Previous posts in this discussion:
PostPeronism and Trumpism Contrasted (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 08/17/19 4:34 am)
Tor Guimaraes is perhaps correct when commenting that our prophecies are not very impressive after all. He was referring to the imminent return of the Peronists in Argentina, and that this populist wave might apply to many countries in the world.
First it should be clear that my "prophecies" were not meant to be impressive, but instead to highlight political and social elements still present in Latin America, which unfortunately facilitate the return of ideologies that have been proven to be harmful in the past.
It is unclear to me if Trump's populist ideology, as suggested by Tor, is a reappearance of any specter of the US political past; perhaps there is some vague similarity to old political doctrines (America for Americans), etc. Tor also mentions neo-Nazi ideologies, but they would never have the chance of regaining power in Germany. You could include communism in Russia, though it is likewise doubtful that it would ever regain a strong political significance. However, Tor might argue that Salvini's populism in Italy, representing perhaps a new form of Fascism, is an exception. I do not know enough about Salvini's political values to reach a conclusion, but again I doubt it.
There are social differences in developed industrial societies compared to less developed or underdeveloped countries. Developed nations enjoy higher and more standardized levels of education, lower levels of poverty and social inequalities, and fundamentally most of them enjoy mature democracies and institutions, which makes it more difficult for populist movements to re-emerge and rise again as an option.
Populism is an old form of politics, but never in the past has it been so frequently present as in recent times; why? Perhaps it is the economic and social crisis. Harsh competition for resources, markets, migration and border problems, nationalism and extremist ideologies, are more frequent and abundant in modern times. I do not have the answers.
JE comments: José Ignacio Soler asks if Trumpism has any precursor in American politics. I can think of none, with partial exceptions like Huey Long in Louisiana. Long was a "share the wealth" kind of politician, however. Trump's wealth-sharing is confined to the wealthy. Nor did The Kingfish engage in race-baiting.
If we peer into the future, will Trumpism become a lasting "movement"? Let's be sure to revisit this in ten years' time.
Curse of Populism
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
08/19/19 4:48 AM)
I agree with José Ignacio Soler's view (August 17th) that "developed nations enjoy higher and more standardized levels of education, lower levels of poverty and social inequalities, and fundamentally most of them enjoy mature democracies and institutions, which makes it more difficult for populist movements to re-emerge and rise again as an option. Populism is an old form of politics, but never in the past has it been so frequently present as in recent times; why?"
The only problem is exactly what José Ignacio alluded to: developed nations/civilizations have historically bloomed, shined, and fallen apart for internal and external reasons. Today the world's nations are much more linked together in many ways, so the whole world tends to go up and down together to some extent. Individually, developed nations to different extents go down because they lose their way, become corrupt, more plutocratic less democratic, indecent income/wealth inequality which invites political and legal corruption, and the degradation of their institutions and other infrastructures. When our choice of leaders is based on misinformation and fantasy, and we have a messiah who can do no wrong in the minds of his followers, we have the curse of Populism.
JE comments: I filed this one under "Decline of West." WAISers both left and right tend to loathe populism, or at least take it for granted that the unwashed masses embrace populism out of ignorance. Why is this so? Do we suffer from the sin of elitism? Or conversely, are we too literate in history, and have seen that populism never, ever works as promised?
Or perhaps it occasionally does? How about FDR? De Gaulle?
Is Anti-Populism an Elitist Position?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
08/23/19 3:27 PM)
John Eipper asked on August 19th: "WAISers both left and right tend to loathe populism, or at least take it for granted that the unwashed masses embrace populism out of ignorance. Why is this so? Do we suffer from the sin of elitism? Or conversely, are we too literate in history, and have seen that populism never, ever works as promised?"
Based on their track records, I like to think that WAISdom is comprised of people who have significantly above-average intelligence and education, thus they are more likely to reject a charismatic leader who is spewing wrong ideas like racism, xenophobia, tariffs on trade, and making wild promises with low chance of success. Are we elitist? I don't think so. Take monkey from the zoo and if it can teach me something new, it will become my friend and I will listen carefully next time it says something.
As I said earlier, populism is about bad charismatic leadership and people choose such leaders because they are wrong by mixing church and state, having faith in fantasies and superstition, and indulging in racism and xenophobia instead of trying to bring the whole nation together as a good leader should do. Also, after Trump was elected, what choice did the old Republicans have? They have to hold their nose and make sure their party survives even if the whole nation is going crazy and down the drain.
JE comments: WAIS is all about a balance of views, but when was the last time we posted a positive take on Trump? Is anyone willing to try? I may privately hold my nose when editing, but I promise I won't bite.
Some Protein in the American Diet: A Defense of Trump
(David Duggan, USA
08/25/19 3:52 AM)
Our editor dared one of us to come up with a defense of Trump. Having studied Latin with Cicero's prosecution of Catilina ("De Catiline") and defense of Caelius ("Pro Caelio"), I will not reach the rhetorical heights of that master of oratory. Still, I rise to the challenge, and offer the following three reasons that Trump is more unfairly maligned than any other president since Nixon.
