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Posts Tagged ‘west’

Some Predictions about Downstream Effects of COVID-19 Shutdown: 1

May 20, 2020 12 comments

Since I have been recently writing a lot of posts about the COVID-19 shutdown (link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5, link 6), I thought it might be a good idea to write down some more and specific predictions about the downstream effects of COVID-19 shutdown. So here are some of them, in no particular order of importance or significance. Just so you know, most are pretty depressing.

1] As I have mentioned many times in the past, jobs in the service sector dominate the economic landscape of post-industrial western countries. Just think about how many people you know who work in a place which makes a real physical product or processes some raw material vs all those who work at some shop, mall, hotel, restaurant or something similar. But this goes even further, as the largest employers in most towns and cities in this country are either hospitals, universities or school districts. While these more “credentialed” jobs might seem to be something other than service sector jobs- they are just that and you will see why that matters later in this post.

While jobs in the service sector might seem too heterogeneous to be hit by the shutdown and its aftermath, they share some common features that make them especially vulnerable to economic disruption. Firstly, majority of business in the service sector operate on much low margin of profit compared to some other sectors. For example, there is no service sector equivalent of Apple or Microsoft with a few hundred billion dollars stashed into overseas accounts and obscure financial instruments. In other words, consumer sector businesses and employers lack the very deep pockets of corporations in other sectors.

Secondly, as a partial consequence of the first, they are heavily dependent on highly predictable levels of businesses activity and are usually (especially in west) financially over-optimized to the point that they cease to be profitable or even viable when capacity utilization levels are not close to maximum. This is a fancy way of saying that restaurants, bars, hotels, airlines, most shops in malls etc become money pits if they are not operating at close to their maximum capacity for a good part of the year. FYI- this is less of an issue in some Asian countries where the proprietors often own the premises and are not so heavily financially leveraged.

But why does this matter? Well.. because even if they can survive a couple of months of being closed down due to helicopter money from the government, they are just not viable if forced to operate at 25% or 50% capacity for even couple of months. Sure.. restaurants which do mostly takeout (pizza joints, chinese) might survive, but the vast majority will simply close it down because there is no way a sane person would operate, for more than a couple of months, under poorly thought and uncertain regulations made up by bozos without any skin in the game.

And it gets worse.. the service sector is far less monopolized than other sectors of the economy, and the majority of business in it are either small or medium sized. Given that government largess seems to preferentially benefit the large and politically connected in every sector, it is likely.. almost certain.. that many small to medium sized businesses will go bankrupt or close forever. What makes this outcome especially problematic is that those business account for the majority of jobs in that sector. In other words, we will a large rise in long-term unemployment in the very societies which have decided (about four decades ago) to abandon their economies to the “free market” aka financialism and monopolization by choice.

To add insult to injury, the vast majority of people in this sector are under 60 years of age and therefore the least likely to die (less than 1 in 1,000 chance) from COVID-19. And here is what will happen next.. tens of millions will be unable to pay their rents, mortgages, student loans, car loans etc for a prolonged time. Of course, trying to throw so many people on the street and out of their cars will have some very nasty political repercussions- more so because the majority are young. Some of you might say.. but what about unemployment insurance? Well.. that amount paid by most western countries (but especially USA) is not adequate for covering majority of their bills- more so if you live in a medium to large city.

And it gets worse…

2] The whole “social-distancing” and “quarantine” bullshit along with dubious measures such as requiring everybody to wear mask in public perpetuates the atmosphere of a perpetual crisis. I liken these measures to the security theater we saw in USA after 9/11- but with the potential to cause infinitely more economic problems. Think about it.. would you eat out at restaurants with same frequency as before if you server was wearing a face mask and every alternate table was closed off with big stupid stickers? Would you go to a pub as often? What about a movie theater? What about shops in malls pestering you to disinfect your hands every time you walked into them? Would you buy as many clothes as before if you couldn’t try them out in fitting rooms?

What about airlines? would you take a flight as often if you had to deal with all that bullshit? What about vacations? Would you stay at hotels as often even if you still had a job? And all of this security theater for what end? To maybe slow spread of a highly infectious disease with an gross population IFR of less than 0.5% and mostly problematic in people over 70 and 80? A disease that does not cause symptoms bad enough to seek any medical attention in over 90% of those infected. A disease that is functionally asymptomatic in most people it infects? A disease that the vast majority recover from without any therapeutic intervention or long-term sequelae.

The vast majority of disease control measures deployed to stop this pandemic are closer to ritualistic virtue display than good science. Consider for example, face masks. Do they benefit people under 70 to the same extent as those over 70? And given the highly infectious nature of this disease along with very low mortality in most age cohorts, isn’t it a good idea to let non-vulnerable people get the illness and recover from it. thus conferring them immunity than wait for an effective and safe vaccine- which will likely take at least a few months. Now let me ask you another question- do you think I am the only one thinking along these lines?

It is becoming increasingly harder to maintain lock-down in many parts of the world and while those regions might suffer more death at first- it will become increasingly obvious that letting people under a certain age get infected while protecting the more vulnerable minority is the least bad option. Notice I said ‘least bad option’ because there is no realistic good option in the near future. You are really choosing between options that front-load death or those which spread far wider economic misery over a much longer time-scale. Personally, I choose the first and you can be sure that the majority will eventually choose it because the second one sucks far more.

