Reflections on Change and Continuity at the IMF

Recently I got hooked on Progressive Economics Forum and while digging through their archives and generally browsing around their site found a gem: “Reflections on Change and Continuity at the IMF“. It’s the first time since I’ve read “Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein that I found economist going through the tectics and strategies of IMF/WB and picking them apart from scientific and political standpoints. This is not somebody who just sat on the sidelines watching – John actually was part of those events he describes and describes in great detail. In other words “Reflections on Change and Continuity at the IMF” is a great read with the view into the history bridge into today’s problems and an analysis of current state of IMF/WB. It’s a “must read piece” every thinking being should be aware of it and read through it carefully. It’s shorter than “Shock Doctrine”, less emotional, yet very telling.

Century of failed experiments

Analyzing last ~100 years (only to save some time by not digging deeper) it’s hard not to come to conclusion that we can mark that last century as a century of failed experiments. We have seen large scale experiments undertaken and all of them failed. Communism building in ex-USSR and later occupied countries, Fascism, Free Trade economics (with it’s sister Globalization). Not a single large-scale success? Not even a bit?

Looking at the aftermath left by each experiment it’s hard not to think that we’re a screw-up race and deserve to be wiped of the face of the earth as yet-another failed large-scale experiment. Reading Stanislaw Lem’s The Star Diaries and episode where aliens are charging some miscreants for dumping biological mass on Earth and mixing in some bodily substances in it as well started unsanctioned evolution one may get impression that there might be some truth to that – we’re failing big time. Every time we fail it gets bigger and bigger. Every single time we take lives of people, animals, plants, bacteria etc. One must believe in divine law and the right of human to do so to make any sense of it and not to be committed to psychiatric ward.

Long chain of events sparked my interest in Russian revolution, which lead me to some explorations of Fascism and I’ve been tracking Free Economy for some time already. There are more and more dots on my graph and it’s very tempting to draw the lines:

Until 1925, when the liberal economist Alberto de Stefani ended his tenure as Minister of Economics (1922–25), after having re-started the economy and balanced the national budget, the Italian Fascist Government’s economic policies were aligned with classical liberalism principles; inheritance, luxury, and foreign capital taxes were abolished;[28] life insurance (1923),[29] and the state communications monopolies were privatised, et cetera. Yet such pro-business enterprise policies apparently did not contradict the State’s financing of banks and industry.

On a wider scale the Fascist economic policy pushed the country towards the “corporative state”, an effort which lasted well into the war. The idea was to create a national community where the interests of all parts of the economy were integrated into a class-transcending unity. Some see the move to corporatism in two phases. first the workers were brought to heel over 1925-27. Initially the non-fascist trade unions and later (less forcefully) the fascist trade unions were eliminated…

Reading through the history it’s is hard to argue that Mussolini’s values at the time of ascending to power very very much like values of currently governing political elite in most developed countries:

Deputy Mussolini (with military, business, and liberal right-wing support) launched the PNF March on Rome (27–29 October 1922) coup d’État, to oust Prime Minister Facta, and assume the government of Italy, to restore nationalist pride, re-start the economy, increase productivity with labor controls, remove economic business controls, and impose law and order.[17]

As luck would have it I just recently heard of “tough on crime“, removal of economic business controls, and changes in electoral law. Latest piece of evidence: technocratic governments popping all over the place, which, just like in Italy and Germany scenarios bypasses democratic elections, and by coincidence places at helm people largely responsible for the meltdown: supporters of Free Trade school of thought.

It’s not that the current political powers are immediately fascist by nature, but at this stage they mimic fascism impressively well. Even the nationalism – fairly difficult subject at the time of globalization had to be re-invented but serves the same idea – unite country from the inside in a simplistic “us vs them” rhetoric. And that would be the same political force that advocates Globalization. Here’s a visual point of disconnect however under the surface it turns out connection is fairly strong. Current implementation of Globalization works on principle of exploitation of “other” markets. North American market exists due to cheap labour in other places of the world, Free Trade benefits largely North American-based multinationals that immediately dominate opened markets.

