Archive for the ‘Skepticism’ Category

On the Fake ‘Liberalism’ of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee

March 24, 2017 1 comment

As many of you might have noticed by now- Trump’s 2016 election victory has had some interesting, and highly entertaining, effects on establishment “liberals”. Hardly a day goes by without some rich “liberal” celebrity saying, tweeting or posting a melodramatic rant about Trump. Curiously, only a minority of these rants are about something real- like all the bad decisions made by his administration since January 20, 2017. Instead, these rich “liberal” celebrities spend most of their bandwidth hyping dubious allegations about collusion between ‘Trump and Putin’ and generally demeaning people who voted for Trump (or did not vote for HRC).

While the anti-Trump rants of most “liberal celebrities (including some famous presstitutes) are secondary to their career, a few have made a living out of it or used it to boost their public visibility. While the demand for anti-Trump agitprop by partisan democratic voters has created a cottage industry of minor celebrities ranting against him, a few stand out- largely because of their public visibility and hypocrisy. I am specifically talking about three minor “liberal” celebrities with their own comedy shows on cable TV who used to be on previous incarnation of “The Daily Show”.

But before I skewer the fake “liberalism” of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee, let us talk a bit about why Jon Stewart’s version of that show was so successful and influential. As some of you might remember, Jon Stewart was not the first host of “The Daily Show”. Nor was his version an instant hit. In fact, in its first two years, the show was largely a combination of clever but fairly mild mockery of public figures (especially politicians) with a short studio interview of some celebrity at the end. In other words, it was sufficiently different enough from traditional late-night shows to get some attention but not bold enough to be a trendsetter.

Then a series of events made that show far more relevant than in its first two years. The disputed presidential election of 2000 and the events of 9/11 were unique in the recent history of USA as far as their scale and impact was concerned. But perhaps more importantly, commentary on those two events could not be packaged within the narrative space of traditional late-night shows which largely shunned any serious political discussions. Jon Stewart’s show, on the other hand, was ideally equipped to deal with politically oriented satire- something that was non-existent on basic cable TV at that time.

The disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a really large number of bad or stupid decisions by the Bush43 administration created a gold mine of opportunity for political satire. Jon Stewart’s ability and willingness to mock the Bush43 administration was in sharp contrast with the spineless deference to them by rest of MSM. In other words, he had no serious competition for his product on cable TV between 2003-2008. I should also point out that this occurred in the era before widespread penetration of social media platforms, video streaming services and alternative news sites.

To make a long story short, this led to his show (and all those associated with it) becoming media celebrities- especially among viewers of a vaguely liberal mindset. I, however, always saw that show as somewhat disingenuous because it was about promoting impotent and smug ridicule of ‘those people’ for ratings. Now.. I am not exactly a fan of CONservatives or people who vote for republicans- but it was obvious that democrats and establishment ‘liberals’ were not better. Neither wanted to push for single payer healthcare with universal coverage. Neither wanted to do anything about the looming financial crisis in the 2004-2008 span. Neither wanted to really not invade Iraq under false pretense or get out of there once it became obvious that occupation of Iraq was a failure.

My point is that establishment republicans were not really different from their democratic counterparts. Yet, night after night, that show would try to portray democrats as being much better than republicans. So how could they do that? Well.. as it turns out, the superiority of democrats was largely based on them being less openly bigoted than their republican counterparts. Yes.. I am saying that the biggest difference between democrats and republicans, as portrayed on that show, was that the former were more image conscious and careful about what they said than the later. Yet, the show tried to portray this as proof of fundamental superiority of neoliberal democrats over neoconservative republicans.

After eight shitty years under Bush43, the nation got tired of republicans and elected Obama in November 2008. Suddenly, that show (and other like it) could not stop praising the newly elected president. This uncritical praise of Obama continued even after he revealed his neoliberal colors by bailing out big banks, screwing over mortgage holders, passing an insipid republican healthcare plan and not fulfilling the vast majority of his campaign promises. So what happened? Why did that show, and others like it, stop holding Obama accountable like they tried to do this predecessor. To be fair, Bush43 was a bigger fuckup than Obama44. My point, however, still stands. That show spent infinitely more time fawning over him than holding him to account for breaking his many promises.

