ECHO, ECHO, ECHO

Indochina is changing based on its own history. America’s war is only a small part of that history. Sadly, that small part killed more than 50,000 Americans and indirectly resulted in deaths of many more Indochina citizens.


Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Written by Chet Yarbrough

There are no excuses for one to be uninformed about the world in this era of “phone-net” access. However, what is at issue is an echo chamber that traps unwary reader/listeners and fellow travelers in false beliefs.

An echo chamber is a media repeater that only reaffirms one’s beliefs, whether true or false.

An echo chamber is populated with tailored information that only reinforces what one already believes.

Facts of an echo chamber are tailored to its audience, rather than to truth.

To avoid the echo chamber trap, one must diversify what they read and hear. One must become a skeptic. Personal experience, reading of other’s experience, and listening to different news sources are essential requirements of the skeptic. Diversification begins by reading books of history, and periodicals with different political views. Like all books of history, truth is distorted by a writer’s chosen facts. It is impossible to precisely contextualize the complexity of the past.

History is infected by experiences of the present and fact-choices of the past.

Television news reports, local and national newspapers, and news magazines offer subtlety different views of world events. They may report on the same issue but often show different facts and perspectives. Those differences refine and expand one’s understanding of events. Few writers or news reports are perfectly right but each have a perspective that can be measured by the education and experience of reader/listeners.

Diversification of information does not guarantee truth, but it gives reader/listeners choice. In that choosing, we become ourselves.

A case in point is Jim Webb’s interview in the Wall Street Journal, 1/21/23. The title of the article is “Echoes of Vietnam”. Webb is a veteran of America’s Vietnam war. The interviewer asks Webb if the war was worth fighting. The reported response is “…America won–only a different way. We stopped communism, which didn’t advance in Indochina any further than it reached in 1975. We enabled other countries to develop market economic and governmental systems that were basically functional and responsive to their people. The model stayed and I like to think it will advance in Vietnam.”

Jim Webb (Former U.S. Senator from Va., 66th U.S. Secy. of the Navy, Age 76.)

This is a powerful statement by Webb with a view based on Vietnam war experience and the interviewee’s reported Vietnamese language skill. However, it seems Webb’s and the interviewer’s truth is only a snapshot of Indochina from the perspective of one who risked his life in America’s war.

Having traveled recently to Indochina (specifically Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand) what Webb quoted seems partly true. What the interview does not reveal is an uneasiness felt by Laos and Cambodia about a Vietnamese communist threat to borders of adjacent countries.

Communism and Democracy are changing.

As Webb notes communism has elements of capitalism throughout Indochina. Democracy’s form of capitalism is becoming more socialist, which is particularly true in Scandinavian countries and to a lesser extent America.

The striking concern expressed by Vietnam’ and Cambodian’ guides is the fear of China and its authoritarian form of communism, even though it incorporates elements of capitalism.

It seems the American war in Vietnam had little to do with today’s Indochina’ governments. America’s war seems to have had some effect on Indochina’s governmental evolution but not as much as their own history.

Indochina has its own history of authoritarianism, ranging from monarchy to colonialization to its present form of authoritarian capitalism.

Indochina is changing based on its own history. America’s war is only a small part of that history. Sadly, that small part killed more than 50,000 Americans and indirectly resulted in deaths of many more Indochina citizens.

DEMOCRACY’S STORM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Lies That Bind (Rethinking Identity)

By: Kwame Anthony Appiah

Narrated by: Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Author, philosopher of history, politics and social sciences.)

Kwame Appiah implies western democracy is the best form of government.

The democracy of which Appiah writes is one in which rule-of-law, freedom within the limits of rule-of-law, and equal opportunity are evident.

However, contrary to Langston Hughes’ poem, the sea is not calm. Democracies’ sea is stormy because its principles are inconsistently practiced.

Kwame Anthony Appiah casts a lifebuoy to those swimming in the stormy sea of democracy.