Noe let me ask you a related question- what happens to the credibility of the people and institutions who pushed the second option. As many of you know, it is my opinion that Trump’s rise of power had a lot to the non-recovery of most people from the GFC of 2008 and continued neoliberal policies under Obummer. Imagine what such a crisis and much bigger repudiation of “credentialed” people and institutions would do for the political scene in this country. You might remember that in a previous post I made the case that rise of fascist and strong-men type leaders in continental Europe during 1920s and 1930s had everything to do with high rates of unemployment among men combined with a repudiation of the elites who led them into WW1.

You think Trump is bad? Just imagine the type of right-wing ‘populists’ that will arise in response to these stupid and ruinous lock-down policies. In future posts of this series, I intend to write about the impact of these stupid policies on schools, universities, future of “left”, effects on certain parts of manufacturing sector, municipal bonds, velocity of money, effect on rates of drug use and much more. But before I finish this post, let me say something else. If you think that a crisis of this extraordinary magnitude will make corporate-owned western governments question their faith in neoliberalism- think again.

And another thing.. this crisis will destroy whatever residual faith people in many countries still have in the WHO- but that is the topic of another post.

What do you think? Comments?

Inept Western Response to COVID-19 Will Result in Public Backlash: 4

April 13, 2020 26 comments

In the previous post of this series, I made the point that all of the dumbshit “democratic” western countries and their sad imitators (India etc) have not thought through the full consequences of shutting down most of their economies in response to the SARS-2 pandemic. Because, if they had performed any due diligence, it would be obvious that stopping the collection of all types of rents and bills had to be done before shutting down other things. It is also no secret that some large countries (USA and India) lack both the bureaucratic and financial infrastructure to deliver timely and sufficient money to most of their people who have lost income because of this shutdown. Even those who have done a far better job in this regard (Denmark, Canada, UK etc) are still half-assing it by not covering all their people and cancelling economic rents. Bad as these things are, these are not their biggest failures- so far.

In my opinon, the single biggest failure (thus far) has been the complete lack of any exit plan- something which Kim Iversen alluded to in one of her many videos. Any politician, bureaucrat or “credentialed epidemiologist” who cannot present a definitive and feasible exit strategy from this thoughtless lockdown is not living in the real world. While there will be ample opportunity to dunk on politicians and bureaucrats later on this post (or series), let me start by exposing the utter incompetence of all those “credentialed epidemiologists” who staff the public health departments of western countries. You know who they remind me of.. WW1 generals. If you have read a significant amount of history, you will be aware that the vast majority of generals in WW1 on both sides were epic disasters and clusterfucks whose decisions caused far more casualties than if they hadn’t been born. But why were they such massive disasters? Well it has to do with how they ended up in their positions and careers prior to 1914.

See.. for almost 50 years prior to WW1, there was no large scale warfare in western Europe. The only real action most soldiers and generals in that part of world saw from end of Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the start of WW1 in 1914 was restricted to putting down rebellions in colonies and a few small skirmishes in the Balkans. Therefore, an entire generation of western generals had never faced anything beyond dark-skinned tribals with spears and a few old firearms. To put it another way, the upper military ranks of western countries were filled with shysters and dummies who had reached their position via family connections, patronage and bribes, flattery and good social manners etc. Sure.. many of them had attended “prestigious” schools and universities and were capable of accurately reciting back whatever they had learned in them. To put it another way, they were incompetent posers who could nevertheless give the appearance of competence. But reality cannot be fooled and WW1 exposed them in a most unflattering manner.

The current crop of “credentialed epidemiologists” in USA and other western countries are, in many ways, similar to WW1 generals. Here is why.. firstly, neither has actually faced a large scale challenge of this magnitude in their entire careers. Sure, there have been bad influenza seasons and occasional outbreaks of some exotic diseases in Africa or East Asia- but dealing with routine or small-scale problems does not prepare one for making decisions during large scale meltdowns. Secondly, just like their military counterparts a century ago, the bulk of these “credentialed epidemiologists” went to “prestigious” universities where they learned to regurgitate the alleged “wisdom” of those who had fought past wars while also building up their social networks. Most importantly, their training and experience leaves them particularly unequipped to think outside the box of “conventional wisdom” and “established norms”. You know.. in some ways, they remind me of the current democratic party establishment.

But why does any of this matter? The brief answer is as follows: any strategy or plan is always subject to the constraints of the system it operates within and available resources. Sure.. you can always find new ways to unlock resources that were previously unavailable or partially bypass existing constraints, but in the end the feasibility of any given plan is dictated by what exists and is available at that time. Let me explain that concept with a couple of examples- the stalemate of trench warfare in WW1 was ultimately broken by using shock-troop tactics by Germans and combined arms operations by the other side- but both approaches, though new, were extensions of what was feasible at that time. Similarly, in WW2- the development of jet aircraft made it possible to fly faster, V1 and V2 demonstrated that cruise and ballistic missiles were not pipe dreams. However, once again, they were extensions of what was feasible at that time.

