Friday, September 29


On lobbying Washington for HR 5680, The Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006:
Sometimes that person says, ‘I’ll call you back.’ But sometimes they never call you back. It’s been a tough road, especially in this town, if you don’t know anybody, don’t have any money, and if you have another job.
Mesfin Mekonen
Interview with Jim Snyder of The Hill
August 21, 2006

EthioMedia links to this piece from The Hill, Ethiopian-American group tries to raise profile on Capitol Hill. It begins with the efforts of one Ethiopian and his transformation into an American lobbyist for the interests of his American people in the U.S. and of his people of birth back home in Ethiopia.

As the article points out, his is but one of millions of such defining and purely American journeys over centuries. In the end the wonder that is America was made by the evolution of just laws and a government fearful of its people by (hyphenated) Americans from every corner of the globe.

The spirited Mesfin Mekonen of the article is just the beginnning. We have absolutely no doubt that there will be at least one Ethiopian-American Congressmen within the next decade and that a decade later there will be at least one Senator. In the meantime in every walk of American life they will strive, work and achieve.

Like all other immigrant groups it is natural and singularly American that they are concerned with their place of origin. This is all the more stark because Ethiopians are denied by their government any opportunity to have "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Below is what two of Mr. Mekonen's fellow Americans had to say on the same subject:
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
John F. Kennedy
Inaugural Address
Friday, January 20, 1961
We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world. All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are, the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."
George W. Bush
Inaugural Address
January 20th, 2005

But the world is seldom so simple and the dark side of the force is alive and well. The Hill article reports "To help repair frayed relations, Ethiopia is paying DLA Piper and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) $50,000 a month. Part of the lobbying strategy has been to stress Ethiopia’s commitment to the war on terror, congressional sources said."

You know who is paying for that gold plated lobbying effort? You are if you are American. You had better believe that this is the tip of the iceberg on this subject. Who knows who else has not registered as an agent of the Ethiopian government or what Freedom of Information Act filings may find out.

Not to mention the expense of the espionage apparatus operating under diplomatic cover designed to silence and intimidate American citizens right on Main Streets everywhere and even right here in River City. The American taxpayer with some help from Europeans and Japanese ones too.

Ethiopia is today the wholly owned subsidiary of a one vanguard party / feudal government most noted for its brutality and corruption. There is no right to own private property in Ethiopia and there is no freedom of speech or press and participation in the economy depends on utter submission to the government.

America's representatives in Ethiopia from Ambassador Brazael, Charge Huddleston onto Future Ambassador Yamamoto have all been together on one common message - but it is not the same one expressed by Presidents Bush and Kennedy above nor has it been in the spirit of Mr. Mekonen. Let us take a quick look at the meaning behind the words of the American representatives in Ethiopia:

First of all regular intimate communication with the common man / woman of Ethiopia clearly shows that ALL want the current government to rule for the indefinite future and that Ethiopian-Americans are ossified interlopers.

Second, Ethiopians shouldn't provoke their government into having to kill them, that jailed opposition and human rights leaders should surrender because they shouldn't have expect democracy anyway and that they should especially surrender because of Somali politics.

Third, that the number one issue between Ethiopia and America is the War on Terror, that the governments talk about human rights 'like all the time' anyway and that Ethiopian-Americans should leave politics alone and worry about investing in Ethiopia.

Sure politics is politics and readers should understand that Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia don't want divisions of Marines and Air Cavalry deployed there. They just want the U.S. to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk by not supporting a despotic government.

The sons and daughters of America are bravely facing danger today in places like Aghanistan and Iraq because ignoring problems does not make them go away and because seeking stability and the status quo at all costs is like building castles on quicksand.

Ethiopians are today the hostages of their government which rules by making clear its willingness to harm them them to rich nations like America who are the government's real constituency.

America's government and representatives should see clearly that American interest lies with the real mature cold hard realpolitik fact that tyranny always falls, it is just that the longer it lasts the more horrible the end is for all concerned including the interests of America.

Mr. Mekonen and tens of millions more hypenated Americans just like him whether they were here to begin with, came as slaves, fled persecution or just wanted a fresh start - are and have always been pioneers in humanity's service - and quintessentially American.

We remain very guardedly optimistic about HR5680 but are absolutely bullish on the future of this kind of effort. The President, Foggy Bottom, The House & Senate, CENTCOM, Langley, the 4th Estate etc. surely know better than to entertain further delusions of stability with a dictatorship.

In the end the American people must understand to influence the usual suspects listed above - every bit helps. We are particularly delighted that supporters of the bill and critics of the government who are active in the U.S. don't have to be threatened to show up at a demonstration or to do their part. That is rather unlike cadres and agents who do as they are told and raise umbrellas when it rains on the Gibee.

As far as Ethiopian-American political activism goes, this is just the beginning - success and help for Ethiopia will come long before the first kid who ate shiro and hamburgers from birth sits on the Supreme Court.

Monday, September 25

Haile Selassie, Western Education and Political Revolution in Ethiopia

Haile Selassie, Western Education and Political Revolution in Ethiopia is a new 450 page book written by Paulos Milkias (PhD, McGill University) that is due for release in November 2006. The author is a Professor of Humanities and Political Science at Marianopolis College/Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

The publishers at Cambria Press describe the book thus
This is a book on Ethiopia by an Ethiopian scholar. It is an inside look, a probing mirror-image analysis by one of the members of the Ethiopian intelligentsia of the postwar years and about their role in the revolutionary upheavals during the past decades.

