Monthly Archives: February 2007

Was Soviet threat exaggerated during the Cold War?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Do you think the evil and threat of the Soviet Union, etc. was exaggerated during the Cold War?

Repeatedly and systematically.

The Cold War was a very peculiar symbiotic situation. The Soviets wanted their achievements blown out of proportion for propaganda purposes (to instill pride in their own people and to have something to show to the world), while the U.S. government and its defense contractors wanted those achievements blown out of proportion to justify throwing more and more taxpayer money at (guess whom?) the defense contractors. Truth was of no interest to anyone. Organizations that could shed some light on the situation, at least from the economic standpoint (the IMF and the World Bank), were deliberately kept out of the loop, as their opinions were of no interest to either the Soviets with their unfounded superiority complex or the U.S. government with its spending agenda.

In the resulting frenzy, money flowed like water. Anything that had “strategic defense” written on it got funded and then funded again, no matter the cost overruns. Take the B-1 bomber for example. At the inception of the program, it was estimated that a SUPERsonic bomber will cost $12 million. By the time B-1s were rolling off production lines, direct cost of building a SUBsonic bomber (somewhere along the way it was decided that supersonic speed was not required) was $85 million; if you count the cost of research and development, a B-1 cost about $100 million.

By the time the IMF and the World Bank established presence in the countries or former USSR, the degree of hyping the Soviet threat gradually became known. While the Soviet propaganda and the Western Sovietologists used to agree that Soviet GDP was about $8,000 per capita, the IMF and the World Bank independently arrived at much lower figures in the $1,500-$2,000 range for Russia with its substantial oil and gas exports, $700-$900 for the Ukraine, and $400-600 for Uzbekistan, the most populous of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

One mistake that Western military observers systematically made was assuming that the entire Soviet armed forced are equipped and trained as well as the units they saw deployed close to their borders (mostly the so-called Group of Soviet Troops in Germany, also known by its Russian acronym, GSVG). In reality, GSVG was an exception, since it always received the newest equipment, the most attention from equipment manufacturers, and the best personnel. Much of the rest of Soviet armed forces was plagued with pervasive problems, from language barrier (conscripts from Central Asia, whose share in the conscript pool was gradually increasing over time due to higher birth rates in Central Asia, often spoke poor Russian) to food shortages (by late 1980s, almost every sizable standalone unit had a pig farm attached to it and tended to by conscripts). Alas, as Mark Twain once said, “it is very difficult to get a man to understand something, especially if his income depends on not understanding it”…

Ghengis Khan vs. Alexander the Great

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Who’s the greater General? Ghengis Khan or Alexander the Great?

for my History research paper..Who do you think was a better General and leader?

Depends on whom you ask. Sun-Tsu would say neither, since the best general is one that wins without fighting.

Also, consider this. A good leader is someone who creates an organization that survives his demise. Neither Alexander nor Ghengis Khan managed to do that. Both their empires fell apart after their deaths…

What kind of government did Carthage have?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

What kind of government did Carthage have?

No original Carthaginian writings on the subject survived the destruction of Carthage by the Romans, so whatever we think we know about Carthage comes from Greek and Roman sources. This said, here’s a summary.

Carthage was ruled by Suffets (judges). Two judges were elected annually for life, so a large group of judges, which had both legislative and judicial powers, existed at all times. There was a part of the judges’ corps called the Hundred and Four that existed solely to oversee the armed forces and judge generals. Polybius mentions a Carthaginian Senate and the fact that generals reported to it, so it is possible he was referring to the Hundred and Four.

Both Eratosthenes and Aristotle mention the Carthaginian constitution.

At this time, it is not known how restrictive Carthaginian electoral law was. Considerable difference of opinion exists on the subject. It is also possible that the definition of eligible voter changed over time.

Divinity of Jesus and the doctrine of Holy Trinity

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

When did Jesus become divine according to church decision?

Does anyone know the rough date of when the Catholic church made it definitive that Jesus was divine and created the trinity?

The divinity of Jesus was made a part of mainstream Christian doctrine at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. The doctrine of Holy Trinity was also finalized at the First Council of Nicaea, but subsequently modified at the First Council of Constantinople in 381.


Taxes: simple or fair?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Why is it so damn confusing to pay taxes for small business?! All the records you are suppose to keep!!?

You want to know my theory?

Because there are so many exceptions to the rules for the rich.
If we all could just pay evenly in sales tax, i think it would MUCH EASIER, AND MUCH FAIRER, AND EVERYBODY PAYS ACCORDING TO THEIR CONSUMPTION!!

what is yours? for or against the complication?

It would be nice to have a simple tax system, but would it be a fair system? Our notions of fairness are complex, so a fair tax system, unfortunately, cannot be simple…

Let’s say we went with your suggestion and everybody pays according to their consumption. Who do you think will have the greatest effective tax rate in this system? The rich? Nope; cancer patients, dialisys patients, and parents of children with disabilities. They consume a lot of REALLY expensive stuff — medications, equipment, doctors’ and nurses’ time… Is this your idea of fair taxation?

