Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

12 March 2022   1 comment

Professor John Mearsheimer is one of the most distinguished scholars of international relations in the United States. He is also a very consistent political realist, a body of thought which emphasizes the priority of interests over values in the conduct of foreign policy. I will confess that there are parts of political realism which inform my own analysis of world affairs even though, on the whole, my world view is mostly idealist. For example, Professor Mearsheimer wrote, along with Professor Stephen Walt, a book entitled The Israel Lobby which critiqued the ability of the state of Israel to influence American foreign policy to the detriment of US interests.

Mearsheimer sparked a great deal of controversy when he delivered a lecture in 2015 which sharply criticized the US and NATO for the expansion of NATO into former Warsaw Pact countries because he argued that the resultant Russian insecurity from those actions led Russia to annex Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. That lecture can be seen in the video below (it is one hour and 15 minutes long, but very worthwhile).

Mearsheimer’s argument has been revived by the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, igniting an even greater controversy. Indeed, Mearsheimer’s argument has been reproduced by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a defense of Russian actions. The crux of the argument is that, after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia was promised that NATO would not expand to the east. At a press briefing on 25 February 2022, the Russian spokesperson point out:

Question: German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Christopher Burger said during a briefing that treaties with Russia did not contain any promises not to expand NATO the east. What would be your comment on the statement by your German colleague?

Maria Zakharova: At first, NATO member states denied the very fact that the West had made promises not to expand NATO to the east. However, when the officials who took part in those events and negotiations started publishing their memoirs, they could no longer deny facts or claim that nothing had happened. Instead, they started saying that even if there had been some verbal promises, there were no official written documents. This collective amnesia is astonishing. However, the article published by Spiegel magazine, a German media outlet by the way, showed that this position is also at odds with reality.

Declassified archival documents showed that following the February 2, 1990, talks in Washington, Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher and United States Secretary of State James Baker said that they “were in full agreement that there is no intention to extend the NATO area of defence and security towards the East. This holds true not only for GDR, which we have no intention of simply incorporating, but that holds true for all the other Eastern countries.” During 2+4 talks involving the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, the USSR, Great Britain, and the United States, the representative of the Federal Republic of Germany, Jürgen Chrobog, said: “We had made it clear during the 2+4 negotiations that we would not extend NATO beyond the Elbe. We could not therefore offer membership of NATO to Poland and the others.” Let me remind you that this meeting took place in Bonn, on March 6, 1991. Since then, NATO has accepted 14 countries as its new members.

NATO contests this interpretation and it would be bootless to try to parse out the large volume of statements made at the time of a great transformation in world politics–no one really knew what the future would bring. What is undeniable is that the eastern European countries who had been part of the Soviet bloc for so many years feared that Russia remained a serious threat to their territorial integrity and sovereignty. Patrick Rhamey points out the more powerful dynamic underlying the expansion of Western influence in eastern Europe:

“Mearsheimer’s arguments deprive Ukrainians of any agency. He consistently ignores, both in the Ukraine talk and his recent interview with the New Yorker, the possibility that Ukrainians might choose democracy and seek membership in the EU on their own volition (in this, he echoes Kremlin talking points). He draws a false equivalence between a liberal, wealthy economic bloc on the one hand and an authoritarian petrol state on the other. For Mearsheimer, both sides are motivated exclusively – or at least ultimately – by power politics. ‘Freedom’ and ‘Prosperity’ are rhetorical weapons in a contest between great powers. The aspirations of the majority of Ukrainians don’t factor into this analysis.

“Instead of focusing on ‘the West,’ Mearsheimer should consider the distinct possibility that Russia’s long history of attempted dominance over Ukraine helped drive many Ukrainians toward the EU. The Euromaidan protests that toppled Viktor Yanukovych, after all, were sparked by his decision – under pressure from Putin – to walk away from negotiations. Putin’s explicit use of irredentist language, seizure of Crimea, and role in the Ukrainian civil war have clearly shifted public opinion on the question of NATO membership; a majority now favor joining the alliance.

David Remnick, in an interview with Stephen Kotkin in the New Yorker, amplifies the point in a balance of power framework:

We’ve been hearing voices both past and present saying that the reason for what has happened is, as George Kennan put it, the strategic blunder of the eastward expansion of NATO. The great-power realist-school historian John Mearsheimer insists that a great deal of the blame for what we’re witnessing must go to the United States. I thought we’d begin with your analysis of that argument.

