Thursday, December 30, 2010

NATO Civil and Military Co-ordination in Afghanistan Failing

Lillian Katarina Stene spent six months in war torn and war weary Aghanistan, serving as a major in the US military as a civil and military co-ordination (CIMIC) officer and now is submitting her research there as a PhD thesis. To connect local structures and military intentions, designated civil military coordination (CIMIC) units are set up within NATO. Their three core functions are to liaise, be a support to the civil environment and the military force. They contribute by assessment of villages and supporting basic infrastructure such as roads, water and bridges when needed.

Stene thinks President Hamid Karzai and NATO’s leadership are mistaken in relying on the withdrawal of foreign troops to bring peace. Though more “boots on the ground” are needed, she says:

We must differentiate better between military and civil tasks, and present ourselves more clearly. The military is the prolonged arm of politics, but soldiers are neither politicians nor aid workers. Nevertheless, the NATO strategy presupposes interference with civilian life. This gives rise to concern, and it is not an easy task to win the “hearts and minds” of local people

In short, a peaceful solution requires stability to be enforced with more troops, but the actions of the military and civilian aid in the war effort have to be better co-ordinated. One is inclined to think that none of us would be easily winnable by a foreign coalition whose soldiers kept shelling our villages and breaking into our homes boot first in the early hours of the morning making our lives intolerable, even if they claim to be protecting us form other gangsters. Indeed, the whole situation is reminiscent of the old gangsters’ protection rackets. You had to humor and cough up your hard earned dollars to both sides just to stay alive until one or the other won the territory war between them. Then you just paid your insurance premium, or taxation, to the winner.

That must be how Afghan people feel, not to mention the Iraqis, Vietnamese, and all the others who have gone before in the history of US imperialism. In history, people get rid of their own gangsters, even if they have to wait until the gangsters’ kids are fat and smug before they can do it. They can feel then that they have solved their own problems without any unasked for help from some other gang wanting to rob them instead.

Stene says that as long as war skirmishes are taking place within and among local inhabitants, a popular justification is TINA—there is no alternative. She admits that this is maybe the greatest challenge, a nuanced criticism of the NATO (ie US) strategy. Perhaps she has to humor her own employers, or former employers, from whom she hopes for a pension, but seems in no doubt when she says:

The war in Afghanistan cannot be won by military means. There are only political solutions to crises and conflicts. The Afghan people itself, through its leaders and representatives, must take the lead in finding a solution. Which is quite a challenge as the international community—meaning the UN, NATO’s coalition forces and numerous governmental and non governmental organisations—are all deeply involved in the development of the country.

Conflicting roles among military and civilian personnel is counterproductive to NATO’s strategy for peace in Afghanistan, for, as military forces continue to build infrastructure and cooperate closely with large civilian organizations, local people must find it increasingly hard to distinguish between the different agents’ roles and objectives. Isn’t it obvious that, when there are no military present to interfere with civilian assistance, then there is no problem of co-ordinating them, and the various agencies involved should be at least halved? In her opinion, too little effort is put into long term planning for reconstructing the country. Different national caveats and ingrained practices, attitudes, training and interpretations conducts different operational modes among the countries working under the NATO umbrella. Stene says:

Since there is no unified way of doing things in Afghanistan, NATO has a problem. While Americans like to act quickly, Germans and Scandinavians prefer to consider the long term effects of civil military coordination. The Americans are likely to dig a well on the spot, while Germans prefer to let the Afghans dig the well themselves.

It is the difference of attitude of the arrogant young imperialism with the long in the tooth old one. The young imperialists, the Americans think these inferior races ought to submit to their betters, and when they don’t, then a bullet will encourage them to do so, while the European powers, who have had the same attitude in the past, and have even fought crippling wars among themselves to share out portions of the world pudding, are now more circumspect, if not more humanitarian. While Afghan civilians are being killed in dawn raids and by drone or warplane attacks, it is hard for any rational being not to appreciate why their skepticism over US intentions continues to grow.

So, the military alliance’s “comprehensive approach” is counterproductive to both civilian and military parties operating in Afghanistan, since this strategy enables role conflicts among them. From her access to the inner workings of the NATO forces, Stene believes NATO is too top heavy. When grey zones between military and civilian participants appear, it is harder for locals to separate the two groups, and to establish who does what. Aid workers, whose safety depends on being trusted by the local communities, may be seen as representatives of the occupation force, and thus become more vulnerable.

A case in point is the dramatic increase in the killing of aid workers over the last years. When some of these organizations profess to be impartial, while simultaneously running development projects paid for by Afghan authorities and the international community, they are not considered neutral by local inhabitants. Such organizations suffer more frequent attacks, and their security situation is deteriorating. Stene says:

Building trust takes time. In order to succeed in Afghanistan, we have to spend time in the country and perform our tasks in accordance with the Afghans’ terms.

Spending more time seems to be her justification for more boots on the ground for longer, but the rest of her case might be better served by a withdrawal and an emphasis on civilian aid, as long as it is not allowed to be skimmed off by the US crooks set up as the country’s “proper” representatives to milk the country dry. That perhaps is why she sees the need for a continued NATO military presence:

Civil military coordination is about working behind the scenes, and handing over tasks to the Afghans:
  • It is vital to separate between strictly humanitarian organizations, whose task it is to supply basic utilities such as water, food and medicines to everyone in need—regardless of who they are—and international or independent organizations which are building schools and infrastructure and cultivate land in compliance with the international community’s or the Afghan government’s development plans.
  • It is vital to gain insight into people’s real needs, and to involve local projects and contractors. Building schools may not always be the answer to everything.
If local structures are not sufficiently developed, I’m afraid we are building a house of cards which will fall down after we have left.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Who are the “Mindless” Ones?

UK Students Protest Vigorously Over Political Liars

Yesterday the Liberal Democrats in the UK’s Con-Dem coalition government voted to increase university tuition fees by 100 to 200 percent. Some did vote against and a few abstained, and even a few Tories voted against the outrageous measure, but sufficient members voted for it to ensure a government majority of 21 in the House of Commons. The Tory House of Lords, newly packed by Tory leader, David Cameron, with a load of Tory time servers, will back the motion.

Students are so outraged at this that they have started a campaign to register their utter disapproval by confronting the state, and particularly, that section of the coalition, the Liberals who solemnly pledged before the election that they would not support the Tory proposals for higher university fees under any circumstances. Liberal leader, Nick Clegg, says the pledge was a mistake because the Treasury is worse off than he and his party had reckoned. It therefore cannot be honored.

Indeed, there can be no honor among thieves and Clegg had his own excellent education because he is from a long line of them. His family are among the country’s rich, he had a private education at Westminster school, and went to one of the UK’s best universities, Cambridge, because his father was a banker, and his varied family background includes Ukrainian nobility. He is, in short, not without a few quid to his name.

Now, having joined the coalition government led by another rich Tory, David Cameron, he has decided that the country can no longer afford free, or even cheap, university education because the Treasury is deep in debt, and the country has to fill it and meanwhile service its borrowing requirements—we have to borrow from the banks to pay the interest on our debts, and so we cannot afford public services like free education any more!

The Banks—Robbers!

The students, however, unlike many trades unionists and Labour Party supporters are intelligent enough to realize the public purse is empty because we have given all our money and more to the banks to bail them out of insolvency when they were on the verge of collapse two years ago through speculative investments meant to further enrich already super rich financiers, and line the pockets of their agents the bankers simultaneously, through the enormous bonuses they paid themselves for robbing the rest of us.

All of this done under the innocent and admiring gaze of the pathetic supporters of the criminal New Labour Party of one T Blair, otherwise known as T Bliar, who is now coining it for his neoconservative takeover of the British traditional trades union and socialist party on behalf of the big criminals who bribed him to support the US Bush administration in its greedy adventures, and are now faithfully rewarding him with their spare change.

Students know it, and are young enough and angry enough to want to do something about it, unlike most of the British working class who are gulled into a zombic stupor by a media controlled by the same class of megarich criminals feeding them mindless reality TV, soap operas and a “get rich quick” celebrity culture that blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality for many. The students, after sleeping for almost fifty years, are now waking up to the state of the nation. We are not broke, but we have been robbed in a blatant scam, and the students of the future are among the ones who will have to pay for the heist.

Note thet these mindless students are not protesting for themselves. Most of them will have graduated before the measures are brought in, but the university under-graduates have been supported by many school pupils and students of pre-university sixth form colleges, who know they will be affected by the government class-laden legislation. Class-laden? Young people from poor families will hesitate getting into massive debt before they even start on their adult careers, and the assurances of grants and special measures for the poorest does not impress them. They are sops to get the measures passed, and need be worth nothing more than the Liberal “pledge” to oppose such acts. That was plainly worthless!

