Monday Message Board

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link


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28 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. Assessing My Own Intellect or Beware! – Vanity and Dunning-Kruger Effects Ahead!

    I think we can safely say that creating a cogent monograph, fiction or fact, takes considerably more intellect than understanding or appreciating it. In short, creation takes more intellect than appreciation, though it can still take appreciable intellect to understand difficult monographs.

    It is a source of wonder to me that Count Leo Tolstoy could create at about age 35 to 39, “War and Peace” when I could merely appreciate it at about age 50. It is the same case with Bishop George Berkeley. Berkeley could create at age 25 his long essay “Concerning Human Knowledge” which I only began to appreciate properly from about age 55. That’s a double jeopardy in a sense. They created at much younger ages what I could only appreciate much later in age. Clearly, my intellect pales by comparison to theirs. And if I think I am clever in finally appreciating and understanding such things it only shows how dopey I really am… or perhaps how wasted my youth was.

    Speaking of wasted youth, I am now quite regretful that I dropped German at junior high and did not continue it to tertiary level. I could have read Kant and Hegel in the original perhaps, though I imagine I would still have recoiled from Hegel’s obscurity and speculative (to me) metaphysics. I am quite regretful that I stopped studying mathematics after senior high. I could have continued my autodidact’s ontological critique of economics on a better basis with a decent mathematics grounding. These are just old-guy hobbies of course. Some old guys build things in the men’s shed. I am not aware of a “men’s shed” or people’s shed for philosophy. I tend to abuse economic blogs for that purpose. 😉

    Since economics arguably does stand in need of an empirical and ontological reassessment, then this perhaps means I am not entirely out of order.

  2. JQ – 2 books, and a play?

    “Interdependence is not new in world history—complexity is. In interdependence, outcomes can be predicted; in complexity, they cannot.” – Parag Khanna

    “Want to understand how Trump happened? Study quantum physics
    2016 By Parag Khanna
    (Founder – FutureMap)

    “Seventy years later, another Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Leon Cooper of Brown University, began using Frayn’s play as a medium to instruct his undergraduate students. He recruited an ensemble of faculty, including the respected international-relations theorist Thomas Biersteker and a European historian, to co-teach the course. Uniquely, each class featured a live performance of scenes from the play by members of the Trinity Repertory Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Cooper issued a challenge to his students from the outset: “Can you understand the play if you don’t understand the physics?” [I would have loved such classes]

    “Today, in the wake of the Trump win, there is no more important question that we can ask about the emerging world order than this: Can we understand geopolitics if we don’t understand its physics?

    “The century of complexity
        Stephen Hawking recently remarked that, “The 21st century will be the century of complexity.” Indeed, the physics of classical geopolitics are being superseded by the physics of complexity.”…
    ….
    “We have never lived in a multipolar, multi-civilizational order without a hegemon, and in which so much of what is “us” is made by “them” and vice-versa, and where powerful cities, companies and other autonomous and mobile groups pursue their own agendas. Indeed, the most fundamental attribute of today’s global system is not the shift from unipolarity to multipolarity (structural change), but rather the shift from a state-centric order to a multi-actor arena (systems change).

    “Structural change happens every few decades; systems change only every few centuries. Structural change makes the world complicated; systems change makes it complex.”…

    “Globalization does not simply carry on within the existing order but forges a new one. We all understand that globalization has magnified interdependence (the intensity of relations), but we understand far less how it has made the world more complex (the nature of relations). Interdependence is not new in world history—complexity is. In interdependence, outcomes can be predicted; in complexity, they cannot.”
    https://qz.com/834735/want-to-understand-how-trump-happened-study-quantum-physics/

    https://futuremap.io/team

    And a review of Parag Khanna’s 450+pg book. My takeaway; read Tom Friedman, but take note of last paragraphs of review;

    “Why Parag Khanna’s “Connectivity” Doesn’t Quite Connect

    “One line to take away from this book that has a few lines too many is this: “We expend huge effort to measure the value of activity within borders; it is time to devote equal effort to the benefits of connectivity across them.” Well said. Indeed, more work needs to be done here.”

