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Being fair to Rawls and Krugman - Chomsky as a model

by Ted Welch Sat Oct 9th, 2010 at 04:15:40 PM EST

I appreciate Cyrille's efforts to provide some "common lines of thought" for ET, e.g. by using Rawls.  However, given the complex and contested nature of Rawls's ideas, they don't easily provide a basis for agreement.

This started as a couple of comments responding to ThatBritGuy, but I've spent some time trying to make sure that I have got things right regarding the views of Rawls and about recent changes in Cuba which Krugman probably had in mind, while also considering how Chomsky might be a better model. So this has grown in length (considerably !) and I've made it into a diary.

I think that Chomsky's general approach would provide a better model since he isn't concerned to develop elaborate, abstract ideas about basic values, nor about the nature of society and politics. He's quite sceptical about claims to expertise in such areas and hence encourages us to subject experts' arguments to critical examination:



American aggressiveness, however it may be masked in pious rhetoric, is a dominant force in world affairs and must be analyzed in terms of its causes and motives. There is no body of theory or significant body of relevant information, beyond the comprehension of the layman, which makes policy immune from criticism. To the extent that "expert knowledge" is applied to world affairs, it is surely appropriate--for a person of any integrity, quite necessary--to question its quality and the goals it serves.

http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm

 He's quite willing to endorse long-established values and ideals such as freedom and democracy, ones supposedly underlying even capitalist America. But he then shows how these ideals are hypocritically ignored and subverted by those in power and he exposes the inadequacy of their attempts at justification -  somewhat like Jerome's critiques.

In general our approach ought to be evidence-based and include accuracy and fairness,  and the latter means that where there is doubt, one should adopt the strongest interpretation of what others are saying, rather than the weakest or even blatantly stupid.

Cf. Chomsky:

To discover the true meaning of principles that are proclaimed, it is of course necessary to go beyond rhetorical flourishes and public pronouncements, and to investigate actual practice. Examples must be chosen carefully to give a fair picture.  One useful approach is to take the examples chosen as the "strongest case," and to see how well they withstand scrutiny. 

http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199811--.htm

Rawls

I knew little about Rawls till I responded to ATinNM's criticism of Rawls in an OT, i.e. that Rawls assumes everyone is rational, which sounded likely to be unfair and when I checked I found that it was.

Rawls himself seems to have taken pains to ensure that his own criticism was fair and accurate, and quite generous, cf.:


Rawls  ... approached the history of political philosophy by trying to see what might be right about the works of the greats. When he criticized, it was only after having painstakingly reconstructed the strongest argument for his opponent's views.

Sam Rickless http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2007/10/geusss-skeptici.html

I can understand Cyrille's particular exasperation in a response to ThatBritGuy:


"I was going to have one chapter in this series about our embracing evidence-based thought rather than slogans and demands of ideological purity. Are you telling me that this is not a shared trait here and that you reject it? If not, what do you fault him for?"

http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2010/9/29/92131/2721

TBG sometimes attributes simplistic views to others, then shows that, surprise, surprise, they are simply refuted. While I'm all for critical scrutiny of anyone's ideas, I do think one should take some trouble to be sure that one is being fair and accurate, especially with those who are highly respected in their field, even by their critics, such as Rawls and Krugman. I think I've been fair to TBG, I've quoted him and the particular points I focus on seem clear, if wrong.

Despite Rawls's reputation, and the long development of his political philosophy, partly through responding to his critics, TBG thinks that he has identified an obvious basic error in Rawls's ideas:


I can understand the appeal because it has a certain neatness to it, but I think it makes one significant mistake, which is to assume that given a rational choice, everyone will decide that inequality is bad.

I don't think this is true. The reality seems to be more that a small minority of the population believe that inequality is a good and excellent thing, and can't get enough of it - without limit.

http://www.eurotrib.com/comments/2010/9/29/92131/2721/19

The "significant mistake" is TBG's, he doesn't understand the nature of Rawls's project; he's not developing some arguments which could be put to anyone in the hope that they'd consider them rationally. He was well aware of the existence of "aggressive narcissists" and other kinds of nasty people; he'd witnessed the rise of the Nazis, fought in WWII and deplored the increase in inequality in the US.


Looking primarily at the twentieth century United States, he is certain that institutions within US society are causing injustices ... The expense of healthcare restricts the best care to those who can afford it, leaving the poor to only the most basic of services.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justice_as_Fairness:_A_Restatement

In his political philosophy he's not talking about rationality in general terms and what choices some people are likely to make in real life. He's discussing what would be a rational choice in a very specific context, i.e. in relation to his ideas of the "veil of ignorance" and the "original position". He deliberately creates an artificial, hypothetical context as a "modelling device" so that he can focus on the rational discussion of principles:

We'd already been over this point about rationality briefly in an OT:

http://www.eurotrib.com/comments/2010/8/17/41244/1949/48

TBG might at least have ensured that the second time round he took more care before dismissing a major philosopher for supposedly making a pretty basic error.  

Dvx tried to put TBG right in Cyrille's diary:

If I understand correctly, Rawls gets around this by postulating an uncertainty with regard to an individual's status in the society in question.

http://www.eurotrib.com/comments/2010/9/29/92131/2721/32

But TBG persisted:

I think the criticism still applies. The Rawlsian argument works for rational people. It won't work on aggressive narcissists because they simply ignore anything that gets in their way.

... You can't argue rationally with people like that. You can only try to keep them away from any kind of power and influence.

http://www.eurotrib.com/comments/2010/9/29/92131/2721/35

This misses the essential point made above about Rawls's particular use of rationality in relation to the "original position"; "aggressive narcissists" cannot be found in Rawls's hypothetical situation due to  his adoption of the notion of the "veil of ignorance":


 Rawls says, "Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society ... I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance" (TJ, 12/11). This veil of ignorance deprives the parties of all knowledge of particular facts about themselves, about one another, and even about their society and its history.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/original-position/#OriPosSocConDoc

From this he proceeds to argue what it would be rational for anyone in this original position to decide; it's "hypothetical", a thought experiment:


 Rawls argues that rational individuals in these circumstances would unanimously choose the two principles of justice over utilitarianism.  And this conclusion is taken to be a strong basis of support for the two principles as correct.  This is what qualifies Rawls's theory as falling within the social contract tradition; the foundation of justice is the fact of unanimous rational consent (albeit hypothetical).

http://understandingsociety.blogspot.com/2010/02/rawls-and-decision-theory.html

This does not mean that Rawls's arguments are too abstract to have any relevance to real life; he provides a theoretical defence for liberal democracy with practical implications (as is evident in his criticisms of injustices in US society):

Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justice_as_Fairness:_A_Restatement


Rawls is attempting to point to an alternative to fascism as a whole and to offer a justification of the kind of liberal democracy that existed in Weimer, and which never had a suitable and well-developed defense or justification. (Theorists such as Kelsen had tried but without success.) Rawls project offers an answers to the theoretical critiques of liberal democracy that were prominent on what we now think of as the extreme right and the extreme left at the rise of Nazism. The ambition of developing a framework from which those critiques could be answered was certainly laudable at the time, given the fall of Weimer and rise of Nazism that Rawls had witnessed.

Corey Brettschneider

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2007/10/geusss-skeptici.html

Of course Rawls is not beyond criticism, see:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2007/10/geusss-skeptici.html

However, the thread discussing Geuss's criticisms has some strong defenses of Rawls. It is no surprise to find that his ideas are quite complex, given the time taken in developing and defending them, and that there is disagreement about them.

Krugman and Cuba

Krugman also gets the TBG treatment; according to him Krugman is "naive" and his "political insight" is "shallow" - if only poor Krugman had had the benefit of TBG's  political sophistication.

As Cyrille says, TBG attributes to Krugman something he didn't say.

"he says 'Sweden works, Cuba doesn't, therefore free market economies are better' "

http://www.eurotrib.com/comments/2010/9/29/92131/2721/46

The second part of the supposed quotation is added by TBG, it's neither fair nor accurate, it's a simplistic distortion. As in Rawls's case, Krugman is not just making a general point, about free market economies, but a more specific one: "systems without any inequality don't work ... there are limits. Cuba doesn't work; Sweden works pretty well."

TBG then says:


Firstly Sweden is more of a social democratic economy than a free market one.
...
And finally, what does 'work' mean? Does the US economy, with its vast and increasing inequality, work according to Krugman's definition?
...
The subtext is an obvious and rather naive or unquestioning acceptance of free market exceptionalism compared to the alternatives ...

ibid

As Cyrille said, defending Krugman:


(Krugman) keeps singing the praise of social democracy and ... picked Sweden as the example of a country that works, Sweden that, as you yourself said, cannot be called a free market economy.

http://www.eurotrib.com/comments/2010/9/29/92131/2721/48

Had TBG been seriously interested to know if Krugman thinks the US "works", especially in comparison to somewhere like Sweden, and whether he really had a "naive or unquestioning acceptance of free market exceptionalism" he could have done a little work and found this:


 ... wages are if anything higher in Sweden, and a higher tax burden is offset by public provision of health care and generally better public services. And as you move further down the income distribution, Swedish living standards are way ahead of those in the U.S. Swedish families with children that are at the 10th percentile - poorer than 90 percent of the population -- have incomes 60 percent higher than their U.S. counterparts. And very few people in Sweden experience the deep poverty that is all too common in the United States. One measure: in 1994 only 6 percent of Swedes lived on less than $11 per day, compared with 14 percent in the U.S.

The moral of this comparison is that even if you think that America's high levels of inequality are the price of our high level of national income, it's not at all clear that this price is worth paying.

http://www.pkarchive.org/economy/ForRicher.html

Here's what he says about European social democracy and whether, in comparison, the US "works":

The real lesson from Europe is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works.
...
Europe is often held up as a cautionary tale, a demonstration that if you try to make the economy less brutal, to take better care of your fellow citizens when they're down on their luck, you end up killing economic progress. But what European experience actually demonstrates is the opposite: social justice and progress can go hand in hand.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/opinion/11krugman.html

Is that clear enough ?

TBG adds a further claimed simplistic assumption, based on his own assumptions about what underlies Krugman's claim that "systems without any inequality don't work ... Cuba doesn't work":


TBG: ... it's been aggressively ostracised by its nearest and largest physical trading partner. So saying that Cuba somehow proves the limits of redistribution is a non-point.

But it's a revealing non-point. The fact that Krugman can write this, and - presumably - actually believe it, says a lot about his assumptions and the shallowness of his political insight."