Now, let’s say we exempted healthcare from taxation in the interest of fairness. How far should this exemption go? Will dentistry be exempt as well? What about cosmetic surgery? Physical therapy? Speaking of physical therapy, how do we prevent abuse by personal trainers masquerading as physical therapists? What about lobbying efforts by the fitness industry trying to get the healthcare exemption extended to gym memberships and dietary supplements? Pretty soon, the system becomes complicated again. Rulebooks, enforcement personnel, congressional debates, and all that jazz…

Colonization: a crime?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Do you think deaths of “Natives” during white settlement of America was a crime or not? I say no…?

…because the settlement of America by Europeans and eventually others was necessary and fair. The “Natives” attacked and killed many settlers who had committed no aggression. To prevent further murders, early settlers began to battle the hostile “Natives”. And the “Natives” murdered in revenge. And so on it went.

Peace could only be achieved by destroying the hostile elements completely.

All those deaths could have been prevented if the “Natives” had been more unselfish, friendly, and reasonable, rather than killing newcomers just because they didn’t like them.

Crime is a relative term. Interracial marriage used to be a crime and now isn’t. Slavery is a crime now, but didn’t use to be.

Also, you are wrong in your assumption that most of native deaths were battle-related. The evidence that we have today points to the diseases carried by settlers and their pigs as the leading cause of death during colonization of the Americas… Europe fared somewhat better fighting against syphilis that crossed the Atlantic in the opposite direction…

Finally, applying value judgments to history is simply counterproductive. History is about facts; moral judgments only add preconceived notions that encourage researchers to exaggerate importance of some facts and diminish that of other facts… The facts, when it comes to “settlement” of the Americas, are clear; the “settlement” was in fact an un-settlement. Population numbers have substantially decreased during the first century of colonization. Estimates vary, but 60-90% decline seems to be the range. Population decline was more severe in some regions than in others. In parts of Mexico, for example, population returned to the 1490 levels only by 1950…

I would highly recommend “1491” by Charles Mann for introduction into the subject and the controversy surrounding it:…

Imperialism, prosperity, and freedom

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Western Imperialism?

I’m writing a paper for a class and are having problems coming up with reasons why Western Imperialism was good. Yes I have to agrue that it was good.

The question reads: “Did Western Imperialism destroy non-western prospects to achieve prosperity and freedom.”

Sadly, there were very few non-western prospects to achieve prosperity and freedom (North America being the most likely exception). The West itself learned the value of individual liberty, limited government, separation of powers and all that very slowly and relatively recently. Until then, the choice was pretty much between a brutal tyranny and a more brutal one…

This said, take a look at this:

Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson and Simon Johnson, “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation,” American Economic Review, volume 91, pp. 1369-1401 (December 2001).…

Also, consider the unintended consequences of European imperialism, such as introduction of maize in Africa…

Jim Crow laws vs. apartheid

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

How was Jim Crow segregation different from South African apartheid?

As political and legal systems, how did the two differ?

Jim Crow laws were state and local. Apartheid was national.

Jim Crow laws divided the population into two racial groups, Whites and Blacks. Apartheid classified people as White, Black, Indian (as in India; South Africa, being a former British colony, has a sizable Indian community) and Coloured (the latter referring mostly to people born into mixed-race families).

Apartheid also created a system of nominally independent “homelands” for Blacks (which makes it more similar to the Indian reservation system in the U.S. than to Jim Crow laws), so Blacks could only vote in their “homeland”, which they may not even live in at the moment or have never visited in their life.

Chinese stocks and American bonds

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Why Cash that drives shares in Shanghai also keeps U.S. interest rates low?

can someone explain and what does the china crash of 9% has someting to do with the U.S.A

Why cash that drives shares in Shanghai also keeps U.S. interest rates low? Because that cash buys both Chinese stocks and U.S. government bonds, pushing prices of both higher than it would have been otherwise. With bonds, high prices automatically translate into lower interest rates.

What does the China crash of 9% have to do with the U.S.? Most likely, nothing. Many Chinese companies maintain dual listings. Chinese investors buy shares listed on the mainland exchanges, foreign investors buy shares listed in Hong Kong. In recent months, domestic prices have been consistently above Hong Kong prices, in some cases by 30-50%, in a couple of cases, by 150-200%. A 9% drop in domestic prices, when viewed against this background, appears insignificant…

Cross-border hiring

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

What are the procedures for an American business to hire non-American International employees?

I would like to know what are the legal procedures for a company based out of America to hire and pay an employee who is not an American citizen and is living in a foreign country.

I am asking with regards to an American company hiring an International employee who will remain in their own country without immigrating to America — I think I have heard this referred to as outsourcing?

There are really no established procedures to follow. The accepted convention in the international law is that, unless otherwise stipulated, labor contracts are governed by the law of the jurisdiction in which the worker is domiciled. Hence, no payroll taxes are assessed and no reporting is required by the U.S. or any U.S. state.

In practice, companies rarely hire foreign employees directly. Smaller companies prefer to hire foreign workers as independent contractors (this shields them from having to establish residence in the foreign country and withhold foreign payroll taxes). Larger companies often hire foreign workers through their foreign subsidiaries, either located in the same country as the worker or domiciled in an international financial center (Caribbean islands, Jersey, Guernsey, Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Singapore, etc.)