    “The core idea of the importance of connectivity is a solid one. Given all the bashing that world trade is getting these days in the U.S. presidential election circus—and it is not just Donald Trump to blame here—one would be tempted to second former U.S. Secretary of State Chuck Hagel’s cover blurb for Khanna’s book: “A must read for the next president.”

    “Whoever that next president turns out to be, the PowerPoint version of Connectography would indeed be a “must scan.””

    – Bhaskar Chakravorti is Senior Associate Dean of International Business & Finance at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He is founder and Executive Director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in a Global Context. He is also author of The Slow Pace of Fast Change: Bringing Innovations to Market in a Connected World.
    https://huffpost.com/us/entry/us_9925560

  3. I have it on good medical authority (I can’t reveal my source) that it has now been determined that COVID-19 immunity fades in three months for most people and on average. Eradication by distancing and quarantine is now the ONLY possible strategy until a safe, effective vaccine is created. The countries which pursued mythical herd immunity have scored a massive own goal.

    A safe, effective vaccine will also presumably confer only about three months immunity unless there is a way to enhance that. However, a national mass vaccination program with adequate doses for say 90% of the population in a relatively short time window (much less than 3 months) would effectively eradicate the virus. Targeted follow-ups could mop-up. Vaccine stocks could be maintained long term.

    If a safe, effective vaccine proves impossible (and it still might) then the human world is in deep, deep trouble for a long, long time. But Australia could still eradicate the virus. It will take enormous discipline and tough statist controls, especially since Victoria, then potentially NSW and the rest of Australia are right now on the brink of a MASSIVE DISASTER.

    I have said over and over that this virus could have more stings in its tail. Often right, seldom listened to! That’s me! 😉

  4. Counter-intuitive news item: Bolsonaro has dropped Brazil’s protective tariffs on imported solar PV equipment https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/07/22/brazil-eliminates-import-duties-for-cells-modules-inverters-and-trackers/

    Why the sudden attack of good policy, which will accelerate an ongoing boom? Possibilities: distributed solar is popular with the middle class; opposition to it comes from his enemies in unionised parastatal oil and electrical generation monopolies. The exact opposite of Obrador in Mexico.

    This does not in anyway mitigate Bolsonaro’s catastrophic failures on the Amazon and the virus pandemic.

  5. James Wimberley,

    Too little, too late. I hate to be negative but I think the writing is on the wall for most of us. The developing world and the West are all in big trouble. Only China appears as if it will survive this pandemic and economic crisis reasonably well. One possibility is that the Middle Kingdom will survive and the rest of the world will collapse. The bigger possibilities are climate and ecological collapse or nuclear war before that. If you look at the real numbers coming out of the real systems, the case is pretty much hopeless across the board.

  6. Our society is in a terminal standards and ethics decline, in the building industry and many other industries. We’ve seen inflammable cladding, cracking buildings and many companies failing to pay workers properly, plus there was the whole banking scandal and many other examples right down to the farcical security of Melbourne’s hotel quarantine. The way many buildings large and small and other works are built, I suspect we will see a rash of failures over the next ten years and beyond. I believe our government, society, economy and business environment are all highly corrupt, right here in Australia. The consumer has very few real protections except litigation which he cannot afford.

    As a consumer, I really think my safest course now is to not spend at all except on essentials. Anything major I would buy or contract to build would almost certainly let me down. There might be a very few exceptions. I find I don’t enjoy spending money anymore at all (and I never did very much). I feel like no matter what I purchase I am just getting ripped off. I truly find that spending outside essentials merely reduces my mental equanimity and my life amenity. It seems like a very bad deal. The only reason to have money and assets is to avoid being pushed around. For example, owning your own house means a landlord can’t throw you out.

