Hindsight and the Libyan Revolution

It is safe to say that it has been popular to say that it is safe to say that Libya is not in good shape. It is split between technocrats with ambitious generals and bearded 90 year olds with teenage militia men trying to pump up their bank account for a large dowry. It is confusing, the names of the individuals in charge keeps shifting. Who to support is a difficult discussion. It is a complex world where there is a struggle in Libyans’ mind over if principle matters more than result. A real conundrum unlike the issues faced on the other side of the Atlantic and up above in the Western Europe. But these details are not of discussion by pretty much anyone who is now posting the signature hit piece on sites where they hold such prestigious positions as “fellow” and “contributor”. Analysts don’t discuss the narrative implications of wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. They don’t dive deep to see why they linger or what stops things from turning into Tunisia. Yet they also seem to treat this whole idea of revolution as a new idea. As if their home countries didn’t get stuck in ugly political frontiers repeatedly.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have intervened in Libya,” says the well meaning, most likely leftwing or non-interventionist Westerner whose nation went through revolution and civil war for hundreds of years, one hundred years before he was born. Of course, Libyans would have been better under Gaddafi, says the very independent thinker. (That is assuming they don’t have TV and internet and have no idea what is happening in the world around them. Or assuming that Libyans after international trade would be as devoted to the “Green Revolution” as the North Koreas are to Kim Jong Un.)

What is depressing is that this doesn’t come from the the stupid subset of conservative American media but rather also from the overly egalitarian, “we are all the same”, Left.

Every article plaguing my twitter feed is just another spin on the question of whether Britain/US/France should have helped Libyans in 2011. Of course, there is a political vacuum and plethora of weapons widespread. Now this is mentioned as if this piece of hindsight is a solution to 21 Egyptians who were beheaded by Daesh simply for being Coptic Christians.

Promoting peace in dictatorships for some stops at the door once you find that to help others it takes patience, nuanced analysis, and risk. Quoting Noam Chomsky as a way to excuse your inconsistent views on foreign affairs doesn’t help one escape the argument. And unethical reasons for intervention in the past doesn’t mean Libyans don’t deserve democracy.

Now, one may question my claim that they don’t want Libyans to have democracy. While this is not explicit, read the works of Greenwald, the Guardian, and other sites who are generally anti-war. The crux is that helping Libyans beat Gaddafi was wrong because now they are a nuisance to us and “look I was right for yelling in a split screen at Obama”. In 2011 Egypt went into a revolution after Tunisia. From there Syria and Libya. What happened in Libya can’t be avoided. If fighter planes from France limited Gaddafi’s airforce so that he didn’t kill civilians then it was worth it. Because we forget that he was killing civilians on purpose which is a war-crime that no one in their right mind would support. Could one really say millions dead are better than thousands dead plus political strife. As if the political strife was avoidable in the first place. The world deals with live ammo. Look at Syria, no one said anything and now the “rebels” who run the offensive are ISIS mostly. Maybe I am wrong, what columnist, analyst or whatever figure cares about the life and death of a Libyan, if they gain political clout and ad-money by showing that they were “right” when it came to semantics it was worth it to them.

Thank you news media for your hindsight, it might pay off in fixing my home.

It’s okay, your commentary just lacks insight

I won’t linger in the my writing trying to show my over-handedness in dealing with recent discussions of freedom of speech brought by people who pretend like they have these discussions all the time, as if recent events haven’t prompted the three words “freedom of speech” into the zeitgeist.

When I say linger I mean that arguments, no matter how correct, should be short but yet people will write columns in all you favourite magazines within 1 week. Repeatedly with images of their emotion in the headline. These repeated opinions (that could be summed up quickly) are then shared by your friends who haven’t written anything. And they go on a binge on Facebook, sharing every article they pass by. It is not over exposure but it is over zealousness really.

