Home > globalization > The laws of free trade are not immutable after all

The laws of free trade are not immutable after all

from Jim Stanford

For years, we’ve been told the dictates of globalization, and the intrusive and prescriptive terms of free trade agreements in particular, are immutable, natural, and unquestionable.  When workers were displaced by the migration of multinational capital toward more profitable jurisdictions, we were told there’s nothing we can do about it except join the race to the bottom in a desperate attempt to hang onto our jobs.  When investment and employment were undermined by lopsided trade and capital flows, and employers and financiers utilized the leverage afforded them by unrestrained international mobility to ratchet the distributional structure of the economy ever-more-blatantly in their own favour, we were informed this was just the logic of markets.  And anyone who questioned that logic, or pointed out that it didn’t work in the real world like it is described in the economic textbooks, was labelled either economically illiterate or protectors of vested interests.

Now, suddenly, on the strength of a few tweets from a President who hasn’t even taken office yet, it seems that those rules are not so immutable, permanent, or natural after all.  Now, global corporations will move billions of dollars of investment, and thousands of good jobs, just because a President-elect wants them to.  If there is one crucial lesson from the extraordinary developments this month in the North American auto industry (including Trump’s threats against Ford, GM, and Toyota, and Ford’s stunning decision to completely cancel its new assembly plant in Mexico), it’s that politics matter.  Nothing about the economy is ever natural or permanent — and the immense resources invested in convincing us they are, are actually trying to disempower and silence the potential power of those being hurt by the current system of globalization. We’ve now seen that when it suits powerful forces, global rules can be rewritten in an instant; decisions of global megacorps overturned swiftly and effectively; provisions of trade deals simply ignored.  

None of this is remotely to celebrate or endorse Donald Trump’s coming rule, which will be destructive to working people, will reinforce the elite power of the plutocracy which he railed against (but then installed in his cabinet), and will fundamentally threaten human civilization and the environment along many axes.  Personally, I am most worried about his plan to destroy nascent climate regulations (both in the U.S. and globally), and his imminent plan for national “right-to-work” laws (which would be another big nail in the coffin of the U.S. labour movement).  And there are many other of grotesque things to fear from Trump’s rule — and to resist.

But the stunning way in which he is wading into the private investment decisions of enormous corporations, overruling their established global strategies, and simply ignoring the supposedly sacrosanct rules of trade deals, is an important reminder for all of society that the “economy” is nothing more or less than the conscious decisions which human beings make about how to work, produce, and distribute.  Those conscious decisions always reflect power and competing interests, they are never “natural” or “automatic” or “omnipresent.”  If Trump can rewrite international economic treaties on the strength of a few tweets, before even taking office, then we can do the same thing — but only if we build a political movement with the same confidence and power.  And it’s harder for us to do that, since we don’t have the power of wealth and everything that comes with it (including the power to construct ideas and ideology through the private media and other means).

I think there’s an important analogy here between trade policy (now being re-written as we speak) and recent revolutions in both monetary and fiscal policy.  For a quarter-century we were told that monetary policy was a technocratic, rules-driven process, best governed by so-called “independent”central banks, immune from political pressures.  Of course, those central banks were never independent: their role, and the policy edifice they oversaw, was always profoundly biased in order to elevate the interests of financial wealth (through strict inflation control) over other economic and social priorities.  The GFC and its aftermath, however, laid bare that those supposedly untouchable “rules” were arbitrary, temporary, and discretionary.  The advent of quantitative easing policies, in particular, proved what lefty critics had been saying all along: namely that money is created out of thin air every day (by commercial banks and central banks alike); the big issue is who controls that process, and what is the money used for? Now the genie is out of the bottle, and there is new space for progressive visions of unconventional monetary policies to address persistent stagnation and unemployment — like using the central bank’s money-creating powers, for instance, to underwrite useful investments in public physical and social infrastructure.  The idea that monetary policy rules and inflation targets are binding, natural, and permanent has been destroyed.

