Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality
By: Jacob S. Hacker, Paul Pierson
Narrated by: Peter Berkrot
One doubts this book will be read or listened to by most Americans based on its clear allusion to the 18th century phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (“let them eat bread”–allegedly said by Marie Antoinette during the French revolution).
Marie Antoinette (1755-1793, Louis XVI’s Queen Consort of France.)
Just as Marie Antoinette is unlikely to have said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, it is an allusion unworthy of Hacker’s and Pierson’s ivory-tower educations.
The co-authors detail a current crisis in America that is well detailed by others in this century.
There is an appalling and growing gap between rich and poor in America. However, though the gap is real, most rational Americans have no interest in beggaring their neighbor.
In the 17th century, Hobbes clearly recognized the pitfall of democracy when not constrained by rule of law. Freedom is a harsh master and has been recognized as such from American Democracy’s beginnings.
Human beings are driven by the desire for money, power, and prestige. Hacker and Pierson note many actions taken by American politicians, appointees, government bureaucrats, and corporate moguls have had the unintended consequence of beggaring their neighbors.
Rule of law has simply not kept up with the fundamental tenant of American freedom.
Four relevant issues raised by Hacker and Pierson are
Congressional leaders focus on re-election as a part of their right to freely choose a profession. To be re-elected requires a campaign funding. That funding largely comes from wealthy Americans and corporations interested in reducing their taxes. Corporate taxes have been legislatively reduced with the rationalization that reinvestment by private industry and the wealthy will create more income for wage-dependent Americans. This is “trickle down” economics that is a fiction. History shows the effect has been to reduce American wages and increase income for the wealthy.
Corporations in the Supreme Court’s decision in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” expanded rights of Corporations as individuals to finance candidates of their choice that compounds elected official bias for reduced corporate taxes.
Frustration by the rising gap between rich and poor in America increases extremism because wage-earners see cost-of-living exceeding their ability to accumulate wealth.
4. Institutionalization of Tyranny
Elective office is not serving the public because congressional self-interest is based on a cycle of re-election dependent on wealthy donors who are equally self-interested.
Unless or until a more equitable relationship between the rich and poor is achieved, extremism will continue to roil American Democracy. Freedom is an essential ingredient in America’s economic history, but freedom has always been limited. Only with rebalance between the rich and poor will extremism and institutional tyranny be ameliorated.
China’s Great Wall of Debt (Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans, and the End of the Chinese Miracle.)
By: Dinny McMahon
Narrated by: Jaimie Jackson
Dinny McMahon (Author, former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, and former fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.)
Dinny McMahon lived in China for ten years before writing “China’s Great Wall of Debt”. He is neither the first nor undoubtedly the last chronicler of modern China’s future.
Wealth is a function of the have and have-nots in China. This is a familiar refrain to many who believe it equally describes America’s economy.
McMahon explains how the last twenty years of economic growth in China is a function of real-estate monetization that has reached a mortgage nadir, teetering on the edge of collapse. McMahon notes the difference between America’s real estate booms and busts and China’s is that it has taken America two hundred years to reach its present prosperity while China has done it in less than 3o years. He implies that time difference has benefited America by giving it more tools than China for dealing with economic inequality.
China has a singular party with one leader who has few checks and balances, with a singularly authoritarian governmental organization.
When leadership changes in America, political and economic policies are only incrementally adjusted. In leadership change in China, political and economic policies may be dramatically altered or even abandoned. That truth is evident in China’s transition from Chiang Kai-shek to Mao to Deng Xiaoping, to Xi Jinping.
McMahon’s fundamental point is China’s rapid economic growth is founded on a financial structure dependent on real estate financed by the state and a poorly governed semi-private banking system that artificially inflates China’s assets.
McMahon notes there was pent-up demand for private real estate ownership when all land was owned by the government. That pent-up demand is the source of China’s rapid economic growth. However, in the current market, McMahon suggests real value in that real estate is diminished by a public that is not wealthy enough to afford it. A kind of Ponzi scheme is growing with consumers that are buying land without real collateral but with a ghost banking system that is condoned, if not supported, by the state.
