September 04, 2004

The Emergence of Weimar Russia

Chris Bertram marks another stage in the emergence of Weimar Russia:

Crooked Timber: Putin's speech : I just read the transcript of Putin’s speech following the murders in Beslan. In it, Putin expresses nostalgia for the old USSR. Obviously it is intended for a domestic audience and plays to their concerns and expectations. What should we make of the following passage? And who are the “they” of the penultimate paragraph below?

Today we are living in conditions which have emerged following the break-up of a vast great state, a state which unfortunately turned out to be unable to survive in the context of a rapidly changing world. But despite all the difficulties, we have managed to preserve the core of the colossus which was the Soviet Union.

And we called the new country the Russian Federation. We all expected changes, changes for the better. But we have turned out to be absolutely unprepared for much that has changed in our lives…

On the whole, we have to admit that we have failed to recognise the complexity and dangerous nature of the processes taking place in our own country and the world in general. In any case, we have failed to respond to them appropriately.

We showed weakness, and the weak are trampled upon. Some want to cut off a juicy morsel from us while others are helping them.

They are helping because they believe that, as one of the world’s major nuclear powers, Russia is still posing a threat to someone, and therefore this threat must be removed.

And terrorism is, of course, only a tool for achieving these goals. But as I have already said many times, we have faced crises, mutinies and acts of terror more than once.

When I was in the Clinton administration in 1993-95, one of the background ideas was that it was desperately important to avoid the emergence of a "Weimar Russia"--a country that felt that things had gone downhill, that the promises of a better tomorrow had been lies, that projected aid and promises of economic partnership and integration had been a screen behind which had taken place the real maneuvering to weaken Russia. In my view, U.S. attempts to prevent the emergence of a "Weimar Russia" ran into three major obstacles:

  1. The Reagan-Bush budget deficits that precluded aid on a Marshall Plan-equivalent scale--and thus greatly weakened the U.S.'s ability to shape institutions.

  2. The lack of a political consensus within Russia on what the future should be like--eastern Europe, which felt certain that in a good future they would be like western Europe--has had a much easier time.

  3. Bill Clinton's excessive empathy for Boris Yeltsin: Clinton's view that Yeltsin was a good man playing a difficult hand who did not need his life further complicated by pressure from Treasury technocrats was, I think, in the end not a plus. (Even worse, I think, has been Bush's excessive empathy for Vladimir Putin.)

Posted by DeLong at September 4, 2004 02:58 PM | TrackBack

the failure to build a fair, safe, and decently growing russia after Gorbachev is one of the saddest events of modern history, and also one of the few as to which it can be said that indidividual decisions mattered. The clinton administration, which we all wish were in its continuation through Gore I heading toward Gore II, should have sought financial packages equivalent at least to the aggregate of mexico and asian financial crises packages. it did not. The intelligentsia here and there should have reversed the Bush I market shock policies, but in part because of the failure of elite economists to see things from a lefty pov, they failed at the level of ideas. Finally, Yeltsin needed to be surrounded by technocrats; the USA could have been more hands-on, but instead it was enabling at every level, particularly in State Department. All too bad, and dangerous for the century we are in.

Posted by: red at September 4, 2004 03:26 PM

There's no nostalgia for the USSR in that statement. He clearly says the world has changed and that Russia needs to adapt. It reads like challenge and responst to me. The last few sentences have a little echo of traditional Russian paranoia, but the last part is if anything optimistic.

Compare and contrast "These people hate our freedoms."

Posted by: Roger Bigod at September 4, 2004 03:33 PM

4. Things had gone downhill, the promises of a better tomorrow had been lies, projected aid and promises of economic partnership and integration had been a screen behind which had taken place the real maneuvering to weaken Russia.

Posted by: Felix Deutsch at September 4, 2004 04:29 PM

"And the weak are beaten." This is a direct echo of Stalin's famous 1931 speech justifying breakneck industrialization paces on the scarily prophetic grounds that if they did not overcome backwardness in ten years they would be beaten as Russia, being weak, had been beaten so often in its past. Putin is obviously not Stalin or a Stalinist, but like so many other reformers in Russian history, he is a radical statist and sees most issues through a prism of state capacity and the current lack thereof.