Appiah’s chapters on religion may be a slog for some but they offer understanding of the inconsistency of religious belief. Religious contradictions are legion. Sermonizers pick and choose paths they like rather than any truth biblical writings may impart.

“The Lies That Bind” examines the role of religion, culture, and government in society.

Agnosticism, and atheism grows with revelations of science, stultified freedom of thought, and (though not mentioned by Appiah) ecumenical abuse.

Appiah’s life story reinforces the importance of culture. Both his parents were highly accomplished people. His mother was a British artist, historian, and writer. His father, from Ghana, was a lawyer, diplomat, and politician. Both parents come from accomplished families. Their son chooses to marry a man when same sex marriage only slowly becomes culturally accepted.

Appiah’s history addresses the ascendence of the Mongol empire to illustrate the breadth of Mongol conquest while noting its style of government control. His point is that control is exercised with a level of tolerance for independence, cultural understanding, and religious belief among Khan’s descendants.

Genghis Khan (1162-1227 Leader of the Mongol Empire)

In summary, Appiah argues democratic societies need to rethink identity in terms of human equality. Whether a man or woman is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, server in a restaurant, or laborer in construction, all are equally human. Appiah notes Trump’s political success in America relates to his intuitive understanding of what many political aspirants ignored—the importance of American labor, whether highly educated, unschooled, rich, or poor.

A leader of an enterprise can be right, even damn right, but fail without the help of labor. Disrespecting labor ensures failure. This is a lesson Henry Ford understood when he raised the wages of his work force. This is a lesson Elon Musk will undoubtedly find in his acquisition of Twitter.

Appiah’s lifebuoy is meritocracy, a government holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. The idea of meritocracy came about in the 1960s. However, there are academicians, like Daniel Markovits who believe the concept of meritocracy increases inequality and causes decline in the middle class. Markovits argues middle-class families lose equal educational opportunity because of high cost. Without equal opportunity for education, too many Americans are left without Appiah’s lifebuoy.

Appiah does not directly address issues of equality of opportunity in a democratic-meritocratic society. Though Appiah may be a minority in white western culture, one doubts his educational opportunity was ever a question of cost.

On balance, Appiah offers insight to how democracy can be improved. The key is equality of opportunity which implies democracy needs to focus on safety-net’ issues which entail more help for lower- and middle-class income earners. The safety-net is one which provides equal access to education, health care, and employment, i.e., without regard to sex, race, religion, or ethnic qualification. In democracy, that means election of leaders who are willing to ensure equality of opportunity for all.

SCANDINAVIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Almost Nearly Perfect People

By: Michael Booth

 Narrated by: Ralph Lister

Michael Booth (British Author, food and travel writer.)

Later this month, we will travel to Scandinavia and Finland. As a suggestion by our guide, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” is a fascinating introduction to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. To be fair to indigenous people of the Nordic countries, one might keep in mind the author is British while living for ten or more years in Denmark with his Danish wife and family. The author notes they moved from Denmark for a short time, but his wife convinces him to return.

Booth is a travel and food writer. He explains that an extra motive for writing this book is because a wide part of the world knows little about Scandinavia and much of what they think they know is wrong. I am more in the first than second category but have an interest in the subject because of my Finnish grandparents.

On a per capita basis, Norway is among the ten richest nations in the world. America is around 11th. Sweden and Denmark are not far behind.

In contrast Finland is a laggard at 21st position but Booth claims Finland is his favorite among the five countries.

For public education systems, Finland is historically ranked among the best in the world while Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are among the top ten. To give perspective, America is around 27th place.

The Danish-Swedish company Arla Foods is the 7th largest dairy company in the world. The industrial transportation and shipping company Maersk is a Danish company. IKEA, Volvo, Assa Abloy (key card locking systems for hotels), Electrolux, Ericsson, and H&M are Swedish conglomerates. Denmark and Sweden are industry power houses in the world.

Booth notes Norway became rich with the discovery of oil. Denmark’s and Sweden’s wealth lies in different strengths and weaknesses revolving around their respective international businesses.  

