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On Long Term Social, Economic and Cultural Effects of Job Insecurity: 1

December 26, 2017 30 comments

A couple of weeks ago, an older acquaintance casually asked me about whether I intended to “settle down” someday soon. While that question was not unusual coming from somebody of her generation, it got me thinking about what it means to be able to “settle down” in the current era. I have a feeling that many, if not all, of you have been in a similar conversation with somebody a few decades older than yourself. As some of you might also know, well-paying and stable jobs with nice pensions used to be the norm in western countries since the end of WW2 till sometime in the mid-1980s. However the old ways continued for white-collar jobs, such as the one she had, right until the late 1990s-early 2000s.

In other words, career and income stability was the default state of affairs for most of the time since 1945. Now some of you might say that things used to be bad in even earlier eras such as the 1880s-1920s etc. My counterpoint is that there is a reason why life in those eras was so unstable and uncertain for everybody and is ultimately the reason why we had two world wars, multiple bloody revolutions and civil wars in the half century before WW2 ended. That is also why people like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco etc ascended to power and why right-wing militarism was ascendant in countries such as Japan during that era. Let us just say that there is as reason why so many developed countries implement sweeping socialist reforms in the aftermath of WW2.

The point I am trying to make is that previous experiments with laissez-faire capitalism have reproducibly lead to similar results across a number of countries and cultures. To put this in a contemporary perspective, there is a reason why Trump won the presidential election in 2016, the ‘leave’ side won in the 2015 Brexit referendum and so many European countries have seen the resurgence of right-wing nationalist parties. Anybody with more than half a brain can now see that Fukuyama’s “End of History” was just another example of the delusional ivy-league fantasy of power and control. All these warning signs have, however, not had much of an impact on those who are pushing for more neoliberalism. All these visible signs of public dislike for their policies, has if anything, increased their enthusiasm for furthering them.

But how does any of this play out at the level of the individual, family, society, nation-state etc? As many of you know, I have written many posts in the past about issues related to these changes such as spread of social atomization (link 1, link 2), collapse of normal relations between the sexes (link 3), loss of the normal life cycle of people and families (link 4), widespread mercenary attitudes among people (link 5, link 6), loss of public faith in institutions (link 7) etc. Most of what I have written on this topic thus far is, however, mostly about how people react to neoliberalism as state policy and some short and medium scale social changes. What about long-term changes? What would be the potential long-term social, economic and cultural effects of income and career insecurity?

Well.. as you must have realized by now, this is a large topic which cannot be adequately addressed in two or three posts, let alone a single one. Furthermore many potential long-term effects cannot be neatly characterized into distinct categories, since there is a lot of feedback and cross-talk among various aspects of these effects. So let me start by making the most obvious observation about the future of neoliberalism. Based on what I have seen to date, it is unlikely that neoliberalism (in any of its flavors) can be reformed into something gentler and less rapacious. The biggest beneficiaries and supporters of neoliberalism will keep on pushing it till they cease to exist- and you can read that statement in more than one way.

As a corollary, neoliberalism (in any form) is not sustainable beyond the next decade (at most)- but not because of its negative effects on the environment or some similar delusional reason. The real reason behind the unsustainability of that ideology has to do with its effect on society aka the host. Neoliberalism, you see, is a lot like a parasite or cancer in that it requires a host or system which operate on very different principles than itself. However every increase in its numbers and extent of spread compromises the normal functioning of the very system and environment which make its “success” possible.

Let us start by talking about one of the most obvious effects of neoliberalism, but one that is seldom connected to it- extreme sub-replacement fertility. While there has been a consistent worldwide reduction in rates of fertility over the last few decades, even in traditionally high fertility countries, the sub-replacement and still dropping rates of fertility in “developed” countries stand apart from the rest due to a number of factors. Firstly, the rate drop in those countries is due to factors beyond elimination of excessive childhood mortality. To be more precise, financial and career costs of having children combined with negative utility of having them are, by far, the main reasons for persistently sub-replacement fertility rates seen in “developed” countries.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the most significant drops are seen in those who are actively engaged in neoliberal “competition”- either for jobs and career or money. While people with this profile were once the minority, the increase in neoliberal-style “competition” for things as basic as jobs which pay a decent wage and are fairly stable has made this particular type of childlessness very common in younger sections of the population. There is of course, the irony, that those who are most invested in furthering their career through the neoliberal paradigm (and thus its most loyal foot soldiers) often have no children or one token child conceived when they are in their 40s.