But what does any of this have to with the fake ‘liberalism’ of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee? Why is a brief history of ‘The Daily Show’ relevant to my critique of them? And what is fake ‘liberalism’?

Let us consider the last question first. Fake ‘liberalism’ is just another word for neoliberalism. People who believe in, and promote, this ideology espouse a number of causes which at first glance appear progressive or liberal. For example- they support a number of “progressive” causes such as LGBT rights after the causes have already become safe to support. They never tire talking about how they support “diversity”, “empowerment” and similar nice-sounding but empty ideas. They will however never want to confront large systemic issues such as class, race, rent-seeking, economic inequality etc

To put it another way, they have no interest in real socio-economic reform. Indeed, they want to keep the status quo going on for as long as possible since they greatly benefit from it. They just want to find and promote new ideas that help legitimize their parasitism. As I wrote in a previous post, the vast majority of the public actions and behavior of these establishment “liberals” and celebrities are about virtue signalling and trying to create a moral justification for their ill-gotten wealth and power.

So how do John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee fit into all this? The short answer is- very well. The somewhat longer answer is that their entire career is based on promoting this fake “liberalism” while pretending to be progressive. Here is a person-by-person breakdown.

John Oliver: Though he pretends to be of middle-class upbringing, even a quick look at his background suggests that he came from a pretty connected background. OK, so he is not exactly upper class, but he is what you might call solidly upper-middle class. Note that he was able to move from performing in comedy festivals in UK to being hired by the Daily Show within a few years. Now I am not saying that he was incompetent or undeserving, but it is clear that he always moved in the right circles to be ‘discovered’ for big-time gigs. And this brings me to an odd question- why would you hire a guy from UK for a show about the minutiae of american society and politics? As an outsider with a fresh perspective? Perhaps.. but there is a much better explanation.

In my opinion, he was hired by that show to play a particular archetype. To be more specific- he played the role of a witty, oxbridge educated englishman to comment on american society and politics while still being accessible enough to generate ratings. And that is his shtick, his only shtick. Sure.. since he got his own show on HBO, he has devoted many shows to obvious critiques of the many flaws and problems in american society. Also, his critiques are, by and large, factually correct and accurate. But all of his critiques almost always miss the source of the problems he claims to be exposing. As an example- his show about predatory lending barely touched on the central role of low minimum wages in USA in creating that problem in the first place. Another example- his segment on police accountability treats the issue of police brutality as a fault of the system rather than as its central feature.

In other words, his principal shtick is to sell outrage at various symptom of the underlying rot rather than directing attention to the cause. So why he do that? Well.. because it is popular and profitable. People like him derive their livelihood from being the secular equivalents of “revolutionary” religious preachers of old who were largely in it for public adulation, money and power. Like their secular equivalents today, those preachers had no interest in actual reform which would improve the lives of others. Similarly, most of their promoters and audience went their sermons to feel good about themselves and morally superior to those not in attendance. Also, it helped give their audience the illusion of righteous action.

Trevor Noah: When he took over as the host of ‘The Daily Show’ after Jon Stewart retired, many wondered as to why Jon chose a South-African comedian over, say, somebody from USA. The official answer was that he had the most potential of those who were available (and willing) to fill that spot. Once again, I am not going to say that he is incompetent and undeserving of the position- because there is no evidence for those assertions. In fact, Trevor is a pretty decent all-round comedian. However, I do think that his ancestry had a worthwhile effect on his selection for that job. In my opinion, It really helped that Trevor (like John Oliver) can convey a particular archetype. Specifically that of a sharp, competent, confident black comedian who is still culturally white enough to retain the core viewership of the show. It also helps that he was born in apartheid-era South Africa and therefore serves as an example of somebody who is achieving the American Dream.