When someone or groups act crazy and infringe your freedom of speech in the land where it rains supreme the discussion is immediately drowned out in the sea of lets protect freedom of speech by “practicing freedom of speech”. Now of course we should, that is assuming that I can transform into a judicial institution and practice existing. I don’t think that dimension of reality is entirely material. Freedom of speech is an institutional framework of most secular nations. No one wants to fight terrorists by saying, “you know what, I President Hollande will take down free speech to appease the terrorists.” Now the shooters were not there to take down freedom of speech. It is clear they were there to respond inappropriately to something they didn’t like. They don’t understand the benefit of it . This where “they are crazy” comes into play. But every dummy with an internet connection and the strive for browny points wants everyone to fight the terrorists by posting the magazine’s cartoons. In the purely utilitarian world you are not going to win by posting the cartoons. You won’t necessarily incite and you won’t further freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is protected by law and is an abstract concept declaring that we are allowed to believe or say what we want and not infringe others’ right to do likewise. It is protected by repercussions for those who infringe. It is a negative right. A right the government protects others from taking. Clearly many commentators don’t get this.

They don’t because they don’t understand that freedom of speech is an institution. The reaction following the terrorist attack was clearly trying to catch the people and make them pay for their infringement of freedom of speech. The entire country shutdown for the sake of the institution. I am sorry (Sam Harris, liberal/conservative commentators, other people I don’t like) but I think the French police did more to further freedom of speech than you did by complaining about CNN and others not showing the depictions of Muhammed. When really it was their right to do so. We don’t fight murderers by walking around saying “look at me I am committing a disturbance to the mob, take that murderers”. The cartoons are not the question. As well, “JeSuisCharlie” is also not the answer. The proper emotion response has to contain the Muslim officer who died trying to stop the infringement. He protected much more than people, he died to protect an institution that everyone is pretending to all of the sudden think is the most important. But of course we quickly forget that being a white western male tweeting cartoons is not the only way to strengthen our freedom of speech and/or save lives.

Okay, so you could say “how would you, lowly internet blogger, solve or address the issues of freedom of speech infringement.”

Easy, well not in practice. First, when we attack other issues or crimes we attempt to deter individuals from committing them. This is done through Police presence and criminal law. We also try to understand where the issues stem from. At what point does a guy who deals drugs and likes rap music become a guy who revers a prophet so much that a cartoon makes him blood thirsty. I don’t have an answer for the second part. What I do have instead is an idea of where to start.

So, when you enter internet debates or debates on the kitchen table remember that saying “Yah go freedom speech” doesn’t kill the terrorists. It does nothing. You should share your views but don’t do so thinking you are part of a movement to stomp out radical islamists. Your cries are more weightless than a feather.

At least admit as an individual with no power you have no ability to change the world. But also admit as a sane individual you owe it to yourself not to become an asshole. Avoid being the one that goes around saying, “lets insult more Muslims.” As if regular Muslims even care or act in such a way or as if the way to deal with a fire is to throw items that don’t burn but don’t extinguish the flames.

But most importantly remember that the world is becoming safer everyday.

Living long enough to see yourself become the villian

The effective range of any commentator in the quest of reason and logic is very limited in commentary on international trade or immigration. If anything, 2014 was a year where I was exposed to the individuals’ weird and arbitrary ignorance of economic literature on free trade and immigration. I discovered that people that spend half their time make sure everyone knows how much they are annoyed by creationists can be ones to throw out economic science. Now I am not saying they are ignorant, stupid or hypocritical. They are worse. Because a creationist, who is most likely a fundamentalist if they took such a belief seriously, has the scientific methodology of a neanderthal and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. People who pretend to be accepting of scientific progress yet hold back when economic research presents itself are like a scratch on my back I can’t reach. Now the scratch is not so bad but why the hell is it there. And why on my back. The rest of my body is fine, besides the unhealthy weight and lack of fitness. The annoying scratch on my back is the analogy to the internet warriors of all kingdoms who still think economics is not a science and is just an opinion. Its annoying, small but a group with such a feeling of grandeur that it becomes annoying.