1. Trump reversed the 8-year Obama apology tour which ineluctably led to Putin's takeover of Crimea, the unresolved hostilities on the Ukraine border, and more deaths in the Syrian civil war than in any civil war since the break-up of Yugoslavia (assuming that a cobbled-together country, like both Syria and Yugoslavia can have a civil war, rather than a conflict between factions which predated the country). America lost precious lives in the undeclared Libyan conflict, and lost precious rights of free navigation when it allowed China to build onto and arm the barely above sea level Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Obama's incompetent Madame Secretary of State Hillary tried to mimic Julius Caesar with her "We came, we saw, he died," nonsense, but unlike Caesar, Obama didn't have any legions loyal to him. And lest there be any doubt, only the second US Ambassador to be killed in the line of duty occurred on Obama's and Hillary's watch.
2. It's the economy, stupid. De-regulation and an end to certain Obama-era social-engineering efforts (birth-control for Catholic charities, anyone) have released the "animal spirits" pent-up by 8 years of "you didn't build that" banana-mashing. Unemployment is at record lows and the stock market at an all-time high. Sure, everything could come tumbling down, but they've been saying that for decades. Not quite 40 years ago, the talking heads on the nightly news were decrying the "McJobs economy" based on fast food and a defense build-up including using the military as a pre-trial diversion for first offenders. The result of course was that the West won the Cold War, and Bill Clinton could claim credit for the "peace dividend" voted by Reagan-Bush.
3. A willingness to re-examine shibboleths grown too old to be of use. Whether it's the end to the death-penalty moratoria (because it was racially discriminatory), leading to the rampant crime increases experienced in Chicago and Baltimore, the end of federal funding for the nation's leading abortion provider, or the re-negotiation of trade pacts which have made other countries fat and happy on the backs of American workers, Trump has upset enough apple carts to fuel all the calvados distilleries in Normandy. He may not yet have "drained the swamp," but he's got the pumps and pipes in place. Let's hope the motors start running before next November.
Forty years ago, we had a president who was more concerned about his international reputation than about the plight of Joe Sixpack who paid his salary. President-for-life Jimmy Carter was properly shown the door. Trump may be no Reagan (the closest historical analog I can see is Teddy Roosevelt--both made their dough in Manhattan real estate and were outsiders to the normal political alliances, and both had tremendous popularity among the little people). But he's no ditherer, drawing lines in the sand and letting miscreants walk all over them. The proof is in the pudding people say, and unlike the egg-white based flan served up by Obama, Americans are now getting a robust meal of protein.
JE comments: I asked for it! Appreciate it, David. TR and Trump may both be attractive to the little people, but the former actually gave them something--the Square Deal. Regulation and conservation were also central to TR's agenda.
My vote for a Trump analog? Warren Harding? Scandal-wise, yes, but WG was a self-made man. So Trump, like the Cheese, stands alone.
Trump as "Protein in the American Diet"? Not So Fast
(Francisco Ramirez, USA
08/26/19 2:59 AM)
I beg to differ with David Duggan's appraisal of Donald Trump (August 25th).
1. As regards the economy, if it makes sense to give credit to Trump for the decrease in the unemployment rate from 4.7 percent at the end of the Obama presidency to the current 3.7 percent (as of July 1), should you not also credit Obama for the decline from 7.8% at the end of the Bush presidency to 4.7%?
2. As regards American workers, what percent do you think have savings in the stock market and benefit from its being at an all-time high? What percent have actually benefited from being able to get insurance under Obamacare? I am thinking mainly of workers with pre-existing conditions who would otherwise be denied insurance or have to pay well beyond their means. Do you think the efforts to do away with Obamacare will be remembered as further evidence of the value of the Trump presidency?
3. On Trump being unfairly maligned: I cannot think of any recent President who has verbally lashed out at anyone who dares not agree with him. Why is it OK for Trump to malign and unfair for him to be maligned? You think the birther moment right after Obama got elected was fair? Pray tell us, who was a prominent face of that movement?
4. The end of the death penalty lead to increased crime? Ad hoc ergo propter hoc? Should we credit the Trump administration for the surge of hate crimes? Mass shooting casualties?
5. I offer no defense for red lines re Syria. But is not Trump indulging in drawing lines on the sand as regards North Korea, saved only by how much he and the North Korean leader are in love with each other? Will he also fall in love with the leadership in Iran?
But this is really a defense of the return of manliness to the presidency. No more apology tour, got the pumps and pipes read to drain the swamp, no more letting miscreants walk all over us, animal spirits surging, no more banana-mashing and no more egg white-based flan. And the punch line: Americans are now getting a robust meal of protein. (You may want to reflect on the relationship between a high protein diet and cancer risk.)
What David sees as manliness, I see as macho posturing. Trump is obsessed with looking like a tough guy and leveraging that appearance to outcompete others and rally those who cannot see the difference between manliness and macho posturing. I fail to grasp the analogy with Teddy Roosevelt. Can one imagine Trump saying speak softly and carry a big stick? Challenging himself in the wilderness?
