Monday, March 29, 2010

That Clinking Clanking Sound

Ever get the impression that the Progressive political class doesn't really understand the concept of money? The phrase "medium of exchange" seems to little intrude on their cultural sensoria. A dollar, mark, franc, pound, ruble, etc. etc. has no intrinsic value whatsoever but what we as functioning mercantile societies choose to assign it. When we use money to buy something what we are really doing is trading our services for the services of someone else. As a first order approximation when we work and for our efforts obtain a certain amount of this trading medium we use it to obtain the services provided by someone else. If we trade an actual item for another that is known as bartering which is fine but unworkable on any but the smallest local scales. So money, printed bills, checks, electronically transferred funds, or whatever merely allows a national and worldwide commerce in goods and services to take place more efficiently--or at all really.

In the end if we borrow, that is obtain some of what we do not already have, we perforce owe the person or institution from which we borrowed that same amount plus a fee for providing that service. A government bond is a loan from the purchaser which after a certain period of time will be repaid along with an agreed upon rate of interest or profit to the purchaser. No government can sell bonds with a zero percent interest rate. Who would buy such a thing? Not even the most addled Marxist/Leninist anti-capitalist zealot would ever buy a government bond with a zero percent interest rate. And the nearly limitless exigencies of the modern welfare state mean that there will never be enough tax revenues to pay for all the goodies received by the populace so money must be raised by selling bonds of sundry types.

Bond holders expect to be repaid the same as any other lender whether they are individuals or governmental entities. Individuals or governments cannot be forced to buy other governments bonds. They must in some degree be induced to buy them with rates of return that are attractive in some way. If the economics of a given country are grim their bonds can only be sold at higher rates of return or in extreme cases not at all. Shaft your large bondholders and your source of funding will dry up until some sort of fiscal sanity is restored to your economy or enterprise.

So in every real sense every cent of the ocean of the intangible but nevertheless all to real money surging to and fro around the globe is an amount owed by someone to someone else. And those loaning someones expect to be paid back just as much as when you sell a car and expect the check to cash properly. If that check bounces you are a victim of fraud just as are bondholders, even enormous ones, victimized if a country defaults on its obligations and is unable, or unwilling, to repay those bondholders. So in the end if, say, France gives the U.S. a chicken it expects the agreed upon dozen eggs in return. If the eggs are not forthcoming there may well be no chicken next time. If you don't repay someone for their services, whether it is to fix a flat tire or to finance your wildly burgeoning welfare state, then you perpetrate a fraud--period.

All the trillions the U.S. is now borrowing to finance its rapidly expanding public entitlement programs must be repaid at some point or the country will default on those loans and there will be forty-nine kinds of dire economic hell to pay.

Progressives seem to take little notice of any of this and even when they do they claim that the heaped up trillions in debt will be repaid by tax revenues from putative future economic booms. At the rate this debt is piling up the odds that any economy on this planet or any other will be able to do this would make any Vegas bookie bark in derisive laughter.

Progressives further think that those mean old nasty greedy Rich People should pay their "fair" share to enable the countless grandiose governmental projects touted by said Progressives. I got news for them. There aren't enough rich people. Not nearly enough. If we confiscated every last cent from everyone making over 200k, the newest definition of rich, it wouldn't be enough--not even close. The entire personal fortunes of every single filthy rich plutocratic oppressor of the proletariat and every criminally irresponsible Wall Street trader would not even be a good down payment on implementing the fevered entitlement dreams of progressives. Heck the personal fortunes of every last man-jack and woman-jill taxpayer in the whole country will not be enough. When the debt load equals and then surpasses the sum total gross domestic product of the labors of every single working person in the United States then we will officially be bankrupt and physically incapable of repaying this ever rising Everest of debt.

Oh sure if such a massive default were to actually occur the huge foreign government bondholders will be stuck, for an indeterminate period, and may have to just suck it up and take the hit. What they will not be likely to do is throw several trillion bucks more good money after bad because that very act would just make it that much unlikely that they would ever be repaid. Our overall public debt level now rivals that of the period during the Second World War which was repaid fairly rapidly it's true but would manifestly not have been if the current entitlement structure, let alone any Progressively contemplated future one, had then been as extensive and overarching.

Massive defaults by developed nation-states are rare but they are beginning to appear. Greece in fact has ceased to be a going concern in almost every way and is currently hat in hand to the wealthier members of the EU, Germany primarily, for a massive bailout package. If the cradle of democracy has foundered on the shoals of the entitlement state then can anyone say we will always be immune to the same fate?

No matter how mind-numbingly large the numbers blithely tossed around, and no matter how blase Progressives are that enough suckers will be found to pay, the fact will always remain that every single dollar of debt is and will be owed to someone who would like it back at some point. That's just capitalism which as reviled as it may be is not merely the preferred economic engine of prosperity but rather the only engine of prosperity ever proven to actually work.