Mindless MPs

Yesterday’s demonstrations ended up chaotic, and the culprits are being called names by the media—“mindless” and “thugs”. It is the media pundits who are mindless, and the idiotic MPs who think they can gull the people forever. The students are showing that is not the case. Unjust societies fall apart because people will not put up with it, and the British are beginning to realize how they have been tricked. It is simply that they have lost the will or the courage to publicly demonstrate their diaproval, but students are leading the way.

The students are not “mindless”, it is liberal MPs like the local empty-headed idiot, Don Foster, who represents the rather posh city of Bath. Someone threw a rock through his window, and Mr Foster responded that he did not enter politics to win a popularity contest but to change things. He seemed quite oblivious to the fact that he actually stood as an MP in a popularity contest—it is called democracy! MPs are elected when they gain the popularity of the electorate, and that popularity is based on what they promise to do.

The half witted Foster, reneged on his promise and merely had a brick through his window. Next time, if the electorate are learning anything, he will be evicted. The local MP for this constituency of Somerton and Frome, David heath, a Liberal Democrat, who has had a narrow majority for several elections can hardly expect to remain in his seat in parliament now that he too has voted against the students’ and the country’s best interests. These two and their fellow opportunists will doubtless by then have abandoned all pretence of being Liberals and will have joined the Tories.

Mindless Media

Media pundist are never “mindless”. They write their columns and usually have sufficient ego not to want to humble themselves even when proved to be wrong. One of them, on Murdoch’s TV tried to bombast an NUS spokesman into condemning the NUS organized demonstrations, but the young man admirably stood his ground despite the anchor man speaking over him, and attempting to harass him into slipping up. The demonstrations had been taken over by “anarchists”! It is a general assertion made by media pundits trying to make out that demonstrations are fundamentally vehicles for what they also like to call “rent a crowd”, professional rioters. Quite where these professionals hide or make aliving when there are no riots to lead, is hard to figure, but they always emerge mysteriously when a demonstration gets out of hand. No one ever seems to figure that it is frustration and anger at being duped by professional careerists called policemen and politicians.

No one ever considers either that, it being in the interest of the state apparatus to discredit demonstrations by introducing petty but violent acts, they have undercover agents provocateurs actually causing and inciting trouble. Any self respecting professional rioter, having broken into Millbank or the Treasury building would have set them both on fire, but these professional anarchists only set fire to a few placards and wooden staves in the streets. These professionals could hardly expect to get employed again, could they?

Mindless Police

Certainly the police professionally anger crowds by their so-called “crowd control” techniques. They “kettle” crowds or sections of a large crowd—confine them by force—into a narrow space and refuse to allow them to pass. This naturally causes immense frustration when people want to relieve themselves or to go for food or drink. Yesterday, a section of the crowd were induced to cross Westminster Bridge to escape the kettle, but then were stopped half way across and confined for hours in the narrow space of the bridge. The police are meant to be the guardians of the right of lawful citizens to move along the Queen’s highways, but they wilfully break the law themselves, with the result that violence is the only way to escape. Innocent people have died in these kettles, and a young man needed a three hour brain operation yesterday after a baton attack. It goes without saying that any rogue policeman will be innocent.

The police too are “mindless” because the media are forever highlighting violent protests but ignore peaceful ones. A peaceful “candle lit” vigil across the bridge in the South Bank was hardly mentioned by press or TV. So the provocation of the police and their plain clothes agents might actually be giving the publicity that will arouse the sleeping giant of the British public and their generally compliant trades unions from their slumbers.

The Effective Tactic—Destabilization

If Parliament relies on demonstrations being forever peaceful, and therefore of no consequence so it can simply ignore them, it is making a big error, one it has often made before. The present situation is plain to anyone who thinks just a little. The rich get richer even when the country is, they tell us, broke. Only last week, Ireland had to go cap in hand for a large multibillion Euro loan to bail out its own banks. This week the Irish banks are handing out tens of millions in bonuses, just as British and US banks have done. The banks and their employers, the super rich financiers, gleefully put up two fingers to the world, while the people have to scratch about to pay their mortgages and rents, aye and taxes, if they can. That is why the students are angry, and why we all should be angry too. It is why we should support them and ignore the whingeing special pleading of the press and the broadcast media.

Listen! The richest 1 percent of the world’s population owns over $200 trillion. No need to guess where most of the 1 percent live. Maybe as little as 5 percent of this largess would solve the world’s economic problems, but Obama has just caved in to the rich man’s lobby in the US called the Republican Party, and most of the world’s leading developed countries have bailed out their banks while putting the burden of their empty treasuries on the people, not where it should be, on the minority who own as much as the rest put together. Governments ought to be joining together to ensure the rich are taxed and pay it.

Curiously many, the most intelligent among the rich, do not mind it as a temporary burden! Those rich people not among the “mindless” realize that their riches are most secure in a stable world, and corporate and financial greed is now destabilizing the world. That they do not like. It follows in all logic that the best way to get the rich to pay their fair share towards economic stability is to threaten instability. That is what “mindless” students are doing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Congressmen Bail Out Firms to Protect their Own Investments

Equity ownership, stocks and shares owned by politicians, influenced their legislative and financial monitoring activities. The financial interests of politicians increased the probability that banks received bailout money, how much support these institutions received and how quickly.

Representatives’ stock ownership influenced members of the US House of Representatives to bailout the financial sector by voting for the bills HR 3997 on 29 September and HR 1424 on 3 October, 2008. In the initial vote, the likelihood of voting for the bailout was 41 percent for non-investors and 58 percent for equity owners. In the final vote, the likelihood was 55 and 69 percent respectively.

Congressional equity ownership in a given firm was also shown to affect the probability of receiving a bailout, the bailout amount and the timing of government support to that firm. Congressional committees with jurisdiction over the finance sector can affect regulatory outcomes. Equity ownership of members of these congressional committees affects bailout decisions, largely due to the powerful members in each committee, the chairs and ranking members.

Lobbying is indubitably an important means of exerting influence in politics. In the United States, campaign donations also matter. What has gone virtually unnoticed thus far though is that politicians also are investors. Part of their wealth rests with firms whose wellbeing falls under their legislative and regulatory influence.

Professor of Business Laurence van Lent of Tilburg University in the Netherlands and Ahmed Tahoun of Manchester Business School (UK) drew these conclusions on the basis of an analysis of 555 publicly listed financial sector firms, 295 of which received government support under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cash Bailouts Are Frittered as Added Executive Compensation

A business study of corporate bailouts has found that debt relief is more successful than cash injections. It revealed that, in the year after a cash bailout, executives paid themselves and some employees higher compensation!

Executives of firms that receive cash almost immediately give their employees and themselves raises.
Professor Kenneth Kim

The study of the performance of 104 corporate bailouts in 21 countries between 1987 and 2005, was carried out by Kenneth Kim, associate professor, and Zhan Jiang, assistant professor, at the University at Buffalo School of Management, and Hao Zhang, assistant professor, at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

They found also that bailed out firms could recover to a point where their performance was as good as before, depending upon several factors. Recovery was best for firms that had had a sudden decline for reasons outside management control, or because they had problems servicing their debt. Firms that had declined more gradually with no significant external factors, or were unprofitable, were genuinely sick, and could not recover as well despite the bailout, though many did survive. Kim noted:

The former were profitable, they just needed a hand. So, it makes more sense to rescue firms that have been otherwise strong than to keep afloat “prolonged decliner” firms that have been weak or inefficient for some time.

Firms recovered least from governmental bailouts, because governments:

  1. don't monitor firms after the bailout as closely as large shareholders and banks
  2. may bail out a firm to keep people employed or to keep the economy going, regardless of the firm's performance
  3. are more inclined to bail out firms with government connections.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Help the Heroes Day?

In the UK we are coming to the end of “Help the Heroes Day”, a day of fundraising for the charity, Help the Heroes, recently started by an army officer to provide for war wounded soldiers. It has had vast media coverage in its short life and has raised an enviable amount of money, money at least that the Royal British Legion (poppy day) might envy, since it was set up for the same purpose.

Well, no one would disagree with helping seriously hurt people, would they? but, beside the British Legion, the UK has, or had, a comprehensive National Health Service (the NHS) for which we all pay a National Insurance Stamp while we are working which entitles, or entitled, us to free health care, a basic pension in our old age so that we are not destitute or forced to beg, and benefits when we are sick or unemployed, for the same reasons. Soldiers, of course, were entitled to all of this together with any special care the government or military were willing to provide for the wounded, together with what the RBL provided on top.

The issue I have is that all the publicity that the new charity has received is more than simple advertising for a good cause, it is tantamount to a military and militarization campaign across the country.

Take the word “heroes”. Is it proper to call these soldiers “heroes”? A hero these days is considered simply to be someone who is courageous, and I don't doubt that soldiers involved in active service are courageous. But with this definition so too are many others, and among them are people who the public would not agree were heroes. The 9/11 attack involved people willingly driving aeroplanes into high buildings with death a sure consequence. These people were courageous, and so must have been heroes. Were they?