Posted by: angry moderate at September 4, 2004 04:48 PM

The policy of Bush I towards the Soviet Union, market shock therapy, is the identical policy followed towards Iraq, as described in Naomi Klein's excellent article in the current Harper's (not available on line).

The people in this administration have no idea that anything ever happened before they seized power.

Posted by: masaccio at September 4, 2004 04:51 PM

Russian uistory up to 1917 is a history of defeat. In the big context, Putin is simply restating Russian stoicism in the face of calamity.

But it is the case that our biggest sin of omission of the last 20 years was failing to have a Marshall Plan for Russia.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at September 4, 2004 05:14 PM

I can understand the fear of Russia as a (more) failed state, but I don't find the comparison to Weimar Germany particularly apt. Russia is not, for example, the most scientifically advanced country in the world, ready to mobilize tremendous industrial and scientific resources to fight an all out war against its "oppressors," about to invent the rocket motor, jet aircraft, etc, etc.
It's a third world country with oil and tons of nukes. That seems pretty late-20th-century-early-21st specific to me.
A more comparable post-imperial state might be 1920s Turkey, but the Chechens hardly pose the same kind of threat as Enver or the Greeks.

Posted by: Max at September 4, 2004 05:22 PM

Marshall Plan for Iraq, Marshall Plan for Russia, Marshall Plan for Mexico, when does it all end? Republicans and Democrats have delusions of grandeur and think that it is 1945 all the time. When are we going to realize that trying to be all things to all people is going to kill us. Checked our trade and account deficits lately? Where are the realists?

I am more concerned about the Weimar Republic of USA than the Weimar Republic of Russia.

Posted by: Lynne at September 4, 2004 05:28 PM

Are we certain Dostoyevsky didn't write that speech? It's a classic Russian bit of sentimental nationalism, self-pity, and keystone authoritarianism.

Posted by: Leviathon at September 4, 2004 05:51 PM

"...the emergence of a 'Weimar Russia'--a country that felt that things had gone downhill, that the promises of a better tomorrow had been lies..."

No. Focus *exclusively* on the emergence of "Weimar America", and what must follow.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit at September 4, 2004 06:00 PM

"Russia is not, for example, the most scientifically advanced country in the world..."

I think this is crazy talk. They put people in space routinely. We're relying on them right now to fill the gap while we try and figure out how to fix the shuttle.

I agree w/ the general theme of trying to avoid Weimar Russa... 10 years ago, but according to magazine spreads I've seen recently they're about to take off, become another China.

Anyway, Putin's words sound to me just like a typical nativist politician's. One who is trying to deflect blame for a terrible tragedy that occured on his watch. In his case he may have a point.

Posted by: dennisS at September 4, 2004 07:59 PM

Rather than heading back to the Soviet Union, Russia is more likely to experience and Eastern Orthodox revival, which would - by the way - be authoritarian. Sort of a NeoCzarist situation.

This would involve greater activity in the Balkans and other Orthodox lands.

Interstingly, since the holdy cities Karbala, Najif, and Jerusalem have aroused so much controversy we should note that Instabul (i.e., Constantinople) is very much a holy city for the Orthodox. This was part of Russian policy since before Ivan the Terrible and was very much a part of the 19th century Russian expansion into the Balkans.

The Balkans, therefore, could become Balkanized once again.

Posted by: Dostoyeskvy at September 4, 2004 08:39 PM

Hmmm, since Al Gore and Strobe Talbott were key players on Russia policy during the Clinton administration, what policy were they or their people pushing at the time ?

Posted by: mark safranski at September 4, 2004 09:42 PM

Moscow after the fall of the Berlin wall was a complete and total zoo, run with impunity by thieves who knew exactly what they wanted and how to get it (I speak from indirect personal experience with this: a cousin, based in Paris, was suckered into a state-supported urban-planning scheme that was promptly kidnapped by various mafiosi, and of course they destroyed him). You can only have a Marshall plan if you have an effective occuping army in place to police it. We didn't have one in Russia, and we certainly don't have one now.

Posted by: alabama at September 4, 2004 10:02 PM

That echo of Stalin's speech, mentioned by angry moderate, confirms for me the sense that Putin means to put the Russians through another period of ruthless development and personal sacrifice for the state. A reason for this is what the Europeans said about this tragedy yesterday. Dumb beyond belief.

