Aug 012015
 
 August 1, 2015  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing “Slaves reunion DC. Ages: 100, 104, 103; Rev. Simon P. Drew, born free.” 1921

Time to tackle a topic that’s very hard to get right, and that will get me quite a few pairs of rolling eyes. I want to argue that societies need a social fabric, a social contract, and that without those they must and will fail, descend into chaos. Five months ago, I wrote the following about Europe:

Europe, The Morally Bankrupt Union

The European Union is busy accomplishing something truly extraordinary: it is fast becoming such a spectacular failure that people don’t even recognize it as one.[..] the Grand European Failure is bound to lead to real life consequences soon, and they’ll be devastating. The union that was supposed to put an end to all fighting across the continent, is about to be the fuse that sets off a range of battles. [..]

The carefully re-crafted relationship with Russia, which took 25 years to build, was destroyed again in hardly over a year, something for which Angela Merkel deserves so much blame it may well end up being her main political legacy.

To its south, the EU faces perhaps its most shameful -or should that be ‘shameless’? – problem, because it doesn’t do anything about it: the thousands of migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe but far too often perish in the process. [..]

But the biggest failure is not even in politics outside of its own territory. The union rots from within. Which starts with its moral bankruptcy, obviously. If you allow yourself to be an active accomplice in the death of over 6000 East Ukrainians, and you simply look away as thousands of migrants die in the seas off your shores, it should not be surprising that you just as easily allow for a humanitarian crisis, like the one in Greece, to develop within your own borders. It comes with the territory, so to speak.

And make no mistake: this absence of moral values is something Europe in its present form will never be able to claim back. Never. The EU has shown itself to be a gross moral failure, and that’s it: the experiment is over. They can’t come back in 10 or 20 years and say: now we want it back, we’re different now. You’d need to have a whole new union, new rules and principles, and new leadership. [..]

What will undo Europe from within is its economic policies. Which are strongly linked to the same moral values issue: inside a union, you cannot let thousands of people go without food and health care while others, a few hundred miles away, drive new Mercs and Beamers over a brand new Autobahn. That’s not a union. That’s a feudal society.

Though it may look out of far left field for those of us -and there are many- who think in economic and political terms only, we cannot do without a conscious definition of a social contract. We need to address the role of compassion, morals, even love, in our societies. If Jesus meant anything, it was that.

There have been times through history when this subject would have been much easier to breach, but we today almost seem to think they are irrelevant, that we can do without them. We can’t. But in the US, people get killed at traffic stops every day, and in Europe, they die of sheer negligence. Developments like these will lead to ‘centers that cannot hold’.

In that part of the media whirlwind that we at the Automatic Earth expose ourselves to, virtually all discussions about our modern world, and what goes wrong with it, which is obviously a whole lot, are conducted in rational terms, in financial and political terminology.

But that’s exactly what we should not be doing. Because it’s never going to get us anywhere. In the end, let alone in the beginning too, we are not rational creatures. And if and when we resort to only rational terms to define ourselves, as well as our world and the societies we create in that world, we can only fail.

For a society to succeed, before and beyond any economic and political features are defined, it must be based solidly on moral values, a moral compass, compassion, humanity and simple decency among its members. And those should never be defined by economists or lawyers or politicians, but by the people themselves. A social contract needs to be set up by everyone involved, and with everyone’s consent. Or it won’t last.

How and why that most basic principle got lost should tell us a lot about where we are today, and about how we got here. Morals seem to have become optional. The 40-hour death struggle of Cecil the lion exemplifies that pretty well. And no, his is not some rare case. The lack of morals involved in killing Cecil is our new normal.

In the US, these values seem to have long since disappeared from very substantial segments of society. A closer look would seem to teach us that this is largely because of the top down approach that comes with an oversized government apparatus that seeks to rule over what are today some 320 million people.

There are multiple reasons why such a government can’t work to make a society successful. First, there are far too many people to rule over; the human brain can’t conceive, other than in completely abstract terms, of meaningful human contact, in whatever shape or form, let alone of compassion, between such numbers of people.

The Catholic church, for all its failures, did succeed in binding a society together, and repeating that across many societies, but it never endeavored to gain control of every single political and economic system. Washington does.

Making morals optional necessarily means they will vanish. All strong societies through history had strong and binding social contracts. Less successful ones did not. We, however, have only financial and legal contracts left, no social ones other than those that are almost entirely optional. We ourselves cannot kill people at will, but our governments can. We -apparently- can still kill lions, though.

The second most important reason why the US, and now the EU with it, are destined to fail, is that their structures, which with the numbers of people involved must of necessity become less democratic with time, inevitably slide into selecting for the exact wrong kind of people, as I’ve often argued before.

