Jeffery Sachs on his new book, Building the New American Economy

February 27, 2017

Jeffery Sachs on his new book, Building the New American Economy–Smart, Fair, & Sustainable


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Money is politics is a serious problem in America today–Jeffery Sachs

Professor Jeffery Sachs discusses his new book, Building the New American Economy– Smart, Fair, & Sustainable. I agree with this Columbia University don that America needs a make over by a progressive President like a President Bernie Sanders. Unfortunately, Americans have to learn to live with a Republican President Donald J. Trump and a Republican controlled  House of Representatives and the Senate. To these politicians, sustainable development is a Grecian nightmare.

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Trust (s0cial capital) is diminishing in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. The last decade has been 10 years of greed and widening income inequality in American polity. Politics ought to return to the politics of IDEAS, says Sachs. Listen him and decide what you think of his book.  –Din Merican

Don’t be discouraged. Just click and you can watch it directly on

Economists in Denial

February 27, 2017

Economists in Denial

By Lord Skidelsky*

*Robert (Lord) Skidelsky, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University and a fellow of the British Academy in history and economics, is a member of the British House of Lords. The author of a three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes, he began his political career in the Labour party, became the Conservative Party’s spokesman for Treasury affairs in the House of Lords, and was eventually forced out of the Conservative Party for his opposition to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

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View from above of the Bank of England. The central bank of the UK manages the sterling currency and regulates financial transactions. Banker to Central Banks.

Early last month, Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, blamed “irrational behavior” for the failure of the BoE’s recent forecasting models. The failure to spot this irrationality had led policymakers to forecast that the British economy would slow in the wake of last June’s Brexit referendum. Instead, British consumers have been on a heedless spending spree since the vote to leave the European Union; and, no less illogically, construction, manufacturing, and services have recovered.

Haldane offers no explanation for this burst of irrational behavior. Nor can he: to him, irrationality simply means behavior that is inconsistent with the forecasts derived from the BoE’s model.

It’s not just Haldane or the BoE. What mainstream economists mean by rational behavior is not what you or I mean. In ordinary language, rational behavior is that which is reasonable under the circumstances. But in the rarefied world of neoclassical forecasting models, it means that people, equipped with detailed knowledge of themselves, their surroundings, and the future they face, act optimally to achieve their goals. That is, to act rationally is to act in a manner consistent with economists’ models of rational behavior. Faced with contrary behavior, the economist reacts like the tailor who blames the customer for not fitting their newly tailored suit.

Yet the curious fact is that forecasts based on wildly unrealistic premises and assumptions may be perfectly serviceable in many situations. The reason is that most people are creatures of habit. Because their preferences and circumstances don’t in fact shift from day to day, and because they do try to get the best bargain when they shop around, their behavior will exhibit a high degree of regularity. This makes it predictable. You don’t need much economics to know that if the price of your preferred brand of toothpaste goes up, you are more likely to switch to a cheaper brand.

Central banks’ forecasting models essentially use the same logic. For example, the BoE (correctly) predicted a fall in the sterling exchange rate following the Brexit vote. This would cause prices to rise – and therefore consumer spending to slow. Haldane still believes this will happen; the BoE’s mistake was more a matter of “timing” than of logic.

This is equivalent to saying that the Brexit vote changed nothing fundamental. People would go on behaving exactly as the model assumed, only with a different set of prices. But any prediction based on recurring patterns of behavior will fail when something genuinely new happens.

Non-routine change causes behavior to become non-routine. But non-routine does not mean irrational. It means, in economics-speak, that the parameters have shifted. The assurance that tomorrow will be much like today has vanished. Our models of quantifiable risk fail when faced with radical uncertainty.

The BoE conceded that Brexit would create a period of uncertainty, which would be bad for business. But the new situation created by Brexit was actually very different from what policymakers, their ears attuned almost entirely to the City of London, expected. Instead of feeling worse off (as “rationally” they should), most “Leave” voters believe they will be better off.

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Justified or not, the important fact about such sentiment is that it exists. In 1940, immediately after the fall of France to the Germans, the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote to a correspondent: “Speaking for myself I now feel completely confident for the first time that we will win the war.” Likewise, many Brits are now more confident about the future.

This, then, is the problem – which Haldane glimpsed but could not admit – with the BoE’s forecasting models. The important things affecting economies take place outside the self-contained limits of economic models. That is why macroeconomic forecasts end up on the rocks when the sea is not completely flat.

The challenge is to develop macroeconomic models that can work in stormy conditions: models that incorporate radical uncertainty and therefore a high degree of unpredictability in human behavior.

Keynes’s economics was about the logic of choice under uncertainty. He wanted to extend the idea of economic rationality to include behavior in the face of radical uncertainty, when we face not just unknowns, but unknowable unknowns. This of course has much severer implications for policy than a world in which we can reasonably expect the future to be much like the past.

There have been a few scattered attempts to meet the challenge. In their 2011 book Beyond Mechanical Markets, the economists Roman Frydman of New York University and Michael Goldberg of the University of New Hampshire argued powerfully that economists’ models should try to “incorporate psychological factors without presuming that market participants behave irrationally.” Proposing an alternative approach to economic modeling that they call “imperfect knowledge economics,” they urge their colleagues to refrain from offering “sharp predictions” and argue that policymakers should rely on “guidance ranges,” based on historical benchmarks, to counter “excessive” swings in asset prices.

The Russian mathematician Vladimir Masch has produced an ingenious scheme of “Risk-Constrained Optimization,” which makes explicit allowance for the existence of a “zone of uncertainty.” Economics should offer “very approximate guesstimates,” requiring “only modest amounts of modeling and computational effort.”

But such efforts to incorporate radical uncertainty into economic models, valiant though they are, suffer from the impossible dream of taming ambiguity with math and (in Masch’s case) with computer science. Haldane, too, seems to put his faith in larger data sets.

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A Towering Figure in Economics–Lord Keynes

Keynes, for his part, didn’t think this way at all. He wanted an economics that would give full scope for judgment, enriched not only by mathematics and statistics, but also by ethics, philosophy, politics, and history – subjects dropped from contemporary economists’ training, leaving a mathematical and computational skeleton. To offer meaningful descriptions of the world, economists, he often said, must be well educated.


Book Review : The Philosophy of Karl R. Popper

February 26, 2017

Book Review:

The Philosophy of Karl R. Popper by Herbert  Keuth

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Herbert Keuth, The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 384pp, $28.99 (pbk), ISBN 0521548306.