Then again, when we fight a war we fight an enemy who are also facing us as their enemy, and they too are facing death, just as our soldiers are. They too are courageous, so must be heroes, mustn't they?

Indeed, in the middle of the twentieth century we lost many myriads of heroes facing the Axis powers, Germany, Japan and Italy, and 55 million people in total lost their lives on both sides, soldiers and civilians. Were they all heroes?

Surely, a hero is not just brave, a hero is also noble, so we can count out the 9/11 bombers, and soldiers who are fighting for any cause that is itself not noble, like the fascist soldiers of Germany and Italy, and the soldiers of imperial Japan. They were all invading foreign countries and killing innocent civilians in those countries to make them submit to the conqueror. We are not like that. We do not send troops into foreign countries to make other people submit to us, do we?

By now, I hope you have got my point. Soldiers who are forcing themselves into the homes of innocent people in a foreign country can hardly be regarded as doing anything noble, they are not being heroes. They are acting like Nazis. We are not fighting them because their governments, with the support of their people, have invaded our country. The government of Afghanistan is in place because the US has put it there. The leader of the Iraqis was in place because the US had put him there. We are killing innocent farmers and their wives and children while fully aware that most of them would prefer it if we just went away.

The whole point of the current militarization campaign is to condition us to permanent warfare, just as the people of the US have been conditioned, and just as George Orwell prophesied. We are not helping heroes, and if we want to help heroes, we would do much better to force our governments not to make young men into heroes, dubious as the title is, by killing innocents abroad. Young men would be better served by an anti-war movement, not one that gives help too late to young people with shattered bodies all for a political myth.

All we have to do to see the injustice of it is to imagine that a foreign army was raiding our houses at dawn, killing or detaining our fathers and sons, and killing or raping our mothers and sisters, and all on some pretext given them by a few extremists. That is what we fought the Nazis and the Japanese to stop. But we are now doing it ourselves, and calling our bullying troops, when they suffer in retaliation, “heroes”.

Are we to suppose that we would not fight back if we were invaded and misused by some foreign bullies? Have Americans so completely forgotten that they set up their own state by fighting off the invading soldiers of the British that they are now repeatedly determined to bully other people into submission?

And what of 9/11 itself? Is that a sufficient pretext for killing tens of thousands of foreign people who had no part in the original monstrous plot? Indeed, if we had already shown our own lack of basic justice for others by supporting oppression of poor Arabs, are we supposed to stand by and expect them not to want to retaliate against the mean spirited unfairness of our own previous actions.

You can keep whipping your dog to keep it cowed, but when it gets the courage to bite you, whose fault is it? If we treat these poor foreign farmers like dogs then we can expect to get bitten, and there is nothing noble or heroic about beating innocent animals or humans that have done us no harm, and who could not kill and maim our dubious “heroes” if they were not there to be harmed.

We still need to oppose foreign wars, and not be beguiled by bogus sentimentality disguising military propaganda. Help our heroes by stopping foreign wars and bringing them home before they are wrecked.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tory Toff Cameron, British PM, Greets His Deputy, Liberal Toff, Nick Clegg

Cartoon by Chris Riddell from Guardian Newspapers and the Observer.

David Cameron is the British Prime Minister. He is a toff, a man with very rich parents who had a very expensive education, the best you can buy in the UK. The British Deputy Prime Minister is Nick Clegg. He is another toff from a banking family, and had a superior education, albeit not quite in the Cameron bracket.

Cameron is a Tory, the traditional conservative party of the UK, while Clegg is a Liberal Democrat, but the two have united in a coalition government against the New Labour Party created out of the traditional Labour party by the machinations of one odious opportunist, Tony Blair. The New Labour Party became unelectable because of the lies, spin, lack of principle, and the general careerism and dishonesty of most of Blair’s pick of grifters who stepped forward to be selected as a candidate for New Labour in the Blair and Brown years.

Clegg’s party pretended to have taken the mantle of the old Labour party in standing up for the ordinary worker and the middle classes, the old, the disabled, the deprived, and generally those struggling to manage in a world increasingly designed to favor the sharks and other financial raptors. But he welched on his promises, and joined David Cameron in the most vicious attack on the standards of anyone less than minted in almost a century.

Clegg, however, leads the junior arm of the coalition, and hence he is depicted as a doormat by Chris Riddell, having to endure the muck and mud of popular ire, and growing sense of betrayal by the Lib-Dems, because the attack on the people would have been impossible without Liberal help, and their full ire would have been directed against Cameron’s Tories.

As it is, the anger is growing, the pressure is mounting. Already students have wrecked the entrance of the Tory HQ on Millbank in London, knowing that good humored, quiet, and orderly demonstrations never get the demonstrators anywhere. They are ignored or subverted from their original aims.

Look at the orderly million strong demonstrations against the Iraq war. The antiwar feeling was rapidly extinguished and turned, by ceaseless military publicity and propaganda, into pro war sentimentality and “charities” like “Help The Heroes”, a way of keeping in the public eye the “heroism” of our soldiers killing peasant farmers, their wives, daughters and sons, in their own homes and homeland 4000 miles away.

All of this is meant to distract public attention from the way they have been robbed of trillions by the bankers and those who depend upon financial fiddling like Cameron and Clegg, not to mention the creepy Blair, so much admired, it seems, in the Land of the Free. Please take him and keep him, treating him to the same torture that he and Bush have meted out in the world, by Bush’s own admission, when the US eventually gets to prosecute war criminals instead of sheltering them.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cooperation and Monitoring to Deter and Punish Free Loading Works Best

The default assumption of evolution is that each individual animal follows only its own interests, and so cooperation in more than small groups is impossible because free riders take advantage of the others to enjoy the benefits without contributing anything, or as much, to the joint venture. Yet, human beings do cooperate, and field studies show that many communities are able to manage their commons—woodland, pasture, fishing. They manage to do it by combining a degree of cooperation with monitoring free riders to deter them.

Researchers, Professor Michael Kosfeld, Devesh Rustagi and Professor Stefanie Engel, studied a forest commons management program of pastoralists in Ethiopia. They recorded the degree of conditional cooperation in a group—the proportion of members willing to cooperate provided that others cooperate too. They found that groups differ widely in their share of conditional cooperators, from 0 percent to 88 percent. When conditional cooperators were a small proportion, not surprisingly, many were free riders. Presumably, this amounted practically to free exploitation of the resources.

Statistical analysis showed that the groups with more conditional cooperators were more successful in managing their forests, as measured by the number of immature trees there were per hectare. Looking into this further, the researchers investigated what the groups actually did to guard against free riding. They measured the time spent in monitoring the forest.

Groups with more conditional cooperators not only cooperated more but also monitored more by patrolling the forest to detect and deter free riders. With 60 percent conditional cooperators, a group spent on average 14 hours more per month monitoring than a group without any conditional cooperators. It shows that conditional cooperators spend time not just helping each other but also trying to stop free riders. Professor Kosfeld said:

Our findings fill a long standing gap between field and laboratory studies on human cooperation.

A positive correlation between conditional cooperation and costly monitoring sheds light on the evolution of human cooperation. The theory of gene culture evolution predicts greater cooperation in groups which enforce cooperation by deterring or punishing free riders. Rustagi explained:

The results yield important policy implications for the governance of human collective action. Because humans differ in their motivation to cooperate, an effective solution to commons problems should not be based on incentives for purely self regarding individuals alone but needs to explicitly take into account the complex interplay of heterogeneous motivations and behavioral norms to cooperate voluntarily.

This circumlocution must mean that free riders ought to be deterred from having the benefits of the cooperation of others or somehow punished for it. What can that mean in our modern societies, however? Are the so called benefit scroungers to have their benefits withheld, as the UK Con-Dem government are threatening, so that they have to starve, beg or turn to thieving to live? Or do the cooperators accept that people who are willing or are only able to live at a sustenance level nevertheless have the right to life without being starved to death. Earlier human societies always let the poor, aged, and disabled use common heath land, and a commandment in the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament of the Christians) was to leave a portion of a field to be picked by the poor. No decent society has ever let people starve in the midst of surplus.

Does it mean then that the very rich, who pay others to do their work and are able to do so by taking much more than their fair share of society’s output, should be punished for being greedy and selfish while others have to work for their share? These wealthy people surely are the latter day free riders of our society. Mostly, they have done nothing themselves to advance society. They are where they are because some relative, a father, grandfather or perhaps uncle, who did something useful and successful, have left them with money and possessions that they have never earned themselves, but yet that they insist is rightfully their own, or nowadays by voting themselves huge compensation packages and bonuses. They are the free riders of today, and they are the ones who should be rightfully punished by society.