Another probable reason is that the Bush administration apparently does not see fit to define the Russian effort against the Chechens as part of the "war on terror." Russian failures may be largely explained by terrain, fanaticism, and Russian ineptitude. But he seems clearly to indicate that he thinks they're getting outside help.

Now who's been interested over the past decade in Caspian resources? Perhaps a certain security official very close to the president? And in the previous administration (sorry Brad) didn't we see the secretary of state in great haste to integrate Poland into NATO? This, I thought, was the biggest single blunder the US made about Russia.

The Russians, like the Germans, energize themselves by raising the specter of encirclement. Putin was trained in the KGB to read patterns, and he's talking encirclement. We should have been going far out of our way to make this fear seem totally unreasonable.

Now we seem to be living in a world in which both the US and Russia are paying attention only to their primal fears. Both sides of this terrify me.

Posted by: Altoid at September 4, 2004 10:04 PM

But wait - did Clinton feel empathy for Boris Yeltsin, or sympathy with Boris Yeltsin?

Posted by: David Carroll at September 4, 2004 10:12 PM

Weimar America

Picked up some readymix sacks at the local hardware the other day, building my kid a bungalow of his own since he can't afford rent, groceries and gas on the kind of jobs they got in this town. Couldn't carry all the sacks in one load, so told the outdoor man we'd be right back for the rest. First thing he does is call for backup and start sweating us. "Wouldn't
want you coming back and taking off with another 25 sacks."

I started to laugh, telling him 90% of shop-lifting is really inventory theft by employees, but it was a waste of breath. Besides, it wasn't that funny. I come from down south, and no way you sweat your paying customers when it's cash-and-carry. Maybe this guy was one of those "associates", who don't make much above minimum wage, no benefits or overtime.

It's a different world.

So I'm thinking on the way back to the shack, you know, how did we get this way? Seems like it started during Reagan, the Iran-Contra CIA drug-deal thing, vers Nancy's "Just Say No", sick twisted program, sweating employers to random test their employees,when Fed's were flooding our cities with cocaine, and we had a nationwide epidemic of drunk driving.

Remember how Reagan militarized our police, in direct violation of our US Constitution? The other day, I saw two cops in full combat battle fatiques responding to a domestic situation.

Terrorism and the US police state. How else to explain Bush's 11-point bounce on that lame-ass pitch? He definitely is all hat and no cattle, the difference between two tours in-country, vers showing up half-time every other month to fly a Navy trainer. Wuss.

Here's a little bit of terrorism for you...

"Approximately one-fifth of all the doctoral degrees awarded by U.S. college institutions and one-third of doctorates in engineering, mathematics, and physical and biological sciences are earned by international students
(who make up only 3.6% of all university enrollments)."
Princeton Review

Where ya' gonna afford the go plus opportunity cost to get the kid into a Master's degree these days?

There's a few things I'm gonna do. Teaching my kid a trade. Build a bungalow with him, then sell it to him for '$1, plus love and affection'. Teaching him the rewards from manual work, and how hard and how long he'll have to work for things, even if he goes to college.

The kid's got self-pride now, safe nearby instead of binge drinking at 2AM at some downtown hootch like the Rushkies.

Giving the kid my rig too, so he'll have decent
wheels and my tools, ought'a get him good income.
Been riding my old roadbike and taking the bus.
Easy workout, the office is only ten miles away.
Hey, it beats a sharp stick in the eye!

Getting out at sundown and walking the neighborhood. Where we come from, people wave, and if you're out and about, they'll nod, say 'evening', or stop and talk about somebody's garden display or the weather. That's how it ought to be, not drive straight home and plug into the endlessly commercial TV-internet.

I don't know, maybe it's all over but the shouting.

Consumer debt hit $1.98 trillion in October 2003, up from $1.5 trillion. $18,700 per US household.

If Bush/Cheney would stop diverting the $500 BILLION *a year* of hard-earned tax dollars into discretionary defense spending, and we used it instead to tax-credit every home mortgage in America, that would unleash a retail explosion that'd be talked about for 100 years.

Hey, it's *our* tax money!!!

Here. Good quality American-made leisure clothes, for less cost than Wal-Mart. Ha!