Reviewed by Robert Nola, , University of Auckland

This book is one of the best introductory accounts of Popper’s philosophy and is to be recommended. It is wide-ranging, covering, in its three parts, Popper’s philosophy of science, his social philosophy, and his metaphysics. The summaries of Popper’s positions are clear and succinct; relevant critical points raised by others as well as the author are injected appropriately into the discussion. The book reveals that Popper’s philosophical concerns are broader than most other twentieth-century philosophers, whatever the critical response may be to his various doctrines in all these fields. In twentieth-century English philosophy perhaps only the concerns of Bertrand Russell surpass those of Popper in their scope.

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Part I, which is about half the book, is devoted to Popper’s methodology of science beginning with his anti-inductivism and then moving to his views on demarcation, methodological rules for science, the empirical basis of science, corroboration, truth and verisimilitude, the nature of theories, and finally his account of probability. Here some technicalities are unavoidable, but they are minimal and can be managed by most readers.

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Part II deals with Popper’s views on method in the social sciences and a number of themes drawn from The Open Society and it Enemies. Here Keuth reviews Popper’s views on Plato, Hegel, Marx, and his critique of the sociology of knowledge and his theory of democracy. There is a brief discussion of Popper’s role in the “positivist dispute” and his interaction with other philosophers such as Horkheimer and Habermas. Part III considers Popper’s metaphysical views concerning natural necessity, determinism, indeterminism, propensity, mind-body interaction, the doctrine of Worlds 1, 2 and 3, evolution, and the self.

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The book does not get mired in the controversies between Popper and his contemporaries, from some of the logical positivists to his erstwhile colleagues or pupils. Nor does it cover some of the later Popper, especially those writings which have appeared posthumously in English but which were sometimes available earlier in German. For example, it does not delve into Popper’s later work on the Presocratics. Keuth maintains that while Popper has many considerable achievements to his credit there are also some failures, especially in his late work. He makes a useful comparison with Kant whose claims about “transcendental knowledge” were known to be untenable even before Kant wrote on them. But just as Kant was an important influence in the Enlightenment, so Popper’s critical rationalism is part of the twentieth-century continuation of that tradition. For German-speaking Europeans, given their philosophical and political history since the time of Kant, the role of philosophers like Popper in the general intellectual culture is very important, a fact not often appreciated by those outside Germany and Austria.

Part I on Popper’s philosophy of science opens with a discussion of Popper’s first big manuscript Die beiden Grundprobleme der Erkenntnistheorie, only first published in German in 1979 but still not available in English. The two fundamental problems are what Popper calls ‘Hume’s problem’, the problem of induction, and ‘Kant’s problem’, the problem of demarcation. These are pervasive themes in Popper’s subsequent work which Keuth sets in context. Only the most diehard Popperians now adopt his anti-inductivism in all its aspects. But what of demarcation? This too has fallen on hard times, but perhaps not with equally good reason. Though papers like Laudan’s ‘The Demise of the Demarcation Problem’ are not mentioned, there are materials in Keuth’s discussion of demarcation that show how the idea might at least be partially rehabilitated. Objections due to Kuhn, Kneale, and Grover Maxwell along with the “tacking paradox” (viz., if T is falsifiable them so is (T&X) where X is any arbitrary conjunct) are outlined, and ways around these objections are suggested. If no bright red demarcation line is to be drawn (perhaps never Popper’s intention) then at least a distinction can be drawn on the grounds that scientific theories must at least be brought into relation with the stream of actual observations of the world, however minimal that relation may be; in contrast, for other intellectual endeavours (logic, mathematics or metaphysics), no such relationship need be required.

As well as the logico-epistemological demarcation criterion that Popper proposes as part of his epistemology of science, there are also a number of methodological rules that spell out more fully other aspects of his “definition” of science. This includes a rule which bids us to adopt his demarcation criterion as part of the goal of science. This in turn realises a further goal, that of the maximization of the openness of science to revision by test against observation. This is a distinctive feature of science which the young Popper recognised when it abandoned one of its best-established theories, Newtonian mechanics. But Popper’s conception of science is not just the demarcation criterion; it is also to be understood as an activity bound by a further range of rules. A conception of pseudo-science then arises; these are systems of belief that do not evolve in accordance with the rules. Keuth lists at least twelve such rules in chapters 3 and 5. Oddly enough some of these rules are not given rule-like formulations by Popper (for example R1 and R5 cited in section 3.3); but these can be expressed as rules without too much difficulty.

Keuth comments that some of the rules are fairly trivial and can be readily accepted as definitive of science, but some other rules are problematic. For example, Popper’s anti-ad hoc Rule (given as R8) attempts to express an initially plausible stricture against certain modifications of our theories in the face of counter-evidence. Often Popper treats such rules as rigid categorical imperatives rather than the defeasible principles they really are. However it is their expression in terms of increasing degree of falsifiability, or of testability, that raises problems. The requirement is that any modifications to a theory ought always to increase its degree of falsifiability. However, the problem here is that it is hard to find measures of degrees of falsifiability on the basis of which one can compare a theory before and after modification. Keuth also argues that there are some auxiliary statements that we might alter to save a theory but these need not always be those which are conjoined to a theory to yield testable consequences.

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Sir Karl Raimund Popper

A commonly cited obstacle to Popperian falsification is said to be the Quine-Duhem thesis in one or other of its several forms. This is something which, as Keuth points out, Popper recognised in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (section 18) when he confessed that we falsify a whole system and that no single statement is upset by the falsification. Popper seems to pay little further attention to the problem of how falsification, or even corroboration for that matter, may arise by piercing through any surrounding accompanying statements, to target a hypothesis under test. However there is one out-of-the-way place where Popper does acknowledge Duhem’s problem and suggests a solution, The Poverty of Historicism section 29, the end of footnote 2. Keuth does make some moves that are similar to Popper’s suggestion; but it would have been useful to have had Keuth’s commentary on Popper’s explicit proposal, which has initial plausibility, viz., that we can construct a version of a “crucial experiment” and comparatively test two whole systems, one with and the other without some given hypothesis which is under test. (Glymour 1980 p. 34 has one negative response to this ploy.) Independently of Popper’s problem with the Duhem-Quine thesis, that very thesis has come under criticism by Bayesians who argue that testing of target hypotheses is possible despite their being embedded in auxiliary hypotheses, thus freeing theories for Popperian falsification, but in an un-Popperian manner.

