Sunday, December 27, 2009


There is a new epidemic in the world.

I call it "Positivitis".

It is a mental disease, which causes the victim to systematically over-evaluate everything that puts her or him in a "positive" frame of mind, and to discount everything that might put her or him in a "negative" frame of mind.

Victims of this disease insist on defining "positive" and "negative" according to their own whim or fancy.

Generally, however, "positive" equals "anything that enables me to continue feeling happy with my chosen way of life".

"Negative", for those suffering from this disease, equals "anything that causes me to question any aspect of my lifestyle, opinions or moods".

Probably, throughout history, there have been individuals who have suffered from "Positivitis".

However, these individuals usually belonged to the ruling elite and were therefore only a handful in any society.

Since the 1980s, the number in the global elite has greatly increased.

We who read this Blog in all probability belong to the global elite, because of education, access to the internet and other technical resources, as well as financial resources that, even among the so-called "middle class" today are greater than most kings enjoyed through history.

That is something that is well hidden from us because of the incessant propaganda which tends to prompt us to be focused on the rat race.

We therefore do not even realise that confronted with an enormously significant choice: to use our resources and situation merely to live as comfortably as possible, or to use our status and resources to struggle for making the world better.

Those who attempt the latter are trying to be true realists. Those who attempt the former choose the disease that I call "Positivitis".

If the disease affected only the individuals who make a deliberate choice of "Posititivitis", that would be bad enough.

But some sufferers of "Positivitis" choose an extreme form of the disease: "Fundamentailst Positivism" or even "Fascist Positivism".

"Fascist Positivists" are those who deliberately blind themselves so totally to reality that they ferociously and violently attack anyone who is a realist.

Unlike "Fascist Positivists, "Fundamentalist Positivists" do not to attack those who are realists. But "Fundamentalist Positivists" do feel compelled to use their position to distort reality for others, by producing propaganda about "Positivism".

A headline from a recent newsletter from one of the most respected Business Schools in the world provides an instructive case study.

Here is the headline: "All Is Not Doom and Gloom for Artists".

From the headline, one would expect that there is something objectively good starting to happen for artists. Perhaps a new source of funding. Or a new channel of publicity. Or an opportunity to have more cheaply the supplies they need for their profession.

But on examining the article, one finds that there is no additional source of funding, no additional channel for publicising their work, no means of obtaining the supplies they need more cheaply. In fact, nothing objectively better at all: "For working artists, the recession has meant lower income from sales and reduced support from grants".

So what's the good news? Apparently, "about one-third ...say they are experiencing more openness to collaboration, one-third say they are able to experiment more, and one-tenth of the respondents say they are able to get cheaper work space now.".

Let's think about those three elements.

On the first element, if one-third say that they are experiencing more openness to collaboration, does that mean that perhaps one seventh are experiencing the same level of openness to collaboration, while the rest (the majority) are actually experiencing less openness to collaboration?

On the 2nd element: if one third say they are able to experiment more, what does that tell us about the other two-thirds? Are the vast majority (two-thirds) actually experimenting less?!

Similarly, on the third element: if only one-tenth are able to get cheaper work space now, does that mean that nine-tenths are not able to get cheaper work space even with the decline in real estate prices since some time in 2007?

The kind of "Positivitis" displayed by the Business School newsletter is particulary galling in view of the following facts that are also quoted:

* Two-thirds of artists hold at least one job in addition to making art

* Artists’ incomes are relatively low (two-thirds made less than $40,000 in 2008), and 51% reported an actual decrease even in that small art-related income from 2008 to 2009

* Forty percent of artists do not have adequate health insurance and more than 50%are worried about losing what they do have.

All that such "Fundamentalistically Positivitist" articles do is to put a "positive spin" on a worsening situation for artists.

"Fundamentalistically Positivist" articles and feel-good speeches help to create or perpetuate an illusion - in this case, that the situation is not so bad for artists after all, so that we are discouraged from concern about the situation of artists, and de-motivated from doing anything to improve the situation. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Has Twitter been hacked?

Never usually have difficulties getting in and out of Twitter - but having difficuty today!

Has Twitter been hacked?!

As I try to log out, it takes ages and doesn't succeed in logging me out. On trying several times, I notice that the URL reads: "". Is that normal? I don't recollect having seen that URL earlier... Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The division of Chinese state-owned companies into two classes

Following the impact of the financial crisis on China's corporations, which slashed profits in the last quarter of 2008, profits remained negative on an annualised basis for 9 months to the third quarter of this year.