Trump is a loudmouth and not a leader. Neither Clinton nor Obama served in the military. But it was "bone spurs" Trump who maligned war prisoner McCain and got away with it. Can you imagine candidate Obama saying that he preferred soldiers who did not get captured and not paying a huge price for that piece of mindless bombast?
But "while Christ and his saints slept," Trump became the President.
JE comments: Protein or not, this topic has led to a meaty discussion. Trump has a way of doing that. I was also taken aback by David Duggan's assertion on the elimination of the death penalty in Illinois and Maryland. Hasn't the "capital punishment as deterrent" argument been definitively debunked?
In this chart of world cities ranked by murder rate per capita, only three US cities make the top 50: St Louis (death penalty state), Baltimore (recently abolished death penalty), and my own Detroit (never had the death penalty). It would be hard to draw any conclusions from this.
- Comparing Trump's and Obama's Economic Performance (Paul Pitlick, USA 08/27/19 8:05 AM)
I have some quibbles with David Duggan's assessment (August 25th) of the state of the economy. For example, David's statement, "Sure, everything [in the economy] could come tumbling down, but they've been saying that for decades." Actually, the reason "they've been saying that for decades" is that everything did come tumbling down in 2008, remember? Fortunately, we were smart enough to elect Democrats in 2008 to rescue us. I'm offering not just opinion here, but facts--please see linked graphs.
1. All Employees: Total Nonfarm Payrolls (PAYEMS)
(source: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PAYEMS Federal Reserve Bank)
Republicans seem to forget what happened towards the end of the Bush presidency. Which allows them to forget that job creation during the Bush years was zero (as in 0, nil, zip, nada), after 20 million jobs created in the Clinton years, and followed by 14,000,000 in the Obama years. Notice that although there was some growth in 2005-2007, it was gone by the end of 2008. Since jobs started growing again in 2009, it has been a straight line. So David seems very happy with the job creation under the current administration. I'm happy about that also, but it looks to me like it's no different than it was 4 years ago--so why isn't he equally happy about that? That also speaks against how the new economy has been unleashed from all those shackles Republicans keep whining about--they must have been released 10 years ago! I didn't draw a graph for unemployment during the Obama years. It was down to almost-record lows when he left office, but of course he will get no credit for that.
2. Federal Surplus or Deficit [-] (FYFSD)
(source: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/FYFSD , again, Federal reserve Bank)
The deficit wasn't too bad until the Republicans took over in 1980. After Clinton took over, deficits fell, and a surplus was even achieved towards the end of the Clinton years, only to be blown open by the Bush tax cuts. There was then some minor improvement until the crash of 2008, when Mr. Obama was stuck with a >$1 trillion deficit to begin his term. Again, under a Democratic president, the deficit was being scaled back until the Trump tax cuts kicked in. I read that we are again heading toward another >$1 trillion deficit this year. We are still waiting for the economic boom to materialize as a result of the tax cuts, which hasn't happened in the past--shouldn't we try to learn from experience?
3. Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA)
(source: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DJIA , Federal Reserve Bank)
Similar to the job picture, the Dow was lower at the end of GWBush's term than it was when he took over. It had tripled when Clinton was president and increased by 250% under Obama--over 8 years, both of these are in the ballpark of 30-40%/year. After 3 years+ under the current administration, the Dow has gone from ~20000 to ~27000, up about 35%, or about 12%/year. Not bad, indeed, that's way better than negative, but not nearly as good as the Democratic predecessors.
Indeed, David, it all did come tumbling down 10 years ago, but how quickly we forget. There are two things a person could say about Mr. Obama. The first thing I would say is that I'm glad the he and his team figured out what to do to get us out of the rut the Republicans drove us into. The second thing is that his legacy is fixed. Although the Republicans denigrate everything about what he did, he was in charge when the economy began the longest expansion on record--it was his game. Anybody can claim anything they want, but the facts speak for themselves--they are set in stone. The current administration isn't even into its 4th (and hopefully last) year, and a lot of things can happen. In order to equal his predecessors' records, job growth will have to continue along its current line for another 4+ years, the federal deficit will have to start coming down again, and the stock market will have to go up to about 50000 (250%). Not impossible, but you almost need to ingest a hallucinogen to imagine that happening under the chaos of the current regime. Drain the swamp? This administration is the swamp.
This has gone on long enough. Concerning David's point 1, it sounds like David wants us to get into more wars in Eastern Europe and the South China Sea. Obama apology tour? In my travels, most people I've met didn't like Bush and/or Cheney, liked and admired Obama, and view Trump as a pathetic joke. Concerning point 3, while crime may be rising in some places, it is falling in many others. Restricting legal abortion services will lead to more deaths from botched illegal abortions. I was practicing medicine in the days before Roe. I don't want us to be driven back there! We already have trouble with our reproductive services--the US has the highest maternal mortality in the developed world, and we aren't improving, while most other places are.