My point is that physical, logistical and technological feasibility of any strategy or plan of action is central to success- whether you are waging war or trying to control a pandemic. With that in mind, let us talk about something almost every commentator in mainstream media seems to have missed. Ever wonder how you can motivate people to follow a plan of action which might be painful in short-term, but potentially rewarding in long run? The more delusional of you might think that fear would work. However any close reading of history shows that fear by itself, at best, can only buy you a short time (weeks to months). So what else can? The answer is hope.. specifically hope for a better future. In other words, a leader with a reasonably feasible plan to overcome whatever adversity they are facing will always motivate people to go along for a far longer time than somebody who is using only fear. Hope trumps fear. With that in mind, let us go through their stupidities, not necessarily in order of importance.

1] ‘Social distancing’ and shutting down most of economy is unworkable over any period longer than a few weeks. Even countries which provide far more generous direct monetary support to their population than USA have been either unable/unwilling to provide full income replacement. Consequently, any shutdown that goes on for more than a few weeks will definitely have very nasty downstream and knock-on economic effects. But why does this matter? Well.. here is why. SARS-2 aka COVID-19 has a maximum fatality rate of about 1.5% in populations which conduct extensive testing + factoring in asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic patients who recovered (not counted in official positive numbers). Compare this to massive and inevitable job loss in the service sector due to ‘social distancing’ guidelines and the inevitable closure of many small business.Long story short, shutting down economy for more than a few weeks gives results in unemployment rates reaching 30% and beyond. Note that this will be on top of all the other problems caused by many people being unable to pay rent and other bills.

To put it bluntly, the number of severely pissed off people who are unemployed and in poverty will exceed the potential number of who might die by a minimum of over 20 times. Continuing the bullshit charade of ‘social distancing’ and shutdowns until we develop an effective vaccine a year or more from now is not a viable option, regardless of what dumbfucks such as Faucci or Bill Gates want to to believe. We are already seeing lineups of thousands (who own cars) in many american cities to use food banks- and this is just the beginning. Let me remind you that similar combinations of unemployment and non-existent safety nets have, in the past, led to the rise of people such as Mussolini and Hitler. Unless the “credentialed epidemiologists” come up with a viable plan to reopen the economy real soon, things will develop a momentum and direction of their own- in ways that are not controllable.

2] ‘Social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ loses its utility after a few weeks. Slowing the spread of a highly contagious but not-especially-lethal disease (in the absence of effective treatments or vaccines) for more than a couple of months merely prolongs the outbreak. While such measures can buy us a few weeks (at the beginning) to get things in order, find a better protocol for treatment or develop better measures to protect the most vulnerable groups etc- it cannot stop the inevitable. This becomes much more relevant once you understand that excess deaths due to ignoring other diseases and conditions, because of a misguided focus on SARS-2, will keep on increasing and quickly eclipse the extra mortality due to the later. People don’t stop having heart attacks, strokes, needing anti-cancer therapy, requiring elective surgery or receiving treatment for other acute and chronic conditions because there is a moderate pandemic of some sort. Anything which takes resources away from other medical issues will increase total mortality.

To make matters more interesting, most people above 80 who require incubation due to severe presentations of SARS-2 don’t make it- at least with currently used therapeutic interventions. This groups also makes up the majority of deaths due to that disease. At some stage, people will start asking whether intensive therapeutic interventions in severely ill people over a certain age is desirable given that it takes those resources away from people with far more treatable disease conditions. In wretched countries such as USA and India, the loss of income in a system without a decent safety net will cause additional problems such as many people being unable to purchase medications, seek medical help or even buy food. Do not, even for a minute, believe the idiots who are trying to tell you that such deprivations won’t cause widespread and violet social unrest.

Since this post is already close to 1700 words, I will stop now. In the next part we will talk about why legal enforcement of ‘social distancing’ and shutdowns are going to cause far more problems than you realize- especially after next two weeks. Will also go into why the fear of looking bad due to covid-19 deaths after shutdown is lifted might cause decision paralysis among the “credentialed” leading to further collateral damage. Might also go into the scientific and clinical evidence behind using Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine to treat SARS-2 in early stages of disease. Here is a quick spoiler, there is considerable evidence that both drugs are very effective at reducing the number of those who require hospitalization and ICU care, but only if given within first few days of initial symptoms- and this actually supports their known mode of action.

What do you think? Comments?

Inept Western Response to COVID-19 Will Result in Public Backlash: 3

April 1, 2020 22 comments

In the previous post, I posted links to two YouTube clips by Kim Iversen in which she makes the point that shutting down economy of most countries for many months, till the COVID-19 virus is contained, is just not feasible. Nor is it possible, without a yet to be developed and efficacious vaccine, to eliminate a highly infectious virus with a low mortality rate which has already spread all around the world. The point she was trying to make is that the bullshit being sold to you as official government response and policies is likely to cause far more collateral socio-economic damage and human deaths than the viral pandemic itself. Some of you might have also noticed that tons of online virtue signalling losers, who have never worked a manual job in their entire life or being anything other than economically secure, were infuriated by her observations and are still busy trying to censor and “de-platform” her.

It is telling that the so-called “left” in western countries is as intellectually bankrupt as the right-wing nutcases they pretend to oppose and claim moral superiority over. This similarity between supporters of the two alleged political extremes will, however, not be surprising to some readers. As you might have also read in some of my other previous posts on this topic (link 1, link 2) the governmental response to this pandemic in most western countries has so far heavily favored corporations and very rich over the majority of their citizens. Even western European countries, who have so far done more for their citizens than USA, have still not formulated an effective response. Now.. I am not saying that they won’t get their shit together eventually, but they have not shown any signs of doing that- so far. Confused at what I am talking about? Let me explain..