While my views on having or not having children are neutral, it is worthwhile to note that part of reason neoliberalism will fail is that its most devout foot-soldiers (credentialed classes, professionals, aspiring types) will be neither truly rich nor capable of producing enough devout new worshipers of that ideology. To put it another way- even without other factors, neoliberalism as an ideology will decline as the number and influence of its most devout followers falls with every passing year. In contrast to this, blue-collar workers and not-so-connected white-collar types have no vested interest in supporting neoliberalism- irrespective of their fertility rates. To make a long story short, neoliberalism (like parasites and other ideologies) cannot survive the demise of their vectors.

In the next part of this series, I will try to focus on a related problem- namely, the fact that all those aspiring and credentialed/professional types who worship neoliberalism will themselves never have a secure livelihood or become truly rich.

What do you think? Comments?

Propaganda and Advertising have Poor Real-Life Efficacy: 1

December 2, 2017 4 comments

The title of this post might, at first glance, seem almost counter-intuitive to whatever most of you desire to believe about the efficacy of advertising and propaganda. After all, why would all those super rich and therefore allegedly “smart” people spend tens of billions on advertising if it was largely futile? Or why would various governments spend even more money and devote a lot of personnel to create and disseminate propaganda. Surely, even semi-competent people would not spend that much money and effort on something of negligible efficacy. Or would they?

Let us start by talking about all the disastrous, expensive and ultimately ruinous wars initiated by “great leaders” and “highly trained generals” throughout human history, such as WW1 and WW2 and the present. Or think about all the giant multi-national corporations (Xerox, Kodak, Motorola, Blockbuster etc) that have failed because their leadership kept on making bad and ultimately disastrous decisions. My point is that there is no evidence that all those supposedly “smart” leaders of large corporations and nations (and their underlings) are even reasonably good at their jobs- in spite of being paid a lot of money and wielding much power.

If all that evidence doesn’t satisfy you, ponder a bit about how a mediocre reality TV star such as Trump won the republican nomination by steamrolling 16 “professional” life-long politicians and then defeated the darling of the neoliberal establishment, aka HRC, in the 2016 presidential general election. My point is that people who are supposed to be “elite” are, for all practical purposes, incompetent posers who just happened to get a lucky break or hit a lucky streak in their past. Their choices and decisions should not, therefore, be interpreted as evidence of deep thought, competence or efficacy.

But what about all those books you have read touting the amazing effectiveness of propaganda and adverting? What about all those documentaries made by Adam Curtis? What about all those books written by Noam Chomsky, especially this one? Surely, all these supposedly brilliant left-leaning “intellectuals” must have some wondrous insight into the power of propaganda and advertising that is not obvious to “non-experts”. Or maybe they want to pretend to believe in something which can explain their own impotence while simultaneously making a decent amount of money and fame?

To make a very long story a bit shorter, I shall now talk about a few examples of what are often considered to be best examples of success for propaganda and advertising to show you that the real reason why most people appear to go along with that crap is very different from what you are willing to accept.

Example 1: Propaganda in World War I

The attempts by all belligerent European governments to sell the idea of fighting WW1 to their subjects.. I mean citizens.. is sometimes seen as the first instance of governments deploying mass propaganda on a large and systematic scale. But was it really effective? Or were the other reasons behind the public support for war? Have you ever considered that the real reasons for public support for that war might have something to do with the expectations and mindset of people in that era?

Ok, let me ask you a question. What percentage of the population, including the “elites”, of that era could even imagine a war on such a gigantic scale going on for four years? If you don’t believe me.. read the correspondences of both soldiers and generals who fought in that war. It quickly becomes obvious that even 2-3 years into WW1, most of those involved in the actual fighting and planning believed that some new military tactic, weapons system or strategy would somehow magically translate into a swift and decisive victory.

Furthermore, the general public in European countries had not lived through such a large war on their soil, let alone one that could last more than a few weeks. Perhaps most importantly, the very high number of deaths and casualties in each participating nation, within even the first few months of that war, made it basically impossible for either the people of those nations or their leaders to settle for anything short of “total victory”. It was really about an uncontrollable and escalating cycle of vengeance at a time when contemporary culture was characterized by social darwinist thinking.