Unfortunately, ARGeezer echos this:


And Krugman ignores the massive punitive behavior of Cuba's former trading partner to the north.

http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2010/9/29/92131/2721

To say that one factor has contributed to a system not working does not entail that one is claiming that it is the ONLY factor involved, nor that it is the most important.  Does anyone seriously think that Krugman is unaware of the US embargo or that he would deny that it has had serious negative effects on the Cuban economy or (given some other comments) deny that there were any positive aspects of Cuban society ? Similarly, he's undoubtedly aware that the global financial crisis has had an adverse impact on Cuba too (see Lara below), but didn't feel it necessary to add this rather obvious fact.

Clearly it's quite possible to be aware of the effects of US actions on Cuba, to admire many positive things about Cuban society, but ALSO think that the Cubans may not have helped themselves in this situation by SOME of their choices in organising their economy. Indeed the Cuban authorities themselves seem to have recently acknowledged this - without giving up fundamental values, and Krugman would seem to be agreeing with the Cubans:


The media frenzy that has followed the announcement that Cuba is to reduce its state workforce by 500,000 by the middle of 2011, is similar to that which followed Fidel Castro's throwaway remark last week that the Cuban model isn't working - it has largely missed the point.

This is not the end of communism or socialism in Cuba.

The announcement yesterday by the Cuban Workers Confederation is highly significant and it does spell the final death knell of the old Soviet model of centrally planned socialism in Cuba, but it would be very wrong to interpret it, as some have, as the harbinger of free market capitalism and liberal democracy.
Far from it.

Stephen Wilkinson is at the Centre for Caribbean and Latin American Research and Consultancy, London Metropolitan University

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11302430

From an interview with Dr José Bell Lara, professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Havana:


 This is a time of deep economic crisis globally. And of course Cuba is affected by this crisis. For the Cuban economy it has, taken together with the embargo by the United States, a strong impact. To maintain the socialist project it is necessary to achieve an efficient functioning of the economy. In this sense, we must extend factors that can increase productivity and better conditions of life.

For a long time we have had a paternalistic policy on the part of the Cuban state when it came to state employment. There is more personnel than is needed. Where it takes five people, we have eight. Those who can produce more, produce less...

... Here, together with seeking greater efficiency in the state sector, other possibilities are opened, such as working independently and through the cooperatisation of many activities.

http://links.org.au/node/1916

 One doesn't have to be in "awe" of Krugman, but it helps if one has a reasonable degree of respect for his intelligence and actually checks what he says about issues one raises, such as comparisons between the US system and European social democracy.

It's easy to criticise, especially from this side of the Atlantic, Rawls and Krugman for their merely liberal views and condemn them for not doing enough to "shift the Overton window". But in the US the Right has been very successful in moving political opinion to the Right, as Krugman illustrates in "Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming America from the Right", and now even to be liberal in the US is often to be seen as dangerously left-wing. Krugman himself notes "how timid and well-mannered latter-day liberalism has become" (Conscience of a Liberal, p.59). The US election funding system has a powerful effect on setting the agenda, and has recently become far worse (see below) and this helps explain a lot of the "timidity".

I think it's important to know who your friends are, and not to dismiss them because they don't fully measure up to your ideas of what should be done in their situation. I'm glad that Krugman is there in the mainstream regularly challenging, in an informed and often very blunt way, the very loud Right-wing voices around him and criticising the media and "centrists", e.g.:

... the supposed budget savings from the Ryan plan are a sham.

So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It's not just inability to do the math, although that's part of it. There's also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense. And last but not least, there's deference to power -- the G.O.P. is a resurgent political force, so one mustn't point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes.

But they don't. The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/06/opinion/06krugman.html

Chomsky

As I said at the beginning, I think that Chomsky's general approach would provide a better basis since he isn't concerned to develop elaborate, abstract ideas about basic values or a theory about how to justify them.

This article challenges conventional views of Chomsky's critique of American foreign policy as political extremism.

... he probes the policies, testing for consistency and with reference to what he believes is good for humans. His politically 'extreme' conclusions are derived from his use of evidence created and supplied by those in power.

http://www.palgrave-journals.com/cpt/journal/v4/n2/abs/9300155a.html

Cf.:


 I doubt any author, aside from perhaps George Orwell, has approached Chomsky in systematically skewering the hypocrisy of rulers and ideologues in both Communist and capitalist societies as they claim that theirs is the only form of true democracy available to humanity.

http://whosemedia.com/authors/mcchesney_robert_w/noam_chomsky_and_the_strugg.html

Rawls argued in 2001 that US election funding led to injustice:


Looking primarily at the twentieth century United States, he is certain that institutions within US society are causing injustices. The very expensive campaign system essentially rules out all but the very rich from even deciding to run for public office.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justice_as_Fairness:_A_Restatement

Chomsky provides specific evidence of how the system works in relation to funding:


In the United States we have recently seen a dramatic illustration of the power of the financial institutions. In the last presidential election they provided the core of President Obama's funding.

Naturally they expected to be rewarded. And they were - with the TARP bailouts, and a great deal more.
...
Popular anger finally evoked a rhetorical shift from the administration, which responded with charges about greedy bankers. "I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat-cat bankers on Wall Street," Obama told 60 Minutes in December.
...
Since Obama was supposed to be their man in Washington, the principal architects of government policy wasted little time delivering their instructions: Unless Obama fell back into line, they would shift funds to the political opposition.
...
Three days later, Obama informed the press that bankers are fine "guys," singling out the chairmen of the two biggest players, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs: "I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That's part of the free-market system," the president said. (Or at least "free markets" as interpreted by state capitalist doctrine.)

http://www.zcommunications.org/globalization-marches-on-by-noam-chomsky

Chomsky is not concerned to make judgments about Obama's character, but rather to understand the way the system works and to criticise that system. As "Lucitanian" said in a discussion of a talk by Chomsky:


People are identifying with the personalities, Noam Chomsky this, Obama that, Nader whatever... and they are missing the picture. In obsessing with "personalities" they are missing the wood for the trees. As if by somehow changing the personalities the system will change.

http://www.commondreams.org/video/2010/08/05-1

Unfortunately the US system has recently changed and is now even worse in relation to election funding:


With the Democrats facing electoral disaster and Barack Obama battling to save his presidency, the Republicans are resurgent, their campaign chests bursting with money from big corporations whose spending power has been unleashed by a supreme court ruling earlier this year providing anonymity for donors.

The estimated $5bn dwarfs the $1bn spent on the White House race.

Public Citizen, a non-profit organisation that tracks corporate spending on elections and lobbying, said today Republicans had received six times more cash than the Democrats last month, and this could rise to 10 to one this month. Much of the cash had come from Wall Street, banking and the health and pharmaceuticals industry, it said.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/04/us-midterms-most-expensive-elections

Taking Chomsky's approach as a model would not make ET particularly distinctive in its "common lines of thought", but it would fit quite well with some of what already takes place here. In addition to "systematically skewering the hypocrisy of rulers and ideologues", Chomsky is very wide-ranging in his approach, focuses on systems and institutions, e.g; in "Manufacturing Consent", his analysis of media with Herman, and makes significant connections. ET does put forward some positive ideas about aspects of future society, e.g. in relation to energy sources. This is something Chomsky encourages others to do in whatever particular situation they find themselves, and to organise or participate in attempts to bring about such change.

But, given the nature of ET, I don't suppose that there will be much agreement about even this modest proposal; that's what makes ET interesting for many of us. However, as with Rawls and Krugman, if one does criticise what Chomsky has to say, one ought to be careful to get it right, cf. Jeremy R. Hammond on someone who'd distorted Chomsky's views:


Serious supporters of the Palestinian cause would do well to set aside such claptrap as Blankfort and his ilk see fit to spend their time and efforts writing on and go out and pick up Fateful Triangle or read any of Chomsky's other countless writings on the subject, read it thoroughly and actually listen to what he actually has to say, and make an effort to actually comprehend it.

http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/07/rejoinder-to-criticism-of-chomsky-asset-or-liability/

I think most of us would at least agree about the importance of evidence-based criticism, fairness and accuracy, and focusing on systems rather than personalities.

Display:
I recommended this based on your stated goal of applying Chomsky's approach to the discussions of Rawls and Krugman. But as I got further into the diary it seemed as though you really didn't do that. None-the-less the recommendation stands.

I have trouble believing that Chomsky would buy the "veil of ignorance" argument. He likely would find deconstructing that argument into the practical effects that it has enabled to be irresistible, and, in fact, that is what TGB did and what I seconded in comments. It scarcely matters if the veil is abused by only a tiny minority if that minority includes those who used that abuse to grab control of the system to their own benefit.

Likewise, the criticisms of TGB's response to Krugman re Cuba, that he took the comments out of context, and that I deplorably seconded those comments, ignores that very context which was separated from what got quoted by a sentence or two in Krugman's writing, which was what I pointed out.

 

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Oct 10th, 2010 at 12:32:16 PM EST

I recommended this based on your stated goal of applying Chomsky's approach to the discussions of Rawls and Krugman. But as I got further into the diary it seemed as though you really didn't do that...

Thanks for the recommendation. I was suggesting (clearly I thought) Chomsky's approach as a preferable alternative to that of Rawls:


I think that Chomsky's general approach would provide a better model since he isn't concerned to develop elaborate, abstract ideas about basic values, nor about the nature of society and politics.

"I have trouble believing that Chomsky would buy the "veil of ignorance" argument. "

It's not an argument, it's a postulate; but, as I said, see above, Chomsky isn't interested in such an abstract, philosophical approach.


It scarcely matters if the veil is abused by only a tiny minority if that minority includes those who used that abuse to grab control of the system to their own benefit.

I did go to some trouble to try to clarify Rawls's approach, but it seems you still don't get it. My argument was not about the size of the minority. The "veil of ignorance" cannot be "abused", it's not some practical measure, which, in real life, some nasty people might circumvent, it's a theoretical postulate, to help clarify the rational nature of his arguments.

Likewise, the criticisms of TGB's response to Krugman re Cuba, that he took the comments out of context, and that I deplorably seconded those comments, ignores that very context which was separated from what got quoted by a sentence or two in Krugman's writing, which was what I pointed out.

I'm not ignoring anything; Krugman moves from some general remarks about market economies, to a specific focus on inequalities, as I pointed out. Your specific claim that he "ignores" the effects of the US embargo on Cuba is invalid for the reasons I gave and his criticism of market economies like that of the US, in comparison with social democratic ones like that in Sweden, or Europe in general, is clear from the quotations I provided.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Oct 10th, 2010 at 04:16:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The "veil of ignorance" cannot be "abused", it's not some practical measure, which, in real life, some nasty people might circumvent, it's a theoretical postulate, to help clarify the rational nature of his arguments.