Most of the data quoted in this book are based on documents of Ethiopian, British, United States', World Bank, and United Nations' origin. Large parts of these documents were kept on a top secret list for a long time, and others are still restricted.

Some crucial points are elucidated by questionnaires gathered from former high-level consultants of the Haile Selassie regime and more than 50 Western expatriates, the author's reminiscences of personal audiences with Emperor Haile Selassie, as well as interviews of some key political personalities.

These include an anonymous former member of the Derg (the unusually secretive military committee that presided over the dethronement of Emperor Haile Selassie) and the main leaders of the two most important political parties—the All Ethiopian Socialist Movement (MEISON) and the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP)—both of which emerged during the final years of the feudal regime.

This valuable resource which furnishes a rare insider's look will be a welcome addition to collections in African Studies and Political Science.
Advance reviews are very encouraging. Said S. Samatar, Professor of African History, Rutgers University and Editor-in-Chief, Horn of Africa Journal says
“Lucid, erudite and groundbreaking in its new insights and fresh perspectives, this is the finest book on Ethiopia that I have seen in a decade. As such, it commends itself as a must read for students of Ethiopian politics and policy makers concerned with the welfare of the peoples of the region.

This book is likely to generate great demand, given the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian professors and professionals awaiting its publication.”
Prof. Dr. Tesfatsion Medhanie of The University of Bremen agrees that
“It is one of the best works I have read on the subject so far ... The work is very rich. It is a remarkably comprehensive social-scientific study on the role of education in the political developments of Ethiopia in the second half of the 20th century.”
Haile Selassie, Western Education and Political Revolution in Ethiopia has a 25% discount on all publisher direct orders before November 1, 2006. Orders can be placed with the ...

Cambria Press Order Department
PO Box 350, Youngstown, New York 14174
Tel: (716) 608-8335 | Fax: (716) 608-8338

... at the following prices for publilsher direct orders only:
(Hardback) @ $99.95 each OR $74.95 before November 1, 2006
(Paperback) @ $49.95 each OR $36.95 before November 1, 2006


The author also edited a book with Dr. Getachew Metaferia titled "The Battle of Adwa: Reflections on Ethiopia’s Historic Victory Against European Colonialism," which pooled the efforts of nine noted Ethiopianist scholars. It can be ordered from

Algora Publishing
222 Riverside Drive, 16th Floor
New York, NY 10025-6809
Tel. (212) 678-0232
Fax (212) 666-3682

Friday, September 22

Liberal Democracy In Action

Addis Voice links to a flyer from opposition groups calling for a demonstration at the at the United Nations in New York City on September 22nd to show their solidarity with the people of Ethiopia and denounce Ethiopia's dictator Meles Zenawi, who is expected to attend the 61st UN General Assembly summit.

The demonstration will be held Friday, September 22, 2006 at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza
in NYC. It is sponsored by: supporters of Kinijit and Hibret and the Ethiopian community members in Metropolitan NY, Boston, and Washington, D.C. For more information check the flyer.


Also ... EthioMedia reports that "The phones ring off the hook" at House Speaker's Office." Ethiopian-Americans are exercising their democratic rights in support of Ethiopians who can not. The calls are to House Speaker Dennis Hastert with the aim of allowing a vote on HR5680 also known as The Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006.

We discussed the bill, its passage and the challenges it faces in the post The House Does the Right Thing. There are significant efforts from the dark side of the force that don't want the bill to go through. Prof. Alemayehu Gebre Mariam (via Ethiopian Review )gave this summary after the showing of a documentary about the government directed violence against the Anuak people. The Anuak Justice Council's Mr. Obang O. Metho gave this speech about the horrors conducted against the Anuak and countless other Ethiopians.

Meles Inc. is investing vast sums of money extorted directly from tens of millions of Ethiopians and diverted from American aid to pay for lobbyists and lawyers. After all, once a dollar is in the hands of the regime from whatever source it is impossible to say that it went to to a legitimate purpose or not. At best, aid to governments like Ethiopia's just frees up other funds for transfer to private accounts & rich investments abroad, arms dealers, legions of spies and agents as well as plain propaganda.

How is that for rent seeking behavior ...

This perversion of the the freedom and laws of American government in the service of a foreign despot is against the interests of Ethiopians and Americans. In the post Icebergs and Pink Elephants we discussed how this is being done legally as well as the necessarily conjoined illegal Ethiopian government espionage and intimidation apparatus that operates under diplomatic cover. Meles Inc. has to offer as its principal export to America, only the very same climate of fear and mendacity that has defined governance in Ethiopia for decades under two successive totalitarian regimes.


And ... it is amazing how, without input from Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia, how reality is spun. Take this article from the Travel Section of the New York Times , Ethiopia Opens Its Doors, Slowly. The article gives a brief of recent Ethiopian history and goes on to say
But under President Zanawi, who has begun to show some dictatorial tendencies of his own, significant development has come to Ethiopia, including mobile phone networks, decent hotels, Internet cafes, reliable electricity, and asphalt roads — phenomena that were unheard of in the outlying provinces a decade ago.
Well, anyone who has read a State Department Human Rights Report or releases from Amnesty International & Human Rights Watch knows that Meles Inc. has been a dictator for 15 years. The 'begun to show' bit is just a fig leaf over recent rounds of killing and imprisonment that are an unpleasant footnote to the writer but an unpleasant reality for Ethiopians.

