The 100 best nonfiction books: No 48 – The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes (1919)

The great economist’s account of what went wrong at the Versailles conference after the first world war was polemical, passionate and prescient

The Economic Consequences of the Peace is one of those rare books that seem to exude brilliance, power and polemical passion from the opening page, propelled by the urgency and consequence of the subject. Unlike some other rhetorical classics in this list, it executes its argument with a rapier not a blunderbuss, using the clinical ferocity of hammered steel not wild, explosive irruptions of outrage.

Reading Keynes in 2017, nearly a hundred years after first publication, you don’t have to know the diplomatic minutiae of the Versailles peace treaty, a notorious historical disaster, to appreciate that here is a brilliant writer (who would subsequently become a great economist) flexing his intellectual muscles for the first time on the world stage. Uniquely, too, this is a book whose subject is economics but whose message is geopolitical. It’s a book, moreover, suffused with a deep and compelling sense of imminent catastrophe: “In Paris, where those connected with the Supreme Economic Council received almost hourly the reports of the misery, disorder and decaying organisation of all central and eastern Europe, allied and enemy alike, and learned from the lips of the financial representatives of Germany and Austria unanswerable evidence of the terrible exhaustion of their countries, an occasional visit to the hot, dry room in the president’s house, where the Four fulfilled their destinies in empty and arid intrigue, only added to the sense of nightmare.”

Keynes’s essay was bestseller worldwide. It rapidly became the source of conventional left-liberal wisdom on Versailles

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The Best Of Television 2016: The Americans

VideoWhat can be more important heading into 2017 than a big-picture understanding of America’s long and complex relationship with Russia? Or even just a simple reminder that they used to be our enemies? Whilewe’re at it how about a reality check about The Americans. While the FX series is aperiodpiece, […]

How A United Iran, Russia, & China Are Changing The World

Submitted by Federico Pieraccini via Strategic-Culture.org,

The two previous articles have focused on the various geopolitical theories, their translations into modern concepts, and practical actions that the United States has taken in recent decades to aspire to global dominance. This segment will describe how Iran, China and Russia have over the years adopted a variety of economic and military actions to repel the continual assault on their sovereignty by the West; in particular, how the American drive for global hegemony has actually accelerated the end of the 'unipolar moment' thanks to the emergence of a multipolar world.

From the moment the Berlin Wall fell, the United States saw a unique opportunity to pursue the goal of being the sole global hegemon. With the end of the Soviet Union, Washington could undoubtedly aspire to planetary domination paying little heed to the threat of competition and especially of any consequences. America found herself the one and only global superpower, faced with the prospect of extending cultural and economic model around the planet, where necessary by military means.

Over the past 25 years there have been numerous examples demonstrating how Washington has had little hesitation in bombing nations reluctant to kowtow to Western wishes. In other examples, an economic battering ram, based on predatory capitalism and financial speculation, has literally destroyed sovereign nations, further enriching the US and European financial elite in the process.

Alliances to Resist

In the course of the last two decades, the relationship between the three major powers of the Heartland, the heart of the Earth, changed radically.

Iran, Russia and China have fully understood that union and cooperation are the only means for mutual reinforcement. The need to fight a common problem, represented by a growing American influence in domestic affairs, has forced Tehran, Beijing and Moscow to resolve their differences and embrace a unified strategy in the common interest of defending their sovereignty.

Events such as the war in Syria, the bombing of Libya, the overthrowing of the democratic order in Ukraine, sanctions against Iran, and the direct pressure applied to Beijing in the South China Sea, have accelerated integration among nations that in the early 1990s had very little in common.

Economic Integration

Analyzing US economic power it is clear that supranational organizations like the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank guarantee Washington’s role as the economic leader. The pillars that support the centrality of the United States in the world economy can be attributed to the monetary policy of the Fed and the function of the dollar as a global reserve currency.

