Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An interesting article on Al Qaeda at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Guardian has recently republished a series of interviews its reporters have done during the twentieth century; one of them was with Hitler in 1923. It makes for some interesting reading.
"Why," I asked Hitler, "do you call yourself a National Socialist, since your party programme is the very antithesis of that commonly accredited to socialism?"

"Socialism," he retorted, putting down his cup of tea, pugnaciously, "is the science of dealing with the common weal. Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxians have stolen the term and confused its meaning. I shall take Socialism away from the Socialists.

"Socialism is an ancient Aryan, Germanic institution. Our German ancestors held certain lands in common. They cultivated the idea of the common weal. Marxism has no right to disguise itself as socialism. Socialism, unlike Marxism, does not repudiate private property. Unlike Marxism, it involves no negation of personality, and unlike Marxism, it is patriotic.
Although socialism meant something quite unique to Hitler, conservatives these days sometimes argue that Nazi party was left-wing, since, after all, it was the National Socialist party. I've seen this argument on tv talk shows at least a few times - and its not too hard to find it online:
A Little Secret About the Nazis...They were left-wing socialists. Yes, the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany, otherwise known as the Nazi Party, was indeed socialist, and it had a lot in common with the modern left...

The Nazis are widely known as nationalists, but that label is often used to obscure the fact that they were also socialists. Some question whether Hitler himself actually believed in socialism, but that is no more relevant than whether Stalin was a true believer. The fact is that neither could have come to power without at least posing as a socialist.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Here is Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post on poverty statistics in the United States:
The government last week released its annual statistical report on poverty and household income. As usual, we -- meaning the public, the media and politicians -- missed a big part of the story. It is this: The stubborn persistence of poverty, at least as measured by the government, is increasingly a problem associated with immigration. As more poor Hispanics enter the country, poverty goes up. This is not complicated, but it is widely ignored.

The standard story is that poverty is stuck; superficially, the statistics support that. The poverty rate measures the share of Americans below the official poverty line, which in 2006 was $20,614 for a four-person household. Last year, the poverty rate was 12.3 percent, down slightly from 12.6 percent in 2005 but higher than the recent low, 11.3 percent in 2000. It was also higher than the 11.8 percent average for the 1970s. So the conventional wisdom seems amply corroborated.

It isn't. Look again at the numbers. In 2006, there were 36.5 million people in poverty. That's the figure that translates into the 12.3 percent poverty rate. In 1990, the population was smaller, and there were 33.6 million people in poverty, a rate of 13.5 percent. The increase from 1990 to 2006 was 2.9 million people (36.5 million minus 33.6 million). Hispanics accounted for all of the gain.

Consider: From 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8 percent) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2 percent) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9 percent) to 9 million (24.3 percent) in 2006. White and black poverty has risen somewhat since 2000 but is down over longer periods.

Only an act of willful denial can separate immigration and poverty.
Two comments:
  • We need a better index to measure how poverty evolves with time, one which is unaffected by recent arrivals. Immigration may change in many ways: number of immigrants admitted per year, the financial situation of those immigrants, and so on. If we are interested in endemic poverty in the US, we need an index which is insensitive to all this.
  • The tremendous decrease in poverty among blacks from 1990 to 2000 is another highlight of how so many things went so right for America during the Clinton era.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I was walking to my office today when I ran into someone I knew. We started chatting, and he said to me, "this is your fourth year as a graduate student, right?"

I said no - in that tone of voice so as to say its not even close. What year am I? I started counting...1,2,3...4.

Fuck it, I am fourth year. Graduating in five years is more or less out of the question. But to graduate in six, I will have to apply for jobs a little more than two years from now.

Scary to even think about it. I better come up with something really impressive pretty soon.

After reading the latest news from Belgium on the inability of Flemish and Walloon political parties to form a government, I am wondering how many successful multi-lingual states actually exist. That is, how many genuinly multi-lingual states - those with a significant percentage of the population speaking different languages - do not have persistent political friction due to the language/cultural differences?

The only example I can think of is Switzerland. By contrast, the tally for failures is quite large. Leaving aside African states, which I am not very familiar with, here are some examples which immediately jump to mind:
  • Canada: despite recent defeats at the polls, support for Quebec separatism remains at 40-45%. This number has been essentially unchanged in recent years.
  • Spain: Basque separatism has been a steady source of terrorist attacks over the last few decades.
  • Czechoslovakia: defunct after the first free elections.
  • Yugoslavia: an extremely bloody breakup into five ethnicity-based states and one multi-ethnic state.
  • Israel: 20% of the population speaks Arabic. Racial riots are not uncommon.
  • Moldova: fought (and lost) a civil war with a Russian speaking province in the early 90s.
  • India: being a blend of a number of different ethnic and linguistics groups, India has had a large amount of separatist terrorism over its history.
  • Sri Lanka: in a civil war with Tamil-speaking separatist insurgents.
  • Indonesia: fought bloody wars over East Timor and Aceh. Both of these province have a distinctively separate linguistic identity. The former conflict was effectively lost, the latter is still continuing.
  • Cyprus: after many wars, divided between Greek and Turkish enclaves.
This list is of course not comprehensive and there are many other examples out there. One pattern is that language-based frictions vary in strength based on the number of speakers of the language (for example, compare the relative weakness of Breton nationalism in France with the relative strength of Basque nationalism in Spain) and on the linguistic similarity between the various language. If the languages are different enough though, the conclusion seems to be that language-inspired political frictions never work themselves out, except by violence or separation.

By contrast, I am tempted to say that the reverse was true in the 19th century. Most Italians and Germans speak the standardized version of their languages (possibly concurrent with their local dialect). But standard Italian and standard German were not spoken 200 years ago; they were successfully foisted upon the population by governments that sought to strengthen national identity.

Such a thing does not seem to be possible now due a freezing of national and linguistic identities. Its hard to predict what trends will take place in the future, but if current trends continue, its hard to be optimistic about Canada or Belgium.