The benefits of tourism just like all money flowing into Ethiopia from aid and remittances go principally to the regime whose business and government monopoly empire owns everything from the hotels and tourist vans onto the phone networks onto every square inch of land those roads connect. Those few internet cafes, home & business internet use and phone lines are monitorred by the government - even email is tapped into (and of course phone lines) while opposition websites are blocked.

There is absolutely no freedom of information in Ethiopia and the government has one of the worst records in the world for imprisoning journalists. But ... the reporter is more interested in how 'rustic' Ethiopia is - well we guess tourism is his job and not concern for little things like human rights. We do wonder if the dictatorships of Myanmar (Burma), North Korea or Syria would be treated with such care.

Anyway, the impression that those things are approaching the writer's standards for a visit in few tourist spots, mean little to 70 million of the poorest people on earth who are treated as the serfs of their rulers.

Frankly, while Ethiopian tourism is a welcome phenomenon, part of the article reads like the "he makes the trains run on time" justification for Mussolini's dictatorship. Actually, 'the trains' aren't even running on time in Ethiopia. Aside from what the government has allowed foreign aid money to build in exchange for a massive cut of every dollar of the action and aside from foreign remittances which are similiarly snapped up by schemes and corruption - urban and rural poverty are worsening outside of a corrupt core dancing to the regime's tune.

Does the writer wonder about the tribal bantustans and ethnic divide and rule that define governance and how the people whose name the ruling party has stolen have the least political rights of all? How about the camps where tens of thousands are prisoners for suspicion of opposition and the notorious prison where the political opposition, reporters and human rights activists are in the midst of a show trial as criminal as those of Stalin's - with their lives at stake?

No ... Meles has just 'begun to show' dictatorial tendencies ... and in the meantime he is managing a real heck of a find for adventurous tourists.


The rapacious government sees native Ethiopian economic and political dynamism as a threat and controls every sphere of life there. Like the lobbyists for Meles Inc. in Washington, the reporter from the Times and so many others are a product and source of profound low expectations. They don't wonder why Ethiopians are poor and oppressed and so appealingly 'rustic' but are just glad to visit or deal with whomever gives them a good show and good business.

Ethiopia is not a rustic museum of humanity that allows one to pretend that humans aren't paying a price for planned failed policies and brutality - but a nation with its present and future being stolen from it. Ethiopian Americans, as the most free and most prosperous group of Ethiopians in history, have a moral responsibility to get the truth out.

For a corrupt few, that responsibility holds true even as they put themselves up for sale. The price is flattery, promises of property & money, the dubious pride of wearing 'Team TPLF' t-shirts (that will of course be shed for the standard of whoever is in the palace at the right moment) and invitations to meet with real live Ambassadors & hang with the aristocracy.


One more thing about low expectations ... we generally reject as a rule, rote accusations of racism and conspiracy theories about the dealings of ferenjis with Ethiopia. Unlike the government of Ethiopia, foreign governments and foreigners are looking out for their own countries or their own interests. Without their even fitful attention we have no doubt that the government would be openly dealing in slaves and sacrificing suspected opponents before altars of Marx and Lenin in mass rallies.

However, try this thought experiment. Close your eyes and imagine that everyone in the corporate offices of Meles Inc. (i.e. the revolutionary aristocracy & nobility) was white. Would lobbyists and reporters be so eagerly evading reality and humanity?

Of course not ... but since the story is about what Ethiopians are doing to Ethiopians, low expectations rule ... "you can't judge those people by our standards" after all. Why not? Ethiopians are cursed by tyrants who just happen to look like them.


We will be back to our regularly scheduled programming like completing 'The Great Intellectual Dictator' this weekend - and will not stop doing our pundit thing under any circumstances.

Saturday, September 9

Jeffersonian Economics


George Jeffersonomics, that is.

TV Land's Labor Day Weekend The Jeffersons marathon got us wondering about economics and economic myths. Weezy somehow managed to convince George that he was charging to much for dry cleaning and that he had a social responsibility to cut prices and ... lose money. At episode's end George was cutting prices - but the George we know and love certainly jacked them back up as soon as his wife wasn't looking.

Free people everywhere from Bavarian shopkeepers to Masai herders onto Chinese peasants know very well where their own interests are to be found - all the way from the value they place on private property onto how they make and spend money. All of us humans find security in secure ownership and appreciate the notion of "buying for a dollar and selling for two" and spending money just however we like. The key concept here is 'free'.

The tens of billions of free economic decisions that those fortunate billions of us are allowed to make every day are the most magnificent expression of popular democracy and translate directly into the freedom of the political market. Captive people have the very same common human sense but someone, usually a thuggish government, always has a hand in their pocket and is busy telling them what to do and think.

Indeed, such governments are busy trying to convince all concerned that ownership is wrong and must be restricted. They seem to have little trouble finding 'experts' to cheer them on. 'Experts', by the way, who would never tolerate such nonsense where they live themselves. Such governments try to force people to accept that the same rules that have made most of humanity over the past half century escape nasty, brutish and short lives are only appropriate to some humans and not others.

