Streetwise Professor

December 29, 2021

In Which I Agree With Nikole Hannah-Jones!

Filed under: History,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:48 pm

Nikole Hannah-Jones claims that we are entering a new dark age. I agree! To a point. For Ms. Hannah-Jones is projecting. She and her ilk are the harbingers of a dark age, not its victims. It is the likes of her 1619 Project, and its widespread adoption as instructional material, not the scattered resistance to it that Ms. Hannah-Jones bewails, that represents the advance of the enemies of truth and knowledge and the suppression of Enlightenment values. (It is, alas, but one example of this.)

The Enlightenment was–sadly, use of the past tense may be very appropriate here–a movement against obscurantism, superstition, and most importantly, official “truths” decreed by institutional powers like the church. The Enlightenment allowed individuals to challenge institutions. It undermined traditional power structures and contributed to the liberation of mankind from feudalism and its variants. The Enlightenment has seen its share of excesses and errors, but it is what pushed back the darkness of the Dark Ages. Indeed, it is by contrast to the Enlightenment that the Dark Ages are considered dark: those living during them did not consider them such.

Post-modernism–which infuses Hannah-Jones’ work, and cognate movements like CRT–is profoundly, avowedly, and unapologetically anti-Enlightenment. It denies all of the basic principles of the Enlightenment. It denies that there are things that are true independently of the beliefs of subjective observers operating in systems of power. It is profoundly anti-scientific. And here I mean science as a method, not Science as it is used and abused by post-modernists in power. And it is collectivist and anti-individualist.

So yes, as Hannah-Jones says, we are at serious risk of entering a new Dark Ages. But she is just one of a phalanx of anti-intellectuals posing as intellectuals who threaten to return humanity to the dark days that preceded the Enlightenment they hate so much. Post-modernism is big on irony. It doesn’t get much more ironic than that.

December 26, 2021

No Blood For Batteries?

Filed under: China,Climate Change,Economics,History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 5:46 pm

The latest hyperventilation over Russia relates to the alleged involvement of the Wagner Group–Russian mercenaries/paramilitaries–in Mali. Wagner is run by “Putin’s Chef,” Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Russia denies involvement. Wagner denies involvement. Mali denies involvement. Since none of them are remotely trustworthy, I will accept as true that Wagner (or some other Russian entity) is involved.

At one level, one could answer “So what?” or even “Good!” Western militaries, notably American and French, have been involved in the Sahel for years. The US involvement has been marked by some tragic events, notably the destruction of a US Army Special Forces team in Niger and a murder of a Green Beret by other US special operations members in Mali. France recently withdrew its troops from Mali after 8 years of inconclusive fighting that resulted in the deaths of 52 French soldiers, including a highly decorated special operator. (And which also saw two coups in Mali. So much for creating stability.)

The American and French efforts had little effect on Muslim insurgents. So why not let the Russians have a go, if the real objective is to kill Salafists–and the objective isn’t worth American or French lives?

But this level is likely a very superficial one, and that is likely why there has been such alarm at Russian involvement. West and central Africa, including the desolate Sahel region, are now the cockpit of a 21st century version of a “great game” not so much because of ISIS or Al Qaeda, but because of . . . batteries.

And unlike the Great Game of the 19th century, which involved Russia and Great Britain, the 21st century game in Africa involves Russia, the West (especially but not exclusively the US), and notably China. The largely desolate and desperately poor region which the world’s richest nations are contesting is of increasing importance because it is disproportionately endowed with materials like lithium, copper, and cobalt, all essential for the manufacture of batteries or other components for electric vehicles that the alleged green elites in the West claim will be our climate salvation.

And don’t think that the Salafists are solely motivated by religious fervor–they no doubt understand the economic calculus as well. If oil made Saudi Arabia, another otherwise desolate and impoverished region, what economic power could control over lithium, copper, and cobalt create? Oil fueled Wahhabism. EV materials could well fuel another radical Islamist movement.