JE comments: You've convinced me, Paul. To be sure, Obama's numbers are so impressive because of the abysmal place we were in 2009. Presidents always get to "own" a recession, but they cannot necessarily prevent them.
A question for our economist colleagues: How are the Trump tax cuts really impacting business investment? As Tor Guimaraes pointed out, many companies are sitting on piles of cash but using it only for stock buybacks and acquiring other companies. Or worse--offshoring their production.
- A Defense of Trump? Er, No (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/25/19 6:22 AM)
John Eipper commented: "WAIS is all about a balance of views, but when was the last time we posted a positive take on Trump? Is anyone willing to try?"
In the beginning I believed Trump might be a ray of hope for America. His personality and rhetoric were exciting, he was a billionaire never mind how he got there, he wanted to reduce NATO, partner with Russia and make trade with China more fair. I thought these are good ideas and wished him success in all of them.
As time progressed, reality became increasingly obvious. Trump clearly fooled me (that's on me); he actually is a very poorly educated 13 year-old, wiling to lie at will and apparently not caring when that becomes obvious. So much for personality at a time when the political competition is also comprised mostly of political prostitutes and a President receiving fellatio in the Oval Office.
Probably as a result from his very poor education, much of the blame for the unfolding bad news for the American people comes from his poor selections of staff and advisors. Again this might be par for the course since President Obama, who supposedly is a smart person, kept many of the officials who were part of the 2009 financial crisis which brought the world to its knees.
In a way Trump is a man with some good ideas which have been disastrously implemented. To fix the China trade issues, a tariff war is probably the worst option. To reshape the NATO alliance, tariff wars and personal animosity against European leaders also seem counterproductive. But, for some unexplained reason, Trump loves Putin in many ways.
I am deeply sorry but can not see anything positive about lack of willingness to learn, irrational racism, xenophobia, divisive and insulting rhetoric, complete blindness about climate change and the plight of the vulnerable segments of the population.
JE comments: Tor, how would you address China's dishonest dealing on trade and intellectual property?
Transferring Technology to China: Is This "Theft"?
(Patrick Mears, Germany
08/26/19 3:54 AM)
I would like to comment on John E's question concerning China's alleged "dishonest dealings on. . .intellectual property" in his comments on Tor Guimaraes' recent post titled "A Defense of Trump?"
President Trump is leading the pack alleging that China has "stolen" intellectual property from foreign investors who have established subsidiaries in the People's Republic of China and is demanding that this practice stop.
Admittedly, I am not 100% acquainted with all of these instances where IP has been transferred to Chinese entities, particularly to Chinese joint-venture partners of foreign investors in areas other than the motor vehicle industry. However, I have done quite a bit of reading on the creation of motor vehicle manufacturing affiliates in the PRC by Western automakers, e.g., Michael Dunne's American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China (2011), Jim Mann's Beijing Jeep: A Case Study of Western Business in China (1989), and Martin Posth's engaging 1000 Days in Shanghai: The Volkswagen Story--The First Chinese-German Car Factory (2008). I am not sure that this characterization reflects reality.
I understand that the quid-pro-quo insisted upon by the Chinese government for the entry of Western automakers into the Chinese market after "The Gang of Four" was dispatched was that these auto assemblers would agree to enter into joint ventures with Chinese partners, typically state-owned enterprises (SOEs), on a 50-50 basis, and that the non-Chinese joint venturers would be required to agree to share their technologies with those SOEs. This was the price to be paid by Western automakers for entering what has since become the world's largest market for the sale of motor vehicles, and the profits accruing to these foreign automakers have been handsome indeed.
Furthermore, it seems to me that these Chinese SOEs would likely have good reason to have access to these technologies since they might very well be determined to be liable for any damages caused to persons or property resulting from improper design and/or engineering of these vehicles. Some of the Western automakers entering the China market early took pains to avoid these transfers of technology (e.g., Volkswagen, by sending to its newly established Shanghai plant only "complete knock-down kits" from Germany to China that required only assembly in Shanghai), but as time progressed, this strategy became infeasible and these technologies were shared with the Western automakers' Chinese counterparts.
in any event, I would be interested in learning from other WAISers if they believe that there is more to this story than what I have been led to believe through my research, which is admittedly some years old.
JE comments: We tend to think of "intellectual property theft" in the most blatant terms, such as reverse-engineering a gizmo or pirating films/music. Patrick Mears reminds us that the Chinese situation is not so simple. How do we view joint ventures entered into freely by Western corporations? Is it theft when you willingly hand something over?
Tor Guimaraes takes up the China question, next.
- How Should the West Deal with China's Unfair Trade? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/26/19 4:11 AM)
Since I wrote that "to fix the China trade issues, a tariff war is probably the worst option," John E sucker-punched me with a very difficult question: "Tor, how would you address China's dishonest dealing on trade and intellectual property?"