The Fed has unlimited ability to print money to finance further economic power of the private and public sector as well as to pay the bill due for very costly wars. The US dollar plays a central role as the global reserve currency as well as being used as currency for trade. This virtually obliges each central bank to own reserves in US currency, continuing to perpetuate the importance of Washington in the global economic system.

The introduction of the yuan into the international basket of the IMF, global agreements for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and Beijing’s protests against its treatment by the World Trade Organization (WTO) are all alarm bells for American strategists who see the role of the American currency eroding. In Russia, the central bank decided not to accumulate dollar reserves, favoring instead foreign currency like the Indian rupee and the Chinese yuan. The rating agencies – western financial-oligarchy tools -have diminishing credibility, having become means to manipulate markets to favor specific US interests. Chinese and Russian independent rating agencies are further confirmation of Beijing and Moscow’s strategy to undermine America’s role in western economics.

De-dollarization is occurring and proceeding rapidly, especially in areas of mutual business interest. In what is becoming increasingly routine, nations are dealing in commodities by negotiating in currencies other than the dollar. The benefit is twofold: a reduction in the role of the dollar in their sovereign affairs, and an increase in synergies between allied nations. Iran and India exchanged oil in rupees, and China and Russia trade in yuan.

Another advantage enjoyed by the United States, intrinsically linked to the banking private sector, is the political pressure that Americans can apply through financial and banking institutions. The most striking example is seen in the exclusion of Iran from the SWIFT international system of payments, as well as the extension of sanctions, including the freezing of Tehran's assets (about 150 billion US dollars) in foreign bank deposits. While the US is trying to crack down on independent economic initiatives, nations like Iran, Russia and China are increasing their synergies. During the period of sanctions against Iran, the Russian Federation has traded with the Islamic Republic in primary commodities. China has supported Iran with the export of oil purchased in yuan. More generally, Moscow has proposed the creation of an alternative banking system to the SWIFT system.

Private Banks, central banks, ratings agencies and supranational organizations depend in large part on the role played by the dollar and the Fed. The first goal of Iran, Russia and China is of course to make these international bodies less influential. Economic multipolarity is the first as well as the most incisive way to expand the free choice before each nation to pursue its own interests, thereby retaining its national sovereignty.

This fictitious and corrupt financial system led to the financial crisis of 2008. Tools to accumulate wealth by the elite, artificially maintaining a zombie system (turbo capitalism) have served to cause havoc in the private and public sectors, such as with the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the crisis in the Asian markets in the late 1990s.

The need for Russia, China and Iran to find an alternative economic system is also necessary to secure vital aspects of the domestic economy. The stock-market crash in China, the depreciation of the ruble in Russia, and the illegal sanctions imposed on Iran have played a profound role in concentrating the minds of Moscow, Tehran and Beijing. Ignoring the problem borne of the centrality of the dollar would have only increased the influence and role of Washington. Finding points of convergence instead of being divided was an absolute must and not an option.

A perfect example, explaining the failed American economic approach, can be seen in recent years with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two commercial agreements that were supposed to seal the economic trade supremacy of the US. The growing economic alternatives proposed by the union of intent between Russia, China and Iran has enabled smaller nations to reject the US proposals to seek better trade deals elsewhere. In this sense, the Free Trade Area of ??the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) proposed by Beijing is increasingly appreciated in Asia as an alternative to the TPP.

In the same way, the Eurasian Union (EAEU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have always been key components for Moscow. The function these institutions play was noticeably accelerated following the coup in Ukraine and the resulting need for Russia to turn east in search of new business partners. Finally, Iran, chosen by Beijing as the crossroad of land and sea transit, is a prime example of integration between powers geographically distant but with great intentions to integrate vital structures of commerce.