McMahon is not alone in suggesting China may be headed for trouble. Whether shadow banks, ghost cities, and massive loans will be the end of the Chinese Miracle seems less important than what a Chinese economic collapse would mean to the rest of the world.
Shlomo Avineri (Author, Professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.)
Is economic evolution about mind or matter?
Shlomo Avineri offers a more studied view of one of the three most influential economist in history, Karl Marx. Marx’s influence extends to philosophy, history, sociology, and politics.
Avieneri illustrates how categorization of Marx as an influential economist minimizes his historical significance. Marx is born in Trier, Germany.
His father, Hirschel HaLevi (aka Heinrich Marx), is a practicing lawyer, the son of Marx HaLevi Mordechai and Eva Lwow.
In Trier, after Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo, Germany returns to a highly discriminatory Prussian attitude toward Judaism. Karl Marx’s father, and eventually his mother, are compelled to convert to a Christian religion to advance Marx’s father’s career as a lawyer. Karl Marx’s grandfather is the rabbi of Trier who passes on that title to Karl Marx’s brother.
Avineri gives this brief family history to explain Marx’s Jewish heritage. It offers some insight to why Marx outwardly discounts his religious heritage while putting him on an intellectual journey toward political and economic reform.
Marx’s father might be considered a classical liberal because he promoted constitutional reform of the Prussian government’s denial of equal rights. Avineri implies the experience of his father leads Karl to pursue the study of history and philosophy because of discriminatory treatment of his family. The act of discrimination naturally makes one class conscious. Karl Marx’s political and economic ideas grow from that familial background.
Avineri suggests Hermann Hesse and Hegel are significant influences in Karl Marx’s life. Hesse is a contemporary of Marx. Hesse is influenced by Rousseau who believed in natural equality. Hesse’s literature addresses the inequality of workers and the capitalist class. He sensed the growing political danger of that inequality and, in writing about it, became an influence on Karl Marx’s view of capitalism.
Avineri’s explanation of Hegel’s influence on Karl Marx is a little more complicated. Fundamentally Hegel believes social development is an evolution of one’s mind to recognize that all humans are created equal. In contrast Marx believes social development is an evolutionary process of society’s actions in regard to material things. Marx believes the haves of the society recognize the inequity of the have-nots and will evolve to establish common good in the distribution of material things. Both Hegel and Marx agree that there is a dialectic process, but Hegel thinks it is a state of mind that changes while Marx suggests it’s a state of equal distribution of concrete goods.
It is impossible to deny Marx’s notes about inequality. One can argue that this was truer in Marx’s lifetime than it is today. The advent of social security and national health care, and welfare programs have reduced human inequality. However, human inequality remains a serious social problem in every society and all government systems of the present day.
Whether Marx or Hegel’s evolutionary dialectic is true remains unknown. Neither capitalism, socialism, or communism have evolved to solve the problem of inequality, whether it is the dialectic of mind or matter.
Avineri’s biography of Marx is better than the previous biography reviewed in this blog. He offers a more intimate understanding of Karl Marx’s life and how he came to believe what he believed. The answer to the question of whether economic evolution is one of mind or matter is, of course—both. Human brains must evolve, and matter must be equally available.
Edward Luce (Author, English journalist, Financial Times columnist and US commentator.)
Edward Luce offers a troubling picture of 21s century America. His argument depends on one’s definition of “…Western Liberalism”. If the definition is belief in human individuality and a relaxation of public custom, law, and authority, there is evidence to support Luce’s argument.
Luce notes the election of Donald Trump is not an American aberration but a symptom of “The Retreat of Western Liberalism”.
The advent of the internet has reinforced a group think driven by belief in alternative facts that create conspiracy theories. It is a discontent coming from many Americans ignored by rising wealth of a nation controlled by special interests. Trump taps into that discontent.
The irony of Trump’s rise is his personal wealth when the American gap between rich and poor is skyrocketing. Putting that irony aside, Trump suggests America can be “Great Again” by returning to a past.
Trump creates a false hope of re-industrializing America with new jobs. The falseness of Trump’s pitch is that new jobs in America are not being created by industrialization but by technology and human services. Trump’s appeal is loaded with false representations, amplified by media trolls. Public custom, law, and authority are undermined by conspiracy theories that convince Americans they have been cheated out of their fair share of America’s wealth. In truth, they have, and that is why Trump’s false pitch about “Making America Great Again” got him elected.