The sea of baseless opinions people hold are expected. Everyone participates in the spectacle of democracy. It is by far better than any other political system. Not everyone is an economist, biologist, lawyer, etc. However, it is clear that sometimes people are over confident. You can see this in forum sites like Reddit or on CNN when commentators make broad comments that are clearly partisan but pretend to be supported by some economics. But once you really push them and note the fault in their reasoning they explode. The manner in which they argue turns to those used by fundamentalists and other fringe groups. It is alarming when the person with the Twitter profile that supports “free thought, progressive views, LGBTQ” ends up sounding like the Families for Stability Foundation. The are against free trade because Naomi Klein once said so at a Symposium for the Narrative Critique of Post-Post-Modern Capitalism. They are against immigration because that hurts unions, and workers, even when unions at a large scale can be shown to be negative and immigration besides the fact doesn’t hurt workers. When shown the various evidence they dive down into drivel. They start sounding like hard right conservatives. Every reference to immigrants is “illegal aliens” and that “our country” the “real America” is being over run by intolerant immigrants. In fact, they can’t tolerate immigrants and at the same time if they stay in their countries they do not want to buy their goods, even when they are far superior. Because them making no money is far superior to make money. This crap writes itself.

Something that is far superior

Now these individuals are very common. Everyone for some reason hates that China makes everything. But the alternative is clearly worse. Comparative advantage is very intuitive in showing this. But a lot of individuals can have views that are wrong. But pretending to be part of the new wave of socially connected and conscious individuals yet ignore a field because it doesn’t agree with your woefully constructed priors is just hilarious, if not alarming.

Their poor critique on economics, calling it a not a science and a “neo-liberal conspiracy”, deserves a separate post and in cases has been addressed by other bloggers.

Do me a favour and read the various literature on free trade and immigration. If one wants they could go deep and understand the nuance, it’s easy. Do this and the chances I get bothered are substantially decreased based on previous research and observations of my emotional stability on the internet.

Branding Yourself in the Libyan Political Scene

If I could do anything of service to the internet is that I can take Libyan politics and translate its nuance way of ignoring nuance to the Western public. This is my service to the world. A gesture of my gratitude. A gift to the masses and so on. The laws of political discourse are complex and poorly contained. However, even though I am no political scientist I do have a better world view of politics in general than all political scientists. This I assure you has been affirmed by me. So, you know it is the “real deal”.

The most fascinating construct of politics is image. Image is great. It gets the uneducated and unmotivated to follow you. It gives one a sense of purpose. Consider the two sides in Libya. Dawn and Dignity. Beautiful images immediately pop in your mind. If you don’t like one, what is wrong with you. What do you have against sunrise (or sharia law in their case) and why do you hate dignity (or why won’t you trust our glorious leader Hafter). It goes on and on.

The fascinating focus in Libya on branding is incredibly alarming. Consider that half of any of the two supposed governments has members that I swear were mechanics before the war and now are ideologues of Muslim Brotherhood or experts on central banking. With this consideration add on the fact that no one makes an effort to understand the other and merely paints them with a brush with a few strokes of Western conspiracy and Gulf deception. As poetic as it seems it is really a mess. The world to the average Libyan politico is a struggle similar to the Game of Thrones but lacks real complexity and coherence.

This all comes from the mouths (or Facebook pages) of 6 or so million moderately educated Libyan men and women. Who while all wanting democracy also all want to ban the concept of “parties”. As if it is a permanent construct in reality, and not an arbitrary social congregation. Again, Libyan politics is something. There is at times less substance in their opinions than a college freshman who bases their worldview on Banksy prints.

But the greatest and tastiest crunch of Libyan politics is the love of all things “Thuwar”. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary does not define Thuwar, which is a shame because it makes militia gatherings stale. However, Thuwar is not just a revolutionary or a rebel but its our rebel. Every group has their rebel. Rebelling against other rebels.

