DISGRACE


August 2, 2014

DISGRACE

by Tariq Ali (07-31-2014)

http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2014/07/31/tariq-ali/disgrace/

Tariq AliThe United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, denounced the bombing of the UN school in Gaza as ‘outrageous’ and ‘unjustifiable’. His officials have described the massacres as a ‘disgrace to the world’. Who stands disgraced? The UN General Assembly has regularly voted in favour of an independent Palestine. It is the Security Council that has vetoed the very thought and the Security Council, as everyone knows, is dominated by the United States; on this issue, Russia and China have remained on message.

What of the broader ‘international community’, in other words the United States/EU/Nato? They have backed Israel. As for the ideologues of the human rights industry, Samantha Power, the queen of ‘humanitarian interventions’, is the US representative on the Security Council and staunchly pro-Israel. Both the House and the Senate have unanimously written Israel a blank cheque; the French Socialist government banned demonstrations against the Gaza horrors in Paris on the grounds that they would encourage anti-semitism (not well received by French Jewish organisations who co-sponsored the march); the British Foreign Office is compliant as usual; the Germans too busy imposing sanctions against Russia while turning a blind eye to Gaza and refusing to accept that the Palestinians are the indirect victims of the judeocide the Third Reich unleashed during the Second World War and for which successive democratic governments in Germany have been paying ever since. The US satellite states in Eastern Europe have followed suit. Scandinavia, too, with this exception: Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister and veteran NATO hack, supports US policies, but the Swedish king and queen donned Palestinian scarves and joined a public demonstration against Israeli atrocities.

King and Queen of SwedenKing and Queen of Sweden

In the Arab world there is great anger below, but the Wahhabi monarch in Riyadh, the Israeli-protected king in Jordan and General Sisi in Egypt have effectively backed Israel’s assault on Gaza. They loathe Hamas and make no secret of the fact that they would rejoice if the Israelis exterminated the organisation. And what about those who vote for it? Dissolve the people and elect another? In Turkey, Recip Erdoğan makes a lot of noise, mostly ineffective and over-the-top, but refuses to break diplomatic relations with Israel. Turkey is after all a longstanding member of Nato and if Iraqi Kurdistan becomes ‘independent’ as a US-Israeli protectorate, Erdoğan will need their help to prevent a spillover in eastern Turkey.

While Asia is effectively silent – China thinks trade, India is close to Israel, Japan is still not allowed its own foreign policy – in South Africa there is growing support for the BDS campaign (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) led by Desmond Tutu and others. The apartheid analogies are not taken lightly and the ANC in the South African parliament voted unanimously to expel the Israeli ambassador, a demand ignored by President Zuma.

gaza-under-attack_pictures_2012_free_gaza_gaza_4_by_palsun1The strongest political reaction has come from a continent where Muslim populations are either non-existent or tiny. Venezuela and Bolivia broke relations with Israel after the attack on Gaza in 2009. The Israeli Ambassadors in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Salvador and Brazil have now been asked to pack their bags.

In the Occupied Territories themselves there is strong unity from below and Mahmoud Abbas, who initially remained silent and refused to visit Gaza, is now talking of ‘Israeli war crimes’, but his security apparatus and the PLO leadership has been collaborating with the IDF ever since the Oslo Accords. Hamas might have been drawn to this position with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose elected leaders were willing to capitulate to Washington like the PLO. Sisi’s coup put paid to all of that and Hamas was, as a result, able to reassert its independence.

There is no military solution in the region. Israel is a nuclear state and has the sixth largest army in the world (so talk of parity with Hamas – moral, political or military – is grotesque). It is threatened by itself, not by an outside force. The only solution left is the creation of a single state with equal rights for all and till this is achieved the only way to help the Palestinians in the medium-term is via the BDS campaign. It is not enough, I know, but it is the very least we can do.

Sergeant Kinrara should knock some environmental sense into Pakatan Rakyat over KIDEX


July 9, 2014

Sergeant Kinrara should knock some environmental sense into Pakatan Rakyat over KIDEX

by Azmi Sharom@www.thestar.com.my

The Selangor state government is only holding meetings with residents after laying the groundwork for compulsory acquisition.

WHEN the North South Highway was proposed, there was some serious opposition to it. In fact, there was a famous case as a result: a case that had far-reaching consequences in law. But that is not the point of this article.