1] Let me ask you a series of simple questions. What percentage of all paid jobs in the west are not in the ‘essential’ category AND cannot be performed from home? You know the answer to this one- the majority. Now let us follow on to the related question. How many jobs in these sectors pay more than what you can get on unemployment insurance? The answer tro this one is that a large percentage do pay more than even the generous unemployment insurance paid in west European countries today. Things might have been different decades ago, when it was higher in those countries- but that is a topic for another post. Now, some of you might counter by pointing out the governments in many west European countries are willing to cover 75-80% of the pay (upto a certain amount) of employees for a few months, if their employer does not lay them off. Well.. the key words here are ‘if their employer does not lay them off’.

The point I am trying to make is that even if you assume this economic disruption will not extend past a few weeks, affected employers (aka corporations) will lay off a significant percentage of their employees. In other words, a shutdown which lasts more than a few weeks is going to put a massive number of people on relatively stingy unemployment insurance. This problem is hard to solve in so-called “liberal democracies” where interests and needs of corporations and capitalists always outweigh those of the majority. See.. the government of one-party states such as China can simply order its corporations to keep paying their employees at an acceptable rate, because those corporations know that they will be refunded by government and have no option other than accepting the government’s order. Even other supposedly democratic east Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea can make their corporations and businesses retain employees in ways than supposedly “liberal democracies” cannot or don’t want to.

And the situation get even more dismal once you consider things such as residential and small business rent, auto insurance, utilities and other forms of economic rents on the majority. Do you really think voluntary guidelines and suggestions to postpone rent and similar payments is going to cut it? Do you really think that people on significantly reduced income who don’t have much money saved because they were paid so poorly even before this crisis can afford the upcoming balloon payments on rent, utilities etc while being able to afford all essentials and have enough leftover to to stimulate the depressed economy by spending like they used to? And let us clear about something else, most of the trillions being given to corporations right now are going to end up in secret bank accounts in oversea tax havens- one way or the other. And this holds for large corporations that are based in west Europe as much as those based in USA.

2] No western country (which I am aware of) has thus far implemented a freeze on financial rents of any type. To put it bluntly, most of the paltry unemployment insurance payments (to those who ‘qualify’) are just going to end up in the pockets of those collect rents, credit card payments, auto loans payments etc. In other words, many large corporations will receive government money twice- once directly to “save” jobs and then indirectly as people who could barely afford these rent payments in past have to pass an even larger portion of their income onto those corporations. Now imagine what this will do for the disposable income and ability of those people to support business which do not collect such rents. And this not a trivial question as businesses which do not collect such rents employ many times the number of those that do collect rent. Imagine the effect of such an economic contraction on all those retail stores in malls and other business which depend on them. And it gets worse.

Have you seriously considered the impact of this pandemic on the financial situation of those who work in airlines, airports, tourism, hotels and restaurants. What about those who livelihood is connected to running music concerts and other large cultural gatherings? You do realize that most people working in those sectors aren’t well-paid in the best of times.. right? Have all those idiots who incessantly talk about shutting down the economy indefinitely “until the pandemic is over” understand the ramifications of such actions on the livelihood of a substantial minority of the population? Given that most western countries have still not offered to replace income of their working citizens and small businesses in addition to freezing rents, where do they think all that money necessary for restarting the economy is going to come from? Then again, virtue signalers are not known for their ability to think through their actions.

To make matters more interesting, the mortality rate of COVID-19 (once you factor in people who don’t develop symptoms and recover uneventfully) is less than 1%. And ya.. I am basing that number on countries such as South Korea and Germany who have done a much better job of extensive testing of their population than others such as Italy and Spain. Did I mention that majority of those who die will be more than 80 years old? The point I am trying to make is as follows: At some stage relatively soon (not more than four weeks from now) a lot of people who are younger and not well-paid or compensated for this shutdown will start asking questions about whether ineffectual attempts to stop a disease that kills mostly very old people is worth them losing their livelihoods and future. To make matters worse, if that is possible, the pig-headed response of bureaucrats to such concerns will only inflame this situation further. And it is going to cause far more problems in countries such as USA and UK than Italy or Spain who have the social structure necessary to deal with prolonged economic adversity.

In the next part, I will write about how the lack of realistic plans for controlling this virus or mitigating its effect and reopening economy will make the situation far worse than it has to be. Might also write about how this pandemic will diminish the already decreasing the direct and indirect power of USA (and west in general) outside their borders.

What do you think? Comments?

Inept Western Response to COVID-19 Will Result in Public Backlash: 1

March 22, 2020 23 comments

Initially, I considered making this the next post in my previous series about how the coronavirus pandemic will cause the most damage to USA. But upon further thinking, I realized that while the USA is going to suffer the most direct and indirect damage from this pandemic, so would most other western countries- if on a smaller scale. Then it hit me.. the most important reason behind why the western countries would suffer far more damage than east-Asian counterparts has a lot to do with differences in how government is structured (and works) in those two systems. The west, especially in past four decades, have become truly capitalist in that the needs and demands of those who have capital (corporations and very rich) supersede those of everybody else. In contrast, east-Asian countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan etc are not capitalist in the same way as western counties, because the demands and needs of society will frequently supersede those of their moneyed classes. Let me explain..