However, hardly are they rebelling. Especially when they have infrastructures of militias with media personalities so established in the Libyan ethos you would think their wife beaters and uneducated opinions about women’s place in society are government policy. Now I might be tough on them and surely I am in my sacred place in the Western world free from getting tortured and exposed to whole new experiences from them. But if you could take this group of people give them a budget of $50 million to make a small narrative driven movie you will have a piece of trash with no objective plot but rather 30 haphazard themes thrown on a plot that screams misogyny.

Some may like the film, in fact possibly love it. But that type of person stages photos on social media and uses the shorthand for everything all the time. The average politico in Libya is enamoured with the statements from militias about their fight against terrorism, Egypt, West, Sudan, Algeria, all the Gulf, and practically anyone but the militias and Hanes. They pick one and then brand themselves. In fact the branding is so permanent the cheap joke is to call them cattle instead of Sheeple.

A common discussion among Libyan political intellectuals in Zawiya and Wershefanna. Think of them as Biggie and Tupac of Libya. All they have to really do is eat a balanced meal to preform for a long while and make sure they avoid orange so things will rhyme. These are two regions with many Libyans who have nothing in common besides the fact they live in similar areas. Yet these people keep fighting with many reasons from honour to racism. All they had to do is just make sure their kids get on the bus and get to school. But some people in Libya want to feel important. After all the political vacuum sucks all the crap that was too small to be found in the carpet.

So, overall you have learnt that image matters. You have to pick an image. Stick to staples like goodness, nature, family, nation, etc. Also, you have learnt to ignore nuance and just say Thuwar. It’s like patriot on steroids. Just say it and arguments end. And you learnt to take yourself too seriously and start problems so that you can have political clout.

Consider this the definitive intro to Libyan politics. Consider this the final destination among you journey to write a report for your international relations class on Libya. After all you can trust me, I am trustworthy.

The issue with not being a real political scientists is I can’t tell if crazy politics is unique. But I could careless, little does anyone know that I am doing what is commonly referred to as venting.

“Phobia” is the solution to Libya

The past week if not tiresome and lacking in precipitation it was in its place filled with an interesting avenue into a small but enlightening experience with Libyan political satire. The show in particular is Phobia. Easily found for any native arabic speakers, or for that matter anyone, by here.

The genius of the show is in its modernity in comparison to so much of the “filmed on camcorder” theatre spectacles of Syrian comedy routinely shown on Arabic satellite television. In one episode the tiresome efforts of a returning Libyan to fit into political groups runs a foul due to political ignorance. Many people do the same Democrat vs. Republican, but in Libya the dynamic is far more complex. It’s secularist, militarist, salsify, Muslim Brotherhood, moderates, federalist, centralist, etc. These are all fringe groups either. They are prominent within each and every family. Hardly has Libyan culture allowed itself to be fully made fun of. Phobia goes were few Libyans are will to go. Just having Libyans watch it may actually help the country move forward.

It also showcases a unique Libyan style of comedy that I find much closer to American and English comedy. There is a heavy focus on satire, ridiculing the status quo is at the hem of Phobia.

“Real America” and Immigration Reform

In an episode of 30 Rock Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character, goes to find a new cast member for TGS from the “real America” and fails This assumes that the idea of real America is rural countryside, most likely in the South. Which makes little to no sense because math alone tells you more Americans live in urban and suburban centers. This haunts the amazingly proficient congress, which postulates that immigrants not speaking English hurt real Americans. Even though the rural areas in the South self inflict pain on themselves through poor education that effectively doesn’t make them relatively better at English.

The conundrum of the “real America”, no matter how arbitrary and frivolous, is very common among a wide variety of people. It’s a narrative as interesting as reality television. Mr. America is trying to survive against the vague attempts of Mr. Mexico to find a job. Except, to “team America” a Mexican working hard is not really lifting themselves by the bootstraps but rather taking jobs from “real America.”

