Footnote to the Liberation of Paris

I am reposting an old post and dedicating it to Ruben for reminding me not to be too focused on economics: 

In the horrors of war, I also appreciate unexpected historical irony and justice, and in this case connected with my love of both France and Spain. The first allied troops to enter Paris and start its formal liberation from the Germans on August 24th 1944 were Spanish troops of the Neuve, the famous 9e Companie of the RMT (Régiment de Marche du Tchad) of the French North African army . These were Republican veterans of the Spanish Civil War. 

‘With the help of FFI (French Forces of the Interior) members, the column made their way up the Avenue d’Italie, across the Austerlitz bridge to the Hotel de Ville….The column sent some members to the police prefecture and on learning the news, the massive bells on Notre Dame began to chime to announce their arrival, soon repeated by all the church bells in central Paris.’

Vive La France! Viva la Espana libre! The latter took somewhat longer; 30 years to be precise.

So those, who had been fighting fascism since 1936, got their moment in history.

And here they are taking a rest in the Bois de Bologne. Muchas gracias companeros! Muerta al fascismo!


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Subversive Graffiti

Peace sign soldiers

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Conflict Art: Evolution?

A graffiti painted on a wall in a district of the Lebanese capital Beirut shows human evolution from primate into a human suicide bombers, on January 6, 2014. Analysts say Lebanon is suffering an accelerating wave of violence that reflects the conflict in neighbouring Syria, which in nearly three years has killed nearly 130,000 people. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

A graffiti painted on a wall in a district of the Lebanese capital Beirut shows human evolution from primate into a human suicide bombers, on January 6, 2014. Analysts say Lebanon is suffering an accelerating wave of violence that reflects the conflict in neighbouring Syria, which in nearly three years has killed nearly 130,000 people. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

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Karl Polyani: The Great Transformation

I have always liked Karl Polyani’s fine book “The Great Transformation” that I am about the re-read in the light of this comment in Real World Economics that I think profoundly insightful about US politics. It is also making me look for a copy of “Dear Hunting with Jesus” by Joe Bageant: 

“Yes, let me wade in but not too deeply. I was intrigued by your very first itemization about logical positivism having failed as a theory of knowledge, and especially your mention of it excluding morality. Since I am reading the late Joe Bageant’s “Deer Hunting with Jesus,” his book about the alienation of white working class Americans from upper middle class liberals, and them not voting the logical positivistic formulations of their own economic self interest, please note that this segment of America is where the morality contained in the Evangelical Movement/Fundamentalism has its deepest roots. They listen to Larry Summers tone, condescension (even as Larry has moved left, which he tries to hide by using terms like “secular stagnation) and run into the arms of Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton…and who knows about Bernie Sanders.

The irony though, is that the nature of religious morality in America has shifted to worship the market as the final moral authority in determining social standing…has become entrepreneurial itself…so I don’t want to draw too many neat distinctions. Pope Francis, a moderate if not conservative social democrat has shockingly reminded us in the US that you can come up with an entirely different political economy after listening to exactly the same “Sermon on the Mount.”

Unfortunately the Right has been far more effective in translating the alienating scientific/mathematical posturing of economics into a more palatable ideological meal than the left, starting with Milton Friedman who had better sound bites than his debating partner, John Kenneth Galbraith. His son Jamie is trying, but his very interesting works (esp. The Predator State, The End of Normal) are hardly on the lips of the bottom 60-80%.

The same goes for the other great economic book from 1944, Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation,” which I still can’t help but defend as the single most relevant book for our times, where he gives full weight to the overwhelming disruptions the rise of industrialism gave to the surplus agricultural workers as they were meted out shock treatment transformation into an urban proletariat with no social safety net. Logical positivists demand that we revise that history because wages rose after 1850, and they are probably right, they did rise later, but the memory of the transition and the scalding impression it left gave rise to a “never again” attitude, very similar to that which Putin has built upon the bitterness and brutality of the shock treatment fiasco that Russia underwent post 1989, advised by the best and brightest from the West. Does it even make a shallow impression upon the department minds at Princeton, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and U of Chi? Does history have any greater, ironical, cruelties yet to deliver. Probably it does.

It is out of experiences like these that ordinary human beings are driven from the cold winds that seem to blow perpetually from “scientific economics.”

I’ll leave it at that.”


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Eric Beinhocker: The Origin of Wealth as a Slide Show

Here is a very good summary of Eric Beinhocker’s book The Creation of Wealth as a slide show.