1] Initially, the provincial administration in Hubei tried to first minimize and then cover-up the impact of this outbreak, but failed. Once this became obvious, the central government in China just stepped in put and put incredible amounts of physical and monetary resources to control the outbreak. Most importantly, they did it without any concern to the cost of doing so or potential economic losses which their own moneyed class might suffer. To make a long story short, they put the welfare of majority above the needs and demands of their moneyed class. Their ability to marshal resources to get personal protective gear to affected areas, stop price gouging, maintain law and order, ensure people are fed and taken care of during the ensuing lockdown, remove affected people into quarantine, start dozens of clinical trials is very impressive. Most importantly, they let people who understood the problem (medical experts in infectious diseases) make all important decisions rather than let commercial interests and local capitalists hinder or dilute their recommendations for controlling the outbreak.

But they did not stop at just epidemiological measures to control this outbreak. Soon after the central government got involves, it ordered banks to stop collecting mortgage and loan payments and well as made sure that utilities stopped collecting bills. They made sure that people did not have to worry about pay rents or not having enough money for food and other necessities. To that end, they poured hundreds of billions (at least) into their economy to make sure that people kept getting paid even when they could not work due to being under lockdown. They went so far to make sure that food was regularly delivered to apartment buildings in areas under lock-down and that important functions such as garbage collection, food transport etc were not interrupted. My point is that the Chinese government did a lot to make sure that its own people (at least the majority) did not suffer from the consequences of not being able to work or move about freely when under lockdown because of the outbreak. To summarize, they did everything a competent government which cared for its own citizens would have done.

2] Now compare this to the shitshow currently playing out in western countries. First, they were delusional enough to believe that the outbreak would not spread to the west. This was also when their presstitutes were busy writing editorials about how China’s response was either too much, too little or otherwise “not correct”. They also spent the next two months doing almost nothing useful such as developing and distributing diagnostic tests etc. Then some of these idiots were spending time fantasizing about how this outbreak would destabilize China or Iran. Of course, China has never cared about what some idiots in declining western countries have been saying about them for decades. I remember how even two weeks ago, many credentialed losers in the field of biomedical research in west were busy writing editorials about how China’s approach to testing any drug which might have some therapeutic effect in those patients was a bad idea. We now know who was right, don’t we?

But it gets worse. When it became obvious that the virus had reached and was spreading in parts of northern Italy, governments in the EU were more concerned with potential losses suffered by their capitalist minority than the health of the majority. It does not take a genius to figure out that a sharp but brief shutdown of northern Italy along with a simultaneous massive increase in testing (perhaps with kits imported from South Korea) could have prevented much of the spread we are now seeing in Europe. While Italy, Spain and some other European countries have since implemented such socialist ideas such as freezing mortgage, utility, loan and in some cases rent payments, along with income support, it took them much longer than China to take these obvious steps. My point is that they could done this much earlier and with far better outcome, but a combination of magical racist thinking, obsession with interests of capitalist minority and general lack of competent people in their bureaucracies prevented them from making the right decisions at right time. But, at least, they are finally catching up with reality.

3] The response in USA has, thus far, been the biggest shitshow of them all. And let us be honest about something else- Trump’s contribution to this farce is minor, at best. Many features of the american system which contributed to this farcical response predate Trump, in many cases by a least a couple of decades. The current round of downsizing in public health institutions began under Obama- not unlike putting brown children in cages. Similarly, many governmental programs for developing drugs to treat emerging infectious diseases have been downsized for almost a decade now. Also, institutional sclerosis which prevents the government or companies from trying out new ideas under extreme circumstances has been a feature of biomedical research in USA for over two decades. We also cannot forget how concentrating research money into a few “prestigious” universities filled with mediocre credentialed but highly politically connected researchers has destroyed the quality of research in this country.

The response in USA to this pandemic has similarly been pathetic and comically inept. They have closed down the livelihood of over 100 million people (most of whom live paycheck to paycheck) without offering them prompt economic relief in the form of no-strings attached governmental money. They are still pretending that young people have the same risk of death from infection as boomers- something, which is going to backfire real soon. They are trying to bail out corporations without making sure that average people are bailed out first. They have offered no timeline for the return of normalcy. They have offered no hope to people in the form of of-label use of drugs which might reduce mortality in high-risk groups. Trump promoting Hydroxychloroquine or Chloroquine + Azithromycin to reduce viral loads and thus mortality is the probably the only good thing that has come out of the government, so far. And ya.. there is enough evidence that these drugs have some therapeutic effect- especially if given early in course of disease.

In the next part, I will write about how the poorly thought out shutdowns in combination with inadequate income and other support for most people will likely cause epically bad public reactions all over USA in the next two weeks. And yes, I am willing to bet that the legislative critters in Washington DC won’t be able to get their shit together and pass something that will stave off the beginnings of widespread social unrest in about two weeks. FYI- two weeks is about the length of time most people in USA can go without a paycheck. Did I mention that public trust in institutions (governmental or private) has never recovered since global financial crisis of 2008.

What do you think? Comments?