Trump’s anti-immigrant falsehoods feed conspiracy theories about jobs being taken from poor Americans. Equal opportunity is a function of rising wealth in the hands of the few. Public education and health care are unequally distributed in America. The wealthy can afford higher education and the best health care, the poor cannot.
Americans are poor because they are being denied equal opportunity, not because of immigration.
Education and health care are critical for American labor’s adjustment to a changing world. Private industry and the government have equal responsibility for assisting all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the technological revolution.
Job transition requires re-education and on-job training by employers that offer decent wages and health care.
Luce’s point is a “rising tide has not lifted all boats”. The technological revolution offers the same potential for western liberalism as the industrial revolution. The election of Donald Trump was America’s “wake up” call.
A large part of America’s population has been left out of the American Dream of western liberalism that came from opportunities provided by the industrial revolution.
Western liberalism needs to be reinvented by investment in a technological revolution for all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the industrial revolution. The question is whether private industry and the government are up to the task. Will western liberalism be reinvented and promoted by ossified industrial leaders and elected representatives? Most industry leaders and elected representatives are satisfied with the status quo while too many Americans struggle to make mortgage or rent payments. Luce defines the problem but offers no solution.
William Taubman (Author, Political Science professor at Amherst College, received 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Biography of Krushchev.)
The length of William Taubman’s audiobook requires a Gorbachev II review. The first review addresses Gorbachev’s personal life. The second reflects on Gorbachev’s political life. Gorbachev’s life is suffused with great accomplishment and tragic failure.
Georgy Malenkov replaces Joseph Stalin after his death in 1953. Malenkov is believed to be a reformist who plans to reduce military spending and Stalinist suppression.
However, within weeks, Malenkov is pushed aside by Nikita Khrushchev who takes supreme power within two years of Stalin’s death. Surprisingly, Khrushchev becomes something of a reformist himself.
Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971, First Secy. of the Communist Party 1953-1964)
Stalin’s autocratic, paranoid leadership is semi-privately exposed by Khrushchev in a speech to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Khruschev’s vilification of Stalinist suppression, imprisonment, and murder eventually become known to the world.
The overriding concern of Russian leaders is to maintain suzerainty over Baltic nations and satellite territories in the face of ethnic and economic diversity. Taubman notes older Russian leaders tend toward autocratic dictate to maintain political control. The younger and more politically astute lean toward confederation of adjacent soviet republics and East Berlin with the U.S.S.R. as an umbrella organization. Gorbachev is in the “politically astute” group.
Mikhail Gorbachev rises to chairman of the Communist Party and eventual President of the U.S.S.R., with the expressed intent of democratizing the Baltics, Russia, and East Berlin into a democratic socialist block. However, ethnic, and cultural differences, accompanied by general economic failure, defeat Gorbachev’s unionist objective.
There is no question of Gorbachev’s success in democratizing U.S.S.R.’ citizens.
However, in that democratization, the drive for independence becomes paramount to the satellite countries. German reunification, and the breakaway of Baltic nations from the U.S.S.R. is inevitable. Freedom, based on ethnic and cultural identity, surmount all efforts by Gorbachev to reinstate U.S.S.R. suzerainty. Only by force could the U.S.S.R. prevail over state and territorial independence. Taubman notes force is not within Gorbachev’s nature as a leader.
Once socialist democracy is dangled before the electorate, the die is cast. Gorbachev’s governance could not provide enough economic stability to justify confederation. That is his tragic failure.
Gorbachev’s immense success is liberating millions of former U.S.S.R. citizens. With liberation, former citizens of the U.S.S.R. return to govern as citizens of their own countries. This at a time of Reagan’s conservative government in the United States, and European distrust of U.S.S.R. militarization. Taubman shows Gorbachev becomes an international hero based on his personality and persuasive power. He is greeted as the great liberator of the twentieth century even though his primary objective is to retain those countries seeking freedom within the U.S.S.R.
Gorbachev raised the bar for nuclear disarmament by cultivating American and European participation in the reduction of nuclear weapons.