Not amongst philosophers, likely. But as misapplied rhetoric amongst the educated and the half educated to justify policy choices -- I could only wish it could not be abused. It strikes me that, in popular application, it is likely to be little better than an update of Dr. Pangloss.

I am not talking about the purity of Rawls analysis but the many ways the cunning and the manipulative can abuse his approach for their own purposes. His analytic approach is a means for someone else to utilize. To me a means must be justified in terms of both itself and in terms of the actual ends it produces, both when applied as intended and when misapplied in predictable ways.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Oct 10th, 2010 at 08:01:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a bad idea to mistake an elegant argument for a convincing or persuasive one.

The 'veil of ignorance' is certainly elegant, but it hasn't been nearly as persuasive as other moral arguments have been.

The pervasive way in which nasty people own policy so easily and so effectively is exactly the problem that it has failed to address.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Oct 10th, 2010 at 08:12:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is that it - a mere repetition of your original misunderstanding in order to justify your patronising attitude towards Rawls ?

It's not really difficult - the "veil of ignorance" isn't an argument, elegant or otherwise. It's a postulate, from which the argument proceeds. So he was making any mistake about whether or not it was "persuasive or convincing".

Put simply, he's saying, IF we imagine a situation like this, then anyone in it would, because they knew nothing about their place or chances in society, if they were rational, agree about the choices for the structure of that society. It's a lot more complex than that, but it certainly doesn't depend on what you claimed, i.e. Rawls not being aware that there are nasty people with no interest in equality.

It's no criticism of Rawls that he didn't deal with the question you would have preferred him to answer. The questions he did try to deal with and the answers he gave are widely seen as revitalising political philosophy, no small achievement.

 Your preferred question is rather simplistic, of course it's not just any "nasty people" who get to "own policy", but those with some kinds of power, and how they get that and use it varies in different historical and social contexts. I suspect that you think there is some general answer to this as simplistic as the question. Of course it isn't always that easy for them, "nasty people" sometimes have their ambitions frustrated. Rawls had witnessed the destruction of the power and policies of the "nasty" Nazis and the Japanese regime.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 12:28:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Should have been, of course, "So he was NOT making any mistake ..."

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:52:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not amongst philosophers, likely. But as misapplied rhetoric amongst the educated and the half educated to justify policy choices - I could only wish it could not be abused.

 I was defending Rawls against the absurd accusation by TBG that Rawls was rather naive in not realising that some nasty people existed who didn't care about inequality. Of course he did.

To me a means must be justified in terms of both itself and in terms of the actual ends it produces, both when applied as intended and when misapplied in predictable ways.

 This is an absurd requirement and would have a chilling effect on intellectual progress. How much time should thinkers devote to trying to predict what "the cunning and manipulative" might do with their ideas ? Are you seriously saying that Rawls should be blamed, despite the evident care he took in formulating his ideas and developing them, because others have "misapplied" or "abused" his ideas ? Could you give me an example some ideas which "could not be abused" ? Even if it the abuse is "predictable", this is no reason to suppress what one believes are valid arguments about important issues.

 Is Marx really to be blamed for Stalinism, is Nietzsche to be blamed for the way the Nazis abused his ideas ? Don't you think the fair and obvious thing to do is blame the abusers and not the person whose ideas have been abused ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 11:37:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where did I raise the issue of blame. Seems like a red herring to me. I spoke of justification. As in assessing the impact of someone's work. I stand by my criterion for that purpose.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 12:02:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]

If it cannot be "justified", doesn't this imply that the person who did the unjustifiable thing is to be blamed ? But anyway, work can be justified even when others misapply or abuse it, for the reasons I gave,

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 12:36:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If it cannot be "justified", doesn't this imply that the person who did the unjustifiable thing is to be blamed?

They could be faulted for putting "out there" rationale that were only valid in very restricted circumstances that, foreseeably, could easily be misapplied by others in ways that cause great social harm, especially when they have been so misapplied. But given that misapplication, exemplified by our current POTUS, it would be most unwise to continue to use such arguments.

Fair doesn't really enter into the subject. For some of those happily misapplying elegant philosophical concepts fair is what we have in the late summer and fall at the county seats, where we go to see the poultry and livestock, and there ain't no other kind.  

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 01:31:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"They could be faulted for putting "out there" ..."  Ah, so they could be blamed :-)

rationale that were only valid in very restricted circumstances that, foreseeably, could easily be misapplied by others in ways that cause great social harm, especially when they have been so misapplied. But given that misapplication, exemplified by our current POTUS, it would be most unwise to continue to use such arguments.

You've accepted Jeremy Young/Nonpartisan's arguments linking Rawls and Obama too easily; you should look at the informed comments on openleft.com, e.g.:

As anyone who ever spent more than a minute with A Theory of Justice already knows, the most important single principle in Rawl's entire ideological structure is maximizing social benefits for the least fortunate members of society.
...

Most progressive criticism of Obama concentrates exactly on the absence of this principle in Obama's despicable pandering to the Republican Party, but somehow the obtuse Mr. Young has entirely ignored the (amply documented) Kantian foundation of John Rawls' moral and political philosophy, and constructed an absurd equivalence between a great liberal thinker and the completely unprincipled con-man Barack Obama.

by: Jacob Freeze

http://openleft.com/diary/13752/obama-john-rawls-and-a-defense-of-the-unreasonable

Nonpartisan retreats somewhat and emphasises his respect for Rawls and that he doesn't condemn him "for this one idea":


My point is that in Political Liberalism (NOT in the rest of his theory), he achieved one part of his task (accommodating pluralism) at the expense of nearly all the others.  Political Liberalism isn't the definitive statement of Rawlsian liberalism, and you don't have to condemn Rawls for this one idea (note that I describe him as "a great thinker," and I mean that).  But it's the one of his ideas that's particularly relevant because of the way Obama's using it.

ibid


Freeze has further, evidence-based criticism:

... in a note on page 7 ... (Rawls) observes that "some have thought that my working out the ideas of political liberalism meant giving up the egalitarian conception of Theory. I am not aware of any revisions that imply such a change, and think the surmise has no basis."

Mr. Young's diary is a ludicrous attempt to transmogrify the meaning of "liberal" into an infinitely fluid centrism, and there is no support whatsoever for this nonsense anywhere in the work of John Rawls.

by: Jacob Freeze



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 04:47:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You've accepted Jeremy Young/Nonpartisan's arguments linking Rawls and Obama too easily;

I accepted something that I recognized as applicable. It was not Rawl's maximizing social justice I recognized. I never particularly expected Obama to try that. It was the Rawlsian Consensus argument that I saw all over the Obama administration, if not too subtly applied.

But I do not particularly look to philosophers to solve social problems. What ever problems there may be with Rawl's social philosophy pale in comparison to the problems arising from the current theories of political economy, which are being used to provide a cover story for an ongoing looting of societies by the very wealthy. That activity is intimately bound up in ancillary criminal activities.

What is required is the integrity, fortitude and determination to prosecute crimes regardless of who is committing them, epitomized by an ancient maxim: "Let justice be done or let the heavens fall." Just prosecuting evident crime to the full extent of the law would almost certainly bring the whole corrupt system down. Lacking the integrity, fortitude and determination to do that, no amount of social philosophy will save us and the finest philosophy ever will continue to be treated as an academic curiosity. The philosophy and methods appropriate to the existing political-economic situation are those of the mob.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 08:27:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]

It was the Rawlsian Consensus argument that I saw all over the Obama administration, if not too subtly applied.

Well, you don't say what that argument is, but Nonpartisan's version of it also seems to be mistaken:



... The only way to get rid of political figures you don't like -- not just to remove them from office, but to prevent them from exercising substantive political influence -- is to wait for them to retire.

That's just not true at all. Of course Rawls isn't against electoral politics. Again, the OC (overlapping consensus)  applies at the level of accepting a form of government; obviously people will disagree on individual issues, and therefore people might vote in a new representative. Indeed, what the OC really is is a basis for disagreeing - a context within which discourse and disagreement can occur.

As for this:


...  In the Rawlsian bizarro-world, the science is wrong because it disagrees with the overlapping consensus.  Rawls gives us no way to move beyond the practical in order to achieve the necessary.

Again, reasonableness as far as the overlapping concensus is concerned has to do with accepting a given form of government. So long as there's consensus on that issue, any belief can be based on any facts, and people can have different views on what the facts are, so of course people will disagree and the debate can shift over time.
by: Chachy  

http://openleft.com/diary/13752/obama-john-rawls-and-a-defense-of-the-unreasonable

As to the rest, nobody is claiming that philosophy will "save us" - just that in discussing it we should at least try to be fair and accurate and be careful of accepting others' versions of what someone has said.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 04:47:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think this is the heart f the matter:

Ted Welch:

As to the rest, nobody is claiming that philosophy will "save us" - just that in discussing it we should at least try to be fair and accurate and be careful of accepting others' versions of what someone has said.

Well, Cyrille made this claim about ET:

European Tribune - What we stand for: Quasi-Rawlsian ethics

I chose to describe our ethics as quasi-Rawlsian.

and while not claiming that philosophy would save us it is a bold statement about us as a collective. And as a debate-happy collective (my description), members that do not agree with the description object.

ARG and TBG formulate somewhat different objections to the thesis that we are quasi-Rawlians. The objections with Rawls are not based on any formal error in his elegant model, rather with the assumption that what rational persons would agree behind that veil has anything relevant to say about our actual world here. Thus not quasi or otherwise Rawlsian.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 06:16:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Having defended Rawls, and Krugman, against some rather silly and unfair accusations, I did propose Chomsky as a better model. I take it that you would agree he does have a lot to say about "our actual world here".

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 06:24:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, exactly.

In fact Rawls did seem to believe that philosophy could save us. The implication is clearly that by presenting an elegant argument he could persuade people to reconsider and even change their ethics.

Empirically, he was completely wrong about this - at least about that particular argument. As an argument it supports the already-converted, but fails with the irrational, immoral and insane who are most in need of persuasion.

And if he didn't believe this and was only trying to make a philosophical point with no obvious reference to the outside world, the elegant argument reduces to an exercise in empty rhetoric - which seems rather unlikely as a Rawlsian motivation.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 07:21:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Well, what a surprise, ignoring what has been explained to you, you once again return to your original silly idea - though you do now offer an option, typically simplistic: either thought he could persuade everyone, including "the irrational", etc, or it "made a philosophical point" which had "no reference to the outside world" and amounted to "empty rhetoric". Can't you see that this hardly exhausts the options ?

So first you return the idea that Rawls wanted to persuade everybody through his theory, but, poor man, he just didn't realise that it "fails with the irrational, immoral and insane who are most in need of persuasion."