So what makes him a promoter of fake “liberalism”? Well.. the simple answer is- who and what he promotes on his show. And yes, I am aware that he does not have full editorial control of the show. Since he started hosting the show, it has pretty much been a love-fest for establishment “liberals” and “conservatives”- much more so that when Jon Stewart hosted it. Also, during the 2016 election cycle- he was plugging establishment propaganda and tropes as if he was part of the establishment. You might have also noticed that the show now spends an inordinate amount of time of just plain mockery of all those ‘other people’ and SJW-type issues than on anything approaching an intelligent or clever critique. Of course, saying any of this in public or on social media will result in busy-bodies calling you a racist.

Samantha Bee: Another alumni of ‘The Daily Show’ whose main shtick can be largely summed up as- “I have a cunt, therefore, I must be respected and admired”. As some of you, in her previous jobs, she had pretty much one single specialty- make funny faces during interviews that were then edited to support whatever point she was trying to make. That is the exact same specialty as her husband. Nowadays, her secondary shtick is to support any cause that can be vaguely sold as feminist or “empowering to women”- which is something that is still in demand. Curiously, all of her public professions of support for the down-trodden, non-white, women and other “protected” groups does not seem to extend to her personal life. It is a matter of public record, that she and her husband, are opposed to integration of kids from lower-income families at the school which their kids attend. To put it another way, “diversity” is good for the ignorant masses but not for affluent “liberals” like us.

I should also point out that she uncritically supported and plugged HRC, both during the democratic primaries and the general election in 2016. It is noteworthy that she did that by repeatedly ignoring and dissing Bernie Sanders and his message of populist economic policies. In that respect, she is more openly neoliberal that John Oliver or Trevor Noah. Also, pointing out that she is not especially funny is evidence your ‘misogyny’ rather than your opinion about her competence. In her opinion, rubes like you are too stupid to appreciate the comedy of constantly swearing and screaming hysterically at the camera. Also, not appreciating the comedy of misleadingly edited interviews is a sign of your poor taste- rather than fatigue at seeing the same crap for almost a decade.

I am now going to stop adding to this post because it is already a bit too long. Might write a sequel later.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting YouTube Channel: TYT Politics

March 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Here is an interesting YouTube channel that I have watched, on and off, for the previous few months. OK, to be more specific- I usually watch the reports by 2-3 of their journalists (Michael Tracey, Jordan Chariton and Emma Vigeland).

Here is the link to the channel: TYT Politics

And here are a couple of recent, and interesting, clips. The first one is about the interesting case of a journalist prone to confabulism (Kurt Eichenwald) pressing criminal charges against some guy sending him a flashing tweet which allegedly triggered an epileptic seizure. The second clip is about all those the Putin-Russia’ claims by establishment democrats and their most fervent supporters seem to be helping Trump rather than hurting him. It also makes the point focusing on these dubious and flimsy claims, at the expense of going after Trump for his many real and tangible problems, does not help the establishment democrats who are pushing this story.

Clip 1: Is A Tweet Now A “Deadly Weapon”?

Clip 2: Jordan and Michael Working For Russia?!

Enjoy! Comments?

Effects of Residency by State and Race on Life Expectancy in USA

March 18, 2017 12 comments

One of the common and peculiar explanations about why average life-expectancy in USA is about 3 years less than most other developed countries goes something like this: “It is because of ‘the Blacks’ who have lower life expectancy than Whites because of genetics”. The person who makes this argument will then, almost always, go on to make another related claim: “Whites in USA have the same life expectancy as Whites in other developed countries”. Well.. it just happens that the second claim is false, while the first one is demonstrably false.

But before we go there, here (below) is a map of average life-expectancy by state in USA. You will immediately notice that many states in the American South have rather low average life-expectancy compared to states on the north-east and west coast of USA. It turns out that average life-expectancy in southern and many mid-western states is below the national average of USA- which itself is about 3 years less than most other developed countries. But it gets worse. Many “far poorer countries” (as measured per-capita income in USD) such as Mexico have average life expectancy figures that are superior to most states in the American South.

But it is the effect of residency by state AND race on average life expectancy that is truly amazing- for some people, at least. You can get the long-form of the data here or the wikipedia version here.

