Comparative history is not an exact science. It can be a fraught business. I’m sure there are a number of ways in which today’s video could be portrayed as condescending or even a bit racist. “What do you mean Ethiopia is 100 years behind Europe!!!”. But comparative history is too useful a tool, to not use. Unfortunately, it’s often used poorly. With this video, and a follow up I’m still drafting, I hope to debunk some of the dumber comparisons that are made. I also want to show that while Ethiopia’s civil war is horrible, it’s not really much of a detour from normal development.
It’s interesting how far my politics have evolved. If you had told me in 2014 that this channel would include a full-throated call for more stimulus spending, even after a year with a near 4 trillion dollar US budget deficit, I would have been appalled. I’m in surprisingly strong company. The inflation hawks and bond vigilantes on Wall Street have mostly retired in failure. The new generation is now just as eager for a big spending government as I am. What happened to all of us was… events. An under-appreciated aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency is the way that he sort of blew up the argument for fiscal conservatism. The Republicans let him do all the economic stimulus that they denied Obama, and the economy really did kick into higher gear. The threatened inflation never happened, and while people are a little less eager to buy our debt, the Federal Reserve seems to have stepped into the breach without consequences.
The only thing standing in the way of the emerging “magic money” era is the Republican Senate. And they’re only standing in the way until they can put a Republican back in power. Which is way I think we shouldn’t let them do that, as I lay out in today’s video on Georgia’s January 5th elections. As I briefly note in this video, however, I still suspect that those failed bond vigilantes and Republican Senators may actually be right. The British Empire fell because it ran out of people willing to give them money, and I think it’s likely that will be the case with us as well. We just don’t know the time scale. And as Keynes pointed out, “In the Long run, we’re all dead”. 2021 is not the year to try to solve the national debt.
In the month since everybody woke up to what a disaster the Coronavirus pandemic is, it’s been interesting watching people use it as an excuse to push the same things they were already pushing. Conservatives, Socialists, Environmentalists and Nationalists, all of them are eager to tell you that this confirms everything they have been saying all along, and proves that their particular policy priorities should be enacted immediately. Some of them may be right. But one of the most important Washington, DC lobbies is looking a little silly right now. The Military Industrial Complex, that monstrosity that gets close to a trillion dollars a year to keep us safe… did nothing to stop the greatest calamity to befall the homeland since the war of 1812.
But this hasn’t stopped them from pretending that they are still relevant after this extraordinary failure. In alliance with a Trump administration that is desperate to find another scapegoat, they are calling for a deepening of the “New Cold War” against China. They seem to believe that China is “winning” the pandemic somehow. China had what looks like a competent public health response after all, and now it’s flying stuff all over the world to help other countries. Well today’s video is here to tell you that that suspicion is ridiculous. China is not winning this thing. In fact, they are likely to end up the biggest losers.
I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been agonizing over Coronavirus for months. It’s really quite infuriating how hard it was to get good solid information. China looked terrifying. But all market and government sources in the US seemed pretty relaxed. A couple weeks back only the US government was relaxed, while media was waking up to the shock. It was only two weeks ago that the markets began to reflect what was happening. Now everybody is losing their shit, just as China seems to be recovering. It’s all a mess.
When it comes to history, I usually know as much or more than any journalist I am reading. That’s not the case with diseases and epidemiology. It seemed like everything I read contradicted the last thing I read, making it impossible for me to say anything definitive. Eventually I gave up on talking about the disease. It’s too late to warn folks, we are now at the crisis, which is what today’s video covers. I feel like I’ve kind of let the viewership down. I knew this was coming for a while now, but I’m only now adding to the panic pile with this video. Guess I should bone up on biology for the next plague.
I have meant to do a series on frozen conflicts for a while, and I’m glad that my North Africa focus has finally led me to do a video on one of the oldest and dumbest. The frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union are probably the most famous, including Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Transdneistria, Ossetia and South Abhkazia in Georgia, and now Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine. These conflicts are famously a way for the dastardly Putin to keep his border unstable, and maintain a Russian sphere of influence. The conflicts that the US maintains aren’t generally referred to this way, but they serve the same purpose. Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria are also frozen or lukewarm conflicts that the United States maintains for its own (wrongly) perceived strategic interest.
