Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

26 February 2015

What is “Nazism”?

[For an update on Russian Nazism and Nemtsov’s murder, click here. For a second update on Putin’s devolution and the national-scale Russian-Nazi thug “Strelkov,” click here. For two British views on the effect of Nemtsov’s murder, click here. For a recent post on electric cars’ underappreciated advantages, including variable range and variable performance, click here. For a short post on what may become the iCar, click here.]

Pose the title’s question to one of the remaining members of the “Greatest Generation.” What answer will you get? There will be images of Adolf Hitler, “sieg heil!” (“Hail victory!”) salutes, Swastikas, goose-stepping storm troopers, brutal conquest, and the Holocaust. Amidst a swirl of terrible images, survivors of history’s most gruesome war will have no doubt in their minds what “Nazism” is.

But times change. If the truth be told, Nazism is no longer a German phenomenon. It’s anything but. Yet the word and the evil still exist.

Germans gave Nazism a memorable, two-syllable name. But they didn’t invent it. It was around for a long, long time before Adolf Hitler.

It was there when Rome annihilated Carthage. It was there when the Mongol “hordes” massacred whole Eurasian cities, leading no one alive. It was there when the Ottoman Empire’s Turks wrought near-genocide on defenseless Armenians. It was there in the Japanese rape of Nanking. This all happened before the Third Reich fell.

In Germany today, there’s not much Nazism left. Today’s Germans are the most sincerely repentant among all of history’s brutal conquerors. They’ve built memorials and monuments to their bestiality in the Holocaust. And they’ve passed laws making denying history a criminal offense. Dachau and its gas chambers are now a sombre museum.

But outside of Germany, Nazism is alive and well. It lives in the Islamic State, which cold-bloodedly murders others who do not share both Islam and its own bizarre, extremist ideology. It lives among the Russian troops and Russian partisans driving refugees west and east from Debaltseve and Donyetsk. It lives among freedom fighters struggling in Ukraine, some of whom are actual cultural and genetic descendants of Ukrainian partisans who once fought for Nazi Germany. It exists in the various European fringe parties that want to expel or marginalize helpless Muslim immigrants seeking a better life. It’s especially vibrant among those who believe that Muslims are somehow genetically inferior or culturally violent.

It lives in places as disparate as Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and the American South and Northwest. It lives in the hearts of Hamas partisans in Gaza who urge killing Israeli children while they hide innocent Muslim children near their weapons caches. It lives in the minds of “Orthodox” Israelis who cheer destruction of Gazan people and homes but won’t serve in the Israeli army and see the suffering firsthand. It lives in the minds of American police who kill or injure unarmed people of color when they wouldn’t a white man because, deep down, they think people of color are categorically more dangerous or less worthy, or that no one important really cares about them. It lives in the minds of Yanks who—despite all evidence and humanity—insists that our President is not one of us and doesn’t love the country that gave him the chance to be President despite his much-oppressed race.

Sometimes we call these offshoots or regrowths “Neo-Nazis,” to distinguish them from the now-all-but-vanished German kind. Yet except for nationality and ethnicity, they are all the same.

Nazism is Nazism. It’s an extreme form of the tribalism that arose out of our species’ biological evolution, but which our social evolution must some day overcome if our species is to survive.

Although convenient shorthand, the two-syllable word “Nazi” is a misnomer. Once it was an acronym for “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei,” or “National Socialist German Workers’ Party.” That was Hitler’s political party.

But the root words “socialist” and “workers” were and are misleading. There’s nothing “socialist” about Nazism. It took the great private German industrial combines (including Krupp and Bayer) as it found them and bent them to a tyrant’s ends. Germany remained firmly capitalist throughout the Third Reich—a corporate totalitarian state run by a clique of evil, uncultured men who had managed to capture the spirit of a resentful nation battered by a previous war, defeat, and the Allies’ misguided collective punishment.

Nor was the Nazi Party a workers’ party. Although it won its first national election fairly, it quickly morphed into a brutal totalitarian organ that captured and controlled German politics, finance, industry and media by force, threat of force, and terror. Then Nazi Germany fought history’s biggest, longest and most horrible ground war with the Soviet Union, which styled itself the “workers’ paradise.”

There have never been two more adamant mortal national enemies than corporate Nazi Germany and the “proletarians” from the Soviet “worker’s paradise” in World War II. So much for “socialism” and “workers.”

However much a misnomer it may have been, German Nazism was not just an atrocity. It was an unutterably tragic mistake.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Germany had one of two most advanced societies on Earth (the other being Britain’s). Bach, Brahms and Beethoven reigned supreme in music, Göthe, Schiller and Heine in literature. Men like Bose, Euler, Gauss, Planck and Schödinger—not to mention Albert Einstein, a German Jew who thought and wrote in German—dominated math and physics.

Not only was Germany at the apex of the arts and sciences. Many in the West naïvely saw Nazi Germany as a savior from something even worse: Soviet Communism and its Terror. When Hitler’s armies began marching east, many ordinary Eastern Europeans at first fought for and with them, until then-Germany’s “master race” ideology trod them under foot. As I’ve outlined elsewhere, the Ukrainians (along with the Poles) were among the most deluded and betrayed of this kind.

Unfortunately, Germany’s Nazi leaders were a clique of psychopaths dominated by a deranged former corporal and house painter. Neither they nor their extreme-tribalist “master race” ideology were clever enough to take advantage of these “facts on the ground.”

But what might have happened if then-Germany’s best had ruled in their places? It’s interesting to speculate. Here’s one possible alternative history:

After its bloodless “Anschluss” (annexation) of Austria and nearly bloodless invasion of Czechoslovakia, Germany’s blitzkrieg quickly conquers Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Then Germany turns east, but not with further blitzkrieg. Instead, it tills the fertile soil for anti-Soviet action in Poland and Ukraine, with months of political and undercover action.

With this groundwork done, the conquest of Poland and Ukraine is quick and (compared to actual history) painless. Most Poles prefer efficient and fair German rule to domination by Soviet Russia. They fight with German troops or stay at home. Nearly all Ukrainians want to remove the Soviet pillager that had battered their country with coercion and starvation during the inter-bellum period.

Having learned the lessons of Napoleon and Tolstoy’s War and Peace, German leaders are smart enough to stop there. There is no German invasion of Russia, no Battle of Stalingrad, no Siege of Leningrad, no years-long scorched-earth war on the frozen plains of Russia. Stalin, relieved of the pressure of threatened invasion of his still-nascent nation from the West, turns to fortifying the Soviet Union’s new western frontier, and to Japan.

