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A Brief Overview of Historical Facts Behind the Russian Claim to Crimea

February 16, 2017 13 comments

I originally considered writing this post in early 2014, but thought that the subject matter was so straightforward that even the average geography and history averse person in USA could figure it out by simply googling around for a few minutes. Well.. it is early 2017 now, and based on recent comments made by the newly elected president of USA and many “credentialed” experts and policymakers in the same country– it is obvious that many people in USA (especially those in power) are either naive, or more likely, deliberately ignorant about the historical nature of the Russian claim to Crimea. So let me give you a brief refresher in why Russia has a very solid and strong historical claim to Crimea.

Here is a little relevant history. Crimea, also known as the Crimean Peninsula, is a land mass on the northern coast of the Black Sea which is almost completely surrounded by the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov to the northeast. Over the millennia, it has been part of many different empires- from the Greek city states, Persian Achaemenid Empire, Roman Empire, various groups of Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Byzantine Empire, Khazars, the Kipchaks, the Golden Horde and Crimean Khanate. However since 1783, it has been a part of the Russia- first as part of the Russian Empire, then the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and now the Russian Federation.

Now, it is true that in 1954 a then newly elected Nikita Khrushchev (who was Ukrainian by birth), did transfer administration of Crimea from the Russian part of USSR to its Ukrainian part. While we can not be completely certain about his precise motivations, it is likely that convenience of administration in combination (mainly geography) with a belief in the durability of USSR were the principal factors. In any case, this transfer was largely symbolic since Crimea retained a Russian-speaking majority. Let us now fast forward to 1991 and the dissolution of USSR. At that time, Russia did not take Crimea back by force- largely because it could get everything it wanted through treaties with Ukraine.

That arrangement worked pretty well for a decade or so.. and then the USA started to interfere in Ukrainian politics through various ‘color’ revolutions. USA-friendly political parties and governments in Ukraine then started to talk about abrogating their previous arrangements with Russia regarding many things- including agreements regarding Crimea. All of this talk about taking a tougher line with Russia coincided with the resurgence of Russian military and economy power in that decade. As some of you might know, Crimea apart from being a favorite destination for sun-seeking Russian tourists over the years has long been an important military (and commercial) port for Russia- since the time it was originally annexed in 1783.

Asking Russia to give up Crimea has no basis in anything approaching reality. Firstly, Crimea has been part of Russia since 1783. Secondly, Crimea has had an ethnic Russian majority for many decades now. Thirdly, Russia has successfully fought multiple and bloody wars to retain possession of Crimea since it first annexed it in 1783. Fourthly, Russia still has many thousands of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles making it essentially suicidal to challenge its claim to Crimea via use of military power. Fifthly, economic sanctions are not going to make Russia give up Crimea- because it is seen by the majority of Russians as an integral part of their country.

And this brings me to an interesting comparison of the time-frame that Crimea has been part of Russia to American history. As many of you know, USA was formed when thirteen British colonies in North America declared independence from England in 1776. In other words, USA has been a nation for only 7 years longer than Crimea has been a part of Russia. But it gets even better. Have a look at the map of the original 13 colonies below- click on map to enlarge it. Notice something?

usa_1775-1776

Ya.. most territory which is now considered to be part of USA was not part of it in 1776. To be more precise, precursors to 37 out of the 50 current states which constitute USA today did not even exist in 1776. In fact, the first major expansion of USA, the so-called Louisiana Purchase, would not occur until 1803- about 20 years after Crimea first became part of Russia. Here is a list of the dates when each state officially joined USA. Many states in USA (especially in the South-West and Hawaii) therefore have a far stronger claim to secession from USA than Crimea has from Russia.

But perhaps the oddest, and peculiar, part of the current official policy of USA towards the historically justified Russian claim to Crimea is the massive amount of magical thinking necessary for any non-retarded person to even consider the possibility that Russia will negotiate on (let alone give up) Crimea. It is as if all the “experts” and policy makers in USA mentally inhabit a world where the USA is the sole superpower, rather than the rapidly crumbling mess that it has become. Or maybe the government elite in the USA see such exercises in stupid futility as a useful distraction for the masses so that they keep on robbing the system for a little while longer..

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Blog: McMansion Hell

February 11, 2017 3 comments

A few months ago, I came across a blog called McMansion Hell. As you might have guessed, it is about the overall poor quality of design and construction of large and expensive houses in suburbs and exurbs. While the blog is mostly about McMansions in USA, it does has some posts about similar monstrosities in other countries- especially Canada.