A rallying cry of the left, and especially the environmentalist left, from the 70s onward was “no blood for oil!” No doubt their CO2 monomania, and the resultant obsession with electrifying everything and especially electric vehicles, has blinded them to the inevitable if unintended consequences of their idée fixe.

Specifically, realizing their vision will require vast amounts of materials. Put aside the environmental consequences of mining for these materials. Focus on the geopolitical consequences. These minerals are found disproportionately in vast, violent, and largely ungoverned spaces. Control over them can be achieved only by violence, and even if violence was not necessary, the incentive for unscrupulous governments and corporations to utilize violence to capture the rents these resources promise (especially in an electronic world) is great indeed.

Furthermore, the powers contending for these resources are facing off on every continent, and are armed with nuclear weapons. What starts in Africa is unlikely to stay in Africa. And something could very well start in Africa. Great Power conflicts almost erupted in Africa on several occasions in the era of imperialism, when the economic stakes were far smaller: what did Fashoda matter, really? Yet Britain and France almost went to war over it. The stakes are far larger now.

Especially in a world obsessed with replacing petroleum with electricity.

Methinks that the evident panic over Russians in one of the world’s armpits really has little to do with the stated reasons: again, why would France or the US mind if Russians killed Salafists, and took the casualties necessary to do it? Instead, the panic is over the prospect of an impending struggle between the US/Western Europe, China, and Russia over a vital economic resource in an ungoverned region that requires organized violence to control it.

Environmentalists are so absorbed in their monomania that they are oblivious to the unintended consequences thereof. They have lectured us for years about no blood for oil. What about blood for batteries? Because that is the inevitable consequence of replacing the former with the latter.

They need to be forced to face this reality and to own the consequences of their obsessions. Now.

December 22, 2021

Levitating the Lira–For How Long? Or, Erdo Promises the Impossible (Trinity)

Filed under: Economics,Turkey — cpirrong @ 7:01 pm

The Turkish lira is now about 12, a big recovery from its nadir on Monday. I expressed skepticism that Erdoğan’s announced policy of guaranteeing some Turkish bank deposits against an adverse move in the TRY was the cause. As we’ll see in a moment there is something to that. But even if the policy announcement caused all or some of the rebound, my skepticism about the viability of this mechanism remains.

As to the logic behind the policy. In essence, there was a run on the lira, and one way of running was to sell lira on deposit, and buy dollars. A typical bank run is to sell deposits for currency. One reason bank runs are far less frequent today in places like the US is deposit insurance, which is basically a mechanism to ensure that a dollar on deposit will always be worth a dollar of currency. That short-circuits the run dynamics, in which fear that a dollar of deposits will be worth less than a dollar of currency, which induces people to race to convert deposits into currency, which can cause banks to fail . . . leading to deposits being worth less than the equivalent amount of currency.

What Turkey has announced–and note, it has not announced the details so this isn’t really a plan but a sketch of a plan–is equivalent to a form of deposit insurance. Except that here the government is promising the TRY value of deposits will be worth at least a fixed amount of USD or Euros. But the idea is the same. If people are convinced that their deposits will remain pegged to the dollar, they have less incentive to run.

There is a key word in the prior sentence: “convinced.” It might work if people believe it will work. It won’t work if people don’t. So how can they have confidence? This confidence is necessary, but not sufficient, for success.

The confidence depends on the reliability and solvency of the guarantor. It’s not quite clear who that is in this situation. Is it the banks? The government? The former would be ludicrous, so let’s go with the latter.

So how is the government going to fund the guarantee? It’s likely hoping that the mere fact that people believe it can and it will will mean that the government is never on the hook for anything.

But that’s not realistic. The value of the TRY will fluctuate for the same reasons that currencies always fluctuate. Macro shocks. Balance of payment issues. Capital flows. Whatever. The Turkish government is short a put on the currency (that’s essentially what the guarantee is–a put on the TRY). Sometimes these factors are going to push the TRY down, obligating the government to make good on its promise.

So how is it going to pay for that? And note that it will have to pay a good fraction of the time. Roughly 50 percent of the time if the floor is set at the current exchange rate.