The same is true of the tenets of neoliberal fiscal policy: including both specific rules (like the Maastricht targets, now rotting on the scrapheap of economic history) and the general identification of debt and deficit-reduction as government’s central priority.  The ideology of debt-phobia still wields considerable power, of course, including in Canada. But past claims that the world as we know it would end if deficit targets were not met have been destroyed.  In the wake of the GFC, enormous deficits suddenly became legitimate again — and that rediscovered flexibility was applied in a biased manner (with bailing out banks being the first, and by far most expensive, priority). The fact that the Trump administration is now pledging to dramatically expand the U.S. deficit (to pay for corporate and high-income tax cuts and public infrastructure), and more tellingly that a Republican Congress will endorse that shift (after 8 years of handcuffing a Democratic President’s more modest deficit stimulus measures), confirms that in this realm, too, it’s all about politics and power — not about “rules” or “necessities.”

Trump has already proven that trade deals can not only be overruled — they can simply be ignored outright.  Of course, that’s easier for a big country to do than a small one.  But even smaller countries (like Canada) have lots of capacity to directly intervene in and regulate trade and investment flows, using their own markets, their own financial capacity, and their own ability to produce goods and services as collateral.  To be sure, Trump’s rewriting of NAFTA and other trade deals (and his cancellation of the TPP) will be applied in a particular, biased manner: in ways that most benefit U.S. capital (like the pharmaceutical giants who complained loudly that the TPP and other deals weren’t aggressive enough in protecting and extending drug patents).  He isn’t doing this for U.S. workers, that’s for sure.  Dean Baker’s recent RWER blog makes this point convincingly.

But by proving that trade deals are no more permanent or immutable than the paper they are written on, Trump has pulled back the ideological veil which disguised pro-corporate global policy as somehow “natural” and unchallengable.  We now have a big opening (just as we do in the realms of monetary and fiscal policy) to define and advocate a vision of international economic exchange (obviously not autarky) that would be balanced and socially beneficial.  If Donald Trump can browbeat global corporations into keeping investments and jobs in America instead of moving them abroad, why can’t other leaders do the same?  The clear truth is that they can.

In this regard, I look forward to the coming work of progressive research networks to help define and advance a progressive alternative to NAFTA and other neoliberal deals, so that the distinctions between our critique and Trump’s can become clearer.  Another crucial priority will be to engage participation from Mexico and other low-wage, exploitive export platform jurisdictions, in order to counter the implicit racism that has fueled Trump’s anti-free-trade bandwagon.  In Mexico, too, there will now be an enormous opening for progressives to expose the betrayed promises of NAFTA (living standards have not risen there, and human and labour rights are more in threat than ever), and to highlight the limits of the export-led race-to-the-bottom which neoliberal Mexican governments have followed so enthusiastically (at the expense of well-rounded economic and social development).  I would love to see Canadian, U.S., and Mexican progressives get together quickly to formulate a hopeful vision of balanced, mutually beneficial, sustainable continental trade and development.  That could become the lightning rod for our interventions in the coming battles.

Here are a couple of additional resources to supplement this argument:

My column in Canada’s Globe and Mail on Ford’s decision to cancel its Mexican investment, and the opportunities and risks facing Canada’s auto industry as Trump moves to address the huge U.S.-Mexico trade imbalance.

A joint column in the Toronto Star by Unifor’s President Jerry Dias and the Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow on the key principles of a progressive alternative to NAFTA.

  1. January 9, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    I think this underlines the fact that “economics” as taught in schools and universities today is bunk. We need to get back to teaching Political Economy with all its complexities and forget about those neat and cute formulas designed to impress the ignorant.

  2. January 9, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    “Those conscious decisions always reflect power and competing interests, they are never “natural” or “automatic” or “omnipresent.” If Trump can rewrite international economic treaties on the strength of a few tweets, before even taking office, then we can do the same thing — but only if we build a political movement with the same confidence and power. And it’s harder for us to do that, since we don’t have the power of wealth and everything that comes with it (including the power to construct ideas and ideology through the private media and other means).”
    Stanford’s is an essential statement that points us in the direction we must go: building enduring power with the only resources we have: people. If we cannot do this democracy fails completely. To do this we must overcome our fear of power and our tendency to confuse power with abuse of power. And we must reject economics frameworks that simply ignore, or fail to incorporate, the power realities of predatory financial corporate rule.
    A fine post. Fellow Canadian J.K. Galbraith would be proud.