Of course he realised that such people existed, and of course his theory wasn't aimed at them, but that left a very wide audience. Luckily most of us don't think such work is a waste of time unless it persuades even the "insane". He's doing political philosophy, not running for political office, when some might attempt to persuade the "irrational"  etc. through all kinds of persuasion, including bribery, playing on fear, etc.

The daft claim that he was "empirically wrong" rests on the further simplistic assumption that one can only be successful in persuasion if one persuades everyone; obviously false.  The appropriate empirical test of his success is the influence of his theory within political philosophy and the wider interest it generated, and both would obviously include criticism and rejection, rather than just successful persuasion. In these relevant empirical terms he was successful. He provided what he thought was a rational, philosophical defense of liberal democracy, which had an indirect, wider effect in provoking debate about the nature and justification of liberal democracy:


... after its appearance in 1971, his most important book, A Theory Of Justice - written during the Vietnam war - became required reading for students of philosophy, politics and law, and, in that way, Rawls has influenced several generations. Indeed, the book, which sold more than 300,000 copies in the US alone (rare for an academic work), more or less singlehandedly rejuvenated and transformed the study of political philosophy.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2002/nov/27/guardianobituaries.obituaries

In 2001 he commented on the wider practical implications of his theory:


Looking primarily at the twentieth century United States, he is certain that institutions within US society are causing injustices ... The expense of healthcare restricts the best care to those who can afford it, leaving the poor to only the most basic of services.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justice_as_Fairness:_A_Restatement

Are the "irrational, immoral and insane" really "most in need of persuasion" ? Or should they perhaps be treated medically, locked up or, in some cases, maybe even shot ? Certainly a successful philosopher would not be troubled about not persuading them; they're beyond rational persuasion, that leaves the rest of us to deal with them by more appropriate means:


Dreben makes it clear that arguments such as the original position one were not intended to speak to the fascists. He has this hilarious passage about what Rawls would say to Hitler presumably about all the evil. Dreben's answer on behalf of Rawls is that the thing to do is to shoot him and not to argue about the original position. Someone who is so far away from the liberal democratic ideals is beyond the pale. This seems to be 'the right kind of intellectual response to slavery, torture, and mass murder'.

Jussi Suikkanen  

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2007/10/geusss-skeptici.html



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 09:46:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're trying to argue for a political philosophy that has had no measurable policy influence in the West since it appeared, and continues to have no prospect of same?

Marx and Chomsky would be thrilled by your practicality.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 10:45:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Defending Rawls against your unfair criticism and noting the relevance of his success in his chosen field and some wider influence is hardly to be "arguing for him" as a major influence on policy in the West, something I rather obviously wan't trying to do, nor was there any need to.  But then if you don't have any relevant arguments - just try to confuse the issue again, it might persuade the irrational.

I prefer Chomsky, as I said, even though he too might have had no measurable influence on policy in the West; but that is not the only criterion of a writer's significance.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 11:27:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One has to appreciate the irony in that, according to Suikkanen, liberal democracy can only defend itself against illiberal populists by abandoning the principles of liberal democracy.

Burn the witch hunters!

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 10:57:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the phrase is 'Death to all fanatics!' :)

In fact we already have a perfectly good definition of unacceptable behaviour. It's called criminality.

What we don't have is a truly universal application of the principle of criminality. It applies in a limited way at the personal level, but not at the corporate- and nation-state-level.

Rather than trying to hand-wave a naive senior common room argument based on 'How would you like it if someone did that to you?' and hoping it can be generalised, it might be more useful to make practical moves towards enforcing corporate and political accountability more aggressively.

Countries that do this seem to be more successful than countries that don't, which suggests that it's more likely to make a measurable difference.

Of course there's an opposition - but there's always an opposition. Real political pressure is more likely to force it on the defensive than a philosophical argument which is clever in theory, but trivially easy to ignore in practice.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 11:11:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Rather than trying to hand-wave a naive senior common room argument based on 'How would you like it if someone did that to you?' and hoping it can be generalised, it might be more useful to make practical moves towards enforcing corporate and political accountability more aggressively.

The usual stuff: "hand-wave", "naive".

"Naive" is more appropriate to someone who can't grasp a bit of complexity. He was not a politician making "practical moves". There was nothing naive about Rawls, he'd experienced war, and wrote about when it was necessary and how it should be conducted (see reply to JakeS) and he would have been for enforcing corporate and political accountability in order to achieve the kind of just society he'd written about, cf. his comments about health care previously quoted. Do try to inform yourself before patronising people.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 12:15:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hitler was a little more than just an "illiberal populist", see Suikkanen's final line; so it doesn't entail that force is the only way liberal democracy can defend itself from them.

What principle of liberal democracy rules out the use of force in all circumstances ? Rawls had seen the brutal reality of war in the Pacific and discusses the justifications for and conduct of war (he was opposed to the use of the atomic bomb on Japan):


"The notion of "right in war" or jus in bello is given quite an extended treatment by Rawls ...  It is discussed by him as part of "just war doctrine". Three "familiar" principles are used to set the discussion up, namely, (i) that its aim should be a "just and lasting peace", (ii) that it should occur for "well-ordered" peoples only against peoples that are not "well-ordered", (iii) that is is necessary to distinguish between an "outlaw" state's leaders, its soldiers and its population."

http://kantinternational.blogspot.com/2010/09/rawls-non-ideal-theory-and-war-ii.html



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 11:54:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point I was making, somewhat tongue in cheek, is that in order to work liberal democracy has to incorporate, at a quite fundamental level, some institutions that are somewhat at odds with the liberal democratic ideology of the enlightened body politic.

Constitutions and judicial review, for instance, are illiberal and elitist institutions: They permit a largely self-selected upper middle class and/or lower upper class clique to gainsay the Will of the PeopleTM. But we do not question that rule of law is necessary, nor do we question that the judicial branch - indeed most of the civil service - has to be a largely self-selected clique.

Universities represent another conflict with the liberal democratic principle of transparency and external review: If you try to subject scholarly research to external review by people who have not been trained in the subject in question, they will do stupid things that impair the functioning of said scholarly research. And if they have been trained in the subject in question, then they're part of the self-selected Good Old Boys' network.

Indeed, I am increasingly convinced that society itself is best analysed as an interlocking grid of Good Old Boys' networks, all of which shape and are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by the other GOB networks they interact and/or share parts of their membership with. In this model, a functioning society is one in which every social network enacts some measure of influence upon every other social network that they share a physical territory with. Social dysfunction occurs when a network, or cluster of networks, becomes detached from the other networks that occupy the same physical territory. Examples of the latter include hoodlums, biker gangs, the City of London and assorted brownshirt movements through the ages.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 02:34:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great comment...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 03:08:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Constitutions and judicial review, for instance, are illiberal and elitist institutions"

Rawls's theory was intended to get round such apparent contradictions in liberal theory by providing a providing a rational way of deciding on the fundamental nature of society and from that deciding on institutions within it which were in accordance with the agreed basic principles.


Universities represent another conflict with the liberal democratic principle of transparency and external review: If you try to subject scholarly research to external review by people who have not been trained in the subject in question, they will do stupid things that impair the functioning of said scholarly research.

As far as Rawls's ideas are concerned, cf. the comment on Nonpartisan's related point (already cited):


As for this:


...  In the Rawlsian bizarro-world, the science is wrong because it disagrees with the overlapping consensus.  Rawls gives us no way to move beyond the practical in order to achieve the necessary.

Again, reasonableness as far as the overlapping concensus is concerned has to do with accepting a given form of government. So long as there's consensus on that issue, any belief can be based on any facts, and people can have different views on what the facts are, so of course people will disagree and the debate can shift over time.

by: Chachy  

http://openleft.com/diary/13752/obama-john-rawls-and-a-defense-of-the-unreasonable


And if they have been trained in the subject in question, then they're part of the self-selected Good Old Boys' network.

I take it this is a "tongue-in-cheek" caricature too :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 06:13:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rawls's theory was intended to get round such apparent contradictions in liberal theory by providing a providing a rational way of deciding on the fundamental nature of society and from that deciding on institutions within it which were in accordance with the agreed basic principles.

There are two problems with this: First, the principles of liberal democracy are inherently contradictory. Liberal democracy believes in free speech, but it also believes in protecting outgroups from harassment. Liberal democracy believes in transparency, but it also believes in autonomous civil society. Liberal democracy believes in the will of the people, but it also believes in rule of law.

If the body politic were enlightened and rational, then there would be no contradiction. But the body politic is neither, and a theory of jurisprudence that only works if the body politic is enlightened and rational fails for that reason. Adding some ad hoc clause for excluding irrational or unenlightened people, through some unexplained mechanism, does not resolve this problem. It merely artificially places it beyond the scope of the theory, in the same way that marginalist economics artificially places financial shocks beyond the scope of its enquiries.

The failure of the overlapping consensus principle in providing such a definition and mechanism follows from the fact that it assumes rational actors to be a sufficiently clear majority to ensure that the consensus excludes the irrational, rather than the rational. But if rational actors always were a clear majority on every issue, there would be no need for liberal democracy to exclude irrational actors - they would be voted down.

The second, and more practical, point is that once you put the option of revising the core institutions of society on the table, the revisions that actually happen will result from the balance of power between the groups who take the field in defence of their interests, not in any sort of rational process.

Again, if the body politic were enlightened and rational, this problem would not arise. But it isn't, so it does.

And if they have been trained in the subject in question, then they're part of the self-selected Good Old Boys' network.
I take it this is a "tongue-in-cheek" caricature too :-)

Not at all. Any academic schooling is going to socialise you into the way of thinking that prevails in the academic community in question, and the patronage networks that exist in same. And modern scholarly efforts being what they are, you will need to remain in both that culture and that patronage network if you wish to remain (regarded as) competent in the field in question.

The scholarly investigation of the political economy provides a very distinct example, because the favoured theories are such utter garbage with precious few redeeming virtues of any kind. This makes it easy to see that theories can be maintained by patronage rather than because they accurately describe empirical reality. But you shouldn't believe for a moment that the social dynamics that make the study of the political economy so incredibly dysfunctional are not equally applicable to chemistry, physics, linguistics and any other scholarly pursuit. In other areas of study, the socially dominant paradigm just happens to be compatible with empirical reality, making it a lot harder to distinguish between theories that are supported out of social convention and theories that are supported because they are correct.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 05:21:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]

If the body politic were enlightened and rational, then there would be no contradiction. But the body politic is neither, and a theory of jurisprudence that only works if the body politic is enlightened and rational fails for that reason.