Print lira? LOL. So the lira declines, and the government prints more lira to pay off on its short put. Which will depress the lira further. Requiring more printing, etc. etc. etc.

Short put=short gamma. Short gamma can create an unstable positive feedback mechanism, and positive feedback mechanisms in economics very often have extremely negative consequences. Lira declines feed further declines. And again–as with any currency, lira declines are always a major risk. This is especially true with a country like Turkey. And resorting to this mechanism would likely destroy the trust that it depends on.

OK. The printing option seems pretty dumb–though don’t put it past Erdo! So, to meet its obligation to top up lira-denominated accounts to compensate for a decline in the TRY, instead of printing lira Turkey could sell dollars and Euros for lira which it then gives to depositors. At least this would potentially create a beneficial (negative/stabilizing) feedback mechanism, with the $ and € sales tending to increase the value of the lira.

But where is Turkey going to get the dollars and euros? That’s what I meant the other day when I said don’t trust a madman whose mouth writes checks his wallet can’t cash.

This second mechanism can be viewed another way: as a commitment device. Specifically, a device committing Turkey to defend the lira. Effectively, a way of committing to a peg: it has to buy lira/sell $ or € when the lira declines. And if Erdo’s other promise–not to raise interest rates–is believed, committing to a peg and foregoing the option to raise interest rates to defend the currency.

And if this is the real plan, it faces all the risks that pegging inevitably entail. Pegs are always at risk to speculative attack. Turkey is particularly so, given its paucity of foreign exchange reserves and its bizarre government policies. No doubt George Soros’ interest has been piqued.

This is why I am skeptical. Skeptical as to the announcement of this sketch of a plan leading to a 33 percent rally–FX traders no doubt have figured out what I just laid out. Skeptical as to the feasibility and stability of this mechanism, even if it did levitate the lira.

And as I alluded to at the outset, it may well be the case that the plan didn’t raise the lira on Monday and keep it there–traditional government intervention has. The FT reports that the central bank has spent billions of dollars in recent days to stabilize the TRY. This suggests that the plan is basically just propaganda to (a) conceal what is really going on behind the scenes, a traditional defense of the currency, and (b) allow Erdo to take credit for the rally without admitting that more dollars are going out the door.

Regardless of the mechanism, defending the lira puts strains on Turkey’s public finances. The fact that Turkish credit spreads have widened even as the currency has strengthened suggests that Mr. Market has figured that out.

Turkey, like all countries, faces the “impossible trinity.” A country cannot have a fixed exchange rate, an open capital account, and an independent monetary policy. But Erdoğan is promising all three. Fixing interest rates at low levels as he promises, because he’s on a mission from Allah=independent monetary policy. He has promised to maintain free movement of capital. And now, he is implicitly promising to fix the exchange rate.

We know with metaphysical certainty that this is impossible–the “impossible trinity” phrase came about for a reason. So it’s going to end badly. The only question is which part of the trinity is Erdoğan going to jettison. Based on form, I predict the lira.

December 20, 2021

The Turkish Lira–Murdered by a Theory, and a Theology

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Turkey — cpirrong @ 2:00 pm

The Turkish Lira has crashed, down over 50 percent since September, and now trading at less than a third of the value it had when I was in Turkey in 2018. It would be unfair to apply Jefferson Davis’ epitaph for the Confederacy: “Died of a Theory.” Instead, “Murdered by a Theory” would be more accurate.

And the murderer is readily identifiable: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His theory is that high interest rates cause inflation, so as inflation accelerated and the Lira plummeted, rather than allowing the central bank to tighten monetary policy and raise interest rates, he pushed it to cut rates–which only accelerated the TRY’s crash.