I have only the greatest respect for George Kennan. John Mearsheimer is a giant of a scholar. But I respectfully disagree. The problem with their argument is that it assumes that, had nato not expanded, Russia wouldn’t be the same or very likely close to what it is today. What we have today in Russia is not some kind of surprise. It’s not some kind of deviation from a historical pattern. Way before nato existed—in the nineteenth century—Russia looked like this: it had an autocrat. It had repression. It had militarism. It had suspicion of foreigners and the West. This is a Russia that we know, and it’s not a Russia that arrived yesterday or in the nineteen-nineties. It’s not a response to the actions of the West. There are internal processes in Russia that account for where we are today.

I would even go further. I would say that nato expansion has put us in a better place to deal with this historical pattern in Russia that we’re seeing again today. Where would we be now if Poland or the Baltic states were not in nato? They would be in the same limbo, in the same world that Ukraine is in. In fact, Poland’s membership in nato stiffened nato’s spine. Unlike some of the other nato countries, Poland has contested Russia many times over. In fact, you can argue that Russia broke its teeth twice on Poland: first in the nineteenth century, leading up to the twentieth century, and again at the end of the Soviet Union, with Solidarity. So George Kennan was an unbelievably important scholar and practitioner—the greatest Russia expert who ever lived—but I just don’t think blaming the West is the right analysis for where we are.

There are other considerations to take into account as we assess the accuracy of Mearsheimer’s analysis. Realists make the assumption that analyzing interests is the only way to understand not only the actions of states but also human nature. Hans Morgenthau, a pre-eminent political realist in the US right after World War II, was unequivocal on this matter: “Political realism believes that politics, like society in general, is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature”. Thus, political realists easily believe that Thucydides observation of how the Athenians regarded their interests in the Peloponnesian War remains true in 2022: “The strong do as they will, and the weak suffer what they must”.

In this respect, political realists miss out on an awful lot of what has happened between 431 BCE and 2022, most notably the liberation of the individual in the Enlightenment. Nick Burns, writing for the New Statesmen, summarizes the significance of this crucially important change:

“The world, in a word, is a much more complicated place than the realists project in their simple formulas of a rational computation of interest. So often accused of pessimism, Mearsheimer is, in a strange way, too optimistic in believing that Americans (or for that matter Ukrainians or Russians) should simply make decisions according to a clinical, dispassionate evaluation of their interests. Regardless of whether it is desirable, such an evaluation is impossible in practice. A full understanding of the war in Ukraine, its causes and its consequences must pay attention to the emotions of the participants – Putin’s ambition, the West’s outrage, Ukraine’s hope – in their human aspects too, and not merely as strategic calculation.”

Mearsheimer is in some respect correct: NATO underestimated how threatening its eastern expansion was viewed by Russia. But Russia also miscalculated how powerful the idea of personal freedom became in the countries it once dominated by force. Ultimately, and sadly, one side will be proven correct–the side that wins. Right now, I put my money on the Ukrainians.

Posted March 12, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

27 February 2022   3 comments

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has encountered stiff resistance from the Ukrainian military and from Ukrainian citizens mobilized to confront the invaders. From all accounts, the resistance has been more formidable than what most observers, the Russians included, had expected. Defenders usually have an advantage over invaders since they know the terrain very well and can fire from fortified defensive positions. Moreover, invading forces always run the risk of extended supply lines that prove to be inadequate. There are reports of many Russian tanks running out of fuel and the logistical difficulties of re-supplying advanced positions are considerable for the Russian military. Nonetheless, not many analysts believe that Ukrainian forces can withstand a concerted Russian push over an extended period of time.

But the successes of the Ukrainian defenses thus far are important, and it is worth recounting the significance of the Belgian resistance to the German invasion of their country in August 1914. Belgium was a neutral country at the time and Great Britain had vouchsafed that neutrality in the Treaty of London in 1839. As Europe began to contemplate the possibility of a large war in which Germany would attempt to expand its 1871 borders, many Europeans thought that the Treaty of London would deny Germany the ability to attack France through Belgium and instead focused on building up defenses along the French-German border.

The Germans, however, decided upon a different track. The German military, led by Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen, knew that Germany could not win a simultaneous two-front war against both France and Russia (which were bound by a military alliance). But von Schlieffen believed that Germany could win a sequential two-front war if Germany could defeat France in the six weeks it would take Russia to mobilize to open the eastern front. Germany could not defeat France if it pushed through the French-German border. But attacking France through undefended Belgium could be done easily (it was believed) and German troops could defeat France and then move back to the eastern front against Russia within the 6 week window. At least, that was the intent of what was called the Schlieffen Plan.

