A PUNCH IN THE FACE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

American Carnage (On the front-line of the Republican Civil War and the rise of President Trump)

By: Tim Alberta

Narrated by Jason Culp

Tim Alberta (Author, Politico reporter, contributor to the National Review, National Journal, and Wall Street Journal.)

Alberta welcomes reader/listeners to a grudge match in American Carnage

Alberta details the rise of President Trump. 

Alberta has credential as a conservative considering the publications for which he writes.  In his analysis of the rise of Trump, he details Republican discontent with the idea of a Trump nomination.  Many Republicans object to Trump’s rise.  However, their objections are overcome by the truth of the public’s disgust with the direction of American government. 

In the best light, the rise of Trump punches American government in the face; in its worst light, it denigrates the institution of Democracy.

As one finishes Alberta’s analysis of Trump’s rise to the Presidency, both American views seem correct. 

Some Americans will be offended by Alberta’s book. 

Americans might argue Alberta impugns the reputation of the “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” President.  In their minds, government deserves a punch in the face.  Trump gives voice to many American workers. Particularly, Americans who have been marginalized by corporate America.

Some say American Democracy needs reform because Americans are being left behind by their political leaders. 

Others will laud Alberta’s exposure of what some say is the worst American President in history. 

Trump is characterized as a “showman” with no moral center who panders to the ugliest instincts of humankind. Democracy will be the judge of Trump’s performance in November 2020.

Government’s punch in the face is detailed by Alberta with inappropriate remarks Trump makes about immigrants, women, and minorities.  Trump manages to conflate loss of jobs with false accusations and self-serving actions.

Arguably, American government does deserve a punch in the face.  However, even if true, Democracy remains the best form of government in the world.

Alberta implies Trump’s punch to government fails to address the real causes of job loss. Creating a trade war has not, and will not, increase American manufacturing. 

Contrary to Trump’s belief that the balance of trade will improve with increased trade sanctions, America’s balance of trade has worsened. Other countries are exporting more while America is exporting less.

Reality suggests re-education of workers are what America needs; not trade-wars, and border walls. 

Trump’s ubiquitous tweets offer titillation and news coverage without providing solutions. Technology is displacing manufacturing which means job skills must be changed.  Alberta, in detailing Trump’s rise, shows Trump is more show than go.

In 2008, loss of homes from unscrupulous lenders hurt working Americans who could not fight back. They lost their jobs and could not pay their mortgages.  Countrywide Financial became the face of lenders accused of misleading marketing to sell mortgages to people who could not afford them.

Angelo Mozillo (Former Chairman of the Board and of Countrywide.)

One might argue Obama, Bush, and their administrations manage to keep American out of a deep depression but at the same time–banks and corporate America were bailed out at the expense of most Americans. 

Today, the Republican party is unquestionably standing behind Donald Trump.  He might even be re-elected.  But Alberta illustrates there are Republicans (like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Jeff Flake, John Boehner, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Kasich, Tim Scott, Bob Corker to name a few) who decry many of Trump’s racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic comments.  These Republicans will not disappear.  Their time may not be 2020 but they will carry water in future elections.

In the 2016 election, Trump capitalizes on worker discontent while Democrats ignore their grievances as something in the past that will be changed in the future.  To every person who lost their home or job, the future is now.

Hillary Clinton and most Democrats, in the previous election, failed to understand how working middle class and lower income Americans felt let down by their government.    One might argue many Trump votes were simply anti-Clinton votes.  Ironically, that will be the plan of some voters in the next election, but it will be anti-Trump.

Hillary Clinton (American politician, diplomat, lawyer, writer, and public speaker, former New York Senator and U.S. Secretary of State.)

Hillary Clinton may have been the most capable of the candidates for the Presidency in 2016, but her negatives outweighed her positives in the minds of the electorate.  Clinton, as with all the world’s women, had to deal with gender discrimination.

Whatever happens in 2020, Democracy will prevail.  Tim Alberta offers many facts that illustrate the resilience of American Democracy.  There are, and always will be, good people on both sides of the political aisle in America.  One hesitates to use that phrase in view of Trump’s ugly remark about the South Carolina conflict between white supremacists and the public.

History shows the Democrats will rise again; and so will Republicans. That is the strength and weakness of Democracy in America.