Posted by: Harry Possue at September 4, 2004 10:23 PM

One question: when you were calling for a Russian Marshall plan, you weren't calling for any sort of military presence in Russia, were you? That would seem to be contradictory to your beliefs.

Posted by: Fraydog at September 5, 2004 12:47 AM

But Putin is very much of a Stalinist. He could hardly be otherwise with his history. Ironically, the Russian Communists may be his most effective opposition. Paging Ken Macleod...

For heaven's sake, why did the USA administration support Yeltsin in establishing a strong presidency in Russia? A more risky thing, given Russia's history, could hardly be imagined.

Sending the Russians neo-conservative economics was an excellent way to sour them on capitalism as well as socialism. What is left? A return to feudalism?

How could US foreign policy have had both many shining successes and many dark failures in the past century?

Posted by: Randolph Fritz at September 5, 2004 02:09 AM

Weimar Russia? The adjective 'Weimar' could surely preface any of the five nations that are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

There is serious talk of the UNSC having to be broadened. Reformation would also have consequences for the UN system - for example the voting power in the key UN special agency (the International Monetary Fund) at present gives the US an effective veto on changes to the global economy.

However any attempt to dilute the powers of the existing five permanent members would surely be fiercely opposed by them (Weimars?); they have much to lose, sitting in a small group at the world's top table, and not bound by many of the rules because of the veto arrangements. They're unlikely to vote themselves out of power without considerable inducements.

Posted by: Ian Jenkins at September 5, 2004 03:26 AM

>The Reagan-Bush budget deficits that precluded aid on a Marshall Plan-equivalent scale

Regardless of whether Reagan & Bush administrations had experiences those budget deficits, I question the likelihood that there would have been aid on a Marshall Plan-equivalent scale when the USSR was disintegrating in 1991-95. The US instituted the Marshall Plan beginning in 1947-48--several years after the end of the war--not out of the goodness of its heart, but out of a reaction to Soviet expansionism after the war that was becoming evident in 1947-48.

What might have constituted a similar threat with respect to Russia in 1991-95? Muslim expansionism? Even if that might be considered a possibility now, it is highly unlikely that the US would have acted upon it or even recognized it a decade ago. And I wonder whether the US would react against expansionism of a particular "establishment of religion" anyway.

Posted by: raj at September 5, 2004 05:58 AM

"who are they". When the current crisis erupted, Putin tried to convene an emergency session of the security Council but US (Danforth) opposed it by delaying a decision. Chris Cox of California and Homeland Security Committee was on TV talking down the crisis and blaming the Russians. I wouldn't be surprised if Putin is reacting to this lack of sensitivity.

Posted by: Calhoun at September 5, 2004 06:30 AM

Russia today is America tomorrow.

We are going bankrupt. We are demoralized. We want only bribes when we vote. We don't care if we don't pay for ourselves anymore, let's debase our currency!

And fighting: we will crush anyone we want. We have many enemies and have more each year. Like Russia, our military can bomb civilians to death with impunity. Like Russia, we will wail with despair and impotent rage every time we are hit by "terrorism".

Both empires collapsing like the twin towers.

Posted by: Elaine Supkis at September 5, 2004 06:58 AM

"Sending the Russians neo-conservative economics was an excellent way to sour them on capitalism as well as socialism. What is left? A return to feudalism?"

What about trying a technocracy? Design an economy with simulation models, use genetic algorithms or whatever to look for ways some player might win by behaving in ways the simulation doesn't expect.

Make the models public, and establish prizes for new models that a team of academics thinks are better.

Free markets have overhead, there's an efficiency cost when they're slow to adapt, and also people who see ways to profit from market inefficiencies can intentionally distort markets. A system designed on purpose instead of by accident might not actually work better, but you'd get some good by making the details public.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 5, 2004 07:00 AM

September 5, 2004

Always on the Job, Employees Pay With Health

American workers are stressed out, and in an unforgiving economy, they are becoming more so every day.

Sixty-two percent say their workload has increased over the last six months; 53 percent say work leaves them "overtired and overwhelmed."

