2020 05 Newsnotes

Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

It’s China’s Fault that the USA has One-Third of Global Covid-19 Cases!

The USA has 1,010,507 out of an official 3,080,101 confirmed cases of Covid-19, as at 28th April.[A]  So blame the place where it started, even though China kept most cases confined to Wuhan.

That’s not how Trump and the US Republicans put it, of course.  They want to shift blame, after wasting weeks with smart-Alec remarks. Hope to go on fooling Republican voters, who so far remain trusting and foolish.  People with minds poisoned by White Racism and fantasies of Rugged Individualism. Yet before the eyes of the whole world, they have massively failed. They have more than one a quarter of the total deaths.  56,803 out of 212,265.  26.76%, and rising. Rising because the USA also has a far higher percentage of still-active cases.  814,542, 80.61%.  Globally, it is 62.78%.

Italy has 105,813 in 199,414; 53.06%: only slowly getting better.  They were hit early, having a lot of trade links with Wuhan.[B] Germany has 38,132 in 158,758; 24.02%, which justified relaxing a little. Both show a welcome decline in new infections.  The USA is steady, but at a remarkably high level.[C] And Britain is also steady, after needless delays in lockdown.  Still not through the worst.  Active cases are 135,713 out of 157,149; 86.36%.

[Below are similar figures from another source:]2020_05_150102 Virus Deaths

That Boris Johnson had to continue the lockdown should have been obvious, but many leading Tories did not believe it.  I am once again thankful he recovered, much as I otherwise despise the man.

Among the general public, weary of decades of sophisticated False News, I can understand doubts.  I’ve seen some quite sensible people believe Covid-19 perils might have been hyped.  It is true that deaths from flu can be remarkably similar. And are always high at this time of year. But there is also a marked rise in total deaths.[D] An even bigger rise than the official Covid-19 death-rate would suggest: those figures are deaths confirmed to be from that cause.

If someone dies without hospital treatment, it might be flu or Covid-19 or something else entirely. Overstretched health services mostly do not check.  But deaths are always recorded, and the data is always reliable. The pattern is utterly clear. Covid-19 is an unusually nasty killer.  It can be spread by people with mild symptoms or no symptoms.  But it kills others, some of them young and healthy.

And the USA has been unusually bad at handling this novel threat. The USA since the Soviet collapse has promised Freedom.  Delivered misery, chaos and vast numbers of avoidable deaths.

 

Looking After the Money

“How Jack Welch’s Success Wrecked the Idea of the American Company…

“The recently deceased business icon pioneered mergers and acquisitions, stock buybacks, and offshoring…

“Welch made his mark as CEO [of General Electric] not by engineering products, but by financial engineering. Welch understood earlier than almost any other business leader what the new pro-merger legal environment meant and announced at his first meeting with security analysts in 1981 that under his leadership, GE’s strategy would be to stop competing in markets where the company wasn’t number one or two. In any business in which GE wasn’t or couldn’t become the market leader, he would either have the manager find a way to get to number one, sell the division, or shut it down.

“Within four years, Welch shut down a dozen of the company’s 217 factories and cut 18% of total employment at the company. Welch sold all mass market manufacturing lines, except big appliances and light bulbs. GE ditched its consumer electronics business. Under Welch, the company began a policy of firing 10% of its employees every year, as well as spending billions of dollars to buy back stock.”[E]

If a company buys back and retires some of its own shares, this boosts the value of the remaining shares.  It is an alternative to dividends, and in some cases avoids tax:

“Tax-efficient distribution of earnings

“Share repurchases also allow companies to distribute their earnings to investors without resulting in immediate taxation on capital gains.”[F]

Tax-efficient’ is a fancy word to cover a great range of legal but dishonest tricks.  Tricks that allow very rich people to pay far less than their fair share.

Deregulation was sold under the pretence that this was part of a low-tax small-state future.  This has nowhere happened in the decades since the New Right started promising it.

In as far as they were sincere, right-wing governments have bumped into the reality of high taxes and a large state being part of a rich and complex society. We could have low tax and a small state if we became subsistence farmers and gave up all of the comforts of modern life.  Very few want this.  And in practice they have been harassed by right-wing governments whose ideology might suggest they were a good thing.