  3. Paul Davidson
    January 10, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    Unfortunately the 19th century argument for free trade is not so relevant today. As Keynes explicitly stated: In this era of mass production, goods can be produced equally efficiently any where on the global and therefore there is n advantage of outsourcing production !.And in fact Keynes urges keeping mass production labor income in the same economy as the consumers of such products.

    Accordingly, the law of comparative advantage is applicable only to trade in natural resources and to climate affected industries — e.g., agriculture, tourism, etc.

    As I explain at length in my book POST KEYNESIAN THEORY AND POLICY –outsourcing mass production industries merely undermines US law requiring domestic entrepreneurs to treat workers in what society believes is a civilized manner– i.e., no child labor, overtime for more than 40 hours a week or for ore than 8 hours a day, a safe environment, etc.

    If a foreign factory used slave labor to produce goods to sell in Walmart — would[should] the US permit the importation of such slave produced goods????

    • January 10, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      I believe that we are now heading, under the direction of President Elect Trump, towards a domestic production/consumption model in the US. If that is so, other nations are bound to copycat the move and throw up protective barriers against excess production from other countries.

      The way our financial system works will ensure that producers will not be able to market their goods domestically without ultimately incurring a financial loss. In the aggregate, they need another source of income, normally gained from exports, to balance their books.
      The answer? Conquer foreign markets by force. Bang!!
      What’s new pussycat?

      • March 31, 2017 at 4:59 am

        “The way our financial system works will ensure that producers will not be able to market their goods domestically without ultimately incurring a financial loss.”

        I don’t follow this. The absolute minimum standard for trade should be that a country is never worse off with trade than it would be if it made everything for its own use. Obviously countries are generally better off with trade, but it is just as obvious that that is a completely different statement from the claim that tariffs should be zero, which is just crazy talk.

  4. Norman L. Roth
    January 10, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Thank you for this, Mr. Davidson. Another not well-known gem from the great Keynes ! What it boils down to is that `Free` trade and Fair trade are not necessarily the same thing. Although Ricardo`s principle of Comparative Advantage has always been considered one of the classics of economic theory and analysis, it always contained an implicit assumption that the trading nations subscribed to roughly equivalent societal & legal {rule of law} values, and were more or less in the same Technological Time.. This assumption is obviously questionable and easily and deliberately abused by heavy handed statist regimes to whom playing `Beggar thy neighbour` by manipulating exchange rates is the least of THEIR {as in `the other`} enormities against fair play. This is why many `finger in every pie` statist regimes stagger into the polar opposite of free trade: AUTARKY, a favorite idiocy of authoritarian statists,regardless of the burdens it places on their hapless peoples. Such anti-economic bombastico is usually justified by blustering that autarky is an act of self defence against `Imperialist` competitors who are looking only to exploit via international trade.

    There must be a reasonable compromise somewhere!

    GOOGLE: Norman L. Roth

    • March 31, 2017 at 5:12 am

      “Although Ricardo`s principle of Comparative Advantage has always been considered one of the classics of economic theory and analysis, it always contained an implicit assumption that the trading nations subscribed to roughly equivalent societal & legal {rule of law} values, and were more or less in the same Technological Time.”

      It contains a lot more assumptions then that. It also assumes that the proper level of tax on capital is less than frictional costs of international trade, which is counter to most progressive ideals, and it assumes that free trade does not increase the average number of people per corporation, which is one of the largest determinants of wages. It also assumes that there is no “floating jurisdiction” effect – countries A and B have the same standards, but without trade corporations would have to follow that standard whereas with trade corporations can use greater negotiating leverage to get exemptions.

