Monday, February 24, 2014

American CEO's Are Forty Times As Productive As German CEO's

American CEO's Are Forty Times As Productive As Germans

At least that is what one might assume from the above graphic. That is, if you believe that capitalism dispenses rewards in a rational and proportional manner.

Then there's this:

Who was Tesla? He invented and designed the entire infrastructure to distribute electricity by alternating current, generate it more efficiently using the Tesla turbine, and invented radio. He had to fight all those "job creators" like Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi to get his ideas adopted.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sochi And The Cherkassy

Circassia: I just learned where the Circassian homeland is. It is the area in the North Caucasus near the shore of the Black Sea. Sochi is the town Circassians consider their traditional capital. Circassians were expelled from the region by Russians after their defeat in battle in 1864. Today's Olympic village at Sochi is built on the site of mass graves of Circassians who died in that battle. Many survivors dispersed to other locations in the Ottoman Empire. For details of this early ethnic cleansing, see:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ukraine Tragedy

Make no mistake about it. The violence in Kiev we saw on TV was orchestrated in Moscow. Or perhaps in Sochi.

The map below depicts the main ethnic divisions in Ukraine. Kiev is the pink circle along the Dnieper River, surrounded by red. The pink shows the area of ethnic Ukrainians who predominantly speak Ukrainian and the red mostly speak Ukrainian. In this case, "mostly" is more than "predominantly." Russian speaking Ukrainians are shown in yellow and white. Russians dominate the Crimea (brown) and the heavy industrial  and coal mining area of the Donets Basin (brown and yellow hatched area).

File:Ethnolingusitic map of ukraine.png

 It is plain that Russia sees the Donbas as important, and does not want to cede control to the West.

This may seem like a return of Soviet cold war thinking.

Not exactly.

It is a return of Russian Imperial thinking. Did you notice the design of the Russian hockey uniforms at the Olympics? It is the coat of arms of the Russian Federation.

It is also the two-headed eagle, which served as the coat of arms of the Tsarist Russian Empire from the time of Peter the Great until the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Is Vladimir Putin the new Tsar?

Imperial Russia

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Are There Sensible Republicans After All?

Early this evening, the Republican-dominated US House of Representatives passed a "clean" bill to raise the debt ceiling without tying it to any other legislation. The bill passed with only 28 Republican votes. The big news is that Speaker of the House John Boehner allowed the vote to be taken.

This lets the Treasury borrow money as necessary to pay bills we have already incurred. While that is good news, there shouldn't be the slightest controversy.

It would be better news if we did away with the "debt ceiling" altogether. Our need to borrow is governed by revenue and expenditures that already comply with the dictates of Congress.

Here is economist Jared Bernstein's take on what has happened.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Big Game That Matters

From early childhood, we Americans are conditioned to believe the most important human events are the big game. Athletic contests define us. What are our loyalties? Red Sox or Yankees? Giants or Dodgers? Redskins or Cowboys? UNC or Duke?

A little over a week ago the Big Game was a Super Bowl that wasn't very (super, that is). This week and next the Big Game is the Winter Olympics at Sochi in Russia.

Much as we enjoy the spectacle of these events, hang on every slip of a ski or skate, wince at every stumble or fall, once the spectacle is over, we should remember that nothing in the real world has changed. People still die in Syria and Afghanistan and Darfur, there is no peace in the Middle East. And nothing has made lives better for human beings anywhere, including here in America.

Six hundred forty-two miles North West of Sochi, in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, a drama is playing out that could change the lives of people living there and the fates of nations. The drama gets little press here, but at stake is the future of Ukraine as a European country. Will Ukraine join Europe or be captured in the orbit of a resurgent Russia?

Two decades ago, not long after the Soviet Union broke up, I met a dozen or so Ukrainian judges at a bar in Georgetown, District of Columbia. They were in this country to study our legal system, including some pretty esoteric issues of corporate law. They were interested to learn that I was vice president of a limited liability corporation. They had just learned about that legal structure.

After a few beers, they made it clear that their aspiration was for Ukraine to become a "normal European country." I found the same sentiment when I visited Kiev a few years later. It was as though the disaster at Chernobyl had broken a dam, releasing a vast reservoir of disdain and resentment at not only the former Soviet Union but also at Russia.

The story may seem complicated. The characters have funny-sounding names like a Dostoevsky novel.  Here is one account of what is going on and why it is happening.

This is an actual Big Game - and the outcome does matter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Austrians? - What's That About?

"Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”
 John Maynard Keynes quote

“The businessman is only tolerable so long as his gains can be held to bear some relation to what, roughly and in some sense, his activities have contributed to society.”

― John Maynard Keynes
"Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”
― John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes (Lord Keynes) was a man with a sharp tongue and an even sharper pen.  He was a savvy investor who became wealthy through his investments. He famously foretold economic disaster from Britain's postwar policies. His essays, "The Economic Consequences Of The Peace" and "The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill" outlined years in advance what was to happen during the interwar period.

