This comes from YOUNG CONSERVATIVES:
Is the U.S. tax system fair? Are the rich paying too little or too much? What about the middle and lower class? New York Times bestselling author Amity Shlaes answers these questions, and offers a tax solution that most Americans could get on board with.
This book is pretty amazing in that it defines the parameters that essentially make up a dictatorship. This will be especially helpful to all the Hollywood types and hipster douche-bags that like to support regimes in places like Venezuela or Cuba as good for it’s people. The book is a bit dated, but one of AYITTEY’S best.
- George B.N. Ayittey, Defeating Dictators: Fighting Tyranny In Africa and Around the World (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 7-35.
DESPOTIC REGIMES TODAY
“A political system based on force, oppression, changing people’s votes, killing, closure, arresting and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate.”
—Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri
THE TERMS “DESPOT,” “AUTOCRAT,” “TYRANT,” AND “DICTATOR” are used interchangeably throughout this book to refer to a ruler with absolute or unlimited power, but there are subtle differences. A despot may be more reminiscent of medieval monarchs who were convinced that they were endowed with the divine right to rule over their people. In other words, despotism is often infused with a dose of narcissism. An autocrat may have no such grand delusions about himself, but he still wields enormous power. A tyrant is a ruler who exercises power oppressively and harshly. The word dictator may be more applicable to a ruler with a military background who barks orders, issues diktats or edicts, and expects full compliance and obedience. It is possible to make other distinctions, such as “benign” or “benevolent” dictatorship, but this book does not do so.
Modern dictators come in different shades, races, skin colors, and religions, and they profess various ideologies. However, in general, they share common characteristics and idiosyncrasies. They are rulers who are neither chosen by their people nor represent their people.
[p.8>] The political watchdog Freedom House found in 2011 that 60 of the world’s 194 countries are “partly free” and 47 are considered “not free.” That means that the populations of roughly 55 percent of the world’s nations are oppressed.
The continent of Africa has the dubious distinction of harboring more dictators per capita than any other region in the world. Teeming with tyrants, it is the most unfree continent in the world. The usual suspects received the lowest possible ratings for both political rights and civil liberties: Myanmar (Burma), Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. But China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela are cited for having stepped up repressive measures with greater brazenness.
Despots are constantly refining their tactics and learning new tricks from each other in their efforts to control pro-democracy forces. To maintain their iron grip on power, despots invent new “enemies.” This enables them to mobilize their security forces, keep their countries on a war footing, and suspend civil liberties. These enemies are often foreign, but they might also come from within, in which case they are labeled “neo-colonial stooges,” “imperialist lackeys,” or “CIA agents.”
In some countries, despots justify their repressive rule by rallying the people around some nationalistic cause or some farcical “revolution.” In Sudan, for example, Lieutenant-General Omar al-Bashir proclaimed an “Islamic Revolution” that will deliver the Sudanese from abject poverty and squalor by tapping the country’s oil and mineral riches to create a model economy.
The despots have grown bolder as the resistance against them appears to be collapsing. The weakness of domestic opposition and inadequate support from democratic countries for that opposition, as well as fatigue, appear to be contributing factors. Unless the resistance—both domestic and international—is strengthened and democratic countries join forces, the despots will continue to gain momentum and win.
THE GALAXY OF DESPOTS: THE WORLD’S MOST ODIOUS AND DESPICABLE DICTATORS
On April 8, 2010, a coalition of opposition groups ousted Kyrgystan’s dictator, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, from power in Bishkek. A continent away, Africans like myself cheered: “One coconut down, 54 more to harvest!” Then, on January 14, 2011, came a loud thud! Another co- [p.9>] conut down, this one in Tunisia, inspiring others to shake coconut trees vigorously. Then another in Egypt on February 11, 2011, with more to follow.
The West was caught completely off guard by the upheavals in North Africa. In fact, the West—or the international community—had lost the will to fight dictators, preferring “dialogue,” “partnership,” or “rapprochement” with such hideous tyrants as Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Pundits intoned that “these people preferred strong men.” But this author foresaw these upheavals. Despotism has never been acceptable to “these people,” despite the veneer of “stability” despotism projects. There is one insidious and odious aspect of despotism that is particularly infuriating and galling—the political and cultural betrayal. As in Kyrgyzstan, many despots began their careers as erstwhile “freedom fighters,” who were supposed to have liberated their people from repressive rule. Back in March 2005, Bakiyev rode the crest of the Tulip Revolution to oust another dictator, President Askar Akayev. So familiar are Africans with this phenomenon that, it may be recalled, we have this saying: “We struggle very hard to remove one cockroach from power and the next rat comes to do the same thing. Haba! [Darn!].”
In an article published in Foreign Policy, I denounced these revolutionary-turned-tyrant “crocodile liberators” who were joining the ranks of other fine specimens: the Swiss bank socialists, who socialize economic losses and stash personal gains abroad; the quack revolutionaries, who betray the ideals that brought them to power; and the briefcase bandits, who simply pillage and steal. I drew up a list of the “Worst of the Worst” dictators and warned of their imminent demise. Here is my list, based on these insidious, ignoble qualities of perfidy, cultural betrayal, and economic devastation. These criteria are decidedly non-Western.
THE LIST: THE MOST ODIOUS AND DESPICABLE
The list, of course, is not exhaustive or static; it keeps evolving.
DESPOTIC REGIMES AROUND THE WORLD
An analysis or a discussion of despotic regimes around the world would involve a tedious repetition of brutal acts of repression, injustices, indignities, and grotesque human rights violations. Moreover, despite regime differences, the modus operandi of one despot is strikingly similar to that of all the others. Most despotic regimes are characterized by the following:
- Unyielding grip on power: Elections, if any, are farcical and are always won by the despot.
- Political repression: Opposition parties are banned or afforded little political space to operate; key opposition leaders are arrested, intimidated, hounded, or even killed.
- Intellectual repression: Censorship may be imposed; journalists, editors, and writers are harassed, intimidated, jailed, or killed; newspapers and radio and television stations that are critical of government policies are shut down.
- Brutal tactics: Street protests are disrupted with batons, water cannons, tear gas, and even gunfire.
- Flagrant violations of human rights: Opponents of the regime are detained without trial; disappearances and murder are common; freedom of expression, movement, and assembly are nonexistent.
[p.16>] Rather than discuss these traits for each despotic regime, I will just list the countries where such practices are most prevalent:
- Africa: Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe
- Asia: Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Vietnam
- Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan
- Eastern Europe: Belarus
- Latin America: Venezuela
- Middle East: Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen
Across Eurasia (comprising 12 states), governments are characterized by strong executives and weak legislatures. The primary focus of politics is on elections and on the constant tussle between presidents and parliaments over their respective authority. Presidents routinely rig elections and rule by decree, bypassing parliaments. Opposition political parties are not well organized and offer few viable alternatives. As such, “there are few intermediaries between high politics and the people, and the press that might play that role relies on the patronage of the state or powerful business cliques with their own agendas.”
The picture is much the same in Latin America. The caudillos (military strongmen) may be back in the barracks but despots now emerge from the ballot box. Once elected, they succeed in neutering and debauching the state institutions. As reported in the Economist:
Mr Chavez has turned Venezuela’s courts into a tool of the executive and used them to jail, harass or disqualify a growing number of his opponents. Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, has abused his power to rig both municipal elections and the supreme court. Less blatantly, Ecuador’s Mr Correa has tried to muzzle the media, and the Kirchners in Argentina have used the presidency to bully opponents in business and the press. Yet the leaders of the region’s main powers have stayed silent about these abuses.