Taubman explains Gorbachev is a tragic hero because momentum-of-change is halted by a cult of personality, compounded by economic insecurity. Gorbachev is replaced by acting President, Alexander Rutskoy, after the 1993 constitutional crises. Rutskoy is replaced by a second acting President, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Boris Yeltsin succeeds Chernomyrdin as President in an overlapping term.
The Russian economy falters in its transition from communism to democratic socialism. Russian history of “rule-of-one” reasserts itself with the rise of an incompetent President (Boris Yeltsin) and an autocratic but effective leader, Vladimir Putin. However, Putin’s autocratic effectiveness is in question with the invasion of Ukraine.
Taubman suggests and infers Gorbachev’s success, and world history in general, are two steps forward with one step backward. Based on historical precedent of “one-man-rule” (dating back to czarist Russia) Taubman’s inference seems spot-on.
Gorbachev flipped a switch that released the power of democracy but failed to provide adequate economic infrastructure to assure U.S.S.R. survival. Taubman optimistically infers economic infrastructure of eastern bloc countries will improve overtime, even with autocratic leadership by people like Vladimir Putin.
The growth of democracy has always been messy, but it moves forward in the face of temporary setbacks. Spheres of influence will always be in play. It seems a matter of time for another Gorbachev to make two more steps forward with a repeat of the next leader’s “one-step-backward”. It appears in 2022, Putin makes that “one-step-backward” with the invasion of Ukraine. Taubman reminds readers of America’s trial in the civil war. Slavery is abolished but institutional racism remains a work in progress. The risk is that the world destroys itself before freedom and economic security become real for all.
Black Wave (Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry)
By: Kim Ghattas
Narrated by: Kim Ghattas, Nan McNamara
Kim Ghattas (Author, Dutch Lebanese Journalist for the BBC)
Kim Ghattas capsulizes the causes of cultural and religious conflict in the Middle East. Her complex explanation of politics in the Middle East shows the importance of religious freedom and the negative consequence of mixing religion in nation-state governance. Ghattas’s intimate understanding and experience in the Middle East illustrates how ignorant America has been in confronting Middle Eastern leaders in their struggle for peace in their own countries.
“Black Wave” is a difficult book to summarize. Some reader/listeners will conclude from Gattis’s book that the heart of Middle Eastern conflict is religious intolerance. However, it is not religion itself but political leaders who distort religious belief for personal power that roils the world. America has its own religious zealotry, but it is tempered by a political culture that demands freedom of religion, independent of political governance. It does not keep American political leaders from distorting religion for their own agendas, but it tempers its potential for state acceptance of orchestrated violence.
Osama bin Laden used religion to justify his directed murder of innocents. He sought political power at the expense of religion.
Ghattas dances around America’s bungled effort to democratize the Middle East. Some would argue Iran democratically elected an Imam to lead their country. Ghattas notes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia clearly fears popularly elected leaders.
In ancient times, the middle east is known as Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Empire, and Babylonia (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and today’s Saudi Arabia).
America’s self-interest has made many enemies in the Middle East. America is a cultural and political baby in respect to the ancient cultures of the Middle East. The birth of the Islamic religion dates to 7th century in Saudi Arabia.
As is true of all religions that have stood the test of time, the Islamic religion has broken into different factions that consider themselves Islamic but with different interpretations of their faith.
The added dimension of poverty, cultural identity, and economic inequality encourage belief in religion. A religious believer’s purpose in the world is to gain some peace in this world, with hope for eternal life in the next. Therein lies the source of much violence within and among all countries of the world. There can be little peace in a world where people are being indiscriminately murdered, starving and treated unequally.
An example of how violent and unfair nations can be is Syrian leaders’ murder of its own people.
Ghattas explains there are two major versions of the Islamic religion in the Middle East. One is Sunni, the other is Shite.
The hegemon for the Sunni Islamic religion lies in several countries but its center of power is Saudi Arabia. The center of power for Shite belief is Iran. “Black Wave” recounts a history of both power centers and how they use religious belief to increase their influence and power in the Middle East.
Ghattas argues religious interpretation is a tool used by Saudi Arabian’ and Iranian’ leadership to gain power and influence in the Middle East. Ghattas infers the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia do not believe in peaceful coexistence but in hegemonic power. They use the Islamic religion to maintain control of their power. When state power is threatened, their leaders’ resort to interpretations of Islam that preserve their control.