      • March 31, 2017 at 2:23 pm

        The 1975 edition of Samuelson’s Economics has almost a large page of conditions necessary for free trade. The old fox was a man more honest than the rest of AEA. The 1990s editions (with Nordhouse) had half of those conditions. Manriw had none in his book (advance $1.4M). Krugman proved that comparative advantage worked only for products with primitive non-changing technologies, then included in one of his textbooks an example with production of computers. Samuelson was called “apostate” for his 2004 paper proving America could suffer under changing technologies.

        Ad infinitum.

  5. January 11, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Dear Colleagues:

    For the past 200+ years you conveniently keep forgetting that the overall trading balance of a country is its common good. All free trade arguments are subordinate to need of avoiding “tragedy of the commons,” which is a turtle on which economic elephants stand.

  6. January 12, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Markets and capitalism have never been summarized better than by Upton Sinclair. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” “Fascism is capitalism plus murder.”

    The laws of free markets are not immutable because there are no laws and no free markets. They always reflect the historical processes through which they are formed. And those processes are not linear. In fact, they are are decidedly nonlinear. Markets and capitalism do not at times have the intended results, or even have results opposite of intended. Their results change over time and circumstances, and sometimes produce push backs that wholly change the form and direction of both, or either. Markets and capitalism are not efficient, since efficient depends on which market and capitalism is considered and the form efficiency is given in relation to these. Trump’s push for changes to trade policies and agreements may have results as expected, as Jim describes them here, or it may not. Similarly the changes to monetary and fiscal policies and agreements suggested by Jim may have impacts as Jim forecasts, or maybe not. These questions can only be answered in practice, in the actual processes of inventing trade, monetary, and fiscal ways of life and actions. This is always a trial and error kind of thing. Although some trials may become unnecessary with experience and multiple trials. But the essential uncertainty and nonlinearity of the work never goes away. This is what complexity is all about. And creating economic policies, rules, and actions is certainly complex. But many have worked long and hard to portray economics as non-complex and quite predictable and completely linear. Not so much that this ensures the actions they take or the world they invent will actually be any of these things. But more so that those they want to take advantage of will not question them or complain while they trial and error their way to the sort of economy and society intended to accomplish this advantage taking. Even if that takes decades. And in each successive trial that fails the impacts of those failures are absorbed not by the all powerful creators but rather by those they seek to oppress. It’s a great approach for a complex world you want to rule without risking anything.

    • January 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Everything correct. But the bucket of the cold water is still there: the very concept of free trade violates a higher commandment of “Do not lead to tragedy of the commons.” Why do not you answer that charge?

      • January 13, 2017 at 5:50 am

        The history of homo sapiens has not been till very lately that each individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource. Leading to ever more depletion of the resource and harm to future generations access to the resource. Until about 5,000 years ago humans lived in communities and used resources communally. With the advent of governments (monarchies of one form or another) humans abused one another but generally still limited access to many resources. Only with capitalism and industrialization was the notion of “tragedy of the commons” invented. Now that we’ve invented capitalism, industrialization, and democracy, and their consequences, positive and negative, what are the next steps? I don’t know. Do you?

      • January 13, 2017 at 12:27 pm

        First, tragedy of the commons was discovered before capitalism. The very name of “commons” comes from England, where commons was the place to have your sheep to get grass, and overuse of that that space used to happen long before.

        Second, ir goes even deeper. Every living organism from amoeba to Obama, from billions of years ago, did not primarily try to maximize the pleasures. First and foremost, it tried to avoid a catastrophe. Only after controlling the risks did it start breakfast. Not paying attention to the trading balance would lead to a catastrophic decrease of wealth of the country. GATT says so; Keynes and all old keynesians paid extra attention to trading balance. American economists of all types, from mainstream to heteros, did not do it.

        To the garbage heap of history.