It turns out that Blacks in many coastal states live longer than Whites in many southern states. In eight southern states (Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi) the average life expectancy for Whites is below 77 years. Curiously, there are six states (Minnesota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, Oregon) in which average life expectancy for Blacks is over 77 years. Given that over 90% of people with Black ancestry in USA can trace their origins in this country to the pre-1810 era, it is certainly odd that Blacks living in certain states today live upto 8 years longer than their equivalents in some other states.

The state of residence, then, has a large impact on average life-expectancy than race in USA.

But it gets even more interesting. The gap between the numbers for White and Black average life expectancy pales in comparison to that between Hispanics and Whites. Hispanics, you see, appear to live years longer than their White counterparts- even in populous and relatively affluent states such as California, Massachusetts and New York. I should note that this is true in spite of the fact that Hispanics typically tend to be less affluent than Whites. People of Asian ancestry, of course, have the longest life-expectancy of any racial group in USA- but that statistic has a significant competent of higher social class and levels of education.

On another note, the gap between White and Black average life expectancy is highest in mid-western states such as Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Michigan. It is the lowest in states such as Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Nevada. Curiously, the gap between White and Black life expectancy is only moderate in the American South- which is another way of saying that it is bad for both of them in those states. I am sure that many of my readers will have a lot more to say about this post and the data in the reports which it was derived from.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Mar 17, 2017

March 17, 2017 2 comments

Here are three interesting links I came across recently. Though they are apparently about three different fields, namely, drug discovery, higher education and establishment liberalism- all three are about manifestations of the same underlying trend. And what is that trend? Well.. let me put it this way. The rather disappointing results for what was hyped as the next multi-billion dollar drug, the role of credential inflation in the success of for-profit colleges and the willingness of supposedly ‘liberal intellectuals’ to spout ideas that are conservative in all but name are three aspects of the same problem.

They are all examples of what happens when large centralized systems are run by people who want to live in their manufactured reality- even when it has no connection to the real world. Putting hundreds of millions into a drug discovery program based on the trendiness of the idea is really not that different from hiring people based on paper credentials or ‘liberal intellectuals’ spouting dubious conservative talking points about race and class. They are different manifestations of the so-called ‘meritocratic’ elite repeatedly fooling themselves to the detriment of others without suffering any personal negative consequences.

Link 1: PCSK9: Real World Data Arrives, Unfortunately

This morning we have three-year data from Amgen and their drug Repatha (evolocumab), an announcement that has been eagerly awaited. And it’s honestly not all that impressive. There’s a 15% relative reduction in cardiovascular risk (heart attack, stroke, etc.) relative to placebo, but investors were looking for something more over 20%. Insurance companies were probably looking for that, too, and given the price they’d have been happier to see something more like 25%. Amgen is defending the data (as quotes in this Adam Feuerstein piece show), but I don’t think that’s going to do the job. The numbers shouldn’t have to be interpreted and spun; in a three-year study with over 13,000 patients in each arm, the numbers should be able to speak for themselves, and they don’t.

Link 2: Credentials, Jobs and the New Economy

That kind of professionalization and educational inflation falls under the “declining internal labor markets” rubric of the new economy. Unlike in the past, when experience and subsequent licensures might be obtained through an employer — in this case, a hospital — the expectation now is that workers will increase their human capital at personal expense to “move up” the professional ladder. Janice’s choices for promotion were limited: she could hope for favorable reviews from a sympathetic management culture (a risky proposition) or earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Political wrangling over job statistics looks like action, but it is mostly a distraction. Sociologist David Brown has shown that credentials can be created without jobs to justify them. We produce risky credentials when how we work changes dramatically, and the way we work shapes what kind of credentials we produce. If we have a shitty credentialing system, in the case of for-profit colleges, then it is likely because we have a shitty labor market. To be more precise, we have a labor market where the social contract between workers and the work on which college has previously relied has fundamentally changed and makes more workers vulnerable.

Link 3: Liberals and diversity

More and more, it seems like liberals in The Discourse agree with this basic conservative assessment of how diversity affects society. But, despite that underlying agreement, they somewhat bizarrely resist the conservative conclusion. Despite telling you that they think increasing diversity will result in children going hungry, as well as the mass incarceration and widespread discrimination of minority groups, they nonetheless support it. If liberals are going to adopt the conservative view on how diversity operates in society, then they really do need to also work out what they think the implication of it is. Conservatives are very clear: diversity has all these problems and so it should be restricted. But the liberal view — that diversity has all these problems and yet it should be expanded without restraint — is just incoherent on its face.