Even in countries where the separation of powers exists, weak institutions are unable to uphold the rule of law, provide effective government, and advance the rights and freedoms of the people. In Peru, neither the incumbent, Alan Garcia, nor his predecessor, Alejandro Toledo, have commanded much clout or popularity. Political parties in [p.17>] Peru, the Economist went on to say, are just personal vehicles for self-aggrandizement: “For local elections in Oct 2009, no fewer than 60,000 candidates registered in 14,000 municipalities for just 2,000 slates. There is no civil service. There are constant demonstrations, some violent. In a recent poll 22% of respondents outside Lima approved of blocking roads as a form of protest.”
The Middle East is the region most bereft of democracy. Until the recent upheavals, only 3 of the 22 countries in the Arab League—Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories—could be said to be democratic, even with some caveats. With access to the media restricted, chaotic general elections produce predictable results: the autocrats and vampire elites retain power; the opposition is demoralized, even radicalized; and the word “democracy” is bastardized. As the Economist notes:
Every Arab country now has a form of representative legislature, even if most have little power and some, like Saudi Arabia’s, are appointed by a king. Some of these autocracies allow more pluralism than others. Morocco, for instance, has widened its space for debate. Others, such as Kuwait, allow a directly elected parliament, but the ruling royal family, still ultimately in charge, has often rued the legislative near-paralysis that followed.
Whether they are monarchies or republics, the Arab states tend to act much the same. Says Larry Diamond, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution and board member of the Free Africa Foundation: “The Arab League has become, in effect, an autocrats’ club.” Elections are for show, a window-dressing to let off steam. Technically, they are meaningless. But now the youth have started to change things. Angry street protesters sent Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing into exile on January 14, 2011, and brought down Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on February 11, 2011. In Burkina Faso, Libya, Syria, Uganda, and others, dictators put up a fierce resistance. In the end, however, the forces of liberty will triumph.
THE DEVASTATING TOLL
The act of repression not only assails our human conscience and dignity but also exacts a toll in terms of human lives and economic activity. Despotism wreaks economic, social, and human devastation [p.18>] Consider the impact on economic activity: An error made by a despot who does not have the necessary experts advising him could result in commodity shortages, overproduction, or a breakdown in the productive process. Since a despot is not likely to admit this, the problems can fester until they erupt into a full-blown crisis. This was the cause of the demise of the former Soviet Union. To be sure, impressive rates of economic growth are possible under authoritarian or despotic regimes. China and the Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) are often cited as examples, but there is a caveat. Exceptions do not make the rule. A final day of reckoning eventually arrives. In an interview, South Korea’s former president, the late Kim Dae-jung, asserted in an interview that placing economic development ahead of democracy was “the fundamental cause of the Asian financial crisis in 1998” because “the authoritarian style of government permitted corruption and collusive intimacy between business and government to flourish.”
Economic Underperformance and Collapse
In a dictatorship, the normal order of things and even common sense have been turned completely upside down. There is no freedom of speech, no rule of law, and state institutions are packed with sycophants and praise-singers. Professionalism disappears from the security forces and the civil service. Fealty to the despot counts more than competence or efficiency. Promotions and job security depend upon who can shout the loudest praise of the despot.
Infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools, telecommunications, and ports begins to crumble because contracts are awarded by the despot to family members, cronies, and loyal supporters. To sustain the heavy patronage doled out to supporters, the despot may impose heavy taxation and tariffs. Prices—especially food and fuel prices—start to shoot up. The public might vent its outrage in street protests. The despot may clamp down brutally on these street protests and take drastic measures to prevent future price hikes. The hikes are blamed on foreign saboteurs. Property rights are scoffed at. Commercial properties of businessmen alleged to be “anti-government” may be confiscated or seized for distribution to the poor masses in the name of social justice. Such was the case for more than a decade (2000-2010) in Zimbabwe, where the despotic regime of Robert Mugabe organized ruthless thugs to vio‑ [p.19>] lently seize white commercial farmlands. Similarly, in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez “seized rural estates and factories the government deemed to be unproductive, including some assets of Lorenzo Mendoza, Venezuela’s second-wealthiest man, and of H. J. Heinz Co., the world’s largest ketchup maker.” Chavez also seized control of or nationalized oil refineries in 2008. Such contempt for property rights scares off investors, who fear that their commercial properties may be the next to be seized without due process. They flee the country and, without investment, the economy contracts.
The crisis in Zimbabwe, for example, has cost Africa dearly. Foreign investors have fled the region, and the South African rand has lost 25 percent of its value since 2000. Zimbabwe’s economic collapse caused US$37 billion worth of damage to South Africa and other neighboring countries. Although South Africa has been most affected, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia have also suffered severely.
Foreign investors fled Venezuela, too. According to Bloomberg News, such investors “sold $778 million more in Venezuelan assets than they bought in the first nine months of 2006, according to the central bank; a decade ago, in the same period, they added $5.9 billion more than they disposed of”
This is also true of other Latin American countries where private property rights are not well protected because the rule of law is weakly enforced. As a result, despite Latin American economic growth rates that averaged more than 5 percent in 2004 and 2005, capital flows were negative, meaning more money left the region than entered it. The basic reason was an ongoing lack of confidence among long-term investors. Latin America expert Andres Oppenheimer was cited as saying that “only 1 percent of the world’s investment in research and development currently goes to Latin America.”
Rash diktats and reckless mismanagement inevitably produce economic crises. To deal with these crises, despots may take desperate and drastic measures, such as imposing strict economic/price controls, printing currency, and/or revaluing the old currency. However, as we shall see in chapter 5, none of these measures solves the economic crisis. Instead, they exacerbate it, creating black markets, greater scarcities, and even higher prices, resulting in a vicious downward spiral to economic collapse and a failed state (as has occurred in North Korea and Zimbabwe) unless the despot has access to substantial revenues from a mineral resource, such as oil, as has been the case with Saddam [p.20>] Hussein of Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, and Muammar Qaddafi of Libya.
The Human Toll
The cost of despotism in human terms is impossible to estimate. A handful of despots around the world inflict misery, despair, hope-lessness—and even death—on millions of people who have protested against tyrannical rule. Hundreds of thousands have been jailed. Millions have been killed and millions more have fled their countries to become refugees elsewhere. Among the most infamous despots was Pol Pot of Cambodia, who ruthlessly eliminated anyone who posed a threat to him. Out of a population of 8 million in 1975, 2 million were executed. Another was Idi Amin of Uganda, who butchered as many as 200,000 Ugandans in the 1970s. It should be no surprise that about 70 percent of the world’s refugee population is in Africa and the Middle East—the two regions that harbor the most despots.
Particularly treacherous have been massacres condoned or orchestrated by despotic regimes against particular groups for ethnic, religious, political, or other reasons. Pogroms are violent acts by mobs that are characterized by killings and the destruction of homes, businesses, property, and religious centers. The past four decades have seen attacks on the Copts in Egypt in the 1980s, on the Tamils in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, and on ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan in the 1990s.17 The human toll of despotism can be seen even more dramatically in the pogroms against the Igbo that led to the 1967-1970 Biafran War in Nigeria, the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, and the ongoing genocide against blacks in the Darfur region of Sudan. Postcolonial African leaders—mostly autocrats—have caused the deaths of more than 19 million Africans since 1960:
- 1 million Nigerians died in the Biafran War (1967-1970).