By current quarter, most industries appear to have returned to profit.

But an interesting picture emerges of the new class-division of Chinese companies.

The top-performing companies are the 131 centrally-controlled companies, whose profits were up 3.4% for the year through November.

Worst performing are the Local-government-controlled companies who suffered a loss of 8.9%.

Total losses by state-owned companies were 1.9%.

The reasons for the difference in performance are interesting to speculate about, but of course no one except the Party really knows. Sphere: Related Content

Copenhagen's NON-agreement: developing countries shoot themselves in the foot

It was clear for a long time that neither China nor the USA were keen on any real or binding agreement at Copenhagen.

The final result is a non-binding "promise" of a measly USD 10 billion a year for the next three years, with the idea that this might be increased by 2020. Given that there is no agreement about which specific countries will provide this money, which countries it will go to, in which amounts, on what conditions and by which mechanisms - and given the non-history of the "Millennium Development Goals"! - it is clear that what emerged from Copenhagen was a grand total of nothing.

Non-binding offers of cuts in carbon emissions, such as from China immediately before the summit can be considered to have been either mere posturing or in line with what the Chinese were planning anyway - and had no relation to the summit.

What is not clear is why the rest of the developing world (including India) wee so keen to avoid confronting China and the USA on the matter and arriving at an international deal that committed everyone else. That would have isolated the two bad guys and exercised at least some moral pressure on them - not that America has in recent times shown itself amenable to international pressure - let alone China of course.

So Copenhagen can be summed up as follows: duped by China and the US, the developing countries have shot themselves in the foot.

Assuming the consensus thinking about climate change is anywhere near correct, guess which countries are going to suffer most from the consequences? China and India. We have the largest coastlines, and the largest populations near them. We are more dependent on the monsoon and on the water that flows from the Himalayas than any other countries in the world. Naturally, in proportional terms small island states may be completely wiped out, but in terms of actual numbers of people, the damage in China and India will be much worse.

However, the economic and moral impact of the lack of an agreement at Copenhagen will be most on the USA. Not only has it delcined from providing leadership on a matter of global importance, its industry will continue to be hollowed out as more and more of that is outsourced to countries with lower environmental and human standards.

Global trade without global rules disproportionately disadvantages countries with the best environmental and human standards. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ten Lies that perpetuate the crisis

1: "Bankers and traders are cleverer than regulators"

2: "Booms and busts are inevitable"

3: "No one saw it coming"

4: "Bubbles cannot be identified till well after the fact"

5: "Legislation is the same as intervention"

6: "Markets free of state interference are good (true), so we should have markets without rules (false)"

7: "We can have markets without rules and without umpires"

8: "We can have global markets without global rules"

9: "Markets cannot be global without a global currency" (global currency competition actually helps global financial stability; there is a trade-off between efficiency and stabilty - too many currencies are inefficient, but too few make for instability and therefore concentration of power)

10: "Capitalism is the best, why change it?" (Since the 80s, we haven't had "capitalism", what we've had is "casinoism") Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How many American families are losing their homes?

Well, according to Sojourners, on average the figure is one American family every 13 seconds (that's 6,600 per day).

This is not due to the subprime issue caused by unbridled speculation making life too expensive for people who had just been able to afford their mortgages. No, that was all two years ago.

So what is causing this new wave of foreclosures? Apparently, it is due to Americans losing employment. As the unemployment rate has climbed and climbed (and looks set to continue climbing, in spite of the temporary improvement just recently), an increasing number of Americans are losing their homes. Apparently, 50% of American homeowners have so little saved that if they are likely to lose their homes if they are out of work for as little as one month.

Savings rates are improving in the US, but not improving so very much yet. Meanwhile, the more Americans turn to saving, and the less they spend, the more it will hurt the export-oriented economies, led by China. Sphere: Related Content

Eleven Lessons for a Realistic Human Rights Policy

Dr. Friedbert Pflueger, who is a Member of the International Advisory Board of the World Security Network Foundation, in the course of his eminently sane analysis of US policy since Carter to Obama, during his recent inaugural lecture as Visiting Professor, Department of War Studies, King's College, London, enunciated the following 11 principles of a realistic human rights policy:

"Human Rights should be one cornerstone of a democracy's foreign policy. The spread of individual freedom, democracy and justice enhances also the security of free nations. Human rights can only be protected and saveguarded at home, if they are also a serious issue abroad. A democracy, which enjoys rights at home, but does not care about rights abroad, will loose the support of its own people.