By far the easiest way to punish them, and to allow the ones in society who do the work to benefit, is to tax the rich at a suitably punitive level, and to distribute the money in social wages, that is to say, better social services like health and education, services that everyone in a decent society should expect to get free when they need it. Everyone will be freely educated when they are young, will be freely treated when they are ill or injured, and will be freely cared for as old people.

That is a society in which cooperation works, in which the real scroungers, the free loading rich are benignly punished by removing some of their unearned wealth and giving it to the poor who at present cannot afford many of the basic things in life. It has the benefit for the wealthy too, the people who still own the factories and banks, of letting people consume, for it is out of consumption that the free riders take their surpluses. A proper civil society is called civilization, and harks back to the sort of societies we used to have albeit on a smaller scale. It is human and humane. Let’s do it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How Does Mixing Business with Politics Differ from Corruption and Bribery?

Most people would disapprove of corruption. It is one of those things people think are bad. Yet few of these same people realize that politically connected firms get massive benefits from their sponsoring of favored candidates in elections, once their favorites get into government. The bailouts of the banks deemed “too big to fail” are the latest and most obvious example.

A study by Russell Crook and David Woehr of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, found that when firms engage in corporate political activities, such as lobbying and making campaign contributions, they get roughly 20 percent higher profits. So, to fatten your company’s profits, donate to a political campaign!

The analysis of 7,000 firms over various time periods, showed what led them into corporate political activity. The larger the firm, the more likely it was to be politically active, and politicians closer to power, more able to influence policy and legislation, were more likely to receive corporate donations. Incumbents more often got money than new candidates.

Yet in January 2010, the US Supreme Court in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission overturned an old ruling limiting corporate donations to politicians. It gave the nod to higher levels of corporate political influence. Consequently, corporate political donations will be subject to less scrutiny and transparency, and it will be all the harder to know who is sponsoring whom, and to what amount. Crook said:

Given this, we think that the Supreme Court ruling means that corporations and politicians will develop closer relationships than ever before.

In fact, corporations have already donated more money to politicians in the recent elections than ever before, despite the parlous state of the US economy. It reflects the money that big political donors seem to find quite readily to support supposedly grass roots Tea Parties, despite the country allegedly being on its uppers. Plainly the rich donors are not on their uppers.

Why then do corporate political donations lead to fatter profit margins? The corporate bosses do not like throwing money away to no purpose, so political corporate spending has a purpose, obviously. It is to get favorable legislation enacted. The donations are actually bribes! Besides the bank bailouts, another example was the “Copyright Term Extension Act”, sarcastically called, the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”, in which Disney successfully lobbied to extend US copyrights by 20 years.

Though Crook and Woehr are careful not to say these practices are corrupt, they plainly think they are a cause for concern to citizens. Sticking with the market model, Crook said:

We do not believe that this activity is illegal, but this activity constrains natural market forces and is thus undesirable. And with the new Supreme Court ruling, it is only going to get worse.

The journal, Financial Management, has also revealed that corruption is widespread in the corporate world, and has confirmed successful corporations are often the ones with the most extensive political connections.

Mara Faccio studied several thousand firms and found:

Politically connected firms have higher leverage in the form of preferential loans, pay lower taxes, have regulatory protection, are made eligible for government aid, and have stronger market power. They differ more dramatically from their peers when their political links are stronger, and in more corrupt countries, although these characteristics can be observed worldwide.

She alleges that connected firms appear to enjoy substantial favors from governments, distorting the allocation of public resources. “Firms with no political ties appear to be at a disadvantage”, so, it seems, the pressure is on for all firms to corrupt government! Her study was not restricted to the USA. She looked at 47 countries all together, but political influence by companies was common in both emerging and developed countries, although the methods of political influence varied somewhat.

These studies show that the ordinary voter is oblivious to the way that democracy is commonly swindled by political bribery and corruption, in the USA and in most other capitalist countries, whether advanced or developing. People consider corruption as wrong, but show no curiosity that it is happening daily, and the one who suffers in the end is Joe and Jane Doe, the common man and woman, you and me.

It is time this corrupt system was ended, and it is certain that right wingers dressing up as Captain America and in tricorn hats—led by the nose by private sponsors from among the rich—will not do it. A genuine grass roots movement is needed, and it will probably be led, as it is in France and latterly in Britain, by serious students and angry unemployed young people.

Darwinian Leadership and Human Society

Professor of business, Paul Lawrence, says he has discovered a new idea he calls “Renewed Darwinian” theory. He tells us it addresses questions that have “been amazingly ignored by the academics”, but have “been on the minds of humans since we have had history”. It is a renewed version of Darwin! The common idea is that Darwin is all about the survival of the meanest and the fittest. The most ruthless survive. But Lawrence thinks there is more to it than just being mean fit and ruthless.

It is curious that anyone nowadays should think, like a Christian fundamentalist, that Darwin’s notion expressed as survival of the fittest means that the physically fittest, or the meanest, are the ones who survive the struggle for existence. Evolutionary theory says there are more ways to be fit besides having big muscles, big teeth or claws, and a disregard for anything other than self. And nor have these other methods been ignored by the academics, unless Lawrence is talking about academics like himself, academics in fields other than biology. The academic experts in biology and evolution never doubted that there are many ways of being fit to survive, from being very small to being very big, from being very fast to being very slow, from having unusual senses like echo location to having other peculiar qualities like intelligence, and so on.

Professor Lawrence seems amazed by some of Darwin’s views expressed in his book The Descent of Man:

Any creature, whatsoever, that has the social instincts comparable to those of humans and the intellectual capacities close to those of humans would inevitably develop a moral sense of conscience.

Lawrence explains:

Now, what he’s saying here is that if humans—any creature—had the drive to bond, a social instinct, and a drive to intellectual drives like to comprehend, would have the conscience to help them fulfil those two drives because without conscience you could not fulfil those two drives.

In attempting to explain it further, he tells us a great deal about the mentality of many modern Americans, the people of the “Christian Nation”. He says:

We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule: “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you”, But, we’re not quite sure what it means!

Despite all that Christianity, Americans and, it seems, especially American corporate and political bosses, do not know what the Golden Rule means. That is quite staggering but explains a great deal that has utterly baffled us foreigners, who have admired aspects of American life, but been bemused by American mass selfishness, lack of empathy for others, and readiness to kill everyone they meet in the world to get their own way.

It also confirms a Pew Poll that showed us that, though maybe 90 percent of Americans might claim to be Christians, three quarters of them do not know enough about Christianity or relevant aspects of their own constitution to be able to honestly claim they actually are Christians. Let is not assume that all of them are sociopaths, but simply that the US is not the freedom loving place they like to propagate for the good of the rest of us. Most Americans bend to the pressure of their peers because they are afraid of becoming the butt of their peers’ humor, or worse in a country with more guns than people, put up with their disdain and anger.

People have a natural social need or drive to bond with others, and a desire to be liked and respected. They are indeed aspects of evolution because humanity is a social species. We have evolved to live together, and for that to have happened, we have to have certain instincts or traits like the ones that Lawrence has just discovered, albeit late by over a century. For all that, it is to be hoped that Lawrence will continue to carry forward his ideas into the territories where they are anathema, into the US in general, and management there and in many other countries too.

Four Drives

So has Professor of business studies Lawrence actually understood Darwinism to come up with something novel? Well, he says that humans beings have other drives besides the drive to gain resources. He says we are born with four drives, essential for our basic survival. They are necessary for our species to thrive as a whole species and they are encoded in our DNA and we sense them and feel them mostly by the emotional messages we get from our subconscious as we witness the world around us.

These four drives are:

  1. to acquire, to possess, to own things that are necessary for our survival and to enhance our status as individuals
  2. to defend our resources from hazards, not only ourselves, our loved ones and our possessions, but our beliefs
  3. to bond in long term, mutually caring relationships with other humans
  4. to make sense out of the world, to build knowledge that lets us get on with with our everyday lives.

Well, there is not much there that the academics did not know, though it might indeed be new to financiers and business men who always behave as if the whole purpose of life is to grab as much as you can, even though you have no idea how to use it all when you have it.

Lawrence seems to believe that these principles he thinks he has newly discovered go beyond the preservation of particular genes, but he has not so far shown that these traits he describes are not conditioned by genes. But, now perhaps he gets to do his job when he tells us that good leaders take into account all four drives, not just the desire to acquire. He asks us to note that we all have these drives as human beings, and the good leader recognizes it, and ought not put all the emphasis on greed. In practical terms, it means, Lawrence says:

  • the drive to bond—treat people honestly, do not lie to them, and keep your promises to them
  • the drive to comprehend—tell people the truth not lies, and not spread misinformation
  • the drive to defend—be there when the going gets tough, to back up your staff, friends and anyone you have relied on to do work you asked them to do.