First, where I am coming from: For the last several years, whenever applicable I expressed in this Forum my dismay that the US government allowed our corporations to make China our cheap goods manufacturing center. Dangling their potentially juicy markets, Chinese organizations not only employed their poor people but intelligently learned how to use Western technology and know how to rise to unimaginable levels of scientific knowledge, technology, and financial success. They made many big mistakes, but strategically China is out of the poverty box. Having a central government has created many huge problems for China like the enormous waste in roads/bridges to nowhere and empty/unfinished cities. However, undeniably the same central government transformed China by huge investments in infrastructure (energy, water management, transportation, communication, agriculture/food production, etc.). Well, all this is water under the bridge and the world has to live with it.
Under the WTO China's old status as a developing country gave it a good excuse for borrowing technology and know-how as part of doing business with foreign companies. But now China is looking more like a developed nation even though by some measure it is still a poor country. More important, it needs to be assertively confronted when it engages in stealing intellectual property, bullying small neighbors with unreasonable territorial claims, and any unfair trade practices based on the WTO agreement. In other words, take China to court first, make it look like a crook in the eyes of the world. If China insists, take directly related proportional punitive measures, including stealing some of their technology (they are ahead in some areas like 5G and possibly AI).
Whatever we do, an all-out trade war is likely to be a bad idea for many reasons: It is going to be a financial bloodbath for consumers and jobs. Even if we hurt China badly, which we will, we might lose more even though Trump may blame someone else for the results or he will subsidize his constituents (he already promised $28B to the big farmers). Because of their central government, China can react and implement changes much quicker than our chaotic government. This trade war may force China to finally reduce poverty in the countryside by shifting from exports to developing internal demand. On the other hand, the US economy is not as strong as our talking heads are saying, all our infrastructure is going rotten with no plans for necessary investments, our tax base is shrinking, the corporations don't know what to do with all the cheap cash except share buybacks, mergers and acquisitions, the US deficit is exploding, our old allies are getting pissed at us, our old enemies are laughing at us and making alliances (even Iran now is feeling much safer by cozying up to Russia and China). Strategically, all these bad developments plus a wild teenager in the White House, make me even more worried than before. It seems like a never-ending increasingly worsening nightmare. Even the price of gold is telling us the world is in trouble.
Please, someone give me some truthful good news.
JE comments: Take 'em to court? Hasn't this been tried already? And conversely, China is suing the US before the WTO because of the punitive tariffs. It's a PR war at this point, but who is the audience? Some vaguely defined "world opinion"?
(I don't call it a sucker-punch, Tor. I prefer to think of it as "sparking further discussion"!)
- A Defense of Trump? He Has Some Support Among Venezuelans (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/25/19 7:39 AM)
John E. recently asked, "Is anyone on WAIS willing to attempt a positive take on Trump?"
It is very hard to have a good opinion of a person such as Mr Trump. It is not necessary to repeat the well-known and evident reasons to dislike a personality like him. Even if we are not certain on how well he is doing his job as president, his thoughts, manners, speech, attitudes and so forth are enough reason to get upset and displeased.
However, in Venezuela there are mixed feelings among the population, particularly among the so-called "opposition" to the regime. Many people are grateful and pleased with him because he is the first American president in the last twenty years to really be effective opposing the Venezuelan regime with financial and economic sanctions, as well as a diplomatic siege.
The fact in Venezuela is that currently the regime is weakened by those sanctions. It seems the government has lost control of the economy, with dollarized prices, hyperinflation, international debt default, cash scarcity, financial resources exhausted and international credit unavailability, oil production at a minimum, exports limited, and a minimum salary of US$2.60/month, etc. It is out of control now. However, the Maduro regime still has political, institutional and military control of the country. This is likely because of Cuban support and strategic advice, but the regime still enjoys a meaningful portion of popular support, according to recent polls about 10% or 12% of the population.
I believe it was Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay's old dictator (1954-1989), who used to say, "with the military and 10% popular support I will be president forever."
JE comments: The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Nacho, tell us, with things becoming more critical by the day, how are the Venezuelan people surviving?
How Do Venezuelans Survive Day to Day?
(José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela
08/28/19 3:19 PM)
John E. asked me how Venezuelans are coping with the critical economic situation. A complete answer to this question presents somewhat of a paradox.
A few years ago Caracas was a noisy, vibrant and chaotic city of 5 or 6 million people. Nowadays its total population is uncertain but it has reduced significantly. You can notice this reduction in the near-absence of traffic jams, so abundant before, and the empty streets at night. In the suburban neighborhood where we live, there are more than 90 empty or abandoned houses of a total of around 300.
According to recorded emigration data, 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country in the last 2-3 years, which amounts to 20-25% of the total population. This is very significant not only because it represents the largest emigration wave in the history of the continent in contemporary times, but also the global consumption demand of basic products has been reduced in the country. This social drama, together with other economic facts I will mention, now helps to explain how people survive in the present crisis.
I have recently mentioned the government's total loss of control of the economy. Hyper devaluation of the local currency, unregulated dollarized prices, a critical or total reduction of goods and services and a significant reduction of consumption, and so forth, are the main ingredients for the current economic situation.