Sunday, even Erdoğan apparently realized that his economic rationale was risible, so he switched gears, saying that this policy was dictated by Allah and the Koran:

“What is it? We are lowering interest rates. Don’t expect anything else from me,” Erdogan said Sunday in televised comments from Istanbul. “As a Muslim, I’ll continue to do what is required by nas,” he said, using an Arabic word used in Turkish to refer to Islamic teachings.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan has been telling his largely religious (and poor) political base (which is being devastated by inflation) that this is just a test from Allah. That the Koran says that Allah is seeing whether you can bear such trials in silence and faith, and that if they vote for him again in 2023 he will fix inflation. Whip Inflation Then (Insallah). Or something.

So now, the Lira is being murdered by theology instead of a theory.

The chaos became extreme on Friday, with Borsa Instanbul shutting down due to a crash in Turkish shares that triggered circuit breakers. The chaos continued on the open, with the USDTRY breaching 18 and the stock market shutting down again:

Note the big rally earlier today. Though it is rather sobering that 15 is, relatively speaking, good news.

The recovery was driven by an Erdoğan statement to the cabinet today in which he pledged to defend the currency and to protect Turkish depositors against currency declines. To be honest, I find it hard to take his announcement seriously, although the markets apparently have. He has made commitments, but their credibility is dubious at best, especially since he pledged to continue his Crazy Erdo interest rate policy.

To carry through on these promises, Erdo needs dollars and Euros. Which he doesn’t have.

So I would be short the TRY at 15. Relying on a madman’s mouth writing checks that his wallet can’t cash is foolish.

There are larger lessons here.

The first is that this demonstrates the extreme dangers of presidentialism and highly personalized political systems. A “leader” with no checks and balances can indulge in insane policies at a whim. Erdoğan has gutted every institution in Turkey that could counter his ambitions–and his flights of policy fantasy. The press is suppressed, with more journalists in jail in Turkey than anywhere in the world. Civil society figures (and ordinary people) are muzzled due to the threat of being arrested for “insulting the president.” (The friend of a friend, the head of the Ataturk Institute, has been convicted of this and has the sword of Damocles hanging over his head.) The courts are packed with his goons, and the military was neutered after the abortive coup of 2016 (which in retrospect looks more and more like a false flag operation, given how it has redounded to Erdo’s benefit).

(Erdoğan’s careening into megalomania actually makes Putin look good by comparison. Russian macroeconomic policy under Putin has actually been rather responsible. Perhaps because Putin is uninterested in the subject and willing to delegate, or because he realizes that he is not especially competent in the subject. Either way, his forbearance looks wise especially in contrast to Erdoğan.)

Another lesson is that fakakta economic policies can do incredible damage in short order, yet “leaders” may recklessly implement nonetheless. In the United States, the Biden administration’s continuing attempt to spend additional trillions in the face of the worst inflation of the last 40 years is economic insanity: here the United States is at risk of dying from ignoring a theory (the fiscal theory of the price level). Even non-righties like Larry Summers realize the danger

Fortunately, a semblance of checks and balances remains in the US, and Joe Manchin has played Horatio at the Bridge, holding off BBB for now. But for how long? The specter of presidentialism hangs over the US too: Manchin is being assailed viciously by the left as a threat to “our democracy” for his temerity in resisting the president’s will–even though said president’s mental incapacity is manifest.

The US should take heed of what is going on in Turkey, and not gut checks and balances, give carte blanche to presidents, and engage in reckless economic policies. Alas, given the sway that turkeys hold in politics and the media, this may be a vain hope.

December 16, 2021

You’ll Travel the Road to Serfdom on Public Transport–Oh Joy!

Filed under: China,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:57 pm

The private automobile has been the greatest liberating invention in history. Before the automobile, individual horizons extended a few miles for most. With the privately-owned car, billions of people have been able to travel where they want when they want. It has made it possible to separate considerably the workplace from the living place. It has expanded the range of stores and restaurants and service suppliers available to people. It has made travel–sometimes at a whim–possible in ways it was not possible before its widespread use.

So of course the world’s “elites” hate the automobile. Because they hate personal freedom.

A couple of data points.

First, consider this from the UK: “Car Ownership Could End in Massive Overhaul of UK Roads.”

A few excerpts (but read the whole thing):

GOVERNMENT transport ministers have backed calls to end private ownership of vehicles in a major overhaul.