President Obama’s speech on immigration is actually not that new. Every Republican president before the turn of the millennia did the same. H.W Bush and Reagan passed executive orders to help illegals. They leaned to the normal and human emotion that people who want to come to the US are actually driven. They realized that “real America” isn’t a pick up truck by a riverbed but rather tolerant and hard working people.

Moreover, the newly elected Governor of Texas has some big shoes to fill in. After all, arguably a Governor of Texas does nothing besides sue the executive. The complaints of Governor-elect Abbott seem to be that helping poor stranded illegal immigrant children is too much of a cost and not an interest to a state that can afford to do so. Helping children some how takes away from the cattle farmer or whatever outdated icon. Especially, when the state runs surpluses and clearly has a growing population. All of this is in ignorance; Texas is a state that can link the majority of its success to a productive Hispanic immigrant community.

Helping humans who are willing to work without help is called “Shamnesty” by the generation that experienced up until the 1990s the greatest amount of government assistance. This generation, Baby boomers and Gen X of “real America”, clearly have no help from the government. So, it makes perfect sense for the government to kick people out who look different because a lacking passport/visa makes you a pollutant to aboveground pool parties.

Now the nativist opinion is not special to the rural and less diverse parts of America (with exceptions), it inflicts most countries of the world. But what is captivating is its existence in Western democracies. The world isn’t fair. If you attend any college you are far ahead, if you attend high school in America you are far ahead, if you attended elementary school you are far ahead. Believe or not being born American makes you far ahead. Now, allowing those who would also like to get ahead doesn’t hinder one’s success. And implying that cultural differences as an issue ignores this country’s history and clear proof of previous positive immigration experience. As well, citing security threats fails the test, as the world is safer today than the days of open immigration.

I have written with some sincerity previously on the issues of immigration. Majority of economic literature clearly points out that immigration is almost always a net positive. The general argument against this is of course “real American” culture. Whatever that means, I think that people who are sane will say that there is no main American value besides liberty and freedom. Those who lost their sanity to “real America” will say the same yet criticize immigrants for lacking family values. Even when Hispanic families hold up family values much tighter than the South, aka the “real America”.

Every conversation I have had with anyone about illegal immigration takes the same turn. Ask them why they want illegal immigrants, some 15 million, kicked out they give you the most surface level answer in the entire history of Western philosophy. To them it’s because “this is our country,” as if they own it. They feel like another individual with a different birthplace coming to live miles away from them and never interact with them is somehow like in their backyard. Little do they know that immigrants offer new ideas and push technology. They are one of the main factors that lead to the United States’ economic and cultural success. Anyone not willing to concede this might as well not be a “real American.”

Welfare is not an Immigration Magnet

The easy way out of a being ambushed by a pro-immigration argument is to point out that the mere existence of welfare will attract immigrants, thus creating havoc in our dear country. Of course, this is said by partisan anti-immigrant groups. As well, such an argument was made by well known economists of the 70s and 80s. Mostly because they lacked the data and their assumption was based on arguing that non-natives react differently to welfare. As if American’s reaction to different state-based benefits were never of concern. This is mostly a native bias that occurs in most people.

First, ignore the immigration problem and focus on for instance American interstate migration. America is a developed nation, a nation that has within most states a substantial welfare base besides existing federal benefits. States not only control their own benefits but also the allocation of some federally determined benefits. So, this makes the data perfect for analyzing and determining if welfare can induce poor people to move among states for more benefits in a developed country.

Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) from 1979-1992 Phillip B. Levine and David J. Zimmerman found little evidence that welfare benefit differences among states in the US caused migration among states. They specifically looked at:


The pattern of cross-state moves among poor single women with children, who are likely to be eligible for benefits is compared to the pattern among other poor households

What occurred is the little evidence can be seen of families who qualify for Aid for Dependent children moving versus other poor individuals. And they go further to note:

The are no more likely to move from low versus high benefit states than other poor individuals not eligible for AFDC. Neither are they more likely to move to a higher benefit state. This suggests that either other factors dominate their decision to move or that the perceived costs associated with moving exceed any potential gain from increased benefits.