The Chinese model of development, called Silk Road 2.0, poses a serious threat to American global hegemonic processes. The goal for Beijing is to reach full integration between the countries of the Heartland and Rimland, utilizing the concept of sea power and land power. With an investment of 1,000 billion US dollars over ten years, China itself becomes a link between the west, represented by Europe; the east, represented by China itself; the north, with the Eurasian economic space; the south, with India; Southeast Asia; the Persian Gulf and Middle East. The hope is that economic cooperation will lead to the resolution of discrepancies and strategic differences between countries thanks to trade agreements that are beneficiary to all sides.

The role of Washington continues to be that of destruction rather than construction. Instead of playing the role of a global superpower that is interested in business and trade with other nations, the United States continues to consider any foreign decision in matters of integration, finance, economy and development to lie within its exclusive domain. The primary purpose of the United States is simply to exploit every economic and cultural instrument available to prevent cohesion and coexistence between nations. The military component is usually the trump card, historically used to impose this vision on the rest of the world. In recent years, thanks to de-dollarization and military integration, nations like Iran, Russia and China are less subject to Washington's unilateral decisions.

Military deterrence

Accompanying the important economic integration is strong military-strategic cooperation, which is much less publicized. Events such as the Middle East wars, the coup in Ukraine, and the pressure exerted in the South China Sea have forced Tehran, Moscow and Beijing to conclude that the United States represents an existential threat.

In each of the above scenarios, China, Russia and Iran have had to make decisions by weighing the pros and cons of an opposition to the American model. The Ukraine coup d’état brought NATO to the borders of the Russian Federation, representing an existential threat to the Russia, threatening as it does its nuclear deterrent. In the Middle East, the destruction of Iraq, Libya and Syria has obliged Tehran to react against the alliance formed between Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States. In China, the constant pressure on South China Sea poses a serious problem in case of a trade blockade during a conflict. In all these scenarios, American imperialism has created existential threats. It is for this reason natural that cooperation and technological development, even in the military area, have received a major boost in recent years.

In the event of an American attack on Russia, China and Iran, it is important to focus on what weapon systems would be used and how the attacked nations could respond.

Maritime Strategy and Deterrence

Certainly, US naval force place a serious question mark over the defense capabilities of nations like Russia, China and Iran, which strongly depend on transit via sea routes. Let us take, for example, Russia and the Arctic transit route, of great interest not only for defense purposes but also being a quick passage for transit goods. The Black Sea for these reasons has received special attention from the United States due to its strategic location. In any case, the responses have been proportional to the threat.

Iran has significantly developed maritime capabilities in the Persian Gulf, often closely marking ships of the US Navy located in the area for the purposes of ??deterrence. China's strategy has been even more refined, with the use of dozens, if not hundreds, of fishing boats and ships of the Coast Guard to ensure safety and strengthen the naval presence in the South and East China Sea. This is all without forgetting the maritime strategy outlined by the PLA Navy to become a regional naval power over the next few years. Similar strategic decisions have been taken by the navy of the Russian Federation. In addition to having taken over ship production as in Soviet times, it has opted for the development of ships that cost less but nevertheless boast equivalent weapons systems to the Americans carrier groups.

Iran, China and Russia make efficiency and cost containment a tactic to balance the growing aggressiveness of the Americans and the attendant cost of such a military strategy.

The fundamental difference between the naval approach of these countries in contrast to that of the US is paramount. Washington needs to use its naval power for offensive purposes, whereas Tehran, Moscow and Beijing need naval power exclusively for defensive purposes.

In this sense, among the greatest weapons these three recalcitrant countries possess are anti-ship, anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic systems. To put things simply, it is enough to note that Russian weapons systems such as the S-300 and S-400 air-defense systems (the S-500 will be operational in 2017) are now being adopted by China and Iran with variations developed locally. Increasingly we are witnessing an open transfer of technology to continue the work of denying (A2/AD) physical and cyberspace freedom to the United States. Stealth aircraft, carrier strike groups, ICBMs and cruise missiles are experiencing a difficult time in such an environment, finding themselves opposed by the formidable defense systems the Russians, Iranians and Chinese are presenting. The cost of an anti-ship missile fired from the Chinese coast is considerably lower than the tens of billions of dollars needed to build an aircraft carrier. This paradigm of cost and efficiency is what has shaped the military spending of China, Russia and Iran. Going toe to toe with the United States without being forced to close a huge military gap is the only viable way to achieve immediate tangible benefits of deterrence and thereby block American expansionist ambitions.