I remember at the time that I was not supportive of the voices against the highway. I was very young then of course and I am sure many of the arguments went over my head, but fundamentally, I was in favour of it. This was because ultimately, the new road would cut travel time between Penang and Kuala Lumpur by half.

And if any of you remember the tortuous seven hours of travel this journey used to take, the painful crawls as you moved at 40km an hour behind overladen lorries, then the improvement was really quite welcome.

However, not all road projects are that obviously beneficial. Take this Kinrara-Damansara ExpresswayMB Selangor Khalid (Kidex) proposal. It is supposed to link Kinrara to Damansara. With apologies to residents of Kinrara, I always thought that part of town rather sounds like a Japanese cartoon: “Sergeant Kinrara and the Kinrara Platoon”, or something like that. Anyway, this new highway, sorry, skyway, we are told will ease traffic flow by 3% to 5%. Excuse me?

The residents of large chunks of Petaling Jaya will have to face heaven knows how many years of madness-inducing building works; the disappearance of their property values; the compulsory acquisition of their homes; environmental degradation; and the permanent scarring of their town with hideously ugly concrete tentacles; and all this for 3% to 5%?

That simply does not make any sense. But what makes even less sense to me is that this project has the complicity of the Selangor state government. A government that is under the control of the Pakatan Rakyat, which in case they have forgotten stands for People’s Alliance. And as befitting their name, the alliance has promised a more people-centric approach to governance.

This being so, then it looks like at least in this case, they seem to have forgotten that. Granted, the project is proposed by the Federal Government, but the state government has to approve it in principle first for the project to go ahead. Were the people consulted before this approval was given?

And we know it has been given. Furthermore, they have gone so far as to lay the groundwork for compulsory acquisition as the necessary gazetting has been done, something only the state government can do. It looks like they are all ready to go.

Which makes the meetings with residents now seem to be a stage show. First and foremost, it should have been done before any decision is made, not after. By having meetings now, at best, it means that they may change their minds. At worst it is window dressing to make themselves look good, without actually changing anything.

There are many problems with the way development is conducted in this country. For example, in my view, the Environmental Impact Assessment system we have has many serious flaws.

I understand that the Pakatan state government can’t do anything about that. But they had it in their power to introduce practices and policies, which do not need legislation, to bring people into the decision-making process for projects with such a huge impact such as this one. For example, have proper consultations with residents before making their decisions.

I finish with a reproduction of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration of which Malaysia is a signatory.Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by the public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.

States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.

Nothing that they have done with regard to the Kidex skyway indicates an adherence to this principle. I expected better.

Wajarkah Tengku Adnan Rob Malay Businesses ?


June 22, 2012

WAJARKAH TENGKU ADNAN ROB MALAY BUSINESSES?

dinmericanby Din Merican

On  June 6, 2014, Utusan Malaysia exploded a story about Sultan Johor’s interference in the Johor State Assembly (Dewan Undangan Negeri) by seeking to have executive control over the Johor Housing Board. The headline was a simple “WAJARKAH?”:

Utusan Malaysia then unfolded the real story. The real disaffection with Sultan Johor was that His Highness was seen as getting involved in businesses including selling large valuable parcels of lands in Johor to Singaporeans and lately to developers from China. This was further incensed by the fact that Malaysian billionaire tycoon Tan Sri Francis Yeoh of the YTL Group had made very damaging and insulting statements against the Malay leadership in the government accusing it of crony capitalism whereas it was a public secret that the YTL Group was the biggest beneficiary of Dr Mahathir’s privatisation policy. The TNB Employees Union then exposed that Sultan Johor’s power company SIPP was the JV partner of the YTL Group in the Pengerang IPP (independent power producer) project.

The Sultan of Johore's sale of 116-acres of prime land in Johor Bahru last December to China developers Guangzhou R&F last year as a major turning point. BN upset with royal housing bill too 01 The deal pocketed the Sultan RM4.5 billion.  The Sultan of Johore's sale of 116-acres of prime land in Johor Bahru last December to China developers Guangzhou R&F last year as a major turning point. BN upset with royal housing bill too 01 The deal pocketed the Sultan RM4.5 billion.

The Sultan of Johore’s sale of 116-acres of prime land in Johor Bahru last December to China developers Guangzhou R&F last year as a major turning point.
BN upset with royal housing bill too.
The deal pocketed the Sultan RM4.5 billion. 