With Russia in the Pacific war early and for real, and Germany essentially out, Japan makes a truce and departs from China and Korea, if not from Malaysia and Singapore and a few conquered Pacific Islands. Germany sues for peace, offering freedom or substantial autonomy for Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Not having been goaded by countless atrocities, Britain and the other Allies heave a huge sigh of relief and make a deal. (After all, the map of Europe changed dramatically after the First World War, and nobody seemed to mind much.)

The result? Yet another new map of Europe, with post-war Germany at its heart, a bridge between East and West.

The result today? A much larger Germany, not the US or China, is the world’s number-one economy. Russia (or what remains of the Soviet Union) is far advanced socio-economically, having avoided the catastrophic losses of history’s most costly and terrible mechanized invasion. Nuclear energy has been developed (probably by Germany, from which the most important physicists came), but nuclear weapons are still only a theory. The total of wartime deaths worldwide was a bit over seven million, less than one seventh of the actual total and less than in World War I. The world is a happier, more prosperous, less fearful and more productive place.
Of course there are questions regarding this alternative history, as with any counterfactual scenario. If Germany had had better leaders than Hitler, would it have made war at all? Could there have been any other consequence to the Allies’ disastrous collective punishment of the loser Germany after World War I than—as actually happened—an explosion of German resentment and rage?

No alternative history can ever claim accuracy. There are too many variables. You never get to rerun the tape. But the mere plausibility of this much more pleasant outcome for our species reveals an essential truth. Nazism was neither a rational strategy for Germany nor an inevitable outcome of Germany’s postwar mistreatment by the World War I Allies (against which our own Woodrow Wilson advised). Nazis and Nazism betrayed Germany, not to mention human civilization and the human race.

Having given us all a memorable name for Nazism, Germans have expunged it from their home. But the rest of us have not. We Yanks have plenty in our midst. We even have a private propaganda organ of great power (Fox) that fosters Nazi-like ideology among us. The Russians, with their tribalist action in Eastern Ukraine, have a Nazism problem of their own.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth advised us against Nazism in the most memorable way possible. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he told us. “Love thy enemy.”

Jesus knew nothing about evolution. Nor did the people of his time. But in advising us to love each other and to cooperate, he advised us to cherish our species’ single greatest competitive and survival advantage. It’s not our brains, our warm-blooded bodies, or our opposable thumbs. It’s our ability to communicate, empathize, and cooperate, which vastly enhances all of our other abilities, including our limited intelligence.

In all its many forms, Nazism is the antithesis of cooperation and humanity. It says, in essence, “You are inferior and subhuman. (Or you are violent, an infidel, lazy, criminal, or useless.) I will kill you just because you are you. Or, if you don’t do what I want, I will stomp on your face.”

To the first variant of Nazism, there is no answer but violence. The second variant admits of non-violent resistance, like that of King, Gandhi and Mandela. But more often than not, the actual answer to any kind of Nazism is violence, rebellion, or terrorism.

The best approach, of course, is to stamp out Nazism before it grows strong, with understanding, inclusion and empathy. Only if we do that can we solve the worst problems facing our species and requiring our global cooperation, including climate change, nuclear proliferation, and oil’s rapidly approaching exhaustion.

The Germans have seen the light and have given us a memorable name for our species’ most fatal character flaw. But outside of Germany it lives on. Fighting, suppressing and destroying it everywhere are every human being’s job one.

Russian Nazism Growing Plain

Three earmarks of Nazism were unmistakable in Nazi Germany. The first was extreme tribalism, a form of extreme nationalism that excluded even fully-German Jews and eventually motivated the Holocaust. The second was annexation of neighbors, beginning peacefully but soon morphing into blitzkrieg. The third was liquidation of domestic opposition by murder and terror.

Now every one of these earmarks is appearing in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The tribalism is already there, in Putin’s “aggrieved Russians” excuse for territorial acquisition in what used to be Ukraine. It’s also there in his people, exemplified by a Russian’s mother’s “pride” in her son’s wounds, which he suffered fighting Kiev “because we are Russian.” The annexation is already there, in Crimea and maybe soon in the Donbass.

Now the third earmark has popped up: the murder of Boris Nemtsov on the Krelin’s doorstep in Moscow.

Nemtsov had twice been Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. He was a liberal thinker and anti-corruption crusader, with an independent mind and a populist bent. He rose to prominence under Boris Yeltsin and was highly popular in his Yaroslavl region.

At one time, Nemstov was a credible political rival to Putin. He had a fallout with Putin some years ago, and Putin has used every lever of his overwhelming power to undermine Nemtsov ever since. Most tellingly, Nemtsov was reportedly about to publish evidence of Russian troops’ presence in Eastern Ukraine. Now he is dead.

All this makes a question I posed two weeks ago infinitely more pointed. Have Russians become the new Nazis?

Is Crimea Russia’s Austria, annexed without a fight, as in Germany’s Anschluss? Is the Donbass Czechoslovakia, or maybe Poland, to be annexed with greater force but still short of general war? Is Vladimir Putin another Adolf Hitler, or another Josef Stalin, each of whom originally won power in fair elections and then consolidated it by violence and terror?

There are differences, to be sure. Today’s Russian nationalism is nowhere near as exclusive, extreme, brutal and terroristic as German Nazism at its height. The “conquest” of the Donbass is not as bloody and abrupt as Germany’s invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland. At least not yet. And so far we have only one prominent, apparently political murder, plus a number of jailings of lesser figures, including the oligarch Khodorkovsky (now in exile) and the blogger Navalny (jailed sporadically but repeatedly on minor charges).

But creeping Nazism is still Nazism. Vladimir Putin is far cleverer and more subtle than Adolf Hitler. Maybe he is also much less violent.

But times have changed. There were no nuclear weapons when the man who named Nazism built the so-called Third Reich. Now there are, and Russia has—at very least—the second largest and most terrible stockpile of them. Under the cover of its nuclear umbrella, Russia’s modernized armed forces, run by an ex-spook with a Metternich complex, could make infinite trouble in Europe and the world.

Already Putin has shown his propensity. His policies and his arms have reduced Syria to rubble and are in the process of doing the same to Eastern Ukraine.

Even if the probability is not (yet) very high, the risk of Russia becoming this century’s Nazi Germany is by far the most menacing development of our new century. Next to that risk, Syria’s devastation, the imminent Greek default, North Korea, the Islamic State, and even a nuclear Iran pale into insignificance.

In the worst case, a nuclear Iran cold devastate the Middle East. But ever since its 1980s war with Iraq, Iran has been cautious and circumspect in its international relations. A Nazified Russia could be a serious threat not only to Europe, but to our entire species. And unlike Iran, Russia has very few people, let alone in power, who remember personally what war is like. Putin is not one of them.

