So You Want to Be an Idealist

Writing at the New York Times David Brooks paints a rosy picture of the old, longed-for days of foreign policy idealism:

The postwar order was a great historic achievement. The founding generation built a series of organizations and alliances to fight communism, create a stable trading system, combat global poverty and promote democracy.

But the next generation lost the thread.

European elites were so afraid of nationalism that they fell for the illusory dream of convergence — the dream that nations could effortlessly merge into a cosmopolitan Pan-European community. Conservatives across the Western world became so besotted with the power of the market that they forgot what capitalism is like when it’s not balanced by strong communities.

Progressives were so besotted with their own educated-class expertise that they concentrated power upward and away from the people at the same time that technology was pushing power downward and toward the people. Elites of all stripes were so detached they didn’t see how untrammeled meritocracy divides societies between the “fittest” and the rest.


The Group of 7 is an organization built in a high-trust age. It’s based on the idea that the member nations have shared values, have shared historical accomplishments, have a carefully nurtured set of relationships and live in a community of general friendship. Canada and the U.S. are neighbors and friends.

I think that David Brooks has spent too much time reading the press releases and not nearly enough observing what the countries of the world do.

It didn’t just start in 2017. Go all the way back to the Suez Crisis and you’ll see that the countries of the world operate according to their gross, greedy national interests regardless of the rules. If Egypt had played by the rules, it wouldn’t have nationalized the Suez Canal. If France and the United Kingdom had played by the rules, they wouldn’t have attacked Egypt without Security Council authorization.

If the U. S. had played by the rules, it wouldn’t have attempted to overthrow the Cuban government in the Bay of Pigs incident or gone to war in Vietnam.

The Soviet Union’s invading Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Afghanistan in 1979 wasn’t playing by the rules.

More recently intervening in the civil war in Yugoslavia without Security Council authorization was not playing by the rules.

Bombing government facilities in Yugoslavia is not playing by the rules.

Siding with the rebels against the Libyan government is not playing by the rules which allowed Britain, France, and the United States to intervene for the narrow purpose of protecting civilians not to overthrow the Libyan government.

Invading Iraq was not playing by the rules.

Engaging in military action in Syria is against the rules.

Selling Iran and North Korea the materials they needed for their nuclear development programs was against the rules.

China’s not living up to its WTO commitments and subsidizing exports is against the rules.

Our NATO allies’ spending less than 2% of their GDPs on their militaries is against the rules.

The list is practically endless.

In his op-ed at the Wall Street Journal David M. Smick gets it:

Start in 1989. That remarkable year saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the socialist model, and the rise of globalization. By the early 1990s, China, India, Eastern Europe and a host of commodity-producing countries had joined the global capitalist club.

That was the beginning of the so-called Washington Consensus—a new global order based on deregulating market access, liberalizing capital and trade flows, encouraging domestic competition, fortifying the rule of law, and reducing taxes, debt and market subsidies. By 1995, the leaders of this new world order established the World Trade Organization, which China joined six years later.


This global order still had created unprecedented wealth, helping to raise a billion people out of poverty. But it also had led to wealth inequality, flat real wages, and an international financial system hugely out of balance. Central banks injected tens of trillions of dollars of liquidity, trying to protect asset prices based on an order that no longer existed.

It eventually became clear that the original vision of a new global economic order was only a romanticized dream. Many nations took part in the global system—but not to liberalize their economies or make them more transparent and accessible. They came to game the system.

It’s a realistic world and naïfs like David Brooks are just living in it. And prospering mightily by it.

If you genuinely want to pursue foreign policy idealism, you must be willing to play by the rules that have been set up whether you like them or not, whether you benefit by them or not. Otherwise you’re just gaming the system and that isn’t foreign policy idealism. It’s realism.


Why the Europeans Hate Trump

In his column at the Wall Street Journal Walter Russell Mead summarizes why the Europeans hate Trump:

Mr. Trump doesn’t believe the future will be one of interdependent, postnationalist states engaged in win-win trade. He doesn’t believe military power will become less relevant as progress marches on. He doesn’t think international law and international institutions can, should or will dominate international life. Individual nation-states will remain, in Mr. Trump’s view, the dominant geopolitical force.