Even at home, in the soccer bleachers or at the Labor Day picnic, workers are never really off the clock, bound to BlackBerries, cellphones and laptops. Add iffy job security, rising health care costs, ailing pension plans and the fear that a financial setback could put mortgage payments out of reach, and the office has become, for many, an echo chamber of angst.

It is enough to make workers sick - and it does.

Decades of research have linked stress to everything from heart attacks and stroke to diabetes and a weakened immune system. Now, however, researchers are connecting the dots, finding that the growing stress and uncertainty of the office have a measurable impact on workers' health and, by extension, on companies' bottom lines.

Workplace stress costs the nation more than $300 billion each year in health care, missed work and the stress-reduction industry that has grown up to soothe workers and keep production high, according to estimates by the American Institute of Stress in New York. And workers who report that they are stressed, said Steven L. Sauter, chief of the Organizational Science and Human Factors Branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, incur health care costs that are 46 percent higher, or an average of $600 more per person, than other employees.

"The costs are significant," Dr. Sauter said, adding, "Those are just the costs to the organization, and not the burden to individuals and to society."

American workers are not the only ones grappling with escalating stress and ever greater job demands. European companies are changing once-generous vacation policies, and stress-related illnesses cost England 13 million working days each year, one British health official said.

Posted by: anne at September 5, 2004 08:39 AM

anne is right, but the stress levels are only going to increase for everyone. World oil production is likely to peak within 12-18 months. May you live in interesting times.

Only the Belarus region and Iraq can expect continued or increased output, although, who knows, maybe Bush/Cheney II can pull off the AK Gas Pipeline before they leave office in 2008.

Anyway, that's the sole reason for Chechnya and the war in Iraq, the oil is running out, baby. Dump your SUV and buy a Honda Insight or Toyota Prius before you can't get one to save your life.

Posted by: Lash Marks at September 5, 2004 08:51 AM

September 5, 2004

The Next Shock: Not Oil, but Debt

WITH oil prices hovering above $40 a barrel, experts have calmed frayed nerves by noting that today's services-driven American economy is much less addicted to the black stuff than yesterday's industrial economy. From 1973 to 2003, after all, the amount of oil and gas needed to create a dollar of gross domestic product fell by half. Structural changes in the economy have let the nation absorb the recent shock of rising crude.

That's the good news. The bad news is that other recent structural changes in the economy - the federal government's shift from surpluses to huge deficits, the national predilection for consumption over saving and housing prices that climb faster than incomes - have increased the country's reliance on another kind of fuel: credit.

As a result, the American economic ship, which has weathered the recent run-up in crude oil prices, may be more vulnerable to sudden surges in the price of money. If the rate on 30-year fixed mortgages were to rise from 5.4 percent today to 7.5 percent next February, homeowners could get walloped.

"Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt," Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac. Well, in recent years, American consumers, businesses and governments have been hitting the sack with their stomachs bloated and their charge cards maxed out. From 1988 to 2000, the ratio of nonfinancial debt to gross domestic product held steady at about 1.8 to 1. But recently, consumer, business and government credit has bulged like the belly of a contestant at a hot-dog eating contest at Coney Island.

From the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2003, the economy added $1.317 trillion in gross domestic product and $4.2 trillion in debt.

That means that each new dollar of economic output was accompanied by $3.19 in new debt. So now, for the first time, the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio stands at more than two to one.

Throw in financial credit - the debt that investment banks and others use to finance trading activities and the like - and total debt has more than doubled since 1994. The mere existence of huge debt needn't be a source of panic. You and I may view debt as an economic input - we borrow so we can spend and invest, and hence, as politicians like to say, "grow the economy." Academic economists view it more as a byproduct. Debt is created when people, governments and companies spend money, trade and produce.

VIEWED that way, the sharp rise in credit in recent years isn't surprising or even, in and of itself, alarming. "When interest rates are low, you'd expect people to pile on more debt per G.D.P. because it's cheap,'' said J. Bradford DeLong, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Posted by: anne at September 5, 2004 09:07 AM

Just how close are we to having computer clusters powerful enough to invert the Leontief matrix for the entire U.S. economy, in more or less real time?

Posted by: Carbo at September 5, 2004 11:38 AM

When the history of the late 20th century is written, the hero will not be Clinton, Bush I or Reagan. The hero will be Gorbachev. Had Bush I invited the new Russia into NATO, we would have a different, and in my judgement, better world. The reality that, given his mindset and that of his advisers, this was impossible for Bush I, is simply one of the unfortunate accidents of history.