Societies this size inevitably select for power hungry sociopaths; there is no other option. It’s a process we even see also in smaller scale societies today. With the advent of serious attempts to utilize Freud’s theories for penetrating people’s unconscious minds, picked up by Goebbels and since perfected by secret services, spin doctors and ad agencies, the world has become a whole other place. Even if most haven’t noticed.

The curious thing is that many separate EU nations for many years did have such compassion and humanity. Which these days are often mistaken for socialism. Which in turn, if we may believe the majority of pundits, is about the worst principle a country can pick to build its society on.

In reality, though, most of it has always simply been a matter of precisely that by which we can, should, judge a society’s success and viability: the extent to which it cares for its weakest and most vulnerable.

That in some cases this has perhaps been taken too far, doesn’t change the fact: we still can’t call a society successful that leaves its weakest to starve by the curb. And it doesn’t matter how much distorted Darwinism and Ayn Randism and neo- or ordo-liberalism one may wish to throw at it. A successful society must take care of all of its members to the extent that it can. Simply because man is a social animal.

Still, the principle of compassion seems to have all but vanished with the development of the European Union. And if there’s one main reason why that Union is doomed to fail, it’s that. It’s not the failed economic policies, it’s not even the increasing power politics that doom it: it’s the relentless drive towards a group of individuals seeking the power to manipulate millions of people they never met, with impunity.

The divergence between individual European nations and the Union seated in Brussels is also the source of much of the division between both. Greece doesn’t want to let its people slide into further misery. Brussels couldn’t care less: Athens has to stick to rules and regulations no matter how many of its children go hungry or how many of its elderly pass away from entirely preventable afflictions.

It’s right there, in that division, that the EU is blowing up itself. You can’t have a viable political or economic union if you don’t take care of the weakest. Thing is, once you got the sociopaths in charge, the inevitability of the process of losing and eroding a social contract gets ignored. Unless and until the people in the streets pick it up again.

No, the biggest issue in Europe is not whether the Union moves toward even closer ties. The biggest issue is that the Union is morally deficient in its core.

Ironically, it’s the Greek people who understand much better than the Dutch and Germans that “without love, it ain’t much”. And they are labeled a less developed society for it. While the less fortunate in Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam continue to receive relatively generous welfare and other benefits, certainly compared to their Greek peers. A two-tier union is not some future concept, it’s here.

And it’s not just Greece. The embarrassing situation with the refugees at Calais is due to the exact same moral quicksand. David Cameron is going to send “dogs and fences”. He’s going to send in dogs to ‘fight’ against people! We’ve seen that kind of thing before. And the military can’t be far behind.

It’s the only answer a certain class of people manage to come up with. After they’ve ignored and tried to wish away an issue they should long have tackled. It’s only when British tourists and truck drivers start complaining that Cameron ‘acts’. The refugees have been at Calais for a long time, during which no. 10 did nothing at all.

Just as disgraceful is the influx of African and Asian refugees on Greek islands that Brussels refuses to do anything about. The Greek population try to do what they can, as do the Italians. But their budgets are all in EU hands now, and Brussels doesn’t care. The EU’s only response is force, not compassion or moral values.

There are mass migrations going on in many parts of the world. They are the inevitable result of the means of mass transportation and mass communication we developed. We have two options: either we facilitate for the inclusion of the refugees in our societies, or we actively help develop their homelands. If we don’t, they will still keep coming, and things will get ugly.

Whichever choice we make, we need to do it in a spirit of humanity. We can’t turn our back on these people, not the Greeks, not the refugees, that can only come back to haunt us. And besides, we don’t have the -moral- right. In the meantime, don’t let’s forget that the number of refugees in Calais pales in comparison to the numbers that land in Greece on a daily basis.

The governments that represent us put us to shame as human beings. But in the end it’s us, ourselves, who allow them to do it.

It may be strange to see a finance site argue that letting finance set society’s values is a dead end, but at the same time we all know what’s involved, we just choose to be blind to it. Man cannot live by money alone, just as he cannot live by bread alone. We are not Christian, but we do remember this:

Matthew 4-4: “But he answered and said, “It is written: ‘A man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ “

Again, this is not optional. We can either get this right, or we’ll descend into chaos. Something many of our ‘leaders’ would not only welcome, but are actively instigating. It’s up to us, and that means you too, to keep them from doing it.

Take a look at the black kids getting killed in the US, look at the Greek children and grandmas who don’t have medicine or food, look at the refugees that are part of today’s mass migration, and who get dogs send in against them, look at all the areas in the world where our -western- interference has caused mass misery for profit, and if you still don’t get it, take a look at Cecil, and what his death symbolizes about our societies and values.

