Thursday, June 1, 2017

Branko Milanovic — My response to DeLong and Pseudoerasmus


More on paradoxes of liberalism — that some liberals at least do not seem to be able to recognize or acknowledge.

Global Inequality
My response to DeLong and Pseudoerasmus
Branko Milanovic | Visiting Presidential Professor at City University of New York Graduate Center and senior scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS), and formerly lead economist in the World Bank's research department and senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

24 comments:

Bob said...

It's only violence when the 'bad guys' do it.

Pseudoerasmus said...

My point -- DeLong's is perhaps different -- but my point is that most of the illiberal means by which the Cold War was waged constituted a waste of life and treasure. They were ineffective and unnecessary. They did not matter. Decision-makers at the time may have rationally thought differently, but in retrospect it appears to be true. How can anyone disagree? Was Vietnam not a big waste of human life and national fortunes?

Milanovic wants to be able to say the fact that a liberal democracy could do something like Vietnam is a paradox. It is only a paradox if you have an idealised conception of liberalism, rather than the real world of actually exist liberal nation-states, which are act liberally only toward their own citizenry.

Magpie said...

God knows I tried.

First, I read Milanovic's "The hidden dangers of Fukuyama-like triumphalism". My idea of what he says: the West won their struggle against the Soviet empire "because it (1) used power and intimidation on the one hand, and (2) superior economic performance for the masses on the other".

Next, I read Pseudoerasmus' "Cold War Triumph of Liberal Capitalism—in Hindsight". It has two virtues: it's short and understandable. Pseudoerasmus expresses the causes of the West's triumph thus: "Liberal capitalism outproduced and outappealed communism and Third World socialism". That is point (2) in Milanovic's explanation.

He knows that (1) happened, but he reckons it irrelevant and repeats that in the comment above. How does he know it was irrelevant? God may know, because I don't. Pseudoerasmus never explained that. Bottom line, I'm not convinced. But at least there's a there there.

Finally, I tried to read DeLong's very verbose "Perhaps Today We See Not a New Crisis of Liberal Democratic Capitalism, But an Old Condition Recurring—Like Herpes, If You Will...". This title's very length, compared to Milanovic's and Pseudorasmus's, suggests the main feature of DeLong's post.

Jesus, fucking, Christ. I don't like DeLong or his writings, but I really did try to read him this time. It was to no avail. It was long, it made little sense. He always sounds bullying and offensive, but this time he really outdid himself. It's was full of bullshit. Insufferable, unpleasant.

He could learn from Pseudoerasmus.

I can only guess DeLong felt the "vulgariser" thing too close for comfort and went ballistic ("intemperately", Milanovic says). Either that or the suggestion that liberal capitalism may yet collapse sounds like blasphemy to DeLong's ears.

At any event, I'm sure his blood pressure must have risen. I don't know how he managed to press the enter key without breaking his keyboard.

One of these days he may still have a stroke. One can only hope.

Bob said...

So Afghanistan was ineffective at bringing the USSR to heel?
(I'm not arguing that wars of aggression are necessary)

Bob said...

If only Tom would stop beating the drum for this 'paradox of liberalism' mantra.

Pseudoerasmus said...

I was arguing with Milanovic and his followers on Twitter, so the post at Medium.com was just trying to elaborate on a point I was making there.

"but he reckons it irrelevant and repeats that in the comment above. How does he know it was irrelevant?"

I ask myself: how did the Vietnam War strengthen liberal capitalism? I can't think of any ways. Can you? If it had never happened, how would the robustness of liberal capitalism be affected? I just don't see it.

Bob asked: "So Afghanistan was ineffective at bringing the USSR to heel?"

In the Medium post I say precisely that: if all those proxy civil wars, counterinsurgencies, and other multitude of interventions in the Third World did matter in some way, it was by continuing to encourage the Soviet Union in tit-for-tat rivalry around the world. While that was expensive for the USA, it was relatively much more expensive for the Soviet Union, which helped bankrupt it.

Ignacio said...

The USSR was already lost when Afghanistan happened.

Bob said...

I view Afghanistan as something the Soviets did to themselves. They were the aggressor. In Vietnam, the US was the aggressor. In WW2, the Axis powers were the aggressor. Am I rationalizing these different conflicts, or was there a pattern in the outcomes?

