Archive for December, 2007

What were they smoking?

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Pakistan is a tribal country that has a lot of guns. You have violent Islamic insurgency in that country that has killed a lot of people and fought the army to a standstill. You have a dictator running the country who has almost been killed several times. Some of those attempts on Musharraf’s life raise questions as to how deeply the Islamic insurgents have infiltrated the government. Other people in America have publicly wondered if Musharraf had the full support of the army.

Into this situation the western elites thought that it would be a good idea to send a woman by the name of Benazir Bhutto. By her own admission, she was hated by the Islamic radicals. By her own admission she was hated by much of the army. Yet well-educated do-gooders the world over thought that Bhutto would make the situation in Pakistan better.

Some well-educated do-gooders thought that she and Musharraf could strike some kind of deal that would lend some of her popularity to Musharraf in exchange for a seat at the political table. Other do-gooders were even stupider. They thought that she could replace Musharraf as a leader and thus Pakistan would be “democratic” again.

Almost the whole western elite, both in America and in Europe, believed that a dictator who was struggling to keep himself alive had the power to insure that Bhutto lived. Some of them even believed that he would keep her alive long enough to take away his own power. Thus, the western elites had two mutually contradictory beliefs. They believed that Musharraf was so weak that he “needed” Bhutto and yet they believed he was strong enough to protect Bhutto. Some of them believed that Musharraf was so bad that he needed to be replaced by Bhutto and yet the believed he was so good that he would allow himself to be replaced by Bhutto.

What were they smoking?

I can understand why Bhutto went back. If you had an arranged marriage and your whole life was politics, I can see why you might not want to live. Especially if your only alternative was exile and life with a thug you had married for political reasons. But the reasons governing a woman in a mid-life crisis should not be governing the political elite of the entire western world. Why did they think that a woman who lost power twice and made lots of enemies in the process could exercise any kind of meaningful power in Pakistan? The idea is especially absurd given the fact that Pakistan is a far more dangerous place now than it was in the past.

The thing that makes western elites so stupid is that they equate popularity with power. I guess this makes sense in their own cultural context. After all, if a western politician wants to be powerful they must be popular. If a western journalist wants to be influential they must have high ratings. If a western businessman wants to get rich, he must have a popular brand. For some reason, the western elites make the mistake of thinking that rest of the world operates on the same principle.

But the rest of the world does not operate on the same principle. In most of the world power is measured by the ability to kill and the willingness to die. To put it another way, in the third world power stems from firepower and morale.

The fact that Bhutto may have had a degree of popularity in Pakistan was irrelevant. Anyone who cannot keep themselves alive without depending on their political opponents has no future in Pakistan. Most of the Bhutto family had already been killed off back when Pakistan was far safer than it is now. Now that Pakistan is far more dangerous it is sheer folly to think that someone can rule Pakistan without a lot of fire power that is personally loyal to themselves.

It is worth remembering that the very reason that Pakistan is falling apart has to with the fact that they have undertaken actions that the Western elite wanted. The support that Musharraf has given American in its war on Afghanistan is an obvious example. But in reality, the war in Afghanistan has only had a minor impact on instability in Pakistan. The real reason that Pakistan is falling apart is because there is peace with India.

The sad fact of the matter is that Pakistan is a nation that has been kept together by hatred of India. Without a shared hatred of India, the various tribes have no reason not to fight each other as they have been doing for longer than Anglo-Saxons have been a world power. Without a shared hatred of India, there would be no reason for secularist and the Islamic militants to not fight each as they do in almost every Muslim country in the world.

This is why the army is the only functioning institution in Pakistan. A member of one the Baloch tribes and a member of one of the Pashtun tribes might not be able to agree on much. But as long as the Pakistani army was fighting India or about to fight India they could both support it. The same would go for an Islamic radical and a secular nationalist. Hate is a great unifier.

But the army’s role is slowly switching from trying to drive India back to trying to hold Pakistan together. This sounds great and I guess that it is. But what it means in practice is that now everyone in Pakistan has a reason for hating the army. If the army tries to keep that Pashtuns from oppressing the Baloch tribes, the Pashtuns are going to hate the army. If the army tries to keep the Baloch tribes from breaking away from Pakistan, the Baloch tribes are going to hate the army. If the army tries to crack down on corruption, the secular big landowners are going to hate the army. If the army tries to crack down on Islamic radicals they are going to hate the army.

All of the above things need to be done to keep Pakistan from flying apart in the absence of a common hatred of India. Yet is impossible to do all of them and remain popular.

I think that most of the political elite in the west realizes the scale of the task and they are terrified that the Army will not be able to do it. They see how increasingly unpopular the Pakistani army is becoming as a result of trying to hold the country together and it scares them. In their mind, unpopularity is a sign of weakness. So their solution is to try to arrange a marriage between someone who is “popular” and the army in an attempt to keep the country together.

And what happened? Bhutto was killed and the army was blamed. Thus have the do-gooders succeeded in lowering the popularity of the only thing that can possibly keep Pakistan together as a secular state. If popularity mattered, the whole affair would be a great disaster.

But as I have said, popularity does not matter. If the people loyal to the Bhutto clan had any real fire power they would have been shooting a long time ago. Yet most of the Bhuttos have been killed without anything happening other than the odd riot.

I would not be surprised to find out that some elements in the army were behind her death. The army has a long tradition of killing people in the Bhutto family. But I also do not believe that Musharraf wanted her to die. If he had, I think she would have died a lot sooner.

But when you are afraid for your own life, you are going to keep the people you trust the most close to you. In other words, Musharraf could only afford to offer Bhutto the protection of people that he was not 100% sure of.

