George Magnus explains events in China: no collapse, but serious problems

Summary: Continuing our quest to understand events at the other pole of the world economy, today’s post by A-team economist George Magnus explains the 3 key things to know about current events in China.

Globe and China Flag

China’s economy: no collapse, but it’s serious, and so are the politics

By George Magnus, 1 September 2015
Reposted from his website with his generous permission

For the sake of clarity, repeat three things after me:

  1. China’s economy is not collapsing.
  2. What’s going on China is serious.
  3. Political tensions are making things worse.

(1)  China’s economy is not collapsing

People who have become China experts in the last few weeks, point to the sharp falls in power consumption and freight traffic – two of the three indicators in the now famed Li Keqiang index –- but these and other industrial indicators don’t tell us anything about what’s going on in the services or tertiary sector, which accounts for about half of the economy.

Even if producers are having a tough time at the moment, consumers of household goods and services and buyers of real estate haven’t gone to ground. Retail sales were still up by over 10% in July, and property sales registered pretty robust year on year increases of over 13% in the second quarter and 19% in July. The government is going to continue to support the economy with infrastructure spending, monetary easing, and fiscal and debt initiatives.

In August, even though the Caixin and NBS PMI data were down, some of the high frequency data could ‘look’ better in year-on-year terms, largely because of flattering base effects following from declines this time last year. The official data are likely to continue to show the economy growing around 6.5 – 6.8% in annual terms in the next few quarters.

(2) What’s going on China is serious

The economy is the fourth year of a structural slowdown that shows no signs of ending and is becoming increasingly insensitive to the government’s stimulus measures. This chart of the manufacturing, services and total PMI indices in August captures the situation well, and points specifically to the fact that the services component, which still shows expansion, isn’t doing enough to offset the decline in manufacturing.

Continue reading

William Lind: a voice from the past explains our broken army

Summary: We applaud the heroism and sacrifices of our troops, but remain blind to the incapacity of our army. Here William Lind explains our military’s core problem and how to fix it. Only our intervention will make this possible (excerpt through crushing defeat, as happened to Prussia).

“The spirit of the army is the spirit of its officers.”
— Attributed to Prussian General Ernst von Rüchel (1754-1823).

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (1666).

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (1666). The National Gallery.

 

A Voice From the Past

By William S. Lind

From traditionalRIGHT
25 August 2015

Here with their generous permission

 

Last year, friends gave me a splendid Christmas present in the form of all ten volumes of The Diary of Samuel Pepys covering the years 1660-1670. (As if that were insufficient, they accompanied it with a richly decorated chamber pot for the Imperial Library). Pepys, a civilian, was primarily responsible for developing the first modern naval administration, which turned a collection of ships into the Royal Navy.

The diary’s entry for July 4, 1663, touches on a broader matter. After visiting a general muster of the King’s Guards, Pepys wrote,

Where a goodly sight to see so many fine horse and officers, and the King, Duke (of York) and others come by a-horseback . . . (I) did stand to see the horse and foot march by and discharge their guns, to show a French Marquesse (for whom this muster was caused) the goodness of our firemen; which endeed was very good . . . yet methought all these gay men are not soldiers that must do the King’s business, it being such as these that lost the old King (Charles I) all he had and were beat by the most ordinary fellows that could be.

Pepys’ theme, the defeat of parade-ground armies by “most ordinary fellows”, is an old one. It appears to be unknown to our own military, or, more likely, they know it but cannot conceive it applies to them.

But it does. With all their vastly expensive equipment, they can put on a wonderful show, shows such as Gulf War I and the initial phase of Gulf War II. But once they no longer face another king’s Royal Guards and come up against those ordinary fellows, they lose. The U.S. Marines, who put on a show all the time, and a very convincing one, are now 0-4 against guys in bathrobes and flip-flops armed with rusty AKs. Pepys’ age-old theme repeats itself.

Continue reading

The one review for all this summer’s hottest blockbusters!

Summary:  Today Locke Peterseim gives us something different than his usually insightful review of a summer blockbuster; he gives a macro-review of summer blockbusters as an art form. What does their triumph over what might be called “real” films (i.e., with plots, characters, etc) reveal about us? This is one of his best. Post your thoughts in the comments.

Avengers Age of Ultron poster

Lost in Movies’ Magical Moments! Or How I Didn’t Spend My Summer

By Locke Peterseim.
From the film blog of Open Letters Monthly.
31 August 2015. Reposted with his generous permission.

Oh hey, look, it’s officially the end of the summer movie season.

I had a half dozen clever ways into this piece, but let’s cut to the chase (scenes, literally): I didn’t write much about this summer’s big blockbuster “air-conditioning-and-popcorn” movies.