This is going round in circles. The problem is in the use of "works" - you're arguing it doesn't work in practice, but then Rawls wasn't putting forward a suggestion for actual political reform. He was well aware that the "original position" and the "veil of ignorance" were not practical proposals. What he was trying to do, within political philosophy, was to provide, through a "thought experiment",  a theory which "worked" - as philosophy:


I should not give the impression that Rawls's work (either in the books or in these essays) aims to engage concrete issues in public policy. Though the success of A Theory of Justice encouraged the normative application of philosophical argument to public affairs, that is not what Rawls has put his own energies into. Apart from the discussion of Hiroshima and one other piece on civil disobedience (from 1969), the papers in this volume are quite technical, and the books they have prefigured are works of abstract theory. For some critics, `abstract' is a term of abuse. But the hard work that needed to be done to challenge the consensus of utilitarian and other aggregative measures of social well-being did not consist simply in publicising philosophers' verdicts on bottom-line issues of policy. It was a matter of building philosophical infrastructure - formulating principles and articulating their connection to classic and contemporary theory, on topics like impartiality, rational choice, `the moral point of view', social contract, justification, universalisation and respect for persons.
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n14/jeremy-waldron/the-plight-of-the-poor-in-the-midst-of-plenty


Any academic schooling is going to socialise you into the way of thinking that prevails in the academic community in question, and the patronage networks that exist in same.

That IS a caricature - as with any caricature there is some truth, but it's over-simple and over-general. If true one might expect almost no change in fields, but of course there is, varying from field to field and from period to period. Of course fashion and conformity exist, but in some fields there may be quite fundamental changes and, as in Einstein's case, they may be brought about by a relative outsider. Many fields include quite divergent and changing approaches, sometimes radically so and different ones dominate in different periods, no doubt PARTLY due to fashion and conformity, especially in fields where there aren't empirical tests to help decide. Thus the "social dynamics" involved may be of the same general type in the fields you mention, but they don't play an equal role in all fields. Thus outsiders have more chance to join the debate in areas relating to political policy, than they do in theoretical physics - cf. my first quotation from from Chomsky in the diary.


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:43:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jake:
Indeed, I am increasingly convinced that society itself is best analysed as an interlocking grid of Good Old Boys' networks, all of which shape and are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by the other GOB networks they interact and/or share parts of their membership with.

This is coming close to Ludwik Fleck's ideas of "thought collectives" as discussed in Mary Douglas's How Institutions Think, Syracuse, 1986. Fleck built on Durkheim's sociological epistemology which upgraded the role of society in organizing thought and downgraded the role of the individual. Durkheim maintained that the categories of space, time and causality have a social origin:

They represent the most general relations which exist between things; surpassing all or other ideas in extension, they dominate all the details of our intellectual life. If men do not agree upon these essential ideas at any moment, if they did not have the same conceptions of time, space, cause, number, etc., all contact between their minds would be impossible, and with that, all life together. Thus, society could not abandon the categories to the free choice of the individual without abandoning itself....There is a minimum of logical conformity beyond which it cannot go. For this reason it uses all its authority upon its members to forestall such dissidences... -- Durkheim, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, 1912

It would seem that Durkheim's insights were at least fifty years ahead of his time, except, possibly, for Fleck and the linguistics work of Benjamin Whorf. Given the highly individualistic self view of much of western society and Fleck's status as an outsider to philosophy Fleck's work The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, 1935, was generally ignored until Thomas Kuhn made reference to him in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962.

In his 1935 work Fleck wrote:

Cognition is the most socially-conditioned activity of man, and knowledge is the paramount social creation. The very structure of language presents a compelling philosophy characteristic of that community, and even a single word can represent a complex theory....every epistemological theory is trivial that does not take the sociological dependence of all cognition into account in a fundamental and detailed manner.

The foreword Kuhn wrote to the 1979 translation of The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact reveals that he is not comfortable with the implications of Fleck's work:

...for me these cluster, as they did on first reading, around the notion of a thought collective...I find the notion intrinsically misleading and a source of recurrent tension in Fleck's text. Put briefly, a thought collective  seems to function as an individual mind writ large because many people possess it (or are possessed by it). To explain its apparent ligislative authority, Fleck therefore repeatedly resorts to terms borrowed from discourse about individuals. (-- English Translation U. of Chicago Press, 1979)

Mary Douglas then states the reason, which is the reigning, unquestioned presumption:

In sum, thinking and feeling are for individual persons. However, can a social group think or feel: This is the central, repugnant paradox. Kuhn appreciates in Fleck's book a number of separate insights, but not Fleck's main argument. By rejecting it, Kuhn is sharing discomfort with many lliberals. John Rawls' philosophy of justice is founded on outright individualism; in his view society is not "an organic whole with a life of its own distinct from and superior to that of all its members in their relations with one another" (Rawls, 1971, p. 264)

It is true that there are now several movements of ideas in the direction to which Fleck was urgently pointing. For instance, we can deal more easily with the uncomfortable terms. The translators considered and rejected several alternatives for denkkollectiv sicj as
school of thought" or "cognitive community" Before they adopted the literal translation "thought collective." But now the term "world" has acquired the right sense. Thought world (including distinguishable theology worlds, anthropology worlds, and science worlds) in place of thought collective would be faithful to Fleck's essential idea, while linking it appropriately to Nelson Goodman's Ways of Worldmaking (Goodman, 1978) and to Howard Becker's  Art Worlds (Becker 1982). Fleck's subject was scientific discovery, Becker's is artistic creativity, and Goodman's is cognition in general

That is what I mean when I boldly assert that reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable, if not easily malleable. It is also the reason which I reject the individualistic visions of liberalism as inappropriate to the experienced reality of myself and those with whom I chose to affiliate. It also was the foundational premise for my old sig line: If sanity be culturally normative, then, by the norms of this culture, I claim insanity.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 11:28:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is what I mean when I boldly assert that reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable

On the contrary. There exists a physical reality whose laws are not malleable. If you exit your apartment by the window on the twenty-second floor, you are not going to make it to work that day. This is not a social convention, it is an empirical reality.

On the other hand, there is also a reality of social convention, which is malleable. That we construct buildings with windows from which it is theoretically possible to exit is a social convention - in this day and age, no law of nature prevents us from constructing perfectly habitable buildings with no windows at all.

One challenge for a political reformer is to recognise which of the laws governing his reality are of the former kind, and which are of the latter kind. If he fails to do so, he risks wasting much of his time arguing for the repeal of the laws of nature. The social convention is not a reliable guide to this distinction, because the social convention is apt to mistake strong institutions for laws of nature. The conventional wisdom considers you just as much a crackpot when you inform it that there is no causal relationship between taxes and sovereign outlays as it does when you inform it that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is false.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 05:33:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There exists a physical reality whose laws are not malleable.

Agreed. I unintentionally left out the word "perceptual" from my intended phrase "perceptual reality". In the face of creationists and flat earthers I doubt you would deny that people can perceive and have perceived the underlying reality differently. But, to most, perception is reality. It is exactly the response of conventional wisdom to such concepts as taxes and global warming that I am proposing to change -- not the underlying physics.

For those aspects of our reality that are not tied tightly to genuine laws of physics or nature, or which are tied to non-functional or poorly functioning undestandings of these laws the phrase "Nothing is but that thinking makes it so" truly applies and just thinking differently could change things.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 10:16:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I reject the individualistic visions of liberalism as inappropriate to the experienced reality of myself and those with whom I chose to affiliate.

Yes, well, the "individualistic" Rawls did spend his professional life discussing issues to do with a just society, specifically one not based on individualistic considerations (hence the use of the "original position" and "veil of ignorance") and notions like "overlapping consensus".

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:50:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The notion of "right in war" or jus in bello is given quite an extended treatment by Rawls ... Three "familiar" principles are used to set the discussion up, namely, (i) that its aim should be a "just and lasting peace", (ii) that it should occur for "well-ordered" peoples only against peoples that are not "well-ordered", (iii) that is is necessary to distinguish between an "outlaw" state's leaders, its soldiers and its population."

From which I take that Rawls was not receptive to the core of the post-modern critique, especially the de-construction of inherent assumptions of the superiority of Western institutions and privilege. I had failed to realize the extent to which George Bush was operating from a solid Liberal tradition when he identified "an axis of evil", labeled the members of that axis "rogue states" and proceeded to wage undeclared war on them.


As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 04:20:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 Having failed to justify blaming him for what you don't like about Obama, you now try to hang Bush round his neck  :-)


I take that Rawls was not receptive to the core of the post-modern critique, especially the de-construction of inherent assumptions of the superiority of Western institutions and privilege.

Why ? Maybe you should actually check what Rawls had to say about "well-ordered societies" for example; it might take a bit of time:

Rawls discusses only the "well-ordered societies" corresponding to each of the rival sets of principles. His notion of a well-ordered society is complex. See CP at 232-5. The gist of it is that the relevant principles of justice are publicly accepted by everyone and that the basic social institutions are publicly known (or believed with good reason) to satisfy those principles.

http://www.iep.utm.edu/rawls/

There doesn't seem to be anything about inherent Western superiority in that. Nor would he seem to justify Bush's "axis of evil", etc. In fact his views would condemn Bush as running an "outlaw state":


 ... no well-ordered peoples may violate human rights or behave in an externally aggressive manner. States that do so are referred to as "outlaw states,"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rawls

Quite specifically:


Rawls' discussion of "non-ideal" theory, on the other hand, included a condemnation of bombing civilians and of the American bombing of German and Japanese cities in World War II

ibid

Where's the inherent superiority there ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 05:52:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure what "doesn't work" means in Cuba's case, especially in contrast with Sweden. Sweden is a first world country with the historical opportunities this carried. It isn't as though if Cuba wasn't today's Cuba it would be Sweden. The real alternatives were nothing of the sort.
The countries that it is reasonable to compare it with are its neighbors in the Caribbean and Central America. In that comparison (especially given the US embargo which creates a vastly unequal field) "doesn't work" seems nonsensical. Cuba has a higher GDP per capita PPP-wise (possibly in absolute current dollars as well I'm not sure) that say the Dominican Republic or Jamaica, and certainly Guatemala, and is close to even Costa Rica which is AFAIK the regional leader.
Not only that but I'd be willing to argue that state violence in Cuba is certainly not out of the ordinary for the region and the sum of state + social violence by most measures would place Cuba among the least violent countries in the region for the majority of its population.

And this is where Rawls comes in: If one applies his difference principle to the region, then certainly and by far Cuba is the Rawlsian champion in the area: the worst off group in its society society is as well off as can be as determined by actual outcomes of all countries in its region. I mean if you were forced to reincarnate as a member of the lowest income decile in a Central American country, what would be your choice? In fact never mind Central America, even in all of Latin (at least) America?