All the while the folks at the top of those governments seem to be doing rather well themselves while their people get poorer. The owners of government skim not only the cream of their economies for themselves but they take out the milk by the bucketful - and invest their riches in countries that actually respect the market and ownership.

common sense

So ... back to George, who knows more economics as a successful businessman than any intellectual, expert or Nobel Prize winner. TV audiences met him as racist Archie Bunker's first Black American neighbor. That Astoria, Queens house was the Jefferson's first stop out of their original home in Harlem. Driven forward by the growing numbers of George's dry cleaning businesses they made it all the way up to the East Side and their own sitcom.

In the episode in question, Weezie visits old friends and Harlem and returns to George upset that everyone in the neighborhood has to go far away to get their clothes done. You see - George's stores are too expensive and she feels they have lost touch with their roots. So she insists that George drop his prices which he does - George gets a big kiss and feels he has done the right thing.

Even more importantly, the writers, producers, the director and the audience feel they have witnessed a modern morality tale about the evils of capitalism. Everyone feels just a little bit smug and superior - that is until they have to wake up the next morning and make a living.

Stuff and nonsense ... all of it.

First of all, if the people in the neighborhood could not afford George's prices he would have to drop the prices or go out of business with no emotional or moral calls needed. Are we to assume that people from New York's richer neighborhoods are travelling long distances to get to his stores? If not then who are his clients?

Secondly, what is wrong with making money? Should George be ashamed for being a successful businessman? His success was not due to political connections or to burning out the competition nor to cheating anyone. Throughout the show his extreme work ethic is evident. He provides a good popular service to his customers, he pays his employees well and he takes all the myriad risks of a small businessman on himself.

Third, notice the further dearth of common sense in the story line. Sure George makes as much money as possible - why else would he work so hard? Why do people get all warm and fuzzy when men like George, those very faithful students of Adam Smith and the engines of economic growth for all of us, are put down?

We aren't quite on the same page with Gordon Gekko here and his "greed is good" philosophy - but it is clear that societies where everyone makes selfish decisions with some basic rules in place (while all keep a sharp eye on the rulemakers above all) are more prosperous and free than any other pie in the sky, heaven on earth idea, feeling or ideology that the most enlightened or damned mind has yet to come up with.

Well what then must be done? The people have a right to clean clothes and it is the job of the occasionally morally loose intellectual and the always morally dead revolutionary to get them those clothes. Never mind that every other revolutionary or third way attempt to get clean clothes for the people was a miserable failure - this time it would be made to work if it was only done with more passion and honesty.

What is a next logical step of such feel good anti-capitalist morality - if it is taken at all seriously? Well quite obviously we 'the people' could confiscate George's business in the name of clothes equality and have the government run it since it is clearly immoral for someone to profit from the need of common people to have clean clothes. Or, the government could regulate George's prices with a massive bureaucracy in place.

In either case the government would oversee first dry cleaning, then regular laundries, next clothing stores, then clothing manufacturers and distributors etc. etc. all the way out to cotton farms, importers of cloth and ultimately the trucks and trains that move them around and the gas that fuels them all. Pretty soon there would be a secret clothes police checking closets in homes and gimgemas aka mandatory meetings where 'anti-clothes equality' counter-revolutionaries would confess their thought crimes. Labor camps and a bullet in the back of the neck may also await those not entirely down with the new era of clothes equality.

in the name of the people

Within a few years no one would have clean clothes or anything they wanted to wear except for a select few who would be more equal than everyone else. Dear reader, you can be sure that the people in charge of clothes equality would all be dressed in designer outfits made with gold thread and fastened with platinum zippers. The 'people' in their now accustomed rags would, according to official propaganda, delight in the equality and the promise of a perfectly clothed future that their leaders promised them.

Think we are overstating our case here? Dude, you are seriously wrong. This in a nutshell is the story of the 20th Century and every version of its totalitarian horrors. There is no clearer comparison to late 20th Century Ethiopia. What is amazing is that any Ethiopians at all (because of their government) actually consider these obvious truths a matter for debate. Most of the rest of the world is on the move and has dropped all of this ideological crap literally decades ago.

There is a necessary and inverse relationship between how much freedom people have economically and how poor they are. In the same way economic freedom and rights of ownership always accompany political freedom. For example, the formula also holds up as a matter of degree. Chinese are today not as free as they should be but much better off than in Mao's time. Ethiopians unfortunately, have essentially the same rules as they did under Mengistu except for cronly economics styled as a free market. It shows in the national index of oppression and poverty.

Ethiopians are still missing out on the fruits of the modern world which belong to them as surely as their right to breathe - and other Ethiopians took it away from them. Their government is in their way with various permutations of silly ideologies and nonsensical policies trotted out semi-annually to justify their rule to the 'thinkers' among foreign aid donors and those who figure Ethiopians could never do better anyway.

Basically, the successes of the West and those who have emulated them worldwide are human successes that are no one's property. There is absolutely no reason that those victories over want and wrong can not be shared by Ethiopians. There is nothing authentic and remotely valuable about being left behind and doing what the rest of humanity avoids like the plague.