The paradox is that despite the crisis, it is possible to find supermarkets full of all kinds of imported products, much more than a few months ago because the free importation of products is allowed but at prices far beyond the reach of 80% or 90% of the population. Most of us to go to informal street markets, trucks that transport and sell fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat and other local farm products at cheaper prices, which however increased by an uncontrollable inflation of approximately 10% per day. Processed goods or other packed products are 90% imported and they can be obtained at very high and dollarized prices in formal grocery stores and supermarkets.
A small sector of the population, generally the regime's sympathizers or clearly people opportunistically using this privilege, are beneficiaries of government subsidies in the form of monthly boxes of food and products, called CLAPs, (Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción) at relatively low prices. It seems this form of selective benefit is used for influence-peddling, corruption and political dominance.
The dollarization of trade is so generalized that all kind of products and services are quoted in dollars. For instance, right now we have a gardener cutting the grass in our house charging US$20 for the job, or the maid is paid for her work US$20-30/day. A few days ago I paid US$3 for a wristwatch battery, etc. These amounts might seem perhaps reasonable in other places, but in this country where the monthly minimum salary right now is only US$2 it is outrageous and leaves most of the population on the edge of critical poverty and malnutrition.
The medical service sector and drug supplies face similar dramas. There is now more availability of supplies but at unreachable prices--of course in US$. The risk of a mortal health crisis is perhaps reduced for some selective sectors but continues to be high for most of the population. There are no official public statistics but the number of casualties due to lack of medicines, malnutrition, or various medical problems is notoriously higher.
The other side of the paradoxical situation involves the services sector and gasoline. Electricity, garbage collection, telephone services, etc., are all officially owned by government, so they are artificially low; for instance I pay US$5 dollars/month for electricity, though most people in many poor areas of the city steal power directly from the electricity poles and this illegal action is generally permitted. Other public services are completely different. For instance to request a passport they charge you more than US$100, making it very hard for poor people to obtain this document if they want to emigrate.
But the most incredible and bizarre situation concerns gasoline. Gas is free! Yes, you might think this is unbelievable, but such things happen in this country, and not because gasoline is abundant, on the contrary it is scarce and frequently we must wait in lines for hours, in some areas for days, to get it. The question is that the price is so low (aprox. US$0.00000000000428 per liter, it has not been increased in a year or so) and the local inflation is so high (around 1,000,000% in a year). So gas is virtually free. This fact together with the scarcity of cash, makes practically impossible to pay for it and they let you leave the gas station without having paid anything.
In conclusion, day to day, there is no other way for people than to survive and adapt, with enormous resilience, to abnormal or adverse conditions. This is possible for Venezuelans because their natural humorous and optimistic character, perhaps too optimistic in my view.
JE comments: Nacho, this is a priceless lesson on the Hemisphere's most dysfunctional economy. I'm going to make your post required reading for my students. Gracias for taking the time to share your experiences with WAIS.
I must ask a delicate question that's no doubt on many minds: why do you stay?
- A Defense of Trump? Where Have the Leaders Gone? (Anthony J Candil, USA 08/25/19 4:13 PM)
John E asked if anyone in WAISdom is willing to defend Trump.
To start with I don't mind telling that I didn't vote for Trump but all in all, we have to take into account that even today there are 60 million + Americans who will vote for him, and that's a fact. So at least all those people will go in defense of Trump.
Now let's see some other facts.
So far and no matter what almost everybody thought about going to war as soon as Trump would take office, we haven't entered in any war, not even against "Rocket Man"! This is a fact and that's positive.
The economy hasn't gotten worse. On the contrary it's going pretty well! And that's a fact and it's positive.
Trump talked about building a wall, well so far there isn't any and that's a fact and it's positive.
Alienating China or the EU? Well, we all recognize that neither China nor the EU are acting in good faith always. Brexit may be a foolish idea, yes, but it wouldn't have happened if both France and Germany would have behaved in a more positive way rather than taking control of all the other European countries. NATO without the USA won't last a minute, but NATO is mainly for the defense of Europe. Isn't it? Is it a bad thing to remind them of this?
The attitude of China in Hong Kong these days should tell us all that in the end China hasn't changed much and is still a brutal, totalitarian country.
Certainly I don't like the way Trump behaves, talks or acts, but in the end this is not what it should be about.
Are we worse now than we were with Obama? Honestly my life hasn't changed at all. I wouldn't like to see him in the White House for another four years. But what is the alternative? Kamala Harris? Amy Klobuchar? Elizabeth Warren? Bernie Sanders? Seriously?
There's a lack of leadership. But America doesn't lack leaders. We deserve better than having a Trump or any other clown at office. Where have all the leaders gone?
JE comments: Grudgingly, yes: he's kept us out of war. They said the same thing about Woodrow Wilson in the 1916 elections...
So good to hear from Anthony Candil, by the by. Tony, will you make a prediction for 2020? Is Texas going to stand by Trump? There is much pundit-talk about your state becoming bluer.
