And if so, can internet initiatives improve things, asked Yanis Varoufakis on NC. The entire post is rather interesting in its interpretation of what western “liberal” democracy was supposed to mean and achieve:
Magna Carta, the defining document to which the West turns when in search of its political and legislative ancestry, was not about fashioning an Athenian-style masterless Demos: It was about entrenching the rights of masters vis-à-vis the Monarch. Its purpose was to give them, the lords and masters, the freedom to do as they pleased with their property, their servants and their slaves. Echoes of Magna Carta could be heard even in post-revolutionary America and they may resolve the puzzle of how, in the US, the loudest voices for liberty came from slave-owners.
NC has reposted a piece by Don Quijones about free trade and its repercussions. In light of the bullshit spouted about the current attempts at sharpening IP regulations, and weakening democracy in the fact of profit, it helps to time and again reconsider the empirical evidence regarding “free trade” agreements. The prime example remains Mexico and NAFTA’s effects (my emphasis):
Post-NAFTA Mexico is as much a poster child of the potential macro-economic benefits of so-called “free trade” as it is of the micro-economic ravages it leaves in its wake. As El Observador Economico reports, the positives cannot be ignored:
Between 1993 and 1998 foreign investment in the country almost tripled.
The number of employees in industry more than doubled in the space of six years.
The total value of Mexico’s exports to the United States rose from 49.4 billion dollars in 1994 to 135 billion dollars in 2000.
Productivity increased by 47 percent between 1994 and 2001.
All of which, on the face of it, sounds impressive – enough to excite even the most impassive economist. But there is another, altogether bleaker side to the story – one, unfortunately, rarely told beyond Mexican borders:
The real value of the minimum wage plummeted by around 20 percent between 1993 and 2001.
Much of the new employment generated was in the assembly of imported component parts for re-export in semi-sweat shop facilities called Maquiladoras. The lure of the maquilas is low wages, a lack of environmental or labour regulations, low taxes, and few if any duties — the sort of conditions that are still hard to find in the more heavily regulated markets of Europe and the U.S. Products produced include apparel, electronic goods and autos.
The percentage of Mexicans living in outright poverty rose from 21 percent of the population in 1994 to 50 percent in 1998.
The exodus of campesinos to cities and the big corporate farms in the North of America and the US has accelerated: in the last 20 years millions of Mexican farmers have had to abandon their land.
It seems that there has been some kind of solution to what has been going on in the Ukraine. I found some of the goings-on there rather surprising – I still don’t understand how a decision of the president to reject negotiations with the EU could turn into dozens of people dead – and so I found it very welcome that Stratfor commented on it today in their typically nuanced manner.
The first point that struck me was:
What is interesting is that the Polish, French and German foreign ministers negotiated an outcome that, for practical purposes, ignored the Constitution of Ukraine. It sets an interesting precedent. But for Ukraine, the constitution didn’t have the patina of tradition that a true constitution requires, and few will miss Yanukovich.
[An] issue is what will happen the next time crowds storm government buildings. The precedent has been set — or rather, it was set during the 2004 Orange Revolution — that governments and regimes can be changed by a legalistic sleight of hand. At some point a large crowd will gather and occupy buildings. If the government opens fire, it is run by monsters. I don’t mean that ironically; I mean it literally. But if the government allows itself to be paralyzed by demonstrators, then how can it carry out its constitutional responsibilities? I don’t mean that ironically either. The Ukrainian Constitution, new or old, is meaningless because Ukrainians will not endure the pain of following it — and because foreign powers will pressure them to deviate from constitutional democracy in order to create a new one.
There’s a video out, produced by the Venezuelan opposition, titled “What’s going on in Venezuela in a nutshell.” They’re pushing it hard on social media, which is how I came to see it.
Well, parts of it. I simply couldn’t make it through. I find the clip very emotionally manipulative, with soaring music over images of anti-government protesters, which is dialed back for scenes of street fighting and screams. Add to this the fact that the voice-over declares the current government, democratically elected in 2013, “illegitimate”, and I watched less than half the movie.
The main message in what I watched was that the murder rate is extreme, the government corrupt, that the government is (alone) responsible for the “social and economic crisis”, that opposition members are being killed, some of them quite recently, and tortured, that “government controls the air waves”, and that “Venezuelans have enough”.
NC has a relatively short but interesting post up, called Economics is Applied Morality:
Utilitarianism is the moral foundation of economics. The idea of the greatest good for the greatest number is intuitively appealing. But applying a utilitarian framework relies on value judgments about the desires, and a comparable measure of their intensity, of every individual. Some of the defining debates in economics over the past century have centred around the measurement and comparability of utility between individuals.
Thus any application of economics requiring estimation of costs or benefits is applying a judgment about the worthiness of competing desires of the population at large. That judgment is necessarily a moral one.
Other times economic analysis is more clearly a case of applied morality. In analysis of public health economists usually appeal explicitly to the idea of utils, or some metric of quality-adjusted life years. The adoption of this metric relies on a moral judgement, for it implies that the elderly are less deserving of health resources than the young. But an equally valid moral position is that the elderly are more deserving as a repayment for their lifetime of work contributed to the community. Another moral position is that the young are easily and cheaply replaced, while the wisdom held in those elderly bodies has a high value and is costly to replace.
Read the entire thing!
Watched “Dallas Buyers Club” last night: Jared Leto is very impressive!
The story itself, however: when one looks at the facts, this is a story of how FDA procedures worked, getting a drug approved rather quickly that is still used today in anti-viral regimens.
When one looks at the movie, instead, this is a story of how FDA procedures failed, keeping helpful drugs out of the country. No matter that at least one of these drugs is actually less effective, with more side effects.
And this even though there are so many aspects of this that actually do deserve serious discussion, like how AIDS was and is a disease of the poor, how drugs are way too expensive in a healthcare system run for profit, how the ban on reimports is designed to improve pharma profits.
But no, it’s so much easier to demonize a government agency.
Update: for a more nuanced treatment, have a look at the Washington Post.
NC has a post up that takes Krugman to task for peddling outdated theories w.r.t. the trouble Argentina has experienced recently.