On another note, I wish that he had not hosted it as a Tumblr Blog as finding older posts can be real pain. Here is the link to the index – McMansion Hell Archives.

It is important to understand the critique (and mockery) in that blog is largely directed towards poorly designed and built houses which happen to be large, as opposed to living in or buying a large house. The person who writes that blog is trying to point out that people who buy such ugly and dysfunctional monstrosities have more money than taste or common sense.

Here are a few of her most interesting posts:

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 1) – The real thing Vs its pale imitation- Part 1

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 2) – The real thing vs its pale imitation- Part 2.

Aesthetics Aside, Why McMansions Are Bad Architecture – Many ways McMansions suck.

The McMansion Scale, Explained! – Quantifying the shiftiness of any given McMansion.

Where and Why Do We Build McMansions – Factors enabling these abominations.

and here are a few examples of her brutal and much deserved take down of these shitty stucco-boxes. Browse her tumblr blog archives for more..

Montville Township, NJ – This lovely home, built in 2004 can be yours for the low price of $2,250,000.

Fort Worth, TX – This week’s house, a Mansard built in 1993 (but is totes 1987) is pushing 5,000 square feet, and is currently on the market for $1.3 million USD.

Scottsdale, Arizona – This house, built in 1996 and boasting around 4,000 square feet can be all yours for just under a million dollars!

What do you think? Comments?

Some Initial Thoughts on the Likely Trajectory of a Trump Presidency: 4

February 3, 2017 15 comments

In the previous part of this series, I focused on problems which will almost certainly arise from one of Trump’s recent executive orders- namely the one about “temporarily” banning entry into USA of people from certain predominantly Muslim countries. In that post and a subsequent standalone post, I made the point that his Muslim ban was problematic for reasons that have little to do with it targeting Muslims. Firstly, it simply reinforces the widespread perception (in USA and rest of the world) that Trump makes decisions without regard to considerations of legality, feasibility, prior official positions or the risks inherent in such abrupt changes in direction.

Secondly, and perhaps far more importantly, the rest of the world (including friendly countries) see this ban as yet another confirmation of their view that trusting Trump or the USA to follow through on any agreement made in the past or even in the future is a bad idea. The second type of problems are more important that the first, since it is relatively easy to gloss over localized problems arising from personality quirks of a head of state than it is to overlook an increase in systemic risk due to a pattern of unpredictable behavior. In other words, the rest of the world would not care much if Trump’s break from the past was localized to one or two areas.

As I briefly mentioned in the previous post of this series, Trump is trying to implement large shifts from past positions on issues in a large number of areas- from immigration and international trade to reproductive right issues and dramatically ramping up the police state in USA. Moreover, his attempts to shift positions have been characterized by an unwillingness to understand the factors which made them the default in the first place. For example- increases in immigration (legal and otherwise) are largely due to the insatiable thirst of corporations for ever-increasing margins of profit. The same is true for constant increases in international trade including “free” trade.

And that brings us to the inevitable and massive international repercussions inherent in Trump’s desire to effect large shifts in major policies on a number of issues..

The relationships between nation states, unlike those between entities within a nation-state, are almost totally dependent on their mutual perceptions. These perceptions in turn are largely based on experiences of prior interactions. Furthermore, a lot of these perceptions are contingent to the parties not making any sudden deviations from their prior positions. For example- it is widely understood that China is unlikely to invade Taiwan in the near future (say.. the next 5 years) in spite of its long-term official position on that issue. Similarly, it is understood that India is going to keep on building more nuclear weapons, ICBMs and nuclear submarines in spite of what its leaders say or any residual international pressure.

Relationships between any two nation states can survive a lot of friction as long as both parties do not make any unexpected and sudden moves. The USA was, for many decades, widely seen as a nation-state with predictable behavior and policies- even if they were unsavory. Foreign and trade policies of USA, as bad as they might have been, remained reasonably consistent and stable irrespective of who was the president or which party was in power. Furthermore, changes in these policies were gradual and constant (predictable) rather than large and abrupt (unpredictable). It is this relative stability and consistency which allowed the USA to successfully create and sustain international organisations and treaties.