She said the country needed to move away from its “20th-century thinking centred around private vehicle ownership”.

She added it was “staggering” almost two-thirds of trips were conducted by lone drivers.

How dare those proles weight the benefits and costs of going where and when they want alone vs. coordinating with others!

The Government has repeatedly stressed the need to switch from a reliance on cars to other forms of transport.

Oh, if the government says so . . . Better not disagree with our betters, given how remarkably competent governments are!

They said this was one of the “biggest opportunities” to switch short car journeys to cycling and walking.

In the rain? In the snow? When it’s 90 degrees? When its 20 degrees? At night? If you are elderly or infirm? If you’ve worked all day and really don’t want to walk 3 fucking miles? If you are going to the grocery store to pick up a week’s groceries for a family of 4?

I could go on.

Supposedly new technology will allow various forms of ride sharing.

Have they heard of Uber? Lyft?

People have always had the option to ride share. They typically choose otherwise. For obvious reasons. They have more options now. And again, they typically choose otherwise.

One wonders if these people actually live in the real world.

They also tout public transport. Which has been the hobby horse of the control freaks since forever, and with few exceptions driven by urban density and legacy investments has been a massive financial black hole. Further, although sitting in traffic is often a bad experience, being tied to public transport and exposed to the crowding, crime and assorted lunatics that it entails, not to mention the lack of flexibility, is quite often far worse than driving bumper-to-bumper. Which is why people choose not to use it, and why it is a financial black hole.

Again, let people choose. But no–that’s not the elite way! We’re too stupid to choose. We choose wrong.

Another data point:

“The Government is Your Next Car Passenger.”

Section 24220 of the [“infrastructure” law], titled Advanced Impaired Driving Technology, directs the secretary of transportation to issue a rule within three years requiring advanced impaired driving technology in all new vehicles, although the rule may be delayed if the technology is not ready for implementation. Automakers have up to three years after the rule is issued to comply.

Now, as written (though vaguely) this technology will be limited to detecting/monitoring “impaired driving.” Potentially laudable. But this is the camel’s nose under the tent. The future possibilities are endless. Speed control: all cars in Europe after 2022 must be fitted with speed limiters. Driving is bad for the climate, right? So driving must be limited directly or indirectly, and governments are hot to do that. One proposal in the US is impose a mileage tax. A system that can monitor if you’re buzzed can certainly count how many miles you drive, sober or drunk, send the results to the IRS or whomever, so that you can be charged accordingly. Or maybe you’ll get a mileage ration, and your friendly government sensor will shut down your vehicle when you’ve reached it.

Again the common theme here is that governments do not like the autonomy that private automobiles provide and are moving to impose, inch by inch, limitations on that autonomy. Leftists have always hated the automobile. They’ve always loved public transport. The former gives you freedom. The latter gives them control.

Guess which one they want, and will do anything to achieve?

And it’s not just automobiles. The elite–including the private jet elite–hates airline travel that lets the proles visit family or have a holiday at a pleasant location. Whether through carbon taxes or carbon credit pricing they will squeeze mass air travel like a python.

The main characteristic of serfdom was that people were tied to the land. Serfs moved or traveled at the sufferance of their lords, who almost never granted it. Restrictions on personal mobility whether by car or plane are not quite so draconian, but they rhyme. You will travel the road to serfdom on public transport.

Right now these restrictions are but specks on the horizon. But that is no reason whatsoever to discount them. They are part of a broader agenda, and the mere existence of that agenda and the conviction–and power–of those who advance it makes these restrictions a very, very real possibility.

Whether you want to call them leftists, or progressives, or globalists, or transnational progressives, etc., the “elites” in and out of government (e.g., the WEF, people like Bill Gates or George Soros or Jeff Bezos or Larry Fink) are central planners at heart. They are like Adam Smith’s Men of System, who believe (a) they can arrange society, and people in society, like pieces on a chessboard, (b) only they are possessed of the special knowledge and intelligence to do that arranging, (c) their arrangements are completely rational, and crucially (d) you are too ignorant and/or stupid and/or selfish to know what is rational for society and that as a result you make irrational choices. So your choices MUST be sharply constrained, if not taken away altogether.