Trump: Man of Moxie
(Brian Blodgett, USA
08/27/19 4:33 AM)
I was one of the minority who voted for Trump. Why, because I disliked Rodham-Clinton far more and I believed that many of the items on the Democratic agenda were too much against my liking. While Trump did not have many of qualities that we normally see in presidential candidates, he also had a degree of moxie as well as not coming off as saying things that were, to me, simply said for political gain. Of course he had faults, but Rodham-Clinton had far more in my opinion and the way she handled her job as Secretary of State was one of the reasons I did not choose to vote for her.
Many are upset, and often rightly so, with what Trump says and does, but when we look at some of the issues that he believes in, we see the same ones held by previous presidents--something that is often not mentioned.
Is he easy to dislike, sure if you want to be against someone, then almost anything they say or do can be looked upon in a negative way and our "news" media is great for pointing out the faults of those that they do not like. This spreads to the people who form their opinions on truncated soundbites and opinion pieces that bash him. How many positive things has he done that we do not hear about.
Let me make provide an example from an article I wrote the other day that should be published this week. The US Forestry's budget was cut and there is a limit on how much they can spend on fighting forest fires to around $1 billion, but there is also extra discretionary money they can pull from if needed. Many see this as a terrible thing, but is it?
Looking back in history, from 1935 to the early 1970s, the Forest Service followed a policy of trying to have any wildfire suppressed by 10 AM the day following its initial report. Following research done in the 1960s on the positive role of fires in forest ecology, the Forest Service changed its policy to let fires burn when and where appropriate. Since the 1990s, the Forest Service now has to take into account the growth of suburbia and what is known as wildland-urban interface.
The number of annual acres burned varies depending on weather conditions with spikes of over 8 million acres burnt occurring between 2004 to 2007, in 2011 and 2012, in 2015, and in 2017 and 2018. The worst year in the past 40 years was 2017 when 71,499 known wildfires burnt over 10 million acres. From January to July 30 this year, there have been 25,619 wildfires burning 3.2 million acres compared to 37,591 in the same period during 2018 and 4.8 million acres.
From 2007 to 2017, wildfire losses cost the nation over $5.1 billion. In 2018, the Woolsey Fire total expects to be between $3 to $5 billion, and the Camp Fire total is likely to be between $8.5 and 10.5 billion.
By allowing forests to thin themselves out naturally, the result would be thinner forests with less tree density and undergrowth, and wildfires would not burn with the intensity that we see in many of our fires today, fires that create both ecological and economic disasters.
According to a 2016 Forest Service news release, California alone had over 62 million dead trees on 7.7 million acres of the state's drought-stricken forest. "These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California. USDA has made restoration work and the removal of excess fuels a top priority, but until Congress passes a permanent fix to the fire budget, we can't break this cycle of diverting funds away from restoration work to fight the immediate threat of the large unpredictable fires caused by the fuel buildups themselves."
The Forest Service says that about a third of the 21 million acres of forestland that it manages needs immediate restoration. Nationwide, over 58 million acres of state and privately owned forests need immediate work. The crux of this is that it would require enormous spending. Where can this money come from? With the estimated cost of just two of the California fires last year likely to exceed $11 billion, and perhaps more than $15 billion, it appears that the funding could come from a combination of private and business ventures. This proactive use of money could be money well spent.
So, is Trump's cutting of the Forest Service's budget a bad thing or not? It depends on the results and if our nation is willing to step up and take proactive measures, with much of the money coming perhaps from insurance agencies.
As Anthony stated, we are not in a new war with the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, Iran, or any other nation. The economy is better and he is trying to force NATO to pay their share of the defense, as well as limit China's growing might around the world. I have to ask, are these bad things?
Will I vote again for him, based on the others running, yep, sure thing as they appear to be far worse than Rodham-Clinton and that is a high standard to overcome.
JE comments: Is there a case to be made that cutting the Forest Service's budget is good for the environment? I look forward to reading Brian Blodgett's full analysis (please send us the link, Brian, when your article becomes available).
I will grudgingly admit that we (still) have no new wars under Trump, almost 3/4 of the way through his term. Republicans used to boast that every one of America's 20th-century wars began under a Democratic president (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam). This record stopped under GW Bush.
Many of our non-US WAISers may be unaware of Moxie in all its connotations. Wikipedia explains it all. Has anyone ever tried it (the beverage)? Moxie was the "official" beverage of Mad magazine, the delight of every adolescent boy. Tucked away in small-town Missouri, I never knew what they were talking about:
- Is Texas Becoming "Bluer"? (Anthony J Candil, USA 08/29/19 4:23 AM)
It's always a great pleasure to read WAIS. I appreciate you keeping us together as an eclectic yet cohesive group.
To address your question, Texas is a bit bluer [more Democratic] than she was before. Austin is certainly mostly blue but not so other places.