I didn’t write much about the summer’s small art-house indie films, either, for a variety of reasons I’m working to remedy, but in part because even as I near 50, I’m still somewhat conditioned and programmed to focus first on the big-name, big-box-office summer action movies. They get “stuck in my craw,” and when I couldn’t write about them this summer, for reasons I’ll elaborate on here today, I found myself unable to write about much else until I cleared the flue. Or craw… or whatever this metaphor was about…

Since my youth, I’ve been told (by studios and entertainment media, in the past couple decades by online social media, and always by myself) that Summer Movies are “special;” that if they’re not always cinematically deep, they’re culturally, seasonally, personally important. Most of all, Summer Movie Season (and the upcoming Awards Season) is intentionally, collectively branded by the studios and the Grand Entertainment Marketing Machine as Something We Are Supposed to Care About (i.e. “Spend Our Money On”).

In past summers I’d written about the nostalgic pull of the “idea” of these big summer movies, all of it keyed directly into the warm emotional glow of my 10-16-year-old self’s rose-tinted memories of lining up on summer sidewalks to see films like Star Wars, Empire, Raiders, E.T., and even, in a rare case of my young-adult self successfully capturing that childhood thrill, Burton’s first Batman (which I saw in my early-20s rather than my teens). Right up until the last five years (not coincidentally, around when I began to write about film professionally), I could still muster something like that excitement and giddy anticipation for the Summer Movie Season, all of it, again, fueled almost purely on nostalgia, not reality. “Chasing the experience,” we call it.

Continue reading

Why do so many new-born babies die unnecessarily in America, the City on a Hill?

Summary: America has wealth and power never before seen in history. Yet the 1% reap the gains of our astonishing productivity while an underclass grows in our cities and rural areas. This post looks at one aspect of this, the price paid by American babies for our national mismanagement. There is no point in getting angry about this — unless you decide to act.

For we must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword though the world.

— John Winthrop in A Model of Christian Charity (1630).

America: City on a Hill

 

Why is Infant Mortality Higher
in the U.S. Than in Europe?

NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health, 2015 (1)

Graphics and red emphasis added.

 

The U.S. infant mortality rate (IMR) compares unfavorably to that of other developed countries, ranking 51st in the world in 2013. In the U.S., there are nearly 7 infant deaths during the first year of life per 1000 live births, roughly twice the rate in Scandinavian countries. The U.S. IMR is similar to that of Croatia, despite a three-fold difference in GDP per capita.

What explains the U.S.’s relatively high IMR? This is the subject of a new NBER working paper by researchers Alice Chen, Emily Oster, and Heidi Williams, “Why is Infant Mortality Higher in the U.S. Than in Europe?” (NBER, September 2014).

There are numerous theories as to why the IMR is higher in the U.S. than in other countries.

  • There may be reporting differences for infants born near the threshold of viability, with the U.S. more likely to count them as live births while other countries are more likely to count them as miscarriages or stillbirths.
  • Babies in the U.S. also may have lower birth weight or a lower gestational age at birth, predisposing them to worse outcomes.
  • U.S. babies may experience a higher neonatal mortality rate (deaths within the first month of life) or higher post-neonatal mortality rate (deaths in months 1 – 12) than do babies of similar birth weight and gestational age in other countries.

To quantify the importance of these potential sources of the U.S. IMR disadvantage, the authors combine natality micro-data from the U.S. with similar data from Finland and Austria. These countries provide a useful comparison because Finland has one of the lowest IMRs in the world and Austria has an IMR similar to much of continental Europe.

To address the reporting difference issue, the authors limit their sample to infants born after 22 weeks of gestation with birth weight over 500 grams, since births are required to be reported above these thresholds. They also limit the analysis to singleton births, as access to reproductive technologies has increased the frequency of multiple births, which have higher mortality rates.

Making these restrictions reduces the U.S. IMR disadvantage by about 40%, but a substantial disadvantage remains. In this sample, the U.S. IMR is 4.65 per 1000, versus 2.94 in Austria and 2.64 in Finland.  See the graph…

Continue reading

Stratfor describes the Middle East – after the Iran deal

Summary: What lies in the future of the Middle East once the specter of an nuclear-armed Iran disappears (said tobe imminent every year since 1984)? Not peace, unfortunately. Stratfor describes what to expect in the next chapter of this misgoverned region.

Stratfor

Aftershocks of the Iran Deal:
Why Middle Eastern Conflicts Will Escalate

Stratfor, 28 August 2015

Summary

Tehran’s competitors in the region will not sit idly by without attempting to curb the expansion of Iranian influence. This will not manifest in all-out warfare between the Middle East’s most significant powers; Iran is not the only country well versed in the use of proxies. But the conflicts that are already raging in the region will continue unabated and likely only worsen. These clashes will occur on multiple fault lines: Sunni versus Shiite, for example, plus ethnic conflicts among Turks, Iranians, Arabs, Kurds, and other groups. The Iranian nuclear deal in the short term thus means more conflict, not less.

Flag of Turkey

Turkey

Stratfor has long predicted that the role of regional hegemon will eventually fall to Turkey, which boasts the largest economy in the Middle East and is strategically situated at the confluence of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, on the Sea of Marmara. It is not a coincidence that what is now the Turkish commercial capital spent more than 1,500 years as the center of powerful empires, from 330 CE, when the Byzantine Empire was founded, until 1918, when the Ottoman Empire fell.