Citizens of any country may be murdered by zealots, domestic terrorists, or foreign invaders. Leaders seeking power care little for those who believe in an afterlife or the luxury of their current life as long as they are obedient servants of the state.
Ghattas recounts many examples of Middle Eastern leadership that show little concern for their citizens, e.g., Saudi Arabia’s murder and dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi, Syria‘s gassing of Syrian citizens, and Iran’s imprisonment and torture of citizens who choose not to follow political leaders’ interpretations of the Koran.
Ghattas’s book implies the consequence of American ignorance of Islamic beliefs victimizes the poor, powerless, and disenfranchised. A western country that does not understand the subtlety of religious beliefs in the Middle East has little influence on the course of events. With a better understanding of Islamic faith and how it is being used by Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is some hope for peace.
Understanding and acceptance of those who fervently believe in a religion, along with economic opportunity for those who are victimized by hardship and/or violence, offers some hope for peace. Without understanding of foreign cultures and economic assistance for those victimized, world conflagration is an ever-present danger. One must ask oneself–how wise is it to use political policy or trade to victimize the poor and disenfranchised?
Narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Cranham, Roger Allam, Brendan Coyle, Miriam Margolyes, Time Mcinnerny, Jamie Glover, Emily Bruni, Jenna Coleman, Joshua James, Hugh Skinner
Charles Dickens, Author.
Dickens appeal in the 21st century is magnified by economic change.
The industrial revolution, like the tech revolution, put people out of work. In Dickens’ time, Great Britain’s and the world’s industrial growth demanded change.
Today’s tech revolution demands the same. The change required is different in one sense and the same in another.
The industrial revolution occurred in a time of scarcity while the tech revolution takes place in a time of abundance. Both revolutions require training for new kinds of jobs.
Smog plagued Great Britain as it grew in the18th century.
(This is smog in today’s Beijing.)
Dickens is born in 1812 and dies in 1870. He witnesses and writes of the squalor that existed in London during his adult years. “A Christmas Carol” is one of many stories he wrote that reflects on the human cost of economic change.
London fog 1952
In 1952, the streets of London were enveloped in a fog caused by coal used for domestic heat and industrial production.
An incident of London fog in the 20th century is comparable, on a local scale, to the world’s pollution crises today. An estimated 4,000 people were said to have died, with 100,000 made ill because of unusual windless conditions in that year.
Today, air pollution is compounded by global warming.
“A Christmas Carol” is a reminder of the damage world leaders can do by ignoring the plight of those who are most directly impacted by economic change. Too many American leaders are acting like Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley by ignoring the Bob Cratchit s and Tiny Tim s of the world.
For those who may not remember, Scrooge and Marley were capitalists who believe all that matters in life is personal wealth. Marley comes back as a ghost to offer Scrooge a picture of past, present, and future Christmases, based on how he lives the remainder of his life.
Todays’ political leaders are in Jacob Marley’s ghostly presence with a chance to change the future for the Crachits, Tiny Tims, and wage earners of the world. The world needs leaders who are not blinded by the allure of money, power, and prestige at the expense of the jobless, homeless, and disenfranchised.
“On the Run” is a picture of life in a low to no income inner-city neighborhood in America. Its focus comes from a white sociologist’s immersion in black families lives.
Alice Goffman chooses to live with a black family to create an intimate portrait of life as a black youth in a poor inner-city neighborhood.
What Goffman finds is that young black Americans are taught by older siblings to distrust and evade the police. Older siblings have experience with living in a neighborhood with few jobs, a lot of time, and limited legal economic opportunity. The way of making a living is to deal drugs, steal from the few neighbors that have anything, and run from anyone who can accuse or arrest a fugitive for breaking the law.
Once the law is broken and a perp is caught, arrested, indicted, and convicted, Goffman explains “a record” makes running the only way to survive.
Goffman explains running, to many born in this environment, entails lying about your name, where you are going, who your family and friends are, and where you stay at night. The reason is that who you know, and where you sleep makes you vulnerable to the police or anyone searching for you. A good policeman will ask questions and take notes on everyone he/she talks to about someone they are looking for in the neighborhood.