    Anyone who thinks our society and country here (Australia) is not in deep, systemic trouble, is looking through rose-tinted glasses and is in for a horrible shock.

  7. Test test and test again. I agree with… “Test sensitivity is secondary to frequency and turnaround time for COVID-19 surveillance

    “These results demonstrate that effective surveillance, including time to first detection and outbreak control, depends largely on frequency of testing and the speed of reporting, and is only marginally improved by high test sensitivity.

    “Our modeling suggests that some types of surveillance will subject some individuals to unnecessary quarantine days. For instance, the infrequent use of a sensitive test will not only identify (i) those with a low viral load in the beginning of the infection, who must be isolated to limit viral spread, but (ii) those in the recovery period, who still have detectable virus or RNA but are below the infectious threshold [9, 10]. Isolating this second group of patients will have no impact on viral spread but will incur costs of isolation.

    “The use of serology, repeat testing 24 or 48 hours apart, or some other test, to distinguish low viral load patients on the upslope of infection from those in the recovery phase could allow for more effective quarantine decisions.”

    doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.22.20136309
    “This article is a preprint and has not been peer-reviewed…”

    Disscusssed at;
    https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-640/
    via…
    @ReicherStephen

    I, Harry Clarke & others here have been saying for a while, test test test;

    KT2
    https://johnquiggin.com/2020/04/20/monday-message-board-458/#comment-222895

    Harry Clarke
    https://johnquiggin.com/2020/06/29/monday-message-board-467/#comment-225469

    JQ
    Suppress, trace, test, [+test+test] repeat
    https://johnquiggin.com/2020/06/03/suppress-trace-test-repeat/

  8. Masks at – 2:19:00 to 2:26…
    “Time & dose dude”
    TWiV 635: Mask hysteria
    July 5, 2020

    “Daniel Griffin provides a clinical update on COVID-19, then we review SARS-CoV-2 shedding in children, how to resume school safely, the need for widespread testing and wearing face masks, and much more, including listener email.”
    https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-635/

  9. James, could it be the case that a lot of those Brazilian solar imports could be from China? Could it be that Brazil is trying to butter up the Chinese ahead of their development of a covid vaccine, in hopes of being added to the list of countries that receive it free as a global good? I think a vaccine developed by a Chinese institution just started phase 3 trials in Brazil. Maybe the Brazilian govt is hoping for first dibs on the product?

  10. The whole COVID-19 situation just starts looking worse and worse.

    “Earlier this month, a doctor from Washington DC reported on a 50-year-old patient who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, three months after his first infection. Instead of having just a mild cough and sore throat as he did the first time round, the second infection was worse and included a high fever, shortness of breath and lots of trips to hospital.

    Recent reports and conversations with physician colleagues suggest my patient is not alone,” Clay Ackerly wrote in an article on the news and opinion website Vox. He said such findings add to suggestions immunity against coronavirus isn’t strong or long-lasting. Or worse, that COVID might be like dengue fever where you get sicker when you get reinfected.” – ABC News.

    If you possibly can, isolate, isolate, isolate, even in good health. You might survive the first time you get it but maybe die the second or third time.

  11. Ikonoklast, I think this is a thing with Dengue fever – that it can reinfect people and subsequent reinfections are more dangerous than the first. I hope that isn’t the case with this thing!

    (I’m still taking reinfection reports with a grain of salt at this stage, partly out of optimism).

  12. faustusnotes,

    You are correct. Reinfection and worse outcomes in second and subsequent infections IS a thing with dengue fever. There is growing evidence (though not conclusive evidence yet) that this is a thing with COVID-19 too.