Many in the Third World have taken too much Western self-criticism to heart forgetting that the most radical Westerner has very sharp limits at home about how much she can actually re-order what are essentially conservative societies. After all economic 'expert' Westerners don't want to live in poor ideologically correct countries but enjoy being tourists in them while giving them bad economic advice and cheering on the tyrants who pay attention to them.

That way Ethiopians aren't supposed to get any strange ideas about being the masters of their own fates in politics and economics as they submit meekly towards their betters in the politburo and corporate offices of Meles Inc. There are no secrets and nothing new to learn about how some countries suffer and others grow. Revolutionary democracy, agrarian democracy, agricultural led development, new paradigms and other such theories are not only silly they are at this late date of human development, they are simply criminal.

was George rent seeking?

Use of the term rent seeking is a fetish that is supposed to reveal sophistication and wisdom by Meles in the past and in his upcoming book, African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (PDF file - all sponsored by the good folks of Columbia University's Africa Task Force). Meles also uses it to cover himself in the aura of and flatter one of his own fans and intellectual enablers, the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Professor Stiglitz actually has some ideas worthy of discussion - unlike his student. In his book Globalization and Its Discontents he refers to rent seeking (PDF file),
a theory of “how special interests use tariffs and other protectionist measures to increase their incomes at the expense of others”. He associates this theory with ideological fervor and claims that market failure arguments better explain problems in developing countries.
Sounds alright as a theory right? One problem is that the ideological fervor he is against is that which pushes for freer markets - which we know work better than any other option. He is not worried about ideological fervor that denies people the right to own land and property nor is he talking about the ideological fervor that creates necessarily corrupt dictatorships with governing philosophies such as the new paradigm.

That ideology was formerly known as revolutionary democracy was given to mankind by a man that Stiglitz referred to thus,
Meles combined these intellectual attributes with personal integrity: no one doubted his honesty and there were few accusations of corruption within his government

His political opponent came mostly from the long-dominant groups around the capital who had lost political power with his accession, and they raised questions about his commitment to democratic principles.

Surely, this was precisely the kind of government to which the international community should have been giving assistance
Sounds like something straight out of the government / party owned Walta doesn't it? Stiglitz also says that privatization often means briberization and that wealth often trickled up to the already wealthy elite in societies ostensibly trying to form freer markets. Again, the Professor is right but the leaders he is most enamored of are the worst offenders.

It seems that all corrupt dictators need to do is to use the vocabulary of 'free market critical' development theory to justify themselves. Tyrants are then also free of criticism for creating societies that are by definition dedicated to the concept of rent seeking.

Let us take another look at rent seeking.
In economics, rent seeking is the process by which an individual, organization, or firm seeks to gain through manipulation of the economic environment, rather than through trade and the production of added wealth.

Rent seeking generally implies the extraction of uncompensated value from others without taking actions which improve productivity, such as by imposing regulations or other government decisions that may affect consumers or businesses.
George Jefferson was not rent seeking. He was just trying to run a business and make some money while not hurting anybody. Meles, on the other hand is a rent seeker with few equals. Let us see now, Meles is a dictator with absolute authority over his party and government which are for all intents and purposes inseperable. Both party and government own businesses / monopolies that dominate the economy at every level down to planned fertilizer indebtedness to control peasants and crooked licensing schemes (or different levels of abuse) to control all other economic and political actors at every level.

The state owns ALL LAND and that insecurity is also used to control people. In effect then Meles owns all of Ethiopia in a perverse form of revolutionary feudalism that comes complete with the most selfish aristocracy Ethiopia has every imagined in its worst nightmares going back thousands of years. The government which Meles also owns ostensibly regulates everything but of course it is all a corrupt mess.

All the while the fate of Ethiopians and the stability of the Horn of Africa is held hostage to the whims of Meles in exchange for billions in loans never to be repaid, billions in debt forgiveness for stolen money and billions in direct budget support. Ethiopia is one of the most corrupt nations on earth and one of the least favorite places for foreign investment. No wonder that it is also among the poorest nations on earth.

All of this in the name of 'the people' amidst cheerleading from ferenji enablers. Meles should have his picture next to the word rent seeking in every encyclopedia. The laws, government and life of an entire country has been twisted or preserved from the roots provided by Mengistu to ensure his personal power and wealth and that of his nobility. There are dimensions of rent seeking on the political, economic and intellectual front that are staggering present here.

But ... this is all common sense isn't it? At least it should be. The more people have to use fancy terms to explain simple things and the more they want to do things for the 'good of the people' the more you should hang tightly to your wallet ... and watch out for your throat. What Meles is doing with so much support is mystifying the simple facts of tyranny and the manufacture of human suffering.

meles inc. + intellectual enablers = rent seeking, big time

The big difference between what common sense is and what popular 'feel good' economics says is seldom taken seriously in free societies except in policy towards the politically powerless. The massive chasm between reality and the ideas of every manner of political / economic 'expert' is however a deadly threat to all of us - especially when intellectuals and the pet intellectuals they enable, start trying out new ideas on the captives that they claim to care about.

You see, economics is quite simple. Sure, when you are talking about the Fed moving interest rates 0.25%, calculating M or trying to make sense of derivatives and the like - it does tend to get complicated. However, the most important decisions and what really matters is plain human common sense and the decisions people make in a free system. Such a system is never perfect and its own critical honesty makes it a target but no one has yet made a different system yet that actually creates wealth and increases freedom.