So, the whole thing was really about UMNO’s anger towards Sultan Johor’s perceived betrayal by selling out on Malay rights. UMNO may be justified to come out strongly against Sultan Johor. UMNO is justified to chide any Malay Ruler and any GLC that disregards Malay rights. UMNO can do that because it perceives itself as the protector and guardian of Malay rights as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. That’s what UMNO’s existence is for, and that is what most Malays expect of UMNO. But, is UMNO really the champion of Malays and Malay rights? Or, must the Malays also be protected from the rogues in UMNO?

Beside Johor Sultan, UMNO via Khazanah Nasional Berhad owns one of the largest development land in Johor. And UMNO is selling land at equally crasy rate to foreigners, disguised under the name of “joint development”.

Beside Johor Sultan, UMNO via Khazanah Nasional Berhad owns one of the largest development land in Johor. And UMNO is selling land at equally crasy rate to foreigners, disguised under the name of “joint development”.

For UMNO to regard itself as the Champion of Malay rights, UMNO must also not allow its politicians, its leaders especially the UMNO Ministers to betray and rob legitimate Malay businesses. UMNO must not allow Ministers like Tengku Adnan Mansor who is the Federal Territories Minister to do what is reported in MKini in the story below.

Damai Kiaramas was set up in early 2009 to provide a long-term solution for the former estate workers living on prime land of currently TTDI after their estate was closed down 32 years ago.

Damai Kiaramas was set up in early 2009 to provide a long-term solution for the former estate workers living on prime land of currently TTDI after their estate was closed down 32 years ago.

So, just as Utusan Malaysia had rebuked Sultan Johor by that simple phrase – “WAJARKAH?”, these Malay businessmen would equally be entitled to rebuke Tengku Adnan and ask him : “ WAJARKAH TENGKU ADNAN ROB MALAY BUSINESSES?”

I think it is time that UMNO admonish Tengku Adnan before UMNO loses Malay support in GE14!Now read what Malaysia kini reported below:

UMNO men’s firm gets injunction against Ku Nan

By Hafiz Yatim@www.malaysiakini.com

 A group of bumiputera entrepreneurs today obtained an injunction against Federal Territories Minister and UMNO Secretary-General Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor and two others from being involved in a joint venture project involving a five-hectare plot of land in Bukit Kiara.

Last week, Damai Kiaramas Sdn Bhd, owned by UMNO members, filed a suit in the High Court in Kuala

WAJARKAH TENGKU ADNAN ROB MALAY BUSINESSES?

WAJARKAH TENGKU ADNAN ROB MALAY BUSINESSES?

Lumpur against Tengku Adnan, also known as Ku Nan, for breach of contract. The company claimed it had fulfilled all the conditions set by the ministry to develop the land, including getting the agreement of those living in longhouses in the vicinity for 32 years, to be placed in a mixed development project on the land.

However, the company claimed, Tengku Adnan had favoured a company owned by the Pavilion group to be given the project. Today’s ex-parte injunction was granted by judicial commissioner Kamaluddin Md Said.

Damai Kiaramas named its joint-venture partner Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, Tengku Adnan and the Pavilion group-owned Memang Perkasa Sdn Bhd as defendants in the suit. They had since 2008 proposed to redevelop the five-hectare land, which was then part of the Bukit Kiara estate, large portions of which have become the Kuala Lumpur Golf Club and Kelab Golf Perkhidmatan Awam.

The displaced estate workers are staying in dilapidated longhouses on the five-hectare plot and pay monthly rental to the Kuala Lumpur City Hall.Damai Kiaramas claimed it had obtained the backing of the then federal territories minister Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin and got the cabinet’s support.

Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan agreed to appoint Damai Kiaramas as a joint-venture partner on December 17, 2012, after it obtained signatures from all the longhouse residents to support the project, in which they would be placed in their new houses there.

A draft of the joint-venture company was produced several weeks later stating the terms that included the company having to pay RM60.702 million in land premium to Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan.

A meeting was held between Raja Nong Chik, Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan and Damai Kiaramas on Feb 22, 2013, at which they all agreed to the terms of the agreement and also agreed to the signing of the formal agreement only after the 13th general election.

Several declarations, general damages sought

However, with Raja Nong Chik having lost in the last general election, Damai Kiaramas had to deal with Tengku Adnan, the new minister in charge of the Federal Territories, and they held several meetings, last year and this year.

At subsequent meetings, the statement of claim from the firm states, Tengku Adnan requested that the land premium and return to be paid to Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, be increased from RM60.702 million to RM96 million. Tengku Adnan allegedly asked that the amount be increased further to RM140 million and then to RM160 million, to which Damai Kiaramas is said to have reluctantly agreed.

