2020 04 – Newsnotes

Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

Do As We Say, But Voluntarily

British schools were closed on Friday 20th March. Too slow. Children often get a mild cold from Covid-19. Spread it to each other, and then back to their families.

The government suggested we stay home if we could. Then commanded it on Monday 23rd.

All along. they have dragged their heels.  Reluctant over a crisis in the real world that makes them discard more of the Thatcherite heritage.

Lives will be lost, that would have been saved had this government acted sooner.

“The latest UK government strategy to slow the coronavirus epidemic could lead to between 35,000 and 70,000 excess deaths over the next year, according to an instant analysis by scientists from University College London, the University of Cambridge and Health Data Research UK.

“The team of clinicians, statisticians and epidemiologists says the UK measures do not go far enough in stopping the spread of the disease or identifying the most vulnerable high-risk groups. The government should ‘do more in the pursuit of suppressing the epidemic whether through enforced lockdowns or enforced social distancing rather than voluntary measures’, they add.”[A]

Things are worse in the USA:

“The nation’s doctors, nurses and other health care providers have spent days trying to alert us to a crisis: The United States has a shortage of medical equipment. There aren’t enough masks, ventilators, inhalers and other equipment to treat Covid-19 adequately. The shortage will lead to needless deaths and will cause the virus to spread more widely.

“This is the kind of national emergency that only presidential leadership can solve. But President Trump has decided not to solve it. He has declined to mobilize American business to respond forcefully because doing so would violate his small-government ideology. His advisers have said so in anonymous interviews, and he made a similar point in his news conference yesterday.”[B]

“The deep ideological roots of Trump’s botched coronavirus response

“How the GOP’s decades-long war on expertise sabotaged America’s fight against the pandemic.”[C]

But in Britain, people safely distanced from responsibility are objecting. The Daily Telegraph headlined it as an ‘End of Freedom’.[D]

Most British newspapers were wiser. When it comes to the crunch – when they or their friends might be hurt – they accept that the state has a right to command.

For civilised life to continue, a state must have a right to command even when it may be wrong. It needs an extreme error to justify outright opposition.

Rather less for non-cooperation. Many past laws are now seen as wrong – notably racial and sexual discrimination.

What’s wrong is the New Right attitude, deriving from Libertarian theory, which itself is a hodgepodge of silly views. Government is bad. People should not be told what to do. But people must also be stopped from doing the wrong thing.

A typical New Right Egoist sees people as morons when they look after their own selfish interests, at the cost of his own vastly more important selfish interests.

It is seldom put like that. But it is behind the protests about hoarding. People are simply responding rationally to a panic.

Libertarians hope that money pressures and social pressures will get the ‘best result’. Or even privatised violence to fix things, of the sort idealised in the very popular Superhero films.

Irregular violence is a highly authoritarian system. Not always wrong. But unless you are a member of some persecuted minority, you would be wiser to trust to state power.

A smart persecuted minority may get control of state power, at least at local level. And can drop the irregular violence. Irish Catholics almost everywhere have been very good at that. They have even got partial control of the regional government in Northern Ireland, set up to be solidly Protestant.

African-Americans got a bad dose of Coolheart attitudes when they achieved integration – Coolhearts would instantly accept them when it ceased to be dangerous or unpopular.


The Secret of MMT

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Boris Johnson’s government had restored the common-sense notion that governments can mobilise unused wealth.

He sacked a Chancellor who resisted this. With a solid majority keen on Brexit, his position is very strong. He authorised a vast give-away, not always to those who merited it.

The Tories have moved onto the old ground of the pre-Blair Labour Right.  Restored what was once called ‘Butskellism’: the consensus between Tory Left and Labour Right that held from the 1940s to 1970s.

Weirdly, the former Blairites are now well to the right of Boris Johnson on economic matters. Will they soon realise how silly this is?

MMT normally means Modern Monetary Theory. But it could just as well be called Magic Money Tree.