The Germans, however, had underestimated Belgian resistance. Nick Milne tells the story:

“On August 4th, 1914, the German army began crossing the border into Belgium.  The Belgians, understandably unwilling to allow such a thing to occur without offering firm protest, chose to stand and fight.  Bridges were indeed destroyed.  Roads were blocked.  Barricades were put up — and, while the nation’s small and ill-equipped army could not hope to defeat the German invaders, it did manage to slow them down to such an extent that the carefully drafted timetables of the planned invasion had to be rewritten from scratch, and the British Expeditionary Force was able to arrive in time to further delay the attempted conquest of Belgium and passage into France.  In an abstract sense, the First Battle of the Marne was won in the fields outside of Liège.”

There were many consequences of the Belgian resistance. First, it delayed the German invasion of France by 18 days, throwing off the delicate timetable of the Schlieffen Plan. That led the German general at the time (von Schlieffen had died), Helmuth von Moltke to try to save some time by attacking Paris from the east (where France had formidable fortifications) instead from the west (where France had virtually no defenses at all). Second, it gave the British time to mobilize its forces to defend France and to send them in time for the first great battle of World War I, the Battle of the Marne. Third, the Belgian resistance infuriated von Moltke, leading the Germans to commit unbelievable atrocities (such as the burning of the great Library of Louvain) in a vain attempt to frighten the Belgians into surrendering. Those atrocities only led to a stiffening of Belgian resistance and contributed to near universal condemnation of the Germans as barbarians, as suggested by the US Army poster below.

These consequences also seem to be occurring now. It has been remarkable how the invasion and the Ukrainian resistance has changed the policies of some countries, most notably Germany. The Germans have now dropped their policy of not sending lethal weaponry into conflict zones and has increased its defense spending to levels inconceivable a week ago.

“Germany, Europe’s biggest economy that had long been the key obstacle to more decisive action against Russia, dramatically changed course this weekend as Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a vast increase in the country’s defense spending and green-lighted arms deliveries to Ukraine.

“The moves marked a seismic shift for a country that has been allergic to involvement in international conflict since World War II’s end. It came amid a range of other decisive European Union moves — on a day when 100,000 people turned out in Berlin to protest the invasion.”

If the Russian invasion had succeeded in three days, such changes would not have occurred and Europe would have written Ukraine off as a lost cause. But the resistance has made clear that a Russian victory is not inevitable and has encouraged and inspired the rest of the world to join in the Ukrainian resistance.

However, one lesson from the Belgian resistance is that a frustrated invader might resort to actions with little or no military purpose in an effort to intimidate those who resist. Let us hope that Russian President Putin does not succumb to this temptation.

Posted February 27, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

25 February 2022   Leave a comment

I am now 0 for 3 in predictions. I never thought Trump would win the election in 2016 nor did I think that Britain would pass Brexit. And now Russian President Putin has massively invaded Ukraine with the apparent intent of changing the government and replacing Ukrainian President Zelensky with a Russian puppet. I thought that by now those who run governments would have understood that overthrowing a government is easy, but occupying a nation is impossible. The US should have learned this lesson when it permitted Vietnamese President Diem to be murdered in 1963 or when it overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 or when it overthrew the government of Iraq in 2003 or when it allowed Kaddafi to be murdered in Libya in 2011. The Russians should have learned his lesson when it overthrew the Afghanistan government in 1979 or when it repressed governments in East Germany in 1953 or Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968. It appears as if governments are incapable of learning bad lessons when they get drunk on illusions of military power.

There is an argument that Putin has lost his marbles after 22 years in power. I reject these types of arguments. “Crazy” is an impossible analytic framework and very rarely explains much. So I assume that Putin was rational when he decided to invade Ukraine. But he obviously thought the exercise would work. But I cannot fathom why he thinks that installing a puppet regime in Ukraine will serve Russian interests. Such a government would never have the support of the Ukrainian people and thus will be difficult to govern. And a weak government will not be able to reconstruct the damage done to Ukraine which means that Russia will have to shoulder that burden, as Putin has probably learned from the annexation of Crimea. According to the Brookings Institute:

“Trying to create a success story, Moscow has poured in more than $10 billion in direct subsidies as well as funding major construction and infrastructure projects, such as the highway and railroad bridges that now cross the Kerch Strait to link Crimea directly to Russia. On the other hand, small business has suffered, particularly with the decline in tourism, which once accounted for about one quarter of Crimea’s economy. Crimea also remains subject to a variety of Western economic and other sanctions. It is probably fair to say that the reality of the economic situation today falls short of what many in Crimea expected, or hoped for, with Russia’s annexation.”