Myself, I’d make life easier for the small number who want to live that way.  But remind everyone else that there is an unavoidable price for an advanced society. But it is all too easy for a rich person to profit from the existence of such a society, but not pay their fair share. Or to run down the real wealth creation of a society, but make a vast financial profit without doing anything illegal. Or influencing politicians to legalise things that had been banned after the economic disasters of the 1930s.

The USA crippled itself by deregulation. The Centre-Right in the 1970s and 1980s chose to trust the original ideas of Adam Smith, who insisted that following market signals would always produce the best result. This had been dropped in favour of the Mixed Economy, after the success of Fascism and Leninism globally. But with Leninism in decline in the 1980s and fascism no longer serious, there was a reversion to older beliefs. Beliefs that gave much more money and power to a tiny elite, but otherwise failed.[G]

All state-run systems run the risk of becoming ‘cash cows’ for selfish interests.  Or having to follow the pet projects of powerful leaders.  Mixed Economy systems are easier to run well. The problem from the 1970s was a swarm of ignorant little ideologues who were certain that the existing Mixed Economy would be much improved if it could be purged of all of that nasty socialism. The net result has been misery in the West.  This and a foolish belief that complex multi-party systems of governments could be dumped on alien societies like Iraq.  That bungle caused the loss of Western leadership of the rest of the world.

Which may be no bad thing.  The peculiarities of Western culture threatened to crowd out other interesting ways of life.  This no longer seems likely.  And if the alternative systems often include dislikeable elements, that is due in part to the West continuously threatening them.

 

Boeing – Make Cash and Crashes, Not Good Aircraft

“Airbus had re-engined their 1987 airframe so Boeing would re-engine their airframe from 1967. And they had to do it fast, cheap and good. It’s a law of project management that you can only get two out of three.”[H] “Stonecipher’s plan was to outsource as much of Boeing’s business as possible. This would enable him to fire engineers, get rid of factories… The stock price would go up, shareholders could cash out, and the board would be happy. A simple feat of financial engineering… “Five hundred cost-cutters were moving into a Chicago skyscraper while the costs (ie, engineers) were being kept 1,700 miles away in Seattle…

“It started with the simplest operation. Looting. The board began approving a series of share buybacks, $70 billion worth since 1998. Money that could have financed new airplanes was simply given away. Since 2014, Boeing has diverted 92% of operating cash flow to buybacks and dividends… “Boeing’s new culture did what it was supposed to do. It made money. It just didn’t make very good planes. Every single release since the takeover has been grounded by authorities for safety issues and, ultimately, horrific fatalities.”[I]

The horror of pilots struggling with an automated system that kept overriding them and seeking to fly the aircraft into the ground, having misread an instrument and decided the aircraft was about to stall. In the end, it succeeded.  Killed everyone. An unusually experienced pilot might have saved the day by switching off that instrument.  But most pilots could not be expected to realise this in time. There was no relevant training. Boeing stood exposed as a company that took needless risks.

Boeing faced a vast loss of status and market share, even before Covid-19 did vast damage to everyone. ‘Financial Engineering’ is all about legally rigging markets to give the wrong answer,  Or at least wrong for the welfare of the society. Most of the wreckers of Boeing have quite legally walked away with millions.  Left a ruin behind.

 

If It Is Difficult, It is Impossible

The New Right were the wrong answer to a very real question. The Mixed Economy system was in trouble in the 1970s.  But it needed to be reformed by people who saw its basic merits. Not simple-minded ideologues who decided that a purge of everything socialist was a sure-fire cure. It is a real problem for socialism that people remain selfish and ambitious when control of industry is administrative rather than legal and financial.  It needs time to change people.

Mao with his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution tried to find a fast-track solution.  He underestimated the need for expertise.  Faced a problem, given how easy it was to wrap selfishness in ideology.  Still, China did develop quite fast during Mao’s last ten years, which I suspected and then confirmed when I noticed the way in which the topic of overall results was carefully avoided in current Western books.[J]

He and Stalin were both highly successful in advancing the original Bolshevik agenda. If someone says they don’t want the sort of socialism that the Bolsheviks were aiming for, that’s a legitimate viewpoint.  But if they disbelieve that Stalin was efficiently advancing the cause of such socialism, they are simply wrong. And those aiming at some other sort of socialism should think carefully about whether the existence of the Soviet alternative helped or hindered.