Those who get caught for a crime are trapped in a circle of arrest, incarceration, bail, parole, non-payment of fines, re-arrest, more incarceration, more unpaid fines, and re-arrest.
This systematic recycling of arrest and release is maddening and disturbing to reader/listeners of Goffman’s book. On the one hand you have people committing crimes against other people and on the other you have law enforcement doing its duty to reduce crime.
This disturbing picture with “no exit” is accompanied by physical restraint, twisted arms, and face plants on pavement, bare floors, and carpet that reinforces fear and hate between police and the public.
Most Americans do not see this cycle of madness. Those within the madness see it only as a way of life. To political conservative and liberals, the answer is law enforcement, education, and job creation. To a low-income/no-income neighborhood boy or girl, law enforcement is a recycling dead end, and education, or legal employment are either not available or poorly provided.
All that is remaining in these neighborhoods seems to be personal relationships. Mother’s love their children, fathers are in jail or on probation, boys have guarded relationships with everyone and no one, girls are left to look after the next companion that offers escape from loneliness.
Goffman offers a dismal picture of life in big city poor neighborhoods that recycle themselves with little hope for those seeking a better life.
Dangerous Ideas (A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News
By: Eric Berkowitz
Narrated by: Tim Campbell
Eric Berkowitz (Author, human rights lawyer and journalist
Eric Berkowitz recounts the history of free speech and censorship. His history infers censorship is a misdirected waste of time. Berkowitz argues freedom of speech is unstoppable. Even in the most repressive governments in history, citizens have exercised freedom of speech.
Berkowitz recounts many who chose to exercise free speech that were exiled, tortured, dismembered, maimed, or murdered. However, these free speech martyrs insist on having their say. That seems Trump’s justification for suing Facebook and Twitter.
Pundits suggest Trump has no chance of winning his suit against Facebook and Twitter–Berkowitz’s presumed response would be “who cares?”
The fundamental point made many times in Berkowitz’s history is that censorship does not work because there is always someone who is willing pay any price to say what they think must be said. Berkowitz offers many historical examples of why free speech is a confusing and difficult problem.
Free speech can spread both truth and lie.
One of Berkowitz’s answers to the conundrum of free speech is that more freedom allows each listener to choose what they wish to believe. Problems arise when freedom of speech offers lies as truth and misleads the public.
White supremacism lies and Covid19 falsehoods have historically destroyed lives.
In every country of the world, free speech is unstoppable because it is controlled by the few, not the many.
Listening to Berkowitz’s history vivifies a trip to China in 2019. A guide, presumably at some risk to himself, took our small group into a private room to remind us of China’s response to the idea of free speech in Tiananmen Square .
Our guide reminded us of one protester who moved in front of a Chinese tank whenever it tried to change directions. The guide explained the “tank man” (who was never identified by name) was arrested, and never heard from again.
At the direction of President Deng Xiaoping, 300,000 troops were mobilized to stop a demonstration by Chinese students. China’s soldiers fired on college students and friends who were demonstrating their belief in free speech. An unknown number of Chinese citizens (some say hundreds, others say thousands) were murdered at the direction of government leaders. Our 2o19 Chinese guide was exercising his right of free speech by reminding us of what happened on June 4th, 1989.
Government is the first seat of control for free speech. However, that first seat is diminished by singular economic interests, political interests groups, and fringe propagandists.
The rise of newspapers, radio, and television focused and expanded the principle of free speech. Economic interests influence these early platforms but with a more limited threat and benefit to society.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the blogosphere have widened the principle of free speech and significantly increased potential public threat and benefit.
In the age of newspapers, radio, and television, government controls were explicitly legislated but in the internet age control is hidden in platform algorithms. Government may still have the first seat of control, but media moguls have usurped legislated government censorship.
Berkowitz offers no answers. He only reveals the complexity of freedom of speech. He suggests freedom of speech is an essential ingredient of a just society. However, at the heart of free speech is economic interest. Free speech is secretly used to distort truth and sometimes incite violence.
