Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fear of a Black Planet

So, it look like the usual suspects are out telling black Africans that they should stop having so many children. Interestingly, nobody seems worried about French and Swedish schemes to increase national fertility. Perhaps that is because they are wealthy white countries? I also find  it interesting that Jeffrey "Shock Therapy" Sachs is the UN official pushing for limiting the number of children Nigerians should have, given his history as one of the architects of the devastation of the former communist nations of Eastern Europe, although I guess that does qualify him as an expert on depopulation.

While I recognize that poverty is a large problem in countries such as Nigeria, the answer to such poverty is development not depopulation. You don't eliminate poverty by eliminating the poor, unless perhaps you are a devotee of the wicked ideology of eugenics. We have gone a long way from the days of the post-war consensus, with its support for industrial development and the material and cultural uplifting of the poor.

The current neoliberal consensus is a Neo-Malthusian brew that seeks to turn places like Africa into permanently poor extraction economies that exist to serve the consumer needs of First World peoples while also serving as theme parks for the very rich, hence the constant attempt to convince Third World countries to invest in low-productivity ecotourism as opposed to heavy industry. The rich nations, through their control of international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, also force policy straitjackets on the poor nations to prevent them from using the same state-led models of development that were used by practically all of today's wealthy nations when they were developing.

Much of the Left, especially the execrable Green Movement, has foolishly fell for much of this claptrap, despite the fact that Neo-Malthusian policies primarily target the poor, the very people that the Left is supposed to represent and defend. Given these facts, it is not surprising that so many people in the developing world are attracted to violent ideologies that view the West as a malevolent force bent on oppressing the rest of the world. As heinous as these ideologies are, Western actions help to fan the flames of anger and resentment. Africans have already suffered enough from the depredations of foreign meddlers and they don't need ghouls like Jeffrey Sachs to "help" them have fewer children.

Gramsci the Catholic, Gramsci the Conservative?

I know this is several years late, but I simply could not pass up this interesting post by Martin Robb on Antonio Gramsci's possible deathbed conversion to Catholicism and the parallels between Gramsci's thought and Catholic theology. I have been meaning to get into Gramsci for a while now, ever since I heard about his possible deathbed conversion and the utilization of Gramscian thought by social conservatives such as Eugene D. Genovese and Christopher Lasch. Hopefully, a copy of the Prison Notebooks will be available at my local library.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Privatization Hoax

Charles Davis has an excellent post on the privatization of GUATEL, the Guatemalan state telecommunications company, and touches on some topics relating to privatization and libertarianism in general. Definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fund the Right Thing

Melinda Henneberger has an interesting piece at Commonweal assailing both Republicans and Democrats for exaggerating the issue of federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Fair enough. But it is rather unfortunate that we are still funneling money to wretched outfits like Planned Parenthood to aid poor women at all, even if the federal money does not go toward the funding of abortion services. The best way to support poor women would be to restore full employment at high wages as the cornerstone of American economic policy, with a special emphasis on male employment, ending the downward spiral of male idleness and the social and cultural decay that results from such idleness, with tremendous negative spillover effects for women and children.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Communism and the Culture War

Life magazine has an interesting slideshow of different photographs comparing capitalist with “commie” architecture. While my general impression is that the differences between the two are not as large as some would have it, I found some photos to be rather interesting. For example, while Life was sure to show a picture of a modest wooden house from Siberia, where were the pictures of dilapidated housing or trailer parks that you might see in many areas of the United States?

However, what struck me the most was the contrast between tacky symbols of American consumerism such as a Wal-Mart store and the Mall of America, and the National Gallery of Armenia and the Yerevan Opera House, also in Armenia. While I admit the economic superiority of capitalism, I sometimes wonder if, culturally speaking, we are worse off under modern capitalism than the peoples of Eastern Europe were under communism. In 2009, Zsuzsanna Clark wrote an excellent article about the positive aspects of growing up in Communist Hungary, including the promotion of high culture by the government. 

While I enjoy some of the sillier aspects of American popular culture, such as kitschy velvet paintings of Elvis Presley, contemporary American pop culture is now exceedingly vulgar. Reality television invites us to be mean-spirited and to take joy in the misery and embarrassment of others, and not in an innocuous, slapstick manner, but in a very cruel way. This cultural degradation likely has its most destructive impact on working-class and poor people, who are not only debased in our popular culture but debased by it. 

While communism had a bloody and cruel history, including the often violent suppression of religion, there might be something that social conservatives can learn from the communist experiment. Social conservatives often rail against the vulgarity of modern popular culture but often seem to miss the fact that it is the business world that creates most of our junk culture, not the government.

