How the pandemic exposes irrationalities in our social system

by Emrys Westacott

The current Covid 19 pandemic is undoubtedly a disaster for millions of people: for those who die, who grieve for the dead, who suffer through a traumatic illness, or who, suddenly lacking work and income, face the prospect of dire poverty as the inevitable recession kicks in. And there are other bad consequences that one might not describe as ‘disastrous” but which are certainly significant: the stress experienced by all those providing care for the sick; the interruption in the education of students; the strain put on families holed up together perhaps for months on end; the loneliness suffered by those who are truly isolated; and the blighted career prospects of new graduates in both the public and the private sectors.

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Can We Benefit from Bipolarity?

Caught between the superpowers that are China and the United States, Southeast Asian countries may feel the pressure to choose sides. What then, is a prudent course to take?


Professor Khong Yuen Foong is the Li Ka Shing Professor in Political Science at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS. He was formerly Professor of International Relations at Nuffield College, Oxford University. His research interests include US foreign policy, international relations of the Asia-Pacific, and cognitive approaches to international relations. His recent publications cover the American tributary system and the US’ response to China’s rise.

In recent years, Asia has become bipolar, that is, it houses two great or ‘super’ powers whose comprehensive capabilities are head and shoulders above the rest in the region. The two powers are the US and China. And as international relations theory would have it, when the structure of an international or regional system is bipolar, the dominant logic is one that is characterised by serious geopolitical competition between the two main powers, not unlike the rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

A major implication of bipolarity is that there is the tendency of the antagonists to view their own gains as losses for the other, and the need to corral as many allies as possible. This imperative has concerned leaders in the region about the looming pressure to choose between the two superpowers – and of making the right choice.

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Putin Says ‘The Rich Must Pay’ for the Corona-Virus

Russian Orthodox Church lends weight to Putin patriotism - BBC News

Vladimir Putin has decided how Russia is going to pay for the corona-virus.

He’s going to tax the rich.

It’s a remedy that most Americans would support if they were given the choice, but they weren’t asked. Instead, Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package for which the American taxpayer will be held entirely responsible. Even worse, the new legislation contains a $500 billion allocation (another corporate giveaway) that the Federal Reserve will use as a capital base for borrowing $4.5 trillion. That massive sum of money will be used to buy toxic bonds in the corporate bond market. Just as Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) were used to fleece millions of investors out of their hard-earned savings in the run-up to the 2008 Financial Crisis, so too, “toxic” corporate bonds were the weapon of choice that was used to pilfer trillions of dollars from investors in the run-up to today’s crisis. (Same scam, different instrument) The virus was merely the proximate cause that tipped the sector into meltdown. The problem had been festering for years and everyone in the financial community (Including the Fed, the BIS and the IMF) knew that it was only a matter of time before the market would blow sky-high. Which it did.

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Italy Must Never Forget…Or Forgive

Another 832 people died from coronavirus in Italy today. The country’s fatalities have passed 10,000. Some believe this number is a massive undercount and the number of deaths could be as high as 50,000.

But an equally important story is how the liberal powers, particularly the European Union and NATO, have reacted to Italy’s desperate cries for help.

Israel, a dangerous rogue nation Italian conservatives have been trying to sell as an “alliance” worth deepening, has mobilized to provide emergency support to the devastated city of Milan. The catch? The “solidarity” is only for Jews.

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This Time, Can We Finally Turn a Financial Crisis Into an Opportunity?

Once again, markets are crashing and taxpayers are bailing out wealthy insiders. It’s time we reform this perverse social contract.

At a time of coronavirus-induced panic in the financial markets, there are two wrong ideas about supporting the economy in a downturn that still haunt us. One possible upside of the current crisis is that these two ideas may finally be buried for good. And when they are, we might use this rare moment of clarity to fundamentally rethink who these markets, and their perennial bailouts, benefit in the first place.

The first of these ideas is that investors, when they decide to buy or sell their assets, are responding rationally to information. That is, markets are “efficient,” and therefore the best way to organize how a society chooses to invest. This idea is challenged by what we have seen in the financial markets over the past two weeks. Panicking investors are responding to uncertainty, not information. Central banks around the world have rightly intervened to try to stabilize markets that have been anything but efficient.