Magpie said...

"I ask myself: how did the Vietnam War strengthen liberal capitalism? I can't think of any ways. Can you? If it had never happened, how would the robustness of liberal capitalism be affected? I just don't see it."

It affected the robustness of liberal capitalism by demonstrating that any deviation from it would have catastrophic consequences, whatever the means (peaceful or violent).

Take Salvador Allende in Chile, for instance.

Bob said...

Vietnam was emerging from its colonialist past. There were a number of countries in Africa that went the Marxist route. Threats and repression didn't stop them from taking power, but eventual economic failure forced them to change course.

Tom Hickey said...

The DOD-Pentagon line at the time — I know since I was on active duty in the military 1964-1967 — was that conflict was about "the domino theory." If Vietnam fell to the Viet Cong, who were aligned with Russia, then other countries like Cambodia, Laos, etc. would soon follow. (See chart at the link).

The DOD-Pentagon argument was that Southeast Asia was important to "the free world" because of natural resources unique to the area that were "vital" to free world economy (liberal capitalism).

Strategy mandates securing resource for oneself and one's allies if possible and, if not possible, to deny them to adversaries.

There is no way to separate social, political and economic factors with respect to policy.

Moreover, it is rather rash to say that the Cold War and its resolution definitively decided the issue between capitalism and socialism or capitalism and communism based on economic systems when the factors influencing the outcome were multiple and entangled.

In fact the political dynamic involved began even before the Council of Vienna in 1814-15. The Russian Revolution and the rise of the Bolsheviki just gave it new form.

China is different but similar.

In my view, there isn't any doubt that "liberal capitalism" played a role in this historically, or about liberal capitalism being a factor in Western imperialism after the industrial revolution.

Capitalism feeds on cheap labor and cheap resources, which leads to imperialism of one sort other another. Neoliberal globalization is a form of neo-imperialism that shapes Western views of geopolitics and geostrategy.

"Liberal" imperialism and resource plundering was justified first based on "noblesse oblige" and "the white man's burden," and later on spreading "freedom and democracy."

Is there a conflict with liberalism? Absolutely. In the slang of the late 20th century it's laying one's trip on others — heavily.

Bob said...

The US lost the Vietnam war. Did the aftermath confirm the theory?

Millions of deaths for nothing. In spite of this, Vietnam may turn out to be a US ally.

Magpie said...

"Threats and repression didn't stop them from taking power ..."

But it divided them. Take early-1960s Latin/South America as an example. Fulgencio Batista was ousted by the Cuban Revolution. All the Latin/South American left felt energised.

The younger leftists wanted to follow the same route. Older ones refused. Everywhere communist parties (and even social democratic parties), divided: an armed insurgency party and a legal, peaceful party.

Neither side had the same base they enjoyed in the 1950s, often as illegal movements.

"... but eventual economic failure forced them to change course."

It's fairly well-known that it's not like "the eventual economic failure" had nothing to do with pressures from outside, particularly from the US. Castro himself only went full-Soviet puppet because the Yanks pushed him. Since then, they had the blockade.

Nicaragua never was really Marxist, and yet they had to fight the Contra.

And it's not like the rest of Latin/South America, where leftist movements never got the upper hand, was spectacularly successful. Venezuela was a basket case long before Chávez, just like Colombia.

Pinochet wasn't particularly successful under the Chicago Boys and even after them its "success" is rather questionable.

You've seen in this same blog references to Brazil and Argentina, yes?

There's long been something about those countries and to blame whatever "left" for that is really kind of silly. Pretty much the same applies in other places.

Bob said...

Magpie,

Do you mean to say that the lack of military repression divided the revolutionary movements?
The Cuban Revolution had little choice but to go the route of armed insurrection.

Tom Hickey said...

The US lost the Vietnam war. Did the aftermath confirm the theory?

Millions of deaths for nothing. In spite of this,


Mission half accomplished. While the US did not succeed in the chief objective of controlling the territory and its resources, it did meet the lower priority of obliterating the territory, denying it to US adversary in the region Russia.

Bob said...

How do you mean? Russia did not exploit resources or move its own facilities into Vietnam because the land was devastated?

Magpie said...