A clear example of where the Americans have encountered military opposition at an advanced level has been in Syria. The systems deployed by Iran and Russia to protect the Syrian government presented the Americans with the prospect of facing heavy losses in the event of an attack on Damascus. The same also holds for the anti-Iranian rhetoric of certain American politicians and Israeli leaders. The only reason why Syria and Iran remain sovereign nations is because of the military cost that an invasion or bombing would have brought to their invaders. This is the essence of deterrence. Of course, this argument only takes into partial account the nuclear aspect that this author has extensively discussed in a previous article.

The Union of the nations of the Heartland and Rimland will make the United States irrelevant

The future for the most important area of ??the planet is already sealed. The overall integration of Beijing, Moscow and Tehran provides the necessary antibodies to foreign aggression in military and economic form. De-dollarization, coupled with an infrastructure roadmap such as the Chinese Silk Road 2.0 and the maritime trade route, offer important opportunities for developing nations that occupy the geographical space between Portugal and China. Dozens of nations have all it takes to integrate for mutually beneficial gains without having to worry too much about American threats. The economic alternative offered from Beijing provides a fairly wide safety net for resisting American assaults in the same way that the military umbrella offered by these three military powers, such as with the the SCO for example, serves to guarantee the necessary independence and strategic autonomy. More and more nations are clearly rejecting American interference, favoring instead a dialogue with Beijing, Moscow and Tehran. Duterte in the Philippines is just the latest example of this trend.

The multipolar future has gradually reduced the role of the United States in the world, primarily in reaction to her aggression seeking to achieve global domination. The constant quest for planetary hegemony has pushed nations who were initially western partners to reassess their role in the international order, passing slowly but progressively into the opposite camp to that of Washington.

The consequences of this process have sealed the destiny of the United States, not only as a response to her quest for supremacy but also because of her efforts to maintain her role as the sole global superpower. As noted in previous articles, during the Cold War the aim for Washington was to prevent the formation of a union between the nations of the Heartland, who could then exclude the US from the most important area of ??the globe. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, sights were set on an improbable quest to conquer the Heartland nations with the intent of dominating the whole world. The consequences of this miscalculation have led the United States to being relegated to the role of mere observer, watching the unions and integrations occurring that will revolutionize the Eurasian zone and the planet over the next 50 years. The desperate search to extend Washington's unipolar moment has paradoxically accelerated the rise of a multipolar world.

In the next and final article, I will throw a light on what is likely to be a change in the American approach to foreign policy. Keeping in mind the first two articles that examined the approach by land theorized by MacKinder as opposed to the Maritime Mahan, we will try and outline how Trump intends to adopt a containment approach to the Rimland, limiting the damage to the US caused by a complete integration between nations such as Russia, China, Iran and India.

U.S. Healthcare Is A Global Outlier (And Not In A Good Way)

Historically, the United States has spent more money than any other country on healthcare.

In the late 1990s, for example, the U.S. spent roughly 13% of GDP on healthcare, compared to about a 9.5% average for all high income countries.

However, as Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins notes, in recent years, the difference has become more stark. Last year, as Obamacare continued to roll out, costs in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 17.5% of GDP. That’s over $3 trillion spent on healthcare annually, and the rate of spending is expected accelerate over the next decade.

HIGH COSTS, HIGH BENEFIT?

With all that money being poured into healthcare, surely the U.S. must be getting better care in contrast to other high income countries.

At least, that’s what one would think.