GARDEN OF EDEN

Yarbrough (Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

New Zealand in 2019

Written by: Chet Yarbrough

Having the wonderful experience of visiting New Zealand as an America tourist was like visiting a biblical Eden. However, no country is without political controversy.

On the one hand, New Zealand has the ambition of being an ecological Eden with no natural predators and a perfectly balanced environment.

Is that realistic? How can nature be nature without predation? From times untold, wild animals have eaten each other.

And then, there are humans. Humans are by nature predators. Environmental degradation is accelerated by economic prosperity.

American media gives positive marks to the current Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Adern. In part because of her immediate response to the Christ Church mass shooting but also because of her environmental effort to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution.

New Zealand is blessed with renewable energy sources from geothermal-power, hydro-power, and a burgeoning wind and solar power industry. Not that this is something only the Prime Minister has done in her short term, but it illustrates the environmental sensitivity of the country.

Prime Minister Adern is not universally applauded by fellow New Zealanders. We had the happy opportunity to spend a day and night with a farming family in New Zealand.

The farming family we spent time with explains there is a conflict between New Zealand’ farmers and the current administration. Over 45 percent of New Zealand is farm land. It is distributed among farmers that have an average size farm of over 350 acres. An important distinction between our countries is that American corporations may use farms as a tax shelter while New Zealanders use farm land to produce more product. There are few if any corporate farms in New Zealand. New Zealand farms are owned by real farmers.

However, farming is a major polluter of land in America; as well as New Zealand.

Many New Zealand farmers seem to be quite upset with Ms. Adern. Over 50% of methane and nitrous oxide in the world comes from farm animals. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer, alpaca, llamas, goats, and chickens are common farm animals raised on New Zealand farms. Land, water, and air quality issues being raised by the current administration are a big concern of the farming community.

New Zealand farmland regulation is creating a furor among some farmers that are being told to change their practices to reduce pollution. The cost of these changes are to be borne solely by the farmer according to the farm family we visited.

Real farmers in both America and New Zealand have a reputation for being independent. That independence is distorted by corporate ownership in America but not in New Zealand. The New Zealand farming community is made of farmers who work the land. One gets the impression they will not re-elect Ms. Adern unless she changes direction.

The irony of what we were hearing is that farmers like all people are concerned about the environment. The problem is in the cost of adjusting farming practices to accommodate environmental concern.

From an outsider’s perspective, the solution seems simple. Farmers in New Zealand are not constrained by corporate farming practices like America. New Zealanders do not farm to shelter income but to produce product. It would seem reasonable for the government to assist New Zealand’ farmers financially to adjust to less environmentally damaging practices. The perception we had from the family we spent the night with was that the current government wants all of that cost to be borne by the farmers.

When the word subsidization is mentioned, both husband and wife of the New Zealand farm family seem to wince. Without knowing the history of farming subsidization in New Zealand, one wonders what happened in its history.

As long as real farmers are producing groceries there seems every reason for tax dollars to be used to help farmers mitigate pollution. Farmers are as concerned about the environment as environmentalists. Where would the world be without food production and real farmers?

Visiting other countries is a guilty pleasure. It is an expensive undertaking that many cannot afford. We loved our time in New Zealand. One sees there is no perfect country. Every country has its discontents; America, not withstanding.

CHINA AND RUSSIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

George F. Kennan: An American Life

By John Lewis Gaddis

Narrated by Malcolm Hilgartner

John Lewis Gaddis (Author, Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale.)

When Churchill gave his famous “iron curtain” speech in March 1946, George Kennan already understood the iron curtain’s implication and consequence. Kennan is known as “the father of containment” during the Cold War of 1947-1989.

The relevance of Kennan’s containment policy resonates with today’s American relationship with China. However, its relevance is one of contrast; not similarity. Today, there is no iron curtain that separates China from the rest of the world. The iron curtain has become a cloak. It is a cloak that obscures intent.

After the war, Kennan insisted on being relieved of duty in Russia and returned home to Wisconsin because President Truman was ignoring Kennan’s recommendations on a “sphere of influence” approach to the U.S.S.R. 

As a deputy head of the Moscow ambassadorship, Kennan sent the famous “long telegram” to the then Secretary of State, James Byrnes, explaining how the Soviet Union should be handled after the end of WWII.  The “long memorandum” makes Kennan famous because it capsulizes what became U.S./Russian foreign policy for the next 30 years.