What makes Booth’s book interesting, and entertaining is his view and contrast of Nordic societies. Booth suggests both Danes and Swedes are somewhat cliquish and standoffish but act differently among themselves. Both prefer working with their own countrymen and women. Danes revel in individualism whereas Swedes are more clannish. Neither particularly welcome outsiders but Swedes like working together with fellow Swedes as teams with common purpose. In contrast, Danes work within a hierarchical structure that relies on positional direction. Finns are characterized as less ambitious with a live and “let be” view of life. A Finn works to live rather than lives to work. Booth suggests Norwegians appear standoffish to many but its more from a wish to be self-reliant and reserved. The idea is to preserve personal space among themselves and to have respect for others who may or may not be Norwegian.

Iceland is not a part of the trip we are taking, and Booth only skims Icelandic culture but suggests Danish influence is the predominant characteristic of their population. (Iceland was founded by Danes.) Booth’s primary story of Iceland is in their errant decision to rely on banking system managers that nearly collapse the economy in the 2008 economic crises. Belief in hierarchal structure and positional direction nearly bankrupted Iceland because of unwise risks taken by bank managers.

A listener’s general impression from Booth’s book is that the Nordic countries are uniquely different but generally socialist with the highest tax rates in the world.

Those tax rates provide the best education and health systems in the world. However, their socialism does not impede their innovative entrepreneurial and capitalist interests. In Booth’s opinion, the Nordic countries represent the future of the world by melding capitalism with socialism.

Booth infers the success of Nordic countries begins with their education system. Teaching is an honored profession that is difficult for potential employees to join.

Teaching positions and teachers are highly educated and respected by the general population. Contrary to what one would presume, classes for students are medium size (20 to 23 students), teacher salaries are middle class, class days are limited to 4 hours, and every family has access to any school in their area. Tutoring is widely practiced for students needing help. There are no private schools.

As is true in all countries of the world, immigration is being horribly mishandled. Fair immigration policy in Norway and the world remains a work in progress.

Booth notes Nordic countries have not achieved perfection. With the threat of authoritarianism that diminishes the value of human life, histories of these countries show mistakes were made in WWII and are still being made in the 21st century. On the other hand, Booth shows native Nordic residents endorse and practice equal rights for men and women, a laudable example for the rest of the world.

RISE OF TYRANTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Tyrant

By: Stephen Greenblatt

Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini

Stephen Jay Greenblatt (Writer, Harvard University Professor.).

Shakespeare’s plays expose the perfidy of tyrants that reminds one of Vladmir Putin’s actions in 2022.  Greenblatt notes Shakespeare explains tyrants rise when governments show weakness at their center. One can conclude the economic collapse of the U.S.S.R. is the proximate cause of Putin’s ascension.

Stephen Greenblatt offers a clever summary of tyrants in Shakespeare’s plays. Greenblatt’s book is published in 2018.  

Shakespeare’s tyrants are destined to fail in a variety of ways. One must remember that Shakespeare’s plays are not history but have elements of history in their story. Dramatic affect and a livable wage are what motivate Shakespeare to write for the theatre.

Prescient insight to the nature of human beings is what makes Shakespeare a seer whose prose and plays survive centuries of analysis and earned adulation.

King Richard III is a martinet who barks orders for little reason other than to exercise power. He acts with the arrogance of a narcissist. He murders brothers, nephews, and subordinates who get in his way or refuse to obey his orders. He expects loyalty first, with any opposition viewed as disloyalty.

King Richard cares nothing for rules or human life. His followers are sycophants at best and enablers at least. King Richard III murders brothers and confidents to secure the throne.

He marries for lust and control, murders King Henry VI, marries the assassinated King’s widow, and dies in an ignominious battle. Having killed everyone near him, he grows paranoid of those around him. That paranoia cripples his effectiveness as a sovereign. He may have lost his crown in battle, but his murder of followers and managerial incompetence destine him for failure.