- 200,000 Ugandans were slaughtered by Idi Amin in the 1970s.
- 100,000 were butchered by President Macias Nguema in Equatorial Guinea in the 1970s.
- Over 400,000 Ethiopians perished under Mengistu Haile Mariam.
- [p.21>] Over 500,000 Somalis perished under Mohammed Siad Barre.
- Man-made famines claimed over 2 million lives between 1980 and 2000 in Chad, Ethiopia, Niger, Somalia, and Sudan.
- Over 2 million have died in the wars of Liberia (1993-1999),Sierra Leone (1994-1999), and Ivory Coast (2000-2005).
- Over 1 million died in Mozambique’s civil war in the 1970s.
- 5 million died in Angola’s civil war, which began in 1975 and continued intermittently until 2002.
- 800,000 perished in Rwanda’s genocide in 1994.
- 300,000 died in Burundi in 1993-1994.
- 4 million perished in Sudan’s civil wars from 1960 to 2006.
- 6 million died as a result of Congo’s wars from 1996 to 2006.
The rough total of 19.8 million does not include conflict-related deaths in Chad, Western Sahara, and Algeria and those who perished at refugee camps. Historians estimate that the total number of black Africans shipped as slaves to the Americas in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries was about 10 million. Africa lost another 10 million people through the trans-Saharan and East African slave trade run by Arabs. This means that, in a space of just 50 years after independence in the 1960s, postcolonial African leaders have slaughtered about the same number of Africans as were lost to both the West and East African slave trades over several centuries. Think about it.
Every year, the social and economic toll of despotism is driven home by the publication of two indices. The first is the Index of Failed States, drawn up by Foreign Policy magazine in collaboration with the Fund for Peace, an independent research organization. Using 12 indicators of state cohesion and performance, compiled through a close examination of more than 30,000 publicly available sources, the Index ranks 177 states in order from most to least at risk of failure. In the 2010 Index, most of the 20 failed states at the bottom are ruled by despotic regimes. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan may be regarded as exceptions because of ongoing wars in 2009. The majority of the failed states-12 out of 20—are in sub-Saharan Africa, and 11 out of those 12 African countries are ruled by despots. [p.22>]
Even more telling is the United Nations Human Development Index. Of the 24 at the bottom, a staggering 22 are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite its immense wealth of mineral resources, Africa remains mired in abject poverty, misery, deprivation, and chaos. The World Bank adjusted its yardstick for extreme poverty from US$1.00 to US$1.25 a day, which means that 389 million of the 875 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lived in poverty in 2005.
Millions of lives have been lost, economies have collapsed, and whole states have failed under brutal repression. The toll of despotism [p.23>] has been especially devastating for Africa. Africa is poor because she is not free. However, a failed state evolves through various stages. It begins as a vampire state, metastasizes into a coconut republic, and then finally implodes, becoming a failed or collapsed state.
“Anyone who gets to the presidency ends up with way more than he had before, while the poor and working class are the ones always left behind.”
—Roberto Pedroza, a newspaper vendor in Mexico City
The most remarkable aspect of despotism is the rapid deterioration of the institution of government. “Government,” as it is known in the West, does not exist in countries ruled by despots. Leaving aside the democratic requirement that a government must be “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” one expects a government, at a minimum, to care for and be responsive to the needs of the people, or at least to perform some basic services for its people. But even these minimal requirements are often lacking in a dictatorship, where government as an entity is totally divorced from the people and perceived by those running it as a vehicle not to serve but to fleece the people. Dishonesty, thievery, and embezzlement pervade the public sector. Public servants embezzle state funds, and high-ranking ministers are on the take. Government then becomes irrelevant to the people.
What then exists is a vampire state—a government hijacked by a phalanx of bandits, gangsters, crooks, and scoundrels who use the machinery of the state to enrich themselves, their cronies, supporters, and members of their own ethnic, racial, or religious group and to exclude everyone else. It is an apartheid-like system based on the politics of exclusion. One is poor if one does not belong to that charmed circle. The richest people in Africa and many Third World countries are the ruling vampire elites and government ministers. And quite often, the chief bandit is the head of state himself.
Examples of vampire states abound. In fact, one can characterize all communist states as such. They suck the economic vitality out of their people for the enrichment of the ruling communist apparatchiks. Even in post-communist Russia corruption has become a nearly insurmountable obstacle to the country’s economic development. Berlin-based NGO Transparency International rates Russia 146th out of 180 nations [p.24>] in its Corruption Perception Index, saying “bribe-taking is worth about $300 billion a year.”
The PRI party, which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years, though not communist, is another example (its replacement was scarcely better). Said Lino Korrodi, finance manager for Vicente Fox’s 2000 presidential campaign: “It is evident that he (Vicente Fox) got rich during his six years in office, in a very shameless and cynical way.” Mexican presidents are limited to one six-year term. Their last year in office is cynically derided by Mexicans as “el año del dinero” (year of the money). That is when Mexican presidents bare their fangs and suck as much as they can in a frenzy. Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who served from 1988 to 1994, was probably the most bloodthirsty. His name became synonymous with fraud, corruption, and economic devastation, and he fled in disgrace into a self-imposed exile in Ireland. The New York Times reported that “In 2002, Swiss banking authorities found more than US$100 million sitting in a Swiss bank account once controlled by his brother Raul Salinas and froze it.” The loot “was held in the name of a Cayman Islands shell corporation, Trocca Ltd., secretly controlled by Mr. Salinas.”
The regimes of several other Latin American countries ruled by oligarchies and caudillos in the 1980s and 1990s can also be characterized as vampire states. Their rule deepened social and economic inequalities, provoking social discontent and sparking revolutionary movements in such countries as Colombia and Nicaragua. Widespread government dysfunction, corruption, and economic despair forced many Latin Americans to migrate and settle in the United States, often illegally. Known as the “undocumented,” their number now exceeds 10 million.
In the Middle East, the classic example of a vampire state is Saudi Arabia. Others include regimes in Tunisia (under the ousted dictator Ben Ali), Egypt (under Hosni Mubarak), Iraq (under the late Saddam Hussein), Iran, Syria, and Yemen. More examples can be found in Africa, where the state has been reduced to a mafia-like bazaar in which anyone with an official designation can pillage at will. Dictators seize and monopolize both political and economic power to advance their own selfish and criminal interests, not to develop their economies, and they don’t care about the poor. Their overarching obsession is to amass personal wealth, gaudily displayed in flashy automobiles, fabulous mansions, and bevies of fawning women. Helping the poor, promoting eco‑ [p.25>] nomic growth, or improving the standard of living of their people is anathema to the ruling elites. “Food for the people!” “People’s power!” “Houses for the masses!” are simply empty slogans that are designed to fool the people and the international community.
Nigeria is the mother of all vampire states. Between 1970 and 2004, more than US$450 billion in oil revenue flowed into Nigerian government coffers, but much of it was looted by Nigeria’s reckless military bandits. Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission set up in 2003, confirmed the theft of $412 billion over the period from 1960 to 1999. “We cannot be accurate down to the last figure but that is our projection,” said Osita Nwajah, a commission spokesman.