Keuth also considers Popper’s falsificationism in relation to Quine’s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ and the view, which flows from the rejection of the dogmas, that ”the boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science is blurred” (p. 79) If correct, this would pose a challenge to Popper’s demarcation criterion in that all our systems of belief form a seamless web without the possibility of even a somewhat dull red demarcation line being drawn. One dogma is the view that there is a difference between analytic and synthetic statements; the other that there is a reduction of each meaningful statement to a construction out of terms which refer to immediate experience. Popper would concur with the rejection of the second dogma but perhaps reject the inference from this to the claim that the unit of significance is the whole of science (as Quine claims). It turns out that Quine is not just a holist about meaning (a matter which Popper makes clear is not one of his concerns) but also a holist with respect to the way in which the whole of science gets positive or negative support. In part this takes us back to the credentials of the Quine-Duhem thesis and theories of confirmation and disconfirmation. Keuth focuses on the first dogma and argues that since we can establish logical truths and propose definitions, there are aspects of each scientific theory in which something akin to the analytic/synthetic distinction is not only possible but appropriate. Once this is spelled out in the context of a given theory, then there are grounds for distinguishing such logical truths and definitions from other aspects of a theory which, still taken as a whole, can then be open to test; and if this is so, something akin to demarcation is also appropriate.

In Chapter 6 Keuth traces Popper’s views on truth from his initial position, expressed in The Logic of Discovery, that it is possible to do without the concepts of truth and falsity, to his later position in which he adopts Tarski’s theory of truth. But Popper’s account of truth embraces more than the set of bare equivalences given by the various Tarskian (T) schemas ‘X’ is true iff p (where ‘p’ is a sentence and ‘X’ is a name of the sentence), which constitute an adequacy condition imposed on any theory of truth. Rather, Popper understands Tarski to have embraced a correspondence theory of truth in which the Correspondence schema (CT) holds: ‘X’ is true iff X corresponds to the facts. Keuth’s treatment of Popper’s account of truth is instructive and shows that Popper’s version of his ‘Tarskian turn’ is in fact down a wrong, even blind, alley. His diagnosis is that Popper’s commitment to a realist understanding of truth, especially the truth of the statements of our theories, has taken him in this direction; but, as Keuth points out, it is possible to have a realist understanding of the truth of such statements without the correspondence theory of truth.

In the following chapter 7 Keuth reviews the role of truth as a regulative principle in Popper’s philosophy of science and his development of the idea of verisimilitude as a further articulation of that ideal. He also traces the development of Popper’s more formal treatment of verisimilitude in terms of the comparison of the truth and falsity contents of statements. As is well known, these attempts ended in a spectacular failure, which Keuth sets out. Not explored, and appropriately so in a book just confined to Popper, is the ongoing research programme that this failure stimulated which, with the successes it has had, does keep alive aspects of Popper’s important initial insight.

In Part I Keuth has further useful suggestions to make about Popper’s rather decisionist and conventionalist view of the acceptance of basic statements which we use to criticise our theories — a difficulty which many have raised about the rationality of Popper’s whole falsificationist approach. He also discusses the development of Popper’s ideas of probability. And he has a useful chapter on the development of Popper’s idea of positive support, that is, corroboration, and whether or not corroboration can avoid any aspect of inductivism. Keuth finds fault with Popper’s more formal attempt at a definition of corroboration. Even though corroboration is not obviously a probability, it is defined in terms of probabilities, including prior probabilities which, notoriously, are hard to define and so render any quantitative definition useless. However Keuth does defend the view, against many others, that corroboration does not need any associated principle of induction. When it comes to a choice of one of a set of theories as to the correctness, say, tomorrow, of their explanations, predictions, or technological applications, we choose that theory, T, which is the best corroborated up until today. Against the claim of many that there is an inductive step involved here, Keuth argues that no inductive principle is needed. All we need assume is that theory T is true; if T is subsequently falsified then our assumption was false. Induction is not needed, and we can get by without it. But the claim that it is not needed is not convincing. There does appear to be an element of induction in our keeping T on tomorrow, and the day after, when it does not succumb to falsification.

Most of this review has focused on Keuth’s account of Popper’s philosophy of science. Whatever shortcomings Popper’s view may have, it, or a revised version of it, has been influential in providing a critique of theories of society. This critique Popper began in his The Poverty of Historicism and his The Open Society and its Enemies. Popper claims that many historicists such as Marx and Marxists, and also many sociologists of knowledge, have a faulty understanding of the nature of science and its methods. Once they have a richer account of those methods, the bottom falls out of many of their arguments about the separate nature of the social sciences. This, amongst others, is a theme that appears in Part II of Keuth’s book; it can be extended to objections concerning an alleged misplaced scientism advocated in the writings of members of the Frankfurt School, such as Horkheimer and Habermas. Keuth’s book is not only a useful account of Popper’s views on science, along with promising revisions of these views; it is also a useful prophylactic when applied to some sciences, especially the social sciences. Keuth’s treatment of these issues in Part II, and the metaphysical issues in Part III not mentioned here, continue the standard found in Part I. Taken together they provide a fully rounded and fair assessment of Popper’s philosophy and its continuing interest.


Glymour, C (1980) Theory and Evidence, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press.


Unveiling Donald J. Trump – the Revolt against the Establishment

February 25, 2017



Unveiling Donald J. Trump – the Revolt against the Establishment

Joergen Oerstroem Moeller, Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

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Why are people turning their backs on the ‘Western’ model? The Reason: Donald J Trump making America Great Again

Why are people turning their back on the ‘Western’ model? How could it happen and even more so in such a short time span? While most of us associate the recent string of events to failed regimes or fictional story plots, it now haunts the U.S. – playing out like a reality show except the consequences are real and cannot be tuned out by a press on the remote control – however tempting that might be[1].

The elite has cut the link to the people, who retaliate by turning against the elite. A revolt!

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Conceptually industrialization was anchored in enlightenment, science, rationality, and logic. Ethically a higher degree of decency followed. The nexus was check and balances, which not only framed economic prosperity, rising equality and fairness, but also opened the door for the majority of people to influence political decision making.

Now, negative side-effects start to overrule the positive side of the model. Polls show that a majority of people in industrialized countries feel that their children will NOT live in a better world. Consensus and coalition building – the mainstay of the check and balances system – is no longer the plinth of our world order – world view, weltanschaung. Political correctness emphasizing tolerance and respect and crafted to block a repetition of 1914 to 1945 is now rejected yes ridiculed and cast aside. It is legitimate, in some places even laudable to vilify other people and advocate discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion.

Subjectivity has replaced objectivity blurring the difference between truth and non-truth. Between facts and made up figures. Today any viewpoint is legitimate. ‘My point of view is as good as yours!’ No insistence on evidence.


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Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ gave birth to economic theory explaining capital formation conducive to growth. The market – economic thinking and behavior – precipitated change and dynamics after centuries of near stagnation. Concomitantly economic policy started to guide the political system (liberal representative democracy) in its endeavors to control the economy and distribute wealth between capitalists and non-capitalists.

It was not a global model, but build around the notion of rich (insiders) and poor (outsiders). Countries could be ‘relegated’ (as was the case for Argentina one hundred years ago), but not promoted. Sometimes around 1975 the outsiders challenged the insiders. Promotion, incompatible with the model, started. The result quickly became competition for jobs, welfare, and resources on a global scale. The industrial age edifice began to crack.

