Saturday, 27 October 2012

Precious Bodily Fluids and Free Markets.

"Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war?
"No. I don't think I do, sir. No.
"He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought."
  (General Jack D. Ripper)

The quote above is from Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove" and Ripper is a fictional character.

Soviet military sites in Cuba, 1962. [A]
If you haven't seen it yet, this is a good film to watch this month, as the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the very real Cuban missile crisis, and we approach the 49th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death.

Kubrick's black comedy (starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott) takes a shot at the anti-Communist hysteria then prevalent in the US: for instance, it mentions a "Bland Corporation" (a reference to the real RAND Corporation). To be fair, probably a good case could be made about similar attitudes in the USSR.

John von Neumann. [B]
It has been said that one of Sellers' characters (Dr. Strangelove) is a composite of several real-life scientists, many of Eastern/Central European origin. Fairly or not, one name suggested as possible inspiration is John von Neumann. Other possibilities are Wernher von Braun and Edward Teller.

Neumann, by all accounts, was one of the most gifted minds of the 20th century, having made important contributions to many fields, including economics.

Neumann was born to a Jewish banking family from Budapest, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For reasons I won't mention (as I won't spoil the movie for those who never saw it) but that will be obvious to those who have watched the movie, this is relevant against the charges that Neumann has anything to do with Strangelove.

At the other hand, Neumann, like Strangelove and many among those European émigrés (Oskar Morgenstern and Ludwig von Mises come to mind), was furiously anti-Communist:
"If you say why not bomb [the Soviets] tomorrow, I say, why not today. If you say today at five o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?" (Neumann, supposedly in 1950. See here)
It makes me wonder how Neumann and Albert Einstein (who was sympathetic to socialism) would have gotten along at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton University, where they were neighbours.

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Neumann's theoretical contributions to economics, Jack D. Ripper's quote above, and what we are seeing in Europe, make me think that perhaps the economy, like war, is too important to be left to its practitioners, its theoreticians or even to politicians.

Of course, I don't expect businesspeople, economics professors or politicians to agree with me.

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Let me close this post with the rest of Ripper's quote, where he explains why he overstepped his authority and ordered a nuclear strike against the USSR:
"I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."
The BADGER explosion on April 18, 1953, Nevada. [C]


Image Credits:
[A] Soviet Military Build up in Cuba, late October 1962. Author: US Department of Defense. Wikipedia.
[B] John von Neumann at Los Alamos. Author: US Department of Energy. Wikipedia.
[C] The BADGER explosion on April 18, 1953, Nevada. Author: Federal Government of the United States. Wikipedia.

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