For 18 months (from February 1999 to August 2000), Nigeria’s vampire state was paralyzed by legislators’ wrangling over perks. Its 109 senators and 360 representatives passed just five pieces of legislation, including a budget that was held up for five months. Immediately upon taking office, the legislators voted themselves hefty allowances, including a 5 billion naira (US$50 million) furniture allowance for their official residences and offices. The now-impeached ex-chairman of the Senate from President Olusegun Obasanjo’s own People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Chuba Okadigbo, was the most greedy, according to New African:
As Senate President, he controlled 24 official vehicles but ordered 8 more at a cost of $290,000. He was also found to have spent $225,000 on garden furniture for his government house, $340,000 on furniture for the house itself ($120,000 over the authorized budget); bought without authority a massive electricity generator whose price he had inflated to $135,000; and accepted a secret payment of $208,000 from public funds, whose purpose included the purchase of “Christmas gifts.”
And it gets better: President Obasanjo went after the loot that former president Sani Abacha and his family had stashed abroad. There was much public fanfare regarding the sum of about US$709 million and another L144 million recovered from the Abachas and the former president’s henchmen. But then, this recovered loot itself was quickly re-looted! The Senate Public Accounts Committee found only US$6.8 million and £2.8 million of the recovered booty in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
[p.26>] In case after case, government officials in the developing countries get rich by misusing their positions. Faithful only to their foreign bank accounts, these official buccaneers have no sense of morality, justice, or even patriotism. They kill and maim their own people and destroy their own countries to acquire and protect their booty because, functionally illiterate, they are incapable of using the skills and knowledge they acquired from education to get rich on their own in the private sector. Needless to say, they are “derided by some experts as ‘the extractors,’ people who squandered wealth without building for the future.”
The inviolate ethic of the vampire elites is self-aggrandizement and self-perpetuation in power. To achieve these objectives, they take over and subvert every key institution of government: the civil service, judiciary, military, media, and banking. As a result, state institutions and commissions become paralyzed. Laxity, ineptitude, and unprofessionalism thus flourish in the public sector. Of course, the country may have a police force and judiciary system to catch and prosecute the thieves. But the police are themselves highway robbers who are under orders to protect the looters in power, and many of the judges are themselves crooks.
Obviously, there are no checks against brigandage. The worst offender is the military—the most trenchantly perverted institution, especially in Latin America and Africa. In any normal civilized society, the function of the military is to defend the territorial integrity of the nation and its people against external aggression. But under despotic regimes, the military is instead locked in combat with the very people it is supposed to defend. Witness the barbaric brutalities meted out against street protesters by Iran’s Basij militiamen in June 2009. Or those of North Korean security guards against market traders in December 2009. And think of Muammar Qaddafi sending jet fighters to bomb street demonstrators in February 2011. In We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, Philip Gourevitch writes that, “Across much of Africa, a soldier’s uniform and gun had long been regarded—and are still seen—as little more than a license to engage in banditry.” Wole Soyinka handed the postcolonial soldiers a blistering rebuke:
The military dictatorships of the African continent, parasitic, unproductive, totally devoid of social commitment or vision, are an expression of this exclusionist mentality of a handful; so are those immediately post- [p.27>] colonial monopolies that parade themselves as single-party states. To exclude the sentient plurality of any society from the right of decision in the structuring of their own lives is an attempt to anesthetize, turn comatose, indeed idiotize society, which of course is a supreme irony, since the proven idiots of our postcolonial experience have been, indeed still are, largely to be found among the military dictators.
A simple rule of thumb on development has emerged: the index of economic well-being of a developing country is inversely related to the length of time the military holds political power. The longer it stays in power, the greater the economic devastation. Again, a few exceptions may be noted, as in the case of Augusto Pinochet of Chile, but exceptions do not make the rule.
Meanwhile, the vampire state wobbles as it lurches from one crisis to another. Its legitimacy is openly questioned. Some sections of the population are in open revolt and others may even mount roadblocks to keep out state officials, as occurred in many Latin American countries in the 1990s. Such was also the case in Libya in February 2011. The despot barks orders but is routinely ignored. His ruling vampire elites, clueless about how to resolve the economic crisis, resort to desperate measures to keep things under control, but they fail to arrest the deterioration. They readily give up and flex their muscle, daring anyone to hold them accountable or take power away from them. Steadily, the vampire state, infused with the arrogance of power, hardens into a coconut republic and provokes a rebellion: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere in North Africa and the Arab world.
This invites a distinction. In a banana republic, one might slip on a banana peel but things do work for the people now and then, albeit inefficiently and unreliably. Electric supply is spasmodic and the water tap has a mind of its own. Occasionally, it might spit some water and then change its mind. Buses operate according to their own internal clock. By the grace of God or Allah, a bus might arrive, belching thick black smoke. Food and gasoline are generally available but expensive, if one is willing to contend with occasional long lines. The police are helpful when they are bribed and will then protect the people by catching real crooks. There is petty corruption. Now and then, a million dollars here [p.28>] and a million there might be embezzled. Such a banana republic often slips into suspended animation or arrested development.
A coconut republic, on the other hand, is ruthlessly inefficient, lethal, and eventually implodes. Instead of a banana peel, one might step on a live grenade. Here, common sense has been butchered and arrogant tomfoolery rampages with impunity. The entire notion of “governance” has been turned completely on its head by the ruling vampire elites, who wield absolute power, commit crimes, and plunder with supercilious arrogance. They are not answerable or accountable to anybody and one dares not ask. Impunity reigns supreme. It is here where one finds tyrants chanting “People’s Revolution” and “Freedom!” while standing on the necks of their people. A “revolution” is a major cataclysmic event that brings about an overthrow of the ancient regime. It makes a clean break with the existing way of doing things and establishes a new way or order. In politics, for example, a “revolution” occurs when the subjugated and exploited class rises up to overthrow the oppressors—as occurred with the American and French Revolutions. But in a coconut republic, it is the other way around. It is the dictators who are chanting revolution! Have you ever noticed that those Third World leaders who vociferously claim they are fighting against terrorism in order to receive Western aid are themselves sponsors of state terrorism against their own people?
In a coconut republic, the rule of law is a farce; bandits are in charge, their victims in jail. The police and security forces protect the ruling vampire elites, not the people. The chief bandit is the head of state himself. He and his family and his henchmen have a constant supply of electricity and their water taps run all the time; the people can collect rain water. There are inexhaustible supplies of food and gasoline for them, but not for the people. And there are no buses for the people, period. Those shiny buses that ply the road are for vampire elites. The people can walk. The republic sits atop vast reserves of oil and exports oil, but there is no gasoline for the people since the country’s oil refineries have broken down. Funds earmarked for repairs have been stolen, and refined petroleum products must be imported. The country may also be rich in mineral deposits such as diamonds, gold, and coltan, yet the mineral wealth has produced misery—or a curse.
Here are some examples of life in a coconut republic: [p.29>]
- Hugo Chavez of Venezuela forces everyone to listen to his hours-long tirades but dozes off when he listens to them himself.
- Saparmurat Niyazov, the late president-for-life of Turkmenistan, erected statues and portraits of himself everywhere and named cities, airports, and even a meteorite after himself. The months and days of the week were named after him and his family, and a family feast was celebrated every day.
- When a presidential election was held in Uzbekistan in 2007, President Islam A. Karimov’s three opponents each publicly endorsed him. In the 2009 parliamentary election, all four parties in the race staunchly supported Karimov. Asked if there was any real political opposition and competition in his country, Karimov replied that the 2009 race for the parliament’s lower chamber “had injected genuine competition into the process, largely because the four parties have vocally criticized one another.”