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Philosopher  of the Enlightenment– John Locke

Capitalism is a marvelous growth machine especially combined with globalization, but aberrations, distortions and negative side-effects must be kept under control. The challenge from the socialist/communist model did precisely that. When that challenge disappeared in 1991, the self-imposed barriers for egoistic behavior melted away. The dominating perspective became short-term profit defined by pure market economy disregarding potential or real negative societal side-effects – what an economist would label external diseconomies on a societal level/scale.

Globalization introduced economies of scale which:

– Generated enormous profits for multinational companies.

– Opened the door for minimizing tax by shuffling revenue and profits around among countries.

– Suppressed the wage share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in rich countries destabilizing and impoverishing their middle class.

– Dislocated manufacturing in rich countries; small-scale plants in local communities disappeared and people felt abandoned, desperate, and without hope.

The upside – enormously important – was that hundreds of millions of people in poor countries were lifted out of poverty.

The political problem gradually suffusing the agenda was that the negative side-effects were mainly, almost exclusively felt in rich and industrialized countries with the upside blessing Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDE). Suddenly the dichotomy between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ changed dramatically – a complete reversal of roles.

Technology introduced the skills factor to determine distribution of income. Three groups of “workers” emerged. Those having the skills in demand asked for and got a premium. A thin layer. Those doing repetitive functions, the middle class, were squeezed. Those in lower paid service jobs were forced to accept lower wages under pressure from the middle class above them in the social strata now competing for their jobs and immigrants in social strata below them. In the U.S. wage differentials and inequality was falling 1920 to 1940, stable until the 1970s where after inequality started to explode – almost exactly at the time when Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plus globalization began to put its mark on the economy.

Social losers tried to be heard by voting for the opposition, but the opposition fared no better than the government because there was no answer. In reality government and opposition was the same side of two coins!

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University of Manchester Economics students aim to tear up free-market syllabus

And who are the losers? They are broadly speaking people unable or unwilling to cope with change – not necessarily unemployed or poor. In Europe and the U.S. many of them are found among the middle class being eradicated, disappearing as the stabilizing factor. Year 2000 US, Europe, and Japan accounted for 2/3 of global middle class. prognosis tells that year 2020 it will be about half and year 2050 about 15%. The privileged status built up over the industrial as skilled workers – the hero of industrialization and its main beneficiary – was suddenly taken away from them; other social groups or ethnicities fare better. Since 2007 close to ten million new jobs have been created in the U.S., but whites have lost one million jobs. This discloses the losers as white Anglo-Saxon protestant males powerful during the industrial age fighting almost literally to maintain their privileges.

They constitute a large segment of the population, but they are not the ‘people’. Did the British people vote for Brexit? No. Figuring in the turn out 38% of the electorate did. We read that the American people elected Donald Trump. Wrong. Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes. Figuring in the turn out approx. 26% of the Americans voted for Trump. The depressing interpretation is that a large and growing share of the population does not find it worthwhile to operate inside the system. The system is not theirs! They vote against the system or stay away. The silver lining is that if the system – the establishment – can get the act together and deliver, those people may return. The game is not lost.

The future.

It is fascinating to reflect on how things will turn out, but foolhardy to put forward a picture of the world order to come. Mankind might cut the link to nature and live in a totally artificial environment – mankind may choose the opposite and opt for a return to stronger human relations while respecting the cycle of nature, as our ancestors actually did – or be so confused and bemused under the onslaught of globalization and technology that we end up with some kind of superstition like in the middle ages.

What we can do is to search for some fundamental trends controlling the future development; intercept them to build a system/model strong enough to keep the ship steady until the fog has cleared and a better view of where we are going beckons.

If civilization is a work in progress, we should mobilize discipline and self-discipline to rally people to a common purpose aiming at:

– Societies as a whole instead of egoistic behavior.

– Long term thinking/behavior instead of short-term effects.

– Sustainability instead of throw away consumption.

– A new kind of self-esteem among human beings with people feeling they are a spoke in the wheel contributing to society and receiving something in return.

– Mutual respects leaders – people instead of mutual disrespect and distrust.

The future main thread is common and shared values gradually crowding out economics as the main motivating force. The objective is a new social contract. The vehicle is communication via social networks. The playing field for communication becomes level instead of top/down or down/top or passive only (radio/TV). The social networks should belong to the people and used by the people. Neither commercialized nor allow concentration of knowledge opening for abuse of power.

Political system.

Power distance separates politicians’ values from voters’ values. In many countries, barely 2/3 of the electorate turns up signaling indifference. Membership of political parties tells the same story.

A lower power distance can be sought through roll back of centralization and concentration to lower power distance. Turn local communities into yes LOCAL and small communities; reject increasing returns borrowed from economics for public services. Look for solutions to combine social networks with human contacts. The service provider – welfare, education, and health – must be close to people to cater for their basic needs and not perceived as business.

There are innumerable challenges and opportunities embedded in social networks. In principle, they ‘should rally people to a common purpose’. In reality the opposite happens: Segmentation of public opinion through vociferous and importunate persons/groups hijacking the agenda. Social networks become divisive, disruptive, and increase power distance. Human contacts so vital a glue for unity and coherence fade away.

Segmentation/fragmentation comes into play as people communicate more, but with like-minded people. Those who contact us have analogous opinions. We search, maybe unconsciously, for opinions & views similar to our own ones. A closed-circuit network appears with people reinforcing one another in already held opinions eschewing contradictory information. It is no wonder that extremists’ views have established themselves and got a grip on the political agenda simultaneously with the explosion of social networks.

Using social networks anybody can try to set the agenda. If the message resonates with the public the cascade effect guarantees success irrespective of facts, objectivity, and merit. The ‘newcomers’ are proactive, offensive, snippy, aggressive, using rude/disparaging vocabulary, and dispense with objectivity, facts, and the truth. The establishment appears as reactive, defensive, even boring with politically correct vocabulary which does not strike a chord with the public – and do care about objectivity, facts, and the truth. Studies show that many, maybe most people decide in the split of a second based on instinct, intuition, own experiences and background. We live in a world dominated by a pressure of impression: Catch attention every day and use simple language. The attention span is short so select your audience and appear to be like them. Our ‘self’ is the template for judging others. This opens the door for tailor-made interference in people’s decision making. Recently Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica was quoted saying ‘we have a massive database of 4-5,000 data points on every adult in America’. Allegedly the company helped Trump to win.

The establishment can also use this model! And doesn’t because it has severed the links to the people.

Economic model.

Economics has always loved the idea of general equilibrium, but for the economic system only. Now a kind of societal equilibrium could be the objective.