Another oddity is that Friedman’s roots are in:

the American economy’s “ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.”

yet following some (admittedly not all) of Friedman’s recipes America produces less and less every year. This has been nicely summarized by Jennifer Egan in her novel “Look at me” (spotted in “Adbusters”):

…The narrative of industrial America began with rationalization of objects through standardization, abstraction and mass production, and has concluded with the rationalization of human beings through marketing, public relations, image consulting and spin…

As per Friedman’s advise, America (and the rest of the world) focused all of it’s attention on Monetary research/operations rather than social and technological.

Speaking of which: Technological vs Monetary is something that I really care about. In proprietary branch of IT industry huge amount of effort is spent on preventing others from using software, or limiting it’s uses – amount of effort that could’ve moved us forward significantly if applied in other areas but we keep slowing ourselves down with artificial blocks. Just like Friedman’s Free Economy software deserves to be free and uninhibited to be able to evolve into something new. However there is a clear distinction between Free Economy and Free Software – Free Economy dictates political regime, while Free Software transcends political regimes.Free Software does not impose political nor economic rules. You can still charge for your software, you can still be ruled by a dictator and you can still send people to prison for not agreeing with you.

Where does it leave us? As a race we have managed to avoid implementing democracies true to definition, we hate our neighbors  for unknown [to us] reasons and we keep on supporting models in which only selected few get to rip benefits while the rest is trying to create some space for themselves and at the time of crisis majority still clings to “ye olde ways”

 

Do no evil, see no evil, hear no evil

There was a lot of co incidents lately: me reading Slavoj Žižek, BBC quoting Marx, Adbusters quoting Marx statistics on crazy people percentile in a capitalist society going up over time and confirmed by WHO.

following Slashdot’s article (http://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/09/05/1230224/Googles-Real-Name-Policy-Why-You-Are-the-Product) and reading through FreeSoftwareMagazine (http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/columns/googles_real_name_policy_or_why_you_are_product ) which really comes as no surprise after “Google joins California Do-Not-Track opposition lobby” (http://go.theregister.com/feed/www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/05/google_backs_do_not_track_opposition/ ) and that is all summed up in Adbusters (more precisely in Jennifer Egan’s novel “Look at me”):

…The narrative of industrial America began with rationalization of objects through standardization, abstraction and mass production, and has concluded with the rationalization of human beings through marketing, public relations, image consulting and spin…

sor while Corporations like google argue for transparency what we have in our back-yard is “New Wikileaks Docs Show Ex-Minister Bernier Offered To Leak Copyright Bill to U.S.” (http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/5986/135/ ) and “Libyan papers ‘show CIA and MI6 links'” (http://english.aljazeera.net//news/africa/2011/09/20119320053377843.html)

Facebook cleans up compromised accounts = people losing data/money http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/05/facebook_fanpages_are_being_hijacked/

Explore facebook as means of avoiding reality and global issues making “self”/ego the focus of everything.

coincidence? South parks episode about loss of internet.

narcissistic tendency

How to spot a narcisist

Narcissists thrive in big, anonymous cities, entertainment-related fields (think reality TV), and leadership situations where they can dazzle and dominate others without having to cooperate or suffer the consequences of a bad reputation.

Does growth of Narcisism  reflect tendency to outsource? Narcisism is linked to leadership skills – need to dazzle and depend on others for positive feedback, when entire society is geared towards outsourcing, everybody is a “manager of X” – since all day long you try to concentrate attention of others on yourself, wouldn’t you develop Narcisistic traits?

It appears that narcissists seek out people who maintain their high positive self-image, at the same time intentionally avoiding and putting down people who may give them a harsh dose of realism.

and another one:

“In the long run it becomes difficult because others won’t applaud them, so they always have to search for new acquaintances from whom they get the next fix.” This could explain why narcissists so frequently change their social contexts and maintain only weak ties to others.

and another one:

The whiplash combination of parental coldness and excessive parental admiration is more strongly related to maladaptive narcissism than is either attitude alone.

wtf is twittergate???

Democracy is dead. Long live Democracy.

Results are out Canada elected conservative majority after it had been found guilty of contempt and never denied doing so. Democracy is overrated and naivety (stupidity) is endless.