We don’t yet know who really killed Nemtsov. It might have been Russian Mafia or an offended oligarch. It might have been a misguided act of Islamists. In the murky, secretive, Machiavellian nation that Putin has built, we may never know. Or we may find out, decades later, that Putin’s had his hand in, just as we now know that the Nazis themselves burned down the Reichstag, terminating Germany’s nascent democracy.

What we do know is that there is now a runaway authoritarian government in Moscow. Unlike every other major power today, including China, Russia has a single, solitary man at its helm. And, despite his deceptive shrugs, he’s a macho man.

Just as Mao was really China’s last emperor, Putin is now Russia’s latest tsar. His government is consolidating its power with jailings, political trials and now, perhaps, murder. It has behind it the world’s and history’s second most effective propaganda machine (after our Fox): Putin-controlled Russian TV.

Putin’s government is already behind two disastrous foreign military adventures, by proxy in Syria and directly in Eastern Ukraine. It won’t listen to its best international friend, Angela Merkel, who now confesses she can’t understand Putin.

Apart from economic sanctions, which so far have been ineffective, the Russian people and the world have come up with nothing to check Putin’s caprice. Under these circumstances, can another Cuban Missile Crisis be more than a few years away?

Our species got lucky that time. Two Russians joined an American and managed to stave off nuclear Armageddon. Do we want to try our luck a second time?

It is now becoming clear that Vladimir Putin, not IS or Kim, is the chief threat to global peace and security and our species’ long-term survival. Every civilized Russian, every civilized nation, and every civilized leader should now become devoted to a single cause: checking Vladimir Putin’s power and, eventually, slowly and peacefully, producing “regime change” in Russia.

Our and China’s differences are minuscule in comparison. Xi Jinping is also consolidating his power. But he’s only the leading hand on a seven-member committee. Unlike Russia, China has many checks and balances, nearly all of which are unwritten and unseen. So far, Xi’s power has been directed primarily at purging China’s rampant corruption; he has skillfully tamped down the Chinese nationalism that threatens war in Asia.

In contrast, Putin has reveled in and fostered nationalism and already has promoted two horrible wars. We should enlist China’s aid and cooperation in reining him in.

Update II (3/1/15): “Strelkov” Redux and Putin’s Flaws

It’s hard to gauge a national mood from abroad. And you have to discount foreign news for bias in our Yankee press, even beyond the private right-wing propaganda organ Fox. That said, the national mood in Russia today seems more dangerous than it has been since the Soviet Siege of Berlin and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Exhibit A in evidence is the murder of Boris Nemtsov discussed above. Exhibit B is the current status of Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin, aka “Strelkov.” According to the Washington Post:
In the year since the conflict began in Ukraine, Russian society has mobilized around the concept of an existential clash with the West. Putin warned darkly of a “fifth column” of Western-oriented Russians, and Nemtsov was surely high on the list. State-run television constantly pushes the accusation that U.S.-backed fascists are perpetrating genocide in Ukraine. Igor Strelkov, a far-right nationalist with dreams of establishing a new Russian Empire, was for a time last year one of the most popular figures in the country when he led pro-Russian rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.
I have written a whole essay on the imperial-scale Russian-Nazi thug “Strelkov.” But there are only three things you need to know about him. First, his self-adopted surname is very close to “Shooter” in Russian. He thus defined himself by his weapons, recalling Mao’s cynical slogan, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Second, “Strelkov,” is a suspected war criminal. He was the self-proclaimed “Defense Minister” of the self-proclaimed “Donyetskii Republic,” the first Eastern Ukrainian Region to seek independence from Kiev and annexation by Russia a year ago. He was in charge of separatist-rebel forces in Donyetsk when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, killing nearly 300 innocent foreign fliers.

Finally, “Strelkov” is as Russian as Putin himself. His real name is Russian, not Ukrainian. His adopted nom de guerre is also Russian. If Western reports are to be trusted, he is a former FSB agent and a retired Russian intelligence colonel. After the downing of MH 17, he fled (or was extracted) back into Russia to a hero’s welcome.

There is still no publicly released proof of precisely how and by whom MH 17 was shot down. But if separatist forces did it, “Strelkov,” as their commander, is at very least criminally negligent, as I have analyzed. He should be in a prisoner’s dock, awaiting trial in the International Criminal Court. Instead, he is a Russian hero, protected by Putin’s patronage and Russia’s nuclear umbrella.

I am no idle Putin basher. In several essays on this blog, I have praised Putin’s intelligence and leadership of Russia. See, for example, 1 and 2.

Putin is largely responsible for Russia’s rapid, bloodless and mostly painless rejection of the fictional economic system once known as Soviet Communism. He has cooperated with the West in such things as fighting the Taliban and terrorists in the Af/Pak region. For a time, he appeared receptive to making private business a greater part of Russia’s economy and Russia a part of the global economy. If Putin, like our George Washington, had anointed a successor and stepped down after his first two terms as Russia’s duly-elected president, he would have remained in the first rank of our species’ great leaders.

Putin knows his native Russia well, perhaps better than any person on this planet. But he has little knowledge of or understanding of the world outside Russia. Consequently, he has little ability to predict the consequences of his and Russia’s actions there.

Let’s review the evidence. Putin did not foresee that his adamant support of Assad would turn Syria into a killing field of rubble, lead to the rise of the Islamic State, and threaten to engulf the entire Middle East. Neither he nor anyone else has a good plan to put the Islamic Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Putin did not foresee that continuing to support the tyrant Yanukovich, whom Putin himself despised, would result in Yanukovich’s overthrow. He still does not understand that the overthrow was not a CIA plot, but a natural popular reaction to a medievally posh tyrant, a puppet of Russia, in the twenty-first century.

Having grabbed Crimea bloodlessly and painlessly, Putin did not foresee that encouraging and fostering the separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine would cause a real civil war on Russia’s doorstep. He did not foresee the displacement of now over a million innocent civilians, both Ukrainian and Russian, and rising. Nor does he see that displacement’s similarity to the Serbian “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia.

As that civil war intensified, Putin did not foresee how the West would react—not with misguided and futile military adventures—but with stringent economic sanctions. Nor did he foresee how damaging those sanctions would be to a Russia just getting back on its economic and industrial feet after 74 years of Soviet Communism, plus a generation more to make the transition to the market systems that the rest of the world, for better or for worse, lives by.