These are the ways to have strong long term relationships, and they are natural ways for humans to behave. It is natural too for huimans to look to a leader, but you have to have and keep their respect by helping them understand, acquire and develop basic human drives for themselves. It is having a good conscience, because the Golden Rule in application makes the helper and the receiver feel good, and ready to reciprocate the assistance in future.

Lawrence rightly equates good leadership with good moral leadership. Leaders without any conscience, or one only poorly developed, simply cannot have any fellow feeling:

They do not know what compassion is, they do not know what empathy is, they do not know even what love is. That is something they are never going to experience in their life because they don’t have that feature in their brain when they are born.

If we try to figure out how do we respond to fulfil those drives for ourselves, and are successful in doing so, people will begin to pay attention to us, and maybe think they’ll trust us to leadership. Leadership grows out of one’s own success in leading one’s own life. But, though we mostly have the necessary abilities, we have to refine them, practice them, train our minds to be more effective in ourselves and leading others. So, experience is also needed.

An example is that the world has a lot of organizations loaded with distrust. People do not trust enough in each other to cooperate properly. They think they are going to be undercut some way. The good leader can use the skills inherent in humanity to encourage cooperation, but people have to feel secure enough.

Our Sociopathic Leaders

It is refreshing to hear him say that a disproportionate number of leaders are sociopaths, who lack the drive to bond with others. It is a problem for less than 4 percent of the population, but Lawrence guesses that 10% of people in positions of power may be sociopaths. Like Tony Blair, the former PM of the UK, and in many people’s opinion an archetypal sociopath, they are often charming, and use their charm and lack of scruples about others to climb to positions of power.

A lot of history records the fact that such people have gotten into important positions. The Renaissance was an effort to move away from a sociopathic kind of leadership. The Constitution of the United States was a effort to create a government able to keep free of such leadership. Balancing the power, and not getting power concentrated in any one office are ways of avoiding that kind of leadership.

Some prominent leaders in business are highly suspect of being sociopathic. Lawrence suggests the recent Wall Street crisis, with the crash in the market and the resulting worldwide depression, illustrates sociopaths at work. Some in the big banks saw that by buying subprime mortgages—granted with little regard whether they could be repaid and so subject to foreclosure—they could sell them to Wall Street banks which could dice them up into derivatives and sell them as Triple-A bonds to people who were trustees of pension funds and endowments, and collect 100 percent on the dollar for them. The bonds were phony, worth maybe half of their face value when they bought them.

And that was the con, the absolute fraud that was pulled off. And we still don’t have a clear understanding by the public or even by the Department of Justice that that is what happened, and we should be prosecuting those people and getting the evidence out that will prove that those are criminal actions.

Conclusion: Is “Renewed Darwinian” New?

Profesor Lawrence does not have anything new in scientific terms but he does something new in speaking out about the perilous state we are in through neglecting the traits of our evolved nature. The western economic system, called capitalism, requires us to act as if we were solitary creatures fending only for ourselves, and perhaps our immediate families, in a state of nature—meaning acting like savages. Humans though are not savages, not solitary, and the reason is that we have evolved to be social animals who live amicably together in groups by sacrificing a little personal freedom—the freedom to be savage towards others—so that others will work with us in a community for our mutual advantage.

As soon as someone took more than a fair share of the communal produce, human society traditionally shamed them, and if that did not work, it expelled them from the group, exiled them. They were left to fend for themselves by themselves, unless another group was willing to accept them. As most groups will have realized why some human was wandering alone, they would have been chary at admitting them into their own group.

Now we cannot expel people from society, but bad crimes are seriously punished. The bad crimes that, so far, have not been seriously punished are the banking and financial crimes, like the scam described by Professor Lawrence. It is time these criminals against humanity were properly punished, and it is time that immoral profits by the few at the expense of the many were progressively taxed and redistributed so that there is no underclass of people abandoned on the grounds that they are work shy, when there is not enough work to go round.

A society of chimpanzees will look after the ones among them that are not fully capable, and even the alpha male will show care and compassion to a defective or disabled chimpanzee. Why cannot human leaders be the same? Obviously, they can, and professor Lawrence suggests how, but society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the massively greedy, who move their money to wherever in the world it will continue to accumulate profit, irrespective of what happens to the poor and unemployed in their own country. These are the people without consciences that Lawrence describes. They are indeed criminals. Punish them!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Where is All the Money? Ask Credit Suisse Bank!

Sam Pizzigati, editor of Too Much, an online newsletter on excess and inequality, reports that the Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse has issued for the first time a Global Wealth Report based on financial data from over 200 countries. It shows that total global net worth, despite the 2008 global economic meltdown, has rocketed up 72 percent since 2000. Credit Suisse sums up:

The past decade has been especially conducive to the establishment and preservation of large fortunes.

The world has more than enough wealth to ensure no one on the planet need be potless. The study shows the world has 4.4 billion adults and the total wealth they own is $194.5 trillion. Shared out, every adult in the world could have $43,800. The fact is, though, that three billion people, almost 70 percent, have less than $10,000, and 1.1 billion, a quarter of all adults, have less than $1,000. These figures are net worth, meaning their assets less their liabilities. Half the people on earth who are 20 and older have less than 2 percent of global wealth—each less than $4,000.

The world’s richest 1 percent—adults who have at least $588,000—hold 43 percent of the world’s wealth. They constitute the ruling class, the wealthiest class, and they break down as:

  • just over 1,000 billionaires, with over $1000 million each
  • 80,000 more super rich people worth between $50 million and $1 billion each
  • 24 million more people who are millionaires worth between $1 million and $50 million.

Those wealth differences are exacerbated by the local conditions. In uncivilized societies with poor public health care, poor quality public education, and no state pensions, then the poor are hit by ill health, a miserable old age, and ignorance because they cannot afford to pay for the absent public services. Moreover, epidemics like swine flu, natural disasters, like Katrina, and unemploment are additional shocks for which the poor do not have the reserves to survive easily. In a society with the opposite conditions, a history of civilized caring governments which have provided public services and benefits then poverty does not have the stigma and practical horrors it has in poor societies.

No other nation has as much total wealth as the United States, with only 5.2 percent of the world’s population. It has 23 percent of the world’s adults worth at least $100,000 and an even greater proportion, 41 percent, of the world’s millionaires. Yet, it is a society with inadequate social services, so its people need more personal wealth to survive than people in countries like France, Sweden and Germany which have good social services.

Canada has a national public health insurance. Credit Suisse calculates the wealth of the typical Canadian family is $94,700, double the $47,771 US average. It shows that good public services add to a nation’s wealth. Public services provide jobs, and need private business suppliers, and health and pension security means people are less risk averse, and will be more inclined to start up new businesses.

Why then have we given trillions of dollars to the banks, depleting our treasuries so much that we are told we have been living too extravagantly? It is a big lie, and we ought to be taking direct action to change it. But we can do without Tea Party economics. We do not need tax cuts for the rich, we need services for the poor, paid for by taxing the rich. They can afford it, we cannot!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Another Election: But US Voters Still Not Being Heard

A poll in Ohio shows independent voters are unhappy with the political system. Previous polls have already demonstrated a low level of trust, among independents especially. 70 percent of respondents reported low satisfaction with Ohio politics, with higher figures among independents than among Democrats or Republicans. Dr John Green, distinguished professor of political science at UA, said:

This unhappiness raises questions about the legitimacy of the political process.

Independent voters thought the political system has been unresponsive to the public, especially on the economy. Participants had a variety of views about the problem:

  • we’re not being heard
  • politicians were self-serving careerists
  • politicians were arrogant and insulated from the problems of the public
  • corruption was a common allegation, symbolized by the large sums of money raised and spent in campaigns
  • politicians should “wear patches on their suits from their sponsors” like NASCAR drivers.
  • people were alienated from the political process
  • public officials were puppets of special interest groups.

In the US political system, the buck stops at the presidency, so Obama carried the can, not just for Tea Partyers, but because he had not done enough to address the problems of the average American. But views on Congress were also negative:

  • it needed to be revamped
  • anything would be better than the system we have now
  • members of Congress did not respond to the needs of the public at large
  • we just need new people in government
  • parties were viewed as hell bent on their own agenda
  • parties too far apart on every issue
  • it takes years to get anything done
  • parties needed to put America first
  • parties needed to stay more to the Constitution
  • a third or fourth political party was needed to keep the system honest
  • a “common sense” party was needed to revive the economy and limit the size of government.

Some thought additional parties would not be “common sense” parties, but a base for lunatics, and would not be competitive. If any were a base for lunatics, it would have to be competitive to match the Republican Tea Partyists. Indeed, many independents were skeptical of the Tea Party agenda, but others were supportive. Many accepted that problems were partly their own fault for not being more involved in politics, but anger and distrust were strong motivations for political activity:

  • the people need to exercise their power
  • it is time for a revolution

There needed to be more free access and response from politicians:

  • more and regular town hall meetings
  • quick and thorough responses from contacted officeholders
  • a greater presence of politicians in the community
  • being a politician should not be seen as a job choice but a service to the country.