      • January 14, 2017 at 1:33 pm

        You and Hardin seem to make the same questionable assumptions. We can guess the story Hardin tells is set between 1700-1800. And the language he uses is right out of marginal economics. “As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, ‘What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?’ This utility has ,one negative and one positive component.” Hardin describes the herdsman balancing positive (the proceeds from one more cow) and negative (additional grazing created by one more cow). There is no reason to assume, however the herdsman is seeking to maximize gain or is rational in the sense Hardin describes. These are actions and ways of life quite unlikely during the Middle Ages or before. It is only with the coming of the Enlightenment and capitalism (from 15th century Venice) that such actions and ways of life become routine.

        You are correct that in terms of evolution species, including homo sapiens sought first to reproduce and second to deal with immediate problems. But homo sapiens has something no other species, which allowed it an edged in dealing with both of these. It can imagine. This is a great evolutionary advantage. Homo sapiens would be able to imagine the loss of the grazing land and its impacts on it. And also imagine ways to deal with this problem. Rationalism and capitalism were two of these. Unfortunately, neither was successful. So we need now to imagine other possible solutions.

      • January 14, 2017 at 2:14 pm

        Amoeba does not have imagining – it reacts only to clear danger, true. But antelope already can imagine lions lurking behind a baobab. And it goes grazing only after checking and controlling risks.

        In 2011 or 10 Tim Williamson of Oxford published an article in I-l Herald Tribune. About imagination. A Neanderthal sees a cave. Great – maximize utility, have a place for winter. But he first thinks about a bear possibly sleeping there. Catastrophe avoidance first, utility distant second.

        No innovation is good unless it it is tune with a natural process demonstrating its worth for billions of years. Economics with its utility first violates that. Neanderthal was more rational. To trash heap of history.

      • January 15, 2017 at 5:32 am

        Amoeba and deer rely on experience to react. They don’t imagine. Hundreds of thousands of years of experience drives evolution for them. They react as evolution has prepared them to react. Evolution has also prepared Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. For the Neanderthal experience is the basis of this evolution. Neanderthals have experienced bears in caves. That’s a part of their evolution. That evolution prepares them to deal with caves in winter. Homo Sapiens also evolve based on experience. But homo sapiens has something more in its evolution to guide it. Imagination. Homo sapiens, unlike Neanderthals can imagine why the bear might not be in the cave, how to drive the bear out of the cave, or how to turn bears into a food supply. Homo sapiens, unlike his other human cousins can innovate and create worlds never experienced,

        Neanderthals could not have been “rational” since rational is one of those “worlds never experienced” that homo sapiens invented about 500-600 years ago. Homo sapiens also invented economics. And about 3000 years ago it invented history.

      • Vladimir Masch
        January 15, 2017 at 2:16 pm

        You cannot deny that Neanderthal develops plans how to deal with a bear. And I call him “rational,” if he does that before planning his breakfast.

        You call “rational” and “homo sapiens” a man who starts his day with choosing between cranberries and cherries for breakfast, given their market prices. I give these names to a man who, considering that both cherry orchards and swamps improve climate, makes prices of both berries zero or maybe even negative. Regulated.

        Every theory stands on some assumptions. (I do not call economics a science, of course. By the way, which economics – M Friedman’s, or Marxist, or feminist, or gay’s?)

        300 years ago Adam Smith lived in Edinburgh, a peaceful and civilized city. He could make an assumption that his subjects consider their lives protected by society.

        No more. In this century – climate, nukes, AI and robots. “Rational” is he who tries to protect mankind, not the one who destroys it for his profit. Which he will leave behind anyway when going to the other world.

        Also, we started discussion with free trade, which violates even the first economic commandment about respecting a common good.