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The Connection between Social Trust and Wealth: Eric Beinhocker

Eric Beinhocker’s excellent book The Origin of Wealth contains this excellent graphic of the connection between social trust and GNP per capita: 


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The Business of War by Asad Zaman

Another brilliant piece on Real World Economics site:

The Business of War

The highly decorated war hero, Major General Smedley Butler, described a well-hidden secret in his classic book, War is a Racket: “I made Mexico safe for American oil in 1914 … I helped in the raping of a half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street … In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.” Butler came to see himself as a gangster, a muscle-man for the protection of business interests. History textbooks fail to mention what Butler saw as the main cause of the First World War: the more than 20,000 millionaires and billionaires created by war profiteering.warishell

Butler writes that a “racket” is a deception: war is not what it appears to be to the majority of people. Only a small “inside” group knows the truth, and makes huge fortunes from war while the masses sacrifice their lives for fabricated causes. A recent article in Foreign Policy re-iterated the message that “War is still a racket” by showing how some groups are making trillions in profits from the perpetual war against terror.

As plans for war against Syria heat up, new myths are being manufactured to support it. In line with Butler’s thesis, we must look past the smokescreens of the Islamic State (IS) and oppression of Syrians, and follow the money, to understand the reasons for the war. In 2009, Qatar proposed to build a pipeline through Jordan and Turkey to supply oil to Europe. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned this down, and instead signed his own death warrant by signing an agreement for an alternative pipeline which would run through Iran, Iraq and Syria. Oil interests opposed to this deal began funding rebel groups to overthrow Assad, to block this possibility. Sympathy for oppressed Syrians has nothing to do with the realpolitik of financing the war against Assad. In fact, the IS came into existence after a coalition of countries headed by the US began to provide arms and money to create a rebellion against Assad.

Exactly parallel to the IS, the origins of the Taliban lie in the massive funding and arms provided by the CIA to local Muslims to engage in jihad against Russia in Afghanistan. But we must dig deeper to find the profit motives behind the Afghan war. The story of the competition between US oil companyUnocal and the Argentinian oil Company Bridas for building the oil pipeline through Afghanistan is too complex to describe here. Suffice it to say that when the Taliban became an obstacle to the planned Unocal pipeline, they were removed from the scene. Another major sin of the Taliban was to shut down opium production, which reduced world supply of heroin by more than 50 per cent, and led to multibillion dollar losses to the shadowy global narcotics industry, second only to the world oil industry.

In 1967, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa. By the time he was assassinated, he had transformed Libya into one of Africa’s richest nation. Prior to the US-led bombing campaign in 2011, Libya had the highest Human Development Index, the lowest infant mortality and the highest life expectancy in all of Africa. The country provided effective free health and education services to all citizens. Then Gaddafi committed an unpardonable crime: he announced plans to nationalise Libyan oil, depriving Western oil conglomerates of profits. He was duly punished for this audacity. Following a familiar pattern, rebels were armed and funded to create a rebellion against Gaddafi. The US-EU-Nato bombing blitz of 2011 destroyed hospitals, schools, energy and water infrastructure. As a result, a once prosperous country has been reduced to rubble, while Nato forces proudly proclaimed their success in defending democracy, and in creating a ‘historic victory’ for the people of Libya against an evil dictator.

Similarly, Iraq was one of the most advanced economies of this region. Saddam Hussein did not learn the lessons from history, and angered big oil by attempting to pursue independent policies for Iraqi oil. In line with Butler’s thesis, false pretexts of WMDs were manufactured to cover the real reasons for the Iraq war. Many senior officials confirmed what Alan Greenspan said: “It is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” The regime change operation, mounted for the “benefit of the Iraqi people” has resulted in complete chaos. Massive destruction of infrastructure has returned Iraq to the Stone Age, killing a million and destroying the power, water, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure to make the lives of the remaining 40 million citizens a living hell.

Current war budgets are sufficient to amply provide for basic needs of food, health, housing and education for all people on the planet. Thus learning to live together in peace has huge potential payoffs for humanity as a whole. However, the route to world peace suggested by General Smedley Butler’s analysis is very different from what prevailing myths about the sources of violence would have us believe. The power of big business and the military-industrial complex to control government policy is clearly revealed in the failure of Barack Obama to keep many campaign promises which went against their interests. For instance, Obama promised to eliminate tax loopholes for oil and gas companies, but did not have any success in his attempts to this end. The powerful pharmaceutical industry also blocked his promised proposal to allow imports of medicine to compete with expensive domestic brands. Butler said that to end war, we must end the possibility of profiteering from war. Of his many creative proposals to this end, one is creating a global consensus that armies should only fight defensive wars, on their own territories. Butler’s message remains ignored and unheard, even though it is of central importance to understanding how we can end wars and create global prosperity today.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2016.

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