16 January 2007

We Despise None So Much As Those We Have Wronged

One of life's little pleasures -- one that I owe entirely to the blogosphere -- is reading "Spengler" in the Asia Times on-line. The pseudonymous author, who seems to be New York-based but perhaps not American, has aptly named himself after a German philosopher of a century ago so pessimistic that he was rejected by the Germans for being dour. The original Spengler has the perhaps unique credential of having been a committed but not racist Nazi.

Our columnist, on the other hand, does not seem to be either a Nazi or a racist, though he does present himself as more willing to speak the truth on race than most Americans. In Americans, this always means that the speaker is, in fact, racist: "I'm not racist, but I am brave enough to say what we all know to be true. Blacks are lazy, Jews are money-grubbing, we're at war with Islam and all Mexican babies will grow up to be drug-dealing gang-bangers. You all just can't handle the truth." In someone who is not American, this need not be the case.

What attracted the columnist to the philosopher is clear. The philosopher believed that civilizations have a natural life-cycle and that the decline of the West was inevitable. The columnist is here to chronicle that decline. Yet the columnist is writing for an Asian audience that sees itself as the West's successor in global domination, which gives Spengler's columns a certain bitter-sweet quality. To keep this audience happy, half his columns are wild stories of decline, while half are full of insightful analysis of some troubling situation. It is very hard to tell the two apart.

Take, for example, this column on Jimmy Carter and the Palestinians. Spengler is excellent at explaining how the current state of the Palestinians can be laid at the door of the UN and the Arab states, rather than just being Israel's fault.
Where the Palestinians are concerned, Carter keens the same trope. It is repulsive to think that a people of several millions, honeycombed with representatives of international organizations, the virtual stepchild of the United Nations, appears doomed to reduce its national fever by letting blood. The 700,000 refugees of 1948, hothoused by the UN relief agencies, prevented from emigrating by other Arab regimes, have turned into a people, but a test-tube nation incapable of independent national life: four destitute millions of third-generation refugees in the small and barren territories of Gaza, Judea and Samaria, which cannot support a fraction of that number.

The project of a Palestinian economy based on tourism and light manufacturing is a delusion in the globalized economy of Chinese-dominated trade in manufactures. The subsistence-farming fellahin should have left their land for economic reasons, like the Okies during the 1920s and 1930s, and dispersed into cities, like a hundred other rural populations of the so-called developing world. Kept hostage for political reasons, they cannot stay, and they cannot leave. They have chosen instead to fight, and if need be to die.
This is good stuff missed by almost all those experts (and Jimmy Carter) who comment so sanctimoniously on the middle east. Our anger at Israel isn't because this mess is Israel's fault. It is much more the fault of the UN, which not only birthed this monster but also nursed it and utterly refused to wean it. But at this point only Israel can solve the problem for us at small cost to ourselves if only at the cost of everything to Israel.

On the other hand, Spengler unconscionably misses an interesting parallel. Hong Kong, like Palestine, is small, overcrowded, isolated and without any natural resources except people. Hong Kong is rich, Palestine is poor. The UN, for all of its many faults, has educated the Palestinian people ("J" is for "Jew"/"K" is for "Kill.") Palestine could be rich, if only the world would let it be.


joe shropshire said...

Did you mean to say "unconsciously"?

David said...


joe shropshire said...

Then we're not getting you.
Spengler's point is that in a globalised economy, the rise of China prevents future Hong Kongs (free territories that work their way up the ladder from agriculture through cheap manufacturing to finance and services.) He's made this same point before:

China's success demonstrates that peaceful population transfers are neither impossible nor an expression of Western values. But China's capacity to employ half a billion migrants depends on a ferocious competitiveness in global manufacturing that sets an extremely high threshold for new market entrants. Chinese industry is so efficient that prospective competitors will enter the world market only with extreme difficulty.

Spengler, What do you do with all the farmers? Asia Times Online, September 26 2006.

M Ali said...

The point about China doesn't consider that manufacturers like having factories which are closer to North American and European markets and aren't too near China in case of a political blow-up. South Asia, Central Europe and Mexico are far from having their export industries gutted.

Susan's Husband said...

That's not to mention the issues of rule of law, which are not a small thing. One is now seeing more articles about how Western businesses are cooling on China for precisely that reason. It doesn't make sense to invest in a manufacturing plant using cheap Chinese labor if random ChiComs can force themselves on you as silent partners.

I think that the world leaving the Palestinians alone is a necessary but insufficient condition for their success.

pj said...

David - Spengler lives in Asia, probably Hong Kong; it is the Asia Times publisher who is based in New York. Spengler is apparently a native German speaker who was a diplomat for a European country. It's possible he is of Jewish descent, he certainly knows a great deal about Judaism.

Spengler is wrong about the economics, in that Palestinians could in principle become another Hong Kong, China or no China; but in practice, for them as for Africa, it's inconceivable as long as they receive the subsidies/aid that continues to corrupt their society, and maintains a culture of violence and uncooperativeness.

Brit said...

Why are there no big Chinese brands?

Oroborous said...

Chinese industry is extremely inefficient.

They dominate simple, un- and semi-skilled manufacturing only because the Chinese people are willing to work for sub-peanuts. For now.

As the Chinese people get used to a better way of life, or just get too old to trade sweat for cash, there'll be plenty of room for other societies to move into basic manufacturing.

joe shropshire said...