        _____

  7. January 16, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Your remark about assumptions is well taken. But evolution is the mother of a species, including the physiology and capacities that make it possible to create assumptions. The archaeological record indicates that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens were the final two human species to co-exist. The others’ evolution did not favor survival. What were the evolutionary advantages that favored Homo Sapiens over Neanderthals? I think they are imagination and what I call a “community brain.” Neanderthals did not survive, except in those few instances where some its DNA survive in some of us today. Neanderthals knew nothing of markets. Like their brothers, Homo Sapiens, they were “hunter-gatherers,” the most successful resource gathering and distribution arrangements ever invented. And economics (feudal, classical, neoclassical, or whatever) was not invented by Homo Sapiens until about 3500 BCE, and even then it followed the invention of government around 8000 BCE. Smith’s economics is as you suggest based on believing that humans’ collective life provided a code of conduct that “protected” people from the destructive consequences of the economy. As I’ve said elsewhere, our imagined understandings and solutions often do not lead to the results expected. Imagination is clearly a two-edged sword. Sometimes it provides an evolutionary advantage. Sometimes not. With homo sapiens last few inventions (capitalism, rationalism, markets, economics, consumerism, etc.) it’s definitely a mixed bag.

    • January 17, 2017 at 7:42 pm

      Jim:

      About economic rationality, read Polanyi, The Great Transformation, pp. 257 and on.

      • January 18, 2017 at 5:44 am

        I agree with Polanyi’s statements here. I just wish he had been a bit clearer that like the “rationalistic constructs” he criticizes, rationalism itself is a construct also. That way we can examine the creation of all these constructs.

  8. January 18, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Of course it is a construct. But in a recent blog Peter Radford, quoting the Kahneman book, said:
    The description of human behavior that underpins modern economics is so bizarre that my first thought was that it must be some form of Monty Pythonesque satire.

    And I agree. Economists are to blame very much for the present state of the world and of the USA society. Close to the Parkinson’s description of a very valuable man – he who is always wrong.

    My first degree (1955) was engineer-economist, and that really is what I am. I build tools. And if you want to build a working tool, you cannot accept even a tiny particle of nonsense.

    • January 19, 2017 at 6:24 am

      Yes, of course rationalism is a construct. And it’s a construct that’s been used to explain and justify some nonsensical things. Coase theorem: a legal and economic theory that affirms that where there are complete competitive markets with no transactions costs, an efficient set of inputs and outputs to and from production-optimal distribution are selected, regardless of how property rights are divided. Paul Samuelson’s 750 page “Economics” is based on two general axioms: 1) maximizing behavior of agents (including consumers as to utility and business firms as to profit); and, (2) economic systems (including a market and an economy) in stable equilibrium. All our economic interactions in 26 words. I know Occam’s razor, but this is ridiculous.

      It’s not just a question of being wrong. It’s about not caring. Economists have removed all caring and concern for events and actors in the world. They pretend that economics, and by extension the world-in-general is just a mathematical process of variable interacting. And worse still they’ve sold that belief to politicians and killers of humanity who’ve used it to help create an impoverished and unequal world plagued by fake problems and fake information.

      • January 19, 2017 at 11:49 am

        Then we agree. Primary maximizing, and market not embdded in society, and equilibrium – all wrong. But, in distinction from Mankiws, “next generation Samuelsons,” the old fox Sam knew it. All economists lie; he was relatively honest. Still not a Diogene’s find, but the old Greek will stop for a minute in doubt.

      • January 19, 2017 at 12:46 pm

        Vladimir, we agree. I think Samuelson knew his book was bullshit. But it made him famous and wealthy. Powerful urges for a self-serving discipline like economics. I have PhDs in History and Anthropology. I find it amusing that no introductory book in either of these fields is as famous or sells as many copies each year as this single book from Samuelson. That can’t result from the wisdom or pragmatism of Samuelson’s book. It has neither. So what is it?

      • January 19, 2017 at 1:10 pm

        I don’t know. I have two editions of it, 1975 and some of 90s, with Nordhaus. 1975 has almost a page of impossible-to-meet constraints on free trade, while the later edition is much weaker.

        Mankiw also did not bad with his $1,4M advance. With a completely wrong book. No uncertainty (like Krugman).

        People, students including, want definite answers.

      • January 20, 2017 at 5:30 am

        I agree with your theory. Samuelson, Mankiw, etc. write religious not scientific texts. Disguised as introductions to a science, economics, they are actually documents that set forth the fixed and indisputable tenets of a religious faith. Providing the “definite answers” that religious followers require.