Identity Politics is the Western Equivalent of Caste Politics In India

February 23, 2020 35 comments

Most regular readers are aware that I detest SJW, wokeism and everything else associated with identity politics. While some reasons behind my contempt of this performative bullshit scam are common to most other critics, one of them is distinctly unique- and is summarized in the title of this post. As some of you might rember, I wrote a series about why the caste system was, and still is, so damaging to Indians. For the purposes of this post, the gist is as follows: The caste or ‘jati’ system created so many stupid divisions in Indian society that it has become almost totally dysfunctional for the past 1,500 years. It also created a mindset which lacks the capability for critical thought and reason. To make a long story short, much of what is wrong with that country today can be traced back to the ‘jati’ system.

And this brings us to a question which I did not tackle in that series- namely, what explains the persistence of such a stupid and shitty social system? How can a system which disadvantages the majority of its followers, in a multitude of ways, still remain popular among them? To be fair, this issue is not unique to the caste system since a similar argument can be made about any other religion. In my opinion, it comes down to how the caste or ‘jati’ system shapes power- or more precisely, how it reproduces itself at societal level. See.. one of central tenet of the ‘jati’ system is that only somebody of your own ‘jati’ can be trusted to represent your interests. In other words, only somebody of your own caste or ‘jati’ can be your leader and since there are hundreds (if not thousands) of ‘jatis’ there can also never be a broadly recognized leader or group of leaders.

Sure.. you can have national figureheads who are reasonably popular among the majority, but they simply do not command the power and reach of their equivalents in, say, China or USA. But why does this matter and how is any of this related to contemporary identity politics in the west. For starters, many of you must have realized by now that the core tenet of identity politics is that only somebody from your own ‘group’ can ever be a legitimate leader of people from said group. According to them, only a woman can truly represent the interests of women, a gay man of gay men, a “trans woman” of “trans women” etc. The corollary of this belief is that no society can have a legitimate leader and leadership acceptable to most people in it. But why is this belief so problematic? Wouldn’t people be best represented by others who are “like” them?

Well.. let us have a look at this issue by analyzing the one example of identity politics which is well established in USA. It is no secret that almost every single black politician who has been elected to any office in this country has achieved that position because of the strong support of black voters. Ya, sure.. there are some major historical reasons for why this is the case. But let me ask you another question- can you think of a single major black political figure who has done anything other than ignore his or her constituents once elected to office. A few, such as Obama, have actually championed policies which preferentially immiserated their most ardent supporters. Instead, the vast majority of black politicians do nothing beyond using their position for enriching themselves and their friends and relatives while acting as the ‘help’ for white politicians who want to maintain the shitty status quo.

Funny thing.. this is exactly how caste-based politics plays out in India. All the idiots who vote for politicians from their own castes get nothing worthwhile in return, while those elected to office go on to amass millions and billions through graft and scams in addition to preferential treatment of relatives and friends. Their supporters then get angry and frequently vote them out in the next election cycle by selecting a new bunch of scammers through the same thought process- if you can call it that. Guess what, the same thing happens again and the voters go back to the previous bunch of scammers. And the cycle goes on.. And now you know why China can get everything done properly on time while India can’t seem to get anything important done, let alone on time. My point is that identity politics is a recipe for stagnation, decay and ultimately, chaos.

Moving back to the situation in USA and west in general.. How has, for example, selecting more women as CEOs of large corporations improved the overall quality of lives for most women? Has it increased their paycheck, given them better job security, a longer paid maternity leaves or otherwise improved the quality of their children’s lives etc? It hasn’t! The only thing it has achieved is the elevation of a minuscule number of women to positions where they can be as greedy and asshole-ish as the very few men they replaced. The same is true, perhaps even more so, for black politicians and black “business leaders”, whose much publicized rise has not resulted in any worthwhile improvement in the conditions of the constituency they allegedly represent.

This also applies for gay politicians and “business leaders”. Has Apple suddenly started making better products because their current CEO is gay or has it somehow improved the material conditions for gay men in USA? The same is true for efforts to promote a few token lesbians, latinos and other ethnic minorities. Putting a few more non-white or non-straight people in positions of power, while simultaneously maintaining the previous status quo, is a scam- and an especially dangerous one. Letting the ‘alphabet people’ aka the LGBTQ..whatever enlarge this scam will only make things worse. Have a look at the political scene, aka the chaos, in India- where nothing of importance or significance gets done, but everyone in politics is constantly shouting at each other andaccusing everybody else of “corruption”- while wearing ridiculous headgear to show their caste credentials. It does makes for good theater though..

In summary, identity politics is a dangerous scam and should be seen as the contemporary western equivalent of caste politics in India. Though it is being currently promoted by elites to maintain the status quo, it will metamorphose into something far more uncontrollable- which in turn will end up creating a highly fragmented, polarized and dysfunctional society.

What do you think? Comments?

The 1990s was Last Great Decade for People Living in USA and West: 1

January 26, 2020 15 comments

Here is a series I first contemplated writing about five years ago, though the core idea occurred to me a bit before that and in an unexpected place. See.. spending too much time looking at the less frequented parts of the internet often results in me noticing unusual correlations, trends and patterns which escape the attention of most people. About seven years ago, I was going through a newsgroup about new large architectural projects all over the world and noticed an odd trend. Increasingly the most interesting and large building projects in the world were in Asia, not North America or Europe. Some of you might attribute this to Asia finally catching up to the West, and initially considered that possibility. Then I noticed something else.. most of the few large building projects in the West were increasingly way over budget and took far longer than expected. More interestingly, the results were usually of poor quality and full of poor design choices.