The joint-venture agreement between Damai Kiaramas and Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan was formally signed and a copy was sent to the foundation on Sept 17 last year. However, on December 5 last year, Damai Kiaramas obtained a termination notice from Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, which stated that there was never an agreement between them, that Damai Kiaramas failed to comply with the foundation’s demand and had not presented a detailed development plan.

Damai Kiaramas maintained that it briefed Tengku Adnan and the foundation representative on this on Sept 25 last year. The company claimed the reasons for the termination of the joint-venture agreement came as an after thought, and that it tried to revive the project by agreeing to pay the RM160 million that Tengku Adnan sought for the foundation.

The company also demanded, in April this year, that Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan reveals whether it had entered into an agreement with other companies to develop the project.Damai Kiaramas claimed that all the defendants had hidded from its knowledge that secret negotiations had been carried out with Memang Perkasa and further claimed that there was interference from the firm.

Damai Kiaramas further claimed that because it had agreed to pay the RM160 million as demanded, the joint-venture agreement stands and that the action of the other party amounted to breach of agreement.

Hence, the company is seeking a declaration that the joint-venture agreement dated September 17 last year is constituted and continues, and wants another declaration that the termination notice is set-aside.

Damai Kiaramas also wants Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan to continue with the joint venture and an order that any agreement that the foundation has with Memang Perkasa should be declared null and void. It is also seeking general damages and any amount the court deems fit for loss of profit and exemplary damages.

READ HERE: by Ida Lim@www.themalaymailonline.com

June 21, 2014

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/developer-insists-has-funds-for-ttdi-project-labels-ku-nans-claims-prematur

June 19, 2014

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/ku-nan-shrugs-off-court-injunction-by-developer-says-firm-could-not-perform

Water Deal between Selangor and Putrajaya: Time to Come Clean, Khalid Ibrahim


March 1, 2014

Water Deal between Selangor and Putrajaya: Time to Come  Clean, Khalid Ibrahim

Commentary by the Malaysian Insider

UAE had written to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim last April 12, seeking their intervention on the dispute, but no reply was received, lead counsel Rosli Dahlan said last month.

What’s the real deal, Mr. Khalid Ibrahim?

The Putrajaya-Selangor memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the acquisition of state water assets and construction of a RM1.2 billion water treatment plant does not seem to pass the smell test.

And if something does not smell right, it is not right.First off, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin today described the MOU signed on Wednesday as a binding agreement, although PAS central committee member Dr Dzukefly Ahmad pointed out it was not, unlike a memorandum of agreement (MOA).

Lawyers have chipped in too on the matter, saying MOUs are not legally binding as they just reflect an intention to work together to a common goal.

“It is normally signed when two parties want to work together, but do not want a legally binding agreement with each other,” lawyer Syahredzan Johan told The Malaysian Insider.

“However, I am speaking from the perspective of not having seen the contents of the MoU signed between the Selangor state government and the Federal government.”

“What is important is the contents of the document, not the labeling. One can have a perfectly legally binding document and still call it a MoU,” Syahredzan said.

The lawyer zoomed in on the main contents of the MOU, saying, “I think in the instance of the current MoU signed by Selangor and Putrajaya, it is in relation to buying over the water concessionaires and the approval for the Langat 2 water treatment plant.”

For the two components to conclude, he said there would be legal agreements to acquire the water concessionaires and also to build the RM1.2 billion water treatment plant in Langat, Selangor.

Would the MOU expire if any of the two components do not take off? Does the MOU have a time-frame for each component? The only thing that is public knowledge is that the Selangor government must approve Langat 2 once the tender is issued for the construction.

Is it just about water supply or who will benefit from the construction contracts, one wonders.

While connected businessmen can shout with glee that they would get RM9.65 billion for the four concession holders, others will be happy that there is another infrastructure project to profit from after five years of haggling.

Media reports last year said three companies — Salcon Bhd, MMC Corp Bhd and Ahmad Zaki Resources Bhd (AZRB) — have been shortlisted to build the RM1.2 billion Langat 2 water treatment plant project.

The Pahang-Selangor interstate water transfer tunnel is being built with a soft loan of RM2 billion from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). There is a 40-year repayment period for the 45km tunnel through the Titiwangsa mountain range.

Apart from that, the project entails the building of a dam and a pumphouse in Pahang, and a water treatment plant in Selangor with the total value said to be about RM7 billion.