For your own good, you know.

Note: most of these people admire China.

It’s all about control, in other words. And if you have been paying attention–hell, if you’ve been sentient–for the past two years you will realize that the push to control you is omnipresent. COVID–or more exactly, the responses to COVID–should give you all the evidence that you need. Most policies, whether it be lockdowns, or masks, or mandated “vaccinations” of dubious efficacy and largely unknown risk profiles, or vaccine passports, and on and on and on, make little if any sense as health measures: at the very least they are not backed by evidence that even remotely matches the fervor with which they are imposed and advocated.

But they do make perfect sense if you conjecture that the real objective is to expand and cement the control of the “elites” over vast swathes of your life. Everything in the last two years has been about depriving you of choice, and giving control of your life to bureaucrats and politicians and the plutocrats who exercise undue influence over them.

That is why these emerging threats to your personal mobility, and the autonomy that provides, need to be taken deadly seriously. They are just one piece of a far broader assault on liberty and autonomy, and a campaign intended to make you just another brick in the wall.

December 9, 2021

Die for Donbas?–Demented

Filed under: Energy,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 11:21 am

Vladimir Putin’s Russia has massed large forces on the border of Ukraine, and there are widespread fears that he is planning an invasion. This has led to calls from many in the United States (and to a lesser degree in nations that are actually closer to Ukraine) to deploy military forces–read, American military forces–to Ukraine, and to contest any Russian invasion if it comes to that.

This call to die for Donbas is demented.

It is useful to deconstruct the dementia by breaking the problem into two pieces: (1) whether defending Ukraine is in the strategic interest of the United States, and (2) what would be the costs of of doing so?

The red line that is apparently motivating Putin is the possibility that Ukraine will be admitted to NATO. Put aside whether a Ukraine in NATO would objectively pose a strategic threat to Russia, or whether this is a Putin phobia or part of Putin’s romantic desire to gather Russian lands and reunite brothers divided by a perfidious West. What matters is that he, and most of the Russian establishment (especially the security establishment) believes it. Putin has said repeatedly that it is a red line. We have to accept this as a fact.

If keeping Ukraine out of NATO is a strategic imperative for Putin, is putting Ukraine in NATO a strategic imperative for the United States?

Absolutely not. NATO’s mission from its founding was to keep Russia out of Western Europe. It succeeded. Adding Ukraine to NATO will not advance that objective.

So adding Ukraine would represent mission creep: redefining the part of the world that we want to keep Russia out of. Is it desirable that Ukraine remain independent? Probably, but mainly for Ukrainians. But it’s hardly a major strategic interest of the United States. How would American security decline if Ukraine was in Russia, or in Russian orbit? Hardly a whit.

So the stakes for Russia are high and the stakes for the United States are minuscule. It is never advisable to enter into a contest with such an imbalance of stakes.

And as I’ve written before, expanding NATO by adding countries that increase the alliance’s obligations without increasing its capabilities is idiocy. Indeed, it’s worse than that. Adding countries like Ukraine degrades NATO’s capabilities. As I’ve also written before, it is crippled by the need for unanimous decision making: adding members with divergent interests and concerns only magnifies the difficulties of achieving coherent action. It is inimical to the unity of command (something Russia possesses, by the way, and NATO already does not). Moreover, as (yet again) I’ve written before, adding countries that are unduly prone to Russian influence is a particularly stupid way to strengthen an alliance against Russia. (Hell, Putin might want to rethink his opposition to Ukraine in NATO just for that reason. I’m reminded of a story–the source of which I can’t trace so this is based on memory–that Napoleon actually rejoiced at the news that another country had joined a coalition against him, precisely because he knew this would undermine its unity of action.)