"Do you mean to say that the lack of military repression divided the revolutionary movements?
The Cuban Revolution had little choice but to go the route of armed insurrection."

To a certain degree, yes. In Venezuela, for instance, during the 1950s they had a right-wing dictatorship (general Marcos Pérez Jiménez). Both Communist and Social Democratic parties were proscribed but subsisted and even thrived as illegal, underground organisations. The old leaders went into exile and the young militants took charge.

The dictatorship collapsed in the late 1950s-early 1960s (I don't remember precisely) and the parties were legalised. The old leaders came back to take charge and return their parties to the status before the dictatorship. The younger generations did not accept that and, instead, wanted to follow the Cuban route. I'm talking about communists and social democrats!

It took time, but military and police repression did stop them. In Venezuela, for instance, there were guerrillas well into the 1980s. In Colombia just recently the FARC demobilised (I believe the ELN still operates).

The Yanks invested lots of money to make that outcome possible. Google "The School of the Americas".

But the legal parties, even though they made it clear that they did not support the insurgency, were always suspect and were kept under close "surveillance" or "quarantine" (or were harassed, if you prefer). Both sides, kids and oldies, lost.

In a way, the same thing applies to Trotskyists and to Marxists in general, using now Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot as a foil against them: no matter how hard one tries to distinguish one's position from those three names, one remains guilty by association.

Google the names "Pompeyo Márquez" and "Teodoro Petkoff". Most results will probably be in Spanish, but at least some are in English.

Tom Hickey said...

How do you mean? Russia did not exploit resources or move its own facilities into Vietnam because the land was devastated?

As far as I can tell, Russia had no intention of doing so in the first place. It's like the NATO build up to address Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. It's the product of fevered brains, or else people shilling for the MIC. After all, that's where they will go for the pay off after they retire.

Magpie said...

But the legal parties, even though they made it clear that they did not support the insurgency, were always suspect and were kept under close "surveillance" or "quarantine" (or were harassed, if you prefer). Both sides, kids and oldies, lost.

Re-reading this, I think I was a bit sloppy. The legal Communist Party in Venezuela was harassed, as I wrote above. But the social democratic party (which in Venezuela was called Acción Democrática) joined the centre-right party (Copei, its Spanish name) in something they called the Punto Fijo Treaty: it was essentially a bi-partisan agreement on what constituted legitimate policy.

The Punto Fijo Treaty came to an end with Chávez's election in the mid- to late-1990s. Venezuela had been in the grips of almost continuous political-economic crisis since the 1980s, with the Volcker-engineered debt crisis and OPEC's loss of control over oil prices. By the early 1990s both the social democratic and the centre-right parties vanished (like it happened in Greece before the victory of Syriza).

Chávez filled the void they left. He and Syriza are the equivalent products of similar processes.

Bob said...

My general impression was of American support for friendly governments (via military aid) and support for right-wing paramilitaries whenever an unfriendly government was in office. The presence or lack of democracy was not a factor in deciding who was deserving of aid.

If we're to compare what was done to contain the situation in Latin America, with sending in the marines, the strategy you describe was more effective. Divide the people amongst themselves and avoid the risk of occupying a country.

Is this approach still effective?
In Honduras it is. Venezuela's situation appears to be primarily self-inflicted.
I see more opportunity for Central and South America to align themselves with BRICS nations and less ability for Washington to meddle in their affairs.

Guilt by association works... until it doesn't. Being a 'socialist' is no longer the liability it once was.

Bob said...

What I remember of Venezuela in the 1980s-90s was that the country was divided by extreme inequality. Chavez had a long run in power because he promised to address it.

Tom Hickey said...

US policy since the presidency of Woodrow Wilson has largely been based on "making the world safe for democracy."

This is the basis of liberal internationalism and the consequential liberal interventionism, aka Wilsonianism.

Wilsonianism was opposed to some degree, or at least modified, by Henry Kissinger's Realpolitik, which was based more on Continental views than Anglo-American.

Tom Hickey said...

‘Literal Colonialism’: Blackwater Founder Calls for ‘American Viceroy’ to Rule Afghanistan

Bob said...

Great idea. Maybe they can depopulate the country while they're at it. Worked for the Americas, could work for Afghanistan.