And then I started noticing this same basic trend in many other areas, from drug discovery and computer technology to video games, movies and music. It was as if the past 15-20 years have been one continuous blur of stagnation if you were living in USA or any other western country. Some of you might say that smartphones, “machine learning” and other assorted bullshit is a sign of progress. But is it really? Think about it.. Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile could be used to browse the web, check email, play games, watch movie clips, take photos, utilize GPS and many more things almost 20 years ago. The biggest “advance” smartphones represent is that they are permanently connected to high-speed cellular networks because data rates are now very low. Has all that hype about “machine learning”, “deep learning” and “AI” translated into any worthwhile improvement in your quality of life? Can you think of a counter example?

While I would like to start this series by talking about how technology has stagnated, a better (more popular) place to start would be how cultural products has either stagnated gotten worse. While trends in music and video games will be addressed in subsequent posts, we will focus on trends in films and TV in this post. But before we go there, let us first define the 1990s. In my opinion, the 1990s began on December 26, 1991 and ended on September 11, 2001 though it kinda dragged on until August 31, 2005. The period between those dates was the last time the west (especially USA) was dominant and relatively prosperous. As you will see, these dates define that decade in many fields. It is as if this time-span was the last hurrah for the western socio-economic model including neo-liberalism (and neo-conservatism).

Now let us get back to the main focus of this post, namely the almost complete stagnation of creativity in western films and TV shows (including online offerings). Here is a question- Do you remember any film or TV show released within the past 15 years that was not a direct derivative of something released earlier? Do you remember anything financially successful or unsuccesful that was not a direct derivative of something from before 2006? But why does this matter? Well.. because almost decade in the century before 2006 witnessed multiple major new trends that were not a direct derivative of something from the past one. To be fair, some of it was due to technological advances and changes in social mores. But much of it was driven by people experimenting with new ways to present novel material. Confused? Let me explain..

Consider the 1920s, with german expressionist cinema (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Pre-Code Hollywood movies, Russian Cinema (Battleship Potemkin, October). Can anybody deny that these represented new ways of making and editing films, not to mention the fact that they tackle hitherto untackled subject matter- at least in cinema. Or take the 1930s with its classic monster movies, Hollywood musicals, Disney Cartoons, Leni Riefenstahl’s documentaries etc. The 1940s had Film Noir and other memorable movies such as Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life, Casablanca etc. To be clear, I am not suggesting that previous decades were full of good, let alone original, movies. But it is clear that every decade in the century prior to 2006 saw the emergence of new and influential trends in cinema. However, we haven’t really seen anything similar occurring in the past 15 years.

The 1960s had tons of new trends, as did the 1970s. Even the 1980s had their new trends from low-budget horror movies to summer action blockbusters. There was much innovation in western cinema for a century before 2006. But the something, or more than one thing, happened western cinema became boring, repetitive and (most importantly) forgettable. I have briefly touched on some of these issues in my post about the current rash of film remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels and I sort of started talking about this topic in a post a few months ago– but never got around to building on it. And yes, I am aware that there are broader sociological trends at work. But whichever way you try to explain, it is hard to argue that the past fifteen years saw the alsmot total stagnation of creativity in western cinema and TV shows.

Don’t believe me? Well.. here are some facts. Most of the LOTR trilogy was filmed in New Zealand between October 11, 1999 and December 22, 2000, and the first movie in that series came out on November 20, 2001. The first X-men movie was released on July 14, 2000. The first film in the highly successful Spider Man franchise came out on May 3, 2002. The Matrix was released in 1999, as were the following important movies: Star Wars: Episode I, Office Space, Election, The Mummy, American Pie, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, The Green Mile, Fight Club, American Beauty, Sleepy Hollow and many more. 1998 saw the release of important movies such as The Truman Show, Armageddon, Deep Impact, 1998 version of Godzilla, The Big Lebowski, Wild Things, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and many more.

The first Austin Powers movie came out in 1997, the first Jurassic Park in 1993. The first Scream movie came out in 1996 and the first I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1997. The first Toy Story came out in 1995 and the first Shrek movie in 2001. Can you think any equivalents in post 2005-era? Oh, and even the 40-year-old virgin came out in 2005. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy came out in 2004. Superbad was filmed in 2006 and had been under development since 2000. Once again, I could keep going on and on- but you get my point. Pretty much every single major movie released in past 15 years can with very few exceptions directly trace its roots to the pre-2005 era. In the next part of this series, I will show how that the same is true for TV shows including their streaming variants. We will also start going into why this major socio-cultural-economic shift (aka stagnation) began in earnest around the mid-2000s.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Poor Career Prospects for People with Postgraduate Degrees : 2

August 21, 2019 7 comments

In the previous part of this series, I went into some detail about the careers of those who studied or worked alongside me during my MSc. To make a long story short, the majority are either no longer involved in scientific research or have menial unstable jobs with some vague connection to what they studied or used to do for a living. Some of you might say that this is to be expected since the biomedical sciences produce many times more graduates than the number of available jobs. While that may be true now, it wasn’t always the case. Indeed, until the early 1990s, those who studied or worked in that sector could either find decent to acceptable jobs or simply move into related areas with considerable ease.