I would go so far as to suggest that the total absence of propaganda during that time would have no worthwhile effect on the conduct, length or outcome of that war. The sheer amount of wishful thinking based on past experiences in pre-modern societies based on social darwinism combined with the high number of children per woman and the second stage of the industrial revolution made every single aspect of that war pretty much inevitable. The government support of propaganda and advertising were, at best, avenues for creating patriotic sounding jobs for the sons of rich and connected people who did not want to risk their lives at the front.

Example 2: Militaristic Nationalism in Japan between 1920 and 1946.

Another important, though less commonly discussed, alleged example for success of propaganda concerns the rise of extreme militaristic nationalism between 1920 and 1946. It is, for example, common knowledge, that the Japanese armed forces fought bravely and often to the last man even in seemingly futile battles such those for Iwo Jima and Okhinawa. Then there are all those accounts of Kamikaze plane attacks and Banzai charges. By any measure, the soldiers and other personnel of the Imperial Japanese forces during WW2 were highly driven and ideologically motivated. But was it due to propaganda?

Many conventional historical accounts of 1920s-1930s era Japan strongly suggest, or just outright say, that the government- especially factions controlled by the military establishment put in a lot of effort and resources to inculcate a certain nationalistic ideology among the Japanese people. This extended from simple censorship of media to elaborate mock training of schoolchildren to fight in wars. But how much effect did any of these traditional and non-traditional avenues of propaganda have on the type of nation that Japan became in the late 1930s and really 1940s?

In my opinion- very little and here is why. Understanding the reasons which led to the Japanese people embracing an extreme right-wing nationalistic ideology predicated in their racial superiority requires us to put ourselves in the world as seen by the average Japanese person in the that era. Japan, you see, went from a medieval feudal society to a modern industrialized one within less than 50 years from the beginning of the Meiji period. By the beginning of WW1, and certainly by its end in 1918, its industrial, academic and engineering achievements had surpassed almost every other country but a few (USA, UK, France and Germany).

All these achievements and competencies had, however, not been helped it increase its global prestige, power or access to raw materials. In contrast, even third-rate European powers like Portugal, Netherlands and Belgium had large colonies in Asia and Africa. The treaty of Versailles simply confirmed that Japan, as an Asian country, would never be welcome as an equal in the imperialist white man’s club. At that time, Korea was the only real overseas colonial possession of the Japanese empire- and it was hardly a desirable one.

But it was a much bigger problem than diplomatic slights at the hands of white European nations. Japan had a large population but only a small part of it was arable or inhabitable. One unintentional, but somewhat welcome, consequences of the industrial revolution in Japan was that many millions of newly educated and skilled Japanese started moving to Korea, China and other East-Asian countries to make a living. There they encountered nation after nation of subjugated Asian people living in a pre-industrial era.

It is therefore not surprising that the idea of racial superiority was so readily accepted by Japanese people in that era. They could see that their country was the most developed and powerful country for thousands of miles in any direction. And yet, this did not translate into any material advantage for them. It is therefore not surprising that leaders spouting right-wing militaristic ideas about conquering and exploiting the resources of surrounding countries became popular in Japan. They were just saying out loud what everyone else was thinking.

In the upcoming part of this series, I intend to talk about why Nazi propaganda appeared to be so effective until the final year of WW2, why soviet propaganda appeared to succeed until the early 1970s and why american propaganda appeared to succeed for decades before entering its death spiral after 2008. Here is a hint.. in all three cases, people appeared to go along with the propaganda only as long as the underlying system provided at least part of what it had promised.

What do you think? Comments?

Monopolies, Managerialism and the Downfall of State Communism: 1

November 23, 2017 4 comments

As regular readers of my blog are well aware of, I do not believe in ideologies of any kind since all ideologies are by definition highly compromised and simplified mental models of “reality”. These pathetic human attempts to model reality are as similar to the real thing as a photograph of a clock is to the passage of time. But perhaps the biggest reason to oppose any ideology is that every single one of them comes with its own unique baggage of unnecessary tragedies and a priestly class and elite who benefits from all that unnecessary suffering.

What I have said above holds true for every single ideology which has ever been proposed or pushed as the “only right way”. And this includes everything from polytheistic and monotheistic religions, older modes of social organization to all forms of capitalism, socialism and communism. The study of ideologies is however interesting because it provides a very useful, if cynicism inducing, insight into the nature of human self-delusion. One of the more interesting observation I have made is that ideologies created under similar conditions are more similar to each other than they are dissimilar.