Trees flourish only in the right soil. If a government spends too freely, you have the classic problem of ‘too much money chasing too few goods’. Inflation happens, and everything gets out of control.

But that only happens when the state prints money for resources that are not there. Printing some extra money can mobilise unused resources – especially the unemployed.

Some people are alarmed at the banks ‘inventing money’. This is also known as Fractional Reserve Banking.  Banks rely on most depositors not asking for their money back, because most money is out on loans.  Mostly out to people lacking the cash to repay immediately, even if they wanted to. Which could crash the bank, with ordinary people losing most of their money.

But with the government there as back-up, this is not a risk to ordinary depositors.  Nor to the economy as a whole.

Such a set-up would not be possible had the New Right ideal been fully realised. But the rich and powerful always treated the theorists as lackies. They could be safely ignored when the answers did not suit.

The ‘theorists’ deserved scorn.  Their work was just a cover for shifting vast amounts of wealth to the rich.[E]

The world as a whole cannot be consuming more processed goods and services than it produces. One country can grow rich at the expense of another. Britain with its Empire consumed foreign wealth, especially from India and China. But other parts of Europe also rose. Germany became very strong with only a small Empire that may have been a net cost.  Bismarck correctly tried to avoid this.

Human societies can consume natural resources. All consumed vast amounts of wood, and the lack of trees helped turn some of the oldest civilised regions into barren deserts. Currently, many waste irreplaceable soil and groundwater.

We have also used both the seas and the atmosphere as vast dustbins, into which all sorts of waste could be safely dumped.  But now the seas are full of plastic waste. Greenhouse Gases are changing the climate.

Only state action can fix it. And apart from the US Republicans, Brazilian rightists and Australia’s Liberal–Nationalists, everyone is slowly adjusting.


Climate Abnormalities

Britons nowadays are much the same height as when I was young. Often fatter, but no taller.

Several inches taller, on average, than working-class people of older generations. Not so much with the middle class and upper class. Good feeding had produced a big shift.

I saw the same in Japan – the older, the smaller. But within normal human limits.

Had the last 20 years suddenly seen large numbers of women of 6 foot 3 and men of 7 foot, we’d assume that something else had happened. Something odd and worrying.

‘Height Increase Skeptics’ might say ‘but there have always been some women and men as tall as that’.  Also ‘look, you still see people five foot tall and less’. Which is indeed true in the real world – there is Gwendoline Christie, but she stands out in almost any company.  The actor who plays Chewbacca in Star Wars is 7 foot 2: but there are only 2,800 people in the entire world of 7 foot or over.[F]  A fair number are found in Professional Basketball, where their height gives an unfair advantage.

Increasing numbers of very tall people would be clear evidence of a worrying change to our biology.

Increasing numbers of unusually warm days, months and years are clear evidence of an out-of-balance climate.

Someone in television might bring together large numbers of unusually tall people. Set them against some well-known celebrities to make an analogy that might convince some of the climate skeptics.

And it is urgent:

“This winter in Europe was hottest on record by far, say scientists

“Climate crisis likely to have supercharged temperatures around world, data suggests.

“New regional climate records are usually passed by only a fraction of a degree. Europe’s winter was 3.4 C hotter than the average from 1981-2010.”[G]

“What winter? Earth just had its second-warmest December-February on record.”[H]

“Bushfire crisis conditions eight times more likely under 2 C warming, analysis shows.”[I]

“Climate change boosted Australia bushfire risk by at least 30%.”[J]

“Australia fires were far worse than any prediction.”[K]

“Grace gravity mission captures Greenland ice loss.”[L]

I’m also delighted to see the Right nail their colours to the mast of a sinking ship.  Not all of the Right, and some on the Left still over-react to the link to the anti-technology Deep Greens. But enough to further discredit them.

Incidentally, size ratios for women and men are hard-wired into our biology. And while couples of all sizes can be found, I think the most common pairings is the top of the woman’s head level with the man’s ears.  This applies across ethnic groups, where the average is often different from the British norm.