These lists of solutions offered are incoherent and inconsistent, illustrating the voter disunity, and failure to comprehend what is happening. It reflect the sense of being ignored by the government among independent voters. There is no way that Americans can solve the problem. They live in a society in which the ordinary people, workers and middle classes, refuse to accept they live in a class society in which the ruling class, the rich elite, control their system from top to bottom. As long as that is so, there can be no change unless the ruling class volunteer to give up some of their wealth and power in a redistribution for fairness and justice. It is not likely to happen. So, revolution is the only option, but that requires unity, and US workers are utterly divided and will remain so while the right wing media are so influential, and their target audience are so gullible.

Monday, November 1, 2010

God or Liberty? A Fair Society, Please!

Not Freedom from Taxation, Nor Mystical Faith, but a Fair Distribution of Wealth and a Functioning Society

US religious and social history has been characterized by a periodical pulsation of religious fervor. Since the 1980s, the pulsation has been upbeat, evangelical movements and their leaders grabbing a lot of publicity and political power. These periods of religious fervency rarely last over half a century, so the latest one is probably on the wane, and the religious enthusiasts are riding the Tea Parties as if it were a religious revival. But Pulitzer Prize winner, Jon Meacham, a journalist and a historian, sees the Tea Party as “nationalistic, not moralistic”.

Tea Partyers are less concerned about the moral issues and more concerned about economic ones. It is conservative Christians who still say, “We need government to protect our morality, to protect us from ourselves”.

The myth stems from the original event in 1773, the Boston Tea Party, which was an act of rebellion against taxation without representation. The colonies were ruled by the King Georges of England and had no say in their own affairs. Three years later, the American colonies rebelled, and won independence. For Meacham:

It is liberty, less than religion, that holds us together.

S Augustine, in City of God, defined a people as “the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love.” The “City of God” he meant was the Christian Church, in those days, the Catholic Church, and the objects of their love were their fellow human beings, and, of course, God, in the form of Jesus Christ, who had identified himself with the meek and the downtrodden in the world. When the new Christian religion began to spread from the original Jews to gentiles in the Roman empire, it was indeed the poor and the downtrodden who responded, and a much smaller number of mainly rich women, glad to give up their legacies for salvation.

For modern American Christians none of that applies. According to Meacham, “the attack culture has subsumed everything else”. American conservative Christians, like those who supported Bush, and who are now supporting “Tea Parties” to get rid of Obama think, and like to say, that the United States is a “Christian nation”. Even many liberal Americans agree. They think the country’s founding principles are based on Christianity, through the settlement of New England by the Pilgrim fathers in 1620.

It was not the Christian ideas of the Pilgrim Fathers who initially settled in America, but the Enlightenment values of the Founding Fathers of the new republic who set out the documents that proclaimed the nature of the new political entity, and set out its founding principles, principles that still apply. Since the country’s founding, Americans have confused its defining features.

Mark McGarvie, a history professor at the University of Richmond, points out that the stress on man’s duties and responsibilities towards his fellow man, according to the teaching of Christ, was an element in the motivation of the founding of some of the early US colonies, but Christianity had nothing to say about anyone’s individual freedom. Christ had nothing to say specifically about slavery. Plainly, though, slaves fell into the category of the poor, the meek and the downtrodden, people whom Christ said were blessed, would enter the kingdom of heaven and ought to be treated like God. The man Christians treat as their God, Paul, the one they prefer to cite rather than God—Christ whom they largely ignore—told slaves to settle for their lot. Paul marginalized Christ’s emphasis on being loving and kind to each other—on works, as the New Testament calls it—by substituting for Christ’s practical teaching his own mystification, faith in God and the body of Christ!

The Declaration of Independence was based on the ideas of the Enlightenment, the teachings of Locke and Rousseau, as expressed by Jefferson and Madison. These men were also concerned with the poor and downtrodden, with the centuries of oppression people had suffered while Europe was ruled by the Church, and its hereditary nobility, who wanted the people to believe that kings were divinely appointed and had to be obeyed, even when they were wicked. It is what S—Paul taught, but not Christ.

With the rise of the merchant class of capitalists, the Feudal System of government by the nobility and royalty was doomed, but struggles were needed to put it firmly in its grave, and the American Declaration of Independence was one of the acts that established that kings were not divinely right! Instead of the divine right of kings, the Enlightenment idea was that God had nothing to do with individual rights, except that free will meant everyone was personally free in God’s own view! The Enlightenment was about protecting individual rights, in contradiction of divine rights.

Now the point of individual rights is not that everyone should do as they like, for that would be intolerable, and indeed would be quite alien to anything that Christ taught or any Christian should believe. The Founding Fathers thought that humans were primarily good to each other, and that society should allow them to prosper according to their good nature. They inscribed on the country’s Great Seal the motto “Out of many, one”. Americans were to pursue their own interests and desires with the ultimate aim of doing good not just for themselves but for a whole united society.

The other side of the US Great Seal has two mottoes, one of which announces that the birth of the USA begins a “New Order of the Centuries”, while the other is simply “It Has Favored Our Efforts”, “It” meaning Fortune or Providence, according to your religious inclination. So, although Christians will read this as being God’s Providence, and therefore God, the deists who drew up the documents could be more neutral and read it as Fortune. Even here, then, a Christian interpretation is not the only one. Deists believed in a God, but not one that twiddled with the world he made.

The conflict between the mystified Christianity of Paul and Luther, and the practical Christianity of Christ himself, filtered through the Enlightenment, existed from the outset of the USA, and there seems little to be gained in denying it. Christians nevertheless do, or they do not recognize it at all.

In modern practical terms, freedom is the freedom of the hyper rich one or two percent of the people to take the enormity of the country’s wealth that leaves the poor and even the middle classes struggling, either to stay alive or to maintain their standards. It is not social schemes like health and education, schemes that no civilized country can do without but which are being starved of sufficient cash to offer a proper service, both in the US and abroad. Christ went about curing people gratis and blessing the poor like Lazarus, the beggar, while approving the damnation of the rich, like Dives, the rich man. The greed of the minority is the real moral problem of all societies. That is what Christ taught.

It is all very simply set out in the Christian gospels but none of the evangelical crowd, who think Tea Parties are sent by God, have read or comprehend the teachings of Christ. They believe what their Republican pastors and politicians tell them, and, as Limbaugh and Beck prove, being idiotic is what the conservative Christian loves—“That’s just how I feel. Boy aren’t these guys just great!” They are too easily conned to see they are being conned! These guys are not idiots. They are! They are being taken for a ride, and the only benefactors are the Republican grandees, the mega rich, whom they think will help them by reducing taxation when all it does is leave those with the income worth taxing, better off.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Gambler’s Psychology among Bankers Demands Tight Regulations

Dr Paul Crosthwaite, an academic at Cardiff University, has found that the bankers who brought the global economy to its knees two years ago may have enjoyed the sensation of losing hundreds of billions of pounds and plunging the world into recession. He argues such catastrophic losses can give some people masochistic pleasure.

He thinks financial crises, such as the “Black Monday” crash of 19 October 1987, the bursting of the dotcom bubble in the spring of 2000, and the credit crunch that entered into its most intense phase in the autumn of 2008 with the nationalization of banks in the UK, US, and Europe, demonstrate the innate urge for self destruction that Sigmund Freud called the “death drive”. A full blown crash is a source of euphoria as much as despair. Dr Crosthwaite said:

Economists and financial policymakers must recognize that investor psychology is far more complex than their models have allowed up to now. They need to take much greater account of psychological factors such as emotion and desire, which affect how market actors behave in profound ways.

His research challenges the conventional economic thinking that investors are wholly rational, and always pursue whatever is most likely to increase their own wealth, a rarely questioned assumption that is the basis of the free, minimally regulated market of standard capitalist thinking. In fact, financial markets are disposed to crisis because participants seek excess for thrills as well as their assumed betterment. Bankers and financiers take risks not only for high returns, but to get a gambler’s high.

Dr Crosthwaite says this research strengthens the case for firm regulation of banks and other financial institutions:

To avoid a repeat of the great recession, it is vital that policy makers and regulators limit the capacity of financial professionals to engage in excessive practices by curbing the disproportionate levels of risk that we’ve seen in the financial sector in recent years.

Media Manipulation of the Poor Prevents Wealth Redistribution

Nate Kelly, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Peter Enns of Cornell University studied of economic inequality and public views of government redistribution programs by analyzing hundreds of thousands of responses to survey questions from 1952 to 2006.