The similarity between ideologies created under similar conditions also extends to their modes of failure. As I have mentioned in more than one of my older posts, capitalism and communism are far more similar to each other than is commonly understood since both are based in a particular version of post-industrial revolution social and economic organization. In other words, they are just two slightly distinct attempts to solve the same “problem”. This similarity is more obvious once you start looking at how the two types of systems work in reality, as opposed to how they are represented in literature.

But what does any of this have to do with the topic of this post? Well.. as you will soon see, a lot.

Have you ever wondered why state communism (especially in Russia) was able to survive the post-ww1 civil wars, Stalin’s despotism, ww2 and still keep making impressive gains till the 1970s- only to fall in the early 1990s? Why could a system that handily survived tons of adverse conditions which included the deaths of tens of millions start losing public support in an era of relative peace and prosperity? As I have said in older posts, there were many reasons- from ideological rigidity, institutional inertia to the apparent inability to deliver on some of the promised improvements in general quality of life.

Let us focus on the last one, because it has a lot of commonality to what we are seeing in western capitalist societies in the post-2008 era. So.. why were countries run according to the ideology of state communism unable to provide a high standard of living and comfort for most of their citizens? Why were the cars made in those countries so ugly and often hard to get? Why was the toilet paper so coarse? Why was the quality of TVs often so bad? Why was everything that most people used in their daily lives so mediocre or shoddy?

The conventional explanation for this phenomena involves some hand-waving about “capitalism being better” and “market economy”. But is that really true? Think about it this way.. the soviet union had no problem building excellent rocket launchers, spacecraft, aircraft, ICBMS, tanks and weapons of pretty much every other kind. They were very clearly capable of manufacturing high quality items on very large scales- if doing so was deemed necessary. So why did that ability not translate into the manufacture of high-quality cars, TVs, toilet paper and other consumer goods? And why did they experience chronic shortages of even those consumer goods?

The answer, in my opinion, comes down to the downstream effects of what were essentially monopolies run by incestuous cabals of power-hungry professional “managers”. To appreciate what I am saying, ask yourself the following question- How would the process of buying a car and the choices differ between a person in USA and USSR in 1970? Let us start by considering the issue surrounding the ability to buy one in both situations. For starters, average wages in 1970-era USA were high enough to make it possible for almost anyone to buy a half-decent new car.

But do wages really matter? I mean, it was perfectly feasible for a nation as big as Soviet Russia to create a different currency for internal use only. In other words, if they wanted to make sure that every adult in that country could buy a car- they could just pay part of the wages in such a restricted currency or just distribute one car to every adult once every few years. It is important to note that every material and labor input (plus fuel) to create something as technologically simple as automobiles was present within in large quantities within that country. So why did that not occur?

Once again, there a bunch of closely related reasons but it mostly comes down to availability of manufactured cars. As many of you know, state communism was a top-down system of governance in which most consumer products were produced by companies that were, for all practical purposes, monopolies. Consider the sheer number of car models from competing corporations vying for the money of a car buyer in USA in 1970. Now compare that situation to a person in a similar position in 1970-era Russia. I should also point out the system in 1970-era USA tried to prevent the formation of monopolies and oligopolies.

To make a long story short, people involved with the production of cars (or other consumer goods) under state communism did not have to worry about whether consumers liked their products or whether they made enough of them. It simply did not matter because they were the only game in town and they had the full backing of the government behind them. They could produce ugly and often crappy cars, unreliable TVs and toilet paper full of wooden splinters and guess what.. the people who has to use them had no option.

In contrast to this state of affairs, failure to make decent ICBMs, airplanes, spacecraft, tanks, guns etc was severely punished by the state. Also, unlike for consumer goods- different companies, design bureaus and groups competed against other to develop and manufacture excellent products. It was as if the mechanisms to ensure effective innovation and production were present for products required by the state but absent for those required by the average person. But why does any of this matter to us in 2017, except perhaps as a historical curiosity?

Well.. because post-2000 era USA has undergone a similar change in almost every sector of the economy. The buzzword and operative principle of most businesses in USA today is profit through consolidation leading to what is basically monopolization and monopolization. Compare the number of department stores in 1980 with 2017 (including their relative market shares). Do the same exercise for for banks, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, newspapers, TV and radio station ownership, internet providers etc. I could go on and on.. My point is that consolidation of smaller corporations into ever larger oligopolies and monopolies have resulted in a concurrent deterioration of product quality, demise of real innovation in addition to an increasingly poor consumer experience.