Kennan recognizes Stalinist Russia’s pursuit of world domination as a Marxian belief of inevitability. With an eastern Russian’ ethos that endorsed persistence and patience (a quality we see in China today) Russia reveals its strength and weakness. 

Kennan recognizes the threat of Russian domination in the 50 s and 60 s. However, he believes it can be managed with patient and persistent opposition by America. Within the limitations of military and economic might, the United States could directly intervene in Russian encroachment when feasible.

When direct confrontation was not feasible, overt cooperation could be undermined based on Machiavellian’ assessment of Russian expansion.  In other words, Russian expansion could be contained and managed by a prudent use of force and guile by the United States. This approach worked with Russia. It is less likely to work with China.

China focuses on international domination through economic growth and influence.

Modern Russia has a similar ambition, but its domination is based on the threat of force and military intervention. Both countries expand their influence but Russia is constrained by a much weaker economy, and the limits of military threat and intervention.

China has little economic constraint on growth of the economy or military because of its growing prosperity, and broadening international influence.

China’s military strength is largely based on deterrent capability; backed by economic growth. Russia’s military growth is based on economic constraint, and the political limits of intervention and force.

Kennan argued Stalinist Russia’s ideology would fail because it is flawed.

Kennan believed that the role of the United States was to contain Russia until it collapsed from the weight of its’ mistaken ideological belief in the unerring truth of collectivism.

There is a strain of collectivist belief in Xi’s Chinese communism but it is tempered by economic freedoms that have improved millions of Chinese lives.

In spite of Xi’s emphasis on communist party rule, the genie of economic freedom has made China more pragmatic and less ideological.

Xi is presently restrained in use of force in Hong Kong demonstrations. That restraint is not unending but it is influenced by Chinese communism’s change; a change that began with Deng Xiaoping’s policy of expanding personal economic freedom.

The Stalinist ideology that the collective is more important than the individual evolves in Russia but its evolution retains belief in force and intervention as reliable tools for world domination. That belief is Putin’s Achilles heal.

In later years, Kennan’s containment argument for the U.S.S.R. is found to be correct but even he suggests the cost was too high. He believed Russia’s decline could have been accelerated. The flaw in today’s Russia is not in exclusive belief in the collective but in use of force as a first, rather than last, resort.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and intervention in Syria negatively influence world opinion.

In contrast, Xi’s “Road and Belt” initiative positively influences world opinion. (This is not to say all countries are enamored by Chinese largess because it increases their debt, but in many cases China is the financier of last resort.)

A duel, positive effect of Xi’s “Road and Belt” initiative is to create a wider market for Chinese goods. China chooses positive behavioral reinforcement while Russia chooses negative reinforcement (military action, limited energy resource distribution, cyber attacks on voting preferences in other countries) to achieve world influence.

Xi may be more ideologically driven than Putin but he is constrained by Deng’s cracked door which opens the economy to private Chinese entrepreneurs.

Xi’s “Road and Belt” initiative expands China’s influence in the world while Putin’s actions diminish Russia’s influence.

Kennan, born in Wisconsin, went to Princeton after attending Wisconsin’s St. John’s Military Academy.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, rather than going to law school, he joined the newly formed U.S. diplomatic “Foreign Service” and became a vice consul in Geneva, Switzerland.  However, on a chance visit back home, Kennan met William C. Bullitt, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, and was asked to accompany him to the U.S. Embassy in Russia in 1933.

Because of Kennan’s extraordinary foreign language ability, he became a fluent Russian language expert on Soviet affairs.  He was a student of pre and post-revolutionary Russian’ culture; he used that knowledge to forge an American foreign policy to deal with Russian expansion after WWII; i.e., his prescient grasp of Stalin’s mind, and the Russian culture, allowed the United States to contain the Russian empire within Eastern Europe by limiting American overt action and covert action through confrontation, black-ops, and diplomacy. 

To Trump, international relations should be conducted on a give and take basis; leaving only winners and losers.

America’s President has no Kennan in mind. Trump looks at international relations as a transaction. Trumps thinks diplomacy is like a business. Government is not a business and governance always suffers when dollars and cents are the only criteria for measurement of success.