Ukraine under a puppet government will constitute a serious economic drain on Russian resources and the Russian people can ill afford to see money spent on improving the welfare of others. According to Business Insider: “Despite Russia’s size and wealth in raw materials, its economy is more on par with Brazil than with nations like Germany, France, and the UK, according to the latest nominal GDP data from the World Bank. According to the World Bank, Russia’s economy is smaller than Italy’s and South Korea’s, two nations with less than half of Russia’s population.”

The sad thing is that the Ukrainian people will continue to suffer quickly while the Russian people will suffer slowly. But military intervention by any state to repel the Russian invasion will vastly amplify the suffering of far too many innocents, so we are only left with tragic choices.

The lesson of this post is that no one should pay any attention to my predictions. As atonement for my sins, here is some beautiful music for a winter’s day.

Posted February 25, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

23 February 2022   Leave a comment

It appears as if Russian forces intend to invade Ukraine, presumably to change the government to one that will be more submissive to Russian interests. The evidence suggests that the Ukrainian forces will be severely outgunned. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian military and civilian population seem prepared to resist the invasion to whatever extent is possible. But even if the government is changed, I would predict that resistance will devolve to a long-term civil/guerilla war. The media attention will focus on the casualties suffered by the combatants. We should, however, keep in mind that in almost every war in the 20th and 21st centuries the largest number of casualties will occur within the civilian population. But the civilians suffer and die in silence and darkness.

I had the good fortune to work with some of the most devoted and brilliant colleagues at Mount Holyoke College in a course entitled “War: What is it good for?”. The course title was inspired by the song “War” which was most successfully sung by Edwin Starr with the background singers in the bands The Originals and The_Undisputed_Truth. Songfacts provides the context of the song:

“Motown hitmakers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote this song. Starr began his career recording for Ric-Tic Records, a Detroit label that was a rival to Motown. In 1968, Motown bought Ric-Tic, which gave Starr access to their writers and producers.

“This is a protest song about the Vietnam War, although it makes a broader statement of the need for harmony in our everyday lives. ‘War’ was one of the first Motown songs to make a political statement. The label had always been focused on making hit songs, but around this time Motown artists like The Temptations and Marvin Gaye started releasing songs with social commentary, many of which were written by Whitfield.

“The Temptations were the first to record this; it was included on their 1970 album Psychedelic Shack. Motown had no intention of releasing it as a single, but many in the protest movement, especially college students, made it clear that the song would be a big hit if it was. Motown head Berry Gordy had other plans for The Temptations and didn’t want them associated with such a controversial song, so he had Starr record it and his version was released as a single. Starr didn’t have as big a fan base to offend.”

The song was an important part of my personal experience in the anti-war movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And my colleagues, who represented disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences, thought that it would be important to include the song in the course. To that end, I created this video, using the song as the essential backdrop to the photographs.

The educational purpose of the music video was to disabuse students from thinking about war with no reference to its horrors. It is deliberately disturbing. It is graphic. It portrays extraordinary violence and profound suffering. Emotions we should keep in mind if a large war develops in Ukraine.

Posted February 23, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

21 February 2022   Leave a comment

Russian President Putin delivered a speech today in which he recognized two parts of Ukraine as independent states–the “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic”. These are two regions in Ukraine in which Russian-speaking separatists have sought to break away from Ukraine–with Russian support–since 2014. He has apparently ordered Russian troops into these regions as a “peacekeeping” force. The policy is similar to the one adopted by Russia in 2008 when Russian troops invaded Georgia and recognized two parts of Georgia as independent states: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The international community has thus far refused to recognize either Abkhazia or South Ossetia as legitimate independent state. Nonetheless, Russia has created military bases in the two regions and has waged low-level conflict to slowly enlarge the borders of the two rump states.

We will have to see if Russia does send in additional troops to Luhansk and Donetsk. Right now, the Russian move does not change the status quo. Ukraine and Russian forces have been fighting each other since 2014 and about 14,000 have died in the conflict. So, technically, an invasion has yet to occur. But the territory occupied by the separatists does not include the whole of the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, as indicated by the map below.

So the question for the US and Europe is how to respond to this Russian action. We already know that President Biden has flatly ruled out sending any NATO forces into Ukraine, so the issue is how many and what type of sanctions will be imposed on Russia for sending additional troops into an area already controlled by Russia. US Secretary of State Blinken issued the following statement after the Russian move:

“We strongly condemn President Putin’s decision to recognize the so-called “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics” as “independent.”  As we said when the Duma first made its request: this decision represents a complete rejection of Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, directly contradicts Russia’s claimed commitment to diplomacy, and is a clear attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“States have an obligation not to recognize a new ‘state’ created through the threat or use of force, as well as an obligation not to disrupt another state’s borders.  Russia’s decision is yet another example of President Putin’s flagrant disrespect for international law and norms.