The oligopolies and monopolies which increasingly dominate the commercial landscape in USA have far more in common with state-sanctioned monopolies in communist countries that their predecessors from the era when anti-trust laws and regulations were actually enforced. It is likely that the outcome will be the same and USA will be known as the land of shittier, costlier and scarer products. In case you haven’t noticed- it is already happening in sectors as diverse as banking, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and household appliances. Then again.. similar systems reach similar end points, even if some may reach it faster that others.

In the upcoming part of this series, I will talk about the remarkable similarity between the type of people (under capitalism and communism) who end up in important positions in state-sanctioned monopolies and oligopolies- and how they speed up rate of overall crapification and hollowing out of the system.

What do you think? Comments?

People Age Slower Today Than They Did 50 Years Ago: Nov 19, 2017

November 19, 2017 5 comments

As I once mentioned in an older post, one of my favorite pastimes involving searching for photos and videos for anything which might catch my fancy. Because of this habit, I have spent many thousands of hours learning about stuff which I would not have otherwise encountered. A side effect of this habit is the ability to discern patterns of human activity and behavior that are not otherwise not readily obvious- including insights into what people are thinking.

For example, no west-european backpackers trip to India is complete without dozens of photos of garbage, stray cows and beggars. What makes this a bit odd is that it is obvious that they went to considerable lengths to find the right spot and angle to take those photos. So why go to such lengths just to get those photos? Especially when they take care to not take or post such photos from their trips to African countries.

But this post isn’t about insights gleaned from looking at a shitload of photos from white west-european backpackers. It is about something far more substantive and supported by other independent lines of evidence. I am sure that many of you might have also noticed that people look younger in photos from the last 15 (or so) years than their similarly aged counterparts from 50 or even 30 years ago. Why is that so? And, is this effect illusory or real?

I first noticed this effect when looking at unretouched photos of famous older actors and musicians taken when they were much younger (often in their late teens, 20s or 30s). In almost every single case, celebrities who were in that age group during the 1960s-1980s timespan looked about a decade older than their equivalents today. Initially, I thought that it might be linked to how people dressed or styled their hair during that era as compared to today.

However this effect is also apparent, to the same extent, in photos of non-celebrities from that era. While certain styles of dress and makeup do accentuate it, it is hard to deny that people born after 1970 do look about a decade younger at the same chronological age as their parents. I mean, it is obvious when I look at photos of my parents and their cousins versus myself and my cousins. But is that enough to make the case that people age about a decade slower than 50 or even 30 years ago?

For this, we have to start looking at the incidence of aging-related diseases- specifically outcomes rather than by some vague criteria as defined by “experts”. We can also look at career longevity of athletes in physically demanding sports at international levels. While I do not have the time or motivation to post the statistics, it is clear that the careers of athletes in a range of sports such as basketball, tennis and swimming are noticeably longer than in the past.

While some of this increase can be attributed to improvements in sports medicine, the effect is spread across a wide number of sports rather than being concentrated in those which provide huge monetary rewards to players. So clearly, something else is at work. And coming back to the issue of aging-related diseases in non-athletes, they too tend to be noticeably lower in the younger cohort than their parent’s generation at the same age. Is it just a “healthier” lifestyle or something else?

While people will try to make the case that it is about a “healthier lifestyle” or “healthier choices”, I think it has something to do with the lack of certain things rather than following any guidelines. For example- the rates of cigarette smoking, exposure to lead and other heavy metals, exposure to other hazardous chemicals, poor working conditions etc are far lower for those born after 1970 than those born before that date. The same is true of many other sources of chronic stress such as extreme poverty, periods of material deprivation etc.

Maybe part of aging is due to chronic exposure to adverse conditions and less than optimal nutrition and medical care. Note that I am not claiming that aging is mostly due to external factors- but it is pretty clear to me that a decade or two of supposedly “normal” aging comes down to less than optimal living conditions. This is especially obvious when you compare people who are biologically related but then end up living in different countries and environments.

There is also the other issue of jobs becoming less physically demanding and damaging over that time period. We cannot also forget that women who have few or no kids tend to age at a noticeably slower rate than those with many kids. But my general observation and theory still holds. The slower aging of people born after 1970 is real and has something to do with experiencing significantly fewer stressors and noxious insults to their body in comparison to previous generations.