It is otherwise among our ape and monkey relatives – some more equal and others less so.  In mammals generally, combat between males means males larger than females – presumably larger than the optimum for their way of life.  Males can be twice as large, or even more.

Our own modest difference is less than for chimps or gorillas. Fossil evidence is imperfect, but probably less than our subhuman ancestors.


Trump and Saunders

“Trump Voters Aren’t Who You Think They Are…

“It’s true that whites without college degrees overwhelmingly voted Republican. Were they struggling? No, on the contrary nearly 60% of these voters were in the top half of the national income distribution. 20% had household incomes over $100,000. In fact, Hillary Clinton roundly defeated Trump among Americans making less than $50,000 a year. The most economically vulnerable voters voted for the Democratic candidate, 53%–41%.

“In this data, a clearer picture of the average Trump voter beings to emerge. They are financially comfortable. They do not have a college degree. And, most importantly, they are white. Race, followed by level of education, are the single biggest predictors of whether someone voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Level of income and class status are not…

“For millions of white Americans, Trump is exactly what they want. They vote for him not in spite of his prejudices and racially charged rhetoric but because of them. Trump has defined himself as one who will protect our centuries old racial caste system from a long list of perceived threats: immigrants, feminists, people of color, social-justice warriors, liberals, socialists, and so on and so forth. He is the defender of America’s racial order.

“This has been true of all nearly all Republican presidential candidates over the last 100 years and it’s born out in the steadfast support of the white electorate. Dating back to Franklin Roosevelt’s 1945 campaign, Republican presidential candidates have lost the white vote only once, in 1964, to Lyndon Johnson. In 2016, Trump won the white vote 54%–39%. Romney won it 55%–38% in 2012, and Bush won by even greater 58%–41% margin in 2004.

“To be sure, Trump is unique among Republican leaders in the tone and tenor of his racially charged rhetoric. He is a dramatic departure from the coded and cloaked racism of George H. W. Bush’s infamous 1988 Willie Horton campaign ad. But I don’t think that’s a coincidence. For the first time, white Americans are being told they will no longer be the majority in the near future. Their sense of vulnerability has made them feel threatened and insecure, and in this state they have found their man.”[M]

And this sunk the hopeful campaign of Bernie Saunders.  He did much better running against Hilary Clinton in 2016, when few expected Trump to win. This time, Saunders said:

“While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability. I cannot tell you how many people our campaign has spoken to who have said — and I quote — ‘I like what your campaign stands for. I agree with what your campaign stands for. But I’m going to vote for Joe Biden because I think Joe is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump.’ End of quote. We have heard that statement all over this country. Needless to say, I strongly disagree with that assertion, but that is what millions of Democrats and independents today believe.”[N]

Older people refuse to let a broken system be fixed. In primary voting, Saunders was way ahead among the young. Biden among the old.

I notice that hazy unproven accusations against Biden’s son dropped out of the news when Saunders looked like winning. When it became clear that the other centrists were going nowhere.  The people with the power probably know that Saunders would have had an excellent chance of winning, and making real changes.

President Biden for 2021 to 2025 offers another four years for the rich to grab excessive shares of the wealth of the USA.


Indian Rapists

Far too many rapists in India get away with it.

So I think it excellent that four have just been hung in India.  I’d not want this in Britain, where violence is less severe.  But something needed to be done.

But it must have helped that these were low-status males:

“Profiles: Who were the Delhi gang rape convicts?…

“Mukesh used to live with his brother in a two-room shanty in the Ravi Dass slum and worked as an occasional driver and cleaner on the bus…

“He blamed the victim for what happened to her.

“‘A decent girl will not roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night, doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes,’ he said.”[O]

This outrageous view of women is all too common among poor people attached to a traditionalist view, after social justice fails.

Louts blame the wider society. Those who cause social injustice blame the louts. The do-little liberals blame anything except their own greed and timidity.

All are in fact guilty.  The worst people among the deprived and oppressed become louts.  Only a few become noble after suffering.

