Monday, September 26

Cargo Cult Economics 4 - Short Term Memory

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a wonderful series of essays and a best seller from the last century by a neurologist that begins by exploring the functioning our brains and ends up pondering our spiritual nature and the lines inbetween. One story tells of a man in his fifties for whom every moment is spent as a youth of twenty something.

Certainly that can describe many in a mid-life crisis or even just plain immaturity - but the man in question had a very particular brain injury in his twenties that froze him in time. To put it in crude terms, the brain works something like the common understanding of a computer. There is a moment to moment memory of what is going on right then and on the screen.

If it is not saved to the hard drive it disappears forever. Such is the difference between short term memory and long term memory in the brain. What we have all experienced in the past few minutes disappears forever until it is properly recorded in our brain. The man in question lost the ability to lay down memory.

Thus, he is forever a young sailor during the Second World War who is kept aloft only by his generous pension, natural optimism, affability and a loving wife. He meets the doctor and is re-introduced every few minutes of their sessions and has to continually relearn and re-experience every moment of every day forever.


There are nations that live the same way - but in some promise of a future that can never be whose existence is to be assured by a present nightmare. They never learn from experience and because of the very nature of their leadership, the state of permanent confusion and crisis is a matter of policy.

Part of what makes us human is the capacity we all have to do good and evil and the choices we make every day. Our living memories and our knowledge of history allow us to know ourselves and to put forward the better aspects of our nature. When ferenjis are always blamed for every evil in Africa it may satisfy a sense of African shame and a sense of Western guilt - but it also devalues the humanity of Africans.

If excuses are made when Africans do wrong to each other then Africans are by definition morally feeble and can't be expeted to know any better ... as though only ferenjis can be called to account for moral failings. That is why the evil of Apartheid was always more offensive to the world than the evil of Mengistu's Scientific Socialism or the slavery and genocide in Sudan today.

All that is an expression, not of respect for Africans in South Africa, Ethiopia or Sudan, but of contempt and self-contempt that is repulsive beyond adequate description. The fact that Ethiopia's government today has to be threatened and begged to treat its own people decently while it is greeted with even fake smiles in diplomatic circles is a cosmic joke in very poor taste.

In addition to the power that governments have to kill individuals or tens of thousands their choice of policies that cause indirect mass death and suffering is just as criminal and important. The policies that lead to national happiness, namely freedom and prosperity have been common knowledge for generations.

The policies that cause oppression and poverty are also very well known. Ethiopia is just another case in point where every bit of the lethal policy nonsense is re-run endlessly like a bad movie - with the same B movie actors (or their clones) playing the same old tired roles. Ethiopians can't just change the channel.

While we acknowledge the primacy of Ethiopian responsibility for the fact that Ethiopia is the poorest nation on earth with an economy stagnant beyond aid and remittances, in this post we will look at some of the enablers of Ethiopian suffering in the West.

No it is not the big players of realpolitik government we are concerned with but the bit players who make common cause with dictators - totally out of compassion and the goodness of their hearts - whose eternal 'romance with the primitive' and the trail of destruction they leave behind is not usually a topic for conversation.


Those advisors abroad keep re-imagining the past somehow hoping for a different present and future each time and figure that given new third world millions to experiment on and a few billion dollars more of funding to hand out that they can defy human nature.

Julius Nyerere was the leader of Tanzania from independence until the 1980s - until his death he still ran the country from a ceremonial retirement into the 1990s. The very intellectual author of Ujama, 'African Socialism' and his own Little Black Book (no, not that kind - although the world would have been better off ...) to mimic Mao's Little Red Book, he was the darling of the progressive world and Western intellectuals and academics for generations.

For so long he was like some Olympian figure of a kindly grandfather, wise village leader on the international scale and a beacon of African pride and significance all rolled into one. The only problem was that he was a massive fraud and despot. Nyerere was a master at convinving everyone except his own people who had to live under his rule how great he was.

Tanzanians got poorer and less free every year he ruled and are still attempting to recover from the damage he wrought with his brand of Marxist inspired nonsense. Despite his foreign popularity attracting billions of dollars from a West gushing over with admiration and warmth, the former food exporter became a permanent beggar nation.

The World Bank, the IMF, rich Western governments, academics, foundations, endowments, think tanks, every manner of Economics Noble Prize winners, wise men, even Russia and China fell all over themselves trying to get in line to give Nyerere money. Tanzania was the biggest African recipient of economic aid for decades running but today no one knows where a single cent of that money ended up in productive use (except, presumably, the funds in Swiss Bank that benefitted somebody), because not a shred of evidence is available of all that aid money's productive use in Tanzania.

