By Michael Every of Rabobank
Nu, so it doesn’t whistle
I start today by referring readers to two classic Jewish jokes. The first has the punchline, “That’s funny, you don’t look Jewish.” The second ends, “Is that all you people ever think about?” Together, they are a warm-up for the not-a-joke Bloomberg headline that ‘Milei’s Conversion to Judaism Seals Pro-Israel Push by Argentina’, replete with a picture of the eccentric new president-elect wearing a kippah after seeing a Chabad rabbi in New York. Although Bloomberg is unclear about when Milei chose to convert, Tablet magazine noted weeks ago that he began, but hasn’t completed, a formal conversion in 2021 after starting “to read the Torah as part of his nerdy approach to economic theory.” Well, if he’s looking for nerdy economists, Milei has come to the right place: the list of (not a real) Nobel Prize Laureates for Economics does the talking, even if he hates what nearly all of them have to say given his libertarian views.
(I can also report the initial collated ‘Home Team’ reaction to the above news is: ‘How nice to have some support; let’s hope he drops the meshuga schtick; and that he knows what he’s doing, because we need another problem right now like a hole in the head – don’t you know there’s enough antisemitism that Elon Musk needs to be seen in Israel, and 105,000 people just marched against it in London, the largest such protest since the 1930s?’)
Argentina will clearly now run a very pro-Israel and US foreign policy, a stark contrast to the rest of Latin America and, with the exception of India, most of the Global South. Indeed, Buenos Aires is officially dropping out of the BRICS11 – and, geopolitically, what is it going to drop into instead? That remains to be seen. So does what happens when the Israel-Hamas ceasefire, now extended to Thursday, ends; and with inflation and rates in 2024; and with all the key elections; and all that as Hal Brands warns of a global future of “small ‘hot’ wars” as big as Vietnam or Korea(!) that will define our new, Cold War 2.0; and as both OPEC+ and COP28 meetings loom, with possible further commitments to reductions in oil supply and staggering climate spending.
Against this all, traditional econometrics; markets thinking rate cuts loom, and are the answer to our problems if they do; Chinese banks extending unsecured loans to bail out struggling developers to complete housing units that nobody will buy; and crypto websites reporting the UAE has stopped using the USD for oil trades when its own currency is pegged to the USD, all reminds me of the logic of Chelm, the apocryphal Ashkenazi Jewish hometown of fools.
A man in Chelm once thought up a riddle nobody could answer: “What’s purple, hangs on the wall and whistles?” When everybody gave up, he announced the answer: a white fish.
“A white fish?” people said. “A white fish isn’t purple.”
“Nu,” replied the jokester, “this white fish was painted purple.”
“But hanging on a wall? Who ever heard of a white fish that hung on a wall?”
“Aha! But this white fish was hung on the wall.”
“But a white fish doesn’t whistle,” somebody shouted.
“Nu, so it doesn’t whistle.”
It might behove Javier Milei, and the rest of our global leaders at the Chelm, to focus on what does and doesn’t really whistle before the crowds start cheering and booing. Because nobody is laughing.