Sunday, April 29, 2007

Damn Yankees

Whenever a group of properly-educated Canadians meet, at least back home in Canada, the conversation inevitably turns to criticism of the United States. So it was recently on an email list of Canadian professionals to which I subscribe. Unfortunately, and unusually, this time there was dissent.

Of a sort. Half the group was irate at Americans for calling themselves “Americans.” After all, weren’t Canadians, not to mention Mexicans, Brazilians, and so forth, Americans too? “America,” or “American” properly refers to anything in North or South America. The other half, though, was irate at Americans referring to things and events in Canada as “America” or “American.” After all, didn’t this imply a claim to our resources?

It is not, clearly, what Americans do—whatever they do is wrong. It is simply wrong to be an American. On that score there never seems to be any dissent, among properly-educated Canadians. There is something very wrong with anything coming from the US.

Among other charges laid against the great republic to the south, in this particular discussion was that they were only a “pseudo-democracy,” that they were “imperialists,” and that they were “self-aggrandizing.”

If ‘twere true, ‘twere a grievous fault. Well, reasonably grievous, anyway. But structurally and culturally, for better or worse, the US is actually objectively more democratic than Canada. I’m not making this up. The Canadian prime minister, for a start, calls the shots personally in a way unthinkable to a US President; there are few checks and balances on his power. One of our two houses of parliament is appointed; while our head of state is born into the position. And we have a historic tendency, to a level unique among democracies, to de-facto one-party jurisdictions. We hold all the records for single individuals or parties remaining in power. The US may not be the most democratic country in the world; there is a good argument that nations using some form or proportional representation exceed it; but it is at least doing better than Canada. Culturally, too—in its respect for the views and the values of the ordinary man in the street, for pop culture, as opposed to those of a cultural elite—it is more democratic in spirit.

Structurally and culturally, too, the US is rather less imperialist than Canada. Let’s look at the facts here: Canada and the US share the world’s longest border. Save for the part that runs through the Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence, there are no natural defenses anywhere along it. The US is the world’s greatest military power, by an order of magnitude. Canada is much smaller in population, rich in natural resources, and has only a nominal armed forces.

And yet, do Canadians stay up nights fearing an American anschluss?

Not unless they’re certifiably paranoid.

Wouldn’t Ireland, Poland, Korea, Algeria, or Tibet love an equally imperialist neighbour?
Properly-educated Canadians will complain that the American invasion of Iraq was √§ll about oil.” But let’s get serious here. If the US wanted control of most of the world’s oil, they could have it in a week; and they wouldn’t waste their time in Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar are, most of them, barely bigger than their postage stamps. Conquest by the US would be a trivial matter. Not to mention, closer to home, Canada’s tar sands, or Venezuela’s oilfields.

No, the truer statement is that the US is perhaps unique in history as the first nation who, clearly able to seize an empire, deliberately chose not to. This is because the American ideology is uniquely anti-imperialist. We have America mostly to thank for the decline of empire worldwide: through Wilson’s fourteen points, and through Eisenhower’s actions in the Suez crisis.

It is we, Canadians, who are the old imperialists—the United Empire Loyalists. Even today, Nunavut is arguably a colony, and the vision of Canada promoted by our official policy of multiculturalism, enshrined in the constitution, looks like nothing so much as the old boy’s-book celebration of empire, with smiling natives in colourful native dress. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because empire is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is absurd to hear Canadians tar Americans with that cock feather.

As to self-aggrandizement: how often do Canadians abroad go around wearing the Maple Leaf, or sew it on their backpack? How often are they seen handing out little Canada pins? Nothing wrong, I suppose, with a little pride in country; but can you imagine Americans doing the same thing? They would be scorned, first and foremost by Canadians, as unspeakably chauvinistic if they did.

Come on, compadres. Canada is quite a nice enough, important enough country without running down the USA. Indeed, it looks rather bigger and nicer, both to myself and to many foreigners of my acquaintance, when we do not.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Good Guys Always Win in Overtime

A further observation on the interplay of good with evil, as we see it writ large in history, or writ small in our daily lives: the typical dynamic is very much that of death and resurrection. The story of the New Testament is the logos of all creation. This is so because everywhere, evil has the tactical advantage, while good has the strategic advantage. Therefore, evil always appears to be winning until the very end, when suddenly, deus ex machina, evil collapses and good comes again in glory.

In the Second World War, a stark battle between good and evil, Hitler could not seem to lose until well into the war. France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Jews all died and rose again (the last as Israel). Just as surely, Japan and Germany, after historic unconditional surrenders, complete defeat, rose from the destruction wrought on them by their own leaders. Britain and the Soviet Union were both saved by the slightest of odds, at the last possible moment: by a margin of a few planes, and in the German stall within sight of Moscow. God intervened with ice and fire. It was as miraculous as the Angel of Mons.