Capitalism is not an intellectual preference competing among many others. It is the inevitable manifestation of the deepest inherent needs and wants of every human on the planet. And this trait is not merely human. No living thing, not even a microbe, can go about its business without the remuneration required for its survival. The more any given state misguidedly attempts to suppress or supplant these imbedded tendencies the more generally miserable will be its inhabitants. Progressives and harder leftists can, and of course will, argue about this until doomsday but it is, whether they will ever admit it or not, inevitable that the current, and unprecedented, massive expansion of the entitlement state will ultimately depend on many many someones somewhere at some time being willing to work for nothing. Any volunteers?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tinfoil Tom

From a recent Time article/interview with actor Tom Hanks:

"Back in World War II we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”

Well there went any respect I might have been harboring for the man for with a mere four sentences he's officially joined the growing ranks of clueless celebrity numbskulls. What's truly brain boggling is that this is from someone who recently participated in a multi-year 100 million dollar mini-series about the fighting in the Pacific during WWII.

The statement "We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different." is born of a particularly fine and special sort of historical ignorance. They were indeed "different" from us in that the Japanese Empire was attempting to subjugate and pillage half the world, while killing millions of innocents in the process, and the United States was not. That's the only difference really worth considering you buffoonish yob. Sure they were reviled you nitwit. They were the ENEMY. And by enemy I do not mean the other side of a chess game or a cricket match. I mean a powerful and merciless military juggernaut that for many years before Pearl Harbor had bombed smashed and murdered its way across much of Asia and the Pacific with India and Australia square in its gunsights.

Aside from the U.S. cutting off raw and scrap material supplies to this juggernaut the main brief the Japanese held against this country is that it might prove a major roadblock in their grandiose dreams of conquest. I doubt there was any serious sort of embedded cultural hatred of the U.S. in Japan that was any worse than the normal sort of extreme Japanese disdain of all "barbarians", i.e. everyone not Japanese. And not even the most bellicose in the Japanese general staff thought that invading the U.S. mainland was remotely practical. So they were not in any wise "out to kill us because our way of living was different." and we in turn did not generally view them as having that attitude. They just wanted us out of the way and the Pearl Harbor attack was supposed to shock the U.S. so much we would sue for peace and allow their pillage of Asia and the western Pacific to proceed without interference. The attack was thoroughgoing, efficiently prosecuted, and of course one of the most profound military blunders of all time but few Americans at the time thought that it was motivated by innate hatred of the people or the culture of this country.

Before the war U.S. opinion of Japan itself was not particularly ugly, in fact it was frequently laudatory, although those of Japanese ancestry certainly had major problems on the west coast. After Pearl Harbor the U.S. propaganda machine swung into action and painted the Japanese as leering subhuman killers of innocents and savage despoilers of whole countries. The concept of "politically correct" had not reared its putrid head in those days and cartoonish characterizations of enemy peoples and combatants was de rigueur on all sides. The U.S. was lamentably not special in this regard but slack must be cut on this score because the Japanese actually were plainly and unquestionably mass killers of innocents and despoilers of whole countries. In fact their savagery was scarcely eclipsed by the Germans so however vicious our propaganda was it was not only well deserved but actually understated things. However cruel and black-hearted we thought the Japanese military was shortly after Pearl Harbor they continued to surprise us throughout the war with savagery no sane American thought even possible.

It was entirely the result of the all too real and stupefyingly wicked Japanese depredations during the war that they reaped the ultimate nuclear whirlwind and that consequence had absolutely nothing to do with propaganda posters of smirking bespectacled Japanese troops bayoneting Chinese babies. And they should thank us really because the nuclear bombings abruptly ended the war and likely saved anywhere from five to ten million lives which would have been snuffed out in a full scale invasion of the main home islands. There are in fact many millions of Japanese alive today precisely because we dropped those nuclear weapons instead of invading the country.

Moving on Mr. Hanks is an unfathomable jackass if he thinks there are any parallels whatsoever between World War Two and the current mutual disregard between the western world and the middle-east. Or at least there are no parallels on the western side. On the middle-eastern side hatred of decadent western culture and its democratic institutions is all too real and clearly supported enthusiastically by millions. Yeah yeah moderate Muslims blah blah blah. Sure there are moderates. Maybe they are in the vast majority but if so they seem especially helpless in reigning in murderous jihadists although admittedly said jihadists appear to be experts in literally explosive intimidation of said putative moderates. Most Americans do not hate Muslims but they should and do properly revile the Islamist human garbage who brought down the twin towers and who routinely attempt to mass murder their co-religionists into submission. Not a lot to love there but even so propaganda posters of caricatured swarthy leering Al Queda suicidists bombing polling places and mosques are notably lacking in American shop windows.