President Trump’s nomination of Jon Huntsman Jr. as ambassador to Russia is a case in point. Huntsman spoke Mandarin Chinese which made him a highly credible candidate for a stint as Ambassador to China during the Obama administration. Trump appoints Huntsman to Russia because he is a wealthy Republican business man. One doubts the appointment had anything to do with Huntsman’ understanding of Russia or its language.

Though containment was not entirely successful, Kennan’s assessment of its spread to Yugoslavia and China were recognized as independent power structures. Yugoslavia and China believed in the value of the collective but evolved into less doctrinaire belief in “the many being more important than the one”. Yugoslavia dissolved into different states with different economic principles, and China changed its economic philosophy by acknowledging the importance of one among many.

George Kennan’s biography reinforces a belief that understanding another culture requires emergence in that culture.  Ambassadors that are not fluent in a culture’s language and fail to spend years in that culture’s environment cannot understand what policies America should adopt to protect itself and promote world peace and freedom.  One wishes all American Presidents would recognize that need in Ambassadors representing the United States.

Kennan’s biography reveals the importance of self-interest in foreign policy and how a Machiavellian manipulation of events is essential for a reliable margin of success.  Of course, some American Presidents have taken self-interest and Machiavellian manipulation to an extreme.

Trump is not the first American President to cross the line of truth and morality but he seems one of the most prolific.

Kennan is revealed as a human being in this biography, not perfectly right or entirely wrong; subject to mistakes, personal biases, and prejudice; but grounded by life in a real, not purely theoretical, world.  Kennan lived through many great events in world history, from WWII to Vietnam. His active professional life gave the United States what it needed most; i.e., perspective and practical diplomatic advice.

PISSING IN THE WIND

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Fine Mess (A Global Quest for A Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System

By: T. R. Reid

Narrated by T. R. Reid

T. R. Reid is a reporter for the “Washington Post”.  He is not an economist.  However, he suggests there are more equitable ways of taxing the American public than presently used by the government.

Reid’s travels around the world investigating other countries tax systems are the basis for his theory for cleaning up America’s “…Fine Mess”. Sadly, Reid has a futile unrealistic attitude that the British characterized as pissing in the wind.

Reid suggests a tax overhaul is due in America.  The last major revision was over 30 years ago.  He argues a mess has been created by incremental tax changes that have greatly exacerbated the wealth gap in America.  Reid illustrates the many ways in which the American tax system is a mess.  An often-quoted factoid is “Warren Buffet is taxed at a lower rate than his secretary”.

There are many economists that would agree with Mr. Reid.  The most famous is the French economist Thomas Piketty who wrote “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”. 

Reid argues the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the world but the lowest corporate taxes collected.  Having the high rate and collecting it are two different things. 

Reid notes corporations like Caterpillar, Apple, Microsoft and others spent millions of dollars to set up legal tax shelters that reduce corporate tax to single digits; to as low as zero for some. 

Reid goes on to explain how billions of dollars are kept in corporate accounts outside of America to avoid taxation, and how that money is not repatriated to the U.S. because of current tax law. 

(Ironically, during Trump’s administration, corporate rate was reduced from 35% to 21%; and continues to be a significantly uncollected tax.) 

Reid persuasively argues that a tax overhaul should be made based on the principle of BBLR, a “Broad Based Low Rate” tax.  The purpose of a tax overhaul would be to eliminate loopholes, broaden and reduce tax rates while equalizing citizen’ tax burden.  Schemes for creating tax shelters would be eliminated.   

As is widely known, millions of dollars are spent by American citizens and corporations to file tax returns.

Preparing and paying taxes is laborious and confusing task for many Americans.  Even basic tax return filings are difficult for many American citizens to complete.  How many do not file because of that difficulty?  Some buy software to file taxes.  Add to software purchases and there is only growing tax-preparation costs to file for others. Those costs are borne by individual tax payers. The expense of our inefficient, and inequitable tax system multiplies geometrically when you add corporation efforts to avoid taxes.

America’s taxing inequity is glaring.  Millions of dollars are spent to avoid taxation through creation of tax shelters.  The formation of these shelters costs millions in lawyer, tax consultant, and auditing fees but save billions of dollars for corporations and the super-wealthy who legally (sometimes illegally) reduce taxable income.

Reid’s point is that America’s “…Fine Mess” can be made simpler, fairer, and more efficient by creating a completely new tax system.  He suggests the corporate tax might be eliminated and replaced by a flat rate with no loopholes.