Russian Kleptocrats

Greenblatt recounts the many tyrants exposed in Shakespeare’s plays but none, other than Richard III, seem comparable to Putin. Putin gathered support of kleptocratic sycophants that are beginning to recognize their wealth and success is threatened by Putin’s foolish attempt to re-annex Ukraine.

Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Putin is alienating followers and murdering or imprisoning competitors who challenge his leadership.

Greenblatt summarizes events of Shakespeare’s plays to show how tyrants are editors of their own defeat. One hopes there is enough Russian resistance to forestall a nuclear war caused by a tyrant who cares nothing for human life, other than his own.

REPARATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Learning from the Germans (Race and the Memory of Evil)

By: Susan Neiman

Narrated by: Christa Lewis

Susan Neiman (Author, Moral Philosopher).

Not many authors are more qualified than Susan Neiman to write about “Learning from the Germans”. As an American moral philosopher and cultural commentator who lives in Germany, Neiman offers an analysis of race and evil. One may disagree with her conclusion but not with her understanding of the subject.

Neiman notes being raised in Atlanta, Georgia by her Jewish mother, and father. Regarding race and evil, Neiman understands what it is like to be white in America and Jewish in Germany. Southern discrimination and religious persecution are vivified by Neiman’s experience in both cultures.

What comes as a surprise to some is Neiman’s argument that Germany handles guilt and shame for the holocaust better than America handles guilt and shame for racism, slavery, unequal treatment, and murder of people of color.

The primary theme of Neiman’s book is that post WWII Germany dealt with the history of the holocaust more forthrightly than America has dealt with racism and its evil.

Neiman explains memory of the holocaust is memorialized in Germany after the war. It has only been in the twentieth century that America has begun to memorialize 200 years of black slavery, lynching, and murder.

Pictures below are German sites preserved showing concentration camps, a prison, a museum, as monuments and reminders of holocaust atrocities. In Germany, by 1950, reparation for holocaust survivors is being negotiated.

With the exception of the Thomas Ball memorial to Emancipation in 1876, no monuments of slavery’s horrendous history are noted in America until the mid-1900s. What Neiman shows is that, only in this American generation, have reparations for slavery been seriously considered.

In the 1950s Germany began to deal with financial reparations for holocaust victims. In the 21st century, America is just beginning to discuss reparation for slavery. Even in 2022, most Americans reject reparations. However, a well-known American, David Brooks, changed his mind in 2019.

David Brooks (Writer, conservative political and cultural commentator, reporter, editor.)

Brooks writes:

“Nearly five years ago I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” with mild disagreement. All sorts of practical objections leapt to mind. What about the recent African immigrants? What about the poor whites who have nothing of what you would call privilege? Do we pay Oprah and LeBron?”

“The need now is to consolidate all the different narratives and make them reconciliation and possibility narratives, in which all feel known. That requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story.”

Robert Jones, the Founder of the Public Religion Institute, and a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a book suggesting reparations are the only way white America can find forgiveness. Neiman acknowledges the high cost of determining fair reparations for American slavery but implies money spent on defense would be a good place to search for money to invest in white America’s forgiveness for slavery. Neiman notes Germany rebuilt itself after WWII. Her inference is that America has enough wealth to do the same with reparations for slavery.

Neiman notes Germany, like America, has right wing extremists who continue to vilify ethnic minorities, but discrimination is institutionally rejected by German government leadership while American leaders like former President Donald Trump say there are very fine people on both sides of racial discrimination.

Trump refers to the 2017, Charlottesville, Va. alt-right and white nationalist rally where a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters to the racist rally, one of which is killed.

Neiman recalls the murder and torture of a  Black 14-year-old boy, Emmitt Till, in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955.

Two white Americans admitted their guilt in Till’s torture and murder, after being acquitted for the crime by an all-white jury. The murderers went free to live their remaining lives in Mississippi.

Neiman reflects on the murders of nine African Americans in Shelby, North Carolina by Dylann Roof in 2015. Roof self-identifies as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi.