Actually all the other options have made things far worse every time. Good old fashioned capitalism is the best thing going. By no accident it is often seen in the company of genuine elections and freedom of speech. At least the degree to which an economy is free matches how free the people are. Much of the bloodiest century in history that just passed was defined by a battle - practical application of the economic and political market against 'heaven on earth' turned nightmare constructs meant just for the right class, tribe or religion.

Capitalism is not perfect to state the obvious once more. However, that is how most donor countries got to be rich to begin with and how the billions of others in dozens of other countries get richer every year. There is no viable revolutionary capitalism or new paradigm capitalism or third way capitalism or any such nonsense. That is unless the purpose is justifying dictatorship and intellectual satisfaction alone.

There are certainly variations running the spectrum from Sweden and Hong Kong onto the US and India. The essentials are always the same and those essentials are entirely absent in Ethiopia by government design and the enabling of intellectuals and bureaucrats who know better. Feeling good about making plans for a perfect future can not be excused for accepting the rough and tumble of what works today.

Without transparency and accountabily to provide for good governance economics becomes about nothing but rent seeking, getting over and lies. All with the aim of personal enrichment for those with political power. There is no more fundamentally corrupt system than one whose so pretty false promises give it validity that no one believes but so many accept.

That is what Meles Inc. is all about. All those who assist Ethiopia's Prime Minister in his efforts to regain his false mantle as 'the great intellectual' so that he can continue business as usual already know all of this.

rent seeker

Wednesday, September 6

Intellectuals and their Discontents

Intellectuals are people who think that their own ideas matter more than other people.


Our post Hypnotize took a look at Meles's latest ideological / academic / political / economic / historical justification for his eternal rule, African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (PDF file) ... and found it to be rather silly indeed. We concluded that
This 'new paradigm' is unmistakably an opportunistic evolution of the already opportunistic 'revolutionary democracy' styled for different times, audiences and circumstances.
That remains true of course, but on second sight the roots of the 'New Paradigm' and Meles's new vocabulary of Orwellian excuses for dictatorship have more modern roots than revolutionary democracy did. The PM's new intellectual tour de force is just a new catechism for eternal Melesian rule that finds inspiration in Stiglitz and academia instead of Marx.

The very vocabulary the book uses, its ideas, its contempt for facts and history as well as its all over high quotient of silliness make it nothing more than a ball of confusion (well edited for grammar though) squeezed together from the intellectual crumbs of notables like Stiglitz to justify the personal tyranny of Meles.

The Meles opus is sponsored by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue's Africa Task Force out of Columbia University. The Ethiopia Targeted Country Visit 2001 Report details Ethiopia's development challenges, then goes on to wax sentimental about the regime with this dubious passage
Fortunately, since 1991, Ethiopia's economy has experienced a remarkable degree of macroeconomic stability and good growth on average. This is in-spite of its 1998-2000 conflict with Eritrea.

Since 1992, average annual inflation has been in the low single digits and GDP growth has averaged around six percent a year. Growth however has been highly variable, reflecting the dependence of the economy on a rain-fed agricultural sector subject to frequent drought.
Every point of the quote above has rather little to do with recognizable fact or massages the absence of fact by being written with great care to dance around every obvious fault. Take the GDP growth figure of 6% for the Meles Inc. era that is put forward. The article Ethiopia: Scaling Up from Finance & Development, the quarterly magazine of the International Monetary Fund, very generously estimated that the actual per capita growth rate of the economy over the period in question was only 1.1%.

That growth of 1.1% is all the more tragic as it was 'achieved' in the face of population growth, ever increasing amounts of land under till, unprecedented use of fertilizer (surpassed only by the amount used in print), forgiveness of billions in debt, untold more billions in aid as well as direct budget support of billions.

Meles Inc. has more recently claimed about a growth rate of 7% as we discussed in the post The 7% Solution (scroll down to the end of that post for a chronicle of the regime's economic lies and those of its foreign enablers). The 7% number was just as invented as the 6% number and was more specifically one condition for yet more billions in aid under the Millenial Development Goals.

As we discussed in Short Term Memory, Cheerleaders and Sachs & Violence, there is a long tradition of intellectuals 'adopting' African tyrants stretching back to those 'romatic' revolutionaries Nkrumah and Nyerere and their destruction of the Ghanaian and Tanzanian economies and societies. All the tyrant must do is manage to speak the right progressive language while flattering their ferenji intellectual sponsors - even as boots stomp the faces of and impoverish the 'people' everyone pretends to be so concerned with.

The folks at Columbia fit squarely in that tradition of excusing oppressive governments with some variety of the old 'making the trains run on time' justifications for evils past. Take this sentence from the Initiative statement quoted in full above that describes a non-existent "remarkable degree of macroeconomic stability and good growth on average" in Ethiopia.

Even when the trains are demonstrably not running on time the intellectual sponsors of dictatorship make the timetables up as they go along. Every reason that has made Botswana or even Kenya more prosperous than Ethiopia not to mention their own countries rich is absolutely absent in Ethiopia today.

Minimal levels of transparency, accountability and even governing decency are absent so with an anemic (over generously reported) 1.1% per capita growth rate sustained only by billions in cash infusions from aid and remittances - Ethiopians actually get poorer every year. The folks at Columbia know this very well and while they are not bad folks themselves, per se, they support what is bad for the sake of intellectual satisfaction.