Beauchamp’s article gives a clue as to where liberals will go with this. Since they believe 1) diversity is incompatible with justice, and 2) that diversity is important and good, they will reach the conclusion that 3) justice should be sacrificed in order to “beat” right-wing populism. As Beauchamp notes, pursuing a more economically just society “could actually give Trump an even bigger gun” because it flies in the face of the immiseration of racial minorities that majority groups in diverse societies necessarily demand. Thus, it would seem the only way forward is to give in to the bloodthirst a bit in order to stave off an even bigger atrocity.

What do you think? Comments?

Contemporary Elite Support for Transgender Rights and Neoliberalism

March 10, 2017 16 comments

Note: Once again, please read this post in its entirety before you comment on it.

Here are my definitions for terms used in this post: Elite = people who are rich and powerful because they (or their parents) got lucky; “e-Liberals” = credentialed people who are part of the establishment; Neoliberalism = relentless exploitation of the majority dressed up with pretty sounding but empty words and ideas; identity-based politics = exploiting social issues to facilitate “legal” exploitation of people on both sides of those issues.

Before we start, a quick clarification. I strongly believe that no person or institution has any right to tell or enforce how another person should live their life or who they should have sex with- as long as it does not involve animals or children. Also, it is abundantly clear that sexual orientation and attraction are based in biology. In other words, what occurs between two or more sexually mature people is their own damn business.

Having said that, let us turn to the topic of this post. So what inspired me to write this post in the first place? The short answer is- a set of observations about the nature of public discourse in USA over the last few years. The somewhat longer answer is that I have noticed a peculiar trend among the supposedly “liberal” establishment class (both elites and their cronies) in many western countries, especially the USA over the previous 15 or so years.

As many of you know- for a few decades after ww2, liberalism (in the west) was associated with changes and movements meant to improve the economic and social conditions of everyone in those countries. But somewhere along the way (between 1970s-1990s depending on the country) liberalism stopped being associated with improvements in economic conditions for the majority. Instead it became an ideology devoted to retaining power, for its own sake, through the division of people along various lines of their identity- racial, sexual, educational etc.

To be fair, living in the pre-1990 era as an openly gay or non-white person (in the west) meant that you were always seen and treated as a second-class citizen or worse. Therefore any elite or institutional support for movements which strove to improve the treatment of sexual and racial minorities in those countries should be seen as a good thing. Except that it seldom occurred during that era.

A bit confused by what I just said? Let me explain it in a bit more detail. See.. prior to the late-1990s or even the very early-2000s, movements dedicated to improving the status of sexual and racial minorities had basically no elite or institutional support. Indeed, elites and “e-liberals” in those eras saw such movements and the people they represented with disdain and contempt. As late as the mid-1990s, these supposed “pillars of western society” still openly talked about gay or non-white people as if they were second-class human beings.

So what changed? How come the elite and “e-liberals” of today cannot stop talking about how much they like people who are gay or of alternative sexual orientation? Why can’t they stop talking about how much they love non-whites and promoting diversity? What accounts for their fairly abrupt shift in public attitudes towards groups they were previously complicit in marginalizing? And what does any of this have to do with neoliberalism?

Let me explain..

1] Contemporary elite and “e-liberal” support for a number of progressive causes has almost nothing to do with the extent of their belief in those causes. A significant part of their motivation for doing so comes down to virtue signalling to themselves, their peers and all those underneath them. Such signalling serves many purposes- from feeling good about themselves and making sure that they fit in with their peers to feeling morally superior than those underneath them. Therefore, their support of certain socially progressive causes is not dissimilar from some of them adopting a token Chinese or African orphan. It is about the public optics and gaining small temporary status increases in their circle of peers.