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Arrogance and Condescension Cause Resentment and Blowback

We see the word virus a lot these days, along with various forms of adjective referring to the causes and nature of Covid-19, the name given to the Coronavirus disease by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and used internationally when referring to the health crisis that has fallen upon our globe. It is used by almost everyone with some glaring exceptions, including the U.S. Secretary of State, the outwardly genial but profoundly poisonous Mike Pompeo, and various Republican politicians who are determined to deflect attention from the massive efforts by China to contain, control and eventually eradicate the disease.

In the minds of the “Keep America Great” obsessives, led by President Trump who absurdly wore a cap with that inscription when visiting the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Florida on 8 March, there is no greater priority than maintaining U.S. military and economic ascendancy around the world, and one of the ways of doing this is to disparage, malign and insult those who fail to fall to toe the Washington line. Pompeo is a front-runner in this, and rarely loses an opportunity to boost what he imagines to be U.S. ascendancy.

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The Nobel Peace Prize Is A Sick Joke

The Nobel Peace Prize was founded in 1901 by Alfred Nobel, an arms manufacturer. His family factory first gained notoriety for producing weapons for the Crimean War of 1853-1856. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and various other powerful explosives. These explosives were used to devastate people in conflicts such as the Spanish-American War.

After Nobel’s brother died, because of a journalistic error, the public believed that Alfred Nobel had died. In his obituary, he was portrayed as an amoral businessman who made millions of dollars off of the deaths of others. His critics declared that “the merchant of death is dead” and that Alfred Nobel “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”

According to Live Science, this discovery shocked Nobel, and to improve his legacy, “one year before he died in 1896, Nobel signed his last will and testament, which set aside the majority of his vast estate to establish the five Nobel Prizes, including one awarded for the pursuit of peace.” This may very well have been a genuine act, but it is important to draw parallels between the origin of the award and its not so peaceful recipients. Here are three of the Nobel Peace Prize winners that turned out to be war criminals.

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Munich conference reveals East-West divide

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi makes a speech at the 56th Munich Security Conference at on Feb 15, 2020. Photo: Abdulhamid Hosbas / Anadolu / AFP

Few postmodern political pantomimes have been more revealing than the hundreds of so-called “international decision-makers,” mostly Western, waxing lyrical, disgusted or nostalgic over “Westlessness” at the Munich Security Conference. 

“Westlessness” sounds like one of those constipated concepts issued from a post-party bad hangover at the Rive Gauche during the 1970s. In theory (but not French Theory) Westlessness in the age of Whatsapp should mean a deficit of multiparty action to address the most pressing threats to the “international order” – or (dis)order – as nationalism, derided as a narrow-minded populist wave, prevails.  

Yet what Munich actually unveiled was some deep – Western – longing for those effervescent days of humanitarian imperialism, with nationalism in all its strands being cast as the villain impeding the relentless advance of profitable, neocolonial Forever Wars. 

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What is a nation?

This is a reply to Brandon’s latest post. I offer similar thoughts to the below post in my post about ethnicity.

I agree with Brandon that in discussing things we should not limit ourselves to thinking in terms of states. We must consider, as Brandon puts it, both supra and sub states. We must also recall that states are much more fluid than we usually consider them.

When discussing international relations I attempt to get my conversation partners to agree that:

(1) National borders are not stable and,

(2) National identity is more fiction than reality.

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How Democracy Made Us Dumb

From the riffs of outrage coming from the Democrats and their demos over “our democracy” betrayed, infiltrated even destroyed—you’d never know that a rich vein of thinking in opposition to democracy runs through Western intellectual thought, and that those familiar with it would be tempted to say “good riddance.”

Voicing opposition to democracy is just not done in politically polite circles, conservative and liberal alike.

For this reason, the Mises Institute’s Circle in Seattle, an annual gathering, represented a break from the pack.

The Mises Institute is the foremost think tank working to advance free-market economics from the perspective of the Austrian School of Economics. It is devoted to peace, prosperity, and private property, implicit in which is the demotion of raw democracy, the state, and its welfare-warfare machine.

This year, amid presentations that explained “Why American Democracy Fails,” it fell to me to speak to “How Democracy Made Us Dumb.” (Oh yes! Reality on the ground was not candy-coated.)

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