Similarly in some of the other examples we cited yesterday: IBM conquered Apple and took over its market—and then was crushed by Dell and others. Today, IBM is driven right out of the business, while Apple is more profitable than ever, albeit not really from its desktops. Microsoft crushed Netscape—but now looks like it will lose out (mark my words here) in the browser wars to Firefox and Google. Meantime, Netscape seems to have found new spark as a news aggregator—watch this space.

It is hard to believe now, but nobody in the chattering classes saw the fall of the Berlin Wall coming. Just the reverse: all the bright and informed people in the Seventies and Eighties were either warning us that the Soviets had a wide and growing military edge, or arguing that we would have to become gradually more like them. The democratic West was on the way out; the Soviets were the wave of the future. Right up until they collapsed.

The same—mark my words—will happen one day to China. Do not invest; do not pass Go.

Many of the nations of Eastern Europe are now undergoing an economic resurrection: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary. Nothing bears like land just burned over.

And so it goes. A roller coaster ride every time, even though the outcome seems pre-ordained. Perhaps God just likes to keep things interesting.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Right and Wrong

It is fashionable in some quarters—broadly, educated quarters—to condemn moral clarity. Anyone portraying the world, or any particular conflict, as a simple struggle between good and evil must expect ridicule. The real world is not like that; to believe so is simple-minded, prejudiced.

And yet, that is exactly what the world is all about, according to any Christian. And yet, that is exactly what the world is all about, full stop. There were precious few, at the time, ready to condemn German Nazism as evil either—it took a renegade with the moral clarity of a Winston Churchill to call it such, to general condemnation from educated quarters. Yet we take this for granted now; now it is considered morally evil even to suggest otherwise. Similarly, we now surely know unambiguously that Soviet Communism was evil; it killed many more people, in its lifetime, than Hitler. Yet it took a renegade with the moral clarity of a Ronald Reagan to call it such, to call it an “evil empire,” to general condemnation from educated quarters.

We can, I think, go down the list of historic conflicts in this way. More often than not, they are fairly clear cases of one side being in the right, and the other in the wrong. Apple was the good guys; IBM was the bad guys. Microsoft was the bad guys; Netscape, and now Google, are the good guys. The abolitionists were right; the slave-owners were wrong. The civil rights workers were right; the segregationists were wrong. The Tutsis were right; the Hutus were wrong. The Serbs were wrong; the Croats, Muslims, and Kosovar Albanians were right. The Romans and Sanhedrin were wrong; Jesus was right. And so on and on. The conflict in which there is roughly equal right and wrong on both sides is the exception, not the rule. This becomes clearer with historical hindsight, once the political advantage of prevarication fades.

It stands to reason: two parties of good will are unlikely to face serious conflict. On the other hand, it only takes one unreasonable party to make a fight. That means necessarily that two thirds of the time, in case of conflict, only one party will be guilty. This is true regardless of whether the other party is a moral paragon in all respects—as of course nobody is. This is a crimson herring.

The “a pox on both your houses,” pacifist stance, while it pretends to higher morality, is really only moral prevarication, moral cowardice; or worse, a cover for enabling evil in turn on the part of the prevaricator. In his day, Mussolini too masqueraded as the honest broker. It is a convenient stance for those of ill-will to assume.

Now let me say, with this same dangerous moral clarity: the modern left is evil, the modern right good. I’m afraid there is no way around this. The left will charge the right with immorality towards the poor; this is cant. There is every reason to believe, based on current economic theory, that the program of the right will do more for the truly poor than that of the left; at worst, it is not a moral, but a practical issue. On the other hand, the left is in favour of unrestricted abortion. This is, put plainly, a holocaust of the innocent on a scale much greater than Hitler managed. The left is in favour of the systematic enslavement of men in the family courts; yet they themselves maintain that slavery, let alone sexual inequality, is a moral evil. The left persecutes the religious, the prime advocates of morality, as for example in the recent pogrom against the Catholic Church and Catholic clergy for pedophilia.

Indeed, the left condemns moral clarity itself. Surely that speaks volumes.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Immigration 2: The Human Resource

As I argued yesterday, the right to freedom of movement, i.e., immigration, is crucial to all our other rights. Indeed, we recognize this as a fundamental right within Canada—government cannot prevent us from moving to Alberta. How then can to be proper to withhold such a right from non-Canadians? It is in the nature of a human right that it is inalienable.

Moreover, historically, it is the societies that most allowed mobility that first and most solidly developed democratic and liberal traditions—precisely because of this freedom of movement. I cited the US and Britain. I might also have mentioned Greece, the proverbial cradle of democracy, a nation of sea traders who colonized the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins. I might have mentioned the nations of Scandinavia, including Iceland, home of the oldest surviving Parliament—a nation of seafarers who colonized across Europe and as far as America. Or the Medieval Republic of Venice.

