Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

Canada Drowns, Business Hesitates

Government: It’s Not a Bad Habit

China: the New Civilisation that the Soviet Union Failed To Be

Snippets

OLIMBY

Covid: Survival of the Worst

China’s Sputnik Moment?

Unhappy Rich People

Did Modern Humans Invent Cold-Blooded Murder?

Canada Drowns, Business Hesitates

“Atmospheric rivers are typically several thousand kilometers long and only a few hundred kilometers wide, and a single one can carry a greater flux of water than the Earth’s largest river, the Amazon River.”[A]

And now descending on Western Canada.

“British Columbia has been besieged this year by record-breaking heat, wildfires and floods. The disasters have killed hundreds — including three people in the recent rains — and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.”[B]

It gets much more attention than worse disasters for poor people.  But at least it gets attention.

COP26 was not a complete failure.  But everyone tried to shift the costs onto someone else.

We killed off most of our wildlife.  Our governments will not properly pay poorer countries to keep alive wildernesses where the rich like to play.

We burnt most of our coal.  We let our governments seek to dump the cost onto impoverished India and middle-income China.  

Both India and China are strong.  They got back control of their own lives after World War Two mauled Europe’s colonial empires and boosted the anti-imperialist Soviet Union. 

Elsewhere, the weakest suffer:

“Rich countries still don’t want to pay their climate change tab

“Climate change has a central injustice: The parts of the world that contribute the least to global warming stand to suffer the most as temperatures climb.

“Rising sea levels, hotter heat waves, and more frequent torrential downpours disproportionately hammer low-lying coastal areas, islands, tropics, and deserts that are home to people who historically haven’t burned that much coal, oil, or natural gas.”[C]

I was also offended by the President of COP26 wearing a red poppy while apologising for a weak deal.  Back in the 1980s, I myself would wear the poppy, taking it as respect for the dead.  But now it is seldom seen in Britain except among the old and among public officials and politicians.  It has become symbolic of the West’s foolish greed and aggression after the Soviet collapse.

“Rich nations have been reluctant to agree any mechanism for providing funding for loss and damage, in part because some of the debate has been framed in terms of ‘compensation’, which rich countries cannot countenance…

“Mohamed Adow, director of the Nairobi-based thinktank Power Shift Africa, took a harsher view: ‘The needs of the world’s vulnerable people have been sacrificed on the altar of the rich world’s selfishness…’

“Many poor nations accepted defeat on their pleas to put stronger provisions on loss and damage into the text, in the closing hours of the conference, in order to allow the broader deal to go through.”[D]

“The carbon footprint of the world’s richest 1% is on track to be 30 times higher than what’s needed to limit global warming to 1.5C, a study says.

“But emissions of the poorest 50% will continue to be below climate goals.”[E]

Well-off Westerners don’t want to personally do more

“Citizens are alarmed by the climate crisis, but most believe they are already doing more to preserve the planet than anyone else, including their government, and few are willing to make significant lifestyle changes, an international survey has found.”[F]

And a lot of wealth is at stake:

“Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition”[G]

No one wants that happening to their assets.  But a fair sharing would make people ask just what the very rich have done to merit their tens of millions

My response is to adapt a famous 1971 hit I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.  A song used to push Coca-Cola:

  • I’d like to feed the world cocaine 
  • And fill their minds with lies 
  • And spew out tons of greenhouse gas
  • To kill the turtledoves.

It sold the false promise of a nice globalisation based on US values.[H]

It could be a hymn of love.  But the reality has been a refusal to be burdened by the needs of others.  Including turtledoves.

Someone with musical talent might build on my small beginning.  Hope for a new meme.

But please don’t say extinction, which spreads hopelessness.  

I do fully expect climate chaos to cause at least as many avoidable deaths as the wars of the 20th century.  But we got through that, and we will get through this.

Government: It’s Not a Bad Habit

1960s rebelliousness turned into cynicism in the 1970s, when people bumped into the real problems of remaking the real world.

Many things were successfully changed.  Hierarchies weakened.  Women and non-whites are less unequal than they used to be.  And the fight for actual equality continues.