Different cultures, historical backgrounds or religious traditions do not allow to apply the concept of a Westminster democracy everywhere at any time. Therefore human rights policies should concentrate on gross violations of rights such as torture. Its aim should be to fight the hell, not to create heaven.

Accordingly not preaching, a „we-know-better"attitude, arrogance or self-righteousness should be avoided. Human rights policy may not come about as moral imperialism.

While free elections in a specific country should be an aim, they are by far not the most important indicator for a free society. More emphasis should be given to the rule of law, the Habeas Corpus principle and of accountability and reliability of the government.

While the concept of human rights is a concept of individual rights vis a vis the government, those rights need social conditions to flourish such as basic standards concerning food, housing, education the rights of women etc.

Human rights can not the only aim of a countries foreign policy, often not even the most important one. It has to be balanced with other aims. So hard compromises are inevitable. You would like to criticise the Chinese human rights record, but on the other hand you need the Chinese as a partner of nuclear non-proliferation policy against Iran. Or: You would like to criticise Russia for closing down a free TV-station, but you want to achieve an important disarmament or climate agreement at the same time. So you have to develop skills and ideas to pursue the one cause without entirely give up the other. There are no clear formulas for a decision; it has to be case-by-case. The criticism of double standards is to a certain extend inevitable.

Sometimes you serve your cause better by quiet diplomacy. There are cases, when a statesman visiting a foreign country has the chance to free imprisoned dissidents or improve their living conditions. Sometimes he/she would harm his cause by speaking out and reaches results by interfering in a way, where the country in question can save its face. But quiet diplomacy should never become an alibi for doing nothing.
Use, wherever possible, multilateral institutions to foster human rights. Strengthen the International Court of Justice, reform the UN-human rights commission, use summits and every possible international forum to work for progress in the field of human rights.

If there is a real humanitarian catastrophy or genocide, do not rule out the use of force - a humanitarian intervention might be necessary. Without the willingness to fight for the idea of freedom, nobody would have stopped Adolf Hitler and Srebrenica would have been repeated. The threshold for such an intervention should be very high and in accordance with international law.

Be on the other hand aware of the limits of your countries power. Henry Kissinger explained his reluctance with aggressive human rights policy not with moral ambiguity or a lack of interest, but: "Imperatives impose limits in our ability to produce internal changes in foreign countries. Consciousness of our limits is recognition of the necessity of peace". (Statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 19. 9. 1974)

The best way to serve the cause of human rights is the example a country gives with the practise at home. That has made the United States a beacon of freedom to the world Therefore Guantanamo was a grave mistake and should become history soon. John Quincy Adams stated in his famous address on the tasks of the American nation on July 4th 1821: "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the contenance of her voice and the benignant sympathy of her example".

It seems to me that the trouble with Professor Pflueger's entirely sensible suggestions is that they assume, on the one hand, genuine commitment to human rights on the part of leaders, and, on the other hand, the acceptance by the public that leaders are acting in good faith. Is either of these true today? Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Does Modern Communication Technology Increase Isolation - or Doesn't It?

Just as some "research" finds that a particular item in your diet is good for your heart, while other "research" finds that the same item is bad for your cholesterol - or something equally idiotic - so we have opposing results of "research" on the topic of whether new communication technologies increase or reduce social interaction.

A widely-reported 2006 study showed that, since 1985, Americans have become more socially isolated: the size of their discussion networks declined, and the diversity of those people with whom they discuss important matters has decreased. Americans have fewer close ties to those from their neighborhoods and from voluntary associations. Internet and mobile phone technologies enable and support social ties that are relatively weak and geographically dispersed, not the strong, often locally-based ties that used to be a part of peoples’ discussion network before such technologies became pervasive. The result is that people are pulled away from traditional social settings, neighborhoods, voluntary associations, and public spaces.

By contrast, the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which does a lot of useful work, has just relesed the results of its "Personal Networks and Community Survey", involving telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 2,512 adults. The interviews were conducted in English by Princeton Data Source, LLC between July 9, 2008 and August 10, 2008, on behalf of Princeton Survey Research International.

