Posted by on April 14, 2017

Some developments on the corruption front.

In South Korea, we have recently seen the arrest of Lee Jae-yong, the leader of Samsung, on charges of bribery.  We have also just seen the arrest of Park Geun-hye, the impeached former president, on charges of extortion.  Am I the only one who wonders how it is possible for both of these charges to be justified?

There is an interesting experiment in Romania.  The WSJ reports that the National Anticorruption Directorate is investigating some 2,100 cases of abuse of office, including by senior politicians.  A recent attempt by the politicos to shield themselves from further scrutiny has triggered the biggest public protests since the fall of Communism, forcing the withdrawal of the proposals.

This looks to be a serious effort to weed out corruption.  It should provide useful information on whether “culture” or “institutions” are more powerful,  and whether it is possible to find enough honest people to reform a deeply corrupt society.  Worth watching.

In Turkey, The Economist reports that the purge following the failed coup attempt has moved into the pillage phase.  The government has arrested 40,000 people since the attempt.  The usual charge is that they are supporters of Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish imam who is holed up in Pennsylvania, where he fled to avoid the wrath of his former ally, President Erdogan.  A Gulenist connection is usually easy to show because, before Gülen turned against Erdogan, the government encouraged business with him and his organizations.

The vast majority of the people arrested are subsequently released, but only after being stripped of their positions and their assets, including the ownership of their businesses, which pass to Erdogan’s friends.  The theft is no longer a bug.  It’s a feature.

And what would a piece on global corruption be without Russia, the rodina (motherland) of the practice?  There have recently been protests across Russia following the release of a film about the alleged corruption of Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister of Russia.  (It is apparently safer to attack the corruption of Putin’s stooge than that of Putin himself.)  The film was produced, and the protests have been loosely organized, by Aleksei Navalny, who plans to run for president next year on the slogan of “Don’t lie and don’t steal.”  It the land of Putin, words like these are treasonous.

If Navalny starts getting traction, expect the following: a technical reason will be found to exclude him from the race and/or he will join Boris Nemtsov, an earlier reformer who was assassinated in mysterious circumstances, in the afterlife.


Here are a couple of good ones.

The first is with Greg Gutfeld.  Gutfeld was introduced to me by a friend who is an avid watcher of “The Five” on Fox News (where Gutfeld stands tall among the midgets).  Gutfeld is more conservative than libertarian, but he certainly has a flair for anarchy and there is hope that eventually he will come to his senses.  His interview with Nick Gillespie from Reason on his book The Joy of Hate is hilarious and insightful…and about 10 minutes long.

The second is for Prager University by David Rudin, a well-known podcaster who used to be a liberal but who now identifies as a libertarian.  These days, Rudin refers to his former stablemates as the regressive Left and decries “the oppression Olympics where victimhood is the highest virtue….”  The video is short and very sweet.

The Rudin video, plus a recent sickening article on a student at the University of Texas who was hounded to suicide by a Title IX witch hunt and show trial, has made me wonder why the PC Left is so often the aggressor in the culture wars.  One factor is that, more so than their enemies on the religious Right, they don’t just want to be left alone.  They very often demand to be affirmed.

This is what always bothered me in the debate about gay marriage.  The gay and lesbian communities didn’t just want the legal benefits and protections that could have been provided by something like civil unions.  They wanted the affirmation that comes from the word marriage.  I always found this somewhat pathetic.

Ditto with the bakery and the gay wedding.  They didn’t just want a cake, which they could have gotten anywhere, they wanted their choices and position to be acknowledged.

You have a right to be left alone and to live your life by your own lights.  You do not have the right to be affirmed.

Gary Johnson

In my recent travels, I have sometimes had the occasion to mention that I voted for Gary Johnson in the last presidential election.  Far too often, this elicits guffaws and snide comments, particularly about Johnson’s “Aleppo moment.”

I can’t tell you how superficial and moronic I find this response.

Leave aside that Johnson’s failure to recognize Aleppo immediately might be a good sign that he actually didn’t think he was running to become the President of the World.  There is also the fact that Johnson was the only candidate consistently talking about another international hotspot: North Korea.  The difference between Aleppo and North Korea being, of course, that carnage in the former location could never seriously hurt America whereas the latter is rapidly developing  the ability to incinerate large parts of the West Coast.

