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Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

#140: Aug. - Oct. 2015 (Non-Fiction)
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Chris OConnor

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Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

Please use this thread to discuss Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over.
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Dexter

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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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I've only read part of the chapter so far (Ch. 1 being quite short), he continues to give his optimistic view of the world, in particular talking about the Islamic world (in some cases, if not quite optimism, then it being better than people think). He gives some interesting polling data on the decline in favorable opinion towards jihadists that I was unaware of.

I was thinking it would be interesting to see him debate Sam Harris, who has often criticized people on the left for ignoring the violence of Islam out of political correctness (rightly so in some cases, although I don't always agree with Harris on foreign policy). I did find a clip of him talking to Zakaria on YouTube, so I'm going to check that out when I get a chance, along with some of Zakaria's other debates/guests
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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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It's a long chapter, and I've read about half of it. On the topic of the dangerousness of the world, Zakaria echoes Steven Pinker, who a couple of books ago gave us exhaustive documentation for the people of the world being safer from harm and death by violence than ever before in history. What has made most of us see that view as unlikely is simply the effect of having news from around the world reach us instantly, both Zakaria and Pinker would say. We think that greater dangers lurk, but the reality is that we're safer.

Specifically on Islamic-fueled terrorism, I suppose Zakaria covers himself for his optimistic view by saying that we do need anti-terrorism efforts. But he presents the threat of religious extremists as marginal, nowhere near strong enough to go against the tide of rising modernism even in Muslim countries. He tells us, as Dexter said, that most Muslims say they don't support terror, and that influential Muslims have in fact been doing what the West has always demanded-- condemning their violent co-religionists. Zakaria writes pre-ISIS, so we need to question whether that development weakens his assessment that radical Islam is petering out. He also doesn't mention Saudi Arabia's key role in exporting the hardcore Islam known as Wahhabism to nearly everywhere in the Muslim world.

Sam Harris isn't impressed by reports that the large majority of Muslims are moderate. He might have been the first to assert that moderates are part of the problem.

I've just come to the part where Zakaria tells us that the economic news, world-wide, is also better than most of us in the U.S. believe. He says this is probably due to our judging the world by the relatively low performance of our own economy. Quite a number of formerly stagnant countries have reached the take-off stage, and global poverty continues to decline significantly.

I think he wants to cheer us up.
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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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Interesting exchange between Zakaria and Sam Harris, if you have time to watch it:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWkYEs3fuW4

Harris points out that even though jihadists are a minority, views that are antithetical to modern Western values (about freedom, women, etc.) are quite popular. Zakaria basically argues that because there have times when Islam was peaceful, then it's not an Islam problem, it's a social and political problem. Harris says this is a very sanitized history, and that ideology matters.

I think Harris got the best of him here, although I tend to agree with the relatively optimistic view of the world that Zakaria is giving so far. Sort of like Matt Ridley's "rational optimism"
http://www.economist.com/node/16103826
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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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Right, I'm going to consider the Islam matter that Zakaria and Harris discuss an unsettled one. In the end, it's up to the Muslim countries themselves as to whether they want to live strictly by the book, and we have nothing to say about it except when they export terrorism. The thought that Harris seems to have, and it has validity, is that if you peddle the Koranic teachings wholesale, you contribute significantly to growing the ranks of Muslims who want to kill infidels. You might say that you're against this extremism, but you're adding to it nonetheless.
Who's the biggest exporter of ultra-conservative Islam? Saudi Arabia, a country we've long been cozy with. Conservatives in this country attack Obama for not using the label "Islamic extremism," but they never say we should stop being allies of the Saudis. Strange--or maybe not so strange when oil is so important in the equation.
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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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Dexter, I guess others haven't gotten going on the book yet. I wondered what you thought about the next 30 pp. of Chap. 1. It seems to me that he's saying something important, if hard to wrap the mind around, such as globalization going hand in hand with nationalism, which means that the prospect of the nations getting together to achieve goals becomes a more remote possibility.

He's trying to show us Americans that we really do have a restricted, parochial view of the world. I like the example he gave of our view of ourselves as the heroes of WW II, when the Soviet Union actually bore the brunt of the fight against Germany. It's no wonder that the Russians even today would resent the way we remember history.

