The TPP Is Not About Helping the Poor in Asia

Dean Baker on 2016 July Jobs ReportIn fact, growth in all of these countries slowed in the years after 1997 when they switched from running trade deficits to surpluses. The slowdown was less in Vietnam than in the other countries of the region, but even Vietnam had slower growth in the period touted by Popper than in the years from 1991 to 1997. In other words, the idea that manufacturing workers in the US had to take a hit to allow people in the developing world to escape poverty is absurd on its face.

This argument is even more pernicious in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade deal currently on the agenda. The trade barriers to imports from the countries in the pact are already low, so the TPP would actually do little to open US markets further to these countries. On the other hand, a major thrust of the pact is to strengthen and lengthen patent and copyright protections.

These forms of protectionism will have poor people in the developing countries in the pact paying more money for prescription drugs, fertilizer, and software than they would otherwise. This protectionism will make them poorer and increase poverty. It will also make it difficult for people in poor countries to have access to life-saving drugs.

Of course the TPP will increase the profits of companies like Pfizer, Merck, and Microsoft. This could explain the huge efforts to promote the TPP among the public. Certainly this push cannot be explained by a concern for the poor in the developing world.

—Dean Baker
How Much Do We Learn About Trade and Poverty in the Developing World from a NYT Article Ostensibly Telling Us About Trade?

RAS Syndrome, ATM Machines, and PIN Numbers

ATM Machine - RAS SyndromeBack in June, I wrote, Less vs Fewer: Pedantry at the Grocery Store. It told the story of my running into a grammar pedant at the Whole Foods. He was very happy that the express checkout said “15 items or fewer” and not “15 items or less.” Being a grammar liberal, I was not impressed. In the article, I responded, “Worrying about less vs fewer is just foolish. Or fatuous. Or silly. Oh my God! What is the exact right word to describe this?! I’m sure there are people buying eggplants in Whole Foods right now who won’t have a clue what I’m talking about.”

Jurgan commented that he was more understanding of the issue. Then he mentioned one thing that really bothered him was things like “ATM machine.” The point being that ATM stands for “automated teller machine.” So when one says “ATM machine,” one is saying “automated teller machine machine.” These are the kinds of things that do drive people a bit crazy. As you will see, they do not generally drive me crazy.

The RAS Syndrome

A while after that, a writer I work with a lot, Claire Broadley, sent me a link to the Wikipedia page on RAS Syndrome. It came along with a note that said she thought I might enjoy it. Indeed! For you see, RAS is an acronym for “redundant acronym syndrome” So RAS Syndrome is redundant acronym syndrome syndrome. “ATM machine” is one of the big examples of this. The page also lists PIN (personal identification number) number. In fact, RAS Syndrome is often referred to as PNS Syndrome: PIN Number Syndrome Syndrome. And that is just delicious: personal identification number number syndrome syndrome. Admittedly, not as good as Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. But still: very good.

I understand how certain things will just send a chill down the spine. “AIDS syndrome” bothers me… But ATM and PIN? I don’t think they are acronyms anymore.

Wikipedia also goes to the trouble of explaining, “The term RAS Syndrome is intentionally redundant…” That makes me think of, “Take my wife, as in ‘consider my wife’… Please! In the different sense of ‘take’ you see. I was implying that you should consider my wife but I was really just saying that you should take her off my hands! This is because I don’t like my wife very much!” I don’t think many people were scratching their heads, “Don’t they realize they’ve done the same thing with RAS Syndrome that they’re complaining about?!”

Let’s All Be Understanding

I am inclined to be forgiving of the RAS Syndrome. And I’m hardly alone. Wikipedia quotes Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words as saying, “Not all repetition is bad. It can be used for effect… or for clarity, or in deference to idiom…. ‘SALT talks’ and ‘HIV virus’ are… technically redundant because the second word is already contained in the preceding abbreviation, but only the ultra-finicky would deplore them.”

This is an excellent point that many people miss: we aren’t only trying to do one thing with language. But I would go further. Precision is well down the list of what we want when writing. It is rarely the case that a piece of writing will be ruined because one used “silly” when “facetious” was more precise.

