Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Global Elders and Zimbabwe

BBC reports on the mission of the Global Elders to help Zimbabwe. As usual, when one sees a pompous name - Global Elders - one should skeptically expect much form with little content. To begin with, the Elders could not even get into Zimbabwe - Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party thumbed their nose at the celebrity cast of this reality show. Furthermore, at 0:22 in the linked video: " The Elders wanted to know what had forced them to leave, and how they are surviving." Well, you have to be seen as doing something even if you can and will do nothing - as the bunch of washed up bureaucrats and politicians knows. So they are asking questions, the answers to which are available to anyone curious.

Where do you even begin to answer such an idiotic question? The poor souls in the Johannesburg church have run away from a place that:
1) Has
cholera - a disease, which takes only clean water and sanitary sewer systems to eradicate. The government has abandoned all pretence to care for public health.
Is run by a gang of thugs who may lack the sophistication of Nazis in WW2 Germany, but make up for it with diligence, all the while employing their tested methods . The government not only does not protect people, it actively terrorizes anyone it even suspects might potentially be against it.
3) Has unemployment (data is highly suspect, but estimates range) between 80% and 90%. For all practical purposes, Zimbabwe has no economy. The only "productive" activities left are foraging for food, crime, and smuggling - mostly of people out of the country.
4) Has had white farmers (who happened to know how to actually grow food) expropriated, and any foreign or white-owned business forced to cede 51% equity interest. For all practical purposes, property rights do not exist in Zimbabwe.
5) Has inflation that not only has handily beaten any record human history knows, but is, by
admission of the Zimbabwean Central Statistical Office, impossible to measure, because there are not enough goods in stores to do so. That admission came a year ago; since then, there have been rumors that these days the computers they use cannot handle the number of digits required to attempt to calculate inflation. A proxy for the Zimbabwean dollar based on shares of Old Mutual listed in Harare and London gives approximately 12 quadrillion Z$ for one US$. According to some estimates, inflation rate runs at 80 sextillion (10^21) per cent. For all practical purposes, Zimbabwe has no currency anymore.
6) Has widespread starvation (too many links to choose from). A story from a couple of years ago, which I cannot find a link to, claimed that in 2005 (to the best of my recollection), starvation was somewhat alleviated by an unusually generous "harvest" of caterpillars.

Usually, this is very near the end of the road for a dictator. To stay in power, a dictator needs an oppressive apparatus, usually a mix of army, police, and followers/allies. However, the army and police need to be paid, and followers/allies need favors. Such a situation can be very stable, as long as the economy produces enough for the dictator to pay. When collecting taxes does not do it, and there is no one with wealth left to steal from, you crank up the printing presses - inflation being a very regressive tax, which is also highly efficient in extracting distributed wealth from the poorest. But a point comes, when you cannot make people use your money - not even facing down the barrel of a gun, since you no longer have the guns. The army and police must be paid, and enough not only for their own physical survival, but for that of their immediate family, and likewise for other allies. When no matter how many zeroes you put on a currency bill, noone will give you a dollar or a loaf of bread for it, you - the dictator - have a serious problem. You try to clamp down on any speculation in hard currency (done a long time ago in Zimbabwe), and you try to deflect the pressure outward - evil colonial powers, subversive elements, etc. (also done long ago). Soon enough, you either have to start a war, or to plan to flee with whatever is left in the coffers or offshore bank accounts.

This is what some of the Elders most likely know (Annan, Tutu, Cardoso (Ph.D. in sociology), Brahimi) and some most likely do not (Machel, Bhatt), but ought to. What they do not want the unwashed masses to realize and clamor about is that we have on our hands a prime example of a case where many of their theories have fallen apart in a most spectacular manner. National sovereignty, non-intervention, disarming of populaces, humanitarian aid, wealth and income redistribution - all have failed Zimbabwe. The most humane thing to do for the Zimbabwean people at this point would be to airdrop a few thousand high-quality sniper rifles with instructions on how to use them and a mechanism to render the weapon useless after a couple of months. If Mugabe does not receive significant boost to his lead intake within that time frame - repeat. When he does - then, and only then, send in humanitarian aid.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

To vote or not to vote - for what?

Megan McArdle has some buyer's remorse about her electoral choice. In an electoral system system with only two viable options, there is always the temptation to view those options on a single dimension spectrum - after all two points define a line, but not a plane, much less a space of higher dimension. This time, for example, Megan looks at the dimension competence vs. "painting a pretty picture for voters." I would argue that, before the actual results are in, the utility of viewing any candidate in American politics through this prism asymptotically approaches zero - or you could just use the simple proxy of "has/doesn't have a campaign strategist."
Moreover, such a strategy - prioritizing one dimension, with maybe a couple more as tie-breakers, without accounting for spreads between positions and for absolute position on an axis - can lock a voter into a pattern of "practical voting" that can turn out very ugly in the long run. Perry de Havilland of Samizdata summarizes it superbly
here. An excerpt:
Guys, you have been voting for the lesser evil for so long you may have lost sight of the fact that you have been voting for evil, just a tiny bit less than the other guy."
PPAA prefers to look at Nolan charts, only of the multi-dimensional kind, along the lines of the ones suggested by the Friesian Institute, and his default position is to not vote - it is up to a candidate to convince him that he or she is good enough, not just better.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Welcoming Introduction

I intend to post here my observations and predictions about social, political, economic, psychological, etc., events and trends.

I happen to be very libertarian, extremely opinionated, and not at all politically correct - so scale your expectations accordingly, or be prepared to be offended, or find other blogs to explore. No reasonable discussion will ever be suppressed on Carpe Noctem, but nor will uncivil behavior be tolerated. As you can imagine, the definition of "uncivil behavior" is rather amorphous, but profanity is considered a fucking acceptable means of expression, as long as it is not directed at undeserving participants in the discussion. God knows there are plenty of idiots and villains out there, feel free to call them what they deserve.

Welcome, and enjoy!