The survey was undertaken specifically to explore issues that were not probed directly in the 2006 study and other related research: the role of the internet and mobile phone in people’s core social networks.

This Pew survey finds that Americans are "not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services ... are associated with more diverse social networks."

The phrasing above seems to suggest that the 2006 study was wrong. However, common sense tells you that the two pieces of "research" were examining different things:

If you relate to a larger number of people they will by definition be more diverse; and if you relate to a larger number of people, as there are only 24 hours in each day, your interactions on average will certainly be less deep. Indeed, your interactions may ALL become less deep.

Common sense also tells you that, if you use the new communication technologies, the possibility of connecting with people in more distant places will reduce the time you have available to relate to people nearer by. You can see this most clearly on any underground, bus or airplane: in the pre-tech days, people chatted much more easily with their (temporary) neighbours. Now practically no interaction takes place with one's temporary neighbours as everyone is too busy either listening to music or chatting with someone far away - and, as the conversation is taking place more or less in public, the conversation can't be about anything very deep. The same thing can be seen in real neighbourhoods, where people tend less and less to know their next-door neighbours and can now link up with people very far away. Equally, people may link with even a larger number of voluntary associations, but they now relate much less actively with any of them.

In brief, we don't need such "research" to tell us what we already know: these technologies have their uses, but they also have their drawbacks. All new technologies are double-edged. What we really need to learn is how to use them well and wisely. That is something for which research cannot be designed. Research leads to mere quantification of specific elements of what is needed for the sort of holistic knowledge on the basis of which life can flourish. And it has long been known that there is a wide gulf between knowledge and wisdom. Sphere: Related Content

A Global Civil War?

One of the organisers of the event mentioned below summarised my talk there, which I have adapted slightly as follows:

"Under a barrel ceiling dating back to before Christopher Columbus, and facing a stained-glass window depicting the Pilgrim Fathers praying as they left Holland for America on the Mayflower, some 200 people gathered on Friday to discuss with half a dozen speakers the topic of what the next twenty years might bring.

The English Reformed Church was formerly the chapel for a sisterhood of the Beguines, a 14th-century order of deaconnesses residing in an enclosed courtyard called The Begijnhof. The courtyard is entered through an inconspicuous archway making it a restful haven in the centre of the city. After the city sided with the Reformation, the church was presented to English-speaking Protestant dissidents living in the city, among them the Pilgrim Fathers. Since then, the church has continued to be used by the English-speaking community in Amsterdam down to the present day.

The occasion was an opportunity to reflect both on the past and on the future.

Prabhu Guptara, originally from India but based in Switzerland, asked where globalisation is leading us. Until a few months ago, he said, that was easy to answer. One view of the future was, until recently, clearly winning; the view that said that greed is good.

The view that was losing was the values of the Protestant Reformation, which had for the last 500 years shaped everything that makes the West the envy of the rest of the wrold - e.g. universal literacy, freedom of thought, freedom of expression (and therefore open debate), science and technology, the rule of law, material abundance, loving those who disagree with you(or at least tolerating them), environmental responsibility, humanitarian concern, freedom of association, political democracy.... These values are not perfectly respresented in the West, but they did start originally being embodied in society for the first time with the Protestant Reformation, and did increasingly mark society first in the West and then, by its influence, in the rest of the world - till the 1980s.

However, a great change took place around the 1980s. Ayn Rand’s philosophy, that greed is good, was endorsed by the majority of the elite on both sides of the Atlantic.

The exponential, irresponsible and risky growth in recent decades stemmed from this view. The new practical godlessness created the boom of recent years, claimed Prabhu, until the last few months.

While World War 2 ended with a balance of power between the USSR and the USA, communism’s collapse twenty years ago had left one superpower. But then 9/11 had introduced a multipolar world, accentuated by the latest crisis. Whether a multipolar world is good for humanity remains to be seen, and it will be determined by the choices made by the new powers such as China and India, as much as by the old powers. There is also the related question of whether the new powers, such as hina, will be continue to be able to negotiate the turbulent waters of the sort of global casino that we have created since the 1980s.

What then lies ahead? Greater peace or increased regional conflicts? A new world war even? Increasing protectionism and competitive devaluation of currencies could still lead to the second possibility, he pointed out, in the same way as these precise factors had led to World War I and World War II. Protectionism and devaluation are therefore factors to watch closely.