To be fair to the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, they do link on their 2004 Ethiopia Dialogue Press Coverage page to a number of critical articles. Many criticisms are about the many admiring contacts Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz has had with Meles.

However, none of the criticism has been taken into account. Indeed, the new book by Meles is highlighted on the site even though it does nothing but copy some of the Professor's noteworthy (but we believe wrong) ideas into justifications for Meles Inc. rule. It is hard to see how in the absence of a Prime Minister's authorship there is anything notable about it.

The economic reports of the government are reported as though they had independent credence even though no one at Columbia can rationally believe them. It must be easy to pretend when all important ideas are at stake and there is a cooperative dictator willing to make those ideas important in the lives of tens of millions in exchange for a bit of enabling ... all the while convincing oneself that it is all for the 'good of the people' in the end.

Note that the Initiative describes itself as being "In Partnership With the InterAfrica Group " which according to the Horn of Africa NGO Network for Development is focused on these areas: Economic Reform, Governance and Democratic Development and Humanitarianism and Peace-building. Sounds great right? Well, the InterAfrica Group is also described as a coven of pet intellectuals in the service of Meles (the current Meles Inc. Ambassador to the US was part of InterAfrica) who dare not disagree with the official line.

In addition to the pleasure of hearing how important one's ideas are and having national leaders put them into practice there is a self imposed echo chamber that all intellectuals submit themselves to for those pleasures. This intellectual and practical complicity with tyranny is fed by the need to think well of one's own actions as a simple and well meaning thinker who finally gets a chance to 'really matter' on the world stage.

Then there is the simple professional prerequisite of all those dealing with dictators to get along with the local thugs lest their ideas and careers get locked out of the action in favor of a competing group of intellectuals, NGO managers, reporters or bureaucratic policy makers for that matter. As we have said to the point of exhaustion at times, Meles Inc. is doing everything wrong if the aim is national freedom and development.

Since the aim is really eternal rule and enrichment for Meles Inc. then everything is working just right. Intellectuals go along for the ride because they honestly do believe that their own ideas are more important than people and because they figure folks like Ethiopians aren't capable of doing better than Meles anyway.

Professor Stiglitz and all of the good folks at the Initiative are certainly intelligent, but there is no necessary relationship between intelligence and being right or even intelligence and common sense. Columbia's sponsorship, at this late date, of a bloody dictatorship is hard to defend from any point of view. It is essentially providing a forum for Meles to revamp a carefully crafted image of intellectualism, wisdom and altruism that was damaged by the regime's actual brutality.

If dictators like Meles are OK in some circles for their academic pretensions then why shouldn't Columbia sponsor the next book by Kim Jong Il about the failure of the neo-liberal paradigm and why hereditary juche is the answer for humanity's ills? For that matter why shouldn't essays and opinions from the Burmese dictators and Hezbollah be given such respect in University circles?

Intelligence has no sort of natural association we may imagine with morality or even basic humanism .... but the truth can leak out at times. One of our least favorite intellectuals once dropped this bit of eternal wisdom when in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx said that
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.
What Marx was talking about was good old capitalism which is what Ethiopians have always needed more of instead of their current corrupt, brutal, crony-capitalist, private property and investment hostile government. Indeed, by ignoring the capacity of capitalism to create actual wealth rather than reams of policy papers the regime and its enablers have impoverished Ethiopians and held them hostage to unconditional Western aid. All the while with the regime being cheered on by Western intellectuals.

Arts and Letters Daily
is one of the best sites on the internet and recently linked to this critique of 'Making Globalization Work' thusly, "Joseph Stiglitz is eloquent on market failures. But for him, state failure, dictatorship, and corruption are easily let off the hook..." The critic goes on to say of Stiglitz' critique of globalisation that
His prescriptions are not new: more generous foreign assistance and debt relief; a full commitment to fair trade; a carbon tax and stronger institutions of global governance: more and bigger (and tougher) supranational agencies.

It hardly squares with his concern for the millions who feel powerless at local level and unable to influence events. But consistency, or the lack of it, is not the worst problem here. The biggest difficulty is in its lack of a clear, robust definition of what 'globalisation' is.

To have a critique of globalisation is about as meaningful as a ship's captain bemoaning the sea. Globalisation - the cross border flows of plant, capital, labour, products, services and ideas - has been under way for centuries. This process has never been linear. And it is certainly not new.

While there is much that rings true in Stiglitz's descriptions of IMF and official donor aid, he overlooks the fact that most countries seeking it are on the point of bankruptcy. Little confidence will be created by simply lending more without strings.

Equally, can it be argued that poverty in Africa can be laid at the door of 'globalisation'? How convenient for the dictator of Zimbabwe, now on the brink of hyperinflation.

Stiglitz is eloquent on market failure. But government failure, dictatorship and corruption are easily let off the hook.
This piece from the Old Addis Fortune, What Professor Stiglitz Refused to See (2004 PDF File gracefully linked to on the same Columbia web site) is just as revealing
Despite his much talked about economic erudition, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, who delivered a speech here last week, has failed to grasp some of the defining aspects of the Ethiopian government's behaviour policy.