The co-operative Ujama villages were filled not by eager crowds of smiling peasants but by millions forced into destined to fail communal living modelled on China's genocidal Great Leap Forward. Soldiers and cadres of Nyerere's ruling party forced folks into his experimental test tubes at gunpoint. He tolerated no opposition and there are only three good things we can find to say about him and his rule.

One, he was not as bloodthirsty as Mengistu or Meles. Two, his army overthrew Idi Amin (however, replacing Amin with Milton Obote makes for a half credit only). Lastly, near the end of his life he admitted that his policies had catastrophic results. No one listened to that single utterance of wisdom although all his socialist blathering of decades past made him a 1960s and 1970s superstar bigger than the Beatles and ABBA combined in many circles.

The brand of Rousseauian 'romance with the primitive' that made Nyerere a living saint despite his obvious litany of failures played out in the broken lives of Africans is not over. You see, every African intellectual and bureacrat and every Westerner who thought it was just so right for Tanzanians to live with the manifest rot of African Socialism never had to live the life they so reccomended for others.

All of the bureacrats and academics and officials went home to rapacious dog eat dog capitalist societies that cherished their rights to own private property and to do and say what they wanted - or else they invested there. Every country that was as poor as Tanzania in the early 1960s that followed the capitalist path is today either well on the way to first world lifestyles or relatively far more prosperous and free than their progressive neighbors.


The worst thing that ever happened to Africa was arguably not the European export of colonialism and imperialism but the hidden contagion of totalitarian ideology derived from Marx, the bastard child of the Enlightenment, that also came out of Europe and that has consumed African lives and brains for generations now like a vicious retrovirus precursor of AIDS.

It is hard to imagine how communism and socialism had any more legitimacy as national models than calling for more colonialism or imperialism. By the early 1960s and the wave of African independence, the failures of that model were clear to all that did not have a particular interest in its failure.

What was the attraction? One, it justified failure as having a higher purpose and had a built in catechism to justify dictatorship. Two, it made foreigners feel good. They could live out radical fantasies that their relatively conservative societies would never allow to be played out in their own lives.

Another saint of Afro-Socialism in popular memory and misplaced pride is Kwame Nkrumah. He literally destroyed the most developed native run economy in the third world and its institutions, both imported as well as traditional, creating a poor despotism that still haunts Ghana. In his last days when his finance minister told him that there was only $1.4 million in the treasury and hundreds of millions in new debt wasted on fantastic socialist get rich quick schemes - he first sat silently - then wept.

Like Nyerere's name, Nkrumah's is likely to get approving smiles today for his espousal of African Unity (under his leadership of course). The ruined nation and lives that he left behind like dozens of tin pot dictators that have haunted Africa for decades is not part of polite conversation today. The hundreds of millions of humans cheated of opportunity, those lives wasted by early death and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to no good cause continent wide are also not part of polite conversation.

Yet their examples and living catastrophe is still greeted with only passing frowns and a sense of 'what else do you expect from Africans?' As we said, Africans are largely the authors of their own misery but their intellectual partners must also be called to account because they are still doing the same cheerleading today.


It is possible that intellectuals just feel jealous of businessmen, inventors and entrepreuneurs who are the real agents of modern human progress. Intellectuals want to matter and to be important but since their only coin is warmed over ideas - no one who is actually busy building or producing or developing the good old fashioned capitalist way wants to pay much attention to them.

At home, outside of academia and a handful of talking heads, no one is paying attention outside of an echo chamber of fantastic ideas long discarded by successful societies in practice. So where does someone like that go to feel like their ideas matter and to show that they are important?

They go to the third world where cooperative dictators fulfill their fantasies of being better people than all those crass businessmen, of being listened to by those in corridors of power - there the interests of the intellecutal mercenary and the dictator fit together rather nicely.

That symbiotic relationship allows them to serve as joint parasites on a desperate body of whole nations. The dictators get good press, friendly sound bites, justification for failure and get the flood of dollars, euros, pounds and yen greased on the way to to government accounts that are fundamentally indistinguishable from private ones.

The entire industry of pity and aid and excuses gets billions in overhead and almost as important - they find in the third world that they and their ideas really do matter for some Potentates, Presidents and Prime Ministers. For poor folks this is a match made in hell. No, we don't think that all of the 'Lords of Poverty' (to borrow Graham Hancock's apt title) are somehow damned by nature the way third world despots are.

But after generations of failed policies and worsening conditions and espousal of policies diametrically opposed to those that made their own societies rich to begin with - they can not escape or be excused from the moral dimension of their alliance with dictators who are doing every thing possible that can be done wrong and who assure eternal poverty and oppression.

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