In short, insofar as Russia’s relationship with the rest of humanity is concerned, Putin’s remaining Russia’s supreme leader after his first two terms as president has been an unmitigated disaster. He once took a world-war battered and Cold-War spooked nation out of the isolation of Soviet Communism into a resemblance of the “normal country” that Boris Yeltsin dreamed of and appointed Putin to build. Now Putin is putting Russia right back into its self-imposed isolation cell.

So today we have a supreme irony. Modern Germany, which named (but did not invent) Nazism, and which has purged it well at home, is now taking serious hits to its own economy in order to keep Russia from turning to Nazism. And Russia, which (in its Soviet) guise, once fought Nazi Germany to the most disastrous Pyrrhic victory in human history, is now abandoning its most successful trading relationship and a younger Putin’s dream of a peaceful trading zone from the Atlantic to the Urals. Instead, Russia is turning to China, which, having long ago streaked past Russia in the development race, will suck Russia’s oil and gas dry, leaving Russians little or nothing but richer and more dangerous oligarchs.

This is the road that Putin the Prime Minister is marching down. Why?

The best explanation I can devise is reversion to type. Putin was trained as a spook and worked as a spook for decades. That experience formed his character and his world view. He sees the world as an intelligence chessboard, a game played by intelligent, powerful people like himself. Ordinary people and honest business mean nothing to him. He tried a few times to be a statesman but, apparently, was disappointed with the slow pace of his results.

Putin’s most fatal flaw is utter ignorance of what drives our species’ activity in the twenty-first century. It’s not nineteenth-century Metternichian international power plays. It’s something much simpler and much more basic to human nature: business, commerce and trade—a quest for wealth and prosperity thorough voluntary business deals.

China understands this point. That’s how it rose, in a mere 66 years, from an impoverished and powerless victim of both Western and Japanese colonialism to its rich and powerful status today. In about the same time, and in much the same way, Japan rose from a nineteenth century imperial and colonial power to become the world’s third largest national economy. Germany has followed a similar trajectory.

The other “tigers” of Asia—South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and tiny Singapore—are following in China’s and Japan’s footsteps. Having had a small taste of Nazism in the anti-Japanese riots in China and the reciprocal anti-Chinese fervor in Japan, Xi Jinping wants nothing to do with Nazism. So far at least, he has controlled his nation’s dangerous nationalism enough to avoid slowing China’s rise.

Stalin, born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili, a Georgian, became Russia’s “man of steel.” (“сталь” or “stal’” means “steel” in Russian.) He is still popular in Russia, as the leader during Soviet Russia’s disastrously Pyrrhic victory over German Nazis. But, as I have analyzed, this “man of steel’s” rule was disastrous for Russia. His ethnic cleansing by deportation displaced and impoverished tens of millions. His forced collectivization of agriculture starved millions, especially in Ukraine. His Terror and his gulags tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Had Chekhov or Tolstoy lived to see them, they would have torn their eyes out in despair. They would have thought that Ivan the Terrible had come back to life.

Contrary to popular Russian belief, Stalin’s inept and oppressive pre-war and wartime rule only prolonged Soviet Russia’s suffering. His massacre of Polish officers allowed the German Nazi blitzkrieg to drive right up to Russia’s borders. His inept command of Soviet troops and second-guessing of his best general (Zhukov) nearly lost Moscow and the war for Russia. The coward himself was preparing to flee Moscow until his military commissars informed him that, if he did, the Russian Front would collapse.

We Yanks, too, have had our “Man of Steel.” Ours was fictional and immortal: a cartoon and animated character called “Superman,” occasionally played by real actors. He always fought for good, as only fictional characters can do.

Real men of steel like Stalin only bring their people misery. They are incarnations of Lord Acton’s warning that absolute power corrupts absolutely. A corollary is that power held too long—like Mao’s capricious rule in his dotage—can destroy all that a once-great leader built.

Putin, apparently, believes himself a new man of steel. He tolerates, if not encourages, adulation of a Russian-Nazi thug who calls himself “shooter.” So Putin has becoming, or is becoming, Russia’s Dubya. The longer he stays in power, the more he will bring Russia low, as Dubya did us. What saved us Yanks was not any presumed Yankee superiority or “exceptionalism,” but effective term limits.

What Russia needs now, and what the whole world would welcome, is a government run by honest business people, who can give Russians not just relief from poverty, but the prosperity their industry and long suffering deserve. Power and respect will follow prosperity, as they have for China. So Putin can best serve his country and humanity now by finding such leaders, anointing them as Yeltsin did him, and retiring.

British Views on the Fallout from Nemtsov’s Murder:

For videos of the views of former British Ambassador to Russia Andrew Wood, click here. For the views of Tim Ash, a British financial analyst with long experience in Russia, click here.

Ash reflects the view of most investors: that Russia and Ukraine simply aren’t that important on a global scale. After all, Russia’s GDP is comparable to Italy’s. In contrast, Ambassador Wood’s largely geopolitical take is both broader and more realistic. While he speaks with an ambassador’s caution and British understatement, he sees a real risk—but still only a risk—that Russia’s new tsarstvo will implode, turn internally violent, and/or become something very dangerous to both Russians and world order.



  • At Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 4:28:00 AM EST, Blogger George Carty said…

    Your proposed plan for 1930s Germany couldn't possibly have worked, for the simple reason that Germany couldn't produce enough food to feed itself and was dependent on imports from overseas (and German policymakers would be keenly aware of this, with their memories of widespread malnutrition during WWI). Food was the fundamental driver of the Nazi killing mentality, just as water is now the driver of the killing mentalities of both Assad and Daesh (Islamic State) today. The Nazis didn't commit genocide because of their racial supremacist ideology, rather they invented their racial supremacist ideology in order to justify the genocide which they planned to commit for economic reasons.

    Invading France and the Low Countries would almost inevitably mean war with the UK (due to the UK's traditional "don't let one nation control the entire Channel coast" foreign policy), which means that Germany only has three options:

    1) Surrender as the Royal Navy blockade starves Germany into submission (as it eventually did in WWI). In this case it would happen more quickly as Germany controls less land in the east.
    2) Launch a genocidal invasion to the East to capture the food that it could no longer import from overseas (as Nazi Germany did in 1941), or
    3) Become a de facto client state of the Soviet Union, supplying the Soviets with superior German technology in exchange for grain and oil.

    These reasons were why Gustav Stresemann (one of Germany's leading centrist politicians of the interwar era) turned decisively against militarism post-WWI, even though he had been an extreme hawk during the war.