Stiglitz pays little attention to the fact that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Administration is far from being business friendly in that it is putting many businesspeople behind bars for indefinite periods while allegedly forcing others into involuntary exile. Meles has an apparent aversion to wealthy people [at least those not part of Meles Inc.] whom he often blamed of rent seeking, a concept borrowed from Stiglitz & Co.

Stiglitz uses East-Asian countries as success stories that have rejected the IMF/World Bank model of economic growth. He did not mention that these countries attained success within the framework of democratic governance, regular free and fair elections, and the existence of an independent and vibrant media, all of which are deficient here in Ethiopia.
The sorely missed, Old Addis Fortune goes on to say that Stiglitz failed to be critical of the government in any way
Instead, he took a very superficial approach to Ethiopia's economy by using the government's own claims and data to illustrate his points rather than making independent and dispassionate research himself.
This type of approach is clear in the Initiative's glowing opinions of the government's economic performance on the web site. The Old Addis Fortune article goes on to list the many 'pink elephants' of Ethiopia's ongoing economic ruin such as regular manipulation of the judicial system, the absence of private property, the corrupt magnitude of the party / government / crony owned 'private sector', the centralization of wealth and power into the hands of the ruling elite and that
Land is a political instrument in the hands of the ruling party in Ethiopia. It is regularly used to coerce the peasants into voting for the party. It is also a source of profit through the monopoly it exercises in the controversial fertilizer market.

Stiglitz did not come up in support of this policy. Neither did he offer any criticism or an alternative. He simply speaks about growth by looking into the potential of horticulture alone. I do not think his analysis of the Ethiopian economy includes agriculture in any serious way.

The ruling party is leading a parasitic existence over the peasantry because it depends on their political "support" and the source of profits in the lucrative fertilizer business. Stiglitz has never tried to deal with the problem of rent seeking in the context of the monopolistic behaviour of the ruling party in Ethiopia.
You may wonder what could have possibly put Professor Stiglitz on the receiving end of such commentary. Well, Professor Stiglitz was one of the Ethiopian dictator's biggest and most passionate fans and the author of Globalisation and its Discontents where this comment about Meles is so gushing with warmth that one momentarily considers Meles for sainthood
Meles combined these intellectual attributes with personal integrity: no one doubted his honesty and there were few accusations of corruption within his government

His political opponent came mostly from the long-dominant groups around the capital who had lost political power with his accession, and they raised questions about his commitment to democratic principles.
Transparency International considers Ethiopia's government to be one of the most corrupt on earth. The Stiglitz passage goes on to say that
Surely, this was precisely the kind of government to which the international community should have been giving assistance
Just like the economic figures used by the Initiative for Africa this last passage is a simple rehashing of the talking points from the government's own propaganda machine. The above quote is discussed in Budget support, conditionality and poverty (PDF File) which analyzes budget support as a function of 'trust' between the donor and recipient. In Ethiopia 'donor and recipient' are defined better defined as 'donor and regime' so Ethiopians are totally locked out of any political economic process which may bring transparency or accountability to their government.

So trust can mean many things that have little to do with the welfare of Ethiopians or even the interests of the taxpayers and citizens of donor nations. As we saw in the post, So Much Ill and So Little Good, William Easterly, the author of The White Man's Burden : Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good points out that aid does not work, indeed trillions have gone to waste in the past decades with little to show for them. The countries that move forward do so with sane policies, transparency and accountability.

Cheerleading dictators like Meles can only serve some deep intellectual craving to somehow 'matter' in the real world where simple actors from lowly peasants & kulaks to CEO's & and workers normally matter far more than intellectuals who feel destined to shape the future of mankind. Such cheerleading also provides justification for dictatorship and corruption that intellectuals would never tolerate anywhere near themselves.

Intellectuals also have their very own discontents and they can be found most easily amidst 70 million Ethiopian hostages to Meles Inc. The Initiative for Africa not only has sponsored the introduction to the book by Meles but it also gives him an undeserved level of civilized gravitas.

In fact, the dictator in question has only earned recognition for ruthlessness and an undying will to power for which he is gladly willing to pay out endless rivers of Ethiopian blood, sweat and tears. In the name of those suffering millions, billions in aid pour into the coffers of the party / government and the most selfish aristocracy in Ethiopian history.

Knowing exactly how to be just the particular kind of African that any given ferenji so desperately wants to see sitting across the office desk or dining table from them is a specialty of Meles. That 'talent' along with the aforementioned ruthlessness explains the rise of Meles in his party in decades past and his endless years in power through today.

Meanwhile the intellectual enablers abroad pretend all is well and that against all evidence billions more in dollars, euros and yen will somehow slip through corrupt government to help the 'people' everyone claims to care about instead of hurting them.

In the absence of sensible economic policies and some minimal level of decent governance the intellectual plan seems to consist of throwing so many billions of aid at corrupt and brutal governments that none could actually manage to steal all of it.

Real people are subjects of governance expressly designed to exchange political power and wealth for their future. Real people matter far more than ideas. Liberal democracy and capitalism, unlike any 'new paradigm, 'third way' or 'revolutionary democracy' are proven to work to make human life less poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

All the rest is valuable and fun to talk about for academics and intellectuals - just as long as their ideas are kept as far away from real people's lives as possible. Isn't it time for just a bit of what made your countries rich to be put into practice in Ethiopia?