- Uganda’s agriculture minister, Kibirige Ssebunya, declared that: “All the poor should be arrested because they hinder us from performing our development duties. It is hard to lead the poor, and the poor cannot lead the rich. They should be eliminated.” He advised local leaders to arrest poor people in their areas of jurisdiction. He died four years later.
- A former minister of finance was found hiding—where else?—in a coconut tree: “[Zambia’s] former finance minister, Katele Kalumba, was arrested and charged with theft after the police found him hiding in a tree near his rural home. Mr. Kalumba, who had been on the run for four months, is being charged in connection with some US$33 million that vanished while he was in office.”
- The late president of Liberia, General Samuel Doe, summoned his finance minister, “only to be reminded by aides that he had already executed him.”
- Tanzania’s anti-corruption czar, Dr. Edward Hosea, was himself implicated in a corruption scandal involving the award of a US$172.5 million contract to supply 100 megawatts of emergency power to a Texas-based company that did not exist. [p.30>]
Coconut Security Forces
In a coconut republic, the police are scarcely professional. Tell a police officer that you saw a minister stealing the people’s money and it is you he will arrest! After the brutal murder of politician Robert Ouko in 1990, the Washington Post reported that, according to Kenyan police, “Foreign Minister Robert Ouko was presumed to have broken his own leg, shot himself in the head and set himself afire. Two years earlier, Kenyan officials suggested that a British tourist, Julie Ward, lopped off her own head and one of her legs before setting herself aflame.”
The ever-ready security forces can unleash the full force of their fury on unarmed civilians with batons, tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets. But how brave are the security forces really? Ambushed by a bunch of ragtag cattle rustlers, Kenya’s elite presidential guards quickly surrendered. Johann Wandetto, a reporter for the People Daily, a newspaper in Kitale, Rift Valley province, published a story in the March 6, 1999, edition with the title: “Militia Men Rout 8 Crack Unit Officers: Shock as Moi’s Men Surrender Meekly.” Wandetto was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison on what the court described as an “alarmist report.”
And the mother of all security forces? When the African Union (AU) peacekeepers’ base on the edge of Haskanita, a small town in southern Darfur, came under sustained rebel assault on September 29, 2007, the AU soldiers fled. According to the Economist, “Ten were killed; at least 40 fled into the bush. The attackers looted the compound before Sudanese troops arrived to rescue the surviving peacekeepers.”
Coconut Elections Coconut elections are, essentially, farcical elections in which the incumbent writes the rules and then serves as a player, the referee, and the goalkeeper. The deck is hideously stacked against the opposition candidates, who are starved of funds, denied access to the state-controlled media, and brutalized by government-hired thugs as the police watch. Opposition parties may be banned too.
By contrast, the incumbent enjoys access to enormous state resources: state media, vehicles, the police, the military, and civil servants are all commandeered to ensure his re-election. Further, the entire electoral process itself is rigged: voter rolls are padded with ruling-party supporters and phantom voters while opposition supporters are purged. The electoral commissioner is in the pocket of the ruling party, as are the judges who might settle any election disputes. During the election campaign, posters of the incumbent are everywhere while pro-government [p.31>] thugs terrorize the populace and anyone perceived to be a supporter of the opposition parties. Innocent civilians are force-marched to attend the incumbent party’s rallies, while opposition rallies are violently disrupted and opposition supporters are brutalized and even killed as the police look on.
On election day, the ruling party resorts to various tricks to steal the election. Ballot papers do not arrive on time, inducing frustrated opposition supporters to leave polling stations. Ballot boxes may eventually arrive but are already stuffed with votes for the incumbent. (Mayoral elections were held in Kampala, Uganda, on February 18, 2011. When the polls opened at 7:00 A.M., ballot boxes were already full of pre-ticked ballots for the ruling National Resistance Movement candidate, Peter Samatimba. This led to the cancellation of the results. Queried, Samatimba denied any involvement. “This could have been done by my opponents to discredit me,” he said.) And if during the vote count the opposition appears to be winning, the process can be halted and the ballot boxes transported to a secret location where the votes are counted in camera. Most often, posted election results do not reflect actual voting. This was the case in Ghana’s 1996 elections, where Major Emmanuel Erskine, a challenger to the brutal regime of Fte./Lte. Jerry Rawlings, did not even get one single vote in his own constituency. That is, the results indicated that he did not vote for himself and his wife and four children did not vote for him. After he complained bitterly about the rigging, the electoral commission tossed six votes his way.
Here is a short list of instances that indicate coconut elections:
- The electoral equipment for coconut elections, the results of which are stolen anyway, was itself stolen (Nigeria, December 9, 2010).
- Both candidates—Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara—claimed victory and installed themselves as presidents after Ivory Coast’s November 2010 elections.
- For the November 7, 2010, elections in Myanmar (Burma), military rulers bestowed upon their country a new flag, a new seal, and a new anthem. The old flags were to be lowered by people born on a Tuesday and the new flags were to be raised by people born on a Wednesday. Then all the old flags were to be burned. Many parties were blocked from participating by fees set so high that in many districts only government-backed [p.32>] candidates could register, by stipulations that the military could allot close to one-quarter of all seats after the election took place, and by the harassment and threatening of opposition candidates who tried, against all odds, to compete. No international observers were permitted, and no foreign journalists were allowed in. The military junta declared victory even before voting started.
- At the time of the August 25, 2003, elections in Rwanda, opposition leader Faustin Twagiramungu found his campaign stymied at every turn by government security forces. His rallies were canceled, his workers arrested, and his brochures seized. On the eve of the voting, “police arrested 12 of Twagiramungu’s provincial organizers, saying they were preparing election day violence.” Additionally, “In Mr. Twagiramungu’s home town, soldiers reportedly looked at ballot papers and ordered those who voted the wrong way to try again.” For the August 2010 elections, preparations for the September victory celebration by the incumbent despot, Paul Kagame, began before the voting did.
The year 2010 reaped a harvest of coconut elections in Belarus, Burkina Faso, Myanmar (Burma), Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, and Rwanda. No incumbent lost an election.
Belarus, a country of 10 million, held its presidential elections on December 19, 2010. Long-term dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who had been in power for 16 years, won handily. His government controls the media, and opposition candidates were denied airtime. An agency called the KGB watched over the people. Intimidation was the order of the day. The government machine that pressured people into early voting was in place, and those who failed to vote early were threatened with the loss of their jobs in the state sector.
Lukashenko won nearly 80 percent of the vote and his closest rival 1.8 percent. Opposition activists and critical journalists denounced the vote as fraudulent, and over 10,000 demonstrators poured into the streets in a protest march toward Independence Square in the heart of Minsk. But heavily armed security and police forces unleashed their full fury on the demonstrators, who were savagely beaten. Seven of the nine opposition candidates were arrested, and over 600 protesters were taken into custody.
[p.33>] The opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev, who received 1.8 percent of the vote, was beaten unconscious and rushed to the hospital. While he was being treated for head wounds, he was abducted by several men in civilian clothes. Also severely beaten and rushed to a hospital was another presidential candidate, Andrei Sannikov. And what was the reaction of the head of the Central Elections Commission, Lidiya Ermoshina—who was appointed by Lukashenko? According to an article in Der Spiegel, she “said that her office was aware of only very few complaints about the elections.” Naturally.