We could talk briefly about Trotskyist achievements. There are no Trotskyist achievements.

Or none if you define ‘Trotskyism’ as the various movements that challenged the Leninist mainstream that Stalin came to be unchallenged leader of.

Leninism is militarised socialism.  Trotsky had no trouble with this.  But he had no significant body of loyal followers in 1917.  He was inept enough to get himself detained when he briefly passed through British territory when returning from the then-neutral USA.  Was eventually released by the petition of many left-wing Russians.  Most of these ended up dead, fled, or in jail when Trotsky was in power. In power, Trotsky was not trusted even by other Bolsheviks.  Most pre-1917 activists remembered him as a former enemy. Out of power, he borrowed the language of those he had earlier helped suppress.

Trotskyism teaches you how to sound very clever, while being a complete fool. Their only useful service to socialism is that they infected the New Right with the same trash. But earlier, it may well be that Khrushchev internalised Trotsky’s false view during a brief period of influence as a young man, which Stalin chose to forgive.[K]

The Soviet decline happened under the long sterile rule of Brezhnev, but he had been raised up by Khrushchev.  It has always seemed to me that Khrushchev demonising Stalin and keeping Lenin sacrosanct was the start of the trouble. The false view of Stalin was the reason the Soviets could not sensibly reform, as Deng did.  Deng kept Mao as a cultural hero, and later he was confirmed as the creator of the state by being on every single banknote in the current issue of currency notes. Wise Persons in the West told off successive Chinese leaders for not copying Khrushchev. But only a fool seeks good advice for those who keep on failing.  Losing power and influence, despite their command of gigantic Establishment powers.

 

Snippets

Former Australia?

“How Long Will Australia Be Livable? “Facing a future of fire, drought, and rising oceans, Australians will have to weigh the choice between getting out early or staying to fight…“Towns in Queensland are relying on charity handouts of water, even as a planned coal mine in the region is set to access billions of gallons of groundwater. The largest remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia — along with many others that have long thrived on their traditional lands — is also running out of drinking water.

“Then there are the heatwaves. On January 4, 2020, western Sydney became one of the hottest places on the planet, at 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.9 degrees Celsius). ‘That’s uninhabitable; you can’t live in that,’ Bradstock says. And there are floods — one-in-100-year floods have laid waste to Queensland twice in two years — and climate-change-related sea-level rise, which is predicted to be a significant issue for a nation whose population is concentrated in a narrow strip of land around its coastline.”[L]

***

China Stay Chinese

“Police arrested 15 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong on Saturday as Beijing seeks to reassert its authority after last year’s protests.  “Martin Lee, an 81-year-old pro-democracy politician who helped write the city’s Basic Law and Jimmy Lai, 71, the founder of anti-Beijing newspaper Apple Daily were among those arrested. Both have been accused of being part of a “gang of four” targeting China. “The arrests followed allegations the activists were involved in organising unlawful assemblies and come as the city is distracted by coronavirus, which ended months of anti-government protests.”[M]

I had always expected the West’s little pets to be crushed.  And the Hong Kong protests were obviously doomed when even the Mainland versions of the West’s little pets rejected them.

They might have negotiated some concessions.  But the West either did not foresee, or did not care.

***

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

[A] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries.  Updated daily.

[B] https://www.rebellionresearch.com/blog/northern-italy-wuhan-partners-for-better-or-worse

[C] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/coronavirus-maps.html.  Updated daily.

[D] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/21/world/coronavirus-missing-deaths.html

[E] https://marker.medium.com/how-jack-welchs-success-wrecked-the-idea-of-the-american-company-eddc1bc05f78

[F] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Share_repurchase#Tax-efficient_distribution_of_earnings

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

[H] https://medium.com/swlh/how-the-737-max-went-down-e6791bef30d0

[I] https://medium.com/swlh/boeings-culture-crash-c1500d2db9a

[J] See https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/recent-issues/2019-11-magazine/2019-11/

[K] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/m-articles-by-topic/m99-topic-menus-from-long-revolution-website/history-and-philosophy/khrushchev-influenced-by-trotskyism/

[L] https://medium.com/the-atlantic/how-long-will-australia-be-livable-83c587bff14a

[M] https://www.ft.com/content/50d5dcfe-e860-4fcc-9ce8-673b5f86aa50 (pay site)