What do they think? Comments?

The Modern ‘Western’ Nation State Does Not Have a Viable Future: 1

November 4, 2017 20 comments

A couple of years ago, I first considered writing a series on the many, and now very apparent, failures of USA as a nation-state. However, every time I started writing, it became obvious that the failure de jour was not unique to USA. In fact, every single type of systemic failure attributed to the american system can be found in one or more other western-type nation states. It is just that the american state exhibits more signs of systemic dysfunction and failure than other similar nation states.

As many of you also know, predictions about the looming demise of modern (post-ww2) nation states have been a staple of libertarian public figures and their corporate funders for the past decade or two. It is therefore necessary to be very clear about what I am talking and how it is different from what those idiots and shills are peddling. Hence, I have compiled a short list of the precise meaning of each term being used how it differs from other usages and interpretations of that term.

So, let us begin..

1] Readers might have noticed the use of a peculiar word construct (modern ‘western’ state) in the title. So, what am I talking about? It goes something this.. the first iteration of the state as we understand it today came into being in nascent industrializing west-european countries during the early 1800s. This iteration accepted or tolerated slavery, had very limited electoral franchise, possessed limited bureaucracy and perhaps most importantly lacked the ability or desire to provide public goods and services to the majority of people living within its boundaries. In other words, it was a slightly more representative version of the previous setup.

The second iteration, which started appearing in the mid-1800s, was the first version that would be somewhat recognizable as a state to most people living today. Its most relevant advancement over the previous version was provision of some public goods and services such as clean drinking water, public sewer systems, free basic education etc. The third iteration, which started appearing towards the end of 1800s was marked by even greater public access to goods and services and the beginning of universal suffrage. It is also most associated with nationalism and the two world wars caused by that ideology.

But what does any of this background information have to do with the concept of a modern ‘western’ state’? and why put single quotation marks around the word ‘western’? Well.. it comes down to defining the fourth (post-ww2) iteration aka the modern nation-state which has become the default for all major countries in the world today. While it may have originated in western countries, this type of nation-state organization is now seen in countries as diverse as Russia, China, India. So what made it acceptable to people in so many different countries, some of whom never went through the first three iterations?

It comes down to an implicit deal offered by this particular mode of organisation- to all parties involved. The ruling elite of a country and their flunkies can maintain popular legitimacy as long as they can provide (or facilitate the provision of) extensive public goods and services including an environment conducive to continual increases in material well-being of the general population. In return, the general population provides a safe and predictable environment for elites and their flunkies to live big and lord over others. This deal is how things used to work in USA from 1945 to mid-2000s and is still how things work (for the most part) in many other countries.

In future parts, I will explain the many interconnected systemic contradictions which unraveled this deal and why the rise of neoliberalism is more of a symptom rather than the main cause of the slow motion demise of modern ‘western’ nation states.

2] The other somewhat odd term used in the title is ‘does not have a viable future’. While it does sound a bit like ass-covering legalese, that term is used to convey a very specific concept. Unlike many libertarians and other assorted retards, I do not think that modern ‘western’ nation states will collapse all over the world within a very short timespan. Nor do I think that they will be replaced by largely autonomous and small libertarian city states. In fact, it is quite possible that nothing will be able to fill the giant gaping hole left in the aftermath of their slow demise.

What I am trying to tell you is that the current system will lose viability as it loses popular legitimacy. Think of it as analogous to people slowly losing faith in a religion which no longer provides a believable explanation of the world around them. Or people slowly losing faith in a god or deity who has apparently stopped answering their prayers. But how can the most successful system of socio-economic organization in human history lose popular legitimacy, especially given lack of a well-known alternative? Well.. for starters, the legitimacy of a system or belief in it are not linked to the availability of alternative options.

As mentioned earlier, popular legitimacy of the current setup is almost completely linked to its ability to provide an extensive list of public goods and services in addition to continual improvements in living standards. Consequently the inability of provide them, even if that occurs gradually, will result in the system losing popular legitimacy. Note that I am talking about actually providing public goods and services, rather than simply possessing the means to provide them. Observant readers might have noticed that I have not linked a government being democratically to it being perceived as legitimate by the general population. Once again, I will explain that concept in more detail in future posts.