There have been many. This may not even turn out to be major. For the most part, those who govern are neither wise or competent. Occassionally we get lucky. So far, this is not one of those times.


Posted by: Sam Taylor at September 5, 2004 08:31 PM

Russia has never had representative government (at least on a national scale) in its history. It's no surprise that its political progress leaves much to be desired. The Baltics, Poland, Czechia, and Slovakia have been far more successful. Why? Do they have more historic experience with decentralized government? Is it easier for political power to remain entrenched in a massive nation than in a small one? Or is it something(s) else?

Modern Russia has something in common with Meiji Japan. In both cases (and also in the Weimar Republic) you have a nation that borrows some Anglosphere political ideas but, due to its authoritarian mindset, fails to produce a final product of quality comparable to that of the original. (If I recall The Rise And fall of the Third Reich properly, Germany - excluding Prussia - did have a history of local democratic rule.) Checks and balances are lacking, and enumerated rights are poorly drafted. Check out the Meiji constitution for an example - scroll down to Chapter 2, and read the list of subjects' rights, each one of them with a "within the limits of the law" disclaimer.

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson at September 6, 2004 12:03 AM

"Just how close are we to having computer clusters powerful enough to invert the Leontief matrix for the entire U.S. economy, in more or less real time?"

It depends on the level of detail you want. It's usually possible to break things down into finer detail, almost no matter how much it's already done.

Then if you consider substitutions, it gets much more complicated.

And there's the question how ill-conditioned that matrix turns out to be. When it's poorly conditioned you don't get good estimates for some things. But it could be argued that if you find the factors that make the matrix ill-conditioned you've identified something important.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 6, 2004 01:03 AM

Brad, do you then believe that the US *should* have created a Marshall Plan-like program after the fall of the Soviet Union? The impression I got from your excellent analysis written at the time (1991) was that the results were unlikely to be as positive.

Please elaborate.

Posted by: Palindrome at September 6, 2004 01:31 AM

Russia is like all other countries that depend mostly on oil exports to survive, they are nearly all despotic governments. There are a million reasons for this. One main one is, the government controls who gets the money from the vast oil exports and therefore becomes too powerful.

Capitalism suffers, oddly enough. You have commerce but no capitalism. Note the China, unlike Russia, has little oil and exports none and note that unlike Russia, they rapidly capitalized industry when the communists who still rule it changed their tune.

Posted by: Elaine Supkis at September 6, 2004 04:58 AM

Putin is a war criminal. He ordered many killings in Chechnya; he keeps tickling the genes of the Russian people- when things get bad, form a circle and fire outward at everybody else. Evolution promoted the survival of primitive humans who worked together to secure their food supply against other humans. Add Attila the Hun and many other warlords who impregnated thousands of women and you see why we have so many kill the scheissauslander genes. Those genes and the tendencies that they support are dangerous in an overcrowded nuclear world. It’s very hard to get the truth about what goes on in Iraq or the Caucasus, but the claims of Arabs among the evil hostage takers in Beslan are probably false. Islamists, evil, yes.

Is Bush a war criminal? He ordered the invasion of Iraq for ideological reasons. He knew that many would die, but he had been led by Chalabi, Perle, Wolfowitz and others to expect a friendly response from liberated Iraqis. Stupid American policies have produced more and “no American zones” as the NYT noted yesterday. Americans can’t enter these cities except inside tanks or APCs. Who expects honest elections when more and more of the country is separated behind walls of violence (it’s like Colombia)? Why was Saddam so verbally aggressive toward the US in 2002? I can understand Chechens dissing the Russians who had killed and raped so many, but how do we understand Saddam’s bravado? The same fanatics who cooked the Iraq intelligence books are beating the drums for covert action against Iran. A rag tag band of Iranian exiles tells us that nobody will support the mullahs. We have no spare troops left to deal with Iran, North Korea or anything important. Does the public believe that military action against Iran by Bush and Sharon will bring peace?