    There are a whole pile of other very bad things about COVID-19, many documented in the links inside the Vox article I linked to above. In our case, we have basically isolated totally, as retired people, since this epidemic began. We don’t even shop but have everything delivered. As soon as even 1 community transmission case appears in our whole state we wash every delivered item like bottles, fruit with skins etc. that is washable on the outside. (Food safe detergent.) Non-washable items needing no refrigeration, we do not touch for three days. Mail we do not touch for 3 days. I use gloves and/or wash hands in the recommended manner. We never go anywhere except to help my 90 year old father-in-law in his house. We are living in a dumbbell if you can see the analogy.

    I am sure many people think I am being dumb and over-cautious. However, with COVID-19 even my florid imagination has been unable to conjure up nightmares to match the reality of this terrible virus. It’s pretty much a doomsday virus because of its interactions and magnifications with all the other crises we have created.

    Actually, if it’s a doomsday virus why I am trying to last longer only to see and experience worse things? That IS dumb now I think about.

  13. Thanks Nassim Nicholas Taleb for “Statistical Consequences of Fat Tails” (and introducing me to the law of medium numbers).
    https://mobile.twitter.com/nntaleb

    Publisher. On splash page the blurb contains “laws of the medium numbers”…
    “”Switching from thin tailed to fat tailed distributions requires more than “changing the color of the dress.” Traditional asymptotics deal mainly with either n=1 or n=∞, [JQ’s option negation?] and the real world is in between, under the “laws of the medium numbers”[^1]–which vary widely across specific distributions. Both the law of large numbers and the generalized central limit mechanisms operate in highly idiosyncratic ways outside the standard Gaussian or Levy-Stable basins of convergence.

    A few examples:
    – The sample mean is rarely in line with the population mean, with effect on “naïve empiricism,” but can be sometimes be estimated via parametric methods.

    – The “empirical distribution” is rarely empirical.

    – Parameter uncertainty has compounding effects on statistical metrics.

    – Dimension reduction (principal components) fails.

    – Inequality estimators (Gini or quantile contributions) are not additive and produce wrong results.

    – Many “biases” found in psychology become entirely rational under more sophisticated probability distributions.

    – Most of the failures of financial economics, econometrics, and behavioral economics can be attributed to using the wrong distributions.””
    https://thescribestore.com/products/statistical-consequences-of-fat-tails-by-nassim-taleb

    Some people may say Taleb is a clown. I wouldn’t.

    [1] The Law of Medium Numbers (of which I was ignorant ) coined by Gerald Weinberg.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Weinberg

    Absolutely stunning reviews of Weiberg’s book ‘An Introduction to General Systems Thinking’…
    https://geraldmweinberg.com/Site/General_Systems.html

    Top hit for an excellent explaination of ‘the law of medium numbers’ by John Cook. Although I am already subscribed to John Cook’s blog, I’d never read this until Taleb’s mention above;

    “The Law of Medium Numbers
          The law of medium numbers is a term coined by Gerald Weinberg in his book ‘An Introduction to General Systems Thinking’. He states the law as follows.

    “For medium number systems, we can expect that large fluctuations, irregularities, and discrepancy with any theory will occur more or less regularly.

    “The law of medium numbers applies to systems too large to study exactly and too small to study statistically. For example, it may be easier to understand the behavior of an individual or a nation than the dynamics of a small community. Atoms are simple, and so are stars, but medium-sized things like birds are complicated. Medium-sized systems are where you see chaos.”
    https://www.johndcook.com/blog/2010/02/25/the-law-of-medium-numbers/

    Ernestine, JQ-  anyone read ‘An Introduction to General Systems Thinking?’  Or seen better reviews of – anything?

  14. It’s complicated – reinfections, recoveries, recessions, reprisals…

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2020-07-23/can-you-catch-coronavirus-twice/12481448

    How sure are we these are cases of reinfection?

    There have also been several cases of people getting sick a second time documented in France(external link), but we still can’t be sure what’s going on in these isolated reports, said Larisa Labzin, a viral immunologist at the University of Queensland.

    “There are no scientifically peer-reviewed studies that have definitively shown reinfection,” Dr Labzin said.