The results are very revealing about the mentality and conditioning of poor Americans, and poor Americans certainly now includes a large chunk of people who like to consider themselves as middle class! One would imaging that people struggling in hard economic circumstances would appreciate government assistance, but they do not in the US. Kelly found:

When inequality in America rises, both the rich and the poor become more conservative in their ideologies. It is counterintuitive, but rather than generating opinion shifts that would make redistributive policies more likely, increased economic inequality produces a conservative response in public sentiment.

As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, both oppose government welfare programs. At present, in the US, governments cannot act to change inequality. As Obama is finding out, the poor even oppose measures that help them! Poorly off subjects, asked if they thought the government spent too much money on welfare, inevitably replied “yes”, and still do even though inequality over the last few decades has zoomed in the US.

This isn't because are unaware. They know about the huge wealth differences in the US. The reason is, the authors conclude, because the elites, political leaders and media moguls, distract and shape public opinion. In good economic times the media focus on individual achievement, and so the poor resist government programs. But in bad economic times, the media emphasize government welfare programs as handouts, and no one likes a self image of being a beggar or a hobo down on their luck. Kelly observes that:

What is clear from our work is that the self reinforcing nature of economic inequality is real, and that we must look beyond simple defects in the policy responsiveness of American democracy to understand why this is the case.

He means, of course, that leaders like Obama who would like to redistribute the huge inequalities in US wealth have not been utterly lacking in the US, but the US propaganda machine is so successful that too many people just cannot bring themselves to admit they would welcome it. They are conscious enough about their own poor circumstances, but simply do not realize how the US media manipulate them. Obama and anyone equally public minded are bound to lose until poor Yankees realize the rich and their media are pissing on them from a great height!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Poor are Generous: the Powerful are Stingy

Derek D Rucker, David Dubois, and Adam D Galinsky of the Kellogg School at Northwestern University conducted five experiments where they examined how much their subjects spent on purchases for themselves then others. They meanwhile used various methods to condition subjects’ sense of power by assigning them as a boss or employee in a role play, or asking them to remember a time when they possessed or lacked power, or showing them advertisements suggesting power or lack of it.

After doing these conditioning tasks, subjects participated in an auction where they made bids for a t-shirt and a mug. One group had to bid for the item for themselves, while another group had to bid for the item for someone else of their choosing.

When subjects were bidding for an item for themselves, those conditioned to feel powerful bid an average $12.08, whereas those conditioned to feel powerless only bid $6.49. In contrast, when they were bidding for an item for someone else, the subjects conditioned to feel powerless bid an average $10.81, while those conditioned to feel powerful bid $7.10.

Over the whole series of five experiments, these results were consistent. People feeling powerful were generous to themselves but mean buying presents for others. People feeling low in power were generous to others and mean with themselves. Plainly status is accompanied by a psychological attitude towards others, power with selfishness, and weakness with generosity.

In actual societies, the weak are more likely to have to depend upon others, and equally others who are also weak are more likely to have to depend upon them. Poor, weak people are therefore more generous. Wealthy, powerful people have no need to depend upon others, but feel the need to hang on to their wealth and power, though they have enough to spare!

Note that the Christian incarnated God, Christ, said the poor were blessed, meaning they would enter God's Kingdom, like the poor beggar, Lazarus, but the rich, like the wealthy Dives, would end up begging to the poor in heaven from the fires of hell!

Monday, October 18, 2010

It is Time We Removed Inequality

Robert H Frank, an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, wrote in the New York Times about the present financial crisis, comparing it with past times and using a new survey.

Incomes in the US rose at about the same rate, almost 3 percent a year, for all income levels in the three decades immediately after World War II. Prosperity extended across the whole population, irrespective of class. The country's infrastructure of highways, railroads, dams and bridges were well maintained, and new industries in communications, electronics and airlines were growing.

In the last three decades the economy has grown only slowly, infrastructure is decaying, and many people have trouble finding adequate work because industry is floundering.

Moreover the change in circumstances has not been evenly distributed. The share of total income going to the top 1 percent of earners, which stood at 8.9 percent in 1976, rose to 23.5 percent by 2007, but during the same period, the average inflation-adjusted hourly wage declined by more than 7 percent. The rich have been getting richer ever more quickly while the poor and the squeezed middle classes have remained static or lost out. The situation is plainly unfair and antisocial by any standard.

Societies must be founded on a sense of fairness and justice even if they are not unquestionably fair. The people of the US have been ready to tolerate a degree of unfairness in income and wealth distribution providing that they felt they had a chance of joining the wealthy by dint of personal effort, and proving that living standards generally improved because a large number of people were working in concert to build a better country. In short, providing that income was not distributed unfairly to a minority of the already rich while everyone else struggled.

Frank notes that the founder of modern capitalist theory, the Scot, Adam Smith, who wrote Wealth of Nations, the capitalist's bible, peppered it with trenchant moral analysis. He was, after all, a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow.

Yet rising inequality has created enormous losses and few gains, even for its ostensible beneficiaries, the mega rich class, who now have reason to worry that social instability will ruin them, if it is allowed to develop further. In any case, increasing riches alone never improves overall happiness once people have sufficient not to feel insecure. All that happens is that they notice that others are just as well off, and they then want another increase. Everyone wants to keep up with the Joneses, but these people are already loaded!

Frank reveals that he and two co-workers have found that the US state counties where income inequality grew fastest also showed the biggest increases in symptoms of financial distress. Even after controlling for other factors, counties with the biggest increases in inequality had the largest increases in bankruptcy filings, and also reported the largest increases in divorce rates, divorce rates being reliable indicator of financial distress.

Families short on cash will try to make ends meet by moving to where housing is cheaper, usually farther from work. So, long commute times are another footprint of financial distress, and the counties where commute times had grown the most were those with the largest increases in inequality.

Even basic public services are no longer being properly maintained because of the persistent objection the rich have to paying their proportionate share of taxation. Rich and poor alike endure crumbling roads, weak bridges, an unreliable rail system, and insecure cargo containers, and many Americans live in the shadow of poorly maintained dams that could collapse at any moment. The right wing lobbyists and their academic parrots say nothing can be done, and most advocate policies like tax cuts for the wealthy that put the burden on the poorest in society.

There is no compelling evidence that greater inequality bolsters economic growth or enhances anyone’s well being. The rich remain a minority, though they hold a majority of the country's dollars. They can buy bigger mansions and host expensive parties, but it will not keep the majority employed and adequately compensated, and in any case the wealth of the rich is mainly invested abroad in places like China and India where the best rates of return can be had, and the exchange rate offer a hedge against losses. Then again the obscene bonuses wall street bankers and brokers pay themselves attract the most intelligent graduates, leaving vital sectors like industry, science, technology and engineering devoid of creative talent—and bang goes any competitive advantage we might expect to have in the future. Yet, any grifter can learn how to gamble in junk bonds but not how to succeed in science or engineering, or even in proper good stock picking.

No one dares to argue that rising inequality is required in the name of fairness. John Rawls in his theory of justice as fairness (A Theory of Justice) though inequality was only justifiable when the poor were nevertheless getting wealthier, albeit maybe not as quickly as the wealthy. So we should agree inequality is a bad thing, and do something about it.

In the UK, Professor Greg Philo suggested that the top 10% should pay a one off tax of 20% of their wealth. It caused some outcry, but surprisingly, a lot of wealthy people were willing to do it. They were the ones who realized it would be far worse if social unrest got so bad, especially if it were worldwide, as is the financial crisis, that all of their wealth might be threatened by social instability. They knew that the one off payment, though substantial, would repay itself if we got into a new ers of financial stability as a consequence. Their remaining investments would soon grow to pay back the lost 20%. Though the short sighted greedy rich would moan like hell until the benefits came through, everyone would end up happy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fox News and Conservative Talk Radio Promote False Beliefs

A survey of 750 Americans showed that people who relied on Fox News for their information were more likely than others to know four rumors about the New York City mosque—all of which have been refuted—and to believe them. Survey participants were all asked to rate how much they relied on various media outlets for their news. They were also asked whether they heard any of the rumors and if they believed in them.

The rumors were that:

  1. the proposed center is scheduled to open on September 11, 2011 in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks
  2. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam backing the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque, is a terrorist sympathizer who refuses to condemn Islamic attack on civilians
  3. the Muslim groups building the center have deep ties to radical anti-American and anti-Semitic organizations
  4. the money for the center is coming primarily from foreign financial backers associated with terrorist organizations.

The results showed that people who said they relied on Fox News, either online or on television, were more aware of rumors about the mosque and were more likely to believe the rumors though they were untrue than those with low reliance on Fox. An average respondent with a low reliance on Fox News believed 0.9 rumors on average, while an otherwise average respondent with a high reliance on Fox believed 1.5 rumors—an increase of 66 percent. Respondents who relied heavily on CNN or NPR believed fewer false rumors, the study found. High reliance on CNN reduced the number of rumors believed by 23 percent, while heavy use of NPR reduced belief by 25 percent.