But in the 1980s, lots of people got talked into believing that the government and state machine were inherently their enemies.  A new era of low taxes and small government was promised, with capitalism unchained to make everyone so much richer.

None of this was true.

None of the advances from the 1980s differ in kind from what happened in the 1940s to 1970s: the era of Mixed Economy, sometimes called Keynesianism.  Actually more radical and democratic than Keynes himself wanted, but it is a good enough label.

Capitalists given more freedom to act did not become Superior Wealth-Creators.  They mostly took more for themselves.  

They did not speed up the growth in wealth in Britain or the USA.  Elsewhere in the West, countries once noted for their Economic Miracles descended to British and US levels of mediocrity.

Trying to move with the times, the magazine The Economist said this:

“The world is entering a new era of big government

“How should classical liberals respond?…

“Three forces are at work. The first is obviously malign. Inertia and mission creep make government hard to pare back. Voters and lobbyists who benefit from a regulation or item of spending have every reason to work hard at preserving it, whereas the many taxpayers who pay for pork barrels have better things to do than petition politicians to get rid of them. The bureaucrats in charge want to defend their turf and careers. When a programme fails, its supporters say it could still succeed if only it were given more money.

“The second force is a fact of life. Prices of the services welfare states provide, such as health care and education, grow faster than the economy because of their high labour intensity and low rates of productivity increase. Though government inefficiency can make things worse, this “cost disease” afflicts the private and public sectors alike. It comes with the territory.

“The third force is that governments today have more things to get done. As voters became richer over the 20th century they demanded more education and more of the expensive health care that takes advantage of the latest science. Today, as they age, they want to keep up spending on the elderly. And, increasingly, they want governments to do something about climate change.

“These three forces are plain to see in the true impact of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the anti-government free-marketeers who loom largest in the public imagination. They are often said to have laid the groundwork for the ‘neoliberal era’. In fact, they did not leave a sustained legacy of smaller government. In 2019 America’s federal government spent a higher share of its GDP than in any of the ten years preceding Reagan’s presidency. Three decades after Thatcher left office—one of those decades being defined by austerity—Britain’s Conservative government will soon preside over the highest sustained spending as a share of the economy since the pre-Thatcher era.

“The lasting victory of Reagan and Thatcher—and other reformers in Sweden, New Zealand and elsewhere—was over the first of the forces for big government. They realised that the state is at its worst when it is swollen by the distorted incentives of insiders to seek ever more control. Governments rightly sold off nationalised firms, cut back regulations, simplified some taxes and promoted competition. A consensus emerged about the limited role of government in liberal societies. Its adherents welcomed markets in most of the economy, but permitted redistribution and spending on public services to make the world fairer.”[I]

But as I said, moving from state control to state-subsidised profit-seeking has not improved overall growth.  Even when it is not scandalous, it benefits the few at the expense of the many.

But when Jeremy Corbyn was a serious opposition to this unfairness, he got a chorus of hate from the media.  Including even the liberal-left Guardian.

Which is a paper that loses money, and gets subsidised.  Some from ordinary readers – I am one.  But it seems that much comes from rich people who like social radicalism.  But don’t want anything to get in the way of their increasing ‘scoop-up’ of money that should go to ordinary people.[J]

Those who pay the piper, call the tune.

China: the New Civilisation that the Soviet Union Failed To Be

In 1936, the noted Fabian socialists Beatrice and Sidney Webb published Soviet Communism : A New Civilisation?  And dropped the question mark in later editions.

They didn’t want a Soviet Britain.  But they recognised that Stalin had successfully established a whole new way of life.  One that fitted Arnold Toynbee’s notion of a great number of alternative civilisations, not graded as ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ as most Western historians did.  There was a lot wrong with his viewpoint, but his basic insight has become the norm.  And is an improvement on Marx, who saw the sequence in Western Europe as an evolution, and largely ignored the advanced civilisations found elsewhere.

Leninism was more genuinely global, with Lenin writing Backward Europe and Advanced Asia.  It helped the wider world get some confidence in their own cultures.  Just add socialism to the best of your older values, and you’d be ahead of the world!

China has actually achieved this.