Trump’s desire to effect large shifts in multiple areas of national and international policy upsets the relative stability and consistency which have characterized the previous few decades. They also negate many established perceptions about the USA which are essential to relatively smooth and predictable interactions between that country and the rest of the world. For example- the continued functionality of many international organisations such as NATO, IMF etc are intimately tied to USA not deviating too much from past positions. The same is true about all those existing international trade agreements which the USA is a party to.

Think about it this way- would you enter into a business partnership where you could lose money or more with somebody whose behavior was highly unpredictable? Also, would you maintain or expand a business relationship with somebody who exhibited sudden and large changes in their behavior? Well.. the same holds true for relationships between nation states. The point is that Trump’s desire for large shifts to many policies makes it very hard for the USA to sustain, let alone improve, its existing relationships with various other nations. Now, this would not have been that big a deal if we were still living in the 1850s, 1910s or even 1950s- when you could get by without much of a two-way interaction with the rest of the world.

But we no longer live in those eras. Today, manufacturing and supply chains of everything from your toothbrush and clothes to CPUs and airliners span the entire globe. While it is certainly possible to argue about the desirability of this particular setup, we cannot deny that it exists. Nor can we pretend that waving a magic wand will somehow change the system the next month, year or decade. Also, it is not realistically possible to reproduce a previous era since each era is largely the product of conditions and circumstances unique to that era.

In other words, Trump’s desire to effect major policy shifts in multiple areas will almost certainly damage a whole slew of international relationships without most people in USA benefiting from them. It is sorta like wrecking the house you live in without having a feasible plan to quickly move into a new house. In my opinion, it is unlikely to end well- to put it mildly.

What do you think? Comments?

Why Trump’s Muslim Ban is a Self-Destructive Idea: 30 Jan, 2017

January 30, 2017 13 comments

Note- While this post develops on ideas discussed in my previous post, it is best kept separate from that series- largely because this post is heavily focused on one particular issue rather than a pattern or trend. It is however likely that some observations made here will be generically valid for later parts of that series.

I am going to start this post by first talking about its specific focus- namely Trump’s recent executive order “temporarily” banning entry into USA of people travelling from 7 largely Muslim countries. It should be noted that order, as it is being implemented, also prevents the entry of permanent legal residents and others travelling on valid visas from those countries- in spite of what Trump’s cronies are claiming. I also do not have to tell you that this order has resulted in a lot of public opposition, including but not limited to, large public demonstrations at various major airports all over USA.

The intense public reaction against this executive order is, in my opinion, perhaps the smallest problem created by this stupid action. Even the constitutional and legal problems associated with that executive order are at best medium-sized problems. The largest and most dangerous of the many problems associated with implementing such a stupid plan are linked to its long-term secondary and tertiary effects. Let me explain..

1] Irrespective of what Trump and his sycophants say, it is clear that his “temporary” ban on entry by people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries is a Muslim ban. Only a retard would believe that this ban is not the first step in a futile last-ditch attempt by white nativists to hang onto their make-believe position in a world that has irreversibly changed, much to their disadvantage. Trump’s other plan to deport tens of millions of “illegal Mexicans” is just another part of his futile attempt to raise the dead.. also known as making USA white again.

So why does this matter? Well.. consider the demographic profile of USA. Do you really think that pissing off every non-white person and, perhaps, half the whites in USA is a good strategy? The pivot point of real power has already irreversibly shifted away from the types of people who enthusiastically voted for Trump (as opposed to those who did because he was not HRC). To make a long story short, such actions make any future peaceful co-existence between his hard-core supporters and everyone far less likely- to the detriment of the former.

2] Trying to implement policies which deviate from established norms, even if they enjoy popular support, is problematic as the best of times. Trying to force irrational and regressive policies when half the country sees that person as proto-Hitler or proto-Mussolini does not help Trump’s public image- to put it mildly. It should be noted that even disastrous and disliked presidents like Bush43 and Nixon37 were never widely seen as illegitimate- especially at the beginning of their presidency. At some point in their first term, both of these now detested ex-presidents enjoyed popularity ratings as high as 80-90% .

There is, therefore, no comparable example in living history of an american president who has such low popularity AND was widely perceived to be illegitimate. Once you add the fact that he seems to be implementing policies which people associate with totalitarian regimes- it is fair to say that he is willingly (or accidentally) marking himself out as proto-Hitler or proto-Mussolini, at least in the public imagination. I would not be surprised if people start treating him as a totalitarian leader who was not legitimately elected- especially if his economic policies fail to deliver increased incomes for working-class people within the next 2 years.