Coconut Reform It is clear that the vampire state or the coconut republic must be reformed and replaced with a well-functioning state. To establish one, reform is needed in many areas—in the political system, the economic system, the judicial system, the educational system, and the electoral system. But reform is anathema to the ruling vampire elites and coconut heads, for it would threaten their lucrative businesses and their hold on power.
- Ask them to privatize inefficient state enterprises and they will sell the companies to themselves and their cronies at fire-sale prices: examples are Uganda under Yoweri Museveni and Egypt under Hosni Mubarak. Said Muhammad Al Ghanam, the former director of legal research in Egypt’s Ministry of Interior: “The Mubarak era will be known in the history of Egypt as the era of thievery.”
- Ask them to develop their economies and they will develop their pockets. Ask them to seek foreign investment and they will seek a foreign country in which to invest their loot.
- Ask them to enforce the rule of law and they will force the law to respect their whims. Said The Economist: “In Zimbabwe, the thieves are in charge and their victims face prosecution.”
- Ask them to trim their bloated bureaucracies and cut government spending and they will establish a “Ministry of Less Government Spending.” Ask them to establish a market-based economy and place more emphasis on the private sector and they will create a “Ministry of Private Enterprise,” as Ghana did in 2002.
- Ask them to reform their abominable political and economic systems and they will perform the “coconut boogie”—one swing forward, three swings back, a jerk to the right, and a tumble [p.34>] to land hard on a frozen Swiss bank account. Swiss authorities froze the bank accounts of Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Muammar Qaddafi of Libya in 2011.
- Ask them to establish democratic pluralism and they will create surrogate parties, appoint their own electoral commissioners, empanel a gang of lackeys to write the constitution, inflate the voters’ register, manipulate the electoral rules, and hold coconut elections to return themselves to power. Even African children could see through this chicanery and fraud. Said Adam Maiga from Mali: “We must put an end to this demagoguery. You have parliaments, but they are used as democratic decoration.”
Reform becomes a charade. The reform process has stalled through vexatious chicanery, willful deception, and vaunted acrobatics. The ruling vampire elites and the coconut heads are just not interested in reform, period. They benefit from the rotten status quo. But without reform, their countries could implode or collapse in a Tunisian-type revolution. In fact, the adamant refusal of despots to reform their odious and dysfunctional political systems has ignited revolutions:
- Nicaragua: In 1979, a revolutionary movement called the Sandinistas, led by Daniel Ortega, ousted from power Anastasio Somoza, whose family had ruled the country since 1936.
- Indonesia: In 1998, Suharto, who had held power for 32 years, was forced to resign following the Asian financial crisis. In May 1999, Time Asia estimated Suharto’s family fortune at US$15 billion in cash, shares, corporate assets, real estate, jewelry, and fine art. Of this, US$9 billion was reported to have been deposited in an Austrian bank. Suharto was placed highest on Transparency International’s list of corrupt leaders with an alleged misappropriation of between US$15 and 35 billion during his 32-year presidency. His ouster led to the breakaway attempts by East Timor and Aceh.
However, Africa abounds with examples of despots who refused to heed the call to reform and, as a result, saw their countries implode in a violent vortex of chaos, carnage, and destruction, ending with their [p.35>] own deaths: Somalia (1991), Rwanda (1994), Liberia (1991), and Zaire (1996), among others. The cost of rebuilding each country devastated by war is in the billions. Rebuilding Liberia alone would cost at least US$15 billion.
The Coconut Cure Alas, there is a cure for coconut heads. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, there is a place called “the magic corner,” where all and sundry, including politicians, come to be relieved or cured of their problems. “Even those top leaders of the government come to that tree,” said Shabuni Haruni, a private security guard. “Yes, during the election.”
Upon the payment of a small fee, a traditional healer will take a patient to a huge baobab tree, reputed to be the abode of ancestral spirits. Patients remove their shoes and kneel in front of the tree with their eyes closed. At one session described by the Washington Post correspondent Karl Vick,
Rykia Selengia, a traditional healer, passed a coconut around and around the head of her kneeling client. The coconut went around the man’s left arm, then the right, then each leg. When she handed the coconut to the client, Mussa Norris, he hurled it onto a stone.
It shattered, releasing his problems to the winds.
This is merely two short audio clips from two separate economists and their recent studies for their books. The first audio is Michael Medved asking Edward Conard a question in regards to his book, The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class. (As an aside, Larry Elder used this audio in his Tuesday Sept 20th, 2016 show as part of his opening segment)
This next clip is from Thomas Sowell being interviewed by Larry Elder for the recent release of Dr. Sowell’s book, Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective.
Part of my reasoning for uploading these was a caller called into the show and challenged The Sage that the reason for black woes was white supremacism. I included in the Michael Medved YouTube desscription the additional information:
John and Ken discuss how Governor Jerry Brown may have just bankrupted California.
Some main points about the bill:
Energy prices, food prices, car costs, etc., will all go up. As California becomes more expensive as a state to do business in, MORE businesses will leave and jobs will be lost. It will leave only the giants in business being able to pay for the extra costs, thus, whittling out competition. California will have a few large corporations left in it as well as a few large unions… all subsidizing the Democrat Party to force competition out of their markets.
The L.A. Times notes this as well:
This is really a back-door way to implement the previously failed SB 350 and more in order to tax people for California’s unfunded liabilities. JOHN & KEN previously discussed SB 350 noting the harmful effects it would have.
In an excellent article over at the WASHINGTON TIMES, we read this:
Of course I have been talking about this for years (CARL’S JR. as one example), and posting audio on this issue for years as well…
When California makes it too expensive for alternative energy companies to survive in this state… you know the chickens are coming home to roost!
The question my wife asked, very astutely, is what are these numbers we are talking about. Here they are:
Here is page one of a more bullet pointed and graphed path (click it for the PDF) to these reductions that are impossible and is only a way for the state to gain more monetary resources to pay for their B.S.
- A mere 2% of the carbon emissions credits that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) put up for auction in May were sold. The quarterly auction raised only $10 million of the $500 million that CARB projected. That’s awful news for Democrats in Sacramento who planned to spend the windfall on high-speed rail, housing and electric-car subsidies. (WSJ)
According to the Vermont Senator’s website, the Democratic Party draft platform reads:
- “Democrats believe that climate change is too important to wait for climate deniers and defeatists in Congress to start listening to science, and support using every tool available to reduce emissions now.” (Global Warming Is Too Important To Wait For Democracy)
Too important to wait for Congress? Which is why stuff like the above have to be passed via executive order — like Jerry Brown did. Whether on the state or federal levels, Democrats love growing government and regulating every aspect of the citizens life… by fiat. King George is back. It is merely “King George” forcing policies the public would never approve of:
THERE MAY BE A FAIL-SAFE HOWEVER!
In an excellent post at CLIMATE UNPLUGGED, it is noted that this signing into law by fiat would still need to pass a “California appellate court will soon rule as to whether it violates Proposition 13”
I hope the court sees the unconstitutionality [California’s constitution] of this and kills it all!
Enjoying a wonderful book… and excellent primer on socialism and the free-market. The book is by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, and is titled, The Problem with Socialism. Here is an extended excerpt… I highly recommend the book:
…economist David Osterfeld wrote: “[S]ocialism, by its very nature, rewards sloth and indolence and penalizes diligence and hard work. It therefore establishes incentives that are incompatible with its self-proclaimed goal of material prosperity. The inherent dilemma of socialism is that individuals who respond ‘rationally’ to the incentives confronting them will produce results that are ‘irrational’ for the community as a whole.”