Most of these conflicts are unlikely to be solved, because a regional or world power has an interest in them. That’s not the case for Western Sahara. France definitely has an interest in the continued fight between Morocco and Algeria, but nobody else does really. The fact that this conflict has derailed Moroccan-Algerian relations for almost 50 years is just dumb, as I explain in today’s video.
Merry Christmas Everybody! I’m heading out of town in a couple hours, but I’m super psyched to be able to fill one of the year’s biggest gaps by putting out a Christmas eve video on Tunisia! I intend to do a better job of keeping on top of Tunisian and North African politics in the new year. In September and October they held a series of elections that I am very late in covering. Tunisia is probably the most important country in the Middle East/North Africa region. There’s a distinct chance that what they’re doing now will be remembered long after the decades of nastiness further East have been forgotten. One can hope anyway…
With today’s video we go all in on discussing the US stock market. There’s this idea that stock markets are somehow rational, or serious. People who talk about it are always wearing suits, and we put a lot of effort into making all the details of interest rates, portfolio management, and valuations seem boring. The stock market is none of these things. In fact it’s nuts. By going through the history of the “Trump Bump”, I attempt to draw the curtain back a bit.
Unfortunately, watching the video, I think I screwed something up. It’s not that the story I put forward is wrong, it’s just that I left too much out. The video falls into the “Presidents impact everything” school of commentary. I hate that school. The differing views market makers took of Trump and Obama are tremendously important to this particular economic story, but that doesn’t mean that presidents are actually all that powerful. I really don’t want to create that impression, and I apologize if I did so with this video.
I feel like markets and economics have been an underpinning of what I’ve been talking about for quite some time now. It’s been a troubling thing for me. There’s always a lot of certainty when these issues come up in political discussions, but usually almost nothing backing up that certainty. The conditions we’re looking at are always changing, and the theories that people gravitate to are some of the least proven imaginable. Economics has pretensions to being a science. But the variables are immense, and there’s really only one result.
We have one world economy, and its performance at any given time is the only thing that we have to point to, to see whether our theories are working. There is no control group. Most of the figures we rely on to measure what’s going on are little better than rough estimates, and the political consensus rarely lasts a decade. I have high hopes for the profession of economics. People are doing amazing work in the field, and the move onto the internet that our species is currently undergoing provides the possibility of real measurement (and Orwellian nightmares). I’m confident that the future is bright, but I think we all need a lot more humility in talking about the economy. Which is why I made today’s video, and why I’ll be adding to the series in the coming weeks…
Over the next couple weeks I intend to get into China in more detail. I’ve certainly covered China in the past, sometimes discounting the idea that they pose a threat to the US today, but at other points hinting that the US-China relationship SHOULD be our main priority. There is no contradiction here. To clarify that approach, with today’s video I’m returning to my old World War 3 series. The name of the playlist is of course an SEO bid for eyeballs, but it also goes beyond that.
With today’s vid World War 3 IV, I dispel some myths about China’s rise, and point out why it can be an opportunity rather than a threat. I’ve already got the next two installments written, which dive deep into what Syria means for the US-China relationship, and why we should get out of it. I’m very pleased with how this series is developing, and like the idea of revisiting it each year. Check out this playlist I’ve built, that intersperses the vids with other relevant videos from the back catalog…
It occurs to me that I haven’t exactly been clear about what I want to be done about Saudi Arabia. I absolutely do not want to employ the conventional arsenal of regime change. I don’t even think our “historic alliance” should be abandoned. We just need to spend less time going in with them on stupid ideas like the Syrian and Yemeni “civil wars”. Because without us, they can’t to much to make their stupid ideas a reality. It’s now abundantly clear to everybody outside of the arms industry or Washington, DC that Saudi Arabia is not a useful ally. So let’s stop treating them as such. When they suggest a foreign adventure or a proxy war, lets treat them with exactly the same level of interest we’d have for a similar project from Bulgaria or Tanzania: Not Much.
This video answers a question I’ve gotten a few times in the comments. How can I be so pro-Iran yet so anti-Saudi Arabia? It’s simple really. I don’t want Iran to become the new Saudi Arabia, I just want to call an end to the decades of useless antagonism. Iran has not done us anywhere near as much harm as Saudi Arabia has. So we should treat Iran the same way we treat a more “distantly allied” Saudi Arabia. That would be quite a step up. It’s quite literally the least we can do.