“President Biden will sign an Executive Order that will prohibit all new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’ regions of Ukraine. We will continue to coordinate with Ukraine and our Allies and partners to take appropriate steps in response to this unprovoked and unacceptable action by Russia. The E.O. is designed to prevent Russia from profiting off of this blatant violation of international law. It is not directed at the people of Ukraine or the Ukrainian government and will allow humanitarian and other related activity to continue in these regions.

“Our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as for the government and people of Ukraine is unwavering.  We stand with our Ukrainian partners in strongly condemning President Putin’s announcement.”

We will have to see how Russia reacts to these sanctions. They do not pose any substantial threat to Russia or its leadership. But the next step for Russia is to hold an election or a referendum in the break-away regions in order to create a patina of legitimacy for the new “states”. The international community will likely ignore the results of such elections and then the most difficult question is how fiercely the Ukrainians will fight to regain their territory. If the Ukrainian challenge is manageable, then Russia will probably hold fast. But if the Ukrainians pose serious challenges to Russian military control, then escalation is the next step for the Russians and for NATO. We will have to see how this situation evolves. But Putin’s domestic position is much weaker than it was in 2014. The Economist describes the scene surrounding Putin’s speech:

“Earlier, Mr Putin had staged a bizarre televised spectacle to clear the way for recognition of the republics. The move to broadcast an extended meeting of Russia’s national security council was unprecedented. The exchanges with the council members were just as extraordinary. From his position in a white chair, Mr Putin called on his minions, one by one, to speak their minds. He helped those having difficulty making them up. ‘Speak plainly,’ he scolded the foreign intelligence chief, Sergei Naryshkin, who at one point appeared to misstep. ‘You would support it—or you do support it?’ Mr Putin stressed that he had not consulted with his aides beforehand and there was only one decision-maker in the country.

“The pained faces of some in the room suggested that not everyone was happy with the direction of travel. Yet they unanimously hewed to what, one must assume, they knew the president wanted to hear—a line that would at best void a seven-year-old set of agreements aimed at producing peace in the Donbas region, and at worst set off a spiral of sanctions and war. Ten of the speakers urged Mr Putin to recognise the breakaway republics immediately. Only three suggested giving diplomacy a final chance. Full recognition would suggest territorial claims on areas currently controlled by Kyiv, since the breakaways claim the whole of the Donbas—and that in turn could prefigure a big new military intervention.”

Calm and quiet persistence are necessary to prevent further escalation. NATO and President Biden should make clear that the Russian move is utterly unacceptable but should avoid incendiary rhetoric and brash moves.

Posted February 21, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

18 February 2022   Leave a comment

Posted February 18, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

15 February 2022   Leave a comment

The situation in Ukraine remains tense, but I still think that Russia will not invade the country. Having said that, I also remain somewhat flummoxed by what Russian President Putin intends to accomplish by encircling Ukraine. In a speech today, US President Biden indicated that Russian forces now total around 150,000, and many of those troops are in what are regarded as forward positions indicating an intention to invade. Russian forces now ring Ukraine from the North, the East, and the South, and there are also Russian troops in the Transnistria region of Moldova to the West. The Russian Duma ([Parliament] voted to recommend that Putin recognize the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as breakaway states (the Donbas), a recommendation that Putin decided to defer. And there are reports of denial-of-service attacks on official Ukrainian websites, although the significance of those attacks has yet to be assessed.

On the other hand, the Russians announced that some of their troops will return to barracks, although it is not clear whether that decision will change the tactical situation in any way. And in a meeting between German Chancellor Scholz and Ukrainian President Zelensky, Ukrainian admission to NATO was treated only as a very distant possibility (but not the flat-out rejection of the possibility as demanded by Putin). Finally, President Putin indicated that he believed that there was still time for a negotiated settlement.

Nonetheless, US President Biden delivered a very muscular speech on the situation today. He emphasized that the US still favored diplomacy, but he offered absolutely no concessions to any of the Russian specific demands (ruling out NATO for Ukraine forever and the withdrawal of NATO forces to the countries in NATO prior to 1994). The language of the speech was decidedly aggressive: “The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power.  An attack against one NATO country is an attack against all of us.  And the United States commitment to Article 5 is sacrosanct.” It may be the case that Biden believes that Putin is completely boxed in and has no recourse but to back down. If that is the case, then American hubris has struck again.