    If I was in charge of Germany in the 1930s, I'd avoid war with the West at all costs (which probably means no expansion into Poland or Ukraine either, unless the Soviets are stupid enough to start a war there). Instead I'd take advantage of the country's scientific advantage to encourage research into nuclear energy, as well as getting as much hydroelectric power out of Austria as possible post-Anschluss. This additional electricity production would free up coal for export (a similar logic -- only with oil instead of coal -- is the basic thinking behind Iran's nuclear power program today). This should allow more imports which would improve the German standard of living, and more electrical power could also be used to produce more fertilizers using the Haber-Bosch process, which would increase agricultural yields and thus improve Germany's dangerous food situation.

    Also, instead of building Autobahnen (which were a waste given how few Germans owned cars at the time -- only 1/30 as many as in today's Germany) I'd focus resources on building more and better apartments for ordinary Germans -- this would also reduce the reluctance to move to the city from Germany's overpopulated countryside, and thus make it easier to modernize German agriculture.

  • At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 4:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear George,

    Your entire analysis is based on the assumption in your first sentence. In my view, it is grossly overstated, if not dead wrong.

    The Weimar Hyperinflation may have caused German farmers some trouble in the inter-war period, just as the Great Depression did almost everywhere. Yet German farmers, like farmers everywhere, fared better than others because their wares always retained intrinsic human value. (Try to eat an axle, lump of coal, or stock or bond certificate!)

    Anyway, I've never heard it said that, aside from temporary economic dislocation, Germany couldn't feed itself. So I'm afraid I'm going to ask you for some references or support to back up that claim.

    The strict German custom of primogeniture caused many sons of German farmers to emigrate (many to the US!) during the nineteenth century and beyond. But they didn't go because the land or German farming techniques were inadequate to feed the German nation. (On the contrary, the law of supply and demand would have motivated them to stay, if they could find new land to till.) They went because all the land that each family held, and its fruits, went to the first-born son, so there was little economic opportunity for younger sons personally. (Daughters did not own or run farms in those days.)

    The generally recognized causes of German expansionism in World War II, in approximate order of importance, were: (1) nationalism (a form of tribalism), (2) resentment at collective punishment under the Treaty of Versailles, (3) a desire to finish consolidating the German-speaking peoples (i.e., German nation-building), at least through the Anschluss with Austria, and (4) a feeling of exclusion from the global industrial-commercial club, especially re colonialism and sea trade. If you think that Germany's inability to feed itself trumped all these causes, please cite a credible source for that view, with facts (not just opinions) to back it up.

    There’s not much left to say about the rest of your analysis, since it depends so crucially on that single assumption, which I view as grossly exaggerated at best, erroneous at worst.

    I will make just two further points. Even if your assumption has merit, wouldn't acquiring Poland and Ukraine (Eastern Europe's breadbasket) have given Germany enough land to feed itself, without a suicidal scorched-earth campaign in Russia? And wouldn't Germany have fed itself more quickly and easily with the help of Polish and Ukrainian peasants, rather than by dispossessing, jailing and slaughtering them and generally treating them as “inferior”?

    I do agree with you about one thing. An intelligent plan of cooperation, such as the one you outline, is always more likely to succeed than a plan of brute conquest and domination, especially one so ineptly carried out (from a political and human perspective) as the Nazis’.



    P.S. The tardiness of my reply is no comment on your comment, but the result of another failure of mine to keep track of my unmoderated comment meter.

  • At Friday, April 24, 2015 at 8:56:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    German farmers weren't affected much by the 1923 hyperinflation for the reasons you said -- what really drove them into the Nazis' arms was the collapse in worldwide agricultural prices (which happened just before the Wall Street Crash IIRC).

    Germany in the early 20th century certainly was dependent on imported food, not so much to feed its human population as to feed its livestock (especially pigs). This was the reason for the famous "pig massacre" of 1915, although this backfired in part because the loss of pig manure had a knock-on effect on Germany's arable farming.

    (And leaving Germany behind altogether, I wonder if the "pigs compete with humans for food" issue was what motivated the Judeo-Islamic prohibition of pork? Maximizing agricultural productivity would have first become a pressing issue in an arid region like the Middle East...)

    I wonder how many of the Nazi votes came from those younger sons who didn't inherit the family farm, and hankered after new lands in the east? It is notable that the Nazi vote was considerably higher in the north and east of Germany, than it was in the south and west (where primogeniture did not traditionally apply -- although the Nazis themselves imposed it there once they were in power). Although other factors (the strength of the Catholic church, and a less militaristic southern culture) may have also explained the lower level of Nazi support in the south...

    While German dependence on outside food sources certainly goes a long way to explaining the country's genocidal conduct during World War II, it doesn't really explain why Germany started the war in the first place. In my view, the main driver was the extreme Malthusian/Social-Darwinian worldview of the Nazis, which saw races fighting over the means of survival.

    Your thinking that a "feeling of exclusion from the global industrial-commercial club" may explain why Germany fought the First World War, but it had nothing to do with the Second World War. The Nazis (like the North Koreans today) sought self-sufficiency rather than prosperity through trade -- ironically because they believed that an agrarian Germany expanding eastwards would be less likely to get into a war with the UK than an industrial Germany making its living through trade.

    Incidentally, another factor that may have inclined the Nazis towards genocide in the East was the fact that Germany had occupied the Ukraine in 1918, and the territory had turned out to be a disappointment then. Despite its stereotypical image as a "breadbasket", it actually produced only a small food surplus -- perhaps that's also why Stalin treated the Ukrainians so brutally, as he sought the food necessary to build an urban industrial society in the USSR?

  • At Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 10:08:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 10:25:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear George,

    Hyperinflation didn't affect farmers? Really!?!? It affected, and tortured, all of German society, to an extent never before or after seen in another culture.

    And for those farmers reliant on budding agricultural technology and manufacturing, it made their inputs (factors of production) astronomically more expensive. When their outputs became less valuable (as the global Depression began), they were caught in a classic price squeeze. The Hyperinflation, which was centered in Germany, and which derived in large measure from the WWI Allies' dismal policies, made that squeeze uniquely worse.

    Your musings on Nazi social Darwinism, in my view, confuse cause and effect. Extreme ideologies don't just spring up for no reason. They arise out of historical forces. Our current Yankee militarism and growing authoritarianism at home, for example, are products of our own Civil War, which itself was a product of the South's slavery- and aristocracy-based culture.

    Our Ante-bellum South had far more in common with Louis XIV's France than did (or does) any other Anglo-American culture, and more than most who live there now would like to admit! Thus it is an awe-inspiring irony that Thomas Jefferson, who was a consummate Southerner in life but not in his public ideology, vehemently supported the French Revolution, while John Adams, a New Englander, just as vehemently opposed it. That divergence of views caused a break in their relationship that lasted for much of their lives.