3] The biggest difference between a conflict among two groups within a nation and one between two nations is that the former type has one final arbiter, while the later has none. Consequently, conflicts between nations (or nation sized entities) can go on for as long as either nation (or entity) involved in it can afford to continue. Even worse, as examples such as the recent failed occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by USA show, intense but diffuse conflicts can go on for far longer than modern nation states can afford to sustain them.

But what does any of this to do with Trump’s Muslim ban? Well.. a lot. His actions, you see, have jump-started a new and counterproductive phase in a conflict which has been simmering for some time. While the current ban affects only 7 Muslim countries, you can bet that the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world (even those who are otherwise nor religious) have been mentally mobilized against the USA, Trump and his loyal followers. More importantly, even those who were Muslims in name only now have no reason to play nice with USA. The same goes for leaders of Muslim countries whose rulers and leaders used to be favorably disposed towards USA.

4] And this brings us to the next long-term effect of this particular act of stupidity. The ability of USA to operate in many parts of the Middle-East and North-Africa (and similar places) depends on it being able to trade financial and other favors with the local ruling class. These is a reason why the kids of the elite from many of these countries study in well-known american universities and buy expensive real estate in USA. For most of post-WW2 history, the USA has managed to keep the promises made to the local elites of those countries.

But what happens if the USA acts in a manner that makes any such promises deeply suspect? Why would the local elites of those smaller countries keep playing with an entity that is already hated in their realms? Would you keep on going to work if you were not getting paid? Would you work for somebody whose actions have demonstrated that they intend to not pay you? What makes you think that the local elite in those countries would keep on playing nice with USA if they believed USA wanted to stiff them later?

5] But perhaps the biggest and most problematic long-term effects of Trump’s Muslim ban and his immigration and trade “policies” are on the international credibility of USA. Let me quickly explain that point in a bit more detail. Relationships between nations, whether they are of a commercial or military nature, are based on the credibility of involved parties. The credibility of a nation is largely dependent on how other nations see it based on their past experiences and signs of policy continuity- economic and military. That is why, for example, the west makes pokes fun at North Korea but does not have the balls to invade it.

Trump’s Muslim ban in combination with his stated beliefs about many others topics such as immigration, trade and race are a significant change from official american positions on those issues for many decades. While that might seem like a good thing to many of his mediocre racist.. I mean “patriotic” supporters, it makes it very hard for other countries to believe in the willingness of USA to honor ANY agreement or treaty they sign from now on. To be fair, the USA has often unilaterally broken more than a few agreements and treaties in the past. However, today it simply does not have its previous size and power differential vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

To summarize, Trump’s Muslim ban is a self-destructive idea because it opens the door to large systemic problems in the future without solving the problem it was intended to address.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Initial Thoughts on the Likely Trajectory of a Trump Presidency: 3

January 28, 2017 23 comments

I had written the previous two post of this series (link 1, link 2) in the 2-3 weeks after Trump’s election on November 8. While it was tempting to write more parts of this series at that time, observing his actions immediately after assuming the presidency before writing the next part seemed to be a better idea. As many of you know, Trump has taken multiple and often conflicting positions on a variety of important issues over the years. Perhaps even more unusually for a politician, he has often done a 180 on his previous position on some issues- without even acknowledging that he took conflicting positions in the past.

For example- he is on record as supporting the right to abortion, being agnostic about it and opposing it depending on the personal benefit of taking one of those three position at a given time. Similarly, he is on record as supporting single-payer healthcare systems, supporting mixed private-public healthcare systems or defending complete privatization of the healthcare system- depending on the personal benefits of taking one of those three positions. In other words, it appears that Trump has few (if any) fixed beliefs about a large number of issues. More worryingly, especially since he is now the president, Trump seems to believe that his public perceptions about his past position on issues have no effect on his current position on them.

And all of this brings us to what Trump has been doing since he was formerly sworn in as the president on Jan 20, 2016. As many of you must have heard by now, Trump has been signing a shitload of controversial executive orders since he assumed office last week. They range from the hilarious (national day of patriotism), somewhat populist (withdrawing from the TPP), expected (mexico city policy on funding NGOs, approving new oil pipelines), plutocrat enriching (eliminating some rebates on mortgage payments), dangerous (starting repeal of ACA without an alternative plan, OK-ing the construction of a wall between Mexico and USA) to the batshit insane (banning entry of people from some Muslim countries, even legal permanent residents, into the USA).