So maybe things need to improve - and might or might not with Raul's policies - but "doesn't work" is rather inaccurate for what has been achieved in Cuba. Whether a model of this sort is exportable to a first world country is a different issue. Of course not, IMHO, and I don't think even the Cuban leadership would claim it could be. Bit on its scale and circumstances, Cuba does work, like it or not.

---

As for Chomsky, if "anti-obfuscatory" and evidence-based is a part of Eurotrib's identity, than he is a shining beacon of both. And he speaks in a way that addresses not an intelligentsia but the man on the street. So if there's a vote somewhere, I'll vote for him!

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sun Oct 10th, 2010 at 07:20:59 PM EST
Bit on its scale and circumstances, Cuba does work, like it or not.

True, but therein lies the problem for Krugman. In Rawlsian terms and for his target audience in the USA granting that Cuba works immediately imperils, if not destroys, all of Krugman's SeriousTM credentials, Nobel notwithstanding.  

"Cuba works?!  What are you? Some kind of Commie Pinko?"

A working Cuba falls well outside of the existing location of the Overton Window. "Everybodynoze Cuba don't work!" You might as well claim that there was a conspiracy to assassinate either or both of the Kennedy brothers. Krugman should understand this and should not have used Cuba as an example, but it was convenient rhetoric, if a cheap shot. But America loves its cheap shot artists -- look at Ron Reagan.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Oct 10th, 2010 at 08:21:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure what "doesn't work" means in Cuba's case, especially in contrast with Sweden. Sweden is a first world country with the historical opportunities this carried.

I think Krugman is aware of such differences. As I suggested, I think what he had in mind in relation to equality, is the kind of thing Lara referred to:

 

For a long time we have had a paternalistic policy on the part of the Cuban state when it came to state employment. There is more personnel than is needed. Where it takes five people, we have eight. Those who can produce more, produce less...

Here, together with seeking greater efficiency in the state sector, other possibilities are opened, such as working independently ...

Which, of course, will lead to some inequality.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 12:45:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The idea that Sweden is not a free market economy is, if anything, absurd.

I suppose we might have different definitions though, where the presence of anything more than a Randian/Nozickian nightwatch state, disqualifies you from being a free market economy. If you do that there will, however, not be a single free market economy in the world.

But unless you do that, it's impossible to claim that Sweden isn't a free market economy. Indeed, the Swedish economy is deregulated to a greater degree than the US economy. We have no steel tariffs, deregulated power generation, postal service, rail, privatized social security and to a considerable degree privatized pensions, no minimum wage, independent national bank focusing on fighting inflation, no tax on inheritance or gifts or wealth, very small real estate tax, the broadest ownership of shares, mutual funds and second homes in the world, and so on and so on.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 06:53:22 AM EST

It's obviously not simply either/or. Clearly Sweden has been more of a social democracy than the US:


The social democrats are not in power right now, 2006-2010. But four years for the new right-wing coalition is noway near enough for overturning 100 years of social democracy. From a global point of view, Sweden is definitely a social democracy society. We still have the world's highest taxes.

Taxes

http://temporarystockholmer.blogspot.com/2009/01/social-democracy.html



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 01:12:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Finland is the same, perhaps even more so. We still have Communist candidates in national elections - not that they get any votes. And the hard Left, though waning, is still represented in Parliament.

The ugly side is the racism that has been brought out in recent surveys. I believe it is more a fear of the unknown and of not 'rocking the smoothly sailing boat', but the majority of Finns have not yet understood (thanks to the media) that thousands of service jobs in the future will be unfilled in this aging society.

Neither politicians nor the media have yet plucked up the courage to start the debate. And it is very easy to show the numbers and win the argument. Cowards.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 01:49:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Moving from a homogeneous society -- "Us" -- to a pluralistic society -- "Us & Them" -- is tricky.  Furriners stick to the enculturation imprinting of their homeland making them "Not Us" to a goodly swack of the population in/of their new home.  

Result: take the Finn/Swede tensions and multiply by ten.

It's all very nice, warm, & fuzzy to tout a "multi-cultural society."  The operative truth is: it takes two generations (minimum) for the immigrants to 'fit in.'  

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:08:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree. Language is a particular problem in Finland. Immigrants can get by with English in Helsinki, but beyond the sushi frontier - no chance.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:50:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Sushi Frontier?"

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:54:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh sorry - inside joke. In Finland, the Ring Road 3 around Helsinki is called the 'susiraja' or wolf line (susi = wolf, raja = border, demarcation line etc)

Klaus, noting the spread of wasabi establishments, coined 'sushiraja'.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:01:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reporting from beyond the sushi frontier. Language is the key to successful integration. But having said that, it really depends on one's wants and needs. I live in a small village where most of my neighbors don't speak a word of English. Since my needs are few, I get by just fine using body language.

I think if you haven't learned the language of the country you are residing in within 10 years, you should be deported back to wherever you came from. Luckily, I still have 4 years.

by sgr2 on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 05:38:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's no problem at all with being a social democratic society and a free market society at the same time. Believe me, I live in one.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:01:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can we stop using the phrase "free market?"

If you think companies shouldn't be able to add melamine to milk you believe in a regulated market.

If you think companies shouldn't be allowed to engage in Front Running you believe in a regulated market.

If you think Patents and Trademarks are a good idea then you believe in a regulated market.

Need I go on?

Few intelligent people believe in a "free market."  They believe in a regulated market and the discussion is over how much, or little, to regulate.


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:01:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Technically - and I'm sure if I was on the Nobel committee I might be able to find someone to back me up on this, although it would probably take a while - a free market simply means that rich people should be allowed to become even richer without hindrance or limit, and that they shouldn't be forced to contribute financially to the countries in which they operate.

Being able to make business decisions that kill people, make them ill, make them homeless or limit other notional freedoms is a prerequisite, but not a full definition.

Of course there are other definitions, but I think that may perhaps be the only one that really matters.

Unfortunately quite a few people do believe in that kind of free market, in London, Washington, Chicago, and increasingly in India and China.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:09:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The phrase "free market" is not synonomous with an unregulated market. Free market is the opposite of plan economy, not no regulations at all. Around here, pretty much only Randians use the phrases that way, as in "no we don't have a free power market, as there are regulations on the nuclear power stations. There should be no regulations, as the owners have all the incentives in the world to avoid meltdowns!!!!!111"

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:26:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you tell me what a Big Mac costs in Malmö, I can tell you what it costs in Haparanda. Down to the last öre.

All industrial economies are planned economies. The fact that the Swedish economy is planned in the headquarters of CocaCola, Volvo and Bofors does not make it any less planned than if it were planned in the Swedish parliament. Perhaps it becomes somewhat less transparent, and perhaps it becomes somewhat more flexible. But it does not become any less planned.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:41:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh come on... We all know that in certain ways major corporations work like planned economies internally, and we know this is not the same things as the entire economy being run by GOSPLAN. Most importantly because the former system works while the latter doesn't, and the former works because of competition. Companies that don't work are out-competed by other companies. That mechanism is sorely missing in Cuba.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:48:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh come on... We all know that in certain ways major corporations work like planned economies internally, and we know this is not the same things as the entire economy being run by GOSPLAN.

Of course it's not the same thing. It's one step less centralised, thus avoiding the single point of failure for the whole economy.

Most importantly because the former system works while the latter doesn't,

For what definition of "works?"

I'll remind you that when the Bolsheviks took over Russia, it was an agrarian third-world backwater. Forty years, a brutal civil war and a war of extermination with the then premier industrial power on the planet later, it was a more or less functioning industrial state. I don't think any other country can boast of industrial development on a similar scale without massive help from the outside, something Russia emphatically did not get.

So I really don't think you can say that Soviet-style central planning didn't "work," from a purely productivist perspective. Of course the human cost of their crash industrialisation programme is another story entirely...

and the former works because of competition. Companies that don't work are out-competed by other companies.

Heh. Right.

The biggest three manufacturers of computer mainboards account for more than 50 % of the total turnover in the industry - both in terms of revenue and in terms of the number of sold items. And this is globally. The same is true for operating systems, central processing units, transcontinental shipping and several strategic metals.

In most industrial economies, the biggest three manufacturers and/or distributors count for a similar slice of retail grocery stores, bottled drinks and automobiles. The list goes on.

There is, of course, competition between Nokia and Motorola, in the same sense and to the same extent that there is competition between Sweden and Denmark when one is deciding where to establish one's place of residence. No actor, no matter how large, can go too far out of the commonly agreed price range before losing significant market share - but to go from that and to believing that the agreed upon price range reflects consumer arbitrage... well, that requires something of a leap of faith.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:03:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some markets are more fragmented than other, generally due to barriers of entry and economies of scale.

Speaking of the early Soviet economy, it was hardly successful because of all those wars and exterminations. It was successful at creating a heavy industrial state, basically a machine that "ate coal and shat steel", perfect for waging wars. It completely failed at producing consumer products demanded by the Soviet population.

China developed just as fast or faster than the Soviet Union after Deng Xiaoping decided to stop the madness in the early 80's, and the capitalist Chinese economy seems to be just as good at "eating coal and shitting steel" as the Soviet economy ever was, while also being able to produce all kinds of demanded consumer products. For pretty much no cost at all. The Soviet industry was never competitive internationally, they had no great export products. Except weapons, a thoroughly political good, and petroleum, which doesn't take that much skill to succeed at. As a comparison, China is the workshop of the world.

(This doesn't mean that all Russian engineering was shitty, much of it was good. But it was never competitive and the quality control left mcuh to wish for...)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:21:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some markets are more fragmented than other, generally due to barriers of entry and economies of scale.

Highly centralised, capital-intensive production exploiting economies of scale is what is commonly called industrial production. The movement away from the economics of the market towards the economics of scale is what is commonly denoted by the term industrialisation. So inasmuch as a part of the economy has yet to industrialise, it retains a competitive market.

Speaking of the early Soviet economy, it was hardly successful because of all those wars and exterminations.

Of course not. The fact that it was successful despite them says something about the abject failure, or lack thereof, of central planning, when it comes to organising industrial production.

It was successful at creating a heavy industrial state, basically a machine that "ate coal and shat steel",

In other words, the first step of any successful industrialisation process. One does not simply take sand from the beach and build a semiconductor. We use crude tools to craft better tools, to fashion more refined tools.

China developed just as fast or faster than the Soviet Union after Deng Xiaoping decided to stop the madness in the early 80's,

China got rather a large leg up from Ronny Raygun going all Henry Morgenthau Jr. on the American industrial plant.

The Soviet industry was never competitive internationally, they had no great export products.