Neiman’s point is that Germany has done better to acknowledge and repair their relationship with holocaust survivors than America has done in reconciling its racist and evil actions regarding slavery and what has become institutionalized racism. Germany’s success has been in the face of an east and west Germany reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Neiman notes the difference in east and west German survivors’ beliefs while showing they acted to reconcile their Nazi past with memorialization, and demonstration of shame and guilt for the holocaust. A significant part of that reconciliation is legislated reparation for holocaust survivors.

Neiman explains, just as there remain Nazi collaborators in the East and West, there are racist collaborators in the northern and southern United States. Neiman infers if Germany could reunify within 40 years after WWII, the U.S. should be able to reunify after the end of the civil war. Why is it taking the U.S. over 150 years to get to the point of just talking about reparations for slavery, let alone memorializing its evil?

DIGNITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment

By: Francis Fukuyama

Narrated by: P. J. Ochlan

Francis Fukuyama (American author, political scientist, political economist, graduate of Cornell and Harvard.)

Having reviewed Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order” and “Political Order and Political Decay”, his view of “…Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” during the Trump years is important. Fukuyama’s earlier books offer impressive insight to the strengths of democratic government.

Fukuyama’s political support and participation in the Reagan administration and his association with neo-conservatism give weight to his opinion.

Though Fukuyama’s broad view of political “Identity” is mind-numbingly complex, his criticism of Trump shows how consequential democracy’s loss of “…Dignity…” is to America and nascent democracies.

Fukuyama shows how America has lost its way with the election of Donald Trump. Trump is not the cause of American democracy’s disruption, but he represents its symptoms.

Trump is shown as an unrepentant narcissist who panders to those who have been underserved, under-represented, and ignored by most Americans. The rising tide of violence and discontent of ignored Americans is ignited by a President concerned with personal power and prestige, not betterment of democracy or service to the unrepresented.

Fukuyama is not a bleeding-heart liberal that believes in handouts like a minimum wage for the underemployed or unemployed.

He endorses importance of work and fair pay for fair performance. He acknowledges the rising gap between haves and have nots in America but infers the answer is political reform that endorses dignity and discourages inequity.

“Identity” is lost among Americans who do not have jobs or are grossly underpaid for the work they do.

Fukuyama implies American culture has lost its way. With inequity, people revert to tribes that fight for tribal rather than national interests. Whether the tribe is a union of teachers or Starbucks’ employees who are underpaid or disrespected, they look to their tribe rather than the interest of their students, company executives, or owners.

Fukuyama endorses diversity and, presumably, prudent immigration policy.

However, Fukuyama notes there is another aspect of “Identity” that cannot be ignored. He strongly argues for acceptance of nationalist “Identity” by those who request citizenship. One who emigrates to a new country must learn to read and write the adopted country’s language, be willing to defend the country for which one accepts an oath of citizenship and must adhere to laws of the land.

Fukuyama notes concern for equal treatment within a country is as important as fair treatment between nations.

The rise of nationalism reaches a point of destruction when authoritarians like Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin invade other countries. What becomes clear from Fukuyama’s book is democracies can lose their way with an authoritarian, narcissistic leader. Leaders like Trump have no concern for equity.

The demand for equity and the rise of resentment splits people into tribes when not being addressed by government leaders. Fukuyama reaches into ancient and modern history to identify how “…Demand for Dignity…” is often accompanied by “…Resentment…” which leads to political unrest, or revolution.

Fukuyama reviews policies of government that mitigate the causes of “tribal” identity and resentment that roils America. Fukuyama’s ideas may be up for debate, but he clearly believes in democracy.

Fukuyama expresses some concern over “tribal” identity within America when it violates the interests of the country. He endorses diversity while indicting Trump for inciting “tribal” difference.

In the last chapter, Fukuyama addresses the effect of the internet on the “…Demand for Dignity…” and “…The Politics of Resentment…”. He argues the internet’s impact is both negative and positive. The negative is the internet’s use to spread falsehood and its potential for invading privacy. The positive is its potential for telling truth to power.

Fukuyama optimistically implies the internet’s spread of truth will outweigh its spread of lies.