Levine and Zimmerman produced this paper in 1999 as a answer to debates during this period concerning the failure of the “Great Society” programs. They were addressing the issues when states start retaking federal tasks in welfare and found that this didn’t create the issues predicted by some during this period, particularly the welfare magnet theory.

If one can conclude that welfare magnet theory is unfounded amongst states then I don’t think its hard to apply the same to international immigrants. Considering that for many immigrants the cost of moving is even greater and their living conditions may have become worse with lower incomes, coming to America or Europe for welfare is not exactly a good deal (almost always in the short run).

A survey of various research (section 5.1) on “welfare magnet theory” leads to the conclusion that for different countries at different times the balance of usage of welfare between natives and immigrants changes. Its not really significant and when significant differences occur they can be explained by the changes in welfare systems or changes in labor structure as a result of law or recessions. However, in the survey issues are noted that explain this discrepancy:

One issue with many of the welfare assimilation studies is the lack of separation between welfare eligibility and usage. In particular, most studies do not evaluate the extent to which various immigrant groups are eligible to work and/or to receive welfare benefits in the host country. Changes in work eligibility over time might offer interesting insights in the reasons for the greater reliance on welfare by the immigrants. Similar to the wage and employment assimilation studies, welfare assimilation studies also suffer from the issue of selective re-migration that generally has not been accounted for. In addition, none of the studies have estimated the extent to which welfare dependence is related to the “welfare magnet” effects versus employment obstacles such as discrimination, insufficient language skills, transferability of educational degrees and lack of work permits.

One of the papers, Borjas (1999), makes a case that since immigrants are clustered in high benefit states they are more sensitive to welfare compared to natives. However, this study falls for the criticism set out in the survey above. The issue is that arguing that a state like California, which has many immigrants and  provides high levels of benefits attracts immigrants towards welfare is inconclusive. The research seems to fall short to mean anything. Too many variables could affect decisions. Various research came along and noted this, particularly Zacodny (1997) and Kaushal (2005).

What both papers address is the issues in finding proper experimentation parameters. This is because as mentioned before sometimes immigrants incentives and choices are large and expansive and reasoning from large but constricted samples can lead to inconclusive answers and sadly inconclusive answers have been applied to some policy in the US.

What is discovered from Zacodny and Kuashal is that immigrants location choices inside a particular country is related to work (or particular goals) and most importantly the number of immigrants in the city. This actually paints a clearer picture. And explains why New York and Los Angels are still attracting immigrants till today. Both were homes for immigrants of various generations for a long time. The issue with previous research is in my opinion the lacking grasp of determinants of immigration, as well as a the lack of depth in the variables that are overseen. The papers I mentioned that noted the lack of magnet theory both clearly looked at data in the US that looked at the changes following policy that limited benefits to immigrants in some states and while remaining in others.

I think going past this and addressing causes for changes in welfare uses (or more specifically the reaction to discrepancies in welfare benefits among nations) in Europe or Canada is even more helpful in understanding “magnet theory” but still the importance of understanding the various determinants, as well as outside macro reasons for use of welfare are important. Sadly some research overstated the existence of the magnet theory by not understanding this. Many overstated the possibility of stress by immigration on public finances mostly by using the magnet theory. Especially many politicians who till today still wield the magnet theory as the ultimate anti-immigrant tool.

PS I will follow up on Scandinavian/Canadian immigration, and possibly more in depth into pro magnet theory papers. I just had to get this out because this argument still gets used by politicians and even some of my peers.

I should note that some of econometrics in the research particularly Borjas and Kaushal/Zacodny I had trouble comparing just because my experience with econometrics is only beginning since I am only an undergraduate student. But for the most part I attempted to compare the research, even the quantitative parts. Overall, Borjas (1999) and others, in much of their work, seem weak and inconclusive.If you’re an econometrician or know more about labor economics I would appreciate your response.


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