Thank Xi Jinping

Five years ago, I wrote my “strange utopia”, doing a bit of forecasting into America’s grim future. The situation now has become much worse than I ever expected it to be.

I was clearly right on one thing: the rise of China both in income and (relatively) in morals. Thousands of Taiwanese have moved to the mainland. Communist China has been praised by over fifty countries for its remarkable achievements in the field of human rights. Rather than supporting mass bloodshed around the world, deadly pandemics, and social anarchy within their own country, the Communist Party of China has used its traditionally blunt tactics to prove that simple methods can work, and are often superior to the toxicity of the imperialists. The jihadist problem in Xinjiang was quelled, to the consternation of every al-Qaeda supporter in America’s Congress (i.e., every member but the two Kentucky libertarians – proof that libertarians are the only anti-establishment force operating to any degree in American politics). Rather than being rapidly multiplying forces for instability in both China and the rest of the Muslim world, the Uyghurs of Xinjiang were made to become model Chinese citizens. The Hong Kongers were, instead of being coddled, forced to become involuntary members of the reality-based community. Despite being the first country to notice a mass pandemic of SARS-CoV-2, China managed to limit its fallout to less than ten thousand deaths -at least twenty times less than the United States, which itself, despite making every possible attempt at failure, fared substantially better than Western Europe, which failed to even keep even remotely believable statistics. The leadership of Chinese diplomats in the public sphere has become a model for the whole world. China is now attempting (though far too late) to restore its total fertility rate to a respectable level, and will likely succeed in this task by 2035. The next step must be reunification with homosexualist Taiwan, before sclerosis sets in its own system.

America, in contrast, is fundamentally a bad country run by bad people. It is a nation of orange pigs, with its president not being its occupier, but its apotheosis. It has been Number One at causing so much blood and death over the past two decades -in Venezuela, Bolivia, Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya by war and in its own country due to the virus. It is its two great failures in the first half of this year that convinced me of this most fully: the coronavirus and the riots.

The reaction of the Republicans to the coronavirus problem was so well-documented as to need no elaboration. The outbreak of a newly discovered and rapidly spreading virus in China’s most important transportation center was treated as a non-issue until it already hit pandemic levels in both Western Europe and the United States. The Republicans then proceeded to say the president did nothing wrong and everything was the fault of China, the only country in the world to go so far to hurt itself to protect the rest of the world from the virus as to bar outbound travel from a strategic city of over eleven million people, and even unto this day be so thoroughly concerned with combating the spread of the virus both within its country and without as to mandate quarantine for anyone attempting to travel between provinces. The reaction on the Democratic side was yet more amazing. Rather than doing the obvious things -calling for an expropriation of Trump’s wealth and using it to compensate COVID victims and championing their only half-decent administrator (Steve Bullock)- they proceeded to praise their own party’s biggest killers, create tremendous and lengthy economic damage for no justifiable reason other than to help Amazon, and not directly attack Trump at all for killing over a fifth of a million Americans -something which in most countries is called a “crime against humanity”. And yet, the polling evidence clearly indicates that Americans are as oblivious to their leaders’ failures as ever, Republicans more so than others, but don’t doubt for even a tenth of a second that Democrats would be enthusiastically supporting the exact same response were Joe Biden in office instead. Regardless of all evidence, Americans still think other nations are their subjects and that the metropole has nothing to learn from its colonies. This, combined with an almost early 19th century Chinese sense of their superiority, turned crisis into catastrophe, while Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Tunisia, Korea, Thailand, and the vast majority of China combined experienced barely more deaths than a year’s worth of American mass shootings. Of all the nations of Southeast Asia, only lackadaisical Indonesia and Albophilic Singapore experienced any real trouble with the virus.