In the early twentieth century some socialists argued that socialism would somehow rather magically transform human beings, effectively taking the place of God to create a new “socialist man” who would no longer be acquisitive and interested in pursuing his own self-interest. This was long ago proven to be a farce, as it never occurred anywhere on earth despite the use of terror and mass murder by the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other socialist regimes in vain attempts to “prove” their theory to be correct.
THE KNOWLEDGE PROBLEM
A second reason for the inherent and inescapable failures of socialism as an economic system is known in the economics profession as the “knowledge problem.” This problem is associated with the writings of the Nobel prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek, who first explained the idea in a 1945 academic journal article entitled “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” In that article Hayek explained that the kind of knowledge that makes the economic world go ’round is not just scientific knowledge but the detailed and idiosyncratic “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” that the millions of people who make up the world economy possess and utilize to perform their unique jobs and live their lives. No government planner could possibly possess, let alone efficiently utilize, such vast knowledge.
For example, consider something as simple as a slice of pizza. What would it take to make a pizza from scratch? Well, the first ingredient would be dough, which would require a wheat farm to raise the wheat that is turned into flour, which in turn is turned into pizza dough. The wheat farm requires all of the engineering know-how that is used to build all of the tractors and other farm equipment; farm tools, fertilizers, irrigation systems, and what not. Then there is the grain storage business and all that goes into it, along with the trucking industry that is used to transport the grain. The transportation industry requires gasoline or diesel fuel, which means the petroleum industry must become involved, including all of the sophisticated engineering knowledge that is used to extract petroleum from the earth (or the ocean floor) and refine it into gasoline.
So far, considering just one ingredient of a common pizza—dough—we learn that it requires the efforts of probably hundreds if not thousands of people from all over the world, all with very specialized “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” that they use to do their jobs.
Then there is the tomato sauce, which requires a tomato farm and all the farm equipment, tools, fertilizers, irrigation, transportation, and so forth that is involved in growing and marketing tomatoes. A dairy farm is then needed to produce milk, which is turned into cheese for the pizza. And on and on. The lesson here is that what makes the economic world—indeed, human civilization itself as we know it—possible is the international division of labor and knowledge in which we all specialize in something in the marketplace, earn money doing it, and use that money to buy things from other “specialists.” All of this occurs spontaneously without any government “planner” consciously dictating how to make pizzas, how many to make, or where pizza parlors should be located.
As Adam Smith explained in his famous 1776 treatise, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, what motivates people to put forth all of this effort and cooperate with each other to give us “our meat and our bread” is not their selflessness or their love of their fellow man, but their concern for their own wellbeing. By pursuing their own self-interest in the free market, they coincidentally, as though led by an “invisible hand,” benefit the rest of society as well. As for socialism, it is worth repeating that no government planner or group of government planners with the most powerful computers available could conceivably possess and utilize all of the constantly changing information that is needed to produce even the most common and simple consumer goods, let alone sophisticated products like automobiles and computers.
The false notion that government planners under socialism could possess and make better use of all this information than the myriad consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, business managers, and other market participants in thousands of different industries was labeled “the pretense of knowledge” by Hayek in his Nobel prize acceptance speech in 1975. It was, said Hayek, the “fatal conceit” of socialists everywhere.
Hayek also pointed out how the free-market pricing system is indispensable as a tool of any functioning economy. Government-mandated prices, such as we have in socialist economies, produce nothing but chaos. In a market economy, prices are like road signs; in this case, they reflect the relative scarcity of goods and services, the intensity of consumer demand, and help us order our economic lives. When a product or service becomes more scarce consumers look for alternatives, which is one engine of innovation. When prices rise, investors are alerted to consumer demand and look to provide consumers with what they want at a lower price or to improve on the existing product or service.
Without market prices, rational economic decision making is impossible, which is another core reason for the failures of socialism to produce anything but poverty, misery, and economic chaos.
THE CALCULATION PROBLEM
The most devastating critique of socialism is known as the “calculation problem.” Economist Ludwig von Mises explained it in his 1920 treatise, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, and in his later 1949 treatise, Human Action.” Socialists who advocate government “planning” with government ownership of the means of production face an impossible task, said Mises, because they have no idea how to go about arranging the production of goods and services without real, market-based capital markets (such as the stock market, private banking system, and so on). It is capitalist entrepreneurs, Mises wrote, the professional speculators, promoters, investors, and lenders, who all have a personal financial stake in the investments they make, who allocate capital in a market economy. Their indispensable tool is market prices, which guide them to invest in a rational, profitable way, meeting consumer demand. Under socialism, where government owns all the means of production and capital “markets” are nonexistent, and resources are allocated by bureaucrats to meet “plans” that might have no basis in economic reality.
In a capitalist economy, entrepreneurs have to meet consumer demand or go bankrupt. This doesn’t mean that capitalist markets are “perfect,” only that there is an enormously powerful incentive for private investors to invest their money in ways that will be rewarded by consumers. This incentive, however, is totally absent from a socialist economy, where it is not consumer demand (and the investors’ desire to make a profit and avoid a loss), but government direction, that allocates economic resources, which is why Mises deemed socialism to be “impossible” as a viable economic system; it simply makes no economic sense.
Some seventy years after Ludwig von Mises first explained the impossibility of rational economic calculation under socialism, the well-known socialist economist Robert Heilbroner authored a momentous essay in The New Yorker entitled “The Triumph of Capitalism,” in which he begrudgingly admitted that “Mises was right” about socialism all along. At the time, the seventy-year-old Heilbroner was the Norman Thomas Professor of Economics at the New School for Social Research and had spent the previous thirty years of his academic career advocating and defending socialism. (Norman Thomas was a twentieth-century presidential candidate of the American Socialist Party.)
The point here is to note the irony of the renewed popularity of “socialism” today, especially among a segment of the college student population, when even longtime twentieth-century defenders of socialism such as Robert Heilbroner finally admitted that it was a massively failed and misconceived idea. To be a modern-day advocate of socialism is to completely ignore all sound economic logic, more than a century of history, and the words of honest socialist intellectuals like Heilbroner who were finally forced to confront reality after ignoring it for most of their adult lives.
The pervasive rallying cry of socialists is “equality.” Capitalism creates too many inequities, they say. But they ignore the fact that all human beings are unique, and inequality is thus inevitable. The relentless socialist crusade for “equality” is not just a revolt against reality; it is nothing less than a recipe for the destruction of normal human society, as the Russian and Chinese socialists of the twentieth century, among others, proved. In the name of socialist equality they destroyed their economies, condemned hundreds of millions to poverty, and executed millions of dissenters. And even after all that, they never created anything remotely like an egalitarian society.
Democratic-socialist countries that have not gone to these murderous extremes have nevertheless been content to live off of the capital accumulated from limited or previous free markets in their countries.
Socialists are less concerned about equality before the law, or equal rights to liberty, than they are with material equality, which, of necessity, has to be forced upon society by the state. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a clergyman who is also an economic writer and speaker, points out that anything made by God, whether it be humans or stones (which can range from small pebbles to glittering diamonds of infinite variety) is unique; while things made by man, like bricks, can be made uniform. The essence of the socialist enterprise is to use the coercive powers of government to turn us all into identical bricks.
The desire to turn unique human beings into identical socialist bricks explains why socialist regimes are often totalitarian—because it is the only way they can make a serious attempt to achieve their aims.