When Do Acronyms Stop Being Acronyms?

But when it comes to the RAS Syndrome, are we really so sure that it is redundant. Consider the ATM. I remember, being perhaps 8-years-old, when our town got its first automated teller machine. You could take out a maximum of $50 per day, and you could only take out cash in $25 increments: a twenty and a five. But even being there at the very start, I don’t think of ATM as an acronym. And I haven’t for decades. The same is true of PIN, which was an acronym almost the moment it was a phrase.

Now I understand how certain things will just send a chill down the spine. “AIDS syndrome” bothers me — largely because of the emotional power of “AIDS” and that it has never quite stopped being an acronym. But ATM and PIN? I don’t think they are acronyms anymore. So I can understand people bristling at “PIN number,” but I don’t think they have any cause to feel superior about it. And that is exactly what most people do do.

Apparently, the term RAS Syndrome was coined in a New Scientist feedback column. And whoever came up with it must be applauded. Because I think it helps everyone treat the issue with the gentle amusement that it deserves.


According to New Scientist, the “NT” in Windows NT did not stand for “New Technology,” but rather “Northern Telecom.” This is not actually true. Once Microsoft licensed “NT,” it explicitly used it to mean “New Technology.” I remember. I was there during the NT-OS/2 wars. So “NT technology,” which Microsoft used all the time, was, in fact, an example of the RAS Syndrome.

Edward Albee Is Dead

Edward AlbeeI just learned that Edward Albee died yesterday. It isn’t a shock; he was 88 years old. Still, it is sad. He was a hero of mine.

I first discovered him in high school. I went over to the college, which was performing The Zoo Story. It was a total mystery to me going in. And it was performed in a converted classroom. There were perhaps 50 people in the audience. I was blown away. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could do so much with just two actors and a bench. Now, of course, I see it in context. But then it was totally new to me.

It started my obsession with Theatre of the Absurd. But that term always brings to mind Eugène Ionesco. It’s actually much broader than that. Albee was more in the tradition of Samuel Beckett. Although clearly The Zoo Story was influenced by John Osborne. Albee was at his best when he was at his most real. Things like The American Dream are at best uninspired, and certainly nothing worth reading more than once.

Edward Albee’s Work

The truth is that Albee’s work was quite uneven. But I think that says something good about him. He was always searching. At the same time, it is hard not to think he was just a bit evil. I read Tiny Alice many times in high school — trying to figure out what Albee was on about. I finally went to the college library and researched the play. After it opened in New York, reporters asked him what the play meant. He replied that he knew when he was writing it but that he had forgotten. It was a good response, but I think Albee was rarely clear what he was doing.

Edward Albee is best known for his 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’ve cooled to it over the years. It is such hateful play about four unlikable people. I have a bleak outlook on life, but it isn’t that bleak. Don’t misunderstand: the play is brilliant and there is much truth in it. But I think his aim was much more true in A Delicate Balance.

Middle Period

After that, Albee got a little soft with two of his best plays: All Over and Seascape. He seemed to get to the point where he could see past alienation. Both of those plays triumph over alienation in their way. And then, Edward Albee went rudderless — for about a decade.

That’s not to say the work was bad. Certainly he got lots of bad reviews, but that was true of most of his work. He never wrote the kind of stuff that was meant to be fully appreciated in one viewing or reading. But he wasn’t doing anything he hadn’t done before. But all that changed in 1991 with what I consider his masterpiece, Three Tall Women.

Three Tall Women

It’s hard to say just what is so great about the play. The second half is simply a conversation between the same woman at three different ages: 20s, 50s, and 90s. And it shows, in such a powerful way, how cynicism grows in us. I’ve done a lot of writing trying to mimic what Edward Albee does in that play. But like the greatest art, it’s obvious yet elusive.

Anyway, it’s sad that Edward Albee has died. But he left us a lot of great work. And I assume he had as good a life as anyone could reasonably expect.