You might want to read “The Four Day War", by Claude Salhani at Hitler was the worst war criminal. Saddam was bad, but since he was armed and supported throughout most of his killing spree by the US, he is lower. Stalin was surely worse than Putin, Putin worse than Sharon and Sharon worse than Bush.
On the Islamist side, those who held child hostages without food and water in Beslan are high on the list, along with bin Laden and Arafat. Killing begets killing. All who take hostages are evil. Survival demands different strategies and different religions when a species dominates the planet. Go out and reproduce isn't the answer. Until human societies shut off appeals to the genes by the likes of Putin, Bush, Arafat and Sharon, we will have war and we may see nuclear war in the Middle East.

Posted by: Old Ranger at September 6, 2004 09:15 AM

I wrote: "Just how close are we to having computer clusters powerful enough to invert the Leontief matrix for the entire U.S. economy, in more or less real time?"

The remaining quotes are from J Thomas's repy.

"It depends on the level of detail you want."

Let's say, a matrix of 1 million by 1 million. For now, let's ignore the problems of data gathering, data hoarding (companies concealing their inputs and outputs, for competitive reasons), and data validation. Right now, I want to focus purely on the technical question: how close are we are to being able to invert a matrix of that size in no more than a minute?

The reason this question interests me is that Russia still has an enormous amount of infrastructure, dilapidated perhaps, but fixable. A solution to the Leontief matrix would tell the Russians how to begin fixing it efficiently.

"Then if you consider substitutions, it gets much more complicated. .... [ill-conditioned matrix]"

Right. That's why I want a computer cluster powerful enough to deliver answers quickly, so we can play with multiple scenarios. I suspect we are getting -very- close to that level of technology.

Posted by: Carbo at September 6, 2004 01:10 PM

Carbo, I'm rusty on this so don't accept me as an authority. Maybe somebody who knows better will step in and say what's right. With that disclaimer....

Million by million matrices are hard to deal with unless they are very sparse (meaning mostly zeros). If you want to invert one, you can sort of estimate how badly conditioned it is by the difference between the largest and the smallest eigenvalue. When there are a million eigenvalues, how likely is it that the difference between the largest and the smallest will be small?

Roundoff error might be an issue. You can expect to lose on average half a bit of precision for each addition. With around a trillion additions that would look bad, but then you have a million results too. 80 bits might give you enough left over. But you might lose every bit of precision with one subtraction....

That probably doesn't matter compared to the imprecision of the original data. IF it takes X pounds of coal to make a ton of steel, can you measure X to 3 digits? To 5? The imprecision in your original data is likely to fuzz through all your calculations. If you can only guarantee 3 digits precision in important paramaters, then as a rule of thunb you'd better have a million by million matrix where the biggest eigenvalue is no more than a thousand times the size of the smallest.

Now go back and look at the original assumptions. The leontief matrix is linear. It takes X acres of land to produce a thousand bushels of corn. And yet most of economics is based on the idea of the margin. That some acres of land are better for corn than others, and you want to use the best ones first unless they're also good for something more important. How much do we lose when we assume that it simply takes X acres?

A leontief matrix is an oversimplification in the best case. So maybe the thing to do is not to actually *solve* it and believe in the solution. Instead, find out what you can learn from it. Look for the terms that make the calculations unstable, for example. Everybody knows that availability of oil has a tremendous effect on everything else. We used to think steel was almost as important, but steel has increasingly been substituted with aluminum, plastic, carbon filament etc. Which other items are disproportionately importnat? Careful study of leontief matrices might reveal some, even if there are no significant digits in the calculation. Some of them might be easier to increase than oil.

And I want to suggest there might be more informative ways to study this than to repeatedly invert giant matrices. But you have to think out what you want and find a way to get it. Or maybe get good at observing with new eyes, so you can find things you didn't know you were looking for.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 7, 2004 06:13 AM

Chris B. is off by a few years. Weimar Russia came to an end on January 1, 2000. We're into the post-Weimar phase now, and it's getting less pretty. Centralization of power, media into state hands, confiscation of Jewish property, persecution of a minority not much liked by the outside world, stirring up minorities in its neighbors (Georgia, anybody? A small faraway country of which we know little, if ever there was one.), the list goes on.

Anyway, you read it here

second, since the first cite

went away when Matt moved to typepad.

Posted by: Doug at September 9, 2004 08:15 AM