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?

Comparing Income across Countries in USD is Detached from Reality: 2

February 28, 2017 11 comments

In the previous post of this series, I pointed out that comparing total or per-capita GDP or GNP of countries in USD (or any other west-european currency) is now an exercise in stupidity and self-delusion. Using healthcare as an example, I showed readers that countries with per-capita healthcare as little as 1/10th of the USA (after adjustment for purchasing power) have higher average life-expectancy and better health outcomes than the USA. In fact, it looks even worse for USA if you don’t adjust for purchasing power.

One of the most fundamental and direct measures for quality of life in the world is now, therefore, irreversibly divorced from spending in USD another west-European currencies. Towards the end of that post, I also made commented that many other basic and direct measures of life quality such as quality of education, housing and general standard of living around the world are increasingly, and now very visibly, not linked to their price in USD.

In other words, the most important proxy measure of power that western countries (especially the USA) use to gauge their relative power and dominance in the world is now worse than useless. But how did we reach the tipping point and when.. at least approximately? Let me explain that through one example in this post.. will talk about more in subsequent post of this series.

For a long time, even small triumphs and success of Indians living in the west (especially the USA) were widely celebrated in Indian media and society. This occurred in spite of many of the later denying or obfuscating their ancestry. Similarly, Indians who lived in the west (especially the USA) were treated with a certain degree of respect when they visited India- which they did largely to feel better about their second-class status in the west. In my opinion, the peak of real-life adulation for Indians living in the west occurred during the late 1990s-very early 2000s. But then something changed.. irreversibly.

Sometime around the mid-2000s, I noticed a change in the way people in India started seeing those living in the west and perhaps more importantly- themselves. This change first manifested itself as a far more critical look at Indians living in the west and was more pronounced in the younger generations. Basically, people in India gradually stopped celebrating the achievements of Indians in the west and started being more critical about the attitudes exhibited by those people towards themselves. But it did not stop there..

Increasingly, educated and affluent Indians stopped seeing residency in the west (especially the USA) as a goal to be reached under any circumstances. It was, more and more, a conditional thing- based on them having a decent job and working conditions. Also, moving back and forth between two (or more countries) based on the best deal available to them became the default mode of operation. To put it another way, having a good career and making money had replaced moving to the west as the main goal of many upper-middle class Indians.

But why did that happen? and what changed?

The short answer is that the quality of life possible in India changed a lot between the late-1990s and today. The slightly longer answer is that a large part of the respect and adoration of people in India for their relatives living in the west was linked to their superior material possessions. As some of you might know, a number of stupid and paternalistic government policies prevalent in India between 1947 and late-1980s had stunted the quality of life possible in that country. That changed dramatically after 1989.. and the result (so far) has been beneficial to most people in that country, but especially to its upper-middle class and increasingly its middle-class.

Therefore, the kind of people who might otherwise want to immigrate to the west can now enjoy all the material goods and services enjoyed by their counterparts in the west- and then some more. This prosperity and equal (or superior) access to material goods and services is also why they no longer look up to or celebrate Indians in the west. I mean.. ask yourself, would you tolerate a self-hating asshole if you had nothing to gain from doing so? But what does this have to do with comparing income across countries in USD? As it turns out.. a lot!

See.. the income of Indians with an upper-middle class lifestyle might seem more comparable to the working class in USA if you measure it in USD. However, it is very clear that their lifestyle and access to material goods and services is identical or better than those defined as upper-middle class in USA. But why is that so? and why was that not the case in the past?

Well.. it comes to who makes things and provides services. Comparing quality of life and power in the world in USD (or other west-European currencies) was feasible only as long as they were the sole providers of such material goods and services. As you know, that is simply not the case today. Most of what you consider high-tech and necessary for a high quality of life (from computers and smart phones to chemicals for making drugs and other useful stuff) is no longer made exclusively in the west- IF they were made there in the first place.

Consequently, the cost of many material goods (and services) that define a high quality of life are often far less expensive in the rest of the world. Moreover, the price of other essentials such as quality healthcare, quality medications, quality food, quality shelter is much lower in non-wetsern countries. The net result of these changes is that the upper-middle class, and increasingly middle-class, in non-western countries enjoys a quality of life that is equivalent to those the west. Did I mention that their disposable income and net worth (even when measured in USD) now often surpasses those of their supposed equivalents in the west?