Whether it is a newspaper reporter told to revise an article that criticizes corporate advertisers or a discloser of government secrets there is societal threat. Even more pernicious is the Amazon, Facebook, or Twitter executive who orders a coder to increase customer clicks for corporations that pay more for advertising. And then there are the media trolls who distort the truth, lie, or incite violence to increase click count with no regard to consequence.
Freedom of speech is “…a riddle wrapped in an enigma” (a Winston Churchill quote about Stalinist Russia). Freedom of speech is a two-edged sword, a tool for truth building leaders and liars. Truth building offers peace; lies offer Russian Ukrainian wars.
George Magnus (Author, UBS Economist, International Banker, Globalist.)
As a former UBS economist and Associate at the China Centre at Oxford University, Magnus studied economic progress in China. He has acted as an adviser to asset management companies that dealt directly with China.
George Magnus develops a cogent argument that illustrates differences between American and Chinese economic strengths and weaknesses.
Magnus develops his analysis by recalling the history of China. He recounts a country ruled by authoritarian Emperors, a nationalist dictator (Chiang Kai-shek) and communist revolutionaries (Mao and Deng Xiaoping). He then offers an analysis of the revisionist leader, President Xi Jinping.
After Mao’s death Deng Xiaoping chose to expand; some would say re-envision, Mao’s version of communism.
Deng continued centralized party control but recognized the value of private enterprise in meeting GNP goals. Deng’s theory of communism is exemplified by his comment that “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white; as long as it catches mice, its a good cat.”
Deng still believed in a controlled or “planned economy” but opened the door to private enterprise. The results speak for themselves.
However, Magnus notes that Xi is returning to a more ideological form of communism. The cat has to be more of one color. Xi re-emphasizes party’ planned control of the economy. Magnus suggests this is a red flag portending economic trouble.
Ordered isolation of Singapore’s residents tests Xi’s autocratic economic style of government. The economic impact of China’s command economy remains to be seen. Though America has dealt haphazardly in its response to Covid19, China’s actions may fare little better.
Magnus explains the growing importance of State Owned Enterprises (aka SOE’s) is raising China’s debt. Magnus argues Xi’s focused attention on increasing GNP is a red flag because of its negative economic impact on a burgeoning middle class. The middle class is earning less even though GNP continues to rise.
Magnus explains China’s middle class is not proportionately benefited by an increasing GNP.
This disproportionality exists in the United States as well as most post-industrial nations. The gap between rich and poor in America is well documented in Piketty’s book about “Capital in the Twenty First Century”.
However, America is acknowledged by the world as a capitalist country that encourages and multiplies innovation. Even Putin, in a “60 Minutes” interview, applauded America’s innovation. Putin expressed a wish for the same level of innovation in his own country. Controlled economies limit innovation to a few controllers. Capitalist economies expand innovation based on a multitudinous and diverse citizenry.
Here is a major difference between America’s and China’s economies. Innovation is a fundamental value of capitalism, noted by Adam Smith in the “The Wealth of Nations (published in the 18th century).
Interestingly, China considers itself a Democracy though classified as a communist state. Note that the word Democracy is capitalized. There are no democracies in the world. The closest one comes to democracy is as a republic. America is a Democratic Republic meaning it has a representative government. By that definition, one would classify China as a Democracy. President Xi is popularly elected. He represents his country’s controlling majority. There is a fine line between democracy and autocracy. That fine line is drawn by a majority of a country’s people who popularly elect their leaders. No government guarantees equality of all its citizens. America’s history of slavery, and institutional discrimination are a case in point. China’s imprisonment of Uighurs is another case in point.
Magnus implies another distinction between America and China.
Magnus notes that a misstep by a President in China has a wider affect on the local economy than a misstep by an American President.
Magnus notes China can more quickly respond to an economic crises. America is more deliberative. The chance of being correct or wrong when taking action is quickly implemented in China. Quickness is both a danger and a benefit. It is a danger when the decision is wrong; a benefit when it is right. (One would be hard-put to suggest China did not respond more correctly and quickly to the Covid19 pandemic than the United States.)
Magnus relates an example of the value of China’s economic strength in its avoidance of much of the 2008 financial crises.
At the same time, Magnus notes the red flag of too much control by a top down manager can be catastrophic. The Chinese famine during and after the cultural revolution illustrates the danger of being wrong in a top-down management system.
