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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Consensus Is Only As Strong As Consent

¡Hola, amigo Stefan! The Counterpunch article you posted sent me on an emotional roller-coaster. So let me share my geopolitical musings with you.

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!:) My razom, bahato i nas ne podolaty! We chanted the Ukrainian cover version of that Latin American revolutionary anthem at Maidan not because Fidel Castro had once ridden around town somewhere in the 60s. We chanted that anthem because we admired Castro's energy, the energy with which he had overthrown the Caribbean equivalent of Kuchma. At that high point in our history, little did we know of our comandantes’ eventual degeneration into the vices of their predecessors, but of Castro’s we already did.

I’m for a multipolar world, with room for everyone — culturally, politically, economically. And that’s the shape of things to come, even according to Samuel Huntington.

Whatever the Washington Consensus is, China has successfully resisted it. For years, the Washington has urged the Chinese to loosen the yuan peg. Not much progress has been done.

Meanwhile, controlled capitalism, coupled with Confucianism, works miracles in China. Over the last two decades, China has advanced immensely, prospering from foreign trade and investment, all of which indicates that it takes two to tango. For the Washington Consensus to work, local consent is key. They call it the Beijing Consensus, I guess.

With a trillion greenbacks sitting in its foreign reserves, China could bring the Washington Consensus to its knees in one fell swoop. But it’s a small world — getting smaller day by day — and we’re in it together. China surely knows better than to saw the branch it is sitting on. And it has a long way to go in terms of raising overall living standards.

For an OPEC member like Venezuela, funnelling oil revenues into New Deal economics is probably the right thing to do. That’s what makes Hugo Chavez so popular. And that’s the way they handle the commodity curse in Kuwait and Bahrain. No country can create a well-educated middle class without socially responsible income distribution patterns. Financial benefits stemming from factor endowments should be allocated for the benefit of all people. For Venezuela, the challenge lies in diversifying the economy: making it competitive and less dependent on oil exports to America, its major market.

Not all countries can afford the Venezuelan economic model. Take Belarus, the isolated authoritarian preserve. Keeping Belarus oligarch-free and relatively socially secure has been Luka’s saving grace. However, the intake of cheap Russian gas as the lifeblood of the economy has resulted in severe hypertension. Just a little change of heart from Puttie the Gasman, and Luka the Leech comes knocking on Ukraine’s door with an offer to set up a pipeline cartel.

Latin America’s love affair with socialism and protectionism in the 70s ended even worse than it began — with mountains of debt and lousy quality products that nobody wanted to buy.

That doesn’t mean that the resurgence of socialism in Latin America spells trouble for that part of the world, provided that the current cohort of leaders will not repeat the past.

One could endlessly discuss the Iraq syndrome, the dollar slide, consumerism, etc and get it all right. That said, it would be just as right to acknowledge that the folks running away to America vastly outnumber the folks running away from it.

As for me, anybody who supports the Castro regime raises a lot of suspicion. My vida loca test would be: Would I exchange my rights and living standards for those available in the country whose political system I admire? If I could observe a Western intellectual living a happy life on a monthly income of $20 bucks and singing praises to Castro, I would have no further questions.

Short of that, I would consider it a classic case of a fiat experimentum in corpore vili masquerade. (Let the experiment be made on a worthless body.) If I prefer endorsing oppressive Third World regimes without stepping outside my Western lifestyle, it’s only because, for some reason, I’m getting off on this exercise in pseudo-philosophy. That’s just how my ego makes me feel. And the way I feel may diverge significantly from the way they, the locals, feel. That’s it.

In the Soviet epoch of the Moscow Consensus, of which I was a subject-citizen, they practiced their own brand of imperialism called internationalism, a helping hand to postcolonial, newly-socialist countries. Soviet troops rampaged villages in Afghanistan; Cuban troops operated in the jungles of Angola. Millions of lives and billions of dollars lost in the Cold War game of chess would have been better spent elsewhere.

In summer of 1987, I watched a serviceman's funeral. It was in my parent’s home town of Korets. I was 7 and he was 20, a life cut short in a distant land. And I thought to myself: “If this whole thing in Afghanistan thing goes on the way it does, I may end up just like this poor fellow.” Well, thank God, I never did. The USSR did.

With 11 years of experience in Soviet socialism, I can proudly say: I’m not coming back. Sadly, the Moscow Consensus turned out to have a fulfilling capitalist half-life, outliving even the Orange Revolution.

So here’s my Kyiv Consensus: People of the world, do our homework. Treat each other as you would like to be treated. That would solve much of the problem associated with whatever consensus you have a problem with. Don’t give up on your dreams.

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