To summarize this post- most of the existing delusions.. I mean beliefs prevalent in USA (and the west) about its relative power and dominance vis-a-vis the rest of the world are based on a metric that is now worse than useless.

What do you think? Comments?

Kim Jong-Nam was Assassinated with a Binary Version of VX

February 23, 2017 10 comments

As many of you must have heard by now, Kim Jong-Nam (the elder brother of the current North Korean leader Kim Jong-Um) was assassinated about 10 days (on 13 February 2017) by two women spraying something toxic on his face. Since that day, there has been much speculation about the identity of the toxic substance in the sprays which killed him. This was especially so because the two women who were paid to spray him were themselves unskilled locals who were unaffected by whatever they used on him. However that very fact that two sprays were used seemed to suggest that the toxic compound was a binary chemical agent- most likely a never gas.

It seems that this particular theory has now been confirmed. Earlier today, the Malaysian police announced that preliminary tests show that Kim Jong-Nam was killed by a potent nerve gas known as VX. So why does the use of VX suggest that it was generated in situ by a binary chemical reaction– apart from two women spraying him with stuff that did not kill them? Well.. because VX is highly toxic and has certain physical properties (high viscosity and low volatility) which make its use as a gas or spray really problematic- especially if an actual human being is doing the spraying. However it is far easier to use as binary chemical weapon because both components of the binary mix (QL and Sulfur) are fairly safe by themselves.

The structure of VX and QL as well as the general schematics of the chemical reaction which generates VX from QL and Sulfur are shown below. The short version of the story is that QL reacts with Sulfur to generate an intermediate compound which then undergoes a slight chemical rearrangement to form VX.


As you can see, the reaction is fairly simple and the two components which generate VX in situ are themselves fairly non-toxic. While there have a few isolated incidents in the past 2-3 decades (link 1, link 2, link 3) of people using weaponized organophosphate compounds aka ‘nerve gases’ to kill a few people- this incident is perhaps the first the first one to use a binary chemical agent for assassinating a public figure of any significance.

Update: It is possible that the North Koreans might have used the binary version of another structurally similar compound or a different organophosphate ‘nerve gas’ such as Sarin.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting YouTube Sub-Channel: The Empire Files with Abby Martin

February 19, 2017 1 comment

Here is another interesting YouTube channel, or sub-channel, I came across a few months ago. It is basically a series of interviews and short documentaries hosted by Abby Martin on teleSUR English. She largely covers issues which the MSM either does not report or lies about such as interference by USA in the affairs of other countries, serious systemic problems in USA, abuses perpetrated by USA-based multinational companies etc.

Link for sub-channel: The Empire Files with Abby Martin

Here is one recent and relevant clip containing an interview with Mark Ames about the massive and destructive interference by USA in Russia from 1991 to the election of Putin in late 1999. It is a useful summary of all the reasons why Russians grew to hate the USA (especially its establishment) and support Putin.

Enjoy! Comments?

Spoof on Silicon Valley and Internet of Things from 2014 : Smart Pipe

February 18, 2017 6 comments

While writing an upcoming post about why the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is a terrible idea on multiple levels, it occurred to me that I had not yet posted one of the best and smartest YouTube spoofs about that subject. FYI, I first came across this spoof in late-2014 and thought it was hilarious enough to post on many places other than this blog. In case you are wondering, the imaginary IoT product mentioned in that spoof is scarily close to some products that have actually received venture capital funding in Silly Valley.

Enjoy! Comments?

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

February 16, 2017 14 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?


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 YouTube Channel: The Jimmy Dore Show

February 13, 2017 Leave a comment

While one of my older posts does contain a clip from his channel about Barack Obama‚Äôs less than stellar legacy, I thought it would be a good idea to post a link to Jimmy Dore’s YouTube channel and explain a bit more about him. So.. Jimmy Dore is a stand-up comedian and political commentator, who is currently best known for his scathing commentary on establishment democrats and republicans on TYT.

What sets him apart from other comedians who comment on politics is his willingness to skewer establishment democrats and corporate liberals with the same viciousness and frequency as republicans and self-righteous religious nutcases. As many of you know, most comedian-turned-political-commentators are not interested in delivering any significant critique on establishment democrat and “moderate” republican public figures.

Here is a link to his YouTube channel: The Jimmy Dore Show

Interesting Clip 1

Interesting Clip 2

Enjoy! Comments?