Mr. Trump therefore thinks the EU’s political establishment is just as blind and misguided as they believe he is. He thinks Europe is making itself steadily weaker and less relevant in international life, and that Vladimir Putin’s view of the world is almost infinitely more clear-eyed and rational than Angela Merkel’s .

Permanent trade deficits with Germany, France, Italy, and just about every other European country injures U. S. workers and helps U. S. bankers. Needless to say Germany, France, Italy, and just about every other European country like it just fine.

Lots of people in the U. S. think that most of the NATO members spending less than 2% and France spending just over 2% of GDP on their militaries is just not fair to the United States. Needless to say the NATO members think it’s just fine.


Freedom Is Slavery

Unlike Michelle Goldberg, writing in the New York Times, I don’t think that enforcing the law is fascism. Quite to the contrary I think that enforcing the law selectively is the hallmark of a police state. We should enforce our laws to the best of our ability to do so. If you don’t like the laws, lobby Congress to change them.

As I have written here ad nauseam I completely support commonsense reform of our immigration laws which, in my opinion, should include significantly more work visas for Mexicans, tough workplace enforcement, and some sort of provision for people brought here a children. Everyone who wants to come here need not be allowed to come here. Not everyone who claims to be an asylum-seeker is actually seeking asylum. Treating every woman with an abusive husband as an asylum-seeker reduces our ability to accept people genuinely seeking and deserving asylum.


Who Knows?

The handshake (at about 13 minutes in the video above) between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and U. S. President Donald Trump pretty much says it all. It is just a little too long to be comfortable; both parties are clearly vying for dominance. The symbolism of the event is important. The meeting itself didn’t accomplish a great deal other than that. It isn’t even the beginning of the process. That began some time ago with meetings, not nearly so highly publicized, between CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Kim Yong Chol, and, I presume, others.

The North Koreans mean something different by “denuclearization” than we do. For them it’s the U. S. vacating the Korean peninsula. For us it’s complete North Korean nuclear disarmament. What will come of this meeting? Who knows? It’s something.


Why Aren’t They More Worried?

See here at The Diplomat for a summary of North Korea’s conventional military capabilities and the threat it poses to South Korea.

Now explain something to me. Why doesn’t South Korea act as though it faced that great a threat? Fatalism? They think, incorrectly, that the United States will keep them safe from attack?


Rational But Maybe Not Your Reason

I agree with Fareed Zakaria that Kim Jong Un is rational:

In fact, the summit has one benefit, regardless of the outcome. As the two sides meet and talk, it probably ends the idea of North Korea as crazy. Some of Washington’s biggest mistakes have been when it has treated countries or governments as 10 feet tall and fanatical or lunatic. And for years, the conventional wisdom about North Korea was that it was unpredictable, irrational and thus undeterrable. After all, people said, just look at the bizarre rituals and crazy haircuts of its leaders.

In fact, as I have often pointed out, the North Korean regime has been rational, strategic and successful — given its core goal, survival. It has preserved its basic form of government for 70 years, persevering through the breakdown of the Soviet Union and its empire, the Arab Spring and the demise of other Asian dictatorships, from South Korea to Taiwan to Indonesia. How many family dynasties have been able to hand over power, father to son to grandson?

I don’t quite know how he reaches this conclusion:

In doing so, we will realize that it is a rational regime. And we will also understand that if negotiations fail, it can be contained. North Korea is capable of being deterred. But it also capable of outwitting an American president, especially one too eager to make a deal.

The emphasis is mine.

“Rational” means that using logic and based on your premises and the evidence at hand you recognize that your actions have certain consequences. It doesn’t mean that another party uses your premises or evidence. For Kim Jong Un the premises are that he’s divine and has preternatural tactical and negotiating powers and that China will back his hand. The facts on the ground include that the United States has not successfully deterred North Korea from obtaining and testing its nuclear weapons and that the U. S. has been deterred from unseating the Kim regime over the period of the last 70 years.

