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polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, January 10, 2004
     
    The Communist liberation of Tibet
    The 'Free Tibet' cause is one with bipartisan support, and rightly so. I hold no brief for China given its current authoritarian and neo-Confucian 'nanny state' complexion. However I've always been sceptical of the uncritical idealisation of the Dalai Lama and his acolytes that I detect among 'Free Tibet' activists and propaganda. Buddhism being the inoffensive and non-authoritarian religion that it is in theory, people don't seem to put two and two together when they think of the words 'Dalai Lama' and 'previously ruled Tibet'. Yes, folks, Tibet used to be a theocracy, and power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and absolute power can corrupt religions, even the most high minded ones. People who would rightly condemn the previous Taliban theocracy of Afghanistan seem to develop a blind spot for the previous Tibetan Buddhist theocracy and feudal system. Buddhism preaches non-violence so the monks who ruled Tibet must have somehow miraculously kept their power through non-violent means, right? Wrong.

    I found this contrarian piece on Tibet on the left wing but non-Communist 'Swans' website which confirms my suspicions. I have no reason to doubt its authenticity because recently I've been reading Himmler's Crusade by Christopher Hale which documents the absurd SS-funded expedition by German scientists to find the origins of the Aryan race in Tibet and it says basically the same thing about the brutality of the corrupt feudal theocracy that the SS-funded scientists found in Tibet and which they likened to the unique caste system that was being formed in Nazi Germany. Anyway, here are a few pertinent excerpts from the 'Swans' piece by Michael Parenti which is entitled 'Friendly feudalism: The Tibet myth':


    Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into religious or secular manorial estates worked by serfs ... Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries went to the higher-ranking lamas, many of them scions of aristocratic families, while most of the lower clergy were as poor as the peasant class from which they sprang ...

    Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they became bonded for life. Tash?-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common practice for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated childhood rape not long after he was taken into the monastery at age nine. (12) The monastic estates also conscripted peasant children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers ...

    In 1953, the greater part of the rural population -- some 700,000 of an estimated total population of 1,250,000 -- were serfs. Tied to the land, they were allotted only a small parcel to grow their own food. Serfs and other peasants generally went without schooling or medical care. They spent most of their time laboring for the monasteries and individual high-ranking lamas, or for a secular aristocracy that numbered not more than 200 wealthy families. In effect, they were owned by their masters who told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. A serf might easily be separated from his family should the owner send him to work in a distant location. Serfs could be sold by their masters, or subjected to torture and death.

    The common people labored under the twin burdens of the corvée (forced unpaid labor on behalf of the lord) and onerous tithes. They were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child, and for every death in the family ... When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being placed into slavery for as long as the monastery demanded, sometimes for the rest of their lives ...

    In the Dalai Lama's Tibet, torture and mutilation -- including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation of arms and legs -- were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, runaway serfs, and other "criminals." Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: "When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion." (19) Some Western visitors to Old Tibet remarked on the number of amputees to be seen. Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then "left to God" in the freezing night to die. "The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking," concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet. (20)


    What then are we to make of China's invasion of Tibet? Well, ask yourself, would you rather live in a feudal theocracy as an illiterate serf subject to the whims of landlords and lamas (as the vast majority of people were), or as the subject of a modern Communist state? Marx preferred capitalism to feudalism because it was relatively more socially progressive and humane though he saw it as inferior to his Communist ideal. As an anti-communist I'll extend Marx the same courtesy. I think in a veil of ignorance I'd most certainly opt for Communism over barbaric feudal theocracy even though I regard it as inferior to liberal capitalism because Communism is at least part of the progressive Enlightenment tradition. It is also worth noting that even after the Chinese invasion of 1951, Chinese interference in Tibetan rule was de minimis - the crackdowns only started in 1959 after a botched CIA-funded insurrection by the nobels:

    To quote the article again:


    Mao Zedung and his Communist cadres did not simply want to occupy Tibet. They desired the Dalai Lama's cooperation in transforming Tibet's feudal economy in accordance with socialist goals. Even Melvyn Goldstein, who is sympathetic to the Dalai Lama and the cause of Tibetan independence, allows that "contrary to popular belief in the West," the Chinese "pursued a policy of moderation." They took care "to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion" and "allowed the old feudal and monastic systems to continue unchanged. Between 1951 and 1959, not only was no aristocratic or monastic property confiscated, but feudal lords were permitted to exercise continued judicial authority over their hereditarily bound peasants." ...