As the virus was continuing to rage and unemployment spiked to the highest level since the Great Depression, the accidental police killing of a negro criminal, newsworthy precisely due to its extreme rarity, sparked massive outbursts of concern in this country not for the people victimized by him… but demands for the arrest of the police officer who restrained him! Rather than accepting and loudly promoting the simple fact destructive and violent riots complaining about an altogether imaginary problem have no legitimate grievances whatsoever, that appeasement invariably breeds aggression, and that random acts of violence by a totalitarian establishment against people’s livelihoods might, in fact, be bad, what rotten chunk of flesh that passes for the right in this country demanded “Those responsible for George Floyd’s death must be brought to justice“. Indeed, rather than learning from the events of Ferguson that rioters complaining about imaginary disproportionate police killings of unarmed negroes do not have even the slightest shred of a legitimate grievance and must never be given the slightest inch, the so-called “right” in America didn’t even so much as advocate for even the most basic measures of self-defense before Donald Trump -an orange conman as useless as he is malicious. Xi Jinping, at least, learned from China’s 2014 protests and their escalation in 2019. The leadership of Thailand learned from the protests against its regime, and that of Burma certainly has no sympathy to its own minority terrorists. On the Democratic (or cultural ruling party) side, a great many, though far from all, politicians as well as all America’s social media companies and much of its media class enthusiastically supported the rioters and their destruction of their very own congressional districts, a move supported unanimously by the falsely called “anti-establishment” left. This support for arson, looting, and vandalism was something that we never saw at all except among the fringes of the fringe during the Ferguson riots. Say what you will about the Romans, but they never possessed the stupidity to support its Vandals or their cause. No wonder I so enthusiastically supported the riots from the start. They are laser-targeted to hit exactly the individuals who most deserve experiencing some life and property damage from them. Anybody who didn’t learn from Ferguson that police are useless and that relaxing around Blacks is never a good idea deserves every last thing he or she gets.

I do not sympathize with these orange pigs. Any Sinophobe or Ameriphile deserves not a shred of respect from anyone. From now on, the death of every American will fill me with joy, from whatever the cause, in whatever the context. They deserve it, and much more. They support Cuomo, they support Trump, they support the spread of ghetto crime, they support the virus. Their desire for their own deaths, as well as the deaths of those who support them, should not be opposed. To all leaders of foreign countries, I beg of you: Americans are pigs. Expunge them from your realm. Block their propaganda. Save yourselves from this plague. Liberate yourselves from your slavery.

It is no wonder, then, that I changed my avatar from Michelangelo’s David to Prayut chan-o-cha. He is the man of the time we need. His government, as well as those of Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-In remind us, the inhabitants of the White countries, that a better world is still possible. And that is a powerful insight everyone should embrace. The world has a lot of potential, despite its occasional collapses. The vision of progressive improvement should never be abandoned.

The China shock did hurt the American economy, but not in the way most explain

There is a common meme, true but misstated, that the rise of China 2003-2011 reduced the consumption of Americans. Behind it, though never explicitly stated, can only be the idea that newly rich Chinese consumed goods and services that would otherwise have been consumed by Americans.

The much more common statement of the view that the rise of China reduced the consumption of Americans is that the exchange of Chinese manufactured goods for American assets resulting from the U.S. capital account surplus with China transferred wealth from U.S. manufacturing workers and domestic industrial capitalists to U.S. construction workers, governments, and landlords. This is true enough. However, it does not constitute an overall consumption transfer from Chinese to Americans. Rather, it constitutes consumption transfer within the United States, e.g., from Michigan to Florida. Even the increasingly high price of U.S. assets (e.g., housing) resulting from the American capital account surplus with China could not have possibly decreased overall U.S. consumption on net. It would simply have been another within-country consumption transfer, that is, a transfer from domestic asset buyers to domestic asset owners. In a two-country model, anything other than perfectly free trade between the U.S. and China would only make economic sense by making tariff incidence fall on the producer, something only possible given very high importer levels of monopsony power (cf. economists’ optimal tariff theory).

However, the two country model does not apply for the 2003-2011 period. The rise of China did transfer overall consumption from Americans to Chinese, as well as to Russians, Saudis, and Brazilians. This was the case because the rise of China reduced U.S. export prices and increased its import prices.