The other key factor to watch is the current global discussion about the reform of the financial sector, in order to return it to the sort of responsible social function it had till the 1980s.

This is one example of a key area where global society is being confronted with a huge choice. If the wrong options are chosen, a new feudalism could return, in which a few super-rich would keep the rest of population under control.

Alternatively, biblical values could produce a world that is genuinely humane, just and environmentally responsible. Due to technological advances, which of course also go back to the Protestant Reformation, we have for the first time the possibility and means of clothing, housing and feeding everybody.

Global society is, in fact, facing a global civil war, between two sets of ideas: one of human responsibilty to society and to God, stemming from the Protestant Reformation but originating much earlier, in the Hebrew Bible; and the other rooted in the equally ancient "values" of human rationality, capacity and greed.

The future will have a more explicit clash between these two sets of values, predicted Prabhu, as he stepped from the podium." Sphere: Related Content

Manipulation of Official Statistics

As my regular readers will know, I have a personal campaign against the manipulation of official statistics. In the course of this campaign, I often cites US figures. As a non-American, I am conscious that I should really quote Swiss or British or Indian figures as these are the economies which I know best. However, to its credit, the fact remains that the US is still the most transparent country in the world. More facts are more easily available to everyone in the world about this country than about any other.

For those who would like to follow vigorous discussions about facts regarding the US but from a US source, you might find it interesting to look at the website titled, "ECONOMY IN CRISIS America's Economic Report - Daily".

You will find there, for example,Thomas Heffner's post, "A Sinking Ship Full Steam Ahead", in which he takes on GDP, productivity and job creation figures
[Open in new window] Sphere: Related Content

Another misleading headline, this time about Singapore

A piece by an analyst today reads: "Is Positive Growth in Singapore Sustainable?".

This would seem to indicate that "positive growth" is taking place in Singapore, and the question that is going to be asked by the piece is whether that growth is sustainable.

However, when one reads the piece, one finds that there is NO growth taking place taking place in Singapore: all that is happening is that the decline is slowing down!:
"the pace of contraction in retail and auto sales decelerated significantly in October 2009. Retail sales contracted 4.4% y/y, the smallest decline in 10 month, in October after falling a revised 12% y/y in September. Auto sales contracted 14.6% y/y in October after plunging 36.3% y/y in September...". Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Unsocial Hours: Unsocial Families?"

Though I am an admirer of the work of The Relationships Foundation and generally try to keep up with their work, I have only just got around to reading their pamphlet ‘Unsocial Hours: Unsocial Families’.

It is necessary reading for everyone concerned with the health of individuals, of families and of society.

Written by Clare Lyonette and Michael Clark, "Unsocial Hours: Unsocial Families?" surveys the international literature on the impact of long and atypical hours working on family life, but particularly on the effects on couple relationships and the wellbeing of children.

Available at:
[Open in new window] Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Propaganda or Illiteracy?

Here is a headline from a recent newletter: "Japan Recovery Stalls: GDP Growth Climbs to 0.3% q/q in Q3"

The headline contradicts itself by saying first that the recovery "stalls", and then that growth "climbs".

The newsletter goes on to say: "Japan's real GDP growth for Q3 2009 was revised down to 0.3% q/q from a preliminary estimate of 1.2% q/q."

So only after you read that sentence is it clear that the growth rate was not what it was estimated to be. Indeed, that the growth rate was actually less than the estimate.

Nothing happened to the real growth rate: it was what it was. The recovery neither resumed nor stalled.

What happened was that the earlier guess or estimate was wrong, and we now know what the real growth rate was: a measly 0.3%.

So was the newsletter indulging in propaganda or is it that its writers and editors are simply illiterate - or perhaps suffering from temporary linguistic amnesia?

I don't know. But it certainly isn't communication! Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 07, 2009

oil to fall, dollar to rise

Given the enormous over-supply of oil at present, look for the price of oil to fall significantly, perhaps even catastrophically, over the next few weeks. That will impact all commodities...

Gold? Rather more complex at present. Unlikely to fall significantly. Probably will continue rising at least till mid-January.

Look for the Remnimbi to hold steady or, more likely, decline further.

The Indian Rupee should continue to improve.

The Euro will come under pressure, perhaps huge pressure, as spreads widen on the EU's peripheral countries.

Contrariwise, expect the dollar to rise. Could rise dramatically. Sphere: Related Content