Fukuyama implies the internet’s potential for gathering tribes for the betterment of government policy is greater than its present-day disruptions. This seems more likely in a democratic than authoritarian society.

The fundamental value of Fukuyama’s peregrination is that America has managed to survive and prosper for over 200 years, even in the face of “tribal” identity and resentment. Surely, America will survive Trump.

AMERICA TODAY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

King Richard: Nixon and Watergate-An American Tragedy

By: Michael Dobbs

Narrated by: Mark Bramhall

Michael Dobbs (Author, British member of the House of Lords, graduate of Oxford and Tufts University.)

Appropriately, it is a British citizen who writes a biography that focuses on Nixon’s years as President of the United States. An American is much less likely to be objective about Nixon’s Presidency.

Like yesterday’s Richard Nixon and today’s Donald Trump, Americans love or revile former Presidents.

The title of Dobbs’ book exemplifies a legitimate view of Richard Milhouse Nixon as an American tragedy. One doubts history will ever consider Trump’s fall from power as a tragedy. Both Nixon and Trump act like Kings but Nixon served America in ways that justify Dobb’s book title for Nixon as “…American Tragedy”.

Dobbs reminds Americans of Nixon’s prescient understanding of China by opening China to the west.

Nixon extricated America from Vietnam, a war that could not be justified or defeated by the delusional beliefs of past Presidents who believed in the domino theory of communist expansion.

Though Dobbs did not write about Nixon’s domestic policies, it was his presidency that formed the Environmental Protection Agency and instituted the war on cancer with a $100-million-dollar subsidy creating national cancer research centers. Nixon signed the Title IX civil rights law preventing gender bias at colleges and universities receiving federal funds. Nixon provided Native Americans the right of tribal self-determination. Nixon expanded social security benefits for working families.

Dobbs notes Nixon exhibits a kind of insecurity that clouds his judgement. That insecurity leads to the foolish decision to invade the Watergate Democratic headquarters; compounded by a cover-up that ends with Nixon’s resignation.

The prestige of office magnifies strengths and weaknesses of one who becomes a national leader. The potential for abuse of power by authoritarians has been demonstrated many times in world history. America is no exception. Dobbs details Nixon’s fall from the Presidency.

Dobb’s story of Nixon is an interesting contrast to Trump’s rise and fall. In no way is that to suggest there is any equivalence in intellect or contribution of these two Presidents because one is a tragedy while the other is a farce.  

 

It is not a surprise that Trump is still being supported by many Republicans. Republicans supported Nixon until the truth is revealed by John Dean and the Nixon recordings. One suspects that will be true of Trump when the FBI investigation is completed.

Dobb’s paints a picture of Nixon that is at times imperious and, at other times, endearing and vulnerable. Nixon seems a lonely man who loves his children but seems distant from his wife. Nixon has few friends.

Those who remain close to Nixon seem remote from his rise to the Presidency. He gains respect from those who report to him but more because of position than intellect or emotional attachment. It will take an outsiders view of Trump to objectively assess his contribution to America.

A fundamental difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon rose to fame from nothing while Trump is born to wealth. Nixon earned his education. Trump bought his education.

To Nixon, Dobb’s shows money is a means to an end. To Trump, money seems all there is, and value is only measured by how much you have.

Nixon appears to have useful friends, not pleasant friends. The few pleasant friends are like Bebe Rebozo who never challenges his opinion and listens rather than asks questions. Useful friends are protected or abandoned based on personal loyalty. Any disagreement by useful friends with Nixon’s or Trump’s public pronouncements is perceived as disloyalty.

Both Nixon and Trump revile criticism, particularly from the press. Nixon is willing to sacrifice his closest subordinates if required to protect his position. Both ex-Presidents of the United States were willing to use the power of their office to pardon the guilty who have followed their orders.

All who become close to Nixon or Trump have been positively and negatively infected by their association. “King Richard” is a reminder of America today.

FREEDOM’S LIMITS

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

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

  1. Taxation,

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.

2. Rule-of-Law,

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.