Yes, I know what you are thinking: all very well in theory, but what about the starving yellow hordes that will descend on us and use up all our resources?

I don’t think that’s any more than a bogeyman. I believe, contrary to current common opinion, that open immigration benefits all economically.

We have been duped, in recent years, into the counter-intuitive notion that there is such a thing as “overpopulation,” and even that it is a pressing problem. The idea is that, with too many people, the resources will run out, or there will not be enough of them to go around.

What we do not realize is that human beings are the most valuable resource. Without them, not much else ever gets done. It is people that give gold value, not gold that gives people value.

Nations once knew that, and were happy to welcome new subjects. China, for example, historically pursued a one-way open-door policy. Immigrants were welcome; but emigrants were not. This, and not Western prejudices, is the real reason for the old Chinese “head tax.” It was required by the Chinese, not the Canadian, government. When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci arrived from the West, he entered Beijing on the understanding that, once in, he could never leave. Human beings were just too valuable. Would you let your cattle stray into the next field?

We are misled, in part, by the recent spectacle of starvation in big, densely populated countries like China and India. But, whatever caused that, it was a temporary anomaly: historically, China and India have always been more densely populated than most of the rest of the world, and have always save the last century or two also been world economic leaders. And their dense populations, their vast supply of labour, seem to be exactly what is pulling them both back up into contention now. Sparsely-populated Mongolia, oddly, is doing rather less well.

Let’s look at other historical—and current—examples. Whenever you find a significantly prosperous society, you find one of two things: either a dense population, or an open door to immigration. Either are valuable for the same reason: they provide deep pools of human intelligence, and of human enterprise, for development.

Obvious current examples: the US and Singapore, built on open immigration. It is less obvious, but equally true, that Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Dubai are also immigrant societies. Germany and Japan are world leaders in population density. Britain, in its heyday during the Industrial Revolution, was the most densely populated place in Europe. The Netherlands, in its heyday a century or two earlier, was both very densely populated and open to immigrants from across Europe. South Korea is, by some measures, the most densely populated sizeable nation in the world.

And backwards into history: Rome was distinctive in having (relatively) open citizenship. The Greeks were a race of immigrants, spreading colonies by sea across the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins. Both were essentially immigrant cultures.

Similarly, and rather obviously, within individual nations, which areas tend to be most prosperous? Those with the densest population—the big cities—or those with the least—the remote countryside? New York City, or rural Mississippi? Toronto, or rural Saskatchewan? And even more interesting, don’t the more recently settled—British Columbia, Alberta, California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada—also seem to be somewhat more prosperous on the whole than the oldest-settled areas--Newfoundland, the Maritimes, New England (outside immigrant Boston), Virginia?

Of course, this general pattern can be distorted by the presence of extremely valuable resources. But do resources matter nearly so much as how humans use them? Dubai, for example, has little oil, but is the wealthiest point in the Persian Gulf. Japan and South Korea have almost no natural resources; North Korea and the Philippines are rich in them.

There is also, granted, a question of which here is cause, and which effect: obviously, once a place becomes prosperous, this prosperity is itself a draw increasing the flow of immigration, hence population. Fair enough; but this may also merely mask from us the true value of immigration and of a larger population.

Why wouldn’t immigration make us more prosperous? Those who worry about immigrants taking away jobs forget one thing: everyone is both a producer and a consumer. Any new immigrants will also create new jobs to meet their own needs—jobs that otherwise would have gone overseas. If a free flow of labour also makes us more competitive in world terms—which seems to be history’s lesson—there will be more work for everyone. Those who worry about immigrants exhausting social services must remember that every new immigrant is also a taxpayer. While there may be a gap, between use of and contribution to these services, it cannot be assumed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Immigration 1: Arab Democracy

Some say that Arab culture is incompatible with the idea of democracy. I say the Arab culture is democracy perfected, and free in a way Americans can only imagine.

Democracy as practiced in the West, after all, only gives you the right to be dictated to by the majority. But in traditional Arab culture, we have the genuine right to choose your own government. Traditional Arab states, and to some degree the small Gulf states even now, are built on personal loyalties. If, as a Bedouin, you did not like the way a place was run, you simply packed up the family camel and moved on. It was, and sometimes still is, a free market in government. And it has led to the relatively good--very good--government in the Gulf States in comparison with most of the rest of the Middle East.

We seem to have forgotten this part of our own Western heritage, and of our traditional freedoms. The freedom of Britain, and later of the US, was founded very largely on the ability and the right to move. The British were sea traders. The Americans were sea traders, immigrants, cowboys, and pioneers—if the situation in this district was unappealing, they could pull stakes and move further West.