2] Perhaps more relevantly, it serves to perpetuate the idea (at least in their minds) that they are somehow more moral and deserving of their ill-gotten wealth and power. Supporting such social issues also enables the elites and “e-liberals” to partially deflect attention from how they keep on exploiting and robbing everybody else. You may have noticed that elites and “e-liberals” go to considerable lengths to avoid talking about socio-economic issues that affect the majority. However they never tire of telling everybody within earshot about how they like gays, lesbians, non-whites and pretty much every social minority identity that they can invent.

3] Which brings me to why so many elites and “e-liberals”, nowadays, take every opportunity to express their support for people who are, or feel, transgender. Newsflash- It has nothing to do with elites and “e-liberals” feeling any real solidarity with people in those social groups. But it has a lot to do with signalling that they are morally superior to ‘all those other people below us’. Therefore, all of their current support for legislation to improve the legal status of that group is largely self-serving. As far as the elite and “e-liberals” are concerned, expressing public support for transgender people is just the latest cause to become fashionable. Sorta like supporting gay rights was during the early 2000s or adopting non-white babies was during the late-2000s.

4] It should be noted that the hard work on securing equal legal rights for gay people was largely done by gays themselves. Similarly adopting non-white children from non-western countries became mainstream because of ordinary people who wanted to adopt children. However, in both cases the elite and “e-liberals” adopted what was becoming mainstream and promoted it as if they came up with the ideas and did all the hard work. Luckily, both those ideas had become mainstream enough to not be tarnished by their association with the elites and “e-liberals”. The same is not true with transgender rights and the way it is being supported by elites and “e-liberals”. They got on this cause at a much earlier stage and have rightly or wrongly become associated with that movement in the public mind- to its detriment.

There is, therefore, a real risk that their association with that cause will damage its public image. This is especially so in an era where the general public is fed up with the abuse, exploitation and hypocrisy heaped upon them by elites and “e-liberals”. Of course, this is not going to stop those morons from using that cause as another example of their moral superiority and indirect justification for their ill-gotten wealth.

What do you think? Comments?

Why was the Slave Trade More Prevalent in Africa than Other Regions?

March 7, 2017 17 comments

Note: Please read this post in its entirety before you comment on it.

Though I am writing up this post in early-2017, the question posed in the title first occurred to me a long time ago. So here is the context for it..

Most Americans (white, black and others) associate the African Slave trade with all of the morally and ethically repugnant behavior by whites towards people of African descent in USA starting with the importation of the first African slaves to work on plantations in what later became the ‘south’ starting in the 1600s. However, the transport of enslaved Africans to USA during those centuries is a piece within a much larger bigger story. The mass transport of enslaved people from Africa to the USA during the 17-19th century was a small part of a much larger slave trade known as the Atlantic Slave Trade. Curiously, the majority of enslaved Africans who were victimized by this trade ended up in places other than USA.

But a little further research into the issue of slave trade in the African continent reveals an odd and disturbing fact. The Atlantic Slave Trade, though the best known of all slave trades originating from the African continent, was not the only instance of long-term and systematic slave trade in that part of the world. There was the Arab Slave Trade, the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade and the Indian Ocean Slave Trade. I will try to find better links for the later two. Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that systematic and organized slave trading has an unusually long history in the African continent. But why?

Why was long-term and systematic Slave Trade much more prevalent in the African continent than other places with lots of poor people? Why don’t you hear about long-term Slave Trade in other regions of the world such as the Indian subcontinent, East Asia or Europe? While slavery, of one form or the other, has been part of the history of all pre-industrial societies it seems to be an intermittent phenomenon (especially on a large scale)- usually in the wake of some large war or population displacement. However it seems that Slave Trade in the African continent has a far longer and continuous history than other parts of the world. But, once again, why?

Moreover, there is a pretty large body of evidence to suggest that being kidnapped or tricked by a relative or friend was the largest single mode of capture for the purposes of enslavement. If we add it in the percentages of those seized in minor wars or by some sort of judicial process, it seems that pretty much all of the work of enslavement was done by people who knew those who were enslaved. To be clear- something similar did occur in other parts of the world- notably eastern Europe during parts of the first millennium AD. However it never occurred over a period of time as long as in the African continent.