Now, it is certainly possible to imagine that his executive orders are more theater than substance and might not survive legal challenges. However a lot of the concomitant rhetoric coming out of Trump’s mouth and tweets suggest that he is more than a bit serious about actually implementing those orders- especially the dangerous and batshit insane ones. I had briefly mentioned (in a previous post) that his positions on Mexican .. well.. actually all non-white immigrants and citizens has special potential to cause severe disruptions and unrest in the country. Events of the previous two days have added another issue to the list of those which have similar or even higher potential for disruption and unrest- albeit for different reasons than the “mexican” issue.

You might have heard that Trump has signed an executive order banning people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the USA- even if they happen to permanent legal residents. Curiously, people from these seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) have never ever been implicated in a terrorist act within USA. Furthermore, people from the two Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) whose residents have been implicated in almost every single Islam-inspired terrorist attack in USA are still free to enter USA.

To be fair, establishment democrats and their supporters had no problems in the past when Obama tried to overthrow the government in two of these countries + expanded “war on terror in the other five on that list. It is also no secret that the rise of organisations such as ISIL was aided and abetted by the overt and indirect policies of the Obama administration. In other words, there is more than a bit of hypocrisy when establishment democrats who were perfectly OK with bombing people in these countries and funding organisations bent on overthrowing their governments pretend to be shocked and angry at Trump taking their stupid policies to the next level.

Having said that, this latest move by the Trump administration is especially problematic- and not just in the immediate and widespread popular response against its implementation. As many of you realize, such executive orders and their implementation creates a new set of bad precedents. If you can ban the entry of people from countries accused of terrorism by the government, in spite of evidence to contrary, what is there to stop this (or a future) president from banning people of other religious, ethnic or racial groups from entering the country legally? Now some old and decaying american racists.. I mean jingoists.. might think that such actions have no consequence in international relations with other important and supposedly white countries.

As it turn out.. a lot! many of the supposedly important and white countries are no longer as white or important as they used to be in the past. Consider, for example that many west-european countries such as the UK, France, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland have a fairly significant minority that is not white or christian. Do you really think that Trump won’t sign future executive orders to ban Muslims (often second or third generation) from west-European countries from entering USA? Do you really think that implementing such orders would not cause serious problems in those countries? Do you really think that many countries in that position would not reevaluate their relationship with USA? Do you really think that there would no financial consequences (for both sides) of such actions?

The problem with Trump and people who think like him is that they live in world which does not and cannot exist now. There was a brief period (between 1945-1949.. perhaps until the early 1960s) when the relative power differential between the USA and the rest of the world (especially non-white countries) was large enough for the USA to get away with some stupid shit. But that was a long time ago and things have changed a lot since the early 1960s. In 2016, the USA simply lacks the power differential to pull that type of shit without screwing itself in the process. Today everyone knows that the USA is not an exceptional country. Today everyone has seen the USA lose against insurgencies in even poor medium-sized nations and lacks the ability to win a war against any other nuclear power of consequence.

I think it is likely that this particular move by Trump will turn into his first real public relations disaster, very likely to due to internal protests and legal challenges. However, this “Muslim ban” also provides an interesting window into how Trump and people around him see the world. It is now fairly certain that Trump and his advisers inhabit a mental world where the USA is far more powerful than it is in reality. Therefore, I expect Trump (and his associates) to make similar moves in a number of other areas- from trade and immigration to internal issues such as “law enforcement”. Needless to say, it won’t end well for Trump, his associates, the republican party, average Americans and to a far lesser extent- the rest of the world.

In the next post of this series, I shall try to write about the panoply of problems (both obvious and not so obvious) consequent to Trump’s policies wrt to people of Mexican descent in USA- citizens, immigrants and undocumented. That is.. unless his recent Muslim ban causes even more unrest and problems which I then have to write about.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Opioid Overdose Epidemic among Working Class Whites in USA

January 24, 2017 15 comments

As many of my regular readers already know, I have long been a supporter for legalization of all recreational drugs. More than a few of my older posts have talked about issues such as the deliberate insanity of drug prohibition. I have also talked about the peculiar association between a certain kind of racism and the origins of the “war on drugs” in USA. It would be correct to say that the vast majority of official policies against recreational drug use in USA are based in racism and class-ism.