Meantime the Soviets under Khrushchev and Brezhnev blundered their way out of a very strong position.  Gorbachev moved much too late, and foolishly thought that the West was friendly.  He trusted a vague verbal assurance that NATO would not advance to the borders of Russia if the Soviets withdrew.  He could have got a binding agreement: he saw no need.

Yeltsin was worse: he shrank the economy after trusting Western advice.

Putin stopped the rot.  And now a shrunken Russia leans on China for support.

Deng insisted that the goal was still socialism.  And showed this in practice, by always keeping strict control on both foreign capitalist and the new rich who were allowed to emerge within China.

By never allowing the free flows of borrowing that damaged the Asian Tigers in 1997.

By allowing family farms, but keeping ownership collective.

From Deng to Xi, Chinese leaders have correctly guessed that each individual global corporation would care mostly about itself.  In the abstract, they might like to see Chinese socialism trashed.  But their own fortunes come first.  And this is something which most Western journalists avoid noticing:

“Wall Street and the Chinese military industrial complex…

“This year’s report … lays out the ways in which the Chinese Communist party (CCP) is building up global economic, political and military power to push forward a ‘new model for human advancement’. The party is doing so with plenty of help from Wall Street … how long will this divide last? Is it possible to have American financial institutions indefinitely funnelling capital in and out of a country that supports forced labour; has low environmental, social and governance standards; and is the US’s chief strategic adversary?

“I think the answer is no, but I must say I’m gob smacked that the hypocrisy of American banks and asset managers pouring money into companies that might endanger US security isn’t getting more attention…

“‘In plain language, US investment banks and institutional investors can still buy, sell and profit off of Chinese military related companies as long as they are not doing so in the United States and only involve non-US citizens. If we are really interested in protecting US national security rather than simply appearing to, this loophole should be closed, as the commission recommends.’”[K]

Much worse things happen outside of China than in China.  And much of it is hyped.  In the 2010s, when the West felt threatened by Islamic extremism, few outsiders were bothered by Beijing crushing Uighur separatism and extremism.  Only from about 2017 have routine social controls been hyped as an atrocity, as I have detailed elsewhere.[L]

Western journalists somehow put out of their minds, things they must have known about a few years ago.

As for a ‘security threat’, US insiders must know that China is never going to attack the USA.  China has just put itself in a position where they can be confident that the USA will never attack them.  They saw Iraq saved in 1987 after its aggressive war against Iran.[M]  But then the same regime set up for destruction when the USA thought it was World Boss. And with Iran and North Korea listed next in an ‘Axis of Evil’ that could easily have been extended to People’s China.

But then why the hype?  

The whole fuss is to limit the influence of the ‘new model for human advancement’.

The New Right is losing influence.  But most critics stop short of calling for a simple return to older state-dominated methods that worked much better for most people.

China has a much more authoritarian version of the Mixed Economy that the West still operates.  But currently operates in twisted ways that give far too much to the rich.[N]

Just by existing, China threatens to be a model for a reformed Western system.  I’d expect us to remain tolerant politically.  But not running economics to favour the rich.

Snippets

OLIMBY

Most people know NIMBY – Not In My Back-Yard.  Something useful like a railway or wind farm is fine somewhere else.  But not where I live.

Let’s add ‘OLIMBY’: only in my back yard.  People want something for themselves and for their sort of people.  But not for others, or not if it would cost them.

The rich got themselves bailed out after the crisis they caused in 2008.  But demanded that market forces were applied ruthlessly to everyone else.

The liberal left want the state to do less.  But not when it comes to the rights of women, non-whites, gays, and most recently transexuals.  (But strike out whichever of these you don’t count as part of your own back yard.)

Maybe for climate change.  But George Monbiot is typical in wanting everything to be local and small scale, despite repeated defeats for such forces.

Maybe for on-line harassment.  But they also don’t want something like an on-line passport that would expose most of it.

None of this works well.

*

Covid: Survival of the Worst

There’s a lot of OLIMBY over the current pandemic.  

No one likes lockdowns or compulsory mask-wearing.  But they worked in China.  They were working in places like New Zealand, until those hurt by the precautions forced a premature opening-up.

And while a minority reject vaccinations, most people wanted to get theirs as soon as possible.