Posted February 15, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 February 2022   Leave a comment

Mekala Krishnan is my niece and she works for the McKinsey Global Institute. She is the lead author of a new study entitled “The net-zero transition: What it would cost, what it could bring?” The questions are critically important because we know that burning fossil fuels for energy is no longer a viable option for the future, yet there are no current alternatives which could satisfy the energy demands of the global economy. The policies in place today, including the Paris Agreement, lead to nothing more than a dead-end:

“At present, though, the net-zero equation remains unsolved: greenhouse gas emissions
continue unabated and are not counterbalanced by removals, nor is the world prepared
to complete the net-zero transition. Indeed, even if all net-zero commitments and national
climate pledges were fulfilled, research suggests that warming would not be held to 1.5°C
above preindustrial levels, increasing the odds of initiating the most catastrophic impacts
of climate change, including the risk of biotic feedback loops. Moreover, most of these
commitments have yet to be backed by detailed plans or executed. Nor would execution be
easy: solving the net-zero equation cannot be divorced from pursuing economic development
and inclusive growth. It would require a careful balancing of the shorter-term risks of poorly
prepared or uncoordinated action with the longer-term risks of insufficient or delayed action.
Indeed, a more disorderly transition could impair energy supply and affect energy access and
affordability, especially for lower-income households and regions. It could also have knock-on
impacts on the economy more broadly, potentially creating a backlash that would slow down
the transition.”

The best solution to his impending disaster is to substantially reduce the consumption of so many products but that solution is probably politically impossible (although it may be forced upon us). There is plenty of evidence that renewable energy sources can ultimately substitute for most fossil fuels, but that horizon remains distant for most countries in the world. Thus, the real problem is managing a transition with minimal disruption to the global economy.

The report does not downplay the costs of the transition:

“Capital spending on physical assets for energy and land-use systems in the net-zero transition between 2021 and 2050 would amount to about $275 trillion, or $9.2 trillion per year on average, an annual increase of as much as $3.5 trillion from today. To put this increase in comparative terms, the $3.5 trillion is approximately equivalent, in 2020, to half of global corporate profits, one-quarter of total tax revenue, and 7 percent of household spending. An additional $1 trillion of today’s annual spend would, moreover, need to be reallocated from high-emissions to low-emissions assets. Accounting for expected increases in spending, as incomes and populations grow, as well as for currently legislated transition policies, the required increase in spending would be lower, but still about $1 trillion.”

The proper way to think about this spending, however, is to think about the money as an investment, not as a cost. It is not as if there is much choice in the matter, at least for our grandchildren.

The report outlines all the opportunities for jobs in a net-zero world and there is no question in my mind that those jobs will more than compensate for the jobs lost in eliminating the fossil fuel industry. The difficulty arises from the asymmetry between the skills associated with each energy approach. Those who profit from the dependence on fossil fuels are not likely to be the same people who will benefit from a net-zero carbon emission energy economy. Societies should focus their attention on how to manage the disparities in benefits.

The report is very detailed and I highly recommend it for careful study. It is well-documented and clearly written. It also manages to maintain a dispassionate tone while bringing an urgent message home.

Posted February 10, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 February 2022   Leave a comment

David Hope and Julian Limberg of King’s College in London have published an article entitled “The economic consequences of major tax cuts for the rich” in the journal Socio-Economic Review. The authors take data from 1965 to 2015 from a number of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which is a group of mostly rich countries in the world. The article tests the proposition commonly made that tax cuts on the rich benefit everyone by boosting economic activity–the “trickle-down” theory of economic growth. Surprisingly, there are few rigorous analyses of this basic contention which permeates discussions about tax policy.

The authors find that the proposition is not empirically justified:

“Our results show that major tax cuts for the rich increase income inequality in the years following the reform…⁠. The magnitude of the effect is sizeable; on average, each major reform leads to a rise in top 1% share of pre-tax national income of over 0.7 percentage points. The results also show that economic performance, as measured by real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and the unemployment rate is not significantly affected by major tax cuts for the rich. The estimated effects for these variables are statistically indistinguishable from zero, and this finding holds in both the short and medium run.

The time period is important because it reflects a substantial reduction in taxes on the wealthy: “Highly progressive income taxes arose in the wake of the two World Wars, with average top marginal income tax rates still standing at around 60% in the early 1980s. That decade proved to be a major turning point, however, and average rates have since fallen to under 40% (Scheve and Stasavage, 2016Kiser and Karceski, 2017). This trend was mirrored in other taxes on the wealthy and corporations, which also dropped sharply over the past half century (Hope and Limberg, 2021).”