    “There is only anecdotal evidence from the US and other countries.”

    It was possible, Dr Labzin said, that these second illnesses may have been caused by the original virus that was never cleared from the body after the first illness.

    This can happen, for example, when the level of virus temporarily falls below the ability of a test to detect, resulting in a ‘false negative’ result.

    To work out if this was the case, genetic material from the virus (RNA) would need to be sequenced in each of the coronavirus tests done during the first and second illnesses.

    …”There are a few cases of people getting sick twice from coronavirus, but is that the rule or the exception?” immunologist Menno van Zelm of Monash University said.

    …”It is a difficult issue because we only have a partial insight into the virus, and we do not know if the [reinfection] reports provide a biased view,” Dr van Zelm said

    Dr Labzin said what we need now are the results from long-term scientific studies looking at the immune response of large numbers of people over time to see what happens when they are reinfected.

    Stuart Tangye, an immunologist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, agreed there’s not enough robust evidence, and that we don’t know enough about the circumstances surrounding case reports of reinfection.

    For example, did the patients have pre-existing health conditions, including immune defects, that could make them more vulnerable to re-infection?

    “[If they did] this would be an exception rather than the rule,” Professor Tangye said.

    Will Smirko/Recessionberg catch 2.5% GDP growth next calendar-year?

    “In calendar-year terms, real GDP is forecast to fall by 3¾ per cent in 2020, before increasing by 2½ per cent in 2021. The economy is forecast to recover faster than in past recessions due to the unwinding of restrictions, but it will be a long road back. The unemployment rate will remain elevated for some time…

    The bottom-line is that investors must be prepared for the economic and budget numbers to move in both directions. And as we stress, fundamentally the economic outlook depends on winning the battle against the coronavirus.” (Economic Insights, Craig James, Chief Economist, CommSec, 23July20)

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-23/coronavirus-restrictions-cause-flu-cases-to-drop-australia/12480190
    This time last year 430 people had died from influenza. This year it’s just 36

  15. Ikonoklast:

    Actually, if it’s a doomsday virus why I am trying to last longer only to see and experience worse things? That IS dumb now I think about.

    The compulsion to see how the story ends is very strong, and the finale of this season is going to be a real barnstormer. So I think your measures are fair enough.

    I have a friend here in Tokyo, American, whose parents live in Washington state in the USA. Like most Americans they have pre-existing conditions and like most parents they’re older, maybe in their 60s. There are 600 – 1000 cases a day in Washington at the moment, so a much higher infection risk than in Tokyo. She is terrified of what is going to happen to them but the nature of their work means they can’t shelter at home. Her dad got a job in another country but the borders were closed before he could move to take it up, so they’re trapped there. I think this thing kills 5% of people their age that it touches, but with pre-existing conditions … there’s nothing she or they can do and it’s very alarming. If you can protect yourself, good on you!

  16. Faustusnotes: the Oxford group are also launching their Phase 3 vaccine trial in Brazil – infection rate out of control, NHS-type health service making it easy to recruit patients. Don’t complicate things, Bolsonaro is not a strategic thinker.
    I forgot one other factor. The backbone of Brazil’s electric grid is huge hydro dams (Itaipu is 14 GW, not a misprint). Fossil generation is marginal already so it’s a weak lobby.

  17. Ikonoklast, I think this is a thing with Dengue fever – that it can reinfect people and subsequent reinfections are more dangerous than the first. I hope that isn’t the case with this thing!

    Amen.

    But also, what difference does it make? If there are reinfections, I’m going to stay home most of the time, try to keep my distance from people when I go out, and wash my hands; if there aren’t reinfections, I’m going to stay home most of the time, try to keep my distance from people when I go out, and wash my hands.

    The compulsion to see how the story ends is very strong, and the finale of this season is going to be a real barnstormer. So I think your measures are fair enough.

