Diversity (was Brad De Long does...)

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at tsoft.com
Tue Jul 21 18:00:58 PDT 1998

This post has to do with Vietnam, communism, and political economies, and nothing to do with whether Brad de Long should or shouldn't be here--that suggestion is ludicrous. Shame on you.

In any event, Brad de Long writes:

"--the regime founded by Ho Chi Minh--now spends its time working as a labor boss for Nike and other western multinationals, using its secret police to guarantee them a very low-wage, docile, and obedient labor force.

I don't see in what fashion any of these regimes are "left": to kill millions of people and to replace a ruling class of landlords and merchants by a ruling class of bureaucrats does not bring us any closer to Utopia.

And I see no reason to believe that a successful PKI coup in 1965 would have produced a regime any different from the other Asian Communist regimes..."


I work with a guy who was in ARVIN (the old South Vietnam army) and who stayed after the fall of Saigon, through the rest of the seventies and immigrated here with the boat people in the early eighties. He has returned every few years since to visit his mother and brother, most recently as last May. He is strongly anti-communist both from his personal experiences and as influenced by the strong anti-communist Vietnamese community here in the Bay Area. His limited political understandings mostly center on how Asians are treaded in the US. He is lower middle/working class and sees the world mostly through the moral lens of right and wrong.

Even with that said, I believe him when he characterizes the communist regime in Vietnam as mostly criminal, 'always talking-talking' as he says. His view is that the political order is corrupt from the ground up. Its lower level officials supplement their wages with bribes and extortion with special attention given to anyone foreign. They don't seem to care if you are Vietnamese or European-descent, just that you have US dollars. I point blank asked him if he thought he was singled out because he obviously was Vietnamese and is now a US citizen. He said, 'No, Chuck. They don't care about that. Always, the money, money.' The usual form of the extortion he experienced was through the officials handling travel,renting a car, entering and leaving various regions in the South. I don't know if Vietnam is still set-up along provinces or not, but I got the impression it was like going from state to state here.

Outside of politics, his main worry was the younger generation, who he thinks has completely abandoned traditional ways, doesn't care about old people, and is busy turning themselves into western-styled consumer youth--music, parties, motorcycles, clothes, and spending whatever they have--no saving, no money sent home to the family.

So, it sounds like Vietnam is plagued with very similar problems to those of Russia and Eastern European countries: disorder, corruption, greater divisions between have and have nots, and a decadent youth.

Now, how are these appearing as a legacy to a collapsed command, or top-down authoritarian but theoretically communist political-economic structure? Are these not the same problems that are befalling Indonesia or Thailand, or the Philippines, mostly current or former fascist or military dictatorships, filled with a sea of greedy foreign capitalists?

See, I think what is going is a little different than a battle between communist utopias or capitalist utopias gone bad. I strongly suspect these problems arise across the political-economic spectrum, because of the top-down structuring itself. The analogy I want to use is agriculture. In a monolithic agricultural economy, or one crop system, all it takes is one pest to destroy the crop, and hence the system. In a more diversified agriculture, with multiple crops, some for export, some for feed grain, some for human consumption, one pest only kills off one crop or it takes a more complex combination of pests and natural disasters to ruin the system.

So too with socio-political and general economic structures. The more multi-leveled, diversified, and complexly differentiated, the more stable a system is under stress, change, and assaults of various kinds.

Now, arguing backward. The homogeneous command structure of a one party, centralized authoritarian political economy is more vulnerable to political, social or economic changes, because all it takes is one specific kind of change in conditions to bring down the entire system.

So, why are both fascist and communist lead revolutionary governments and their subsequent bureaucracies so vulnerable to these collapses? After all most of Latin America is in a constant battle to stay afloat and they are mostly fascist police states with capitalist economies. I think that the problem derives directly from how these revolutions are carried out. These were military command style revolutionary movements who installed themselves as a government. Once in power, they continued to develop the necessary bureaucracies to monitor and administrate the political and economic spectrum of activities, but all this with the same kind of central command driven sort of system, that allows almost no deviation from orders above, i.e. no diversification and heterogeneous differentiation. So, they continue to be vulnerable to various but simple condition changes because they have no alternate system branches, backups, or variation of bureaucratic response. Once the command system fails, they collapse, leaving only the more complicated bribery and corruption undercarriage intact. Like a cockroach subculture--corruption and criminality seems to live through anything.

Now in contrast, our governmental bureaucracies and economic structures are diversified, complex, and differentiated from top to bottom, beginning with the original tripartition of political powers and working down to the local government departments for everything from zoning to parking tickets. The same is true of the vast array of policing bureaucracies starting with the local rent-a-cop, up through city, county, regional, state, and federal security forces, including of course the armed services, but also FBI, CIA, NSA, ATF, IRS, and on and on.

I don't think we are so inherently stable as a people--as if we had some shared cultural virtue. Our appearant stability is just a by-product of the complexity of the socio-political bureaucratic structure we live under. And this complexity is no product of our genius or the founding fathers' or the wonderment and creativity of capitalism. It is a consequence of history, time, and the endless process of refinements, performed over and over.

In fact, we are so damned stable that we don't seemed to be able change anything even when we want to or need to. The one proviso here is the increasing homogeneity that is evolving from the capitalist concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer peoples' hands, and the ability of a very few people to determine what and what isn't an economically and socio-politically viable (ie. profitable) undertaking. That concentration of wealth and power is inherently unstable for the same reasons that military dictatorships are unstable--homogenous top-down command structures.

So, this argues for more government as a diversified and responsive regulatory body, not less. This argues for breaking up large capitalist holdings and power structures, and arranging for greater diversification of kinds of economic activity from outright communist and socialist to speculatory capitalist, and includes different kinds of labor, skills, and social arrangements. In a completely social realm of work, family, and ethico-moral categories, I think the chronic drum beat for a uniform fundamentalism (mostly Christians horse shit) is profoundly mistaken for almost the same kinds of reasons. We need the cultural, ethico-moral, and social diversity, and thrive on it. So this category includes all monotone arguments over race, gender, class, and so forth. Any impulses toward homogeneous uniformity, should be concentrated on the uniformly equal application of law, not on an insistence that people and their activities become uniform and conformative (is that a word?).

As an amusing side note, someone mentioned the US Navy using NT and having it crash repeadly. The only reason Unix doesn't crash very often, once it is up, is specifically because it is designed to use multiple disk partitions/directory trees/disk drives with a very simple and almost crash proof root or top level which contains the kernel. This means that whole subsystems including disk drives (not holding the kernel) can be off-line, corrupted, or crashed and the basic kernel will continue to run. The fixes can be performed while the system is running by working within one particular partition at a time while the system uses another. This is equivalent to a diversified branch system.

NT on the other hand is completely hierarchical top-down so that almost any level or device connected to the system can crash the whole system. It is also impossible to spread the directory structure across multiple disk drives. I find it amusing because Gates himself seems like a completely authoritarian pig and must have forged such a hierarchical design out his own taste for power.

Chuck Grimes

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