Reid argues for a “Value Added Tax”.  A VAT would be a combination of local taxes and federal taxes on all consumable goods. 

After collection, this tax would be distributed between States, and cities, as well as the Federal Government.  The purpose of these taxes would be for maintenance of local services (like education, public safety, public works, and administration), and Federally mandated services (like national defense, health, education, and public welfare).

Reid’s argument is that VAT’ enforcement would require less supervision by the government because a VAT applies at each stage of the production of goods.  Each stage of production is rebated for taxes paid by the handler that adds value. The VAT is a combination of taxes at each stage of production which is reported to the government for reimbursement.  The reimbursements must add up to the final tax charged to the consumer.  If the numbers are not the same, the IRS will be able to tell which manufacturer failed to pay their tax.

A simple computer program would be able to monitor the collection of the tax because it must balance to all reimbursements of added value.  In theory, a VAT eliminates much of the need for a massive Internal Revenue Service which Reid suggests is unable to adequately monitor the present taxation system.  Reid notes that it is impossible for the IRS to closely monitor today’s taxing system because of the complicated nature of its Congressionally legislated structure.   

Another BBLR tax recommended by Reid is a financial transaction tax that would be low but capitalize on every financial transaction in the United States. 

This transaction tax would be less than a penny per dollar but capable of raising billions of dollars based on the many financial transactions that occur in the U.S. 

Reid offers the example of Hedge Funds that specialize in massive trades for short periods of time.  These Hedge Fund trades move the stock market by fractions that reap millions for traders.  With a tax on financial transactions revenue would be created for Federal Government programs that serve the health, education, and welfare of the nation.

What concerns a listener about Reid’s argument for a Value Added Tax is its potential for continued inequity.  The poor may have to pay the same price for food, energy, and shelter as the rich.  Reid does not adequately address that concern except to suggest a system would be established to offset that inequity.

Another concern, inadequately addressed by Reid, is the impact on Hedge Fund traders business if they lose the advantage of small changes in quick trades. Will Hedge Fund transactions disappear?

Political will is another issue not adequately addressed by Reid.  What majority of congress men and women will stand up to the many lobbyists who support them in their election?   Will most Republicans and Democrats co-opt or fight special interests that object to a massive change in the American tax system? 

Finally, how would America deal with the lost jobs for tax lawyers, tax preparers, software developers, and corporations that benefit from tax preparation and tax avoidance schemes?

One must agree with Reid’s assessment of America’s tax system.  It is a “A Fine Mess”.  The question is–Do our elected representatives have the political will to clean it up; or at least make it fairer? 

Incremental change of the tax code only makes it less intelligible. In Reid’s opinion, it is all or nothing.  Reid implies “go big” or “go home” because nothing will change if the entire tax code is not replaced.

THE PLAY IS NOT THE THING

By Chet Yarbrough

There are four plays in New York that please some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time; i.e. “Network”, “Ink, “Tootsie”, and “All My Sons”.  All were excellent Tony Award candidates.  All four had something in common.  Each exposed moral turpitude; three on a corporate level, and one on a personal level.*

Ayn Rand’s mistaken thought that “Virtue of Selfishness” is a social and economic good is eviscerated by these four plays.  They splendidly demonstrate “…Selfishness” is personally, socially, and economically harmful. 

“Network” addresses corporate media and its overarching effect on the public’s understanding of the truth.  “Ink” is about corporate media and how sensationalism and circulation are a volatile mixture that distorts reality.  “Tootsie” is about the personal consequence of lying.  And “All My Sons” is about a CEO’s responsibility to the public.

A book titled “Skunk Works” is a paean to “boys with toys” (before recognition of women at work) and corporate greed. Ben Rich is an engineer that worked for Kelly Johnson at Lockheed.

Kelly Johnson headed Lockheed’s famous design team that created the U-2 spy plane, and the famous Black Bird in the 1960’s. Being an engineer, Rich had a detailed understanding of the facts in plane design, but facts are dead things without a good story. Leo Janos is a writer who turns Rich’s facts into tales of Buck Roger’s daring-do, but a failure of corporate morality.

Ironically, Lockheed became the talk of the century in the 1970’s; not for their incredible design work, but for bribery.  Italy, West Germany, Japan, Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia are paid $22 million dollars to buy airplanes designed by Lockheed. That American law violation leads to the resignation of the Lockheed board.