I’m pretty sure that Kim is rational but I have my doubts about Fareed Zakaria. I think the only thing we can assume is that North Korea will cheat on any agreement that is negotiated.

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The Difference

Anybody who wants a “Democratic Trump” to run in 2020 doesn’t understand the difference between the two political parties.


Free Riders Wanna Ride Free

Canada, Britain, France, Germany, and people in the United States who are prospering can’t get their heads around the idea that a lot of Americans don’t think we’re getting enough from the deal that we’ve cut with the rest of the major economies where they sell and we buy. We pay for a large standing army and they don’t. The demand for the dollar means that we have an absurdly large financial economy relative to the rest of the economy and they don’t.


And Nothing Else

There are all sorts of posts, articles, and op-ed today, musing over whether the Democratic Party has “gone too far left”. Rather than add my voice to the din, I’d like to go off on a bit of a tangent.

Political scientists distinguish among all sorts of different kinds of political parties. Catch-all parties, class-based parties, interest-based parties, programmatic parties, cadre parties, mass-based parties, dozens of different kinds. I’m just going to talk about two kinds of political parties: catch-all parties and programmatic parties.

A “programmatic party” is one in which the party advocates a particular programmes, there is a tight relationship between the party membership and the party’s programme, and there are rules for determining whether you’re in the party or not. A “catch-all party” on the other hand is more loosely organized and it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether an individual is actually a party member or not. You just take their word for it.

The system of elections that prevails in the United States is called “winner take call, first past the post”. Places with such elections tend to gravitate to two and just two political parties. Historically, the United States has had just two major parties at any one time and both parties have been catch-all parties.

Right now both of our political parties are trying to force themselves through painful transitions from the catch-all parties they’ve always been into programmatic parties. The irony of this is that neither political party would have become major parties in the first place if they’d been programmatic parties. They’d have been relatively small, local parties, insignificant nationally. But now they have control of the reins of power, they won’t relinquish them, they’ll block any upstarts, and, well, there’s no one who can stop them in their march to become programmatic parties.

That has several consequences. The fastest-growing party affiliation today is “independent”, i.e. no party affiliation and we get lots of breast-beating wondering whether the Democratic Party has “gone too far left”. It’s just right for some places in the country.

I think that for the United States two programmatic parties and just two is not a comfortable fit. We’re just too large and diverse for that.

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Let Us Now Praise Carbon Extraction

At Bloomberg View Leonid Bershdisky touts the advantages of carbon extraction over electric vehicles:

Carbon Engineering is a company co-founded by Harvard physicist David Keith and funded, among others, by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Since 2015, the firm has been running a CO2 extraction plant in Canada, testing out a technology that was until recently rejected as too costly. Keith and his collaborators, who wrote the paper, have used an independent cost assessment to calculate that using the process they developed allows the capture of a metric ton of carbon dioxide at the cost of $94 to $232, depending on variable costs such as the price of natural gas. (Since energy is used in the process, about 0.9 tons of CO2 is actually removed from the atmosphere with each ton captured).

That is far lower than previous estimates for the technology, ranging from $550 to $1,300 per ton. The paper’s authors explain that the reduction comes from simply using industrial equipment already available on the market without much customization, a strategy they put in place at the Canadian plant.

At Keith’s prices, investing in CO2 capture can be a better idea both for consumers and for the environment than car electrification. According to the International Energy Agency, increasing the number of electric cars on the road from the current 2 million to 280 million by 2040 will only displace 1 percent of the expected global CO2 emissions, largely because other demand for carbon-based energy, including from planes and ships, will push emissions up – and because electricity to power the giant electric vehicle fleet won’t come entirely from clean sources. To achieve this unimpressive result, carmakers have already pledged some $90 billion in EV investment, and that’s not counting the cost of the ubiquitous infrastructure necessary to give EVs mass appeal, the investment needed to expand power generation and network capacity and the government subsidies to electric car buyers.

Even better: energy provided by small scale modular thorium nuclear reactors and carbon capture and ending the subsidies to alternative energy, electric vehicles, and oil production.