I will try to make future posts in this series sound less stilted and explain each concept with multiple contemporary examples.

What do you think? Comments?

Three Erroneous Assumptions Made by Most Americans about DPRK

October 25, 2017 5 comments

As regular readers know, I have written more than a few posts about the current situation caused by DPRK aka North Korea testing nuclear weapons and ICBMs. The gist of those posts is as follows: Accepting DPRK as a bonafide nuclear weapon state with a rational foreign policy and acting towards it accordingly is infinitely better than pretending otherwise.

Having said that, I have noticed that a lot of americans keep on making a number of erroneous, and unrealistic, assumptions about DPRK and the current situation. While we certainly cannot go over every one of them in a single post, I thought it would be a good idea to cover the three most important erroneous assumptions (or beliefs) about that country and the current situation.

Erroneous Belief # 1
: Current situation between DPRK & USA can be resolved by military force.

While jingoists, keyboard warriors and many west-point educated generals might want to believe that the USA could resolve its current situation with DPRK through military force, even a basic reality check and some knowledge of relevant history suggests otherwise. Let me remind you that the decision by USA to not attempt a Korean War 2.0 after the 1953 armistice was based in military calculations, rather than humanitarian considerations- to put it mildly.

As many of you know, DPRK has hundreds (if not thousands) of artillery pieces capable of bombarding Seoul on a moment’s notice- not to mention the tens of thousands of rocket artillery and swarms of short-range missiles. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by DPRK in the later half of 2000s makes the destruction of Seoul Capital Area (about 25 million people) almost inevitable if a serious war was to break out between DPRK and USA. To make a long story short, Korean War 2.0 = No Seoul

Then there is the question of whether large urban aggregations in Japan, specifically the Greater Tokyo Area, would get nuked in the event of such a war. It is no secret that DPRK has a number of liquid and solid fueled SRBMs which could deliver a few nukes on top of such large urban aggregations. While Japan claims to have many types of “effective” anti-ballistic missiles, it is highly doubtful that they can do much against a swarm of dozens of warheads within a 2-3 minute window, especially if only 5-6 of them were nuclear.

My point is that even the most optimistic projections of casualties caused by DPRK’s response to a military strike by USA involve millions of dead and dying people in South Korea and Japan plus long-term (potentially irreversible) damage to two of the largest and most prosperous urban areas in the world. And we have not even started talking about the effects of a few nuclear weapon tipped ICBMs going off over large cities in mainland USA.

Erroneous Belief # 2: DPRK is a vassal state of China.

One belief constantly resurfacing in regards to the current situation with DPRK is that China is somehow the real power behind the show. Another version of this belief is that China possess extraordinary leverage over DPRK. The reality is, however, quite different. While China has always been the most important trading partner for DPRK and was its most important weapons provider in the past, its actual leverage over DPRK has been rather limited. Even worse, the political relationship between them has never been especially warm.

China’s support for DPRK has to be understood through the lens of history and pragmatism. To put it bluntly, China intervened in the Korean war because it did not want an american puppet state on its eastern border- which is also why it got involved in the Vietnam war. Of course, China is quite happy to let DPRK poke and prod South Korea, Japan and generally undermine the rationale for american military presence in that region. But let us clear about one thing, Beijing does not control Pyongyang. Nor do they want, or can afford, the current regime in DPRK to fail.

A related delusion still popular among americans is the belief China will help the USA secure DPRK after a “successful” invasion of DPRK. Even if we discount the possibility that major urban centers in South Korea and Japan will be nuked within the first few minutes of a serious armed confrontation, we have to contend with the reality that DPRK’s leadership (or their population) do not see China as their master and will not hesitate to use their weapons against China. Yes.. you heard that right. If DPRK feels that China is cooperating with USA to invade it, there is a pretty high likelihood that some of their nukes will go off over Chinese cities.

Erroneous Belief # 3: DPRK will agree to give up its nuclear weapons.

Another popular delusion harbored by the establishment in USA is that they can somehow convince DPRK to give up its nuclear weapons. While this delusion is especially funny, it is worthwhile to point out that “denuclearization” of DPRK is still the main and only focus of any talks USA is willing to have with DPRK. Let us be clear about one thing, only one nation (namely, South Africa) has ever voluntarily gave up its arsenal of self-developed. Also they had less than a dozen of very primitive nuclear weapons- so it wasn’t exactly a big sacrifice to begin with.