“Skunk Works” is an entertaining and enlightening history of military weaponry. It illustrates the difference between a scientific research company and an industrial production company. Different skills are needed for managers of research than managers of production.**   

The play “All My Sons” is about a CEO that produces engines for WWII military combat planes in the 1940s.  The assembly manager calls his CEO to explain there is a crack in the blocks of twenty (or more) of the engines they manufacture.

The decision is made by the CEO to weld the cracks to make them look complete and unblemished.  The planes with those cracked blocks fail, and 21 pilots are killed. 

The company is sued.  The managing partner who made the call to the CEO is sent to prison because the CEO denies ever having told the process manager to conceal the defect.  The truth is revealed many years later.  The CEO rationalizes his action based on a selfish belief that he and his family’s life were more important than his process partner’s sentence to prison, or the pilot’s lost lives.  Is their a parallel in today’s Boeing arguments?

In “Skunk Works”, the inefficiency of government is exposed. On the one hand, inefficiency offers more time for deliberative decision; on the other, it impedes productivity and increases cost. Finally, the story opens military competition among nations that leaves only hope that the destructive power of nations will not destroy life on earth.

The last chapters of Rich’s story argue that government bureaucracy gets in the way of military innovation. He argues there is too much oversight and too many regulations increase costs and discourage innovative change.


Of course, the other side of the argument is about what happens when profit becomes more important than honesty or morality. Two Boeing planes, their pilots and passengers are dead as a result of inadequate oversight and what, at best, might be called self-interest.

Boeing 737 Max Malaysia Crash on March 11, 2019 kills 157 people.

The defense industry, like all human enterprises, has its Bernie Madoffs (the stockbroker maven who stole investment funds) and Angelo Mozillos (the ex-Coutrywide CEO who paid a fine for his questionable mortgage lending practices).

Oversight and regulation are essential to all forms of society because of the nature of humankind.  “Network” has the famous line “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Yes, you will be mad. and yes, we do take it again and again.

*It always comes down to a personal level, but the consequence is magnified by corporate immorality.  

**Science and engineer managers rely on worker autonomy.  Process managers rely on set rules for assembly line workers that manufacture complex products. It is science and engineering knowledge, more than rules of production, that determine product.  But, assembly experience, more than science and engineering knowledge, completes product.

CORPORATISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Price of Civilization

By Jeffrey Sachs

Narrated by Richard McGonagle

Jeffrey Sachs (Author, American economist, Columbia University Professor)

Jeffrey Sachs skewers modern Presidents and lionizes John Kennedy.  Written before 2016, one wonders what Sachs might have written about President Trump.

One can easily agree with many of Sachs’ observations of what is wrong with America but his solutions are academic; not pragmatic.  Sachs is too much of an idealist. Corporatism is an out sized economic benefactor for the United States but, as Sachs infers, it is also American democracy’s greatest threat.

Government checks and balances are America’s only defense against corporatism.

“The Price of Civilization” is an unsatisfying audio book.  Not because it is irrelevant but because it’s saccharine idealism and disconnection from the real world.

Though much of Sach’s criticism of Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan is deserved, his professorial economics is cloying because it ignores political reality and the truth of human nature.

The father of American economics, Adam Smith, is the first to have recognized the critical role of politics in economics.

Politics is a social science of give-and-take in both democratic and autocratic societies. The difference is–politics in democracy is practiced among the many; while in autocracy, politics is practiced among the few.

Just as Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” includes politics in economics, Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan”, introduces human nature to government. Thomas Hobbes notes Human nature is both good and bad. As logic dictates, politics in economics is both good and bad.

Sachs is spot-on as an academic economist. But he ignores political reality.  Public policy has always been a matter of “whose ox is getting gored” whether democrats or despots are in control of government.

Sachs cleaves to Platonic and Aristotelian platitudes like “all things in moderation”. To suggest that a philosophical awakening of the millennial generation (those born between 1977 and 1992) will cure American lassitude and political apathy is naive.


Sachs optimistically believes the millennial generation will eschew the luxuries of American dreamers (owning hot cars, nice homes, and beautiful clothes) to become voters for change.  Obama represents those voter’ beliefs but fails politically for the same reason Sachs’ book is a mess.