But don’t want to pay more taxes to help foreign countries.

So millions suffer.  

Each victim has a bloodstream that is a sea of virus particles.  And Natural Selection favours mutations that are better at spreading.

When a lot of people have immunity, beating that immunity is also favoured.  And flu does this all the time, which is why the old get repeated annual shots.

Until recently, the main menace was the Delta variant, much more infectious than the original.  But worse was feared.[O]

Now we have Omicron, which may be worse than Delta.[P]  And sadly unlikely to be the last.

*

China’s Sputnik Moment?

I said earlier that China wants to be safe from US attack.

They get better all the time:

“China launched second missile during July hypersonic test, reports say

“The separate, previously unknown, missile release reportedly took place while the vehicle was soaring at hypersonic speeds…

“The potential role of the released missile was unclear. It could be used to target or deflect an enemy country’s defences against a hypersonic attack.”[Q]

From the 1960s, I remember the idea of anti-anti missiles.  Extra missiles that defend the main missile.

If China has these, its small nuclear force would be certain to get through the anti-missile systems the USA has been working on ever since Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’.

The objection at the time was that the USA might gain First Strike capability.  They could do a surprise attack, with reasonable hope that retaliation would not be so bad.

It looks increasingly less likely

*

Unhappy Rich People

“What could possibly be challenging about being a billionaire, you might ask. Well, what would it be like if you couldn’t trust those close to you? Or if you looked at any new person in your life with deep suspicion? I hear this from my clients all the time: ‘What do they want from me?’; or ‘How are they going to manipulate me?’; or ‘They are probably only friends with me because of my money.’”[R]

From a therapist who finds many of them unhappy.

It’s a lousy system.

*

Did Modern Humans Invent Cold-Blooded Murder?

An academic study says so, but puts it in jargon:

“Groupishness is a set of tendencies to respond to group members … in ways that transcend apparent self-interest. Its evolution is puzzling because it gives the impression of breaking the ordinary rules of natural selection. Boehm’s solution is that moral elements of groupishness originated and evolved as a result of group members becoming efficient executioners of antisocial individuals, and he noted that self-domestication would have proceeded from the same dynamic. Self-domestication is indicated first at ~300,000 years ago, … I propose that a specifically human style of violence, targeted conspiratorial killing, contributed importantly to both self-domestication and to promoting groupishness. Targeted conspiratorial killing is unknown in chimpanzees or any other vertebrate.”[S]

But with a legal system, justice and peace become possible.

*

Old newsnotes at the magazine websites.  I also write regular blogs – https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams


[A] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_river

[B] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/21/canada-flooding-climate-change.html

[C] https://www.vox.com/22774622/cop26-climate-change-glasgow-money-finance-aid

[D] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/13/cop26-countries-agree-to-accept-imperfect-climate-agreement

[E] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-59157836

[F] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/07/few-willing-to-change-lifestyle-climate-survey

[G] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2021/nov/04/fossil-fuel-assets-worthless-2036-net-zero-transition

[H] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27d_Like_to_Teach_the_World_to_Sing_(In_Perfect_Harmony)

[I] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/11/20/the-world-is-entering-a-new-era-of-big-government (pay site)

[J] https://www.rt.com/op-ed/540780-guardian-funding-billionaires/ (pay site)

[K] https://www.ft.com/content/09efa1c8-6bb8-4855-a63e-e26c3afa3eb0

[L] https://mrgwydionmwilliams.quora.com/West-Reports-Only-Propaganda-on-Xinjiang

[M] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/magazine-001-to-010/magazine-004-october-1987/why-the-west-saved-saddam-hussein-in-1987/

[N] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/the-mixed-economy-won-the-cold-war/

[O] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/21/is-delta-the-last-covid-super-variant

[P] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-59418127

[Q] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/nov/23/china-launched-second-missile-during-july-hypersonic-test-reports-say

[R] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/22/therapist-super-rich-succession-billionaires

[S] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/evolutionary-human-sciences/article/targeted-conspiratorial-killing-human-selfdomestication-and-the-evolution-of-groupishness/B70C0490CEFFFB3B5231A5426A1D1577

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s