In summation Mr. Hanks the Japanese just wanted us out of their way while radical Islamists do in fact hate our culture and want to conquer and subjugate us by whatever means possible. Not that they are likely to achieve this but that does not make them want it any less or make their murderous depredations any more palatable. Get a grip Hanks, yank that tinfoil hat off, and really respect those men whom your production is portraying by not painting their incredible sacrifices as a mere clash of cultures or a simple matter of mutual disrespect. They hated the Japanese not because they were funny looking little yellow fellows who did not look or talk like us and did not worship the same god but because they were unspeakably savage, implacably resolute, and enthusiastically suicidal enemies not merely of us but also of the peace and freedom of half the globe. If there had been an actual Captain John H. Miller and were he were still alive today he would be very ashamed of you Mr. H.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Resting Poultry

Although Toyota Corporation is the one in the soup presently I firmly believe that most other auto firms will be joining the bouillabasse in due course. This happenstance will be not be because of laxness or perfidy on the part of auto makers but rather the result of the technological chickens coming home to roost. Cars have of course increased in complexity steadily since the first quadracycle tootled down the first 19th century inventor's cobbled driveway but the trend has gathered major momentum in the last several decades. The last decade in particular has seen enormous increases in vehicle complexity under the ever greater lash of government mandates in headlong pursuit of greater fuel efficiency, exhaust pollution reduction, crash safety, recyclability, and a mishmash of politically driven "green" initiatives of sundry, and sometimes contradictory, mien.

There is no other consumer product on planet Earth that is more intensively regulated than automobiles sold in the United States--period. Noting else even comes close. To address this regulatory tsunami, and to not go out of business by not selling enough product, manufacturers have been forced to increase the complexity of vehicles to the point where even jet fighters and space shuttles might blush in embarrassment.

It should be obvious, but isn't to many, that the more complex a product the greater the likelihood that one of its parts will fail. If you make a device with ten simple parts the failure rate of the device is as a whole usually very low. If you make a device with a thousand parts the likelihood of one of those parts failing is considerably higher. If you make a device with ten thousand parts the failure of one of the components is guaranteed. At least it's guaranteed in a product that the bulk of the population can afford and even in the case of mid six-figure priced vehicles the failure of a component is hardly unusual.

One amelioration to this statistical inevitability is the concept of redundancy wherein a backup system will kick in when a critical component fails. All well and good but this approach is hardly viable in a consumer product. It is nonsensical to expect a useful level of component redundancy in an automobile. Aside from being largely impractical on an operational level major redundancy capabilities in cars would be hugely expensive and would drastically increase weight and lower fuel efficiency. A Smart Car would weigh as much as a current Mercedes E500 with such an approach--and would cost about the same as well.

There is another issue which gets little MSM coverage, unsurprisingly given the base ignorance of the non-automotive press, and that is that as vehicle systems become more complex and more under the control of computers the less the practicality of manual control of many systems. Regulation demands ever higher levels of performance, in all terms, which perforce means less direct control by the driver. To wit: Engines have become so complex and computer controlled that they no longer need, or even can accomodate, something as simple as an accelerator control cable. Electrically and hydraulically boosted computer controlled anti-lock brake systems are increasingly difficult to configure with something as simple as direct foot-operated mechanical rods or cables. Even steering systems are starting to appear that only have electronic connections between steering wheels and the cars actual steering mechanisms.

Until fairly recently if one's power steering or power brakes failed a vehicle might become much harder to steer or stop but it was still quite possible to do either. Throttles virtually always had a mechanical connection to a vehicle's fuel injection system with return springs that assured that an engine runaway was vanishingly unlikely. Now this mechanical "fail safe" tendency is rapidly disappearing. Increasingly throttles, steering wheels and even brake pedals are connected only to electronic sensors which signal the vehicle's computer, many computers actually, to accelerate, change direction, or stop according to the driver's needs. The darlings of enviros, hybrid vehicles, are even more complex, sometimes hugely so.

This trend toward much greater complexity is making vehicles more failure prone not less and therefore less safe. These new systems are very complex and rely on many sensors, electrical actuators, and, equally if not even more problematic, hundreds of thousands or millions of lines of computer code. At this level of complexity some sort of failure is essentially inevitable. What's worse is that failure of any given part is entirely unpredictable.

The computer sitting on your desk, however expensive, can be relied on to crash on a fairly regular basis. This can be an inconvenience, even a serious one, but restarting usually puts things to right although the loss of data may be a big pain. The computers in vehicles may be more reliable than home units but they are hardly immune to glitches, bugs, and internal component failure. The problem, rather obviously, is that the failure of a vehicle computer can have far deadlier consequences than merely losing the text of an email you were composing on your lap top.

If your home computer's mouse fails you run down to Best Buy or Walmart and pick up a new one. If the hard drive, the power supply, or the screen fails, the fix might be so expensive that you retire the offending device and buy a whole new one. In a vehicle if a sensor, actuator, or buggy line of code causes serious problems at 70mph on the freeway it won't matter a damn if replacement parts are readily available at a dealer because you may be stuck, possibly injured, and maybe slightly dead due to the failure.

Nothing made by the hand of man or machine is perfect. Out of a million things made by that hand or that machine a certain number of them will break, not work properly, or fail to work at all. As vehicles rapidly become more complex under the lash of regulation born of consequence-be-damned green hysteria such failures as currently bedevil Toyota will spread to all auto makers. The more technologically advanced vehicles become the more unreliable they will inevitably be. And due to the anti-corporate hyperventilations of the Progressive political class the trend shows little sign of abating.

Happy freakin' motoring.