In spite of all the sanctimonious talk about global denuclearization, no other nuclear weapon power has seriously considered giving up its nuclear weapon arsenal. In fact, all nuclear weapon powers have kept on improving their weapons even if two of them (Russia and USA) did reduce the absolute numbers in their inventory in the 1990s. However the total number of nuclear weapons in the world had remained largely constant since those early post-cold war reductions. It is not realistic to expect any nuclear weapon power, let alone one who needs such deterrent capability, to give up nuclear weapons- especially if they were developed indigenously.

Furthermore, the experience of DPRK of negotiating with USA in the mid-1990s, and then again in the early-2000s, has left them with the correct impression that any treaty with the USA is not worth the paper on which it was printed. They correctly recognized that credible lethal force is necessary for any future talks with USA. In other words, DPRK now rightly believes that acquisition of a credible capability to launch a nuclear attack on american cities is a prerequisite to any worthwhile talks between the two parties. The recent fiasco over Trump decertifying a multinational nuclear deal with Iran has simply demonstrated that their strategy towards USA is correct.

In this situation and environment, it is supremely delusional to believe that a regime whose survival is predicated on possessing a credible nuclear deterrent will give it up to satisfy another country which has consistently demonstrated its unwillingness to respect the terms of any agreement it has ever signed. In other words, DPRK (and many other countries) will require a credible nuclear deterrent as long as the USA continues to exist in its current form. Also, USA is no longer seen as an omnipotent military power- especially after its recent humiliating defeats in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

What do you think? Comments?

Passwords are Vastly Superior to Biometric Identification: Oct 22, 2017

October 22, 2017 1 comment

I am just trying to finish a post that I started writing some time ago- but got distracted by some current topic or event. Having said that, let us get back to the topic at hand which is somewhat relevant to an upcoming series about the ongoing crappification of technology in pretty much all sectors of the eCONomy. The main focus of this post is how the much touted idea, by silli valley corporations, of using biometrics or anything similar to that as a replacement for passwords is an extremely bad idea- on multiple levels. Here are two recent examples of such articles and don’t click on them unless you want to read shitty journalism (Shill Piece #1, Shill Piece #2).

Now let me explain you why using Biometrics IDs on the internet, or on internet connected devices, is such a bad idea.

Issue #1: Using Biometric IDs instead of passwords promotes a false sense of security.

One of main lies repeated by corporations involved in promoting biometrics based ID is that it is somehow much harder to crack than text-based passwords. They often bring up misleading arguments about the length of biometric data signature vs passwords, implying that a longer length somehow magically translates into higher security. This argument is however a complete misdirection since the vast majority of password leaks are due to hacking of improperly secured corporate databases and exploits in operating systems and transmission protocols. In other words, the most common point of failure for password security is unrelated to the carefulness or carelessness of the person who uses it. Which brings us the second issue.

Issue #2: Passwords, unlike Biometric IDs, can be easily changed and individualized.

How many of you use the same password for your online banking, email, social media and other accounts? Why not? Well.. the vast majority of those who have used computers for over a decade tend to use different passwords for different accounts since doing so prevents the leak of one password from compromising all other accounts. Moreover, it is fairly trivial to change a password if you suspect that it was compromised. Now imagine doing that with your biometric ID. Are you going to get plastic surgery and eye replacement every time some corporate database containing your biometric ID is hacked? Because if you won’t do that, even a single compromised database could destroy your personal life- and the recourse for restoring your identity would be downright Kafkaesque.

Issue #3: Compromised Biometric IDs will inevitably cause cascading security failures.

Imagine a world where Biometric ID is central to using services from banking, healthcare, education etc. Now think through the aftermath of a successful hacking of one of the many databases containing your Biometric ID. For starters, you can bet that it would be sold on the market to the highest bidder. It goes without saying that every aspect of your life would be forever altered by even a single leak. The centrality of Biometric ID in such a world would mean that you would never again be safe from identity theft and there is nothing anyone could do about that- unless there was a password option available. But if such a system is intrinsically problematic enough to necessitate a password based backup- why use it in the first place?

To summarize, the point I am trying to make is that widespread adoption and use of biometric ID by various online (or largely online) corporations and institutions is an extremely bad idea due to the intrinsically unsolvable risks and collateral problems it would create, without offering any real advantages over using passwords or similar authentication systems.

What do you think? Comments?