    The Nazi quest for Lebensraum in WWII had more to do with longstanding cultural isolation and grievances than with any temporary and transient food shortages. Germany had retained a unique (and uniquely isolated) culture since fighting off the Roman legions nearly two millennia before. The Protestant Reformation, which started in Germany, reinforced that cultural separation. The failure to join (or exclusion from) the orgy of European "discovery" and colonization that, for much of Europe, characterized the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries reinforced it even more.

    Under these circumstances, Germany's loss in the general melee of WWI, the consequent reduction of its territory, and the Allies’ collective punishment were the triggers that ignited the accumulated cultural dynamite. The Nazi psychosis was an effect, not a cause.

    Cultures, like people, have character. Good or bad, their character can be analyzed with attention to their history. We can even begin—not with absolute accuracy, but as probabilities—to predict its consequences.

    As for individuals, but on a much longer time scale, the hand of history, with its influence on national character, aka culture, holds a long lever. We Yanks are hard to predict because we have at least three distinct cultures in a single nation. I suppose that makes us a bit like an individual with split personalities.

    My disagreements with you all seem to revolve around this different worldview. To me, your analysis of history seems too mechanical, too focused on short-term, isolated events (like the pig slaughter) and too neglectful of real, longstanding (and sometimes even ancient) forces that shape cultural character and influence today's events.

    But the discussion is interesting, so let's continue.


  • At Monday, May 4, 2015 at 11:45:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    I'm confused as to how you see the effect of the 1923 hyperinflation on Germany's farmers. I was under the impression that it was actually beneficial in some ways (because so many farms were heavily in debt, which the hyperinflation would of course have obliterated). The big losers would have been the urban middle class which held most of its wealth in financial form, rather than in the form of land or physical assets.

    As for Social Darwinism, I thought that it was a huge influence on thinking throughout the entire Western world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- for example, Theodore Roosevelt exhorted Americans to "work, fight and breed" (shades of the Vichy motto "Travail, Famille, Patrie" there!). Genocidal expansionism to acquire farmland was also a big influence on the Western world -- most notably the American Indian wars, but the Germans themselves had also committed genocide against the Herero in Namibia in the hope of gaining the land for the settlement of German cattle herders.

    It could be argued that the big innovation of the Nazis is that they were willing to genocide white people (such as Jews and Slavs), not just non-white American Indians, Australian Aborigines and black Africans. Germany's World War I experience of blockade and malnutrition was almost certainly the factor that made it willing to cross this final red line. Germany's dependence on New World food was by no means unique in early 20th century Europe, which is probably why the only mainland European nation to eat something close to its peacetime diet during World War II was Denmark. Even France was badly affected by the loss of imported petroleum -- during the German occupation vast amounts of French milk was wasted because there was no gasoline to haul it to the dairies. Memories of this (plus the virtual shutdown of French industry resulting from the loss of British coal imports) may well be the reason why France eagerly embraced nuclear energy after the war, under the slogan "we have no oil, we have no gas, we have no coal, we have no choice".

    As for the antebellum South: its republican culture, militarism, anti-intellectualism and use of chattel slavery remind me more of the ancient Roman Republic than of Ancien Régime France. Could you tell me more about the basis for your own comparison?

    If you're interested, I learned most of what I know about the Nazis' motivations from Adam Tooze's book The Wages of Destruction, and I expect that in the next few weeks I'll also be buying his more recent book The Deluge (about the global economy 1916-1933). The Atlantic magazine has done a good review of both these books here.

  • At Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 4:43:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear George,

    Thank you for your comment, and especially for your links to the review of Tooze's books, which linked in turn to this news story highlighting China’s current number-one status on a purchasing-power-parity basis. Although not on point in this discussion, those sources are fascinating, and I plan to get and read Tooze's books.

    As for the effect of the Weimar Hyperinflation on German farmers, I must admit that, the more I look into it, the more complex it seems. Yes, inflation wipes out debt. But it also raises the price of farm inputs, including energy, equipment and transportation of produce to markets. Equally important, it also lowers the prices of farm products.

    Why? Because customers, including the urban middle class of which you write, were busy putting all their liquid savings into whatever durable, non-perishable goods they could find. They wanted something and anything that would serve as a substitute for cash, which was decreasing in value, literally hourly.

    From the standpoint of mathematical economics, it's hard to analyze the Hyperinflation, even in retrospect. Apparently there were multiple positive feedback loops in action, so only chaos theory, not any stable set of linear equations, could model it.

    The best description I could find with a brief Google search, was this one, written by a noted amateur economist and columnist for New York magazine in the 1960s under the pseudonym “Adam Smith.” I think it captures well the spirit of the times, in which all the wealth, order, stability, safety and economic security of an industrious, trusting and orderly people vanished in an economic tornado.

    My own father experienced that tornado personally. He and my Mother were in Vienna in the late twenties. They saw with their own eyes Austrians using wheelbarrows full of worthless marks to buy a loaf of bread. And he had the chance to buy a whole block of apartment buildings for about US $ 24.

    Although it’s hard to know now precisely how that tornado affected German farmers, it's also hard to believe they were spared. When ordinary people were looking for any tangible object that might retain real value, the price of food would have had to have dropped, as long-term-thinking Germans sough to preserve their nest eggs and conserve on expenses for food, except for the barest necessities. Arugula was probably not a growth business!

    Your comment on France and nuclear power is apt and probably right. Japan did much the same thing after World War II, and for much the same reasons, despite being the only nation yet to have experienced the ravages of radioactivity. Now it appears to have reversed course, although its utilities are balking at the engineering challenge of handling the intermittency of solar and wind power and the depreciation of now-stranded nuclear assets.

    [Comment on ancien regime continues below.]

  • At Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 5:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    [previous comment continues]

    As for our Yankee south, I don't see the parallel to ancient Rome. I agree that there is no precise parallel between the South's militarism and anti-intellectualism and the ancien regime. But there was and is an analogy between the way slaves (both in bondage and after "emancipation") were treated in our South—plus the appalling lack of official empathy for them under the Confederacy and during Reconstruction—and the way Louis XIV and his aristocrats treated French peasants.

    The lack of empathy, BTW, extended to poor whites and still does. That’s what makes the failure of Southern poor whites and poor blacks to make common cause so puzzling. The ruling class in our South has done as good a job of bamboozling ordinary people of all races, and for as long a time, as any ruling class in history. (See 1 and 2)

    Now it has the aid of the world’s and history’s most effective propaganda machine (Fox), started by, of all things, an expatriate Aussie. If you can get Fox so-called “News” on TV where you are, spend a half-day watching it. You will be appalled. When you think of our Yankee arsenal of nuclear weapons, you even might be afraid.