Erik Nisbet, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, conducted the study with R Kelly Garrett, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State. All the comparisons were made while holding constant other variables, such as education, party affiliation, ideology, and other media use. Garrett said:

Our analyses demonstrate that the relationships we found aren't just a side effect of some other characteristic, such as political ideology or party affiliation. These results suggest that even a well-educated, liberal Democrat would be more likely to believe the rumors, if he relied heavily on Fox for his news.

Reliance on conservative talk radio had a similar effect on users as did Fox News. Those with a heavy reliance on conservative talk radio heard on average two rumors, compared to 1.5 rumors for those with a low reliance—an increase of 33 percent. People who relied heavily on broadcast television news—ABC, CBS or NBC—were less likely to have been exposed to the rumors. Heavy reliance on those sources was linked to a 22 percent decrease in rumor exposure compared to those with low reliance on those outlets. Broadcast news placed less emphasis on the mosque controversy than did the cable news outlets.

People who said they relied heavily on newspapers for their news (either print or online) increased their exposure to rebuttals by 67 percent when compared to people who relied little on papers. These rebuttals were shown to strongly promote accurate knowledge about the rumors.

The best way to get accurate information about the proposed Islamic cultural center seemed to be newspapers, according to the study. Nisbet noted that it was not just because newspaper readers are more attuned to politics. Comparing people who paid similar attention to the mosque controversy, those who read newspapers still had greater exposure to the rebuttals. Nisbet said:

This is one of the unique contributions of newspapers in the media landscape. When you consider that newspaper readers are more likely to be exposed to rebuttals of false information compared to other media outlets, it is worrying that newspapers in general have been struggling. It is something we should be concerned about.

The findings suggest that among those who believed none of the four rumors, two-thirds are opposed to the proposed project. But that increases to 82 percent among those who believed three or more rumors. Even more dramatic is the effect that belief in these rumors has on support for mosques outside of New York. Predicted opposition to building of a mosque in the respondent's own neighborhood increased from 39 percent among people who believed none of the rumors to 63 percent among those who believed three or more of the rumors. Nisbet observed that:

These rumors have a negative effect well beyond the specific controversy in New York City. They seem to shape attitudes about Muslims and their role in our society, no matter where we live. That's a big concern.

The survey was designed to focus on how differences in exposure and belief in rumors and support for the proposed New York mosque were associated with media use. That is what it did but it is too small to accurately represent the whole American population. Nevertheless, the survey worryingly indicated the potentially unsocial effects of a type of reporting that falsely emphasizes human prejudices rather than seeking to correct or minimize them for the sake of social harmony.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Americans Favor Federal Research Funding on Science and Medicine

Research!America commissioned a national poll which found most Americans (58%) would vote for a candidate who wanted higher federal spending on job creation and federal health research funding. 91% of Americans think research and development (R&D) is important to their state's economy, and 71% said investing in health research is important for job creation and economic recovery.

Despite strong public support for research funding, the poll found that 53% are not well informed about the views of their senators and representatives on medical, health and scientific research. Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America said:

Our poll findings show that Americans understand very clearly the connection between greater investment in research and economic growth and job creation, yet too few know their candidates' views on research. I urge all Americans to find out where their candidates stand on these important issues.

88% of Americans said it is important for Congress to work on a bipartisan basis to research to make health a top national priority. Research!America's chair, former Illinois Congressman John Edward Porter said:

Research investment is absolutely essential to America's future—for our health and our economy—and it's essential that candidates for Congress understand this. Each dollar invested in research produces more than double that amount in economic output. Americans deserve leaders in Congress who will work together to achieve sorely needed results for our nation's health and economic challenges today and in the future. Medical research, science and innovation are investments we simply cannot afford to postpone.

The poll also found:

  • 87% think a good use of tax dollars is military investment improving health for service members and veterans
  • 84% say the US should work to improve health globally through research and development
  • 88% think basic scientific research should be supported by the federal government
  • 87% say he US should adopt the aim of other countries to spend 3% of GDP on research and development
  • 74% say US competitiveness and future economic prosperity depends on education and training in science, technology, engineering and math
  • 84% say prevention and wellness reduce health care costs, and 77% say research helps solve these rising costs
  • 70% favor federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells
  • On balance, Americans favor speeding up the time it takes the US Food and Drug Administration to approve drugs: 42% say is too long, 12% say not long enough and 28% say it is about right.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Greg Philo: Privatize the National Debt

Britain is the sixth richest nation in the world. Total personal wealth in the UK is £9 trillion, and the richest 10% of the British people—about a million wealthy families—own £4 trillion of it, with an average per rich family of £4 million. The bottom 50% of the British people own just 9% of the wealth, the least wealthy being the bottom 10% of households who are in debt—they owe more money than they own.

Yet we are in such a crisis, having emptied the treasury to prop up the banks, and to pay the £ million bonuses the parasitic banking community take whether we like it or not, that we are all to suffer the worst cuts in public services ever! The media sing in chorus “we are all in it together”, but does it seriously sound as though we are, with such a vast inequality of wealth distribution?

The economy has already recovered sufficiently for the banks to have started making obscene profits again, and to have already returned to giving themselves financial commendations in the shape of fatter bonuses than ever, and the country is already richer than it was before the financial crisis, despite the media bleating. Maybe it is because the economy meant is that very wealth I made account of in the paragraph above. With stock markets rising, banks making profits, cash bonuses and champagne eqally profusely flowing, the sector of the economy that covers the rich are indeed looking up, and the reason is that the rest of us are having to count the cost!

There is no popular mandate for Con-Dem policies that will radically reduce growth, put up unemployment and affect the bottom 6 million people hardest—those who have no wealth at all. The Con-Dems are doing this though their popularity is already steeply in decline, and Labour has already gone ahead of the other parties according to a recent poll. The consequence of what they are doing is likely to be serious social unrest. The British people are not passive and it is a myth that they will accept policies that they see as profoundly unfair. The consequences of unfair policies is revolution—as a minimum, mass demonstrations, strikes, popular unrest and perhaps rioting.

Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow University Media Group says the answer is plain, and he has checked it out via public opinion surveys and interviews with wealthy people. He proposes a one-off tax of just 20% on the wealthy decile. This tax of 20% on the very richest people in Britain would raise £800 billion—a fifth of the total £4 trillion they own. That is enough pay off the national debt and dramatically reduce the deficit, since interest payments on the national debt are a large part of government spending.

Nor would this rich segment of society actually have to produce the money immediately, if at all! Voodoo economics? Not at all. If the richest 10% assume liability for the £ billion national debt, it would be cleared from the governments accounts, reducing the deficit instantly to a manageable size. That would instantly relieve the pressure on markets which would soar, and the stock and bond owners, including the banks would immediately be presented with remarkable gains which would go a long way to returning to them the money they have agreed to pay out. Indeed, they can pay their 20% tax in installments out of the earnings they would be making, and even if that were not sufficient to pay off all of their 20%, they could simply agree to pay it along with their death duty.

Philo's group commissioned a YouGov poll of over 2,000 people to test attitudes to the tax and found it was an extremely popular proposal. 74% of the population approved (44% strongly), and agreement was spread right through social groups. Only 10% did not approve. Those in the higher income brackets were more supportive than the less well paid of the wealthy class. They were the ones who realized the measure would turn out to be beneficial for them as well as the country, not merely in the immediate returns they would get, but also in their desire to keep society on an even keel. They knew that unrest, strikes and riots would reduce confidence and profits, and that the poor are the ultimate consumers, and stripping them of the little they have will just depress markets. Even if they were unable to recover all of the 20%, they knew they were wealthy enough not to actually miss the loss.

A problem for the British and US economies is that much of the nations' resources have been directed into inflated property values, which is where many of the bonuses ended up. Extra houses is buried money. It is not liquid and is inaccessible. The tax would re-circulating some of it once the government had no need to cut services, as public spending, stimulating growth. Unemployment resulting from the proposed cuts would be avoided, extra benefits would then also be avoided, and tax revenue would not fall.

At present, we have a lot of billionaires resident in the UK who pay no tax at all. There is quite a separate call for them to pay their just taxes. If people have substantial assets, want to live here and to be British, then they will have to pay their bit. The public will have little time for non-doms, exiles or what will be seen as unacceptable attempts at avoidance. This proposal is similar, but is a mere one off necessity. The Revenue offices know who have the wealth and collecting it ought not to be a problem. The main problem indeed is likely to be the extent of privatization of revenue collection. That, most sensible Britain’s will think, should not be in private hands. Already it has led to absurd mistakes and injustices, so it should be returned fully to the civil service.

The absurdity of privatizing many of our public services is itself a symptom of the desperate need for reliable sinks for the surplus capital swilling around the world. It should be used to put people into work, not to squeeze even more unneeded capital out of them.