Just a little story. The other day I went to Belton, to see how my youngest daughter Patty is accommodating at the university of Mary-Hardin Baylor, and to talk also with some friends and colleagues over there. So I stopped by at a very nice bookstore in downtown Belton and guess what I found: inside they have a huge poster of Donald Trump! They invited me to collect some more posters (free) to distribute them among friends. I declined politely. But yes, many people love Trump in Texas. It is what it is.
Nevertheless, I believe that if the Democrats continue being "lost in translation" and alienating people with unnecessary references to unimportant issues or going on in the style of what I call now "the Gang of Four" (you know, the four Democratic congresswoman that are stirring the pot), they will get not much in exchange and we will be tied to Donald four more years.
JE comments: Thank you, Anthony: your first paragraph is a wonderful "anniversary" gift as I embark on year 14 at the WAIS editor's desk.
And you remind me: it's time to add a "US Elections 2020" to the WAIS topics menu.
- Salvini, Populism, Neo-Fascism (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/19/19 6:28 AM)
José Ignacio Soler (17 August) asked whether Salvini's form of populism is a revival of Fascism.
It depends on what one would call a new form of Fascism.
The genuine original Fascism (in spite of some compromises) after 15 centuries of turmoil and disunity, gave the Italians 20 years of pride plus industrial, agricultural, social, cultural, environmental, etc. progress with unity and independence. Fascism is not an authoritarian man who speaks from a balcony and loses wars alongside unsavory allies. It is first of all socializzazione, united with a great sense of the state and the nation.
Salvini is a modern politician who probably does not even know what socializzazione is. However, he has the great merit of having transformed his secessionist party "Lega Nord" into an Italian "Lega."
Tuesday his period as a member of the government allied with 5 Stars will probably end, and 5 Stars will change its partner from the Lega to the left Democratic Party and form a new coalition. Really it is Salvini who is at odds with 5 Stars and wants new elections. Over the year in the polls and European elections, the Lega has jumped from 17% to 37%, while the 5 Stars has dropped from 34% to 17%.
In new elections the Center-right coalition with Salvini as leader will easily win, but the left president of the republic will not permit it. The former PM Prodi just to reaffirm the colonial status of Italy, is "proudly" calling the left government "Ursula" in honor of the German president of the so-called EU.
The hatred against Salvini is mainly due to his immigration policy. He has said "stop" to the European policy by which all immigrants picked up at sea shall be disembarked at the first safe port, which for geographic reasons is the small Italian island of Lampedusa. Then when the immigrants are in Italy, no other European country wants them, and if they manage to sneak into France, Germany etc, they are sent back to Italy.
This reminds me of the ridiculous Conference of Evian (France) 6 July 1938, sponsored by FDR to give asylum to Jews from Germany and Austria. Of 32 states, only the Dominican Republic (10,000) and Bolivia (30,000) agreed; all the others said no. Switzerland agreed to give a transit visas, while the Zionist Organization could accept the transfer of all Jews to Palestine and nowhere else. Of great controversy is the attitude of the Irgun Tsvai Leumi (Avraham Stern) and its contacts with the German Authorities to facilitate Jewish Immigration to Palestine (this is not to be talked about).
By the way these immigrants without the NGO ships waiting for them at the limits of Libyan waters could never reach Italy with the plastic floating gear supplied by the smugglers. Such boats would sink after a few miles. So no NGO ships awaiting would mean no immigrants. Who can be such a damned fool as to go at sea without the hope of being promptly rescued? The migrants also tend to say that they are under 18 even if they are over 20, as the underage receive special protection and acceptance.
Furthermore, most of these immigrants are young fellows claiming to run away from wars. They rather should be considered draft dodgers to be sent back to their country to fight for the legal government or for the rebels if they want to change politics.
I had two friends older than me. One (unfortunately) joined the partisans and died fighting while trying to force a checkpoint. The other joined the RSI and at the end after surrender received a wild beating and then was thrown in the waters of the harbor and shot until he went down. Was this a lay-democratic-antifascist sport?
I therefore have no sympathy for draft dodgers.
JE comments: What is preferable: glory and honor, or survival? Humans divide into two camps on this one. A quick question about Avraham Stern (of the eponymous Gang): Wikipedia asserts that his contact with the Axis was a trap set up by British intelligence. Eugenio Battaglia claims otherwise. Has anyone studied this event in detail?
- Is Texas Becoming "Bluer"? (Anthony J Candil, USA 08/29/19 4:23 AM)
- A Defense of Trump? Where Have the Leaders Gone? (Anthony J Candil, USA 08/25/19 4:13 PM)
- How Should the West Deal with China's Unfair Trade? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/26/19 4:11 AM)
- Comparing Trump's and Obama's Economic Performance (Paul Pitlick, USA 08/27/19 8:05 AM)
- Trump as "Protein in the American Diet"? Not So Fast (Francisco Ramirez, USA 08/26/19 2:59 AM)
- Some Protein in the American Diet: A Defense of Trump (David Duggan, USA 08/25/19 3:52 AM)
- Is Anti-Populism an Elitist Position? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/23/19 3:27 PM)