The socialist obsession with equality has always been at war with the division of labor and knowledge that comes naturally in a market or capitalist economy. Ludwig von Mises noted that “The fundamental social phenomenon is the division of labor and its counterpart, human cooperation,” which, in turn, is what leads to economic progress and development. The uniqueness of every human being—our differing physical abilities, mental abilities and interests, different aptitudes, preferences ad infinitum—mean that we naturally tend to specialize in something, to focus on what we do best.
In a market economy, this allows us to specialize in what we do best, and get paid for it, and then trade with other “specialists” for the goods and services we desire. An obvious consequence of this is that a capitalist economy creates an interconnected community that constantly strives to supply all of us with the best goods and services at the lowest price; it provides employment for people of all imaginable talents and abilities; it blows past subsistence economies (where one individual or family or village has to do everything itself); it creates wealth (which can support charity); and it encourages international trade, because not only are human beings unique, but so are their material and geographical resources. No government program, for instance, can ever change the fact that Saudi Arabia is a vast desert with huge supplies of oil, or that
the American Midwest contains millions of acres of some of the most fertile farmland on earth. The Saudis specialize in oil and sell it to Americans; Americans specialize in agriculture and sell food to the Saudis whose irrigation systems, as sophisticated as they are, still render agricultural production several times more expensive than what can be achieved by American farmers. The international division of labor, as much as a domestic division of labor, results in everyone becoming more prosperous. Another point is that the division of labor (and knowledge) has always spawned a different kind of human cooperation in the form of teamwork, for many tasks cannot be performed by single individuals. Hence, people tend to become specialists not only in some skill or trade, but also as members of a team that produces goods and services. The division of labor and the pursuit of profit encourage human cooperation.
In a market economy people are paid, and businesses earn profits (or incur losses) strictly according to how good a job they do in meeting consumer demand. A good definition of capitalism in this regard would be: “Give me that which I want, and I will give you that which you want.”
Inequalities of income are inevitable because of competition—some businesses and entrepreneurs do better than others. The key point, though, is that the market is fluid. Businesses can change or improve; workers can find more profitable enterprises or better ways to apply their skills.
To socialists, it is not just generic “inequality” that is wrong and has to be eliminated by government, there is also the so-called “Iron Law of Oligarchy.” This is the insight that in every organization or activity, a few people will typically emerge as the leaders or top producers. Thomas Jefferson called this the phenomenon of a “natural aristocracy.” We see it with “elite” athletes in professional sports; “top-of-the-chart” musicians and entertainers; Fortune 500 companies; lists of the top one hundred doctors, lawyers, or schools; and so forth. In a market economy, such “elite” individuals and institutions can demand higher wages or tuitions or whatever than the average. To most of us, there is nothing wrong with this. But socialists, and sometimes mere bureaucrats, often think differently.
The great H. L. Mencken noted that all governments, not just explicitly socialist ones, are enemies of the most energetic, productive, and motivated. In his words:
All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among men. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos.
- Thomas J. DiLorenzo, The Problem with Socialism (New Jersey, NJ: Regnery, 2016), 22-36,
In this clip Mark Levi explains some basics in conservative economics 101. I include a couple calls and Mark gets worked up in the process of “laying down the law”!
BTW, this is a great refutation of those who think tariffs are a good thing. The movie BREXIT does a great job explaining how this thinking killed European competitive markets.
An “authentic, fully American history and tradition” is lacking in Trump’s thinking. To wit, reading this article by Daniel Krauthammer titled, Without Exceptionalism, both lifted me up as-well-as saddened me. The article made my spirit sour because of the reinvigorated understanding of “what it means to be an American” by a young man while-at-the-same-time my heart sunk because of the state of the American people in nominating a complete scoundrel in all regards to the Grand Ol’ Party. What a roller-coaster ride that was! I will take Charles Krauthammer’s word for it that Daniel “has the sharpest, most brilliant mind, sharper than mine.” Without further adieu, here is Michael Medved reading over and commenting on Daniel’s article:
The key point I see in Daniel’s piece is that Trump views markets, wealth, and ultimately America as a zero-sum game:
- Trump’s world is a zero-sum game, and Trump’s America will start winning again only when everyone else starts losing. This simplistic thinking defies logic and basic economics. But it does appeal to a certain sense of American nationalism: that “we” as a collective need to rally around a strong leader who will make us once again richer and more powerful than everyone else. Why? Because we’re us and they’re them. This kind of nationalism, however, is completely unexceptional. The leaders of literally any other country on earth could—and often do—say the same thing to their people and appeal to the same nationalistic sentiments. There is nothing uniquely American about what Trump espouses. There is no American ideal or philosophy providing a moral reason for this national mission to “win.”
He shows an almost Keynsein propensity that manifests itself in trying to fit the American Soul into an Excel spreadsheet — viewing “what” we are… kinesthetically… at his deepest understanding [if that even applies to “The Donald”] depicting the United States as the “Crimson Permanent Assurance,” a (mostly) standalone short in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life about “a crew of aged accountants who throw off the yokes of their oppressors, take up the mantle of corporate piracy and set sail on the high seas of international finance.”
What a joke!
What an ass.
Every day I am more-and-more convinced in my decision to leave the Presidential choice BLANK come November. For the first time, since I started voting, I will not vote for the President of These United States. Bill Kristol is right when he says that we have 5-months ahead of us of watching GOP pundits (like Sean Hannity and others) “defending, apologizing for, and excusing” Donald Trump’s obvious zero-sum intelligence.
Good luck with that.
Amen to that! I won’t be either.
“America Guided by Wisdom”
(Click to Enlarge)
On the fore ground, Minerva, the goddess of Wisdom, is pointing to a shield, supported by the Genius of America, bearing the arms of the United States, with the motto UNION AND INDEPENDENCE, by which the country enjoys the prosperity signified by the horn of plenty at the feet of America. The second ground is occupied by a Triumphal Arch with the Equestrian Statue of WASHINGTON placed in front, indicating the progress of the liberal arts. On the third ground, Commerce is represented by the figure of Mercury, with one foot resting on bales of American manufactures, pointing out the advantages of encouraging and protecting Navigation, signified by an armed vessel under sail, to Ceres, who is seated with emplements of Agriculture near her. The Bee Hive is emblematic of industry; and the female spinning at the cottage door, shews the first and most useful of domestic manufactures.
~ Benjamin Tanner’s descriptive text.
The first black poet in America to publish a book, Poems on Various Subjects: Religious and Moral, spoke of this wisdom that guided one of our Founding Fathers in a poem entitled, “His Excellency General Washington.”
Just a small bio on this American gem before the poem:
- Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American to publish a book of poetry, was probably born in 1753 or 1754, somewhere in western Africa. At roughly 7 years old, captured by [most likely Arab] slave-traders. She was considered too sickly for hard labor plantations in the Caribbean or Southern U.S. colonies, she became a domestic servant for the Wheatley family in Boston. Though they kept slaves, the Wheatley’s were relatively progressive; after witnessing Phillis copying the alphabet in chalk, instead of punishing her, they decided to cultivate her academic interests. During a period when some states outlawed teaching slaves to read, Phillis was studying Alexander Pope and John Milton. Actually, the education she received from the Wheatley’s was superior even to most Caucasian males’ schooling.
May I also add to History Bitches slightly adapted info above that Phillis was also steeped in the Bible. And being a poet she was well aware of “lady wisdom” in Proverbs. (A more complete bio of her is below):
Richard Gamble writes about this “exceptionalism” with a warning…
And so, goodbye…