    In 1956-57, armed Tibetan bands ambushed convoys of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The uprising received extensive material support from the CIA, including arms, supplies, and military training for Tibetan commando units ...

    Many of the Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs. Ninety percent of them were never heard from again, according to a report from the CIA itself. (30) The small and thinly spread PLA garrisons in Tibet could not have captured them all. The PLA must have received support from Tibetans who did not sympathize with the uprising ...

    Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese in Tibet after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They built the only hospitals that exist in the country, and established secular education, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. They constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa. They also put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment. (33)

    The Chinese also expropriated the landed estates and reorganized the peasants into hundreds of communes. Heinrich Harrer wrote a bestseller about his experiences in Tibet that was made into a popular Hollywood movie. (It was later revealed that Harrer had been a sergeant in Hitler's SS. (34)) He proudly reports that the Tibetans who resisted the Chinese and "who gallantly defended their independence . . . were predominantly nobles, semi-nobles and lamas; they were punished by being made to perform the lowliest tasks, such as laboring on roads and bridges. They were further humiliated by being made to clean up the city before the tourists arrived." They also had to live in a camp originally reserved for beggars and vagrants. (35)


    To which I can only say - just desserts! Now to believe that Tibet and Tibetans are probably better off after the overthrow of the Tibetan feudal theocracy by modernist-Communists (as I do believe ) is not to believe that the Chinese invasion of Tibet was justified or would have been the best way to reform Tibet (readers may observe parallels here with the 'just processes' vs 'outcomes-based relative comparisons' distinctions that can be similarly made about Iraq which tend to be lost on some warbloggers, er, all warbloggers). The article makes this distinction nicely (it's rather long, but worth reading in full):


    To support the Chinese overthrow of the Dalai Lama's feudal theocracy is not to applaud everything about Chinese rule in Tibet. This point is seldom understood by today's Shangri-La adherents in the West.

    The converse is also true. To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal r?gime. One common complaint among Buddhist proselytes in the West is that Tibet's religious culture is being destroyed by the Chinese authorities. This does seem to be the case. But what I am questioning here is the supposedly admirable and pristinely spiritual nature of that pre-invasion culture. In short, we can advocate religious freedom and independence for Tibet without having to embrace the mythology of a Paradise Lost.
     
    Catallaxy in action
    Since the name 'catallactics' has long ago been suggested for the science which deals with market order and has more recently been revived, it would seem appropriate to adopt a corresponding term for the market order itself. The term 'catallactics' was derived from the Greek work katallattein (or katallassein) which meant, significantly, not only 'to exchange' but also 'to admit into the community' and 'to change from enemy into friend'
    ~FA Hayek, The mirage of social justice

    Trade and rational self-interest promotes tolerance in rural Australia

    John Forrest, MP, doesn't argue for compassion for the thousands of Afghan and Iraqi refugees who have settled in his electorate. Instead, the Nation als' plain-spoken member for Mallee in rural northern Victoria argues in terms governments understand: economics.

    "They're a resource," he says. "Someone accused me of being mercenary, for looking at them as a resource. Whatever works, mate ... I'm not a bleeding heart, but they are making an economic contribution out here where I live."

    Last month Forrest argued in the Coalition party room that refugees whose three-year temporary protection visas (TPVs) are running out should be allowed stay here. It surprised a lot of people, including moderate Liberals, but it probably shouldn't have. Wave after wave of immigrants to Australia have proved that experience begets understanding - and Forrest and his constituents have had plenty of experience.