Societies which we are all part of, and values we should share in order to maintain our societies as going concerns. We may well have just one last chance to get it right. But that chance is fading as fast as our penchant for compassion. The lunatics have truly taken over.

Apr 262015
 
 April 26, 2015  Posted by at 2:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Clam seller in Mulberry Bend, NYC 1904

After the high-level EU summit on the migrant issue, hastily convened after close to a thousand people drowned last weekend off the Lybian coast, Dutch PM Mark Rutte was quoted by ‘his’ domestic press as saying ‘Our first priority is saving human lives’. That sounds commendable, and it also sounds just like what everybody knows everybody else wants to hear. One can be forgiven, therefore, for thinking that it’s somewhat unfortunate that the one person tasked by Brussels with executing the noble ‘saving lives’ strategy, doesn’t seem to entirely agree with Rutte:

EU Borders Chief Says Saving Migrants’ Lives ‘Shouldn’t Be Priority’ For Patrols

The head of the EU border agency has said that saving migrants’ lives in the Mediterranean should not be the priority for the maritime patrols he is in charge of, despite the clamour for a more humane response from Europe following the deaths of an estimated 800 people at sea at the weekend. On the eve of an emergency EU summit on the immigration crisis, Fabrice Leggeri, the head of Frontex, flatly dismissed turning the Triton border patrol mission off the coast of Italy into a search and rescue operation.

He also voiced strong doubts about new EU pledges to tackle human traffickers and their vessels in Libya. “Triton cannot be a search-and-rescue operation. I mean, in our operational plan, we cannot have provisions for proactive search-and-rescue action. This is not in Frontex’s mandate, and this is in my understanding not in the mandate of the European Union,” Leggeri told the Guardian.

To refresh your memory, the Triton border patrol mission took the place late last year of Italy’s Mare Nostrum mission, which ended in October 2014. For good measure, the budget was slashed from the €9.5 million per month Italy had been putting in, to €2.9 million per month. Saving lives can be simply too expensive when you think about it in your high rise office in that brand new €1 billion+ EU building. These are hard economic times, and we all need to make sacrifices and to cut costs wherever we can.

But of course after that summit, Europe announced it was going to triple the budget for the Triton mission. That will of course only simply bring back the budget to where it already was before it was cut by two-thirds, but it’s a nice headline anyway.

The difference in focus between Rutte and Frontex head Leggeri can be found all around Europe. It would be nonsense to claim Europe agrees on much of anything regarding the refugee issue. Well, they agree it’s a nuisance that all these people die and Europe is supposed to do something. The national government leaders would like it much better if such things didn’t happen, it’s bad publicity. But at the same time, it’s nothing that can’t be spun and turned to their advantage. Or so they like to think.

Reactions to the statements released after the summit were not all positive, to say the least. Amnesty said that the only thing Europe tries to save is its face. Former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt, at present a member of the European Parliament, indicated that the equipment Frontex has at its disposal (one helicopter, two ships and seven planes) wouldn’t even be enough to survey the Belgian coast (of which there’s not a lot).

Just to make sure his peers wouldn’t think he’d gone all soft, Rutte came with another catchy oneliner: “Last time I checked, Lybia was in Africa, not Europe.” In other words, ‘saving lives’ is a great press quote, but don’t blame him for lives lost. And that’s the crux behind the shift from Italy’s mission to the EU’s. The former was patrolling off the coast of Lybia, while the latter occupies itself only with the European coastline, and it just so happens that’s not where refugees’ lives are under threat (let’s stop saying migrants, that’s a grossly misleading term).

In its infinite wisdom, the EU has decided in its summit that there will be 5000 ‘resettlement’ places available for the hundreds of thousands of refugees (migrants) that want to go to Europe. The EU in a post-summit statement said it expects 150,000 refugees this year, but it might as well add up to 500,000 in 2015 alone. How Brussels thinks it’s going to send back almost half a million people is a big question mark. So much so we’d put our money on no-one having properly thought it over.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, millions of refugees are making their way to the Mediterranean from trouble spots across Africa. To put it in somewhat cynical economic terms, think of this as pent-up demand. And also don’t forget how Patrick Boyle framed it: “We fear the arrival of immigrants that we have drawn here with the wealth we stole from them.”

The typical story of the refugees is one in which it takes years to get from their mostly sub-Saharan homes to the Lybian coast, working odd jobs on the way. Once they get to Lybia, which has been shot to bits by western forces, they’re dependent on all sorts of militia, who often arrest them, take their money etc. Perhaps the most insulting thing to come out of Brussels is the comparison with Somali pirates, and the argument that the refugee stream should be dealt with in the same way.

Indeed, much of the European ‘leadership’ have emphasized one approach more than any other: send in the military, start shooting. The idea being that if the boats of the traffickers are destroyed, everything will return to ‘normal’. But the issue here is not the traffickers, it’s the refugees. Want to send in the military against them too?