      • January 20, 2017 at 12:03 pm

        Good point, plus multiple economics are heresies or true religions. Depends on who you ask. Marx is a Luther1.

      • January 20, 2017 at 10:21 pm

        I object to Ken’s smearing religion by likening it to populist economics, and mis-representing it by claiming it provides “the definite answers that religious followers require”.

        Vladimir is right, “People, students including, want definite answers”, and some religious leaders try to provide them.
        Yet what theologians (the religious equivalent of scientists) require is not answers, but an as near as possible “fixed and indisputable” starting point (much as Vladimir requires in his tool-making). The earliest surviving documents – as they were written – plus contemporary and on-going interpretations of them, provide the historical datum necessary to detect changes of interpretation: as by later translators and critics reading in what is taken for granted in their time and culture.
        What even the earliest Christians were offered was not a “definite answer” but a need to make up their minds about whether Christ rose from the dead: between an incredulous impossibility and it being the only possible demonstration of the existence of a loving Creator.

      • January 20, 2017 at 11:59 pm

        Sorry about denigrating religions. Coming from the USSR, I respect them.

        But I read last week a very interesting fact about religious assumptions. They may lose in translation, like poetry.

        In the Hebrew Bible, Moses was described as something like “radiant” or “beaming.” A bad first Latin translation made it “horned.” So people for several hundred years believed Jews had horns. (Some of them certainly may have them.) Thus Mickelangelo put horns on Moses.

        What did Galbraith say about economics? Something like it was invented to make astrology respectable. Maybe we indeed should be talking not about religions, but rather astrology.

        Sorry about that too. I’ve read three mysteries (by Mitchell Lewis, I think) that treat astrology very well. Something like Murder on the 12th House. E.g., he describes a prosecuting attorney who tries to indict our hero, a detective-astrologer, in being a con man. The hero answers, How is your sugar? And the attorney answers, “Thank you, it came down. Your honor, don’t listen to him.”

      • January 21, 2017 at 5:49 am

        Dave, actually I was smearing populist economics.

        The earliest Christians were offered the words of Christ. They could take them or leave them. But obviously Christianity did not resolve the world’s problems. Especially, since the religion itself schismed four times in its first 1000 years. And then Islam arose in the same area of the world to fix what Christianity did not or could not.

        I attend Christian churches regularly. Particularly the Protestant varieties. They still offer salvation and forgiveness. And a path to heaven for accepting Christ. That sounds rather fixed and certain to me. I can’t do fixed and certain. Experience teaches me it doesn’t exist. Having faith in fixed and certain salvation doesn’t actually make it fixed and certain.

  9. robert locke
    January 21, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I have two children, who were raised in the Enlightenment tradition. One, as an adult, chose to be a Muslim, the other, got a PhD in theology from Trinity College Dublin, where his mentor said about him that he “did not believe in God.” I’ve kept out of it.

  10. January 21, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    I’ve spent 16 years before WWII in Odessa the USSR, the city that laughs at everything and breeds insurgents. I was one both in Moscow and here.

    But I was somewhat converted by The Fifth Discipline. Senge says ensembles come into being only when all necessary components are there in their necessary shape. Civil aviation arrived only when all five components were ready. So what about the eye? I do not believe wholly in evolution now. Confused.

    But it turns out that all my tools are ensembles too. Silver lining.

    • January 22, 2017 at 6:30 am

      I was involved in detached joint training in Finland and Turkey in the early 1980s. The Russian troops training opposite us were interesting. We always speculated about their capabilities and discipline. They always seemed so disorganized.

      • January 22, 2017 at 1:59 pm

        I never was in the army due to my eyesight. But, from what I hear, there is a large disorganized and unruly army – and there are well-trained special forces. (They took Crimea, for instance.)

      • January 23, 2017 at 7:18 am

        Thanks, Vladimir. That helps me understand lots of things. The troops we saw definitely were not special forces.

      • January 30, 2017 at 6:50 pm

        Ken:
        I need to ask you something. Can you please communicate to my email – skipandscan@optonline.net.
        Vladimir

  11. April 10, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Great article! Thank you!

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