Like the United States, Turkey has some converging interests with Iran; its rivalry with its neighbor to the east is not a zero-sum competition. For one, Turkey depends on Iranian oil, which in 2014 made up 26% of Turkey’s oil imports. Lifting sanctions on Iran will offer Turkey’s commercial class, which is hungry for the potential economic returns, ample opportunity to invest.

Besides the economic links between the two powers, Tehran and Ankara also share some strategic interests. For example, both oppose the rise of an independent Kurdish state from the ashes of the Syrian civil war and the Iraqi conflict. While Tehran has at times offered military support to Kurds fending off the Islamic State in Iraq, Iran has a significant Kurdish population of its own, with estimates ranging anywhere from 6 million to 7 million people. Almost 15% of Turkey’s population is Kurdish, and Ankara has had to contend with Kurdish insurgency since 1984.

Continue reading

Martin van Creveld sees the Rise and Fall of History, followed by Amnesia

Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at one of the great phenomena of our time, one which has seriously damaged our world — the death of history (the study of history). He describes how it happens. See the posts at the end for examples of its ill effects.

Minerva's Owl

 

The Fall and Rise of History

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 16 July 2014

Posted with his permission

I well remember the time when I fell in love with history. This was 1956 and I was ten years old, living with my parents in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv. While rummaging in a storage room, I came across a book with the title (in Dutch), World-History in a Nutshell. Greatly impressed by the story of the small, but brave, ancient Greek people fighting and defeating the far more numerous Persian army, I quickly read it from cover to cover. Much later I learnt that the volume was part of a series issued by the Dutch ministry of education and updated every few years. To the best of my memory the one in my hands did mention World War I but not Hitler; hence it must have dated to the 1920s when my parents went to school.

It was World-History in a Nutshell and the wonderful tales it contained that made me decide I wanted to study history. In 1964 this wish took me to the Hebrew University where I started thinking seriously about what I was trying to do. From beginning to end, my aim was always to understand what happened and why it happened. Though it took me a long time to realize the fact, in doing so I, like countless other modern historians, was following in the footsteps of the German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831).

The Rise of History

Hegel’s most important propositions, as I came to understand them, could be summed up as follows.

  1. The past had a real, objective existence. It was, so to speak, solidified present, more or less covered by the sands of time; which meant that, given sufficient effort was devoted to removing the sand, “the truth” about it could be discovered.
  2. In the main it consisted not of the more or less accidental, more or less cranky deeds of individuals but was pushed ever-onward by vast, mostly anonymous, spiritual, economic — this was Marx’s particular contribution — social and technological forces none could control. Men and women were carried along by it like corks floating on a stream; now using it to swim in the right direction, now vainly trying to resist it and being overwhelmed by it.
  3. The past mattered. It was only by studying the past that both individuals and groups of every kind could gain an understanding as to who they were, where they had come from, and where they wanted to go and might be going.

Continue reading

Are 30 thousand species going extinct every year?

Summary: The warnings become increasingly dire and shrill as we approach November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. One theme warns about the increasing rate of extinctions, described with astonishing numbers — and projected to add humanity to the endangered species list. As usual, these claims distract attention from serious and imminent threats, such as our dying oceans. Let’s look beyond the hysteria to the science.

Extinction Poster

 

Contents

  1. Our certain doom from the great extinction.
  2. How many species are there?
  3. How many species have gone extinct?
  4. Should we fear forecasts of mass extinction?
  5. Conclusion.
  6. For More Information.
  7. For a useful perspective on these matters.

 

(1)  Our certain doom, chapter XXI: the great extinction

Exaggeration is the primary tool of activists in the publicity campaign to force public policy changes to fight climate change. “Anything goes” became their watchword once they broke free from the peer-reviewed literature.

It starts with science at the website Endangered Species International — “More than 16,000 species are threatened to become extinct in the near future.” “Of the 44,838 species assessed worldwide using the IUCN Red List criteria, 905 are extinct {was 784 in 2006} and 16,928 are listed as threatened to be extinct.”

Next politics goes wild: The Convention on Biological Diversity went into force in December 1993. Among its best known results are these words by Executive Secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf on 21 May 2007 — about extinctions happening now (not just threatened for the future).

“Every hour, three species disappear. Every day, up to 150 species are lost. Every year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct.  The cause: human activities. … Climate change is one of the major driving forces behind the unprecedented loss of biodiversity. “

This has frequently been debunked. But even after 8 years of rebuttals to this and similar exaggerations, Real News Network repeats this claim in Climate Change: Have We Reached the Point of No Return? (Climate change zombie myths live on the Left, much as Zombie Economics does on the Right.) The RNN story has the typical climate activists’ mix of unbalanced facts, assertions far outside the climate science consensus (and the IPCC), plus exaggerations. They used the poster at the top if this post as their headline graphic.

Continue reading