This illustrates the real problem with Musharaf and the army. Their problem is not their lack of popularity. Their problem is that no one fears them. The army is having a hard time protecting their own, much less other people. The army is having a hard time keeping itself unified, much less the country. As a consequence, various tribes and groups are rushing to form their own armed groups to fill in the gap.

The western political elites cannot face the fact that fear is more important to the survival of Pakistan that popularity. Without a source of authority that everyone in Pakistan fears, the country is going to fall apart. Without facing this fact, the western elites will continue to come up with insane ideas like twisting Musharaf’s arm and making him allow Bhutto into the country.

Of course, it is an open question as to whether the West can do anything to save Pakistan. And I think that it is reasonable argument to be made that the west should not even try.

But let us not kid ourselves. If Pakistan becomes a real nation, it will only come about after a lot of people are killed. They must have their own version of America’s Civil War before there will ever be a national authority that everyone respects and that is capable of laying down the law. Only then, will popularity have anything to do with who holds the power.

And if Pakistan fails to become a real country it will mean that America will loses its war in Afghanistan. It means that its atomic weapons will be floating around in a failed state. It means it will be even easier for terrorists to establish bases in failed states.

There is no easy answer to the problem.

Revealing my ignorance

Monday, December 24th, 2007

Over at the Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen asks….

The question is, when inflation comes, why doesn’t the expectation of that inflation lead to proportional increases in nominal interest rates, thus keeping the real rate constant?

In the comment section on his post I said…

I am going to reveal my ignorance here, but it would seem to me that the answer is obvious if you assume that inflation occurs because of excessive increases in money supply.

The banks are the first beneficiary of new money creation. This new money has the same value as the older sound money (for lack of better word. This enables them to lower real interest rates because they no longer have to pay as high a price for money. In my little ignorant hillbilly mind, I have always thought of this effect as being akin to seigniorage.

Maybe there are good empirical reasons for discounting this theory. If so, I await my education.

Mr. Cowen responded by saying….

Apeman makes a good point, when the church bells in Puebla woke me up at 5 a.m. I realized: “I forget to mention the loanable funds channel!” Sadly the computer was in Yana’s room at the time. I added it to the list.

Hurray for me and all that, but I am still confused. Why is that “Loanable funds channel” is not considered the logical answer? It seems to me that it ought to be pretty easy to prove/disprove one way or another. After all, if the Loanable Funds Channel theory is in anyway correct, you would expect to see some kind of lead/lag effect. Obviously I am not the first person to suggest such a idea, so why can’t anyone figure out a way to test the idea?

Why I have not been Writing

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

For those few who check my blog regularly in the hopes that I have posted something new I thought I might explain a little why I have not be posting.

The heroic version is that I have been working lots of overtime. I mean, working over 16 hours without anything to eat but candy bars and orange juice (which is not a solid food, but it can be surprisingly filling) will crimp any writing style.

More truthfully, I doubt I would be using my time any better if I was not working overtime. This time of year, all I want to do is sleep. The only thing that can relive this desire to sleep is physical labor or sleep. Trying to write in front of a computer just does not work.

Hopefully, when the days start getting longer, I will start to write more intelligent stuff then I have been lately. I really want to write another essay on my essay site, but I probably will not have the time to do so for a long time to come.

An Unrepentant Rant

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Genocide and hard work made this country what it is. Sloth and wealth are making this country into something else. Some people think that this change is a good thing. I don’t.

I know that the ghosts of the dead Native Americans haunt our historical consciousness. I can still hear the echoes of the slavers’ chains and the weeping of the families that were torn asunder. But I think that such ghostly apparitions lend an unwarranted appearance of morality to those who condemn hard work, discipline, and a strict moral code.

I am speaking of those who use the word Puritan as a word of contempt. It seems to be a new fad now. If you are worried about the moral hazard people will call you a Puritan. If you are against bailouts you will be called a Puritan. If you think people deserve to suffer the consequences of fiscally irresponsible behavior, you are a Puritan.

I must admit that this is a neat way of conjuring up a vision of all of America’s crimes so as to damn all of America’s virtues. The Scarlet Letter has fixed in everyone’s mind who are the real sinners and who are the real saints. If you smell of the past, you must be one of the sinners.

But if that be the case, I will proudly take the only scarlet letter that society still has to offer. I will proudly proclaim myself to be a judgmental prick.

The way I see it, there are two basic viewpoints underlying the debate over what to do about the subprime mess. One view says we must do whatever is best for the majority of Americans. The other says we must do whatever is best for those people in America who managed their money responsibly and have not treated debt like it was free money. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the latter view.

To put it another way, if you could prove to me that a policy would cost all the irresponsible people in America trillions of dollars and it would only benefit the responsible people in America with a few billion dollars worth of benefits, I would say that was a fair trade. It’s not that I want to go out of my way to hurt the irresponsible, but I think that benefits to the responsible are the only things that should count in the minds of policy makers.

The fact that the irresponsible might be in the majority should have no bearing on policy makers. If there were only one responsible person in America, policy should be formulated for the benefit of that person. The only proper path for a nation is to make life as hard as possible for the irresponsible and as easy as possible for the responsible.

Now I understand that in the real world the line between the responsible and the irresponsible is not always clearly drawn. And I fully accept that reasonable people might disagree on what would best benefit the responsible. But I will not give the time of day to people who argue that we must help irresponsible people simply because there are so many of them. I will not grant that irresponsible people have any particular right to help so that they might avoid suffering loss.

A nation that will not be judgmental will soon cease to exist.