Venezuela’s Future — and Ours

I have long argued that about half of our political disagreements are simply cases of failing to agree about the meaning of a word. By “capitalism” libertarians mean the free enterprise of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, while our friends on the left mean by “capitalism” the shenanigans of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala (it’s always the United Fruit Company!), the crimes of Enron, the purported misdeeds of Halliburton, etc.

.. the conversation rarely advances much beyond that, in part because of the emotional resonances of certain words, e.g. “neocon,” “corporation,” “exploitation,” etc.

.. Venezuela is what we mean by socialism.

.. those welfare states are attached to largely free economies. Sweden arguably has a more liberal trade regime than does the United States, and most of the Nordic countries had lower corporate tax rates than did the United States until the 2018 tax reform.
..  effectiveness of government and public institutions (which is one place where the Swiss, Canadians, and Germans really outperform the United States)
.. the debate about whether the top U.S. personal-income-tax rate is going to be 39 percent or 33 percent is not about taking a step toward socialism or a step away from socialism.
.. say that the problem with those countries is not socialism but a lack of democracy, political violence and instability, etc. But repression on the Venezuelan model is not extraneous to socialism — it is baked into the socialist cake.
.. While the Soviets and the Maoists had intricate five-year plans, Venezuela had essentially one big plan: Use the profits from state-run oil companies to fund a massive welfare state, and use the leverage thus gained to fortify support for Hugo Chàvez and his political party until they achieved power sufficient to move Venezuela’s assets and its people around like pawns on a chessboard.
.. Economies cannot in fact be controlled and managed in the way that socialists imagine
.. The central planners in Venezuela were arrogant and hubristic, as they always are. (As, indeed, the entire concept of central planning is.)
  • When oil revenues proved insufficient to sustain their program, they printed money;
  • when the foreign-exchange markets responded by devaluing Venezuela’s currency, they enacted controls on foreign exchange;
  • when prices rocketed out of control (Venezuela’s inflation rate is difficult to calculate, but it is estimated to have been around 18,000 percent a month in April), they enacted price controls;
  • when producers declined to produce at those artificially low prices, they seized their assets.

 

  • .. Venezuelans are not fools — they noticed that this wasn’t working as advertised.
  • When the critics began to say so, their newspapers and broadcast facilities were shut down;
  • when they protested individually, they were jailed or assassinated;
  • when they protested en masse, they were massacred.

When central planning fails — and it always fails — the result is almost never the relaxation of political regimentation but the redoubling of efforts to impose the plan by increasingly brutal application of force.

.. it is a fact that children are starving to death in what was, not so long ago, South America’s wealthiest country.

 

 

7 Big Things to Understand About Trump’s Talks With North Korea

2. Mismatched signals may have set up the talks to fail.

Usually, before high-level talks like these, both sides spend a long time telegraphing their expected outcomes.

Such signals serve as public commitments, both to the other side of the negotiation and to citizens back home. It’s a way for both sides to test one another’s demands and offers, reducing the risk of surprise or embarrassment.

.. North Korea has not publicly committed to anything. It has, quite cannily, channeled its public communications through South Korea, making it easier to renege.

.. Mr. Trump has declared “denuclearization” as his minimal acceptable outcome for talks, making it harder for him to accept a more modest (but more achievable!) outcome and costlier for him to walk away.

The table is now set in such a way that virtually any outcome is a win for North Korea, but only a very narrow and difficult range of outcomes will save the United States from an embarrassing failure.

The North Koreans can walk away more freely, while the Americans will be more desperate to come home with some sort of win. It’s a formulation that puts the Americans at significant disadvantage before talks even begin.

3. The sides do not agree on the point of talking.

.. “denuclearization” means vastly different things to the United States and North Korea.

.. North Koreans, she writes, tend to mean it as a kind of mutual and incremental disarmament in which the United States also gives up weapons.

Normally, the United States and North Korea would have issued months, even years, of public statements on their goals for direct talks, to clear all this up.

.. 4. The Trump administration has gotten the process backward.

It’s practically an axiom of international diplomacy that you only bring heads of state together at the very end of talks, after lower-level officials have done the dirty work.

Instead, the Trump administration is jumping straight to the last step.

.. There is little obvious gain in skipping over a process that is intended to lock North Korea into public commitments, test what is achievable and ensure maximum American leverage and flexibility.

.. “Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy.”

.. 5. The State Department is in a shambles.

Wouldn’t this be a good moment to have an American ambassador to South Korea? Or an under secretary of state for arms control and international security?

Both posts are empty. The desk for assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs is occupied by a respected but interim official who has clashed with the White House. Her boss, the under secretary for political affairs, is retiring.

.. There will be fewer high-level diplomats to run parallel talks, fewer midlevel officials to assist and brief the president, fewer analysts to feel out North Korean intentions and capabilities.