Today’s chart comes to us from economist Max Roser (h/t @NinjaEconomics) and it shows the extreme divergence of the U.S. healthcare system using two simple stats: life expectancy vs. health expenditures per capita.

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

 

THE DIVERGENCE OF U.S. HEALTHCARE

As you can see, Americans are spending more money – but they are not receiving results using the most basic metric of life expectancy. The divergence starts just before 1980, and it widens all the way to 2014.

It’s worth noting that the 2015 statistics are not plotted on this chart. However, given that healthcare spend was 17.5% of GDP in 2015, the divergence is likely to continue to widen. U.S. spending is now closing in on $10,000 per person.

Perhaps the most concerning revelation from this data?

Not only is U.S. healthcare spending wildly inefficient, but it’s also relatively ineffective. It would be one thing to spend more money and get the same results, but according to the above data that is not true. In fact, Americans on average will have shorter lives people in other high income countries.

Life expectancy in the U.S. has nearly flatlined, and it hasn’t yet crossed the 80 year threshold. Meanwhile, Chileans, Greeks, and Israelis are all outliving their American counterparts for a fraction of the associated costs.

How George Soros Destroyed The Democratic Party

Submitted by Daniel Greenfield via FrontPageMag.com,

It was the end of the big year with three zeroes. The first X-Men movie had broken box office records. You couldn’t set foot in a supermarket without listening to Brittney Spears caterwauling, “Oops, I Did It Again.” And Republicans and Democrats had total control of both chambers of legislatures in the same amount of states. That was the way it was back in the distant days of the year 2000.

In 2016, Republicans control both legislative chambers in 32 states. That’s up from 16 in 2000.

What happened to the big donkey? Among other things, the Democrats decided to sell their base and their soul to a very bad billionaire and they got a very bad deal for both.

It was 2004. The poncho was the hottest fashion trend, there were 5 million new cases of AIDS and a former Nazi collaborator had bought the Democrat Party using the spare change in his sofa cushions.

And gone to war against the will of the people. This was what he modestly called his own “Soros Doctrine”.

“It is the central focus of my life,” George Soros declared. It was “a matter of life and death.” He vowed that he would become poor if it meant defeating the President of the United States.

Instead of going to the poorhouse, he threw in at least $15 million, all the spare change in the billionaire’s sofa cushions, dedicated to beating President Bush.

In his best lisping James Bond villain accent, Soros strode into the National Press Club and declared that he had “an important message to deliver to the American Public before the election” that was contained in a pamphlet and a book that he waved in front of the camera. Despite his “I expect you to die, Mr. Bond” voice, the international villain’s delivery was underwhelming. He couldn’t have sold brownies to potheads at four in the morning. He couldn’t even sell Bush-bashing to a roomful of left-wing reporters.

But he could certainly fund those who would. And that’s exactly what he did.

Money poured into the fringe organizations of the left like MoveOn, which had moved on from a petition site to a PAC. In 2004, Soros was its biggest donor. He didn’t manage to bring down Bush, but he helped buy the Democratic Party as a toy for his yowling dorm room of left-wing activists to play with.

Soros hasn’t had a great track record at buying presidential elections. The official $25 million he poured into this one bought him his worst defeat since 2004. But his money did transform the Democrat Party.

And killed it.

Next year the Democracy Alliance was born. A muddy river of cash from Soros and his pals flowed into the organizations of the left. Soros had helped turn Howard Dean, a Vermont politician once as obscure as this cycle’s radical Vermont Socialist, into a contender and a national figure. Dean didn’t get the nomination, but he did get to remake the DNC. Podesta’s Center for American Progress swung the Democrats even further to the left. And it would be Podesta who helped bring Hillary down.

The Democrats became a radical left-wing organization and unviable as a national political party. The Party of Jefferson had become the Party of Soros. And only one of those was up on Mount Rushmore.

Obama’s wins concealed the scale and scope of the disaster. Then the party woke up after Obama to realize that it had lost its old bases in the South and the Rust Belt. The left had hollowed it out and transformed it into a party of coastal urban elites, angry college crybullies and minority coalitions.