Short term profits from a purely economic point of view distort the social fabric. Many people look – in vain – for stability and security – human security, economic security, and social security. After disruptive and explosive change over the preceding half century – a burst of activity rarely seen in history – there is a growing preference for calm down, digest, and find out how to use technology and globalization – instead of letting these two big forces, disruptive at that, steer where we go.

Relative prices reflect market perspectives rewarding short-term profit regardless of potentially negative societal effects (inequality, unfairness, and low social mobility), pollution, and depletion of resources. Incorporating societal effects other than economics the scoreboard in its entirety may not be profitable for economic operators – business. So it is not done.

Therefore, they should be changed to reflect these societal aspects. Making it expensive to use resources, punish pollution, and put a price on activities beneficial for society for example care for the elderly and couching children. The immediate objection is that such policies interfere in the market mechanism – the reply is: Yes, that is also the purpose. The market mechanism may have served us well, but can it continue to do so under different conditions? Can the market handle ‘less’ in a socially acceptable way? Doubtful.

Relative factor prices favor technology and robotics. Economically that makes sense. But not for those people losing their jobs. We cannot and should not stop technology and robotics, but provide jobs in labor intensive areas – among other things societal purposes – by remunerating such work.

The theory of the firm dating back to the 1930s explains why it is profitable – short term market economy profitability – to organize production within the firm (concentration and standardization/ uniformization) rather than relying on a multitude of contracts (de-concentration and diversification). Transaction costs become lower. Main advantage is to have the workforce inside the company – figuratively under one roof.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has shot that theory down. Now transaction costs outside the firm is cheaper than inside the firm mainly because of savings in overhead costs. Part time work and one person companies are going up – in some cases selling the product to firms instead of doing it inside the firm. It’s odd to read every month about employment and unemployment not taking into account how many people have left companies to do the same work outside companies.

The paradox is that the number of people employed by firms in rich countries goes down while at the same time concentration of finance and knowledge goes up not only shaking the established relationship between workforce and the company, but cutting the bond between firm and workforce, which was the core of the industrial age social contract. They are no longer indispensable for each other.


The golden days of economic growth and distribution of wealth will not return. The creeping dehumanization and denaturalization is being questioned – is this really what we want? The shift to non-economic values cannot be integrated in the existing political system and economic model.

The challenge now is to keep societies together under burden sharing and adapt to stability and human security. Groups as an alternative framework for organization of societies enter the picture. The risk is that values and social networking break societies into a small number of groups with limited inter-group mobility – are you with us or against us? A kind of social immobility. The group serves as service provider – you cannot live outside the group. ISIL is an illustration of this as was the communist party. You belong to us forever.

The key is a social contract embodying

– The shift in preferences from economics as the dominant element to reflect societal values.

– A reinstatement of confidence and trust between politicians and voters.

– Building a bridge over the rising gap between interests of firms (owners and management) and interests of the workforce.

– Make the service provider visible in daily life, close to the people and increasingly delivering stability, security and peace at mind.

Joergen Oerstroem Moeller is Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore and Adjunct Professor Singapore Management University & Copenhagen Business School. Honorary Alumni, University of Copenhagen.

[1] ‘The Veil of Circumstance’ [ISEAS PUBLISHING, November 2016] offers a deeper analysis of the transformation our societies is undergoing.

(2). ISEAS –Yusof Ishak Institute. PERSPECTIVE. ISSUE: 2017 No. 11 ISSN 335 667


 “Trump and Brexit:  Some Lessons for Southeast Asia” by Joergen Oerstroem Moeller @

Executive Summary

  • Donald Trump’s victory and Brexit illustrate that a considerable share of the population in the U.S. and Britain feel left behind, side-lined and neglected by recent globalising trends.
  • Despite their revolt, the establishment and the existing political systems have a chance to stage a comeback, especially if President Trump fails to live up to expectations of those who voted for him.
  • A surge in migration over the last 15 years in the US and Britain has also put the question of identity on the agenda. Although most countries can assimilate migrants over the longer term, a huge inflow of migrants in a short time span tends to generate serious negative opposition.
  • Rising unemployment in small towns in these countries has reinforced the identity problem, and initiated emigration to cities, undermining what were once stable societies and dilapidating their towns.

    Southeast Asian countries have lessons to learn from this development and should be aware of the risks involved as urbanisation in the region continues unabated.

End of summary.



Stop Rampant Misogyny and take an honest look in the mirror

February 12, 2015

Message to Najib Razak and Hadi Awang and Malay Muslims-Stop Rampant Misogyny and take an honest look in the mirror

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by Nadia

“Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies.”–Nadia Jalil

Malaysian Muslims should struggle against anything in Malaysian culture which does not protect dignity and equality of human being.” — Tariq Ramadan, Kuala Lumpur, January 2015

Looking at developments in the US, I think there are few Muslims who would be unmoved by the large-scale protests against the #MuslimBan there. I wonder, though, how many of us Malay Muslims who have felt touched and inspired by the sight of non-Muslims in a “non-Muslim country” defending Muslims against oppression, felt a twinge of guilt at the fact that we have been complicit in, if not active participants of, oppression in our own country.

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Barack Obama’s Moderate Muslim Najib Razak and Islamic Extremist Hadi Awang  with India’s disciple of Sayyid Qutb. They are exploiting  ISLAM for their political survival.

Quite apart from the “special position” of Islam in Malaysia, which has been used to exert a kind of dominion over members of other faiths—from the major, such as the illegal expropriation of Orang Asli lands in Kelantan and elsewhere, to regular microaggressions like calls to boycott businesses owned by non-Muslims—it has now become very obvious that we have a very sick society.

Malay culture has become one of judgment over mercy. We have abandoned the precepts of hikmah in da’wah and adab when we indulge in amar ma’ruf nahi munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil). Indeed, more often than not, we relish in public undertakings of nahi munkar and barely enjoin good at all. Social media may not be a perfect yardstick, but given that Malaysians are one of the most active users of social media in the world, it’s a pretty reliable measure of social attitudes. Observe, for instance, the public shaming that occurs when a Malay Muslim is judged to have strayed from accepted mores, particularly in cases where women do not follow conventions in terms of dress.

This behaviour is tied to a development that goes unnoticed in our communities: rampant misogyny. Universities host “cover your aurat” week in which women who do not don the hijab are shamed and harassed, sometimes physically. While a lot of the conversations surrounding the return of a deported serial rapist have centred on safety concerns, another, more worrying, trend is Malay men indulging in victim-shaming—informing women that if they wish to be safe, they should police their dressing and their behaviour. At the extreme end some have wished that the serial rapist would rape women who do not police themselves. We have movies that turn rapists into heroes, and cases where rape survivors have been forced to marry their rapists, a ‘solution’ that is condoned by the community.