Uneducated masses elected lying, bullying, self-serving and populist government to drive this country further into the ground. History has seen it before.

Everybody is free to make their own conclusions.

After following the results for a while I certainly made mine.

Elect-me-not

All the countries I lived in had something in common: they were all called “… democracy” at some point. Whether it was a “developing democracy” or “developed democracy”. Democracy is the word we use a lot and with the imminent election musings about democracy become inevitable. So inevitable it spills into my conversations all the time. After all we are about to elect “democratic government” through the process of “democratic elections”.  Naturally, I started looking for definitions. There are plenty options (opinions?) to chose from – all have the same theme though. It’s really interesting that the word “democracy” is used so often and it’s standard definition allows for giant loopholes: “rule of the people” (Greek). Of course people are going to be ruling pretty much everywhere except for the 12 colonies where Cylons are taking over…!

One definition caught my eye as it was the most concise and obvious yet had enough details to be able to analyze it:

We can think of democracy as a system of government with four key elements:

  1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
  2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
  3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
  4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

“Free and fair election” is a very good starting point for a philosophical debate. What exactly Free means here? More importantly what is Fair? Canadian election show all the signs of unfairness. Government of the country currently is elected by a mere majority of 22% (58% turnout with only 38% of those voting for governing party) of voting populace which has translated into 46% seats. How is it fair to the 78% of voting populace that did not vote for them? How about the rest of population that is non-voting? In other words we should either accept this new norm that “22%” means – “majority” or redefine Fair or better yet – stop calling countries like Canada “Democracy”. We are far from democracy, real far. How is electoral process Fair to small communities like ours when we are “bundled” in the same riding with “monster” communities with 10 times the population. In other words – there is no way in hell our views will be represented on the highest level even if the entire community voted for the same candidate!

Which brings me to the second point – “active participation of people”. Now here’s a twist and a wrinkle – remember those 78% that aren’t really represented? Are they actively participating? So can we still call ourselves “Democracy”? How about candidates? Assume some of those 78% residing in the riding of an MP they didn’t vote for still want some representation and ask candidate to represent their views? Is he obligated to respond to their requests? No. Will he respond to their requests – typically no. Why? They are not voting for him so he doesn’t really need them until the next election. So how are we encouraging people to “actively participate” under those conditions?

Which was a nice preamble for the next point “protection of human rights of all citizens”. Well if you re-read previous paragraph you’ll realize that that is simply not the case if we carefully examine definition of Human Rights employed by UN. Article 1 anyone? You must have some mean brother that wouldn’t listen or reply to you. Well that is your MP that you did not elect. Maybe some Article 12 on the side? Interference with my privacy is happening all the time from all private entities that government does not protect me from: telemarketers, banks, random companies, recording industry – you name it. Article 16 for gay people maybe? Article 17 is something you should think about next time you buy music at iTunes or over some other DRM-riddled channel. Oh, you thought that when you purchased music you own it? Wrong! Ask Orwell fans who bought his books through Amazon for their Kindles, or people who bought music from Wal*Mart. So how does my government ensures my freedoms? By signing treaties that undermine it, and pushing through Bills that annihilate my rights. For a parent combination of Article 22 and 26 is another source of frustration – schools are half-run by corporations trying to “hook” kids on their products from “get-go” (Microsoft, Kraft, Pepsico, etc.) and government does everything to promote it by decreasing school’s budget and forcing schools to look for external sources of funding. I feel like my human rights were violated (as well as my family’s) do you?

So after showing how corporations enjoy better freedoms than people of the country lets take a look at the heads of those corporations. Have we ever heard of a case convicting corporate head vs “less wealthy opponent” ? In “democratic” societies it’s quite clear that the quality of democracy is proportional to your income. I enjoy fairly good pay myself so I know my freedoms extend way further than person’s next door with income half of mine, does that seem right? Does that sound democratic?