The conclusion of the article is direct:

“In sum, this study finds that major tax cuts for the rich push up income inequality, but do not boost economic performance. It therefore provides strong evidence against the influential political–economic idea that tax cuts for the rich ‘trickle down’ to benefit the wider economy. The study also points to a number potentially fruitful avenues for future research. It remains puzzling why ‘trickle down’ ideas have been so powerful and persistent in tax policy-making in the advanced democracies despite the lack of macroeconomic benefits from cutting taxes on the rich. “

What is most interesting about this finding is that we really did not need a rigorous analysis to dispute the proposition that lower taxes on the rich would lead to greater economic growth: “Whereas global GDP per capita grew by a yearly average of almost 2.8 percent during the 1960s and 1970s, growth from the 1980s to present has virtually halved, resting at just over 1.4 percent per annum.” But perhaps the most damning aspect of the “trickle-down” theory is that it is used as a cover for higher compensation for the CEOs of large corporations: “compensation for CEOs is now 278 times greater than for ordinary workers. That’s a stratospherically larger income gap than the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965.” The more accurate way to describe the economic theories of the last fifty years is “trickle-up”, not “trickle-down”.

Posted February 7, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

5 February 2022   Leave a comment

On 3 February there was a remarkable press briefing at the US State Department. The State Department representative, Ned Price, made an opening statement alleging that Russia was developing a propaganda video which would suggest that NATO forces had attacked the separatists in eastern Ukraine. This video would be a “false-flag” operation which the Russians would then claim gives them the right to protect those separatists against “NATO-Ukrainian” forces. The press did a great job of demanding evidence that this US assertion was true, as this lengthy exchange suggests:

QUESTION: Thanks. Okay, well, that’s quite a mouthful there. So you said “actions such as these suggest otherwise” – suggest meaning that they suggest they’re not interested in talks and they’re going to go ahead with some kind of a – what action are you talking about?

MR PRICE: One, the actions I have just pointed to, the fact –

QUESTION: What action? What —

MR PRICE: The fact that Russia continues to engage in disinformation campaigns.

QUESTION: Well no, you’ve made an allegation that they might do that. Have they actually done it?

MR PRICE: What we know, Matt, is what we – what I have just said, that they have engaged in this activity, in this planning activity —

QUESTION: Well, engage in what – hold on a second. What activity?

MR PRICE: But let me – let me – because obviously this is not – this is not the first time we’ve made these reports public. You’ll remember that just a few weeks ago –

QUESTION: I’m sorry, made what report public?

MR PRICE: If you let me finish, I will tell you what report we made public.


MR PRICE: We told you a few weeks ago that we have information indicating Russia also has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine. So that, Matt, to your question, is an action that Russia has already taken.

QUESTION: No, it’s an action that you say that they have taken, but you have shown no evidence to confirm that. And I’m going to get to the next question here, which is: What is the evidence that they – I mean, this is – like, crisis actors? Really? This is like Alex Jones territory you’re getting into now. What evidence do you have to support the idea that there is some propaganda film in the making?

MR PRICE: Matt, this is derived from information known to the U.S. Government, intelligence information that we have declassified. I think you know —

QUESTION: Okay, well, where is it? Where is this information?

MR PRICE: It is intelligence information that we have declassified.

QUESTION: Well, where is it? Where is the declassified information?

MR PRICE: I just delivered it.

QUESTION: No, you made a series of allegations and statements —

MR PRICE: Would you like us to print out the topper? Because you will see a transcript of this briefing that you can print out for yourself.

QUESTION: But that’s not evidence, Ned. That’s you saying it. That’s not evidence. I’m sorry.

MR PRICE: What would you like, Matt?

QUESTION: I would like to see some proof that you – that you can show that —

MR PRICE: Matt, you have been —

QUESTION: — that shows that the Russians are doing this.


QUESTION: Ned, I’ve been doing this for a long time, as you know.

MR PRICE: I know. That was my point. You have been doing this for quite a while.


MR PRICE: You know that when we declassify intelligence, we do so in a means —

QUESTION: That’s right. And I remember WMDs in Iraq, and I —

MR PRICE: — we do so with an eye to protecting sources and methods.

QUESTION: And I remember that Kabul was not going to fall. I remember a lot of things. So where is the declassified information other than you coming out here and saying it?

MR PRICE: Matt, I’m sorry you don’t like the format, but we have —

QUESTION: It’s not the format. It’s the content.

MR PRICE: I’m sorry you don’t like the content. I’m sorry you —

QUESTION: It’s not that I don’t like it or —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry you are doubting the information that is in the possession of the U.S. Government.