So here are my real questions- Why was systematic and organized slave trade a feature of many societies in that continent over a period of many centuries? Why don’t we find anything on that scale (length of time as well as sheer numbers) in other parts of the world? Does it have something to do with constant low-level warfare? lack of large-scale agriculture? lack of large centralized states? or something else? The thing is.. I have yet to find rational answers to these questions.

What do you think? Comments?

Comparing Income across Countries in USD is Detached from Reality: 3

March 4, 2017 6 comments

In the second post of this series, I wrote about how rapid improvements in living standards of the upper-middle and middle class in India have changed how they view USA and the west in general. The central point, in my post, was that such changes in living standards and general quality of life are far more obvious if you look at changing patterns of consumption for goods and services than gross reported income in USD or other western currencies. In other words, the commonly held assumption about income (and spending) in USD having a global correlation with quality of life has ceased to be true for over a decade or two by now.

However, the lack of a strong correlation between improvements in quality of life for upper-middle and middle class in India and income as measured in USD is only one example of a much larger and global phenomenon. The rest of this post will talk about how that change has affected formerly communist east-European countries.. from the Czech Republic to Russia.

So let me begin with a few observations I made between 1995-2002. During that time-span, and probably a few years prior to it, USA and the west was the destination of choice for many people from formerly communist east-European countries. At that time, many people from those countries (from academics and scientists to criminals and pretty women) wanted to move to USA or somewhere else in the west. Indeed, many of those who came over prior to 2000-2002 ended up staying for good. But then something started to change..

I first noticed this change because of a sharp and persistent drop in number of academics and scientists from those countries who were interested in moving to USA starting around 2001-2002. Prior to that, the majority of academics and scientists from those countries who were visiting the USA very frequently expressed a strong interest in moving there for good- and many followed up on it. However by 2002-2003 there was a sharp and persistent drop (among them) in the degree of interest in moving west. Curiously, there was no significant change in the numbers of those who visited USA (from those countries) for a few months to a couple of years.

So I started inquiring about the reasons behind this change. Curiously, I kept on getting different versions of the same answer. Basically, they all told me that the differences in quality of life and living standards between those countries and USA had now shrunk down to a point where it was simply not worth immigrating to USA unless there was a very specific reason to do so. I was initially puzzled by this explanation since it was clear that they were making significantly less in those countries- as measured in USD. Some internet research revealed that the cost of many goods and services in those countries was significantly lower than their equivalents in USA- when priced in USD.

The difference in cost (as measured in USD) was most obvious in areas such as housing, education, food, drink, entertainment and healthcare. Furthermore, the quality of these less expensive goods and services was functionally equivalent to their equivalents in USA. It also became clear that a person with a reasonable job in those countries could actually live a far more stable and financially secure lifestyle than somebody in USA- even prior to 2008. It was this realization which first led me to openly question comparing incomes across countries in USD or other western currencies.

The increasing lack of interest by people from those countries in moving to USA the rest of the west on a long-term basis is also obvious in other ways. Some of you might recall that the phenomenon of mail order brides and similar marriage arrangements by women from those countries was a well-known trope in popular culture during the 1990s and early 2000s. Today.. you don’t hear much about that sort of stuff anymore. Similarly, rich people from those countries no longer see USA as a highly regarded tourist destination.

So why did this change occur and why was it so fast? Well.. in my opinion, many formerly communist east-European countries already had most of the ingredients (levels of education, infrastructure, natural resources) necessary to provide a high standard of living for their people. Once the burden of ideological top-down control on them was lifted after 1989, it took most of those countries a decade or so to catch up with the west- as far as actual quality of life was concerned. Widespread international travel and ubiquitous internet access also showed a lot of them that difference in quality of life in USA vs their countries was simply not enough to make moving to the former worth it.

Today, only people from some the poorest sub-regions in those countries still harbor any worthwhile interest in moving to the USA- and even that is changing. To summarize, many formerly communist east-European countries are now good examples of places with a high standard of living but with supposedly lower income- as measured in USD. In the upcoming post of this series, I will write about how the living standard in east-Asian countries is also now no longer connected to average local income as measured in USD.

What do you think? Comments?