It is always somewhat dangerous to attempt to measure "competitiveness" across currencies. How much of the lack of competitiveness was maintaining an artificially overvalued currency for domestic political reasons, and how much was genuine inefficiency in the use of available raw materials and capital? And how much was a lack of capital to begin with? These are not trivial questions, and cannot be answered simply by noting the asset stripping that occurred after the collapse - because that asset stripping was predicated both on the collapse of institutions and on maintaining a ridiculously overvalued rouble.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:33:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Continuing the discussion of Econ 101, 'competitiveness' simply means the opportunity for rich people to get richer.

The USSR had its own socialist aristocracy, complete with dachas, prostitutes and western imports. But status was dependent on the state, and one misstep could lead to catastrophe.

In the West, rich people tend to stay rich, and rich families become richer. Once you have £10 million or so to invest, you can only lose it by doing something incredibly stupid or foolishly entrepreneurial. Even when - not if - there's a market convulsion, you'll almost certainly weather it more successfully than people who have to work for their income.

This isn't necessarily an improvement on the soviet system, because it guarantees misery and declining opportunities for much of the population. It also isolates the rich from any and all accountability.

And let's not forget that the Soviets never had a PR, advertising and media machine equivalent to the one in the West. Once Socialist Rhetoric became enshrined as the official language of the state, the PR war was lost.

The Soviet PR machine tried to bulldoze opposition with bluster and cliches. The US PR machine was always infinitely more sophisticated, and has left a legacy narrative of inherent US superiority.

For anyone who wasn't middle class or richer, reality rarely came close to matching the noble narrative of freedom from oppression and limitless opportunity.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 05:51:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The USSR had its own socialist aristocracy, complete with dachas, prostitutes and western imports. But status was dependent on the state, and one misstep could lead to catastrophe
....

This isn't necessarily an improvement on the soviet system, because it guarantees misery and declining opportunities for much of the population. It also isolates the rich from any and all accountability.

Relatively, privileges of the Soviet aristocracy were modest. Most of common folks had decent chance to get a vacation to the same Baltic or Black sea curort as their bosses, and have their children play together. Import goods? Yeah, that was the best tool to build up envy and consumer aspirations for the "vacuum" transition of the 1990s.

Most of the Soviet aristocracy made comfortable transition to the new style of riches (especially those practicing in law enforcement, security, mineral industry, entertainment). It is an easy guess which aristocratic freedom they would prefer. They certainly have to bother with accountability and actual service much less now.

You may actually start to wonder, how hard was GOSPLAN working the last years to show how badly is Central Planning working :-)

Generally, corporations do try sometimes "evolutionary" internal substructures, but they are no competition to straight top-down decision making. You can often hear how much we are fooled by good intentions and cries for cooperation (without actually hearing those cries for ages), but that might be the best trick to build up inequality. The elites do cooperate and exchange services abundantly, carry out their wishes without any worry of unintended consequences, while the folks are fooled to blind rat race competitions, without any respect to each other, with diminishing opportunities to find deals for living except with major corporations on slave terms. On the greater level, isn't it ironic that no one speaks of trade between East European countries, for example?

by das monde on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 01:19:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I prefer precise terminology.

Concentrates the mind and saves time, qualifications, quibbling, and P/N'ing.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:57:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is another of those patently absurd ideas: that the poverty in Cuba is caused not by the retarded economic system imposed on the island by its dictatorial rulers, but by the refusal of the United States to trade with Cuba.

Well gentlemen, welcome to the world of Globalization, where the cost of shipping stuff from China to Europe is smaller than the cost of shipping said thing from the port in Europe to an inland European city.

Nothing stops Cuba from exporting its goods to the EU, to Japan, to all of South America, Africa and Asia. Nothing but the fact that the Cubans can't produce anything worth a damn for export at a reasonable cost, because they are hobbled by a Soviet style retard economy.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 07:03:42 AM EST
Starvid:
the Cubans can't produce anything worth a damn for export at a reasonable cost, because they are hobbled by a Soviet style retard economy.

Can you tell us how good neighbouring large islands (Jamaica, Haiti/Dominican Republic) are at exporting stuff all over the world?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 07:35:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Since when has countries like Haiti not been ruled by corrupt dictators, just like Cuba? Haiti being ruled in a shitty way in no way excuses Cuba.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 08:57:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The large islands I mentioned have a similar colonial history to Cuba. In the past, they produced a colonial crop: sugar.

If they were functioning properly, according to your lights, what would they be exporting now?

(Haiti is no excuse for you not answering the question. Neither Jamaica nor the Dominican Republic are governed in the same way as Haiti, and Haiti itself is not governed in the same way as Cuba).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 09:38:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All happy families are alike, while all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way...

I can't say that I know much about Jamaica beyond the ganja use and a military coup now and then, but I'm pretty sure I remember the country has not been ruled in either a democratic or capitalistic way during the postwar years.

The Dominican republic is actually kinda well functioning compared to Haiti. They for example introduced sustainable foretry (after a Swedish model) and the built plenty of hydroelectric power stations (again after a Swedish model IIRC), while the Haitians chose the Easter Island road and chopped down all their forests. I'm no expert on the Dominican republic either, but I think recall they haven't been democratic capitalists, nor well organized authoritarian capitalists of the Asian model.

:: ::

So uh, anyway, what would Cuba produce if it was a free country? I'm not sure, but probably the same stuff as the neighbouring areas. Lots of sugar cane, high value cash-crops like mangoes, orange juice, coffee, bananas, flowers. Add to that some mining (bauxite) and offshore oil extraction, some local finance and lots of construction, tourism, probably textile mills of the maquilladores kind and as the economy progressed they'd probably do like the rest of the Latin countries and start moving up the value-chain into more complex manufacturing like trucks. Add to this that you'd get competence clusters as a spin-off from the sugar, oil and mining industries, which will result in more or less hi-tech service and manufacturing firms related to these industries.

:: ::

Now, do remember that these are all contra-factual speculations based on a number of countries I'm in no way am an expert on.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 10:01:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What this boils down to is that you are expecting former colonial sugar islands to have managed to become "democratic capitalists" or "well organized authoritarian capitalists of the Asian model". Which, for historical reasons, just hasn't happened, and not only in the Cuban case.

BTW, I didn't ask you what these countries might produce, but what they might export to the rest of the world (which was your original point, unless I'm mistaken).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 10:17:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Production of a good minus domestic consumption of said good equal exports. IE, I find it hard to believe that Cubans will be able to consume all the sugar (etc) they would produce if they had a rational economic system, not unless they feel ok about losing all their teeth.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 10:24:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm losing you here: why on earth would being dependent on maquiladoras, and mango cultivation, and have a large part of your population destitute or worse, be better for a country than having, say, thriving biotech research , doctors as export goods, health "tourism" (along with other kinds of course) and no deep poverty to speak of?
Why would not having low infant mortality be a sign of economic progress? Given that the Cuban economy has produced nonetheless a higher GDP (and a tremendously higher Human Development ranking) than all or most of its reasonably sized neighbors, why should Cuba follow in the steps of less successful economies?

So if Cuba is to transform in a way that is beneficial for the majority of its inhabitants, it has to find its own way, in order to preserve its amazing feats of social welfare (in education and health) and combine them with something less, well, authoritarian. This, however, in the context of both certain segments of its Miami diaspora and US political attitudes, is far from easily established. And the question of whether you can have an island of equality and high HDI amidst the surrounding third world and at a boat's ride from the US, without an authoritarian/centralized state structure, is open...

BTW a good recent review of the Cuban economy's problems and prospects can be found in Brian Politt's "From Sugar to Services: An overview of the Cuban Economy", which highlights vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 08:01:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Haiti being ruled in a shitty way in no way excuses Cuba.

If there are any excuses high on the list should be US interference for its own purposes. For most of the 20th Century Cuba, Hati and the Dominican Republic were ruled by dictators, who, at a minimum, were tolerated and influenced by and, to some degree, cooperated with the USA. In this regard Cuba was the most blatant example of a nation whose internal politics were significantly determined by US, business interests, in Cuba's case it was the mob under Meir Lansky who ran Cuba as a giant casino and brothel for those so inclined from the USA. Puerto Rico, which the US annexed, might be considered an even more blatant example, depending on your point of view. Similar patterns existed in Venezuela where Rockefeller oil interests dictated US policy, in Central America where it was United Fruit whose interests were furthered at the expense of the local population, including sending battleships with Marine contingents to Nicaragua to deal with Sandino, the CIA organized coup in Guatemala in the early '50s, etc.  This relationship ended for Cuba in 1959.

Mexico dramatically increased its independence from the US in 1938 under Cardenas with the nationalization of the US owned oil fields and limits on foreign ownership of Mexican land and businesses. This consolidated the position of the PRI which had been founded in 1929 with the aim of resolving the Mexican Revolution/Civil War which had started in 1910 with the overthrow of US stooge Porfirio Diaz and had involved US military intervention at several points to attempt to secure the "property rights" of US businesses.  

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 12:28:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nothing, except a US ban:

Helms-Burton Act - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (Helms-Burton Act, Pub.L. 104-114, 110 Stat. 785, 22 U.S.C. § 6021-6091) is a United States federal law which strengthens and continues the United States embargo against Cuba. The act extended the territorial application of the initial embargo to apply to foreign companies trading with Cuba, and penalized foreign companies allegedly "trafficking" in property formerly owned by U.S. citizens but expropriated by Cuba after the Cuban revolution. The act also covers property formerly owned by Cubans who have since become U.S. citizens.[1]


A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 07:35:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean apart from diplomatic sanctions? The EU is only just considering lifting sanctions now.

And it's not as if the US wouldn't pressure possible trading partners and tell them not to go there.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 07:41:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The US can say whatever it feels like to national government. National governments do not control companies, who do as they please. The last time we paid any mind to US whining was during the 80's when they told us not to export advanced eletronics to the Russians. The reason we cared was because the Americans in a very serious way threatened us with an electronics embargo. They do nothing like that now.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 08:55:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well gentlemen, welcome to the world of Globalization, where the cost of shipping stuff from China to Europe is smaller than the cost of shipping said thing from the port in Europe to an inland European city.

Nothing stops Cuba from exporting its goods to the EU, to Japan, to all of South America, Africa and Asia.

This thesis is disconfirmed empirically. I have a book with some lovely graphs of trade patterns, and the overwhelming conclusion is that distance does matter. The variables that strongly influence trade are distance, compatibility of legal and cultural institutions and the size of the respective economies (with larger economies pulling more trade to them than they would if they were a set of smaller economies at the same distance and political compatibility).