Changing public policy is not going to occur with an American generation that magically begins believing less is more. Re-election of a new President, whether Democrat or Republican, will not fundamentally change America’s system of choosing corporate winners and losers.

One can agree with Sachs’ observation on 2010’s “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision. The Supreme Court erred in identifying corporations as individuals with the rights of unlimited corporate donation to electors.

Defeat of gun control legislation shows how entrenched lobbyist organizations can steer the course of public policy, regardless of a democratic majority’s support of policy change.

Sachs is right in his assessment of the wrong-headedness of what he calls “corporatocracy”; i.e. the institutionalization of an election process that is founded on money rather than public representation. 

Human nature gets in the way of doing the right thing.  Humankind naturally seeks freedom.  When freedom of choice is impinged upon, human beings are reluctant to change.   Of course, this is an over simplification but Sachs minimizes mankind’s innate desire for freedom. 

Human nature is not going to change; i.e. it will always contain good and evil intention. Bernard Madoff comes from the same culture as Warren Buffett.  Regulation of human activity impinges on free choice whenever one person thinks they know what is best for another.

Many Americans are disgusted with the political process in 21st century America.  Even the super rich and rich are not satisfied with the status quo.  The rising gap between rich and poor embarrasses the rich. Trump and the Republican party’s approved tax law illustrates contempt for the middle-class, and ignores the poor.

How can America justify a social security tax for a movie actor’s (or sports star’s) income of millions per year when a middle income family makes $40,000 to $132,900 per year and has to contribute the same amount as a multi-millionaire.

A person with a middle class income will pay 6.2 percent of their income for social security. There is a maximum cap of $8,239.80/year/person. One who makes millions of dollars per year will not have to pay more than that $8,239.80/year; i.e. the same maximum amount a middle income person pays. No wonder social security is going broke.

When one is elected to congress every two years, fund raising becomes the elector’s primary focus of attention.  When corporations speak, electors listen.  Lobbyists and corporate money are more important than the aggregate input of voters.  No wonder American voters are apathetic.

Sachs notes Oliver Wendell Holmes dictum about taxes.  Holmes wrote that he loved to pay taxes because taxes are the cost of civilization.  The weakness of that generalization is in the definition of civilization.  If civilization is that stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced, why does the richest country in the world:

  • 1)have citizens living on the street,
  • 2)have citizens imprisoned-to only isolate and punish, and
  • 3)have children dying because of poor medical care.

When an investor turns a portfolio over to a brokerage company, that investor has to “trust but verify” the actions of the brokerage company in regard to overall portfolio performance.  If the broker under performs the market, the investor knows it is time to change brokers. 

When a government under performs when public tax dollars are invested, voters cannot, without revolution, change governments.  Sachs accurately notes there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans in the United States.  Both parties talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. Elected officials are too beholding to lobbyists and corporate America.

Americans are reluctant to pay higher taxes because they see no discernible improvement in their lives.  Why invest in a government (pay more taxes) that fails to produce improved results?

Sachs ideas for correcting America’s ills—

  1. Reduce the deficit by cutting military spending and increasing taxes.
  2. Reduce wealth disparity by investing in and retraining an obsolescent work force.
  3. Invest in and improve education with emphasis on primary and secondary graduation.
  4. Create jobs through infrastructure investment.  He argues that dependence on carbon-based energy is to be reduced by conservation with increased investment in alternative energy sources and more scientific research and development. 
  5. He argues that medical insurance should be provided to all Americans with a plan crafted by the medical community.

All of these goals are exemplary but to get there requires a massive (and unlikely) re-invention of human nature.   One could argue that many of these policies were promoted by the Obama administration, but little changed.

It is counterintuitive for a free society to choose moderate consumption.  Add mistrust of the American government and the likelihood of turning more money over to a government that does not work seems stupid to any rationale human being.

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “Industry, technology, and commerce can thrive only as long as an idealistic national community offers the necessary preconditions.  And these do not lie in material egoism, but in a spirit of sacrifice and joyful renunciation.” 

Hitlerian characters are a threat to America when corporatism is the basis of public policy.

The Korean War

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Korean War

By Max Hastings

Narrated by Frederick Davidson

Max Hastings (Author, British Journalist)

Max Hastings’ book reports the tragedy of the Korean War (1950-1953) fought by United Nations forces against North Korea and China. The end of the Korean War is a return to its beginning with no winners and mostly losers at the 38th parallel.