It is said about Mexico “so close to the United States, so far from God.” Well, it can be said about Ukraine “so close to Russia, so far from God.” It’s a tragic fate. But addressing that tragedy (which is only one of many tragedies around the world) does not advance American interests.

In addition to being far from God, unlike Mexico Ukraine is also very far from the United States. Which brings us to the second issue: the cost of defending Ukraine, even if it were deemed to be a potentially desirable object of American policy.

Soviet military strategists spoke of the “correlation of forces.” The correlation of forces is decisively on the side of Russia with respect to Ukraine.

Distance is of course a major factor. Ukraine is on Russia’s doorstep. It is thousands of miles and oceans away from the United States, and is even distant from deployable NATO forces in Western Europe. If Russia decided to move tomorrow, the invasion would be over before NATO could do a damn thing about it. And if NATO were somehow able to deploy forces before Russia moved in (which generously assumes that Putin would stand idly by to let such a deployment occur rather than using it as a pretext to launch an invasion) it would be operating at the far end of a very long and vulnerable logistical tail, whereas Russia would be operating with a short and relatively invulnerable one. This makes about as much sense as Custer charging into a huge Sioux and Cheyenne camp on the Little Big Horn, and would probably have a similar result: though Custer could be excused because of his ignorance about just how large the forces he was facing were, whereas NATO commanders could have no such excuse.

The choice would therefore be between abject defeat and a huge escalation that creates the potential for unimaginably horrible consequences.

And for what? (See above re the negligible stakes for the US and NATO.)

I should also note that the United States has a doleful record when it comes to attempting to defend and prop up dysfunctional and corrupt nations–and make no mistake, Ukraine is a Sovok sewer of corruption. Vietnam. Iraq. Afghanistan. In each case, vast amounts of American treasure and huge numbers of American lives were expended in the futile hope of creating functioning states out of dysfunctional ones. And the dysfunctions made the mission impossible, and moreover deeply damaged and corrupted the American military (cf. the Afghanistan Papers).

Uber realist Bismarck memorably said that the Balkans were “not worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.” America needs to be uber realistic, and recognize that not only is Ukraine not worth the healthy bones of a single Texan Marine, it would cost many, many such skeletons.

This is a time when it is imperative to take a tragic view of history. Too often in the 100+ years the United States has taken a missionary, progressive, romantic, and idealistic view instead. It has always worked out horribly.

Can we finally learn our lesson?

A couple of political notes. First, there is a report today that the Biden administration is advising Ukraine to concede extensive Russian control over the Donbas. In light of the above, that is wise. But can you imagine the hue and cry if Trump had said that. Perhaps we are lucky Trump is not president–he would have been under much greater political pressure to intervene in Ukraine than Biden will be.

Relatedly, the call to defend Ukraine with Americans is an illustration of the Russia mania that has beset the American political “elite” in the past 5 years. It truly is a mental illness.

Second, it is no coincidence comrade, that the crisis is coming to a head when Nordstream II is ready for operations and Europe is desperate for energy. The former potentially allows Russia to have its Ukrainian cake and its gas revenues too. The latter makes the EU (aka the Fourth Reich) acutely vulnerable to Russia and therefore far less likely to intervene in any way–including sanctions, for that matter. (This also means that the US could not depend on Germany and other NATO nations for meaningful military support, even assuming that the Broomstick Brigades of the Bundeswehr have any to offer.)

For this the blame lays squarely on perfidious Germany and on Angela Merkel in particular. And ironically, exactly what Trump warned them about, and which Merkel and the rest of the European establishment dismissed haughtily, is coming to pass.

December 4, 2021

Fuck (Normal, Politicized, Faucist) “Science®”

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 2:44 pm

One of the most disgusting tropes in the ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing and ongoing) controversy over COVID policy is the resort to ritual incantations of “science.” This is epitomized by Fauci’s recent declaration that “le science c’est moi.” If you disagree with him, you are anti-science, because he represents science.

This is a logical fallacy (appeal to authority) squared: you can’t challenge Fauci’s authority because he is cloaked in the authority of science. Fauci rivals Louis XIV in his grandiosity.