Imagine three countries, the U.S., China, and Saudi Arabia. There are two commodities, oil and manufactured goods. Both the U.S. and China export manufactured goods and import oil, while Saudi Arabia imports manufactured goods from both and exports oil to both. An increase in Chinese exports increases the price of oil, thus hurting Americans by increasing import prices and helping Saudis by increasing export prices. It also decreases the price of manufactured goods, thus hurting Americans by decreasing U.S. export prices and helping Saudis by decreasing Saudi import prices. This is, more or less, what happened to the U.S. during the 2003-2011 period, though I will not try to quantify the effect here. Between 2003 and 2011, the U.S., Portugal, and Italy all experienced unusually slow economic growth, while Brazil, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc. and, of course, the engine of this entire movement, China, all experienced unusually fast economic growth. Developing countries in South and Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe also experienced unusually fast economic growth due to greater credit supply during this process (Greece and Spain experienced this before 2009, but not after).

American protectionism against China in the period 2003-2011 would have worked to increase its consumption only insofar as it decreased U.S. import prices and (less plausibly) increased U.S. export prices. For this to be true, it would require a substantial amount of American monopsony power over Chinese manufactured goods, as well as smaller U.S. consumption gains from cheaper domestic prices of manufactured goods than U.S. consumption losses from more expensive imported commodities.

After 2011, the U.S. increasingly began to remedy its heavy reliance on imported oil while U.S.-China trade as a percentage of U.S. GDP stagnated, thus bringing an end to (though obviously not a full reversal of) the China shock. If the U.S. becomes a net commodities exporter, it will definitely economically benefit, on net, from the rise of China, and protectionism would be indisputably economically counterproductive.

Review of Henri Pirenne’s Mohammed and Charlemagne

I began summarizing this book more than half a decade ago, but, due to laziness, never finished. In a burst of interest in Late Antique history, I finally read the book over a couple days yesterday. It’s very good, if somewhat exaggerated in parts of its thesis.

This is a book about Gaul in general and southern Gaul in particular from the late fifth century to the mid-ninth. Other barbarian kingdoms do make their appearance, but only tangentially, if at all, as they had a tendency to not survive for very long, either being conquered by other barbarians (Sueves, Burgundians), conquered by Byzantines (Vandals, Ostrogoths), or conquered by Arabs (Visigoths). The most discussed, thus, of the non-Frankish barbarian kingdoms by Pirenne are the Lombards, as they are the only barbarian kingdom to survive past the Umayyads, followed closely by the Visigoths, the longest lasting of the non-Frankish barbarian kingdoms. Pirenne, though certainly a very good historian by any measure, doesn’t care about the Arabs, nor does he particularly want to. His Arabic focus, so far as it exists, is exclusively on how the Arab conquests transformed Core European civilization. The book has three major points. The first is to demonstrate the Romanizing, non-Medieval nature of the barbarian kingdoms as of c. 500 from the fiscal, social, and commercial perspectives, and their complete lack of cultural influence by Germania. This portion of the book is almost entirely correct, marred only by the failure to sufficiently note the degradation of the Late Antique economy and society in both the barbarian kingdoms (e.g., Arles was abandoned c. 550) and the lands reconquered under Justinian over course of the sixth century (rural Tunisia and Italy show substantial declines) and by an exaggeration of sixth century continuities. If anything, Pirenne would be surprised to what great extent the Franks adopted Roman civilization and the continuity of north Gaulish exchange networks following the Frankish conquest; it is today known that the population of Flanders almost entirely arrived there from the North after c. 390 and that Late Roman pottery exchange networks persisted in northern Gaul well into the sixth century (see Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages). The second point is a theory of the end of the Late Antique economy, state, and society in the West. Pirenne attributes this degradation to, firstly, the Arab conquests reducing international trade and commercial tax revenue and, secondly, the degeneracy of the Frankish monarchy between c. 550 and c. 650 giving an opening to the growing power and militarization of the landed aristocracy. The third point is to describe Carolingian civilization. Pirenne takes a highly exaggerated, almost comically dim view of it. In Pirenne’s view, the economy of Gaul in general, and Southern Gaul in particular, declined between c. 550 and c. 750 (this is almost certainly wrong), international trade, interregional trade, education, and Roman civilization in general becoming tightly restricted over those years. Instead of a Mediterranean-focused, secular, popular education system of the time of Isidore of Seville, clerical High Latin based on the works of Germanic scholars had become dominant in the extremely elite-focused education system of the time of Charlemagne, as foreign to Gaul as to Anglia. The emphasis on Latin poetry under the Merovingians shifted to one on Germanic songs under the Carolingians. This description of Gallic cultural change may well be correct, but the excessively dim view of the economy, which Pirenne frequently contrasts with the eighth century Romano-Greek sphere (which, if we recall, was far more damaged by the Arab conquests than the Gallo-Frankish, even if it started from a higher level), cannot be right. Dorestad and Quentovic, which Pirenne minimizes as short-lasting, unrepresentative, and regionally limited, had a much more widespread trade than any part of the Mediterranean (including even Umayyad Palestine) after c. 720 (when it continued to greatly expand until the Viking raids, see on this, Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages, p. 680-690). As Wickham states, on the basis of archaeological evidence,

