hISTORY eNDS EVERYWHERE:

Shock therapy, please: A frustrated Argentina has chosen radical economic reform (David Smith, 11/22/23, The Critic)

In the eyes of the voters here, the folks in power had for so long buried decency in a mafia-style political operation, designed to keep themselves in power forever — robbing one of the richest countries on the planet for themselves. They have been making almost half the population certifiably poor and dependent on government handouts, despite a rhetoric of inclusion and social justice that had the old Left in Europe celebrating the ruling Peronist party.

In this scenario, libertarian maverick Milei, an economics professor barely known three years ago, stormed the country with a chainsaw, promising to slash the state and get rid of the entrenched caste of politicians. Anarcho-capitalist, he calls himself. He’s never knowingly undersold.

Milei’s voters were overwhelmingly young, across the entire country, showing how much this means to them. The next generation of Argentines saw this election as do or die — or do or leave — and voted in overwhelming numbers for the former goalkeeper with a boyhood aspiration to be Argentina’s Mick Jagger. To them, the economics professor offered hope: a future that might keep them in a country they love. His message was direct and TikTok savvy: completely blunt on the need for radical change, with private property and capitalism as the guarantees of freedom.

It worked. On the 40th anniversary of its return to democracy, Argentines stood up to be counted and positively chose shock therapy. To protect the integrity of their polling stations, tens of thousands of volunteers watched over every vote cast. Amazingly, all sides ended up acknowledging that the democratic process on voting day was exemplary; the result was accepted as the will of the majority. Again, a positive.

The Second Way failed everywhere.

THE OPPOSITE OF MAGA:

On foreign policy, Argentina’s Milei leans neoconservative, not libertarian (ELDAR MAMEDOV, NOV 22, 2023, Responsible Statecraft)

This is not an area in which he has displayed much interest or knowledge to date, but someone like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a standard bearer of libertarianism in the U.S., would hardly recognize himself in the positions embraced by Milei. In fact, Milei’s foreign policy views, to the extent they exist, are far closer to neoconservative than libertarian. His views would easily find home in hawkish Washington D.C. think tanks and parts of the mainstream of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

This is not to be underestimated, as Argentina is a member of the G-20, the third largest economy in Latin America, and has recently been invited to join BRICS, a grouping that comprises China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Milei’s foreign policy views, as expressed repeatedly during the election campaign, are starkly Manichean — they divide the world into democracies and “communist autocracies.” Counter-intuitively for a self-proclaimed champion of free trade, he promised to sever ties with two of Argentina’s main trade partners — China and Brazil (combined, both account for around 25% of the total of Argentinian exports) — on the grounds that both are ruled by “communists.” China was an object of particular scorn, with Milei dubbing the country at one point “an assassin”.

Milei is a staunch supporter of Ukraine, in contrast to a more moderate position espoused by the outgoing center-left Peronist administration which, while condemning Russia’s aggression of Ukraine, was also reluctant to sever ties with Moscow, which grew closer during the pandemic when Argentina acquired Russian vaccines, with results generally deemed acceptable.

Perhaps on no issue Milei’s neoconservative credentials are more on display than in his fervid embrace of Israel. While Argentina, under different governments, has generally enjoyed good relations with Israel, those were traditionally balanced by Buenos Aires’ engagement with Arab countries and, at times, even Iran. That balancing act did not prevent Argentina from declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization for its alleged role in the notorious 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

Milei’s defeated opponent, Sergio Massa, promised to similarly add Palestinian Hamas to Argentina’s terrorist list if he had been elected. Milei, however, wants to go much further. He declared that his first international trips as president-elect will be to Israel and the U.S. He also promised to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a one-sided reorientation would represent a major break in Argentina’s traditional foreign policy consensus.

Milei is also opposed, on ideological grounds, to Argentina joining the BRICS, despite the invitation issued by the existing members, reportedly the result of heavy lobbying by Brazil on Buenos Aires’ behalf. While the prospect of joining the group that represents more than 40% of the world’s population and 31% of global GDP (and also a destiny of some 30% of total Argentine exports) is seen as an opportunity by many Argentine businesspeople and politicians, for Milei BRICS represents little more than a dictators’ club.

It’s an ever more Unipolar World.

THE SOLUTION TO POVERTY IS WEALTH:

We’ve been fighting poverty all wrong (Oshan Jarow, Nov 20, 2023, Vox)

Over the course of 2021, child poverty was cut nearly in half, and the long-running fear at the heart of the American welfare system — that unconditional aid would discourage work — never came to pass.

Then, to the dismay of advocates and recipients alike, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) blocked the Democratic Party’s effort to make the expansion permanent, fearing, among other familiar concerns like the cost, that recipients would just buy drugs (the data shows that recipients spent the money on food, clothes, utilities, rent, and education). Come 2022, phase-ins returned to the CTC, approximately 3.7 million children were immediately thrust back into poverty in January, and the rest of the year saw the sharpest rise in the history of recorded child poverty rates.