    But I digress. Like any analogy, this one is hardly perfect when scrutinized in full detail. Yet the South's culture was by far the closest thing we Yanks have had to a culture of landed aristocracy that debased and enslaved ordinary people. It still is.

    I look forward to reading the books of Tooze, who by all accounts is a rare original thinker. The notion that our American Century arose out of the intrinsic merits of our Yankee culture, our “exceptionalism,” and our meritorious hard work always struck me as simplistic and arrogant. Don’t every successful person and culture believe they are “superior” and justly favored by God, rather than fortuitously having been in the right place at the right time? More gratitude for good luck and Providence, more empathy for the less fortunate, and less arrogance would be a marvelous Rx for our species!



  • At Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 6:52:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    I suspect Japan will be forced to reverse its current anti-nuclear policy within the next few years. A country that densely populated is particularly ill-suited to solar and wind power, and the Japanese economy is currently being bled white by the cost of extra fossil fuel imports (three times the cost of the Fukushima cleanup itself) to replace the output of the (shut down) nuclear reactors. Since Sakhalin is rich in natural gas, I wouldn't be surprised if anti-nuclear politicians in Japan had received (laundered) campaign contributions from Gazprom!

    Here in Britain we don't get Fox News as TV news channels are legally obliged to be impartial. Press TV -- Iran's English-language news channel -- was also barred from the British airwaves for this reason. The Murdoch media's TV news channel here is the (much less partisan) Sky News.

    I remember when I visited Seattle back in 2006 I was indeed appalled by American TV news (not just Fox -- CNN Headline News seemed just as bad). They obviously seemed to be pushing for war with Iran, with images of (Nazi-like) goosestepping soldiers and (Soviet-like) parades of missile launchers passing through the streets.

    In Britain it is the printed media that is blatantly partisan. While Americans typically prefer to read local newspapers (IIRC the only American national newspaper is USA Today), national newspapers are very popular in Britain. They are also most very partisan, as listed below (in each case, the newspapers are listed in order of increasing quality):

    Right wing: Sun, Daily Express, Daily Mail, Times, Telegraph
    Left wing: Mirror, Guardian
    Centrist: i, Independent, Financial Times

    (continues below)

  • At Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 6:55:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    (continued from previous comment)

    By the way, my copy of The Deluge arrived the day you made your most recent posts, and I'm finding it interesting. You mention China overtaking the USA in PPP GDP recently, but I suspect it is headed for a serious crash.

    In the 1920 depression the United States (the worlds biggest creditor due to World War I) recovered rapidly without significant government intervention. Contemporary Austrian economists -- focusing narrowly on the United States -- use the example of 1920 to argue that FDR's stimulus programs were misguided, but they completely overlook the devastating damage that the 1920 depression did to Europe, as European nations heavily indebted to the USA were no longer able to pay down that debt by exporting to the USA. This led to the 1920s merry-go-round where the Germany borrowed more and more money from America in order to pay reparations to Britain and France, which Britain and France in turn used to pay off their American war debts.

    Perhaps 2008 was more like 1920 than 1929? Like the 1920 crash, the 2008 crash primarily hurt debtor nations (the USA, UK, Southern Europe and Ireland), while creditor nations (Germany, China and Japan) were hurt relatively little. And China seems to embarking on a frenzy of malinvestment (to the point of building entire new cities which remain largely uninhabited) comparable to the US stock market bubble which eventually burst in 1929.

    The world desperately needs a redesigned monetary and trade system that does not provide the massive opportunities for labour arbitrage that exist in the current system. Labour arbitrage suppresses the wages of First-World workers, depriving the economy of badly-needed demand (as the rich have a lower marginal propensity to consume than the poor). By putting more and more money in the pockets of the rich, while simultaneouly reducing demand for consumer goods (and thus demand for investment that would help produce those consumer goods) it also fuels malinvestments -- from McMansions in Arizona, to apartment blocks in Dublin, to extravagant-but-unused airports in Spain, to ghost cities in China. And the resulting trade imbalances have resulted in an explosion of global debt -- even in the creditor nations, as the debt of the debtor nations becomes collateral for the creditor nations' banking systems.

    The "bancor" system that John Maynard Keynes proposed at Bretton Woods in 1944 would have done the trick, but it was unfortunately vetoed by Harry Dexter White, the American representative at that conference. I often wondered whether Mr White was motivated by the American arrogance that came from having 50% of planetary GDP, or whether it was a deliberate attempt to sabotage global capitalism from within? Harry Dexter White was after all a Soviet mole, and it was under Soviet orders that he drafted the notorious "Morgenthau Plan" for the postwar deindustrialization of Germany -- had the plan actually been implemented, the resulting famine would have driven the German people straight into Stalin's arms.

  • At Wednesday, May 27, 2015 at 11:46:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear George,

    It’s taken me a while to get to your long comment, due to our Yankee Memorial Day holiday and my big post on President Obama’s many achievements.

    The most interesting thing to me was your assertion that in Britain “TV news channels are legally obliged to be impartial." I had not known that and would much appreciate a link or more details on how the obligation works and how it is enforced. For several weeks, I’ve been working on a post about our Yankee Fairness Doctrine, which Ronald Reagan abolished, and how we might restore balance, accuracy and moderation in our media by restoring it. It would be nice to compare British experience.

    As for the rest, I agree with some things and disagree with others. On energy, I think you need to learn more about renewables, especially solar and wind power. (See 1, 2 and 3) They have nothing whatsoever to do with population density.

    Japan has plenty of rooftops. Anyway, Japan has lots of unused land in its many mountains, most of which are too steep and rocky for dwellings, especially with Japan's earthquakes, but could be used for solar arrays or windmills.

    In fact, Japan is already building massive offshore solar arrays. Its most recent problem is not lack of space, but too much renewable power for Japan's conservative, sluggish power company (TEPCO) and its backward engineers to handle. In this respect Japan's power engineers are no different from ours: they don't like to think or innovate but just want to keep doing what they've been doing for years.

    As for nuclear power, I agree that it has to part of the mix. But Japan, like us Yanks, is going to have to put a lot more effort and money into meltdown proofing its plants. If you multiply earthquake risk (let alone tsunami risk) by level of civilization (and consequent economic and safety risk in a big earthquake), Japan and California would be at the top. Both have put billions, plus lots of good engineering, into strengthening residential and commercial buildings and structures. But both have yet to get rid of long-obsolete 1960s nuclear plant designs, which are far more meltdown prone than they need be. Follow the link for details.

    [Comment continues about China and economics below.]