This misogyny seems to be founded on a culture of patriarchy that has been given an Islamist sheen. In official and unofficial sermons, women are constantly told that we must be subservient to men, that the one and only way to heaven is by serving the men in our lives, whether they are our husbands, our fathers or our brothers. Exposure to this male chauvinism starts from a young age: in mixed-gender schools, boys are encouraged to be leaders, girls their followers. By contrast, we don’t teach our boys that men, too, have duties and responsibilities to their wives, mothers, and sisters.

Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 3252 Narrated by Aisha ; Abdullah ibn Abbas Allah’s Messenger (saws) said, “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family.” 

This attitude stands in stark contrast to the fact that Islam is a religion for which the last Messenger’s (pbuh) first wife was a successful businesswoman and his employer, while another is widely acknowledged as one of the major narrators of hadith, for whom it is said, “the implications of her actions for women’s participation in scholarship, political life, and the public sphere clashed with later conservative conceptions of the role of women”.[1] Indeed, Islam revolutionised the role of women in 7th century Arabia: where once women were thought of as nothing more than chattel and female infanticide common, Islam proclaimed that they were equal to men in God’s eyes.

Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies. There has been no recognition that this is the direct result of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture that objectifies women, in addition to a refusal to educate children on sexual health and reproductive rights. Rather, proposed solutions again tend to focus on victim shaming and increasingly punitive measures.

We have now become a people who emphasise religiosity over spirituality, good deeds and good conduct; obsessed over the trivial and ritualistic. We are constantly preoccupied by perceived incursions into our ‘rights’ by non-Muslims, and this siege mentality permeates our interactions with them: a clearly non-Halal pork burger restaurant gives one of its dishes a traditionally Malay name, and we are up in arms, claiming it an insult to our religion.

Where, then, are similarly vociferous outcries in matters of grave injustice? We police outward shows of religiosity—what we eat and what we wear, and demand that our rights supersede those of others, always. As citizens of a multicultural country we ignore the rights of others and public interest (maslahah) in order to chase “religious points”. We stand quietly by as an Islamist State government destroys Temiar lands and punishes members of the tribe who are protecting their homes and trying to stop the environmental devastation that occurs through excessive logging.

We don’t question massive embezzlement of public funds, even when we know that those funds are used to finance people going for Haj and Umrah—which seems to me a very perverse way of “spiritual money laundering”. We allow for the fact that many of our mosques are not sanctuaries but places where the most vulnerable amongst us are turned away.

Our preoccupation with religiosity is aided and abetted by an institutionalised religious infrastructure that infantilises Muslims by claiming that only it can “defend the honour of our faith” and “protect Muslims from becoming confused”. We are constantly told that only the official way is religiously acceptable, even if some rulings rely on a narrow and highly literal interpretation of Scripture. Any form of questioning, however slight, or criticism, however valid, is automatically labelled deviant, and an attack on Islam. In addition, we have a moral police that has been known to harass suspects to the point of causing death—how is this following the precepts of ‘adab?

The fact that Islam in Malaysia is now represented by moral policing, religious bigotry and misogyny has contributed to resentment among non-Muslims, giving rise to Islamophobia. Many non-Muslims lauded Trump for his anti-Muslim views because they have been presented and oppressed by this narrow, intolerant and sometimes, absolutely distorted version of Islam their whole lives.

There are other challenges, but the final one I would like to put forth is the rise in violent extremism. According to IMAN Research, as at August 2016, 236 Malaysians have been arrested by the authorities for joining ISIS, including a 14-year-old girl.[2] This is not surprising, given the fetishising of violent jihad above all other types of jihad, not only in some Madrasahs, but in ‘mainstream’ environments as well. In addition to that, official efforts by the establishment to counter violent extremism contrasts jarringly with domestic bigotry that continuously otherises those in the minority.

I highly suspect that part of this behaviour is due to the heavily politicised nature of Islam in this country, where UMNO and PAS regularly try to “out-Islam” the other, and all other political parties have to play along with this narrative. Thus has our faith been hijacked by rank politics and conflated with the bigoted ideology of Malay supremacy.

Of course, it can be argued that these are generalisations, and “not all Muslims” subscribe to these behaviours and have these views. I emphasise again that these are norms, in the sense that we have become desensitised to them and, apart from the statements made by more temperate Muslim organisations and our own private protestations, they continue on, generally unremarked and tolerated, if not accepted.

I am not at all questioning the position of Islam as the official religion of this country. Instead, what I am calling for is the end of this distorted misrepresentation of our faith. As those who are privileged to be in the majority, we have a duty to end oppression committed in the name of Islam.

I fully realise that I am preaching to the choir in an amplified echo chamber. However, ours is a more dissonant than harmonised, whereas those promoting a narrow and intolerant Islam far removed from the vibrancy and openness of the Muslim civilisations which continue to be our inspirations—of the Abbasids, Umayyads and Cordoba—are concentrated and organised. We have let this go on for far too long. If you care for an Islam in Malaysia that is representative of our faith’s beauty, ideals of justice, and rahmah, I submit that we have to act now.

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Islam is also not conformity and compulsion, but reason and compassion

Firstly, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge. Of Islam, of other faiths, of socio-political and economic developments. Knowledge is, as always, power. If you choose to be devout, as Tariq Ramadhan, the Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, has exhorted, “(i)f you want to be good Muslims, instead of preventing people from believing, you become better believers. Don’t be scared of people who are not Muslim. Be scared, be afraid, be worried about our own lack of consistency.”[3] 

Secondly, we need to strengthen our own communities, and get organised. We need to overcome petty disagreements surrounding minute differences in opinion and support those organisations that are already working to promote a tolerant Islam that fights oppression. We need to form alliances, and yes, we need to go beyond the echo chamber.

Finally, we need to act against oppressions conducted in our name. Loudly speak out and strongly act against bigotry, fight for the vulnerable and marginalised, insist that our mosques are opened as sanctuaries, promote Islam as it truly is.

We need to get to work.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

[1] ‘15 Most Important Muslim Women in History’, important-muslim-women-in-history/ extracted on 10 February 2017.

[2] ‘The Allure of ISIS’, IMAN Research August 2016, isis_1_aug2016 extracted on 10 February 2017.