MR PRICE: What I’m telling you is that this is information that’s available to us. We are making it available to you in order – for a couple reasons. One is to attempt to deter the Russians from going ahead with this activity. Two, in the event we’re not able to do that, in the event the Russians do go ahead with this, to make it clear as day, to lay bare the fact that this has always been an attempt on the part of the Russian Federation to fabricate a pretext.

QUESTION: Yes, but you don’t have any evidence to back it up other than what you’re saying. It’s like you’re saying, “We think – we have information the Russians may do this,” but you won’t tell us what the information is. And then when you’re asked —

MR PRICE: Well, that is the idea behind deterrence, Matt. That is the idea behind deterrence.

QUESTION: When you’re asked – and when you’re asked —

MR PRICE: It is our hope that the Russians don’t go forward with this.

QUESTION: And when you’re asked what the information is, you say, “I just gave it to you.” But that’s not what —

MR PRICE: You seem not to understand —

QUESTION: That’s not the way it works.

MR PRICE: You seem not to understand the idea of deterrence.

QUESTION: No, no, no, Ned. You don’t – you seem not to understand the idea of —

MR PRICE: We are trying to deter the Russians from moving forward with this type of activity. That is why we are making it public today. If the Russians don’t go forward with this, that is not ipso facto an indication that they never had plans to do so.

QUESTION: But then it’s unprovable. I mean, my God, what is the evidence that you have that suggests that the Russians are even planning this?

MR PRICE: Matt, you —

QUESTION: I mean, I’m not saying that they’re not. But you just come out and say this and expect us just to believe it without you showing a shred of evidence that it’s actually true – other than when I ask or when anyone else asks what’s the information, you said, well, I just gave it to you, which was just you making a statement.

MR PRICE: Matt, you said yourself you’ve been in this business for quite a long time. You know that when we make information – intelligence information public we do so in a way that protects sensitive sources and methods. You also know that we do so – we declassify information – only when we’re confident in that information.

QUESTION: But Ned, you haven’t given any information.

MR PRICE: If you doubt – if you doubt the credibility of the U.S. Government, of the British Government, of other governments, and want to find solace in information that the Russians are putting out —


MR PRICE: — that is for you to do.

QUESTION: I don’t want – I’m not asking what the Russian Government is putting out. And what do you – what is that supposed to mean?

MR PRICE: Shaun.

QUESTION: Does the government have the video? Because U.S. officials are describing very specific scenes, but do they actually have a video?

MR PRICE: The fact that we are able to go into such great detail – obviously, I am not going to spell out what is in our possession, but I will leave – I will leave it to you – I will leave that to your judgment, to your imagination.

QUESTION: Ned, there are no facts that you’ve spelled out.

QUESTION: Whether they use it “in the coming days” – do you have evidence this was intended to come out in the coming days?

MR PRICE: We’ve said, Ben, for some time now that the Russians have positioned forces, they have undertaken preparations, that if Putin decides to move forward with an invasion they’re positioned to do so. They are poised to do so.

QUESTION: You just said – you said “in the coming days.” I mean, was that a timeline that you felt that this was going to happen imminently?

MR PRICE: Well, we know what they are planning for. We know the contingencies that they have engaged in. And again, these are the kinds of steps that they are poised to undertake if that decision is made. Our goal in all of this is to deter an invasion, to deter this type of activity. So we certainly hope it doesn’t take place. We are making clear what we know so that in the event it does take place it will be clear to the world what this actually was and what it was not.

QUESTION: And the pre-positioned teams, when do you suggest they were pre-positioned? Is it going back months, I mean, or was this a more recent sort of deployment?

MR PRICE: Well, this was something that we made public several weeks ago now. So several weeks ago we said that information available to us indicated that Russia had already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Was it recent at that point? Because if they had come across just a few weeks ago, that would be a Russian aggression across the border, which you’ve warned time and time again would result in severe consequences.

MR PRICE: Ben, you know that the sort of hybrid activity that we’ve been pointing to, much of it has been going on since 2014. Obviously, we’re very attuned to any Russian aggression against Ukraine that may take place in this atmosphere given the heightened tensions.

I admire the tenacity of the press. I have vivid memories of controversies over the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in the US-Vietnam War and the weapons of mass destruction controversy in the US-Iraq War of 2003. In both cases assertions were made by the US government that subsequently turned out to be false. Mr. Price apparently has forgotten that many US citizens have memories similar to mine. It is unfortunate that the US Government continues to forget its obligation to be truthful and that such behavior only corrodes the legitimacy of government actions.

Posted February 5, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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