    The precautions to minimise the chance of being infected are the same precautions to minimise the chance of spreading the infection to other people.

  18. J-D,

    Never mind. I think you turned it into a kind of found poem. 🙂

    The verse after “Amen” captures the circular terror of obsessive compulsion.

    Just say that’s what you meant to do and you’re an artist!

  19. During the rise of China, a notable characteristic of the USA has been complacency. As early as 1987, with the publication of “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, Paul Kennedy predicted the Chinese economy would eclipse that of the USA by about the second or third decade of the 21st century. This has come to pass. On the best available measure, GDP PPP, China’s economy overtook that of the USA in 2014. Any other measure is face-saving nonsense by USA boosters. This is proven by the raw numbers of production and manufacturing. Counting the real stuff that nations produce and the real infrastructures and elaborate manufacturers that nations create is the best guide to economic power. On the other hand, market valuations aggregated in the numéraire, and not even adjusted for PPP, are arrant nonsense.

    When in office, American President Barack Obama once laughed and scoffed at a question about Chinese power catching up to and exceeding US power. I wondered at the time, “Are you really so stupid and arrogant that you don’t know what’s happening or are you lying for public consumption?” Either way, it was a completely reprehensible and dangerous attitude, a fault which been made 10 times worse in the person of President MAGA Trump. America’s greatness was economic and military and certainly never moral. We can put easily that last contention aside as an indefensible conceit.

    China is now the greatest demographic and greatest economic power in the world. It is not yet the greatest military power. It takes time to convert economic power into military power. Indeed, biding one’s time and not rushing the conversion of economic to military power, further enhances the economic component or fraction which later will be converted to military power. This China has done. On the other had, the USA wasted its economic lead on fruitless endless wars, internal decadence, misdirection of resources and production-sapping inequality. This China observed. Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

    The USA’s conventional military power is on the wane in relative terms. China’s conventional military power is on the rise in relative terms. China’s asymmetric and cyber capability is also on the rise. The economy itself of is course a strategic and conflict asset in any geostrategic “total undeclared war” context. Only nuclear weapons keep the number one and two economic-mlitary powers apart from overt direct confrontational competition.

    The respective responses to the COVID-19 crisis have demonstrated the enormous gap which has arisen between China and the USA in economic power, social cohesiveness, and political and technical competence . The Chinese have met and so far come thorough the COVID-19 crisis with flying colors if their figures are to be believed. Their figures are perhaps dubious but even if they are ten times worse that admitted and published, they are still doing four times better than the USA! That is astonishing. The depths of social and medical failure now being plumbed by the USA is egregious.

    It’s no good for partisans or patriots of the USA or the West to deny these plain facts and denigrate the messenger(s). Denial of reality puts one in an even worse position. If Americans and Westerners can’t face facts then they can’t face anything. We have seen that the USA and EU can’t face anything by their abysmal, disgraceful, and perilous failure in the face of the COVID-19 challenge. We need to wise up, toughen up and change up. A uni-polar world was and is no good for anyone whether it was the USA or will be China.

  20. How Did COVID-19 and Stabilization Policies Affect Spending and Employment?

    A New Real-Time Economic Tracker Based on Private Sector Data

    Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Nathaniel Hendren, Michael Stepner, The Opportunity Insights Team

    “We build a publicly available platform that tracks economic activity at a granular level in real time using anonymized data from private companies. We report daily statistics on consumer spending, business revenues, employment rates, and other key indicators disaggregated by county, industry, and income group. Using these data, we study the mechanisms through which COVID-19 affected the economy by analyzing heterogeneity in its impacts across geographic areas and income groups. We first show that high-income individuals reduced spending sharply in mid-March 2020, particularly in areas with high rates of COVID-19 infection and in sectors that require physical interaction. This reduction in spending greatly reduced the revenues of businesses that cater to high-income households in person, notably small businesses in affluent ZIP codes. These businesses laid o↵ most of their low-income employees, leading to a surge in unemployment claims in affluent areas. Building on this diagnostic analysis, we use event study designs to estimate the causal effects of policies aimed at mitigating the adverse impacts of COVID.”…