Globalisation has reduced this dependence on distance, but it hasn't remotely made it go away.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 07:59:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The difference is big for certain goods, like cars (essentially empty boxes) while it's low for other things (like oil). Sugar, traditionally a core part of the cuban economy, is somewhere in between. Do remember that sugar cane produce is exported all over the world from Brazil. Cuba could do the same. Except it currently, can't.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 08:53:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Brazil is a large economy, giving it a wider reach in the global markets.

You're comparing apples and oranges here. Brazil doesn't speak to the competence of Cuban political or economic governance one way or the other until and unless you control for these confounding factors.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 09:01:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The size of the economy doesn't really matter, the legal possibilities to produce and the amount of managerial talent available does. There are plenty of small countries with succesful economies around, after all.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 09:25:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Former colonial islands? Are you thinking of Mauritius?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 09:40:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The fact that they are islands hardly make much of a difference. The world is full of successful islands and or peninsulas with and without a colonial past. One need just look south to find Curacao and north to Florida, but if you really want a former colonial island, look at Taiwan.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 10:04:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're comparing Taiwan, which received massive US investment after the Korean war, with a country that historically had its trade embargoed with most of the West?
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 11:07:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cuba recieved massive aid and investment from the Soviet Union and traded with that country on preferential terms. Which kinda was the problem...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 11:15:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And since when is the US "most of the West"?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 11:16:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Furthermore, according to Wikipedia it doesn't seem to be a very effectuve embargo...

In 1996, Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which further restricted United States citizens from doing business in or with Cuba, and mandated restrictions on giving public or private assistance to any successor government in Havana unless and until certain claims against the Cuban government are met. In 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton  expanded the trade embargo even further by ending the practice of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies trading with Cuba. In 2000, Clinton authorized the sale of certain "humanitarian" US products to Cuba.

So basically, it seems that until 1999 US companies could trade with Cuba by establishing foreign subsidiaries.

Despite the existence of the embargo, the United States is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba (6.6% of Cuba's imports are from the US).[4] However, Cuba must pay cash for all imports, as credit is not allowed.

As I said, you can't call an embargo very efficient when the country that embargoes you is your fifth biggest trading partner...

And let me reiterate: nothing stops Cuba from trading with Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, China, India, Japan or the EU. Only a very small part of the global market is off limits, and that's apparently been the case for just the last decade.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 11:24:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
'Cash' would be 'dollars', wouldn't it?

How is Cuba supposed to pay for items in dollars when it isn't allowed to export to the US?

The same applies in ROW. The USSR/Cuba deal - which took longer to set up than you might think - swapped sugar for oil.

Unfortunately sugar isn't a particularly unusual or rare commodity. So if Cuba needs oil, it has a choice between paying in sugar - most likely at less than the market rate, because it's hardly in a strong negotiating position - or by trying to collect enough dollars from tourism and semi-legal side trades to be able to write out a cheque.

Losing an energy supply does tend to crash an economy - as the US is about to find out.

Entirely unexpectedly, none of this is conducive to stability or innovation. It's certainly not like-for-like apples=oranges when compared to other countries.

What would Sweden's economy be like if it had been forced to trade on the same terms since the 1960s?

Are you really saying that because Sweden is a free market it would have effortlessly shrugged off the challenges, and wouldn't now be being paraded around as a tragic example of a broken economy?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 11:44:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cuba can easily by things for dollars without exporting to the US. You export stuff and get euros, yen or yuan back. You use this money to buy dollars on the international currency markets or by trading it with anyone who has dollars. You use the dollars to import stuff from the US. Done.

Sweden would of course have done it the same way.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:04:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can't export stuff if your sole major market has died and you don't have the cash to pay for oil to create stuff that you might be able to export once you've built the trade relationships to make it possible - and even then dollars on the nose are preferred.

And your nearest possible market is strongly discouraging trade, you have no sovereign currency, and you're forced to use cut-out companies to get anything at all done.

But apart from that, just like Sweden.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:13:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh come on, now you're just being silly. With this logic no poor country could ever have developed because they couldn't afford any oil, and without oil they can't develop. Well, seems the poor countries developed anyway. One might figure they recieved some foreign direct investment, or there already were some accumulations of capital in the upper classes of said country, or the state could tax the population to aquire capital. Too bad none of those things work very well when you turn into a Communist dictatorship...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:17:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, you're not following.

Cuba had oil and a market of sorts. Then suddenly in 1991 it had neither.

No oil. No market. No sovereign currency. And a world that wouldn't allow credit terms or diplomatic exchange.

Good luck making any economy work in that situation.

Considering the odds, Cuba may not be thriving, but it's not a hell hole like North Korea - which is what you get under a real dictatorship.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:34:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cuba could have opened up it's ecnomy and welcomed foreign capital to invest. I'm sure those companies could have afforded oil to power their businesses...

This business, export-oriented as it would have been, could have been taxed for hard currency, and presto! you could have bought that oil. This wasn't done in Cuba. It was done in China, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Brazil etc etc, and that's one of the big differences on why formerly communist nations like China and Vietnam are thriving, growing by 10 % a year, while Cuba has been stagnant for decades.

Sure, Cuba is better than North Korea. But the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were better than North Korea, hell, the bottom of a pond is better than North Korea! So you're not setting the bar very high.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:52:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cuba could have opened up it's ecnomy and welcomed foreign capital to invest. I'm sure those companies could have afforded oil to power their businesses...

This is not a wholly trivial prospect. The list of countries who completed that manoeuvre successfully is not greatly longer than the list of countries that crashed and burned in the attempt. And the fact that Cuba is solidly within the American sphere of influence and is not large enough to impose its own terms of trade both speak for a prognosis on the pessimistic side.

The risk of failure does not automatically make it unwise to try, but it should be included in the analysis before declaring it unwise not to try.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:22:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cuba being "embargoed", could well have turned to say, Spain and the rest of Europe for FDI. I'm sure no one would have minded, especially if Cuba would have promised to implement multi-party democracy.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:25:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cuba had been trying to promote basic levels of foreign investment since the revolution. It was Castro who went to Washington, not vice versa, and it was Castro who had the door slammed in his face.

In the early 90s any foreign investment would have had to be negotiated from a position of obvious weakness, which perhaps wasn't the most appealing prospect.

The other countries you mention all had huge US investment and trade support. Even China, which decided that it would be better to be a cheap source of slave labour for the US than a backwater with billions of people to feed.

Cuba is finally, after 15 years, being allowed to trade in something like normal conditions. We'll see how broken it is ten years from now.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 05:59:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The size of the economy doesn't really matter,

This is flatly contradicted by all available data. Sorry to go unhippily empirical on you, but it just ain't so.

There are plenty of small countries with succesful economies around, after all.

Such as? Outside Europe, I can think of Taiwan, South Korea (if we stretch the definition of "small" a bit), and not a whole Hell of a lot more. Unless you want to count city-states like Singapore and Monaco, which is inappropriate for a variety of fairly obvious reasons.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 01:40:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
South Korea has 50 million inhabitants, which is a bit too many for me to call it small.

But alright then, we've got Chile, Australia, New Zealand, all the Scandinavian countries, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary. To name a few.

It seems quite arbitrary to exclude European countries as most small countries are either in Europe or in Africa, and African countries are hopeless anyway due to the horrible governance.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:12:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Australia is a small country?

Most of the rest are either in the EU or near enough for easy trade.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:16:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's half the size of South Korea...

And I bet it's just as cheap to send sugar from cane by boat from Cuba to Rotterdam as it is to send sugar from beets by truck  from Hungary to Rotterdam, or wherever the demand source might be.

Ocean shipping is really cheap. The example often used is that it's cheaper to send one of those Happy Meal plastic toys from Shanghai to a port in Europe than it is to load it on a truck and drive it to McDonalds 200 km inland. To use another example: salmon fished off Norway is sent (by air I suppose!) to Thailand where it's processed and packaged, and then sent back to Europe. Flowers are grown in Uganda and Colombia and flown to Europe and the US.

It's that cheap to fly. Imagine how cheap ships are.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:23:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some numbers would be useful.

Let's say I want to ship sugar to the EU.

How much is a tanker full going to cost?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:45:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure, as bulk cargo isn't my area. But let's say you've turned the sugar into ethanol and you're looking at a product tanker of say 65,000 dwt. Then it might cost you $15,000 a day, IIRC, depending on the market rate which is quite volatile. Cuba-Rotterdam is about 7500 km so it should take about 12 days, or $180,000. Let's say it can transport 70.000 cubic metres, that is 70 million litres, and that the sale price of the ethanol is 1 dollar per litre. Then we will ship a cargo worth $70 million for a cost of $0.18 million, or 0.25 % of the value of the cargo.

This is a very rough calculation, but it's based on real numbers that I actually did fact-check 2 minutes ago.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:11:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A 45' container from Havanna to Bremen would cost on the order of US$ 2,500, according to these guys. A 45' container being something on the order of 87 cubic meter, and a cubic meter of sugar weighing a hair over 1.5 ton, you'd get something like € 15 per ton for a one-way trip.

That's not the main reason Cuba can't export sugar to the EU. The main reason is that the EU pursues an autarkic agricultural policy.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:14:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The main reason is that the EU pursues an autarkic agricultural policy.
You can say that again...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:22:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Though we do import plenty of ethanol, and fruits/vegetables which are out of season. Lots of countries export cash-crops to Europe which we either can't grow, or can't grow in the cold half of the year.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:24:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as EU sugar policy is concerned, it's not autarkic, it's imperialistic! ;)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:28:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Chile, Australia, New Zealand, all the Scandinavian countries, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary

Australia and New Zealand are Commonwealth countries and thus enjoy preferential trade with Britain. Greece, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands have enjoyed preferential trade with Western Europe since the Roman Empire. The Baltics, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have enjoyed preferential trade with either Russia or Western Europe since they were agrarian backwaters.

I'll grant you Chile, for a grand total of Chile and Taiwan.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 02:48:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I think we've run out of small countries completely when you exclude those you don't think work and the ones with bad governance. That's still 100 % successful ones though...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:28:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Chile and Taiwan both enjoy preferential trade with the US.  But this makes the question really: Are they any examples of small countries that "work" which are excluded in some way from trade?  Small countries' GDPs tend to be half or more made up of trade because they simply don't enjoy the resources locally to produce much of what they're populations actually need.

Cuba is dependent on trade, even on the US specifically for its food supply.  The US trade embargo on Cuban exports -- rum, cigars, tourism, sex, contraband, and immigrant laborers, which are also what the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico produce in great quantities and supply to the US, are constrained in Cuba, but those constraints are internally imposed as well as externally imposed by US policy.  It's not at all clear that Cuba's own self-imposed restrictions on such exports, at the cost of reduced trade with the US, has been a bad thing, especially compared to its Caribbean neighbors.

by santiago on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 04:29:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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