    "I'd have around 2000 of them ... this is a good news story, because out here where I am, we've got the work, heaps of it. There's work 12 months of the year here. And it's jobs Australians don't want to do - I mean imagine picking stone fruit on a day like today when the temperature's near 40 - but they're doing it. In March, we will need 10,000 people at least in Sunraysia. That's just round Mildura. Swan Hill [also in his electorate] is more dependent on stone fruit, so they probably need 3000. I don't know the figures for Shepparton [in the adjoining seat of Murray] ... Probably bigger than Mildura. It's a huge pear and stone fruit area ...

    "I'm getting representations from the people employing them saying 'These are lovely people, they're keen, they work hard, why can't we let 'em stay?'
     
    Greg Egan
    For no other reason that the fact that it's a new year, allow me to rave about Greg Egan again. In my opinion, this West Australian is a living national treasure - he is the best living science fiction writer in the world today and one of the most exciting writers in any genre. If there were any justice in the world (which of course, there isn't) he'd be better known than Tolkien and as lauded as Peter Carey. I've recently been reading his collection of short stories, Axiomatic and was reminded once again of what an exciting and genuinely original writer he is.

    When I was first introduced to his writing, it was via his novels such as Permutation City and Distress. However I would recommend to beginners to start with his short stories first, the reason being that his fiction is very ideas-packed. In a short story format this makes for already fairly intense reading, in the format of a novel, they are an intellectual marathon requiring occasional gasps for air. Compared to Egan, lots of acclaimed mainstream writers of cutesy 'ethnic' and 'family saga' novels are dead above the neck [1].

    Egan really knows his stuff and his ideas are well researched, well developed and extremely plausible (this is real sci-fi we're talking about, not wishy washy Dungeons and Dragons crap) - this combination of extreme originality and extreme plausibility makes for the vibrancy that is in the best tradition of science fiction. So, go to his excellent website, perhaps check out some of his short stories and support a living national treasure. Incidentally he's also written a few very accessible primers on relativity and quantium mechanics on his website which are worth checking out.

    [1] This is not to deny that there are many living contemporary 'literary' writers who continue to write extremely intellectually stimulating and original works (e.g. Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster and Don DeLillo)- literature is not yet dead, contrary to the lamentations of Canon Fetishists .

    Thursday, January 08, 2004
     
    US immigration debate
    The US is now engaged in its own latest immigration debate in light of the Bush plan to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants:

    President Bush will outline an immigration reform proposal Wednesday that would allow workers in the United States illegally to join a new temporary worker program and not lose their jobs, administration officials said.

    Those immigrants could then apply for permanent residency, although those in the temporary worker program would get no preference over other "Green Card" applicants, the officials said.


    Gene Expression, which predominantly takes a pro-skilled immigration and anti-unskilled immigration position on this issue has been monitoring the debate on a major left wing blog, Atrios, which has split its readership on the issue. As evidenced by the comments reviewed, some on the US left see the amnesty as a major negative because of the perceived effects of immigrant guest workers in depressing the wages of less skilled 'native' citizens. Gene Expression's Godless cites George Borjas' research as support for this argument[1].
    Then of course there is the hard green segment of the Left which is against further population growth (and in some cases is in favour of negative population growth) and would not be expected to be in favour of the amnesty either. These groups are likely to find common cause with the racist and nativist segments of the US right who are against 'Mexicanisation' of the US as well as more pragmatic center-right advocates of more selective immigration policy.

    Coincidentally tonight I was reading (long overdue reading) Robert Shiller's The New Financial Order and came across these currently quite pertinent comments by Shiller on US immigration policy which seem broadly favourable to the idea of auctioning immigration rights, which may have been first proposed by Julian Simon or Gary Becker and which has been advocated here in Australia most prominently by Wolfgang Kasper:


    The United States has strict immigration policies but lax enforcement, so many people manage to slip illegally over the border. Once here, the illegal immigrants pay dearly in terms of quality of life. Then, periodically, the United States considers granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. This is a crazy system and we could imagine a better one that could someday handle immigration.