Note the contrast with China. Sexual violence exists, but European and US visitors are surprised that Chinese women are not scared to walk alone at night. Rapists are often executed.  That’s a heritage from Red Army days, when they contrasted sharply with the soldiers of Chinese warlords, including the Kuomintang.

In India, the duly elected Mr Modi is playing up Hindu feelings against both Muslims and Christians. In China, authoritarian Mr Xi continues the traditional Leninist policy of some special privileges and protections for minorities.  No problems except where the West has callously encouraged them to make a hopeless bid for independence.

India has always made it illegal to call for regional independence even by peaceful means.



The Polish Way

“Promoting ‘Family Values’ With Cash Handouts

“The country’s governing party, which just won another election, has married right-wing social policy with left-wing economic policy.”[P]

Or you could say that the production of new citizens is seen as a social duty. And a source of new wealth.

The left should feel the same. Some have swallowed the Ultra-Liberal pattern of treating raising children as if it was an exotic hobby that each individual should separately pay for.

The article does also say that some Feminists have supported the government on this issue.

But why are most Centre-Left parties not doing it anyway?


Buyback Scandals

“Having lavished a thumping 115 per cent of their free cash flow on share buybacks since 2014 (and that is aside from their regular dividends) America’s four biggest airlines have precious little to cover their pecuniary embarrassment…

“The biggest winners are managers whose pay is tied to stock market measures…

“Just look at Boeing under its buyback-loving former boss Dennis Muilenburg… it was financed by squeezing the development cost and cutting corners on the 737 Max, whose fatal flaws and subsequent grounding have thrown the company’s future into doubt.”[Q]


China Truths

Most Westerners are convinced that Mao was guilty of gross blunders. That he caused tens of millions to die of starvation.

They are told only of the mistakes.  Not the big successes:

“China’s growth in life expectancy at birth from 35–40 years in 1949 to 65.5 years in 1980 is among the most rapid sustained increases in documented global history… These survival gains appear to have been largest during the 1950s, with a sharp reversal during the 1959-61 Great Leap Famine that was then followed by substantial progress again during the early 1960s…  A more moderately-paced mortality decline continued through the later 1960s and 1970s throughout the large-scale social and economic disruptions of the Cultural Revolution… Altogether, between 1963 (the first on-trend year after the Great Leap Famine) and 1980, the average annual gain in life expectancy was nearly one year of life, rising from 50 to 65.5 (World Bank 2009).”[R]

While taking a strong interest in China, I learned of the source only because of a muddled summary of the matter in the Spectator.[S]  Something I got by chance on my phone’s Google news service.

I already knew the basics.[T]  But neutral research is always useful to have.


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

[A] https://www.ft.com/content/b887d344-6c8b-11ea-89df-41bea055720b  (subscriber site)

[B] David Leonhardt, Opinion Column in the New York Times, circulated to subscribers on 23rd March

[C] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/3/17/21176737/coronavirus-covid-19-trump-response-expertise

[D] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-the-papers-52013243

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

[F] https://percentagecalculator.mes.fm/interesting-facts/how-many-7-footers-are-in-the-world

[G] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/05/truly-extreme-winter-2019-20-in-europe-by-far-hottest-on-record

[H] https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/03/13/climate-change-earth-had-second-warmest-winter-record/5043841002/

[I] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/mar/05/bushfire-crisis-conditions-eight-times-more-likely-under-2c-warming-analysis-shows

[J] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-51742646

[K] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-51590080#

[L] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-51954988#

[M] https://medium.com/@omeara.17/trump-voters-arent-who-you-think-they-are-1cb0051d20f

[N] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/us/politics/bernie-sanders-strategy.html

[O] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-23434888

[P] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/10/poland-family-values-cash-handouts/599968/

[Q] https://www.ft.com/content/5fde3928-6ab4-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3

[R] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4331212/

[S] https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/how-mao-s-medicine-made-modern-china

[T] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/m-articles-by-topic/m99-topic-menus-from-long-revolution-website/42-china/china-three-bitter-years-1959-to-1961/