Republicans control twice as many state legislative chambers as the Democrats. They boast 25 trifectas , controlling both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion. Trifectas had gone from being something that wasn’t seen much outside of a few hard red states like Texas to covering much of the South, the Midwest and the West.

The Democrats have a solid lock on the West Coast and a narrow corridor of the Northeast, and little else. The vast majority of the country’s legislatures are in Republican hands. The Democrat Governor’s Association has a membership in the teens. In former strongholds like Arkansas, Dems are going extinct. The party has gone from holding national legislative majorities to becoming a marginal movement.

And the Democrats don’t intend to change course. The way is being cleared for Keith Ellison, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus with an ugly racist past, to head the DNC. Pelosi will oversee the disaster in the House. And Obama will remain the party’s highest profile national figure.

There could hardly be a clearer signal that the left intends to retain its donkey herding rights. Soros and his ilk have paid for the reins. That is why Pelosi, with her access to donors, will retain her position.

The left had recreated the Democrat Party and marginalized it. Much of this disaster had been funded with Soros money. Like many a theatrical villain, the old monster had been undone by his own hubris. Had Soros aided the Democrats without trying to control them, he would have gained a seat at the table in a national party. Instead he spent a fortune destroying the very thing he was trying to control.

George Soros saw America in terms of its centers of economic and political power. He didn’t care about the vast stretches of small towns and villages, of the more modest cities that he might fly over in his jet but never visit, and the people who lived in them. Like so many globalists who believe that borders shouldn’t exist because the luxury hotels and airports they pass through are interchangeable, the parts of America that mattered to him were in the glittering left-wing bubble inhabited by his fellow elitists.

Trump’s victory, like Brexit, came because the left had left the white working class behind. Its vision of the future as glamorous multicultural city states was overturned in a single night. The idea that Soros had committed so much power and wealth to was of a struggle between populist nationalists and responsible internationalists. But, in a great irony, Bush was hardly the nationalist that Soros believed. Instead Soros spent a great deal of time and wealth to unintentionally elect a populist nationalist.

Leftists used Soros money to focus on their own identity politics obsessions leaving the Dems with little ability to interact with white working class voters. The Ivy and urban leftists who made up the core of the left had come to exist in a narrow world with little room for anything and anyone else. 

Soros turned over the Democrats to political fanatics least likely to be able to recognize their own errors. His protégés repeated the great self-destruction of the Soviet Union on a more limited scale

Soros fed a political polarization while assuming, wrongly, that the centers of power mattered, and their outskirts did not. He was proven wrong in both the United States of America and in the United Kingdom. He had made many gambles that paid off. But his biggest gamble took everything with it.

"I don’t believe in standing in the way of an avalanche," Soros complained of the Republican wave in 2010.

But he has been trying to do just that. And failing.

"There should be consequences for the outrageous statements and proposals that we've regularly heard from candidates Trump and Cruz," Soros threatened this time around. He predicted a Hillary landslide.

He was wrong.

As Soros plowed more money into the left, its escalating radicalism alienated more of the country. Each “avalanche” was a reaction to the abuses of his radicals.  It wasn't Trump or Cruz who suffered the consequences. It wasn't even his own leftists. Rather it was the conservative and eventually the moderate wings of the Democrat party who were swept away by his left-wing avalanches.

The left did not mourn the mass destruction of the moderates. Instead it celebrated the growing purity of the Democrats as a movement of the hard left. It did not notice or care that it was no longer a political force outside a limited number of cities. It anticipated that voters would have no choice but to choose it over the "extremist" Republicans.

It proved to be very, very wrong.

George Soros spent a fortune to turn a national party favorable to the left into an organization that has difficulty appealing to anyone not on the left. He wanted to control a country he did not understand. And, as the left so often does, he achieved his goals and in doing so destroyed them.