Now let us now talk about another sector which, for over 50 years, provided highly stable, well compensated and intellectually engaging employment. I am talking about pharma. From the end of WW2 in 1945 to mid-1990s, pharmaceutical corporations (large and medium) provided some of the best and most interesting jobs and careers in western countries. And it worked both ways, since those who worked in them came up with the most important advances in medicine we have ever seen. There is a very good reason why this period is often referred to as the ‘golden age’ of drug discovery. And then it started going wrong and is now a mere shadow of its former self. Years ago, I linked to a spoof by somebody else about how things went to shit in pharma.

To be fair, this fall was not instantaneous and it was only after 2008 that the whole sector was irreparably damaged. But ya.. things had been on a downward slope since the mid-1990s. In retrospect, the true beginning of end started in late 1980s, when certain large corporations (Pfizer, Merck etc) decided to recruit ivy-league MBAs. The first signs of this rot manifested as gradual consolidation within that sector. While I could write multiple books on why consolidation in the pharma sector was so disastrous, here is the very brief version. Monopolization and oligopolization always results in counterproductive centralization, destruction of real innovation, greatly increased rent-seeking and is bad for everyone other than the upper management of those corporations in addition to their lawyers and bankers.

It should be noted that corporate monopolization has been much more disastrous in the West than Asian countries because corporations in the later are answerable to their governments to an extent unimaginable in the former. But why are we talking about how the pharma sector used to be about 20 years. Well.. because it is relevant to my choice of career. One of the main reasons for me taking the educational path I took was that working in pharma was an excellent career option with long-term stability and a pretty decent work environment. Sure.. nothing is perfect, but for someone with my interest and talents, it was as good a match as realistically possible.

Also, the pharma sector used to be fairly conservative in both hiring and firing people. Until early 2000s, mass layoffs and multiple site closures for the purpose of “corporate reorganization” were unknown in pharma. Many larger corporations even had defined benefit pensions until mid-2000s. Yes.. you heard that right. To make a long story short, those who stayed out of corporate politics and had generally satisfactory job performance could reasonably expect lifetime employment, and this was widely expected by employers and employees right upto early 2000s. You were not expected to work beyond normal work hours unless necessary due to nature of experiments and there was tons of autonomy at the site and group level. And in spite of all this, vast majority of pharma corporations were profitable businesses and remained so over multiple decades.

But how is any of this linked to my story? As it turns out, I ended up working in pharma for a few years and through direct experience and observing the career trajectories of acquaintances had a ringside seat to the beginning of final collapse of employment in pharma sector. Here is a post from 2011 in which they document that almost 300k jobs in that sector were lost between 2001 and 2011. And those layoffs did not stop in 2011, though they have sorta run out of people to fire- especially in past 4 years. The total is now closer to 400-450 k jobs and even if we assume that 60-70% were in sales and administration, it is fair to say that ivy-league MBAs have finally killed the goose which used to lay golden eggs. Far more problematically, it has altered the career course for many who would have otherwise gone into pharma.

In other words, their short-termism not only destroyed decades of institutional knowledge but also their ability to rebuild in future. And it shows! And before I explain you how, it is important to quickly explain the process of drug discovery and approval. It all starts with either the discovery of a new drug target (usually protein) or some effect of a chemical compound in cell-based or animal assays. From there it enters the pre-clinical development phase where chemists make hundreds and thousands of chemical cousins of the initial lead compounds and test them in a number of assays, animal models of some disease and extensive toxicity testing in multiple animal species. Only after it has cleared that phase can it be even considered for human trials. Small phase I trials are usually the first (dozens of people), followed by larger Phase II trials (hundreds) culminating in Phase III (hundreds to thousands and often) over a few years.

To make another long story short, the system was designed such that drugs which entered Phase III trials were unlikely to fail, and this was the case for most of modern history. Sure.. you did encounter situations where testing in larger populations (P III) revealed some rare but nasty side effects or the drug was not as efficacious as previously expected. But outright failures of efficacy in Phase III trials was really rare. Then something changed and nowadays the majority of drugs which enter Phase III trials fail, and they usually do so for lack of efficacy. Curiously, this often occurs when Phase I and Phase II data was either very good or pretty promising. So.. what is going on? While many industry insiders have tried to explain this deeply troubling trend by invoking all sorts of clever sounding bullshit, there is a simpler and more rational explanation.

A large percentage, likely overwhelming majority, of drug development in past two decades has been based in two types of fraud. The first involves manipulating metrics to make something look far better than it is in real life. Examples of such frauds involve cherry-picking patients, burying negative data, changing criteria for success, playing around with data and statistics and other stuff which is not technically illegal. The second type involves falsification of data, deliberately deleting data, kicking non-responders out of trials to improve responses rates etc. But what does any of this have to do with the downward career trajectory of people working in that sector?

Well.. since we have already exceeded 1200 words in this post, I will leave that discussion for the next part of this series. In it, I hope to go into some more detail about how neoliberalization and financialization of pharma destroyed its older and much more successful business model and institutional structure- all to make a handful of people on wall street and upper management far richer than they otherwise would have been. You will also see how stuff such as pushing opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics etc to doctors and constantly jacking up prices of old and new drugs replaced developing newer ones as the main source of corporate growth. And ya.. I will also go into what happened to all those middle-aged and older people who lost their jobs and, in many cases their entire, careers after decades of relative stability.

What do you think? Comments?