[3] “Look in the mirror, Muslim don tells Malaysians critical of Western discrimination”, The Malay Mail Online, 1 February 2015, malaysians-critical-of-western-discrimi#sthash.lwflqwTZ.dpuf

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies–Thinking the Unthinkable

February 6, 2017

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies

In Defense of Thinking

by Herman Kahn

Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.–Herman Kahn

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Futurist Herman Kahn with President Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld

Seventy-five years ago white slavery was rampant in England. Each year thousands of young girls were forced into brothels and kept there against their will. While some of the victims had been sold by their families, a large proportion were seized and held by force or fraud. The victims were not from the lower classes only; no level of English society was immune to having its daughters seized. Because this practice continued in England for years after it had been largely wiped out on the Continent, thousands of English girls were shipped across the Channel to supply the brothels of Europe. One reason why this lasted as long as it did was that it could not be talked about openly in Victorian England; moral standards as to subjects of discussion made it difficult to arouse the community to necessary action. Moreover, the extreme innocence considered appropriate for English girls made them easy victims, helpless to cope with the situations in which they were trapped. Victorian standards, besides perpetuating the white slave trade, intensified the damage to those involved. Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.

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A Message  for Donald J. Tump

The psychological factors involved in ostrich-like behavior have parallels in communities and nations. Nevertheless, during the sixty years of the twentieth century many problems have come increasingly into the realm of acceptable public discussion. Among various unmentionable diseases, tuberculosis has lost almost all taint of impropriety; and venereal disease statistics can now be reported by the press. Mental illness is more and more regarded as unfortunate instead of shameful. The word “cancer” has lost its stigma, although the horror of the disease has been only partially abated by medical progress.

Despite the progress in removing barriers in the way of discussing diseases formerly considered shameful, there are doubtless thousands going without vital medical treatment today because of their inhibitions against learning, thinking, or talking about certain diseases. Some will not get treatment because they do not know enough to recognize the symptoms, some because they are consciously ashamed to reveal illness, and some because they refuse to think about their condition it seems too horrible to think about. It may now be possible to condemn unequivocally the extremes of Victorian prudery, but less doctrinaire forms of ostrichism must be considered with more care; they are, after all, often based on healthy instincts.

Everyone is going to die, but surely it is a good thing that few of us spend much time dwelling on that fact. Life would be nearly impossible if we did. If thinking about something bad will not improve it, it is often better not to think about it. Perhaps some evils can be avoided or reduced if people do not think or talk about them. But when our reluctance to consider danger brings danger nearer, repression has gone too far.

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In 1960 I published a book (pic above) that attempted to direct attention to the possibility of a thermonuclear war, to ways of reducing the likelihood of such a war, and to methods for coping with the consequences should war occur despite our efforts to avoid it. The book was greeted by a large range of responses, some of them sharply critical. Some of this criticism was substantive, touching on greater or smaller questions of strategy, policy, or research techniques. But much of the criticism was not concerned with the correctness or incorrectness of the views I expressed.

It was concerned with whether any book should have been written on this subject at all. It is characteristic of our times that many intelligent and sincere people are willing to argue that it is immoral to think and even more immoral to write in detail about having to fight a thermonuclear war.

By and large this criticism was not personal; it simply reflected the fact that we Americans and many people throughout the world are not prepared to face reality, that we transfer our horror of thermonuclear war to reports about the realities of thermonuclear war. In a sense we are acting like those ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news. This did not change the news; it simply slowed up its delivery. On occasion it meant that the kings were ill informed and, lacking truth, made serious errors in judgment and strategy. In our times, thermonuclear war may seem unthinkable, immoral, insane, hideous, or highly unlikely, but it is not impossible.

To act intelligently we must learn as much as we can about the risks. We may thereby be able better to avoid nuclear war. We may even be able to avoid the crises that bring us to the brink of war. But despite our efforts we may some day come face to face with a blunt choice between surrender or war. We may even have war thrust upon us without being given any kind of choice. We must appreciate these possibilities. We cannot wish them away. Nor should we overestimate and assume the worst is inevitable. This leads only to defeatism, inadequate preparations (because they seem useless), and pressures toward either preventive war or undue accommodation.

Many terrible questions are raised when one considers objectively and realistically the problems created by the cold war and the armaments race. For some years I have spent my time on exactly these questions both in thinking about ways to prevent war, and in thinking about how to fight, survive, and terminate a war, should it occur. My colleagues and I have sought answers to such questions as these: How likely is accidental war? How can one make it less likely? How dangerous is the arms race today? What will it be like in the future? What would conditions be if a nuclear attack leveled fifty of America’s largest cities? Would the survivors envy the dead? How many million American lives would an American President risk by standing firm in differing types of crises? By starting a nuclear war? By continuing a nuclear war with the hope of avoiding surrender? How many lives would he risk? How is it most likely to break down? If it does break down, what will be the consequence? Are we really risking an end to all human life with our current system? If true, are we willing to risk it? Do we then prefer some degree of unilateral disarmament? If we do, will we be relying on the Russians to protect us from the Chinese? Will the world be more or less stable? Should we attempt to disarm unilaterally? If the answers to these last questions depend on the degree of damage that is envisaged, are we willing to argue that it is all right to risk a half billion or a billion people but not three billion?

There seem to be three basic objections to asking these types of questions:

1. No one should attempt to think about these problems in a detailed and rational way. 2. What thinking there is on these problems should be done in secret by the military exclusively, or at least by the government. 3. Even if some of this thinking must be done outside the government, the results of any such thought should not be made available to the public.

It is argued that thinking about the indescribable horror of nuclear war breeds callousness and indifference to the future of civilization in our planners and decision makers. It is true that detailed and dispassionate discussion of such questions is likely to look incredibly hard-hearted. It should also be clear, at least to thoughtful readers, that such questions must be considered. The reality may be so unpleasant that decision makers would prefer not to face it; but to a great extent this reality has been forced on them, or has come uninvited.

Thanks to our ever-increasing technology, we are living in a terrible and dangerous world; but, unlike the lady in the cartoon we cannot say, “Stop the world, I want to get off. We cannot get off. Even the most utopian of today’s visionaries will have to concede that the mere existence of modern technology involves a risk to civilization that would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago. While we are going to make major attempts to change the nature of this reality, accepting great risks if necessary, most of us are unwilling to choose either a pronounced degree of unilateral disarmament or a preventive war designed to “settle” our problems one way or another. We therefore must face the facts that thermonuclear bombs now exist [and that] unless we are willing to abdicate our responsibilities, we are pledged to the maintenance of terrifying weapon systems with known and unknown, calculable and incalculable risks, unless and until better arrangements can be made.

If we are to have an expensive and lethal defense establishment, we must weigh all the risks and benefits. We must at least ask ourselves what are the likely and unlikely results of an inadvertent war, the possibilities of accident, irresponsibility, or unauthorized behavior on the other side as well as on our own.

A variation of the objection to careful consideration of these problems focuses on the personality of the thinker. This argument goes: Better no thought than evil thought; and since only evil and callous people can think about this, better no thought. Alternatively, the thinker’s motives are analyzed: This man studies war; he must like war much like the suspicion that a surgeon is a repressed sadist. Even if the charge were true, which in general it is not, it is not relevant. Like the repressed sadist who can perform a socially useful function by sublimating his urges into surgery, the man who loves war or violence may be able to successfully sublimate his desires into a careful and valuable study of war. It does indeed take an iron will or an unpleasant degree of detachment to go about this task. Ideally it should be possible for the analyst to have a disciplined empathy. In fact, the mind recoils from simultaneously probing deeply and creatively into these problems and being conscious at all times of the human tragedy involved.