Hastings begins by suggesting that South Korea ultimately benefited from the war but one wonders if the cost of human blood and treasure is worth today’s North and South Korean reality.

Karl Marx said that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”.

Syngman Rhee (Last Head of State of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea)

Hastings characterizes Syngman Rhee, the Republic of Korea’s leader (1948-1960), as corrupt, though less corrupt and venal than his North Korean counterpart, Kim il sung (1945-1994).

What is of concern to some Americans is President Trump’s relationship with North Korea’s new leader, the son of Kim il sung. Is the stage set for history to repeat itself?

Koje-do POW Camp

Hastings reports overcrowding, abuse, and neglect of North Korean, and Chinese P.O.W.s on Koje-do Island during the Korean war. 

Hastings notes the use of the least competent military personnel as guards while the more competent soldiers were fighting the war.  Hastings tells of prisoners at Koje-do being hung by their testicles and drowned by water hoses secured to their mouths.  How different is that to a naked prisoner at Abu Ghraib or reported water boarding of enemy combatants?

Abu Ghraib prison treatment.

How similar is Koje-do Island’s P.O.W. camp in the Republic of Korea to Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison?

America repeats many of Korea’s mistakes in Vietnam and Iraq.  The question is–are military interventions new history or the second coming of a repeat tragedy?

How similar is America’s support of Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem (1955-1963), and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (1979-2003)? 

Summary execution of a Vietcong in Saigon (Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan shoots Nguyen Van Lem)

Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem history is one of corruption as totalitarian and politically repressive as Rhee’s Republic of Korea’ government.   The wars in Korea and Vietnam are over.  Are Korea and Vietnam safer or better today than before outside military intervention?  Vietnam re-unified after the war; Korea did not.

America supported Hussein because he opposed Iran.  America’s relationship to Rhee is similar in that Vietnam historically opposed communist China.

Hussein gassed Kurds in northern Iraq and terrorized his country’s Shiite majority. Rhee declared martial law in the Republic of Korea and murdered an estimated 14 to 30,000 Koreans.

The question one may ask themselves, with Hussein dead, is Iraq safer or better today than before intervention?

Are South and North Korea safer or better as a result of the Korean war? From an economic standpoint South Korea is better and safer. That is not true in North Korea.

Francis Fukuyama, in a book titled “Political Order and Political Decay”, argues that violation of sovereign borders violates one of three pillars of a modern state. America’s invasion of Iraq destroyed the government’s ability to exercise power. The United Nations invasion of Korea results in a two state solution. That solution seems good for only some Korean citizens.

Whenever one thinks they know what is good for another there is a cognitive dissonance between what one wants and what one gets.

Hussein was a horrid ruler by American standards, but he was the head of a sovereign state. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un demonstrates the same qualities of leadership as Hussein.

Where will Trump lead America on the question of Kim’s reign? To paraphrase Samuel Clemens–history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

When did human beings become “Gooks”, “Charlies”, and “Towel Heads”?  War brings out the worst in human beings by demonizing and animalizing the enemy making killing more socially acceptable.

Hastings shines a bright light on the ugliness and heroism of war.  Hastings immortalizes the Irish 1st Battalion RUR (Royal Ulster Rifles’) battles in Imjin and Kapyong in 1951 with a heart rending and inspiring story of determination and bravery.  However, his stories of fighting in subzero weather, being captured by the enemy, suffering from dysentery, seeing friends mutilated and killed, and fighting to the death for meaningless plots of ground are stomach turning episodes of despair.

After the 65th Chinese Army had exhausted itself attempting to smash through the defensive positions on the River Imjin held by the British 29 Brigade, the Brigade withdrew to a new line south of the River Han where, on 26 and 27 April, it rested and refitted for future operations. The Brigade had sustained over one thousand casualties at Imjin.

The glaring hubris of General MacArthur and his replacement with General Ridgeway by President Truman reinforces belief in the importance of good leadership.

A recurring theme in Hastings’ Korean history is the importance of ground forces’ confidence and spirit in the success of individual battles.  (This is a theme portrayed in Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” which is equally well narrated by Frederick Davidson.)

Was the Korean War worth it?  Hastings fails to give a definitive answer but he provides an interesting historical background for one to consider its value.