Phase-ins have long had critics across the political aisle, but their arguments have generally been grounded in small-scale pilot experiments, appeals to morality, or even philosophizing about human nature. Now that we have real-world evidence from a nationwide, year-long experiment, the expanded CTC’s success should ignite efforts to roll back phase-ins across the board. That also means cutting them from the CTC’s sister program, the earned income tax credit (EITC), which phases in as a supplement to wages for low-income Americans and helps about 31 million Americans.

The expanded CTC is estimated to have reduced child poverty rates anywhere from 29 percent to 43 percent, with the vast majority of that drop attributable to removing phase-ins. Extending that success to include the EITC would cut child poverty by an estimated 64 percent.

HATING GREENS DOESN’T STOP THE WIND AND THE SUN:

Offshore wind is at a crossroads. Here’s what you need to know. (Heather Richards, 11/13/2023, E&E News)

[B]oth analysts and developers remain confident that this period of instability could also reset the offshore wind sector and refocus policy priorities on building an industry and supply chain that’s sustainable.

“We need to slow down a little bit in our growth,” Jan Matthiesen, director of offshore wind for the research and consultancy group Carbon Trust, said at the Turn Forward press briefing. “Give the supply chain some room to actually breathe and catch up.”

With U.S. offshore wind at a crossroads, here’s four questions answered.

Why are only some projects in trouble?
While it’s clear the entire offshore wind industry is facing significant headwinds, the impacts haven’t been equally felt.

A slew of projects have broadcast their vulnerability. In addition to the now-canceled Ocean Wind project, New York’s Beacon Wind, Empire Wind 1 and 2, and Sunrise Wind are on the ropes. Two Massachusetts projects, SouthCoast Wind and Commonwealth Wind, are paying million-dollar penalties to break contracts with utilities with plans to rebid in future state solicitations.

“It’s largely an issue of timing,” explained Tim Fox, a research analyst with ClearView Energy Partners. “Projects that bid into solicitations before macroeconomic factors arrived, but then had to secure contracts amid high interest rates and inflation, face serious headwinds.”

Some projects are barreling forward — like Vineyard Wind, a joint project of Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners off the coast of Massachusetts. The first large project permitted in the U.S., Vineyard is under construction with full operations beginning by next year. South Fork Wind, an Ørsted project off the coast of Rhode Island that will power New York, may go live even sooner.

A similar spirit of confidence is occurring in Virginia, where the utility Dominion Energy said last week that its 176-turbine Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project is on schedule. Monopile foundations have already been delivered.

The troubles thrashing some offshore wind projects highlight some of the benefits that Virginia’s project uniquely enjoys.

It is the only project being developed in the U.S. solely by a regulated utility. Richmond-based Dominion is a monopoly in Virginia, though it also has customers across 14 other states.

That means its investments are paid for by electric consumers, with utility regulators approving a return on the investment as profit. Dominion has already fought, and won, for its right to proceed with a project that is costing roughly $2 billion more than it had planned.

“Dominion’s smart strategy has helped it avoid the same issues faced by its competitors. They are the off taker — they are able to pass on cost increases to consumers,” said Atin Jain, wind analyst at BloombergNEF.

He noted that Dominion secured supply deals with turbine manufacturers in 2021, before inflation drove up costs. The Coastal Virginia project will also be “huge,” with a capacity of 2.6 GW, enabling the company to benefit from economies of scale.

The project, which got final approval from the Interior Department last month, is also building its own ship, the Charybdis, to install its turbines.

Expected to be complete by early 2025, the $650 million vessel means the utility won’t have to fight with other developers over a limited number of installation vessels, said Søren Lassen, head of offshore wind research at Wood Mackenzie. Plus, Dominion will be able to pay off some of its investment in the ship by leasing the vessel out to other U.S. projects, he said.

THE DRAGON HAS NO TEETH:

China’s Self-Inflicted Economic Wounds (TAKATOSHI ITO, 11/21/23, Project Syndicate)

[X]i’s obsession with control continues to pose a serious threat to China’s prospects. Not only does it hamper innovation by domestic firms; it also discourages foreign investment.

Already, foreign companies, such as the polling and consultancy group Gallup, are fleeing the country. This can be partly explained by China’s economic slowdown, which has reduced the availability of high-return investment opportunities and, together with demographic trends, promises to shrink the Chinese market over time. But, with China still targeting 5% growth, there is clearly more going on.

In fact, foreign companies worry about becoming the target of spurious antitrust investigations, and fear that the newly expanded, but deliberately vague counter-espionage law could result in them being punished for normal business activities. Of course, US restrictions on high-tech exports to and investment in China are not helping matters.