He did not endear himself to the wealthy and powerful men of his day.

Yet his ideas were greatly influential in shaping the postwar (post-WWII) world for the better.

His ideas were based on facts and reality.

His opponents among economists based their ideas on what they viewed as revealed truth. They never changed their ideas when more information became available. His most famous opponents were Friedrich Hayek (sometimes von Hayek) and Ludwig von Mises. Austrian aristocrats didn't like Keynes.

The ophthalmologist and former congressman Ron Paul is among the most visible and doctrinaire supporters of the Austrians and opponents of Keynes in the present day.

In today's Washington Post, columnist E.J. Dionne explains some of the historical background of Paul's devotion to the thoughts of  von Hayek and von Mises. Neither of the two Austrians wielded any significant influence in shaping the modern postwar world. At the time, they were marginal figures at best.

As a practical matter, Keynes was as influential on Republican policies during the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations as he was on Democratic policies. As recently as 1980, then presidential aspirant George Herbert Walker Bush disparaged the policies espoused by Reagan as "voodoo economics."

But the economic thought of Hayek and Mises became useful in supporting the self-interests of super wealthy plutocrats bent on undoing the works of the New Deal in every particular.

Never mind that these very policies, even in the attenuated form that survived Reagan, are what kept the global economy after 2007 from descending into worse chaos than existed after the crash of 1929.

Republican plutocrats have never forgiven President Roosevelt for rescuing capitalism from the consequences of their own excesses.

Nor have they ever forgiven the measures to protect the poor and middle classes from the destructive consequences of the excesses of plutocrats.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Are We Boiling The World's Oceans

Our local curmudgeon has a few things to say about those in Pamlico County who deny climate change science. Early last week, Tony Tharp, whose sailboat Yoknapatawpha II has just moved to a mooring ball at Stewart, Florida, took on Pamlico County's membership in NC-20.

First asking how much the county pays for its membership, he observes: . ."..our county shouldn't even be a member of this off-the-rails collection of climate-change deniers and sea-level-rise naysayers." The group, he observes, "boasts on its website that it has provided state regulatory officials with, "numerous scientific studies showing that despite 80 years of manmade CO2 increase, there is no acceleration in Sea Level Rise."

That's nonsense, of course. 

The science is quite clear. The world is getting warmer. Fast. And humans are the cause.

Here is the data and the explanation. 

Thirty years ago when I was reading early reports on global warming that seemed puzzled that atmospheric temperatures weren't rising as fast as CO2 levels suggested they should, it occurred to me the scientists were looking in the wrong place. They should, I thought, look at ocean temperature. It turns out they were looking in the oceans, but not deep enough. Now they are looking in the deep ocean and that's where much of the heat energy has been going. How much heat? The amount of heat energy absorbed by the oceans each year is alarming. In 2013 the oceans absorbed the heat equivalent of 378 million Hiroshima size atomic bombs.  Over the past 16 years the rate of heat absorption has ballooned from the heat of two atomic bombs per second to twelve per second. Not good for fish and other ocean life. Not to mention acidification of the oceans because of atmospheric carbon. And not good for agriculture and other human activities, as this heat energy enters the atmosphere.

Residents of East North Carolina - and for that matter, anyone in the real estate industry - should be raising the roof in protest at the inaction. If there is any dispute about global warming, it is different estimates among climate scientists about how quickly our ice fields on land will melt, and therefore how high the sea will rise.

The present estimate is as much as a meter (39 inches) sea level rise by end of the 21st century. When the Antarctic ice cap and the Greenland ice cap melt, the sea level rise will exceed 200 feet. Raleigh will be a coastal town.
As Tony Tharp points out, even some in the real estate industry are worried:
Len Berry, director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies, reports developers have quietly contacted the university to check out projections of how much sea level will rise in the coming decades as they look for future safe investments . . . Jason King, with the Dover, Kohl urban planning group in Coral Gables, says the firm’s planners are now factoring in changing sea level in work with developers. King reports mortgage lenders “are following the discussions very closely” on sea level rise, as are many others in real estate. (Source)
"And when," as Tharp contends, "NC-20 claims on its website that its goals are, "science-based environmental regulation (and) science-based sea-level rise projections" you can rest assure that's code for denying the science that already exists in both areas.'

Wake up, folks! There's still time to do something. But not much longer.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

He's Back!

The comings and goings of local peripatetic journalist and curmudgeon Tony Tharp are sometimes mysterious. He disappeared from the 'net at the end of December and was apparently off line for the entire month of January.

Now he's back. Here's the link.

If you want to know what's going on in Pamlico County that's worth thinking about, bookmark Tony's site and check it frequently.

If you want to know what to THINK about what is going on, you might want to put your own critical thinking skills to work. There are worse places to start with your critical thinking, though you might want to avoid some of Tony's ad hominem tendencies.

Even so, I'm always glad when he's back on line.