in the workplace rising, demand for college/university degrees expanding, and fuelling rising student debt, higher tuition fees and yes, more debt, the higher ed. industry is exhibiting the kind of distortions and potential for fraud that we saw in the period leading up to the financial crack-up of 2008. Remember the Bernie Madoff Ponzi fraud scam? The hedge fund that wasn’t was able to scam people at a time when asset prices were rising everywhere and getting into the juiciest hedge funds was the name of the game, rather like getting into the poshest schools was seen as important to people today. By preying on insecurity, vanity, status and worries that being outside meant failure, Madoff defrauded people out of billions of dollars. The parallels with what is going on in higher ed. are quite close.

On a related point, I recently read US academic Bryan Caplan’s book, The Case Against Education: Why The Education System is a Waste of Time and Money. I might not go as far as agreeing with the totality of his ideas, but it seems to me that when people are allegedly committing crimes to get kids into a university, and where the kind of “snowflake” issues are turning some of these places into echo chambers for the Hard Left, it is time for radical change.

Samizdata quote of the day

We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution. They need to reread the Constitution.

Lynnette Hardaway

For a bit of background, read About Diamond and Silk.

The Art of (No) Deal

Via Instapundit I came across this fine editorial from the New York Sun:

“Sometimes You Have To Walk”

The collapse of President Trump’s summit with the North Korean party boss, Kim Jong Un, certainly takes us back — to October 12, 1986. That’s when President Reagan stood up and walked out of the Reykjavik summit with another party boss, Mikhail Gorbachev, of the Soviet Union. We can remember it like it was yesterday. The long faces, the dire predictions, the Left’s instinct to blame the Americans.

“What appears to have happened in Iceland is this,” the New York Times editorialized. “Mr. Reagan had the chance to eliminate Soviet and U.S. medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe, to work toward a test ban on his terms, to halve nuclear arsenals in five years and to agree on huge reductions later. He said no.” The Times just didn’t see that the Hollywood actor turned president had just won the Cold War.

It’s too early in the morning — this editorial is being written at 3 a.m. at New York — to know whether that’s the kind of thing that just happened at Hanoi, whence news reports are just coming in. Messrs. Trump and Kim were supposed to have a working lunch, to be followed by the signing of some sort of agreement. The next thing you know, Mr. Trump is heading home.

It’s not too early, though, to caution against over-reacting to this development. What appears to have happened is that the Korean Reds wouldn’t agree to the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization that we seek. Absent that, we wouldn’t agree to the dismantling of all the sanctions the North Koreans seek. “Sometimes you have to walk,” Mr. Trump told the press.

Good for him, we say. It would be a fitting epitaph for any statesman.

The tags I chose for this post will serve as my only further comment.