  • At Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 12:39:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    [reply to comment continues]

    On China, I disagree with your analysis. China today is the world's biggest creditor nation, with the world's greatest foreign reserves. In my view, it also has the world's single most practical and expert governing body: a seven-member committee composed of technocratic "politicians," each having decades of experience. In reality, they are not "career pols" in any Western sense: each got his start in "politics" by managing real things, including mammoth industrial plants.

    The last time I researched the backgrounds of China's top "pols" (when the committee had nine members), six were trained as scientists or engineers, one was an economist doubling as a lawyer, and I couldn't find bios for the other two. In contrast, the vast majority of our Yankee pols are lawyers, many of whom learned about life by prosecuting criminals and demagoguing “law and order.”

    The biggest risks to China, I think, are not macroeconomic. China's authoritarian leadership can respond to changing economic forces faster—and with greater expertise and less demagoguery and moronic ideology—than can any government in the West. The biggest risks are corruption and the backwardness of much of China's population, including a tendency toward superstition and gambling (hence China's volatile stock market).

    At this point, I would expect another gratuitous financial panic here in America long before one in China. We Yanks have not learned any hard lessons from the Crash of 2008, which the greed and stupidity of our own bankers caused. We have not yet begun to reign those bankers in seriously, so the last and only line of defense against another economic meltdown here is our Fed.

    Labor arbitrage, I think, is a temporary and transient problem. It will improve rapidly as labor prices and conditions equalize, i.e., as the developing world continues to develop. Labor costs and conditions in Japan and South Korea have long ago reached Western levels. They are getting there in China now. Vietnam is next, and even Bangladesh and parts of Africa are not far behind.

    In the last twenty years, this world-historic transition has already lifted nearly a billion people out of extreme poverty worldwide. It is the principal means by which our species is improving itself, and increasing global economic equality, and it shows no signs of abating, let alone stopping. In any event, many kinds of labor can't be outsourced, at least not internationally or electronically, including retrofitting gasoline cars and light trucks to run on natural gas, home building and road construction.

    Your last paragraph smacks of conspiracy theory. The Marshall Plan and our reconstruction of Europe won out simply because they were wise policy. At that time, we had extraordinarily smart leaders and an aware and generally humble population.

    As your Churchill said, we Yanks always do the right thing, after exhausting all the alternatives. Time and again, we have shown an extraordinary ability to re-invent ourselves. But if we don't or can't soon, I'm not sure I would bet heavily on our own prospects as compared to China's and Germany's in the next decade or two. I do think, however, that China’s cumbersome and inefficient writing system will make it hard for China to best the West in scientific and technological discovery, as against the West’s best, or second best, alphabet ever invented.



  • At Sunday, May 31, 2015 at 5:00:00 PM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    You probably already know that I'm skeptical that wind and solar will play a major role in our energy future. They are too unreliable, and sunlight and moving air masses don't have a high enough energy density (which means they need vast areas of land to get enough energy to replace more conventional types of energy -- which is why I made the link with population density). There is a reason why even the finest sailing ships resulting from centuries of incremental improvements were outcompeted in the 19th century by clunky, dirty, coal-burning steamships. Perhaps you have a point re California though -- that state's vulnerability to earthquakes probably explains why it has such a powerful anti-nuclear movement, dating back to long before Fukushima.

    I'm unconvinced that China's spectacular economic growth since 2000 is sustainable in the longer term. Many other countries have achieved spectacular growth miracles (usually due to massive government-directed investment and/or export-oriented production) -- the USA in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s, the Soviet Union in the 1950s, Brazil in the 1960s and '70s, and Japan in the 1980s -- only to suffer a crisis due to the way in which the economy was distorted to maximize growth. I recommend you read more in Michael Pettis' blog post The politics of adjustment.

    After the 2008 crash, China embarked a massive domestic credit expansion (using its dollar-denominated reserves as collateral) to cushion its economy from the decline in net exports caused by the crash -- thus repeating (for the same reason) the mistake which Japan made after the 1985 Plaza Accord. Japan is still desperately trying to recover from this error, 30 years later and with a debt/GDP ratio 250 percentage points higher. What China really needs is not more investment but more consumption (while the United States of course needs to reduce consumption in favor of investment).

    (continues below)

  • At Monday, June 8, 2015 at 11:37:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear George,

    Some things are matters of opinion and interpretation. Much of history is like that. Often we don’t know precisely what happened and why, because there are many competing voices. Most historians write to sell a point of view, few merely to analyze honestly without preconception.

    Other things are matters of fact. Science and engineering are among them, at least where results and achievements are not still in dispute. There are some disputed issues at the periphery of the Socratic circle. But no one disputes the solid area within it, where knowledge is accepted and put to daily use to improve our lives.

    No educated and intelligent person, for example, still believes that the Earth is flat, or that the Sun revolves around the Earth, rather than vice versa. Among many other things, the satellites that transmit our global communications would not work if either view were the case. Similarly, no intelligent, educated person disputes Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, which explains (among many other things) the evolution of “superbugs” in animal husbandry that uses antibiotics routinely in animals not sick.

    Unfortunately, your entire first paragraph is in the category of flat-Earth, geocentric-universe nonsense. It reveals complete ignorance of the science and engineering of solar energy, and of energy generally. To a person trained in science and engineering, as I am, it is laughably and deplorably inaccurate and naive.

    "Energy density" is a property of materials like oil and gasoline. The term is not used for the electromagnetic waves that compose sunlight. In any event, your assertion is wildly incorrect: the sunlight falling on one-twenty-ninth of the area of Texas could have supplied the United States' entire electrical energy needs for the year 2006. More to the point here, your first paragraph reflects complete ignorance of the many relevant posts on this blog of which this one is only the most recent.

    Living in England, which is smack in the middle of the global rain belt that runs across the upper-US and North Atlantic to Germany and Holland might give you a jaundiced view of the “reliability” of the sun. But there are many places on Earth where the sun is reliable. Northern New Mexico, where I live, is one. My solar array there has produced over a megawatt-hour of electric energy reliably, every single month since its installation in August 2013, nearly two years ago. The sole exception was January of this year, when I was not home and therefore unable to sweep away the snow that temporarily coated the array. Even so, that month’s energy yield was half a megawatt-hour.

    Some things are too complex and too important to have valid or useful opinions without education. Global warming is one. Solar and wind energy are others. Your first paragraph puts you squarely among the ranks of the willfully ignorant who have become pawns of the fossil-fuel interests and obstacles to human progress, maybe even survival.

    I hope you’ll take the trouble to educate yourself on this vital part of our species’ energy future, as you have on some aspects of our history. Expertise does matter. Enough said. I'll reply to the rest of your comment later.




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