Xi’s emphasis on party ideology and a controlled economy has the potential for another disastrous cultural revolution.
A singular focus on one leader is a red flag for China as is evidenced by Mao’s initial economic improvements in China that deteriorated with the advance of the “Gang of Four” during the cultural revolution.
America’s system of decision making, though slower, has made it the wealthiest country in the world. America managed to implement an economic policy that revived the economy in the face of a near financial collapse in 2008.
Judgement is premature today, but America’s response to Covid19 has been both right and wrong; in part because of poor leadership from the top, but also because of a failure of America’s checks and balances to mitigate the pandemic’s effects.
Magnus combines China’s history with its demographic and political changes. In building his argument, Magnus explains China carries an economic risk if it fails to adjust economic goal setting for more domestic goals.
President Xi’s Road and Belt Plan: Magnus suggests President Xi is focusing too much attention on GNP growth with R.B.P. It comes at the expense of living standards for a rising middle class. The inference is that political unrest in China will increase.
Magnus sees population ageing as another red flag.
Fewer Chinese children are being born to bare the burden of a disproportionally aging demographic. This is true in many nations; particularly nations that unduly restrict or over-regulate immigration.
Though Magnus’s book is published before Chinese demonstrations in Hong Kong, his prescient understanding of Chinese culture reveals a number of serious stresses.
Cultural suppression and “re-education” camps in Xinjiang damage China’s national and international reputation. There are an estimated eleven million Uighurs living in the middle of China.
Magnus illustrates this unrest comes from a conflict between communist ideology, and cultural difference. The unrest is amplified by Deng’s opening of a door to private enterprise.
American political unrest is part of our history but, unlike China, a supreme leader’s power is offset by a constitutional government of checks and balances.
Magnus notes the history of China as one of strong leaders unburdened by institutional checks and balances. President Xi’s move to increase his control of China is a contrast to an electoral process in the United States that restricts Presidents to two four year terms, or one four year term if the public is dissatisfied.
And finally, Magnus points to Trump’s foolish dismissal of a trade treaty with China.
On the one hand, it is necessary for America to fight unfair trade practices. On the other hand, a broad trade war with a giant consuming and manufacturing country is a meat cleaver approach to what should be a surgeon’s scalpel.
Magnus suggests abandoning the Chinese trade agreement because of a trade imbalance is a red herring. Trade imbalances are a natural consequence of competition.
If one company can build something faster and cheaper, the money saved by a consuming country can be used to innovate.
With free enterprise, one beats the competition by changing product or streamlining production to reduce costs. This is a harsh reality for workers in particular industries but as Schopenhauer suggests it is a matter of creative destruction.
America became the richest country in the world because of its ability to change, to innovate, to adjust to the demands of the market. The Trump administration looks to the past rather than the future.
Magnus strongly suggests China is at risk of economic failure if it chooses not to reduce its focus on GNP as a measure of success. Magnus argues more attention must be paid to domesticate needs and consumption. The Road and Belt initiative has potential for Chinese growth but it should not be emphasized at the expense of domestic need.
Magnus implies China’s ecological environment is on a knife’s edge. One side chooses growth at any cost. The other side moderates growth based on cleaning the environment for future generations.
Having traveled to China, one can see polluted rivers, and congested cityscapes in the midst of beautiful boulevards, spectacular monuments, and businesses filled with local and foreign visitors.
China and the world must recognize the importance of the health and welfare of its citizens. Magnus suggests China is at a crossroad. They can continue to grow GNP at the expense of its citizens or re-direct their economy to address the needs of a rising middle class. It does not mean they have to adopt a different form of government but they need to revise their goals.
One may conclude from Magnus’s book, there will always remain the potential for economic calamity with top down management. Magnus reflects on the history of China and infers it is unlikely to change.
Xi’s interference in free markets is troubling. China’s growth and prosperity depends on a continuation of philosopher kings which have not sustained any country in the modern age. The next king may not be as far sighted or wise as the current king.
President Xi cracks down on Hong Kong’s independence and stops the IPO scheduled for the ANTGROUP in China.
Top down management may have worked in ancient times, but world interconnectedness and interdependence require cooperation and competition for independent countries to grow and prosper.