Social conservatives can complain about Marxist professors and Hollywood liberals, but the fact is that businessmen such as Hugh Hefner were probably much more influential than Leftist academics when it came to spreading the Sexual Revolution among the masses. Social conservatives would do well to look to some of the better ideals of socialism and communism, such as spreading high culture among the masses, while socialists and communists would benefit from recognizing the important role that religion has played and can continue to play in the development of cultural excellence.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Nixing the Mixed Economy

Neil Clark has an excellent article on the issue of privatization in Great Britain, here.  Also, please read David Lindsay's comments on Mr. Clark's article, here. Neil Clark and David Lindsay are exactly right about the deleterious impact of the campaign to destroy the mixed economy models of the post-war era, especially with regard to the poisonous impact neoliberal reforms have had on family life. Liberal conservatism has destroyed much while conserving practically nothing of value.

Economic Power Precedes Political Power

Matt Smith at Guild Socialism has an excellent and compelling post on the limits of parliamentary socialism and the need to make changes in the workplace itself. Please give it a read.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Out of Focus

Mark Weisbrot has a good article detailing how America’s political leadership, in search of foreign enemies after the end of the Cold War, pounced on the tragedy of 9/11 and how this overreaction played into Osama bin Laden’s hands. 

After the end of the Cold War, the United States should have reverted back to normal nationhood again. Unfortunately, there were many influential people who wanted the United States to take advantage of the demise of the Soviet Union and expand America's influence abroad. The neoconservatives were probably the most forceful proponents of the “Unipolar Moment” but more traditional Republicans and Democrats played along as well.

This is all very unfortunate for the American people not just because interventionism has arguably increased the threat of terrorism, but also because it has taken our focus away from urgent domestic issues. The United States government often seems more interested in the hills of Afghanistan than in the hills of Appalachia, and that is a tragedy. 

Hayek vs. Keynes, Fact vs. Fiction

Lord Keynes with another excellent post, here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Seeking Monsters to Destroy

Michael Lind has an excellent article about the American Right and its need for foreign enemies and the domestic political purposes those enemies serve. Definitely worth a read.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Come Home, America

Osama bin Laden is dead. Good riddance. I heard the news last night as I was preparing to go to bed. I was unable to sleep much due to my excitement at the news. I vividly remember September 11, 2001 and I will never forget the anger I felt that day. I sympathize with the Americans who were celebrating in the streets last night at the news of bin Laden's death at the hands of American Special Forces. But then there was the morning. A pounding headache, the product of too little sleep and a drafty bedroom, was the first bit of reality to hit me today. As I read over the morning news, I noticed that little had changed. Details of the operation that neutralized bin Laden were coming through the news wires. As expected, a gigantic number of articles sprouted up all over the Internet discussing the future of the War on Terror and the jihadist movement that Osama bin Laden presided over, at least in spirit.

However, as the excitement and euphoria of the night before wore off in the midst of a busy day, I came to the realization that many of the same, tired ideas of the early days of the War on Terror were being trotted out again. Bin Laden was being compared to Hitler. May 02 was V-E or V-J Day depending on how you viewed bin Laden's death, either as a final, crushing blow to jihadism or just one major step along the still bumpy road to total victory. But do these comparisons make any sense? Bin Laden was not the head of a major, industrial nation-state with a powerful conventional military, as was the case with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. It is not even completely clear that he was still playing a major operational role within the increasingly decentralized jihadist movement. And yet, there are still many who wish to describe the war against Islamic terrorism as an existential "World War IV."

Ever since the end of the Cold War, Americans have been looking for a new enemy to replace the communists. To a certain extent, tinhorn Third World dictators filled the gap, but bin Laden was the real deal. But despite al-Qaeda’s obvious power as a potent terrorist organization, I just don’t see bin Laden-style jihadism as an ideological movement of major macro-historical importance. Communism presented a major ideological challenge to the West because it was centered on a powerful, industrial nation-state, the Soviet Union. While the Soviet Union is now the butt of jokes on Seth MacFarlane shows, at one time it was considered an extremely formidable power. Some scholars, such as Robert C. Allen, have pointed out that Soviet economic growth was indeed real, and that Western concern over Soviet power was well-founded. Furthermore, Marxist-Leninist communism presented itself as a potentially successful path toward independence from colonialism as well as industrial development within a single generation, all attractive ideas for many people living in the Third World. Extreme Islamism has few of these attributes and that is why it will ultimately fail even more spectacularly than Marxist-Leninist communism eventually did.

Perhaps bin Laden's real significance is that he provided us with a monster, a real monster, to slay. Now that the deed is done, perhaps we can have a more frank discussion of the most pressing issues underlying the problems of the Middle East such as energy policy, water rights, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the failure of neoliberal economics to provide full employment and an equitable distribution of the social product, and the plight of minority groups. Furthermore, with bin Laden gone, perhaps we can begin to wind up the War on Terror, retooling it as a matter for criminal justice and intelligence agencies but not conventional military power or nation-building. Most importantly, it is now time for Americans to abandon the dreams of empire so popular in neoconservative circles and to become a normal nation again. It is time to come home.