If there’s anything good that can come from the deeply deplorable death of far too many poor sods in the Meditteranean, it’s that it shows us all once more, as if we needed further confirmation, what a dysfunctional entity – morally as well as practically – the European Union is. More than anything, the EU makes itself entirely irrelevant. There is no decision structure in Brussels, since there is no ultimate responsibility that has been assigned. And they all sort of like it that way for now, because it means everyone can deflect that responsibility if and when necessary.

From the first example above that should be very clear: Rutte says the first priority should be saving lives, but the man who leads the organization that is tasked with executing it, flatly denies that.

Greek news organization Kathimerini ran a piece this week that serves to add yet another level of cold cynicism. Lest we forget, it’s Europe’s poorest countries that are forced to deal with the brunt of the refugee problem. In that summit we mentioned before, half of all European nations refused to take up even one single refugee. Yet another example of the absolute lack of coherence and solidarity that so-called union exhibits.

The idea seems to be: Let ’em all stay in Greece, while we suffocate the nation financially. But Greece cannot solve the issue all by itself, it can’t handle the expected 100,000 refugees on its own. It will be forced to open its borders and tell the refugees to try and reach Germany or France. See also: Open Letter From Greece on the Mediterranean Migrants Issue.

The present EU policy is that a refugee must stay in the country where (s)he has been registered. Hence, all Greece and Italy need to do is not register them. Kathimerini:

The Dubious Politics Of Fortress Europe

In “Border Merchants: Europe’s New Architecture of Surveillance” (published by Potamos), Apostolis Fotiadis, an Athens-based freelance investigative journalist, seeks to document a paradigm shift in Europe’s immigration policy away from search and rescue operations to all-out deterrence. The switch, the 36-year-old author argues, plays into the hands of the continent’s defense industry and is being facilitated by the not-so-transparent Brussels officialdom. “Their solution to the immigration problem is that of constant management because this increases their ability to exploit it as a market. The defense industry would much rather see the protracted management of the problem than a final solution,” Fotiadis said in a recent interview with Kathimerini English Edition.

“Without a crisis there would be no need for emergency measures, no need for states to upgrade their surveillance and security systems,” he said. Fotiadis claims the trend is facilitated by the revolving door between defense industry executives and the Brussels institutions, which means that conflict of interests is built right into EU policy. “There is a certain habitat in which many people represent the institutions and at the same time express a philosophy about the common good,” he said. [..]

Fotiadis believes there is no reason Greece should not be able to set up some basic infrastructure to deal with the influx. He says that the number of immigrants and refugees received by the EU is in fact small compared to the more than 1.5 million refugees who have found shelter in Turkey due to civil war in Syria. Jordan is estimated to be home to over 1 million Syrian refugees, while one in every four people in Lebanon is a refugee. Meanwhile, the EU, one of the wealthiest regions of the world, with a combined population of over 500 million, last year took in less than 280,000 people. “All that hysteria is a knee-jerk overreaction to an illusory version of reality,” he said.

Why Greece or any other country would wish, be eager even, to be part of the EU is becoming ever harder to comprehend. The moral values prevalent in Brussels, whether it comes to EU policies regarding Ukraine, Greece or the refugees’ dilemma, don’t seem to be shared in any individual European nation (if anything, they’re reminiscent of what various extreme right wing parties espouse).

And as the Greek negotiations with the eurogroup and the ‘institutions’ show us with intense and increasing clarity, the notion of the euro being a boat to lift all tides turns out to be full-on bogus. Southern Europe’s nations will be either thrown out or allowed to stay only as debt servants. For now, Germany and Holland prefer to keep everyone on board, but that may still change. It would therefore seem like a good idea for Greece and Italy to make their moves while they can.

In order to achieve that, however, they must convince their people that staying in the EU, and in the eurozone, is a bad choice. And since their old-time political establishments will continue to deny this (because the EU allowed them to sit fat and pretty), that will not be an easy task. Perhaps the refugee issue can help.

In all likelihood, the victims of the sunken boat near the Lybian coast this weekend will never be identified, except for perhaps a handful. Nobody knows who they are, and those who do stayed behind a thousand miles or more away. These deceased people, most of whom will never even be buried ashore, define, in one fell swoop, the ‘new’ price of a human life. Theirs, yours, and everyone else’s.

Sinking nameless to the bottom of the sea, with no-one either ever knowing who you are or aware of how you are doing. That is our new valuation of a human being. It’s price discovery in its most cynical sense, it’s how assets get re-priced in markets.

What Tsipras and Varoufakis must accomplish is to make people understand that what Europe does to the refugees, it will do to its own citizens too.