in northern Gaul the period 450–600 can probably be seen as a general nadir for urbanism, the seventh century and especially the eighth as a period of revival; this trajectory certainly distinguishes the north of Gaul from the south.

(Framing the Middle Ages, p. 677)

The appearance of new towns in sixth- and seventh-century northern Gaul, together with the striking commercial wealth of Cologne, are among the first signs that the old northern frontier of the empire was turning into a political heartland, that of the Merovingian Franks

(Framing the Early Middle Ages p. 681)

Given the grave error of Pirenne’s ironclad connection of cities with international trade, it is clear he cannot be right on Gaul as a whole experiencing urban decline from c. 550 to c. 750, though he is quite correct that northern Gaul experienced more positive changes than southern Gaul at this time. If anything, the growing power of the aristocracy from c. 550 to c. 850 was the result, not of the degradation of commerce, but the recovery of landed aristocratic wealth combined with the aristocracy having been militarized during the course of the sixth century. Pirenne’s description of the Late Antique/Early Medieval monetary system is also limited. He unnecessarily neglects the localization and debasement of Western gold coinage during the late sixth/early seventh centuries and his view of the Carolingian silver standard is dim beyond any plausible reason.

Despite its very brief length by modern standards, the book is breathtaking in scope. It is a must-read for anyone studying the period, both for its largely solid content and for its massive future influence. If anything, Pirenne offers a much more coherent picture of Late Antiquity than most of its exponents offer today; he views the growing orientalization of Roman culture as a product of Persian influence and as essential in explaining the cultural shifts of Late Antiquity in the Mediterranean. Pirenne is surely entirely correct on the disastrous impact of the Arab conquest on the Mediterranean trade and the Byzantine Empire. If fact, he understates his case for the East; the Arab conquest of Egypt and Syria was much more economically devastating for the Byzantine Empire than for the Visigothic, Frankish, Lombard, and Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Even for Italy, it caused a collapse in fineware production (see Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages, p. 732) and caused extensive economic disasters in Carthage (Framing the Early Middle Ages, p. 641). Pirenne’s description of the extreme Arab-caused eighth century nadir in Mediterranean trade and travel as the time Medieval European (Latin in particular, but the case, which the author doesn’t make, could also be made for Greek) civilization was born is fascinating. Perhaps, however, Pirenne’s greatest sin is overstating the effect of the Mediterranean trade on the Gallic economy, which was already quite self-sufficient as early as the third century (see Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages, p. 800-801). Of course, even small degrees of economic contact can and do coincide with major cultural effects. But that is no reason to exaggerate the Mediterranean trade’s purely economic importance for the West.

The book does demonstrate powerfully that the Arab conquest of the country from Spain to Syria prematurely forced trends which would increasingly become visible over the course of the period c. 1200-1850. The break of Core European civilization with that of Greece and Egypt was inevitable. But it need not have come so soon.