    A number of economists, including Julian Simon in 1986, have proposed auctioning off immigration rights to the highest bidder. That would seem to be a logical and orderly way to handle immigration. Auctioning off a quota of immigration permits would allocate the rights to those who can best use them, or most want them. The payments could be structured so that immigrants would not have to pay the fixed up-front cash fee ... Instead the immigrants could make payment out of a tax on future income so that the winners of the auction are not necessarily confined to wealthier, and more likely older, people. The proposal has not gotten very far. Implementation of Simon's proposal might be workable today, more so than it was in 1986, because we have more modern identification systems, and a better ability to keep track of people, to tax them later, and to apprehend illegal immigrants ...

    The market for immigration rights would best be a heavily regulated one, with special taxes for persons who have benefited more from a country's educational system, waiting times before trade is made, and rules against frequent trade.

    [1] In terms of the comparable immigration/refugee debate here, this unpleasant fact is arguably going to be even more of an issue for that segment of the Australian left which is also in favour of a more generous refugee programme (assuming more refugees equals more unskilled immigration). At least the US labour market is flexible enough to absorb the increase in workforce from a more generous intake even if this comes somewhat at the extent of greater numbers of working poor, if the depressive wage effects do in fact outweigh other impacts of higher immigration, as Borjas' research suggests.

    Update
    Steve Sailer has substantially less liberal views on immigration (skilled or unskilled) than I but is as far as I can tell, a man of intellectual integrity when it comes to fact checking, His interpretation of the Bush plan is that it is quite radical and comes close to an open borders policy. If he's right, the US experience will be an interesting natural experiment for labor economists:

    ... even though Bush keeps lying that it's not an amnesty, it of course is. He rationalizes his claim by making up a wholly novel definition of "amnesty:" "I oppose amnesty, placing undocumented workers on the automatic path to citizenship." Of course, that's not at all what the word means. Amnesty means "a general pardon for offenses," which is exactly what he's giving illegal aliens.

    Second, this one includes a "temporary worker" program that is a doozy. The Ayn Rand Institute couldn't have come up with a purer Open Borders scheme.

    For one thing, it's not temporary. "The legal status granted by this program will last three years and will be renewable -- but it will have an end." When? Administration officials refuse to say. Obviously, that last clause is just there so they can call it "temporary." But, don't worry: it will have an end ... when the sun explodes in five billion years.

    For another, the number of people who can come in and take jobs is unlimited. Think about that...

    Finally, the temporary worker program is not limited to 100,000,000 Mexicans. Instead, all six billion people on earth are eligible to get a job in America...

    Am I crazy? According to Rove and Ridge's briefing, all a foreigner needs to do to prove he's eligible to live in America is to get a job here. The Washington Times reported: "When asked during the call how the worker and employer would prove that no Americans desired the job, one of the White House aides present said the fact that the job is open will be assumed to mean that the 'marketplace' had determined that."
     
    And the crowd cries " More! Moore!"

    Love him or loathe him, most bloggers (and readers) will have an opinion on Michael Moore. Today, Damian Thompson treats us to his opinion on Moore in an article published in the SMH.




    Tuesday, January 06, 2004
     
    Weighty issues

    The December issue of the Medical Journal of Australia has an article treating obesity rather more seriously than some recent Catallaxy posts and comments.

    The medicos are wary of using social pressure to encourage people to keep their weight down. They say that we must

    guard against the victim-blaming approach, which can lead to obese people being labelled, if not bullied or demonised, and parents being criticised for their fat children to the point that issues of cruelty and child abuse are raised.

    In individual cases, a tactful and kindly approach may well be the right one. But the language of 'victims' is likely to be counter-productive, encouraging people to think that their weight is the result of forces beyond their control, rather than their own actions. How many fat people have you heard saying 'it's my metabolism', as they tuck into another over-sized meal? Why justify such excuses? Fat people are mainly to blame for their own weight, and to the extent that they are not it is usually their parent's fault.