While those living in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur will benefit from the project once it is completed as early as 2017, critics say the Langat 2 water treatment plant can only provide water capacity until 2025, and the government would require more plants and dams built after that in the country’s most densely populated area.

That would mean more projects in the future, and higher costs. Unless Putrajaya and Selangor insist that the water concessionaires take steps to cut down leaks that lead to a higher portion of non-revenue water (NRW).

There is a need for more treated water to cater to the rising population, but in the rush to provide that, the government should look into more ways to conserve water because more projects just means the taxpayers will have to bear the burden of underwriting the deals, while companies show the profits.

Muhyiddin also said today, “The MoU between the federal and state governments are for the benefit of the people to alleviate the water crisis in the Klang Valley with the construction of the Langat 2 treatment plant.”

This would take another three years. Nowhere does the MOU talk about ways to stop leakages and NRW. If PKR and Barisan Nasioanl (BN) politicians think they are doing Selangor a favour with the deal, they have to think again. The only ones benefitting appear to be the contractors. — February 28, 2014.

 

Southeast Asia and The Challenge of Managing Fractured Societies


January 13, 2014

Southeast Asia and The Challenge of Managing Fractured Societies

by Rodolfo C Severino, ISEAS(01-11-14)

SeverinoPolitical unrest, economic divisions, social turmoil, outright insurgency and civil war are common problems in the modern age.

In Southeast Asia such problems are pertinent currently in Thailand and perennially in the Philippines. Elsewhere, they seem to be characteristic of the troubles in Ukraine and in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and other Arab countries. What do these countries have in common?

Some have to do with ethnicity.Some with religion. Some with geography. Others with gaps in income. Others with differences in education and exposure. Others with the rural–urban divide. Still others with a combination of two or more or all of these at once.

Media commentators and academic analysts emphasise one or another of these phenomena in their analyses of developments in individual countries.

The current upheavals, some violent, others unarmed, all unsettling, it seems can be best summarised as being caused by cultural divides or gaps between the forces of modernisation and those of tradition, between the educated elite mostly in the cities and the teeming masses mostly in the countrysides.

The eruption of all this telegenic conflict heightens the perception of social inequality within nations, affecting social cohesion at a time when cohesion is needed most.For example, the rule of law may bring advantage to those who know the law. Thus, they may wave pieces of paper issued by governments giving them title to certain parcels of land. Others may think that they own what they and their forefathers before them have cultivated for centuries, but have no legal title to it. Thus they cannot get the legitimate sources of credit to consider that piece of land as rightful collateral. The former measure real-estate property by square metre, for instance, while the latter measure it by how long it takes for a stick of cigarette to be smoked.

What may be condemnable, regrettable and/or punishable corruption or ‘vote-buying’ to the city-slicker may be just another source of livelihood or survival for others. They have different conceptions or interpretations of justice, with the former adhering to and invoking laws passed by an elected legislature and the latter focusing on social justice.

The former generally uphold the sovereignty and writ of the state within internationally recognised national boundaries. The latter regard those boundaries — drawn and laid down in any case by foreign colonisers long ago — as irrelevant to their daily lives and to their dealings with brethren on either side of what to them are artificial national borders, even assuming that they are aware of such borders at all.

Not least, and perhaps most important, is the notion of one-man, one-vote elections — the right to rule bestowed by the ballots of the majority of electors. It is the idea of democracy itself.

Related to all this is ‘populism’: what some may consider as vote-buying through ‘populist’ measures, others may regard as long-overdue manifestations of attention to the downtrodden masses whose interests have long been ignored by the ‘urban elite’.

What happens if the person or persons elected, admittedly by the majority of the people in a state, rides roughshod over the interests, if not the lives, of people now becoming a minority and fearful of the loss of their privileges, if not their lives and livelihoods? Will that minority be justified in seeking the overthrow or replacement, through extra-legal means, of those who had been voted in according to laws that the elite themselves — or, more accurately, those whom they themselves had used to consider as their representatives — drafted, passed and accepted?

These are difficult questions. As far as I know, no text book, on civics or otherwise, provides any answers to them. Each society will have to resolve them by itself, as they are being resolved in some countries today.

In any case, the traditional, mostly countryside masses seem in all societies to be moving towards the rule of law, anti-‘corruption’ as a form of social justice, and rationality as against tradition or what they regard as tradition.