The science fetishists should read about the sociology of science, and in particular Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It is a dense work that makes many penetrating observations, but the crucial concept he identifies is “normal science.” That is, he emphasizes the institutional context of science, and the incentives facing those who identify as scientists, and are widely recognized as such.

The basic idea is that in the aftermath of scientific revolutions, a “paradigm” emerges that represents the conventional wisdom, and that most scientists are working within that paradigm. Moreover, they are heavily invested in it and would suffer a massive loss in their human capital if that paradigm were to be displaced. Thus, even as contradictory evidence accumulates, the science community resists. It does not act as the scientific methodology dictates, that is, by rejecting or revising theories that fail empirical test. Instead, the community attacks the apostates and repeatedly appeals to its authority to thwart attacks on the ruling paradigm even as contrary evidence accumulates. It doubles down on the paradigm whenever contrary evidence emerges.

This is why most scientific revolutions come from rank outsiders. People who are not invested in, and protected by the existing system. People who have little to lose by pointing out that emperor has no clothes.

My favorite example of this is ulcers. An obscure Australian doctor hypothesized that a common bacteria caused ulcers. The response of the scientific community–and the pharmaceutical industry that profited greatly from ulcer medications–was furious. He was ridiculed and marginalized. But eventually, in a triumph of true science, his hypothesis was confirmed by the data, and the normal science hypothesis was displaced.

Thus, rather than genuflecting to the scientific community (which arrogantly identifies itself with Science), one should always treat it with skepticism. Indeed, the more strident the insistence that someone or some group represents Science the more skeptical you should be. Their stridence reveals that they are afraid, very afraid, that their paradigm is under credible assault.

True scientists are open minded. Normal scientists are close minded. Arrogant defensiveness is symptomatic of normal science under credible threat. A reasonable inference to be drawn from haughty invocations of Science in response to questions is that the science is indeed questionable.

The Kuhnian institutional/sociological forces that warp scientific inquiry are made far, far worse when a scientific issue intersects politics. This is especially true given the gargantuan role of government funding of science: the guardians of the paradigm control who gets the grants. And this is especially especially true when there are strong commercial incentives for supporting the paradigm–such as medications that are justified by the paradigm.

All of these factors are at work in COVID. The illness has been hijacked by governments and shadow governments to justify imposition of measures that deprive billions of people basic liberties and to extend the power of those governments far beyond what would have been imaginable even two years ago:

Sadly, it has come to the point where invocations of Science are the hallmark of charlatans and governments and shadow governments that want to control you. This is especially true with respect to COVID “vaccines.” (I use quotation marks because what are being touted as vaccines are very different from traditional vaccines, a fact that is itself suggestive of propaganda and bait-and-switch tactics.).

As I have noted before, the externality argument for these medications is rejected even by government authorities that advocate widespread, and indeed mandatory, vaccination. Even putting that aside, I dare you to name any other medical treatment in the FDA era that would be approved, let alone allowed to remain on the market, in the face of such dubious evidence of efficacy and such widespread indications of serious–and fatal–side effects. (The best proof of the lack of efficacy is the recent official insistence on “boosters.”).

There is no evidence that trade-offs are being evaluated rigorously–scientifically. Indeed, any suggestion that this be done is furiously attacked by government “scientists” and their government funded apparatchiks. This is most glaringly obvious in the case of children. The vast bulk of scientific evidence shows that children and young adults are at little risk of serious illness from COVID, and are not major vectors of spread. So the benefit of vaccinating them is approximately zero. There are plausibly risks of vaccinating them–this is especially true of young adults.

But governments around the world are currently proceeding to force giving children and young adults these shots.

And if you object, on scientific grounds, you are assailed as being an anti-science know nothing.

Science has been perverted in the name of fighting COVID. Sadly, the outcome of this will not be to improve the reputation of science, or to discredit “normal” politicized science: it will be to undermine the authority of true science. Those who proclaim most arrogantly in the name of science–Anthony Fauci most notable among them–are in fact science’s greatest enemies.

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