China today shares many features with Japan in the 1980s. But the biggest risks to its economic prospects are all homegrown. By prioritizing security and stability – through surveillance, control, and coercion – over economic dynamism, China’s leaders are abandoning some of the policies and principles that underpinned the country’s “economic miracle.”

You can’t have a Clash of Civilizations when there is only one.

MINOR CARTAS:

Declarations, Compacts, & the American Constitutional Tradition (Bruce Frohnen, November 20th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)

The American constitutional tradition stretches back beyond our shores to England (and, thence, through Rome, to Greece, and to Mt. Sinai). It is a tradition shaped on this continent by experience and the character of the people. Clearly, the rhetoric of one paragraph in one document of distinctly limited purpose cannot define such a tradition. Rather, the broad, thin claims of the Declaration, like the theologically and politically demanding purposes of the Compact, form parts of a federal vision of political society. In this vision, local communities play the primary role in government, protecting the fundamental institutions in which good character is formed. But beyond these communities there must be a wider, less organic and communitarian organization with the more limited purpose of defending the common good of the states and localities, securing them against foreign aggression and keeping the peace among them. What we have, then, in the transition between Compact and Declaration, is not “progress” toward ideological abstractions, but rather movement from the more local, organic, and primary, toward the more general and conventional. Both are necessary for a functioning society and can, as they did in America, work together to form a more perfect union.

Our texts vindicate–then universalize–our rights as Englishmen.

AUTOMATICALLY ABOVE AVERAGE:

DARPA seeks AI-powered ‘autonomous scientist’ to help researchers: The agency wants to do for scientists what AI code generators have done for programmers. (ALEXANDRA KELLEY, NOVEMBER 20, 2023, Defense One)

“What we’re trying to do is replicate the success that we’ve seen for automatic code generation,” Alvaro Velasquez, DARPA’s program manager for Foundation Models for Scientific Discovery, told Nextgov/FCW, a Defense One sister publication. “Right now, software engineers and coders enjoy these tools from OpenAI and Microsoft that help automate the generation of code. We would like to come up with a tool that helps automate the process of scientific discovery.”

Ideally, DARPA’s autonomous scientist will be creative and learn to generate unique scientific hypotheses that take into account advanced aspects of experiments — like scaling and trimming costs — as well as providing skeptical reasoning. In its offer, which was released earlier this month, DARPA officials say that the final product should be “at least 10X better in scalability (problem size, data size etc.) and also in time efficiency.”

NO ONE WILL MISS JOBS:

These AI agents could cut your workweek to just 3 days (Siôn Geschwindt, November 21, 2023, NextWeb)


Most of us would love a break from the 9-to-5 grind, evidenced by the recent hype over the four-day workweek. But a new startup from the UK promises to help you toil even less than that — while remaining just as productive.

The company is called Tomoro and it’s on a mission to cut the working week to just three days within the next five years. It aims to achieve this using AI “agents” — essentially, large language models (LLMs) which can freely make decisions within defined guardrails, as opposed to rule-based machines. These agents will act like robotic personal assistants.

IMPORTED DISCIPLINE:

Dollarization for Argentina? (Scott Sumner, 11/20/23. Econlib)

  1. Dollarization would solve the problem of hyperinflation.
  2. If Argentina intends to dollarize, now would be a good time to do so.
  3. Dollarization is not a panacea. Argentina still needs Chilean-style economic reforms, and there’s no guarantee that dollarization would lead to those reforms.
  4. Dollarization is less risky than a currency board, but not completely free of risk.

There are two reasons why this is an ideal time for dollarization. First, years of hyperinflation have produced a very small monetary base (in real terms, obviously.) Many Argentine citizens have already switched their money holdings from pesos to dollars. Thus the fiscal cost of dollarization would be relatively low. Given Argentina’s severe economic problems, it would still be a heavy lift, but it’s doable if they are determined to make the switch. Fiscal reforms would obviously make the job much easier, and Milei has promised to slash the budget. I certainly don’t think he’ll cut anywhere near as much as promised, but some cuts seem likely.

A HAUNTING FAMILIARITY:

PODCAST: The Birth of British Fascism (The Rest Is History)

The cultural roots of fascism swirled around Britain at the turn of the 20th century, as medieval nostalgia, an obsession with hygiene, anti-semitism, and concern for the environment grew in the wake of modern development. In the 1920s, Britain faced similarly tough conditions to the European countries where fascism did take hold; major economic difficulties, unpopular governments, and intense fears of Bolshevism. But did fascism ever really find an audience in Britain? Listen to the first episode of our series on British fascism, as Tom and Dominic discuss fascism in Britain before the emergence of Oswald Mosley

Pretty remarkable how little you’d need to change for this to be about MAGA.