    NBER Working Paper No. 27431
    Issued in June 2020
    NBER Program(s):Asset Pricing, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, International Finance and Macroeconomics, Labor Studies,Monetary Economics, Public Economics 

    https://www.nber.org/papers/w27431

  21. Some perspective on China in general: China is still a poor country. Overestimating their capabilities is just as bad as underestimating them, and frankly it seems to me both perspectives are usually based in large parts on ethical stereotyping.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita
    73 Palau 18,496
    74 Grenada 17,956
    75 North Macedonia 17,815
    — World 17,680 <——————
    76 Venezuela (2011) 17,527
    77 Suriname 17,005
    78 China 16,785 <——————
    79 Barbados 16,287
    80 Saint Lucia 16,089
    81 Libya 15,803
    (yes i know the iwf list is more optimistic about China – it also includes no world average.)

  22. In per capita economic terms, China is a poor country. In absolute economic terms, China is a rich country. It has more production than any other country. In demographic terms, China is a rich country. China has more people than any other country and is thus richer in people. Which of these various qualities is more important depends on the objective of the analysis. If the objective is to measure geostrategic and military strength, then total production and total population are what matters plus of course technological attainment. If the intention is to measure the total impact of China on climate change, then total emissions matter not per capita emissions. If the intention is to measure distributed welfare on a per capita basis then per capita economic measures are what matters, albeit even PPP comparisons are rather flawed.

    A “poor” China is nothing like a “poor” Palau. In the geostrategic terms in which I was speaking, China is rich and powerful. It is the richest and most powerful nation on earth. It is also the most competent nation on earth, at least in pandemic control. It has also proven to be one of the most competent at reducing poverty, introducing mass transit, updating and maintaining its infrastructure, achieving technological advance and other things. Saying it is among the “most competent” in these arenas is not necessarily to support its governance methods or its geostrategic direction. It is simply to face facts on the ground. The West thinks it still has an economic, technological and even political economy system lead on China. It does not. The West needs to face facts. The first step in dealing with facts is to face them.

    In this reply and my comment above, I have been careful not to criticize or praise China. Just to present contentions about its economic and geostrategic power relative to the West: contentions supportable by facts. The West is like a person in a race looking over one shoulder to see if his major rival has caught him. In actual fact, his rival has overtaken him on the other side and is now well ahead. In their hubris the US and the West in general cannot see this.

    I contend the above is important because a multipolar world is and will be safer than a unipolar world. I want to see the West survive and thrive if possible, not least because I and my descendants live in it. To strengthen itself, the West actually needs to become both more democratic and more socialist. These are not antithetical. It is democracy and capitalism which are antithetical. Having one vote just like a rich man when his billion dollars buys so much more power and influence than your “paltry” $35,000 (average net worth in Australia), does not equate to power-equality or to social justice. We need nationalizations of key industries and services. What we do not need is an authoritarian system of any kind.

    Right now the US is tending to fascism. Donald Trump, who is acting like a South American dictator, is sending his snatch squads in a “surge” (a term redolent of the “war against terrorism”) to places like Portland Oregon, in uniforms sometimes but with no name tags and using unmarked vehicles, to kidnap predominantly lawful protestors against their constitutional rights. I am not sure if it is known yet where they are being incarcerated. Trump has openly stated he might not leave office if he loses the election. Biden has stated his fears of the possibility of this unilateral Trump action and signaled to the military by public statement in this context that they should “escort trespassers from the White House”. This is a deadly serious and critical juncture in world history. We will see, come November and beyond (until inauguration) whether the USA becomes a full fledged fascist state or remains democratic in some way.