This is not new. We do not continually remind the surgeon while he is operating of the humanity of his patient. We do not flash pictures of his patient’s wife or children in front of him. We want him to be careful, and we want him to be aware of the importance and frailty of the patient; we do not want him to be distracted or fearful. We do not expect illustrations in a book on surgery to be captioned: “A particularly deplorable tumor,” or “Good health is preferable to this kind of cancer.” Excessive comments such as, “And now there’s a lot of blood,” or “This particular cut really hurts,” are out-of-place although these are important things for a surgeon to know. To mention such things may be important. To dwell on them is morbid, and gets in the way of the information. The same tolerance needs be extended to thought on national security.

Some feel that we should consider these problems but view them with such awe and horror that we should not discuss them in normal, neutral, professional everyday language. I tend to disagree, at least so far as technical discussions and research are concerned. One does not do research in a cathedral. Awe is fine for those who come to worship or admire, but for those who come to analyze, to tamper, to change, to criticize, a factual and dispassionate, and sometimes even colorful, approach is to be preferred. And if the use of everyday language jars, that is all the more reason for using it. Why would one expect a realistic discussion of thermonuclear war not to be disturbing?

The very complexity of the questions raised is another reason why many object to their consideration. There is no doubt that if we reject hard thinking about alternatives in favor of uncritical acceptance of an extreme position we make the argument simpler and most of us prefer simple arguments.

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To summarize: Many people believe that the current system must inevitably end in total annihilation. They reject, sometimes very emotionally, any attempts to analyze this notion. Either they are afraid of where the thinking will lead them or they are afraid of thinking at all. They want to make the choice, between a risk and the certainty of disaster, between sanity and insanity, between good and evil; therefore, as moral and sane men they need no longer hesitate. I hold that an intelligent and responsible person cannot pose the problem so simply.

The last objection to detailed thought on thermonuclear war rests on the view that the subject is not only unpleasant but difficult. Many people feel that it is useless to apply rationality and calculation in any area dominated by irrational decision makers. This is almost comparable to feeling that it would be impossible to design a safety system for an insane asylum by rational methods, since, after all, the inmates are irrational. Of course, no governor or superintendent would consider firing the trained engineer, and turning the design over to one of the lunatics. The engineer is expected to take the irrationality of the inmates into account by a rational approach. Rational discussions of war and peace can explicitly include the possibility of irrational behavior.

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The Danger for America Today–The Unthinkable is Thinkable under Donald J. Trump  45th  POTUS

Of course, analysts may be misled by oversimplified models or misleading assumptions, and their competence readily attacked. However, except for irrelevant references to game theory and computers, such attacks are rare, and are usually so half-hearted that it is clear that their main motivation is not to expose incompetency. Given the difficulty of the problems, one would expect the critics to work more effectively on the obvious methodological problems and other weaknesses of present-day analysts.

Critics frequently refer to the icy rationality of the Hudson Institute, the Rand Corporation, and other such organizations. I’m always tempted to ask in reply, “Would you prefer a warm, human error? Do you feel better with a nice emotional mistake?” We cannot expect good discussion of security problems if we are going to label every attempt at detachment as callous, every attempt at objectivity as immoral. Such attitudes not only block discussion of the immediate issues, they lead to a disunity and fragmentation of the intellectual community that can be disastrous to the democratic dialogue between specialist and layman. The former tends to withdraw to secret and private discussions; the latter becomes more and more innocent, or naive, and more likely to be outraged if he is ever exposed to a professional discussion.

Finally, there is the objection that thermonuclear war should not, at least in detail, be discussed publicly. Even some who admit the usefulness of asking unpleasant questions have advocated raising them only in secret. One objector pointed out to me that if a parent in a burning building is faced with the problem of having to save one of two children, but not both, he will make a decision on the spur of the moment; it wouldn’t have made any difference if the parent had agonized over the problem ahead of time, and it would have been particularly bad to agonize in the presence of the children. This may be true, but other considerations dominate our nation’s choices; our capabilities for action and the risks we are assuming for ourselves and thrusting on others will be strongly influenced by our preparations both intellectual and physical.

Other reasons for this objection to public discussion range all the way from concern about telling the Soviets too much, and a fear of weakening the resolve of our own people, through a feeling that public discussion of death and destruction is distastefully comparable to a drugstore display of the tools, methods, and products of the mortician. Perhaps some or all of these objections to public discussion are well taken. I do not know for sure, but I think they are wrong.

They are wrong if we expect our people to participate rationally in the decision-making process in matters that are vital to their existence as individuals and as a nation. As one author has put it: “In a democracy, when experts disagree, laymen must resolve the disagreement.” One issue is whether it is better that the lay public, which will directly or indirectly decide policy, be more or less informed. A second issue is whether the discussion itself may not be significantly improved by eliciting ideas from people outside of official policy-making channels.

There are in any case at least two significant obstacles to full public debate of national security matters. The first, of course, is the constantly increasing problem of communication between the technologist and the layman, because of the specialization (one might almost say fragmentation) of knowledge. The other lies in the serious and paramount need to maintain security. Technical details of weapons’ capabilities and weaknesses must remain classified to some degree. Nonetheless, technical details may be of vital importance in resolving much broader problems. (For instance, who can presume to say whether the military advantages of atomic weapons testing outweigh the obvious political and physical disadvantages unless he knows what the military advantages are.) Moreover, those who feel that in some areas “security” has been unnecessarily extended must concede that in certain areas it has its place. To that extent the functioning of the democratic processes must be compromised with the requirements of the cold war and modem technology. Fortunately, non-classified sources often give reasonable approximations to the classified data. I would say that many of the agonizing problems facing us today can be debated and understood just about as easily without classified material as with provided one carefully considers the facts that are available.

It is quite clear that technical details are not the only important operative facts. Human and moral factors must always be considered. They must never be missing from policies and from public discussion. But emotionalism and sentimentality, as opposed to morality and concern, only confuse debates. Nor can experts be expected to repeat, “If, heaven forbid. ….,” before every sentence. Responsible decision makers and researchers cannot afford the luxury of denying the existence of agonizing questions. The public, whose lives and freedom are at stake, expects them to face such questions squarely and, where necessary, the expert should expect little less of the public.

*Herman Kahn, Founder, Hudson Institute

January 1st, 1962 Adapted from Thinking About the Unthinkable (Horizon Press), © Hudson Institute