This was the key to how they developed all their other liberties: governments had no monopoly, and had to compete.

For this reason, I cannot go along with those on the right or the left who raise fears about immigration. Freedom of movement seems to me a fundamental freedom, on which many of our other hard-found freedoms have been based.

I’d like to see a series of reciprocal agreements: Canadians free to emigrate to the EU, say, in return for freedom of EU citizens to immigrate to Canada.

Would there be any value to striking the same sort of deal with poor, underdeveloped countries? Sure; and more than cheap labour. It would be great for retirees to be able to move in and buy property at much lower Third World rates.

I know what you’re thinking: a flood of poor immigrants would destroy Canada’s economy. I’ll deal with that issue next time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

US Presidential Picks

Way back when on this site, I predicted a final faceoff in the US Presidential stakes between John McCain and John Edwards.

I think the Edwards prediction still looks good. Yes, he is behind Clinton and Obama in the polls, but he is a master of retail politicking. He is leading in Iowa currently, and second in NH. Now look what is likely to happen if this holds: he comes out as winner in Iowa, and gets a media bump from it that pulls him up even further in New Hampshire. This establishes him as the clear alternative to Hillary. Everyone by then (indeed, by now) is tired of Hillary, and looking for excitement--the Democrats hate going with the frontrunner. A good collection of big primaries should come up next (we’re not sure about this yet); with luck while he is still favoured in the media and before the knives come out. Even better if some of them are in the South, where he is a native son. The momentum may well pull him all the way.

On the Republican side, the story is cloudier. My McCain prediction was based on the assumption that Giuliani really didn't want to get back into active politics and probably would not run. Wrong; and this changes everything. I had noted a vaccuum on the right; with two prominent moderates running, Giuliani and McCain, that vaccuum becomes even more attractive. If one candidate can clearly claim it, it will mean a win for them.

But we now have a struggle developing for that turf: Romney, Gingrich, Thompson, none of them obviously likely to surpass the other two. If Gingrich and Thompson both stay out, that should mean Romney, but Romney still has a big job to convince conservatives he is one of them. If Thompson gets in, he will be a formidable candidate, and could go all the way. Gingrich looks to me more like a VP, but also has the strongest potential for an ideologically insurgent candidacy.

Can’t call it; might as well, for now, stick with my McCain prediction. He’s currently suffering from the unpopularity of the Iraq War, and his laudably moral stand in support. But if the Iraqi situation suddenly looks better, this liability becomes a big asset.

Monday, April 09, 2007

He Who Pays the Scientist May Well Call the Tune

Left-wingers of my acquaintance are generally inclined to discount any scientific research funded by corporations, and to decry the distorting effect of such funding.

What then are we to make of the fact that, in fact, in the US, 85% of research funding currently comes from government (a higher figure is probable for most other developed countries)? (Source: Burk Kalweit, of the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America).

Do governments and government bureaucrats themselves have no vested interests? Are they generally innocent of politics and political concerns?

Of course not. Just the opposite. By comparison, corporate financing of research is rather benign. It is mostly interested only in profits, not power politics. Moreover, corporate interests diverge widely—for each company hoping to make money on an activity releasing greenhouse gases, there’s another hoping to make money selling CO2 credits. Government, by contrast, is in principle a monopoly. When there is more than one level of government involved, they habitually collude, while this would be illegal for business.

We should accordingly be highly suspicious of scientific research that tends to support further extensions of government power.

Research on, oh, say, the dangers of global warming. The pressing need for bicycle helmets. The benign effects of raising children outside the home. The benign effects of divorce. The horrors of tobacco use. The …

One need not assume that scientists are corrupt or can be bought to see a problem here. Suppose there is six times as much funding for studies looking into the harmful effects of tobacco use than for those looking into possible benefits. If all scientists involved act with perfect morality, there sill still be six times as many studies looking into tobacco’s possible harm as into tobacco’s possible benefits. This would mean, given that tobacco is neutral in its effects, that we would nevertheless probably discover six harmful effects for every benefit.

But of course, scientists are not perfect; like the rest of us, they are human. This means that the distorting effect of government funding is probably much greater. Consider the temptation: if the study finds that global warming, say, is real, justifying further government action, one gets funding for one’s research. One gets tenure, promotion, and an academic career. Who knows? Maybe some day a shot at a Nobel Prize. If, on the other hand, your study finds nothing, or something that tends to discount global warming, there is no funding. The end. The end of a career in which you have already invested a lot of time and energy.

What would you do? Of course, faking research altogether runs its own risks of destroying your career. But at very least, you would be sorely tempted to exaggerate any possible conclusions favouring government action, and to downplay anything that went counter to government interests.

Consider that the next time you read a news story saying the sky is falling, unless we all take prompt collective action.