The perils of plenty is his theme here. I'm always most anxious about the environmental side of that, what it means for the environment if a few billion more people get what by all fairness they should get--the comfortable standard of living that we have in North America and Europe.
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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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Haven't had a chance to finish the chapter (I assume you meant Ch. 2), hopefully this weekend.
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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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DWill wrote:
The perils of plenty is his theme here. I'm always most anxious about the environmental side of that, what it means for the environment if a few billion more people get what by all fairness they should get--the comfortable standard of living that we have in North America and Europe.
For me the question of plenty also folds around many of us using much more than we need to be comfortable and the mind set that does not recognize our excessive use in the West of material goods. Possibly there really is plenty but maybe that is dependent on what plenty means. Here is a link to some data on global footprints/perceived well-being/life expectancy: http://www.happyplanetindex.org/data/

That is where I think the West will eventually find it is pinned. Hopefully Zakaria will address that in later chapters.
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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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That is a different way to look at the world. With economic growth still serving as the single primary indicator of well-being, we seem a long way from accepting these alternate ways of quantifying.

But I don't get the feeling that Zakaria means to talk more about the resource or environmental side. I get a picture so far of his having the conventional view that growth produces whatever good outcome we can talk about.
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Re: Ch. 2: The Cup Runneth Over

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Zakaria makes some excellent points about the economic transformation of the world over recent decades. He quotes the Fed Head as describing the collapse of the Soviet Union as primarily an economic event, because it illustrated that the communist model of central planning was a house of cards, a fantasy world unconnected to material reality. When things are not sustainable, they stop. That is a basic law of physics, and of economics and politics. Communism was and is unsustainable, but the reasons for this reality are not well enough understood.

What I find totally fascinating about the collapse of communism is how we are now seeing a recrudescence of an emotional hankering for the communitarian model with the rise of what I like to call “neo-communism”. This is the fantasy mentality that sees neo-liberalism as an evil cabal. Neo-communism uses social media as an echo chamber to construct a vision of politics and economics in conflict with all sensible governments (Zakaria mentions Peru, Brazil, Turkey and others). There is something emotionally satisfying about implicit ideas of class warfare, that the masses will arise and cast off the chains of oppression. Unfortunately this romantic model of politics fails the basics of economics and human motivation, simply placing a different and worse elite in power, since without market discipline you have corruption. But popular myths are characterised by a perverse ability to avoid allowing facts to get in the way of an enticing story.

The really disturbing thing in Australia is that this attitude of hostility to capital and investment, an attitude whose only result can be a one way ticket to Greece, is actually leading in the polls, because Australia has a state owned broadcaster which has been captured by a leftist staff collective who are adamantly hostile to economic reality. This example of Australia’s State Broadcaster illustrates how state power is dangerous and needs to be limited. I hope we can sell off our sheltered workshop state broadcaster. Privatising communications would enforce market discipline and remove the power of ideas that are not backed by responsibility.

The centre of gravity (or maybe I should write center of gravity) in US politics is well to the right of the situation in Australia. A friend of mine recently commented that Australia has a nanny state. Zakaria mentions how this cossetted attitude was rebutted by Margaret Thatcher with her famous slogan “There Is No Alternative”. Unfortunately, we are seeing that there is an alternative to progress and growth, and it its regress and stagnation. The amazing thing is that regressive thinkers like the new Pope of Rome have the brazen impudence to assert that their sentimental obsolete nonsense is good for the poor. I suppose this broad cultural recrudescence of neo-communism is in line with Hitler’s theory that if you tell a big enough lie then people will believe it. Pope Francis is welcome to his dream of all living in poverty, but it is hardly one that he can expect others to share. The danger is that such mentality can gain power, bringing risks of stagnation and conflict. The world cannot afford that.

Zakaria comments that “there is a growing gap between America’s worldly business elite and cosmopolitan class, on the one hand, and the majority of the American people, on the other.” This situation, identified by Occupy Wall Street as the syndrome of the 1%, illustrates Zakaria’s point about the hollowing out of the American middle class. The frightening reality is that people in India and China are willing to do manufacturing and services jobs for much lower pay than Americans have done them. The upheaval through the creative destruction inherent in the capitalist market system is producing dislocation, envy and tension, but imagining it can be stopped is like trying to stop the tide by the king’s command.

There is no way that things could be made better by policies to prevent free trade. That seems counterintuitive to some who want to protect jobs, but the reality is that if a job needs protection by the state then it is on a path to extinction. Economies have to be robust and innovative, and the dead hand of state protection produces a cossetted and uncompetitive shell that soon becomes ripe for destruction when the subsidies can no longer be afforded. I fear this is a lesson for America’s bloated military.

In any case, allowing jobs to be done by those who are willing to do them for the lowest price is a clear moral requirement of social justice. It is ethically unfair and unprincipled to give work to an uncompetitive firm just because they are your friends, when this means condemning someone in another country to the dire poverty of subsistence agriculture. By opening the economy to competition, innovation is given the opportunity to thrive. We are now seeing amazing firms like Tesla and Google create whole new areas of work in a competitive market. It is exciting to see the buzz around books like Bold by Peter Diamantis. These new models of abundant wealth creation through high technology are very much based on a controversial American saying, get out of my way.
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