This trend is largely caused by the general opening up of societies, the market-driven operation of technological developments in transportation and communications, and the resulting efficacious and widespread transmission of ‘universal’ norms, which have exposed state decision-making to the influence of increasing numbers of people and generally shortened the tenures in office of many elected national decision-makers.

The convergence may take place slowly in some societies, suddenly in others, and at different paces in all; but the trend seems to be inexorable. In all cases, the process will take time, and patience.

No small degree of humility, and the ability to consider the argument on all sides, is called for.–http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Rodolfo C Severino, a former ASEAN Secretary-General, is head of the ASEAN Studies Centre in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. The views expressed here are solely his own.

Bits and Barbarism


December 23, 2013

Bits and Barbarism

by Paul Krugman@http://www.nytimes.com

Paul KrugmanThis is a tale of three money pits. It’s also a tale of monetary regress — of the strange determination of many people to turn the clock back on centuries of progress.

The first money pit is an actual pit — the Porgera open-pit gold mine in Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s top producers. The mine has a terrible reputation for both human rights abuses (rapes, beatings and killings by security personnel) and environmental damage (vast quantities of potentially toxic tailings dumped into a nearby river). But gold prices, while down from their recent peak, are still three times what they were a decade ago, so dig they must.

The second money pit is a lot stranger: the Bitcoin mine in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland. Bitcoin is a digital currency that has value because … well, it’s hard to say exactly why, but for the time being at least people are willing to buy it because they believe other people will be willing to buy it. It is, by design, a kind of virtual gold. And like gold, it can be mined: you can create new bitcoins, but only by solving very complex mathematical problems that require both a lot of computing power and a lot of electricity to run the computers.

Hence the location in Iceland, which has cheap electricity from hydropower and an abundance of cold air to cool those furiously churning machines. Even so, a lot of real resources are being used to create virtual objects with no clear use.

The third money pit is hypothetical. Back in 1936 the economist John Maynard Keynes argued that increased government spending was needed to restore full employment. But then, as now, there was strong political resistance to any such proposal. So Keynes whimsically suggested an alternative: have the government bury bottles full of cash in disused coal mines, and let the private sector spend its own money to dig the cash back up. It would be better, he agreed, to have the government build roads, ports and other useful things — but even perfectly useless spending would give the economy a much-needed boost.

Clever stuff — but Keynes wasn’t finished. He went on to point out that the real-life activity of gold mining was a lot like his thought experiment. Gold miners were, after all, going to great lengths to dig cash out of the ground, even though unlimited amounts of cash could be created at essentially no cost with the printing press. And no sooner was gold dug up than much of it was buried again, in places like the gold vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where hundreds of thousands of gold bars sit, doing nothing in particular.

Keynes would, I think, have been sardonically amused to learn how little has John-Maynard-Keyneschanged in the past three generations. Public spending to fight unemployment is still anathema; miners are still spoiling the landscape to add to idle hoards of gold. (Keynes dubbed the gold standard a “barbarous relic.”) Bitcoin just adds to the joke. Gold, after all, has at least some real uses, e.g., to fill cavities; but now we’re burning up resources to create “virtual gold” that consists of nothing but strings of digits.

I suspect, however, that Adam Smith would have been dismayed.Smith is often treated as a conservative patron saint, and he did indeed make the original case for free markets. It’s less often mentioned, however, that he also argued strongly for bank regulation — and that he offered a classic paean to the virtues of paper currency. Money, he understood, was a way to facilitate commerce, not a source of national prosperity — and paper money, he argued, allowed commerce to proceed without tying up much of a nation’s wealth in a “dead stock” of silver and gold.

So why are we tearing up the highlands of Papua New Guinea to add to our dead stock of gold and, even more bizarrely, running powerful computers 24/7 to add to a dead stock of digits?

Talk to gold bugs and they’ll tell you that paper money comes from governments, which can’t be trusted not to debase their currencies. The odd thing, however, is that for all the talk of currency debasement, such debasement is getting very hard to find. It’s not just that after years of dire warnings about runaway inflation, inflation in advanced countries is clearly too low, not too high. Even if you take a global perspective, episodes of really high inflation have become rare. Still, hyperinflation hype springs eternal.

Bitcoin seems to derive its appeal from more or less the same sources, plus the added sense that it’s high-tech and algorithmic, so it must be the wave of the future.

But don’t let the fancy trappings fool you: What’s really happening is a determined march to the days when money meant stuff you could jingle in your purse. In tropics and tundra alike, we are for some reason digging our way back to the 17th century.

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