    It is possible within our Australian mixed economy system to nationalize key strategic and social assets plus natural monopolies and to provide national services fully free (at point of service) like mass-transit, health, education and other services. “Free” here means it is not “user-pays” but rather all citizens pay through taxes to provide the services. Without radical changes in political economy, Australia and the entire West will disintegrate and collapse. The COVID-19 crisis has shown the neoliberal model, as well as being “merely” unjust and inefficient, absolutely does not work in crisis times. It is failing abysmally in the US and UK. That Australia still limps along so far just indicates that we had not become entirely neoliberal to date.

    The world will be in crisis for the next 100 years or longer due to climate change and other major natural system issues. Our Western neoliberal capitalist political economy system is not fitted to social justice nor to ecological survival in these new crisis times. The longer we cling to this system, the further we will fall. The dead hand of capitalism will destroy us.

  23. I agree with a lot of what Ikonoklast has written here about China. I would also point out that there is no possible world in which we have global equality and China – as geographically composed now – is not the world’s greatest economy and greatest power. The only way that situation can be avoided is to force nations like China and India to stay poor, or to break them up. I think in many ways a world where China, India and the USA were all broken apart to the size of about the EU would be a better multi-polar world (if we had equality, of course) but that obviously isn’t going to happen, and so if as leftists we want to see a world of global equality we need to accept that China will be the richest and most powerful nation in that world. Any other vision for that future world must necessarily be racist.

    (Obviously Ikonoklast has said many things before about the need to restrict growth, realign resource use etc, but if we pursue a just world where that happens China will still be the richest and most powerful, but we will require the western nations + Japan and Korea to reduce their consumption. )

    I think Japan and Korea have come to terms with this simple fact, because they basically pursue a world where everyone is equal and have a long history of living with their powerful neighbour. But watching the response from the west – in particular the USA and UK – as China takes its rightful place in the world makes it very clear that there is a lot of racism involved. Anyone who has even vaguely studied the build-up to the Pacific war will understand that it is very similar to the reaction of the US and UK to Japan, which led to 30 years of interference in Japan’s economic affairs and ultimately to war. I hope we won’t repeat the same mistakes again.

    I’ll finally add something to Ikonoklasts commentary about China’s competence. I have been working with Chinese colleagues on the coronavirus response in that country and the speed and efficiency with which they responded is quite something. I also have Chinese students, and have had now for 10 years, and they are generally excellent in every regard. In addition to other areas of competence, China’s education system is excellent and continues to improve (and to reduce inequality) while the west flounders (and the US obviously goes backwards rapidly). In addition to “responding” to the “challenge” of China’s wealth and competence, western nations should be taking the time to learn from it, and to adopt some of its best points. A good start for example would be to look at the grid system that formed the basis for their effective response to coronavirus and ask if it can be implemented in Australia. The shocking state of affairs in those apartments in Melbourne wouldn’t have happened if there was an effective equivalent to that system. Living here in Tokyo I can see that there are a lot of really good ideas bubbling up in Asia, and I can see the west ignoring them, and a lot of time that ignorance is driven simply by racist condescension. If the west wants to remain relevant in the Asian century, it’s time to start paying attention!

  24. I think in many ways a world where China, India and the USA were all broken apart to the size of about the EU would be …

    I’m not sure in what terms you’re thinking of size. I’m inclined to think in terms of population, and in those terms the USA is already significantly smaller than the EU.

  25. Malka Older has a series of fiction books featuring microdemocracy based on “centinals” of 100,000 people as the core element of a global superpower (in the sense that the EU is one, at least). Although USAians regular assure me that the USA is also a loose confederation of millionaires and billionaires (and baby). It’s interesting to read, not least because the plot tension largely involves how the democracy interacts with the outside states.

  26. It is highly amusing watching Joshua Frydenberg proclaim his love for Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. He is, of course, pathetically virtue signalling to his base supporters just in case they are suspicious of him because of the budget deficit.

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