.. conventional wisdom among analysts, as summed up by The Economist, is that “Mr. Trump — a man who boasts about his television ratings, and who is bored by briefings and scornful of foreign alliances — could end up being played like a gold-plated violin.”

.. 6. Everything could turn on the president’s personality.

.. It means that talks and their outcome will be determined, to an unprecedented degree, by Mr. Trump’s personal biases and impulses. By his mood at the time of talks. By his particular style of negotiation.

.. Mr. Kelly expressed concern over Mr. Trump’s “chaotic management style, erratic, moody personality and chronic staffing problems.”

He added, “That’s not ideology talking. I am a registered Republican and worked once for a G.O.P. congressman.”

  • .. He has tended to oscillate unpredictably between policies, throwing talks over the budget or health care into chaos.
  • He has set members of his own party against one another, weakening their position against Democrats. And
  • he has offered the Democrats sweeping concessions on a whim, to the surprise of his party.

.. When legislative efforts have stalled, Mr. Trump has at times lashed out. In domestic politics, that can mean publicly denigrating his target or pressuring them to resign. In a heavily militarized standoff between nuclear powers, the stakes would be higher.

.. 7. North Korea has already achieved a symbolic victory.

.. For North Korea, high-level talks are a big win in their own right. Mr. Kim seeks to transform his country from a rogue pariah into an established nuclear power, a peer to the United States, a player on the international stage.

.. “Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons,” Jeffrey Lewis, a Korea expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, wrote on Twitter. “Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.

 

A Personal Perspective on Black and White Evangelicalism

he American media tend to portray American evangelicalism as exclusively white, male-led, nationalistic (American exceptionalism) and ultra-conservative socially and politically.

.. I never heard the word “inerrancy” until I attended a mainstream, evangelical Baptist seminary. Only then did I learn that “women should not be pastors or teach men.”

.. I saw and experienced that fundamentalism was gradually inserting itself into mainstream evangelicalism and pushed back against that as best I could. I was taught that “we evangelicals” were not fundamentalists. Gradually, however, the line between the two communities of relatively conservative American Protestants began to blur and even dissolve.

.. I have developed strong resistance to any identification of true, authentic “evangelical Christianity” with American nationalism, conservative political ideologies, “whiteness” and “maleness.”

.. What I have done is state very publicly (on my blog, in books and articles, in papers read at professional society meetings, etc.) that, in my own personal opinion, the American evangelical movement is dead and gone. The major reason is the divisive influence of ultra-conservative neo-fundamentalists who have somehow managed to capture the label “evangelical” in the public mind.

.. When I call myself “evangelical,” and when my seminary calls itself “evangelical,” I/we are not identifying with any movement; I/we are identifying ourselves with a historical-theological-spiritual ethos deeply shaped by post-Reformation: pietism, revivalism, missions, and profound emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only message that brings true and holistic transformation—both individually and socially.

Bury The Word “Evangelical”

The issue is politics; the presenting painful reality is Trump. The reality is 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump. The word “evangelical” now means Trump-voter. The word “evangelical” is spoiled.

.. Most don’t even know what Conservative means — economically or governmentally especially — while some think Republican means anti-abortion, pro-war, pro-NRA, pro-big business, anti-immigration, anti-Obamacare, anti-same-sex marriage, anti-taxes. Pro Fox News, Anti-CNN.

.. Populism runs rampant among the Republican voters, not least among evangelicals, and part of this is that evangelicalism is itself populist.

.. Eventually “Evangelical” will dwindle in numbers down to Republican.

.. When that happens no one will be one bit surprised Evangelical=Republican=Conservative=populist=[Candidate’s name]. That’s what the term will mean because only they will claim the term.

.. At one time we got to define this term by theology as a coalition of post Great Awakening orthodox Christians who affirmed the Bible, personal conversion, the centrality of the cross as God’s saving event, and activism when it comes to evangelism and social goods.

.. The Reformed side of evangelicalism didn’t want the Holiness and Anabaptist and Restorationist crowds as equals and those last three have basically avoided the term for themselves.

.. Then came Reagan and Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and James Kennedy and theology and sociology were usurped by politics.

.. Evangelical meant Republican. What they didn’t recognize is that “evangelical” became “whiteness” and many Latin Americans and African Americans and Asian Americans were excluded.

.. Folks, very few English and Irish and Scottish evangelicals, not to ignore the others just mentioned, are politicals like our Republicans; many of them are more like our Democrats and many are more like Bernie Sanders than ordinary Democrats. What do you think they hear or think when they see evangelical=Republican=Conservative=populist=Trump?

They often say to me, “Don’t call me ‘evangelical’ if you mean Republican!”

.. Today the term evangelical in the USA means (supposedly) conservative in politics, and hence “Votes Republican.” This definition is not going away. The political folks have won.

Let the political evangelicals have the term.

.. The one thing I despise about Christianity in the USA is its aligning with a political party. Mainliners have done it; they’re Democrats. Evangelicals have followed suit; they’re Republicans.