When Obama met with Trump during the transition, Obama told him that North Korea should be the top national security priority for the new administration.  During Trump’s meetings with China’s President Xi Jinping, North Korea was at the top of the agenda.

So, what is more important: the failure to recognize Aleppo or the ability to focus on the much bigger issue of North Korea?  And who is the clueless stoner now?


I shared a hike to a waterfall in Hawaii with a couple from northern Wisconsin.  After the usual jokes about the weather in their hometown, the conversation turned to politics.  The husband said that he had voted for Donald Trump.  He also said that he was hoping that Trump would do something about the support for the local Native American tribes, which, he claimed, were freeriding.[1]

I was struck by this.  Many liberal commentators have delighted in pointing out how a lot of Trumpkins voted against their own economic interests, since they are very often beneficiaries of the programs that Trump campaigned against, such as Obamacare.  For the commentators, this is just another example of the stupidity of Trump supporters.

But this smug view may be wrong.  Maybe the Trump supporters aren’t looking for a handout.   Maybe they are just sick of watching everyone else take one.  Maybe they are also smart enough to realize that, to re-use a phrase from Frédéric Bastiat, government cannot really be “the great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.”  And maybe they intuitively know that, in the oppression Olympics where victimhood will ultimately determine who gets the big payouts, they are insufficiently shameless ever to stand on the top podium.

And I see from Marginal Revolution that this view might have some research support.  MR reports on recent research that found that people don’t care much are equality.  What they care about is fairness.  (Some of you may remember that this was the theme of one of my first blogs, entitled “Makers” Versus The “Takers.”)   This is the way the authors of the research summed up the results:

…despite appearances to the contrary, there is no evidence that people are bothered by economic inequality itself. Rather, they are bothered by something that is often confounded with inequality: economic unfairness. Drawing upon laboratory studies, cross-cultural research, and experiments with babies and young children, we argue that humans naturally favor fair distributions, not equal ones, and that when fairness and equality clash, people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality.

Foreign Aid

I was listening recently to an Econtalk featuring Angus Deaton, the Princeton economist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015 for his work on consumption, poverty and welfare.  One of the figures mentioned blew me away.  Total foreign aid to developing countries has equalled $5 trillion.[2]

And what does the world have to show for this?  Virtually nothing, since most of the reductions in global poverty have occurred in countries – like China, India and other countries in Southeast Asia – which have benefited relatively little from these transfers.  Instead, these countries have advanced through improvements in institutions, including freer and less corrupt markets.

But, as Deaton and others have pointed out, this route to success is undercut by foreign aid.  If foreigners are paying the bills, then there is little incentive for governments to be responsive to citizens who aren’t taxpayers.  As students of English history know, the big improvements in responsive and representative government occur when the ruler needs money.

The Education of Donald J. Trump

President Eisenhower once said “no easy problems ever come to the president of the United States.  If they are easy to solve, someone else has solved them.”  It is amazing how often Trump can be surprised to rediscover this truism.  And how he is too stupid to be embarrassed to discuss these personal epiphanies in public, in part because he is so solipsistic that he thinks that everyone has been caught equally off guard.

I have already quoted the best example of this phenomenon, when Trump reacted to the attempt to craft a replacement for Obamacare with “it’s an unbelievably complex subject.  Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Recently, Trump has given us two more jewels of this genre:

  • After attempting to persuade Chinese president Xi Jinping to simply squash North Korea, Trump told a reporter from the Wall Street Journal: “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had tremendous power…but it’s not what you would think.”  And…
  • While explaining his dumb and cowardly reversal on the Exim Bank, which he had denounced during his campaign, Trump attributed this to his recently acquired knowledge that “other countries give [assistance]. When other countries give it we lose a tremendous amount of business.”

I can’t wait for the next steps in the on-the-job training of President Trump.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom


I Wish That I Had Said That…

“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it” by H.L. Mencken


[1] I have no idea if this is true or not.  Just reporting, folks.

[2] I am not sure how this figure is calculated.  I suspect that these are the total transfers since WWII in inflated dollars, but I am not sure.  No matter how it’s been done, it’s a huge number.

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