So why were such racist, inhuman and ineffective policies still popular in USA? Well.. because they appeal to the belief systems and worldview of a (if now slim) majority, who still exist in a previous era. To be more precise, anti-drug policies appealed to the white working class by allowing them to feel superior to non-white members of the populace. Furthermore, it allowed them to participate in (and often profit from) the systematic abuse, impoverishment and murder of non-whites. It would be fair to say that the “war on drugs” in USA is really Jim Crow version 2.0- and I am certainly not the first person who has made that comparison.

Now, I am not saying that ALL working class whites supported the “war on drugs” and other anti-drug use measures simply because they were stupid, petty and greedy racists. However even a casual study of trends in american politics during the 1945-2001 era show that support of anti-drug measures (including long minimum sentences, onerous plea bargains, increase in mass incarceration, cutting welfare and other “tough on crime” policies) was largely driven by white racism towards non-whites. It is also worthwhile to point out that support for such policies has little connection to actual rates of violent criminal behavior.

But systemic socio-economic and demographic changes have a way of permanently altering the playing field against those who benefited from the previous status quo.

And that brings us the post-2006 era. As many of you must have read and heard on multiple news outlets- opioid overdose (prescription or otherwise) now accounts for more deaths in USA than either automobile accidents or death by guns. It is also worth noting that the vast majority of those who die by opioid overdose are members of the white working class. Some recent studies have claim that opioid overdose kills more people per year in USA than HIV did at the height of the AIDS epidemic. There are even studies which correlate voting patterns in a given area during the 2016 election to the severity of the opioid overdose problem in that area.

While some want to blame the entire opioid overdose “crisis” on profit-seeking behavior by the pharma sector, it is clear that larger and more systemic forces are at play. Even a cursory look at the location of areas hardest hit by the opioid overdose crisis reveals that these areas were economically depressed for a decade or two before the crisis became noticeable. Furthermore, many states to contain some locales that have been heavily affected by the overdose crisis next door to others that have not been similarly afflicted. Clearly then, big pharma pushing opioid prescriptions to make a quick buck is at best a contributing cause to the problem of widespread opioid overdose.

In my opinion, the long-term social and psychological effects of prolonged economic immiseration are the main cause of the current opioid overdose crisis. It is not a coincidence that areas with high rates of opioid use usually also have high rates of recreational amphetamine use and high rates of alcoholism. The simple fact is that prolonged economic immiseration of areas through loss of well-paying jobs initiates a secondary and tertiary series of changes to the lives of people who still live in that area. These changes ultimately result in an environment which causes people living there to lose any sense of hope and personal agency.

It is, therefore, not surprising that many people living in such areas turn to drugs which blunt their perception of pain and loss (opiates, alcohol) or make them feel happy for short periods of time (amphetamines). Incidentally, that is also why rates of drug use among blacks in certain inner cities have been historically quite high. There is a certain delicious irony in watching supposedly “respectable” members of the white working class turn to high levels of drug use for the same basic reasons as all those non-white people they used to look down upon.

The opioid overdose epidemic among working class whites should be seen as just another symptom of their progressive immiseration under the neoliberal socio-economic order. I should also point out that this class were once the biggest cheerleaders and enablers of the very same predatory capitalist practices and corporate behaviors that have now ruined their lives. It is somewhat funny to watch people go from lecturing others about pull themselves up by their bootstraps to overdosing and dying like the very people they used to look down upon.

I should also point out that the white working class in USA has been historically opposed to expansion of the social safety net and legalization of drugs- because they though it might help those “undeserving” non-whites. I guess they never thought that they would one day end up at the bottom of the barrel.

What do you think? Comments?

Comparing Income across Countries in USD is Detached from Reality: 1

January 20, 2017 6 comments

One of the most popular talking points of “public intellectuals” who support the CONServative or neoliberal position goes some like this.. the average income of some of the poorest states in USA is often higher than the average income of wealthy west-european countries. They use this bullshit argument to convince people that the american socio-economic system, as it exists now, is the best possible way to run countries. They also use this scam to pretend that the quality of life for the average person in USA is much better than in other affluent countries- when the reverse is in fact true. The rest of this post will show how the relationship between income as measured in USD and quality of life has completely broken down all over the world in the last thirty years.