    Parents should be criticised for making their kids fat, just as they should be criticised for neglecting their children's health in other ways. Doctors have been the leading figures 'bullying' and 'demonising' over smoking and passive smoking, the latter at least being less risky for kids than obesity. How many parents who think Steve Irwin is a disgrace for taking his kid in with a croc are putting their kids at greater risk than baby Bob by letting them bloat?

    Social stigma certainly should not be the only strategy for dealing with obesity. But as the smoking example suggests, as part of an overall package it can get results.


    Sunday, January 04, 2004
     
    Why are left-wing columnists fat?

    In The Sunday Age today, leftist columnist, editor, humorist and TV producer Guy Rundle blames rising childhood obesity on advertising aimed at kids, dismissing the idea that 'children have become 20 per cent congenitally lazier, or parents 20 per cent worse over a generation'. He thinks such advertising should be restricted, at least to the point at which it would 'excessively' reduce free speech.

    I'm not against such public health measures, if they can be shown to work. But the Swedish experience, where they have banned such advertising aimed at the under-12s, is not encouraging. The excellent Marginal Revolution blog has pointed to some evidence suggesting that parental working hours are part of the problem. So perhaps parenting is 20% worse.

    I would be interested to know how Guy explains his own weight gain (that's Guy in the middle). Has he been watching too much children's TV? (I think we can rule out the lesbian theory.) It's far more likely that it is the usual combination of eating too much and exercising too little. I've no doubt that food advertising, the plentiful availability of cheap food, and the mass of labour-saving devices in the modern world all make keeping slim more difficult than at earlier times. A healthy weight now requires self-discipline in a way that it did not in the past. Ultimately, though, it up to individuals to control their own weight, and for parents to impose the necessary discipline on their kids.

    (Sorry about two personal appearances blogs in one weekend.)
     
    A more serious post on equal rights for gays

    Is Mark Latham taking a risk with his pledge to get rid of legal discrimination against homosexuals? Certainly he is moving into territory where the Prime Minister is unlikely to follow.

    The polls on homosexuality are a little difficult to interpret, but I think the gist of them is that while most people still don't like the idea of gay sex, they don't take this as a reason to discriminate against gay people.

    In the Australian component of the 1999-2000 International Social Science Survey 57% of respondents thought that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex was always wrong or almost always wrong. That's down 16% since 1984, so the trend is clear, but also that a majority thinks gay sex is 'wrong'.

    In contrast to this, only 36% respondents to a 2001 Morgan poll agreed with the statement that 'I believe homosexuality is immoral'. Presuming no great change of opinion in a year, perhaps the specific mention of sex in the ISSS question focused concern on the aspect of homosexuality that makes people most uncomfortable.

    But even back in the early to mid-1980s, attitudes to sexual practice did not flow through to attitudes to people. Morgan occasionally asks about what kinds of people the respondent would not like to have as a neighbour. In 1983 - the year before 73% said sexual relations between adults of the same sex was wrong - only 34% said that they would not like to have homosexuals as neighbours. The next time the question was asked, in 1995, the number was down to 25%.

    In 1986-87 the National Social Science Survey found that 63.5% of people gave approval or qualified approval to homosexuals teaching in schools. In contrast, only 10% thought racists should be allowed to teach 15 year olds.

    In 1991-92 the Rights in Australia survey asked whether equal rights to homosexuals would 'damage morals'. Only 22.5% said yes. By constrast 58.5% said that equal rights would 'uphold rights'. (This was a badly worded question - it should have read 'equal laws' or something like that.)

    The same survey found that fewer than 20% disapproved of homosexuals holding responsible positions in public life.

    My hunch here is that Latham is on safe electoral ground with this policy. Outside Darlinghurst it's hardly likely to be a 'barbeque stopper', but most people will accept that the changes would alleviate hardship for a small number of people without any real social or financial cost. If Labor used the m-word the political story would, I think, be very different. But they have wisely left gay marriage for another day.

     

     
       
       

     

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