Why are there no big Chinese brands?

There are a few, but as yet they are mostly big in China (Google "GOME electrical" for instance.) That can still be pretty big, though. As for international Chinese brands, the only one I can think of is Wal-Mart.

Brit said...

What's strange is that virtually every item of clothing or electrical item you buy is stamped 'Made in China', but they're not made for Chinese brands/corporations.

Where is the Chinese version of Sony, Toshiba etc?

Is it because just having the sheer population is not enough - you need more western values than just that of raw capitalism?

joe shropshire said...

Well, for example Wal-Mart's Chinese suppliers don't bother about branding because Wal-Mart provides it for them: Always Low Prices, the expectation that if you really need to buy it, Wal-Mart is the cheapest place to go. That is a very sophisticated piece of branding (which the news media has been very helpful about) but it is a branding at the level of the store, not at the level of the individual piece of merchandise. A brand is a capital-intensive and risky investment; a retail brand especially so, as its success so requires knowing so much detail about customers; an international retail brand particularly so, as it requires knowing more about customers in each locality than their local competitors do. Wal-Marts efforts to penetrate the Chinese market make really interesting reading just for that reason.

David said...

pj: I assumed that Spengler was New York based because, when he has commented at BrothersJudd, the IP address has resolved to New York. If he were the scion of a German Jewish refugee family that ended up in, for example, Shanghai, that would (a) explain some things and (b) be fascinating.

All: Along with Spengler, you all seem to be making a neo-mercantalist mistake. Wealth does not come from things and China's focus on manufacturing, protectionism and foreign reserves is not the only, or even a particularly efficient path to national wealth.

In an efficient market, things are not the path to wealth. Ideas are the path to wealth. My point isn't that Palestine could become what Hong Kong became, but that it could do what Hong Kong did: focus on having completely open borders and open markets and get rich. For example, if one could work one's way through some pesky cultural issues, there's a fortune to be made being the middle-man between the oil states and the Israelis.

David said...

As someone once said, the deal WalMart made with China was simple: We get the profits, you get the jobs.

Susan's Husband said...

I am not really seeing the neo-mercantalist view here. As with so much of life, you have to start somewhere. Starting with foreign financed and run industries is an excellent one. It's no different than all those Indian technoids who work for foreign nationals for a while to get experience and a nest egg before getting involved in a start up.

joe shropshire said...

I'm not seeing where ideas are going to make Palestine rich, either. Nobody begrudges you your hopes, but they have an idea. Also, it's their own idea, not some outsider's. It's the same idea they've had since at least 1967. And it appears they still like this idea. I would guess Spengler's already priced that into his argument.

Oroborous said...

"Things" were the path to wealth for the United States, before "ideas" became all the rage.

Japan and Taiwan trod the same path as America did.

M Ali said...

China's biggest brands are Legend (white goods like fridges) and Lenovo (PCs). They've struggled internationally because they're pretty lacking in management depth and quality.

The Palestinians should have accepted their defeat decades ago and made the best of it. The diaspora is doing quite well but those left behind haven't grown past self-destructive policies.

Peter Burnet said...

I'm still soaring on "heart of dorkiness". That ranks right up there with Waugh's Age of Hooper in trying to convey the dilemma of how to fight for civilization against the nicest and most gentle barbarians in history.

Duck said...

I'm with Joe, ideas don't come out of the blue. Once you start making (and selling) things, then you gain some knowledge about how economies work, and you can start developing ideas about how to make production more efficient, etc.

To use a sports analogy (what else), you can't go from novice to winning football coach in one step. First you learn the game by being a player. Once you've mastered the basics, then you can graduate to the idea level of coaching.

What would their idea industry be? Terrorism consulting? Becoming a helpless parasite state upon the UN consulting?

David said...

Boy, I had no idea that the fetish for making things is still so strong. As far as I know, I'm the only person here who has actually made things. Believe me, there are better ways to get rich.

As for the Palestinians, they are sitting on the mother lode of intellectual property. They could be the people who bring Israeli tech to the oil states. I can think of three ways to make a billion dollars doing that without even breaking a sweat.

joe shropshire said...

Yes, you could, and you would; they can too, but they won't. Such is the power of the idea they've cleaved to. Bryan Caplan has a piece called The Idea Trap that speaks to this:

This bare-bones model has a surprising implication: There is more than one outcome with staying power. The good news is that you can have favorable results across the board. Good ideas lead to good policy, good policy leads to good growth, and good growth reinforces good ideas. The bad news is that you can also get mired in the opposite outcome. A society can get stuck in an "idea trap," where bad ideas lead to bad policy, bad policy leads to bad growth, and bad growth cements bad ideas.

He's specifically discussing the way bad economic ideas crowd out good ones, but there's every reason to think that non-economic ideas like jihad will get the job done just as well.

Hey Skipper said...


As far as I know, I'm the only person here who has actually made things.

Perhaps not. I done circuit board layout, built the resulting components, and worked on an assembly line.

Add software if writing code constitutes "making things."

Your conclusion holds, though; perhaps not quite so much for software.

No surprise, perhaps, as it straddles the line between things and ideas.

M Ali said...

I think there's a false dichtomy between services and manufacturing. In both cases you're assembling a product from a variety of diverse inputs whether that's a burger, a BPO program or a truck.