3. Extremism,

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 FUTURE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

   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.

Taking his observation of China’s remarkable advance in the last 27 years, McMahon joins others who argue China is at the precipice of a cyclical economic trough.
Visiting China for the first time, one is amazed at the modern look of Beijing. Its bullet trains, wide boulevards, and streetscapes remind one of model cities like other storied capitols of the world.
On the other hand, outlying suburbs, and cities fit the description of McMahon’s “Ghost Cities” with block-to-block, mid-rise apartment buildings, no tenants, and slap-dash HVAC wall-units.

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.

Adding to McMahon’s note about the time difference is the political difference between America and China.  America’s political system is tested by checks and balances, both by party and governmental organization.

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 leaves some doubt about China’s near future collapse because of adjustments President Xi is making in reducing bureaucratic corruption that allows ghost banks to prosper. McMahon also notes that President Xi is addressing the domestic needs of China’s citizens by emphasizing economic growth within China to make them less dependent on international trade. However, McMahon notes Xi Jinping is a singular leader. The question is—what happens when Xi Jinping is no longer China’s leader?

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.

A STEP TOO FAR

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

   We the Corporations (How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights)

By Adam Winkler

         Narrated by: William Hughes

Adam Winkler (Author, Connell Professor of Law at UCLA.)

If only minorities could have kept pace with corporations’ pursuit of and success for civil rights, American society may have become more equal.

Liz Truss (Newly elected Prime Minister of the UK.)

It is announced this morning (9/5/22) that the new Prime Minister of the UK is to be Liz Truss. A primary issue in Ms. Truss’s campaign is to reduce taxes. America’s experience of reducing taxes seems a replay of the Reagan/Thatcher years. Many consider these two leaders as just what was needed at the time to advance their respective countries’ economies. As a result of their tax reduction policies, the gap between the rich and poor widened with corporations and their leaders being the primary beneficiaries. Hopefully Ms. Truss’s tax reductions do not benefit only corporations.

Experience of reducing taxes in the UK may be a replay of the Reagan/Thatcher years in America.

Corporations need to consider their responsibility for passing on those tax benefits to workers. If Ms. Truss’s tax reductions only increase the gap between rich and poor, democratic government is doomed.

It may be a surprise to many that corporate pursuit of civil rights dates to the early beginnings of American history. The first battle for corporate civil rights began with Alexander Hamilton’s drive to create the first American bank. His major political opponent is Thomas Jefferson. 

Jefferson opposes a national bank because he believes it diminishes State’s rights by ceding too much control to the national government. Winkler notes the irony of Jefferson’s objection in that Jefferson relies on national bank loans to subsidize his profligate lifestyle.

Winkler notes some level of civil rights for corporations is needed to protect the public from exploitation. If a corporation is not recognized as a singular public body, individual Americans could not sue for redress. Harm from unfair or harmful practices of corporations could not be tried in a court of law. However, Winkler explains an underlying concern is the gain of personhood for corporations. By being recognized as a person, corporations gain political influence beyond any individual person’s rights.

To many Americans, a 21st century Supreme Court decision on corporate civil rights is a step too far.

With the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court allows unlimited corporate donations to Americans running for political office.

Money is power, particularly in a capitalist economy. Elected officials become beholding to corporations rather than private citizens when running for office.

A prime example is the pharmaceutical and gun lobbies that have dominated both Democratic and Republican parties.

The rights of these corporate enterprises distort the benefits and dangers of both drugs and guns in American society. Over prescribed drugs and opiates advertised to the public by the pharmaceutical industry are more widely spread than ever before. If elected officials were not so beholding to gun lobbies, national background checks and red flag laws would not be so difficult for Congress to pass.

The opiate epidemic and the 5.25.22 Uvalde murder of 19 children and 2 adults is evidence of the harm done by granting too many civil rights to corporations.

Winkler’s book about corporate pursuit of personhood is burdened by legal explanations for non-lawyer listeners. However, his history gives one a deep appreciation of how civil rights can bring both good and harm to American society.