Now, there are a number of reasons why a significant percentage of people in USA might have believed such bullshit in the past. As many of you know, people in USA did not (and still do not) travel to other affluent countries at percentages that are even remotely comparable to their counterparts in other developed countries. Therefore, in the pre-internet era it was easy to believe propaganda which told them that the USA was the best place to live in the world. This was especially true in the era between 1945-1999 when the economy in USA, despite occasional downturns, seemed to work reasonably OK for a majority of its people. It is also worth nothing that much of the cultural memory of Americans about the quality of life in other European countries was formed in the first 10-15 years after the end of WW2.

The course of events in the world, however, does not stop if you cease to observe them. Nor does the nature and speed of change to accommodate the beliefs and delusions of any particular group of human beings. My point is that saying or believing something to be true does not make it so- regardless of how loudly and frequently you say it or how many “credentials” you possess. But what does the futility of believing in comforting bullshit have to do with the already massive disconnect between proxy measures for economic well-being of average person in various countries? And why is believing in such bullshit actually dangerous to those who choose to believe in it?

Let us start by looking at the correlation between average incomes (measured in USD) in various countries and their average life expectancy- which is one of the better indicators of general socio-economic well-being. While median life expectancy and remaining life expectancy after age 65 are somewhat better measures of socio-economic, the average numbers are good enough for most purposes. So how does USA compare in that respect to other developed countries? Well.. have a look.

lifeexp_vs_cost_oced_upto_2014_01

You will immediately notice that while the USA spends way more than similar west-european countries, it has by far the lowest average life-expectancy. The high per-capita expenditure on healthcare in USA, as compared to other developed countries, does not translate into better outcomes. Furthermore, bankruptcy and severe financial problems due to medical costs are basically unknown in the rest of the developed world. But it get’s worse.. much worse. A number of developed countries such as South Korea, Chile, Greece and Israel are able to achieve significantly higher life expectancy (than USA) for a fraction of the cost- as measured in USD. The life expectancy in Mexico is almost identical to USA though its per-capita spending on healthcare (as measured in USD) is about a tenth of that in USA.

Even countries as different from each other as China, Jamaica, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Tunisia whose per-capita spending on healthcare is 5% (or less) of USA have average life-expectancies similar to (or better than) early-1990 era USA. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the entire healthcare system in USA is more about rent extraction and job creation than providing.. healthcare. But that is best left for another series of posts- though I have made a brief version of that argument in a previous post. The point I am trying to make in this particular series of posts is that comparing income across countries in USD is delusional and potentially dangerous.

So let us now turn to the costs of housing in USA, especially as regards to what people get for a given amount of money (as measured in USD). While it is possible to make the case that houses in USA tend to be bigger than those in many other developed countries, that is only part of the story. Sure.. you can buy a large and relatively inexpensive house if you are willing to live 50-100 km outside the nearest city in pretty much any part of USA. But how many people want to willingly live in such places? Here is a hint, use google earth or maps to look at satellite pictures of distant suburbs and then compare them to locations near nearby cities. So let us be honest and compare the cost of housing (buy or rent) in desirable locales in USA to those in other developed countries. When you do that, it quickly becomes obvious that housing in many developed countries often costs a bit less and has significantly superior access to everything from shopping to entertainment.

And this brings to the issue of discretionary purchasing power. One might think that the average person in USA would have more discretionary spending power than his or her equivalent in other developed countries. But is that so? I mean, you are far more likely to see a tourist from a west- or east- European country in USA than the other way around. Not only that, people in European countries tend to dress better than their equivalents in USA. So how do those who defend the american system based on income as measured in USD explain all of this? Well.. they try to distract you by lots of hand-waving and sophistry.

Then there is the issue of education or more precisely the cost and quality. While the cost and quality of K-12 education in USA is somewhat close to its equivalents in other developed countries, it still leaves much to be desired. The situation of higher or post-secondary education in USA is however far worse. As many of you know, the cost of obtaining higher education in USA is far higher than in other developed countries. But is the quality any better? In other words, is an engineer from some large and well-known university in USA really better than his equivalent from some German or Japanese university? Or is a doctor from a large and well-known american university any better than his equivalent from some French or British university? What about other areas of higher education? My point, here, is that the american education system (especially its post secondary component) provides incredibly poor value for money and is far more about obtaining credentials from a shiny-looking university. That is why most international students in american universities are from developing countries, rather than other developed countries.

In the upcoming part of this series, I will show you how the average quality of life for ostensibly middle-class people in USA has more in common with their equivalents in other developing countries rather than developed ones.

What do you think? Comments?