All of that brings up a dilemma: should I vote or should I not? If I do should I vote “for” or “against”? Every single party in my riding is “tainted” for me so I have no desire to vote for any single one of them. However Not voting gives more power to the minority that already elected the government I hate. If I vote – I just fed another monster that will do essentially the same just under a different guise. So to defeat present monster I should vote against but by doing so I get nothing in return except for delayed replay of the same tragic scenario. I do not see how my views and opinions will be represented in the newly elected government no matter how I vote. On top of that, as I mentioned before my community is dwarfed by another community in our riding that will essentially make my vote void because I’m pretty sure of the way they’ll vote. I’ll take my chances and vote my preference (out of all evils chose the smallest) knowing full well that it’s all futile, but there’s that off-chance that maybe my vote is the one that’ll count and other people like me will come out and vote and express their opinions in a slightly blurred fashion.

Electorate reform may be able to fix it but none of the existing parties brought up this issue an certainly none of them made it their priority. Until then our only screwed up way of voting is to vote “against” in most cases.

One may say – “Well, other definitions of democracy can not be as easily dismantled” and would be plain wrong – all definitions I looked at have the same problem – they are inapplicable in so-called “democratic countries”. Take the “ultimate authority” on everything – Wikipedia:

Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. The term comes from the Greek: δημοκρατία – (dēmokratía) “rule of the people”,[1] which was coined from δῆμος (dêmos) “people” and κράτος (Kratos) “power”, in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC

Does it make much difference? Not so much. Rinse-and-repeat.

Tea and Tranquility

Tea cupAside from other things I’m passionate about tea is one thing that caries me through the day. Sometimes I really need my tea. My addiction is not of chemical sort – it is a mental addiction – tea is just a symbol, a ritual to break daily routine and get some space for myself where there is none.

Tea is my reason to get out of my chair – walk down the hallway put on kettle, wait about 5 minutes for water to boil, pick my tea in the meantime – green means I’ll have to use my cup to stage boiling water through – transferring water through cup should bring temperature down about 5-10 degrees if needed I can let it cool down bit more for couple more minutes to get the best brew. Black tea shortens the time by eliminating cup as a transit station but extends brewing time. All boils down (pun intended) to about 10 minutes for myself – for my ritual – away from grinding routine, away from dark political matters from social injustices from everything that makes me feel down.

My subtle addiction to tea culminated in purchasing the book “A brief history of Tea, The extraordinary Story of World’s Favourite Drink” by Roy Moxham. I’m far from being through the whole book but have learned quite a few history lessons already. The rise of monopolies in 18th century (East India Company and such), governments offloading their responsibilities onto corporations, which in turn rip off everybody they deal with, lobbying that goes a tad farther than subsidies and culminates in international military conflicts. The darkest so far for me is Opium trade in China in 19th century. British Empire exploiting Chinese weakness against that powerful drug that didn’t stop at simple distribution – distribution was pretty much enforced and legalized to increase British profits all in the name of recovering silver to be able to buy more tea:

The exchange of opium for tea was a disaster for China. While it was true, as British were ever fond of pointing out, that no one forced the Chinese to smoke opium, it was also true that exports from British territory and the smuggling by British merchants undermined Chinese efforts to stem addiction… Perhaps most seriously of all, the British military expeditions sent to protect the opium-for-tea trade destabilized the Chinese regime and fueled xenophobia…

In other words another corporation creates this new market – hooks entire country on it, then forces everyone else to pay the bill for it’s wrongdoings, washes off their hands and moves on to its next target barely affected. What, Microsoft, IBM and Apple (I can name more but that’d be boring 😉 ) tactics are not new???

History is always complex. It’s always one little thing that triggers another that causes chain reaction with the following explosion of revolution, war, conquest etc. But why did it have to involve the drink that I like?

So now even my tranquility moments have been invaded and sabotaged by corporations, governments and not-so-smart general population. No hiding from it now. Just like in “No Logo”: there’s “No Space” left for personal, it is all overtaken by other entities. Not only on the streets but also in our minds. I will fight for my space though. I do not let go of things that are mine by right, so easily. I won’t stop drinking tea. What I will have to do is “invert” the space around me: just like army taking battles from the streets inside the houses and moving through the corridors and roofs – I will invert the space around me and walk along the crevices and claim some of them as mine and expand from there.